Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

A Stove To Cool The House Instead Of Heating It

From July 30, 1911


A STOVE TO COOL THE HOUSE INSTEAD OF HEATING IT: Alexander Graham Bell Invents an “Ice Stove” Which Makes His Rooms Cold in Summer, Just as a Coal Stove Would Make Them Hot in Winter. (PDF)

Not content to just invent the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell went on to invent other useful things, like a primitive air conditioner that blows air over blocks of ice to cool down the room. “The invention is what, for want of a better name, has been termed an ‘ice stove.'”

That’s the gist of the article, which is a pretty good read.

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Written by David

July 26th, 2011 at 9:30 am

Going Down In A Tube To Hunt For Sunken Treasure

From July 16, 1911


GOING DOWN IN A TUBE TO HUNT FOR SUNKEN TREASURE: How an Ingenious Scot Will Explore the Sea Bottom Off the Virginia Coast to Find $500,000 in Silver. (PDF)

This is one of those great articles where I do a little research and find out even more interesting stuff that happened next. The article is about Charles Williamson, who invented a tube he could use to go treasure hunting on the bottom of the sea.

What I learned is that Charles’ son John took this invention a step further. He realized that if you put a big window at the bottom of the tube, you could film underwater movies. He became a pioneer in undersea filmmaking, and in 1914 released an undersea film called Thirty Leagues Under the Sea. I can’t find a copy of it online. Let me know if you have better luck finding it than I did.

The American Museum of Natural History has an illustrated biography of John Williamson on their website.

A site called The Rebreather Site has more information, including photos taken from the tube like this one:

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Written by David

July 15th, 2011 at 10:00 am

How To Overcome Gravity By Hertzian Air Waves

From July 16, 1911


HOW TO OVERCOME GRAVITY BY HERTZIAN AIR WAVES: New York Engineer and Inventor Thinks He Has Discovered a Secret of Science on Which He Began Work at West Point Nearly 40 Years Ago. (PDF)

Levitation. It holds such promise. But this machine doesn’t make things levitate. It just makes them weigh less. The article describes some possible uses of such an anti-gravity machine:

If a 12-ton girder was to be raised to the top of a skyscraper with a derrick of 10 tons capacity, the mechanism would obliterate the two tons of weight.

The element of gravitation in any object being overcome to the extent of one-sixth or a greater degree, it would be possible to make the human body so “light” that it could be propelled with a very small fraction of present effort.

Steamships could ride more lightly on the sea in the same way. The speed of railroad trains could be increased by the contrivance reducing the friction of the wheels on the tracks.

An aeroplane caught high in air with a broken engine could be made to float there indefinitely by turning a button and starting the “concentrating dynamo.”

Farrow never filed a patent for his device, and no construction plans have been found. The book The Spirit of Invention: The Story of the Thinkers, Creators, and Dreamers says:

Observers watched as the indicated weight of the book dropped by three ounces, or one-fifth. “This is revolutionary — even sensation,” marveled one of the editors invited to see the invention in action. It almost certainly wasn’t antigravity, though, not in the sense Farrow intended… Modern speculation has accepted that it was based around electromagnets.

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Written by David

July 11th, 2011 at 9:30 am

Posted in Science,Technology

The American Student Acquiring A Uniform Face

From July 9, 1911


THE AMERICAN STUDENT ACQUIRING A UNIFORM FACE: Mayor Gaynor’s Statement to That Effect Starts a Discussion — A Distinct American College Type Being Developed, Unlike the European University Man (PDF)

The two faces in the middle of the page are composites of 25 boys and 25 girls, to create the “typical” student face. In modern times, this has been done digitally to interesting effects. I wonder if this is the earliest known example of such a composite.

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Written by David

July 7th, 2011 at 11:30 am

How Conversation Across A Continent Came About

From July 9, 1911


HOW CONVERSATION ACROSS A CONTINENT CAME ABOUT: The Men Who Made It Possible for New York to Talk to Denver — Graham Bell Has Lived to See His Invention Grow Beyond All the Bounds Believed to be Set for It When He Made It. (PDF)

The development of the long distance telephone, which began thirty years ago, is due in a most striking way to a group of brilliant scientists and inventors, each of whom contributed one or more factors essential to the success of the whole. But for the discoveries and scientific devices of these men the original invention of Prof. Alexander Graham Bell would not be the wonderfully practical means of communication that it is, and talking over continental distances would be out of the question. With but a very few exceptions, these men, who by their improvements on the Bell instrument have made the long distance telephone a reality, are alive to-day and actively engaged either in the further development of the telephone or in other scientific pursuits.

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Written by David

July 7th, 2011 at 10:03 am

The Psychology Of The Typewriter Error

From July 9, 1911



An interesting look at typos from a time when typewriters were still relatively new.

The typist who composes as he operates has a threefold responsibility, for as the cells of ideation respond to the command of the will while thoughts are conceived, shaped, and transmitted, the fingers must be quick to transcribe and the vision sharp as well for punctuation and mechanical detail.

The three controls must be nicely balanced, for a laxness in muscle control results int he omission of letters, sometimes even of whole words, and spacing is obliterated, one word being run into another. A laxness of visual control results in a period being placed in the middle of a sentence in place of a comma or semicolon, or of the use of a small letter instead of a capital. The period being the emphatic stop is the one most often substituted for those of finer gradation.

I had three typos (that I noticed) when transcribing that excerpt. They were all letter transpositions.

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Written by David

July 5th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Life,Technology

Scientific Detective Would End Expert Testimony

From July 2, 1911


SCIENTIFIC DETECTIVE WOULD END EXPERT TESTIMONY: Head of Scotland Yard’s Bureau of Identification Urges Training of Sleuths — What Finger Print System and Blood Study Have Done. (PDF)

Fingerprints and blood are commonly gathered and tested in crime scenes today. But 100 years ago, this was new technology.

…if detectives were only trained scientifically, not merely in logic, so as to reconstruct a crime with proper attention paid to theory and fact, but also in chemistry, physics, and other sciences, there would be less need of expert testimony at criminal trials…

If the article interests you, definitely read Caleb Carr’s novel The Alienist, about a New York City murder investigation around the turn of the last century.

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Written by David

June 28th, 2011 at 10:00 am

The Giant Olympic A Luxurious Floating Hotel

From June 25, 1911


THE GIANT OLYMPIC A LUXURIOUS FLOATING HOTEL: Swimming Pool, Turkish Baths, and Tennis Courts Part of the Equipment of the Wolrd’s Largest Liner — Marking a New Epoch in Ocean Travel. (PDF)

Of course, the Olympic wouldn’t become nearly as well known as her twin sister Titanic. Wikipedia has great details about Olympic‘s fate. She lead an interesting life, survived a mutiny, served in WWI (repainted in dazzle camouflage , and eventually retired in 1934.

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Written by David

June 24th, 2011 at 10:30 am

Millionaire To Make His Home On A 95-Foot Yacht

From June 25, 1911


MILLIONAIRE TO MAKE HIS HOME ON A 95-FOOT YACHT: James B. Hammond Is Building the Lounger II., According to His Own Notions, with a Garage and an Aquarium Aboard and State-rooms Artificially Cooled. (PDF)

Forget about the yacht for a moment. James B. Hammond was a millionaire who made his fortune with his invention, a typewriter you can read about at the Virtual Typewriter Museum.

This article describes Hammond as an eccentric millionaire. The yacht is just a small part of this profile.

“They call me eccentric,” he said, in a tone of deep disgust for those who said this, “but I really do not see why a man is not privileged to live his own life in his own way.”

Seated in a high adjustable chair in a big room, chiefly conspicuous for its view of the Hudson, Mr. Hammond was found in amiable companionship with his dog and his canary…

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Written by David

June 21st, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Life,Technology

New Motorboat Beats World’s Record In Speed

From May 28, 1911


NEW MOTORBOAT BEATS WORLD’S RECORD IN SPEED: Alexandrian Inventor builds a Cup Challenger That in Trial Trips Is 7 Miles Faster than Dixie II’s Best Time (PDF)

I don’t have time to write more comments on this article because I’m a brand new dad and need to focus on that for a bit. But please feel free to read the article and make your own comments.

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Written by David

May 27th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Technology

Nation’s Rare Documents Unprotected Against Fire

From May 28, 1911


NATION’S RARE DOCUMENTS UNPROTECTED AGAINST FIRE: Even the Original Declaration of Independence and Constitution Are in Peril and Thousands of Invaluable Records Are Merely Filed Away in Wooden Wall Cases (PDF)

The rest of this post is unwritten because I’m a brand new dad and need to focus on that for a bit. But please feel free to read the article and make your own comments.

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Written by David

May 24th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Posted in Politics,Technology

New Public Library’s Novel Mechanical Devices

From May 21, 1911


NEW PUBLIC LIBRARY’S NOVEL MECHANICAL DEVICES: Electrical Plant There Is as Large as That Used to Light the City of Stockholm — Special Appliances in Every Department of the Building. (PDF)

The rest of this post is unwritten because I’m a brand new dad and need to focus on that for a bit. But please feel free to read the article and make your own comments.

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Written by David

May 20th, 2011 at 1:00 am

Posted in Technology

A Spell To Exorcise The Demon Of Seasickness

From May 7, 1911


A SPELL TO EXORCISE THE DEMON OF SEASICKNESS: Scourge of Travel Doomed If This Invention, Which the Hamburg-American Is to Install on Its New Liner Europa, Does All That Is Claimed for It. (PDF)

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Written by David

May 6th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Technology

Centenary Of Maker Of First Portrait Photograph

From April 30, 1911


CENTENARY OF MAKER OF FIRST PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPH: New York University Will Honor the Memory of Prof John William Draper, Who Took the First Human Likeness When Daguerre Failed to Do It. (PDF)

I’m a photographer professionally, so articles like this are especially interesting to me. This one celebrates the 100th birthday of John William Draper, credited with taking the first portrait photo, an image of his sister Dorothy.

Back then, photos required long exposures, so the subjects needed to sit extremely still. Draper experimented with putting white powder on people’s faces to lighten them up a bit for the picture. And he also realized that if a person sits still for a 30 second exposure, they can feel free to blink during that time without worrying about ruining the image. But any other movement must be considered and eliminated:

“The hands should never rest upon the chest, for the motion of respiration disturbs them so much as to make them have a thick, clumsy appearance, destroying also the representation of the veins on the back, which, if they are held motionless, are copied with surprising beauty.”

Here’s some more of Draper’s advice for a portrait sitting:

“It has already been stated that pictorial advantages attend an arrangement in which the light is thrown upon the face at a small angle. This also allows us to get rid entirely of the shadow on the background or to compose it more gracefully in the picture. For this it is well that the chair should be brought forward from the background from three to six feet.

“Those who undertake daguerreotype portraiture will, of course, arrange the background of their pictures according to their own tastes. When one that is quite uniform is desired, a blanket or a cloth of drab color, properly suspended, will be found to answer very well.”

While Draper took the first formal portrait, Louis Daguerre actually took the first photo of a person. He captured a photo looking out over a street in Paris. It was a long exposure, so people moving through the frame were not captured. But one person stood still long enough to register in the image while he was getting his shoe shined. But the figure is tiny and silhouetted, so it could hardly be called a portrait.

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Written by David

April 29th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Seeking An Invention To Prevent Railroad Collisions

From April 23, 1911


SEEKING AN INVENTION TO PREVENT RAILROAD COLLISIONS: Inter-State Commerce Commission Makes Tests on Staten Island of Young Texan’s Device, One of Twenty Selected for Official Investigation. (PDF)

In a sort of precursor to the X Prize, Congress set aside $50,000 and invited inventors to submit their inventions which would prevent railroad collisions.

Of course there was an avalanche — a grand rush of eager young geniuses to the spot. They submitted plans of every description, ranging from those that seemed to possess real merit to the wildest and most impossible dreams that ever rioted through a human brain.

The total number of inventions submitted was 185. Every one of them, no matter how extravagant, was looked into my the commission’s experts. Flaws were picked out which made device after device impracticable — one by one the fruits of hours and days and years of sleepless toll were discarded. At last barely twenty survived.

These were put aside for further consideration and further weeding out. Then exhaustive practical tests of the few survivors were instituted by the commission’s examiners.

I’m unclear if the winning inventor gets the $50,000, or if that money was used to test the inventions. But either way, one invention stood out as having promise, devised by a twenty-six year old named Frederick Lacroix.

No sooner had his idea firmly established itself in his inventive brain than he set to work making experiments, adopting and rejecting various schemes, until at last he hit on exactly what he was after. Then he had a model made for him, and with it made numberless further experiments to see whether his invention fully realized his dreams.

It did.

His solution involved adding a third rail to carry electricity, which forms a circuit with some equipment in the train. Another train on the same section of track would interrupt the circuit, triggering a device that automatically applies the brakes and whistle. As an added benefit, the third rail would also provide a telephone line so the trains can talk to each other.

In repeated tests, Lacroix’s solution worked. But I am unable to find any evidence that it was actually adopted as a safety device. Does anybody know?

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Written by David

April 22nd, 2011 at 9:00 am

New York’s First Subway Built More Than Forty Years Ago

From April 23, 1911


NEW YORK’S FIRST SUBWAY BUILT MORE THAN FORTY YEARS AGO: Curious History That Surrounds a Grating Opposite City Hall Marking a Forgotten Enterprise of “Certain Prominent Citizens.” (PDF)

New York City’s subway opened in 1904. So what is this article talking about? Well, there was a secret subway, built without permission from the city. It was only one block long because it was exposed by a reporter before much work could be done. And this subway didn’t run on electricity as our modern subway does. It ran in pneumatic tubes!

So why did it need to be built in secret? Why wouldn’t the city have wanted it? Well, when the subway was first proposed, people did not think it was a good idea. Even the Times was against it:

The Times of March 15, 1869, editorially exclaims: “It is said that the Legislature is quite likely to charter a project for building what is called an arcade railroad under Broadway. We can scarcely believe it. When this wild scheme was dismissed a year or two ago we hoped and believed that we had heard the last of it — and so did everybody else.”

The public and The Times, though, were justified in their distrust of the scheme. Those prominent men wanted to build a subway with a vengeance. What they wanted to do was to dig down, the whole width and length of Broadway from the Battery away uptown, for seventeen feet. They proposed to restore the street by building a roof over the chasm.

This plan, as has been said, died a natural and unobtrusive death. The next move toward a subway was in the early part of 1869. It didn’t seem like a move at all. Legislative power was obtained to construct a pneumatic tube from Warren Street to Cedar Street for the purpose of blowing small and large parcels, indeed all kind of express business, between these two localities.

Then queer rumors began to fly around.

In the latter part of 1869 a young man dressed in working clothes, and looking rather mussed and dirty, went down in the middle of the night to the cellar of the Rogers-Peet Building. In this cellar he groped around until he found an opening he was looking for. He went through the opening and landed in an underground tunnel, dark except for flaring lights here and there. There was an air of excitement and feverish work in this tunnel. Whatever talking there was was done in whispers, although a shout wouldn’t have been heard on the street. The young man applied for work. He got it and spent that and the following night in very hard and earnest digging.

And then The Tribune came out with a full expose of the subway that was secretly being built.

The young man was a Tribune reporter.

The substance of the article was this: In the last week one block of subway tunnel had been dug and built by night. It extended from the southwest corner of Broadway and Warren Street to Broadway and Murray Street. So that nobody should see the earth that was dug away it had all been carted to the big cellar of the Rogers-Peet Building and dumped there. If The Tribune had not exposed what was going on a subway under the whole length of Broadway was to have been secretly built. A car was in the tunnel. Also a big machine that was going to blow the car from one end of the track to the other.

It seemed incredible. Who had ever heard of being blown through the earth to one’s destination?

New York wavered between perplexity and indignation.

When this article came out, the tunnel still existed. But it was most likely destroyed when an authorized subway system tunnel was built soon after. has a page with sketches of the pneumatic subway system, and more information about its demise.

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Written by David

April 19th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Ringing The Chimes Of St. Patrick’s On Easter Day

From April 9, 1911



100 years ago, the bells of St. Patrick’s Cathedral were played by a man who pulled various levers attached to clappers that rang the bells:

Though their music may be heard miles away, it can scarcely be heard in the Cathedral as far back as the Lady Chapel, while the chimes ringer himself, as he stands on the keyboard platform, 110 feet below the bells, operating the levers, will catch but faint murmurs of the melody as he plays. For play he does, when at his duty, after the manner than a man would play the organ, the difference being that instead of using keys, he presses down upon levers. There is a separate lever for each one o the nineteen bells. The device, which is termed the “tracker action,” is the same as that used in the playing of chimes generally. A wooden rod, 110 feet long, attached to each lever by means of a leather strap, and to the clapper of each bell, is the controlling agent of melodic communication.

I’m not sure if the bells are still rung by hand. The bells underwent a restoration at the end of the 20th Century, and I was able to find one video of the bells chiming in 2008, but it’s unclear if they are manually operated. The Cathedral’s official website barely mentions them, although they have plenty of information about the pipe organ.

My favorite church bells in the city are at Riverside Church on the Upper West Side. Their carillon was a gift of J.D. Rockefeller, Jr. It includes the world’s largest and heaviest cast tuned bell, and is still manually played on Sundays and special events. The current carillonneur is an 80-year old man named Dionisio Lind, who was recently profiled by the Daily News, who put together this video featuring him playing the bells:

When I came to New York, the bell tower was open to the public. It cost just two dollars to ride the elevator up half way, and then you would get out and climb the rest of the way through the tower, past all the bells, past the carillon keyboard (called a baton console), until you reached a platform that offerred a 360-degree view of Manhattan and New Jersey. The few times I ever went, there was nobody else up there. It was one of my favorite New York secrets. Unfortunately, the bell tower was closed to the public in 2001, citing fire safety concerns. I guess you can’t really build a fire escape on a bell tower.

Bonus: If you aren’t yet convinced that Riverside Church is way cooler than Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, I have one word for you: Bjork.

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Written by David

April 8th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Posted in Music,Technology

Stories That Modern Science Has Made Impossible

From March 26, 1911


STORIES THAT MODERN SCIENCE HAS MADE IMPOSSIBLE: Why the Classics of Poe, Hoffman, and Others Seem Antiquated To-day. (PDF)

This amusing piece supposes that modern technology is making scary stories impossible.

It is lucky for us that Poe, Hoffman, Andersen, and other chroniclers of the great unknown lived years ago. For mystery and romance have suffered greatly at the hands of modern science and inventions. Electricity is the worst offender in that respect, as it has killed more goblins than all the grandmothers ever created.

Think how much richer in unearthly being the world was in the day of the tallow candle, the oil lamp, and the flintlock. Imagine your great-great-grandfather coming home at, say, 1 in the morning; the house he returned to was one of those immense, gaunt mansions, built piece by piece, wing by wing, of wood that creaked and moaned when the night wind rose or when the worms were milling slowly, stubbornly, the heart of the beams into impalpable, yellow flour. Your great-great-grandfather’s conscience may have troubled him a little, for he may have partaken of a trifle too much of he cheering claret.

When the street door’s lock had clicked behind him he stood enshrouded in the hostile darkness of the endless corridors; echoes magnified the noise of every motion, his breath sounded like a cyclone. A match finally consented to burn, and its flicker only helped him to realize the thickness of the velvety pall.

The lamp was located; its chimney struck, but finally yielded just before all that was left of the match was a short, winking ember. Another match was struck and this time the wick, with much spluttering, emitted a little light; back went the chimney to its socket, and the shade that surmounted it divided this mystic worlds of darkness into two regions — the table and a part of the floor were immersed in a soft yellow gleam. Above the shade, however, ghosts and goblins, frightened an instant by man’s intrusion, resumed their play.


On a similar note, here are some stories that cell phones have made impossible. And here’s a list of Seinfeld episodes that could not have happened with today’s modern technology.

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Written by David

March 25th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Blood Tests In Criminal Cases No Longer Uncertain

From March 26, 1911


BLOOD TESTS IN CRIMINAL CASES NO LONGER UNCERTAIN: Murderers Can No Longer Be Shielded by Doubtful Analysis, for the Newest Biological Chemistry Can Now Tell Human Blood Stains from Others. (PDF)

Those fluent in biochemistry may enjoy the details, but the gist of the article is summed up in the second paragraph:

It has often happened in murder trials that the guilt or innocence of the prisoner depended entirely on the ability of expert witnesses to determine whether or not certain stains were caused by human blood. Formerly, this was a difficult question to decide. The revelations of biological chemistry, however, have made the tests comparatively easy. In fact, it is not too much to say that the tests used nowadays to settle the question whether certain stain, be they new or old, were made by human blood, constitute an exact science.

This reminds me to recommend The Alienist, Caleb Carr’s murder mystery set in 1896 New York City, to those of you who have never read it. The protagonist uses newly developed techniques (like fingerprint matching, for example) to solve the crime. It’s a very good read.

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Written by David

March 23rd, 2011 at 9:30 am

Experiment Station To Solve Housekeepers’ Problems

From March 26, 1911


EXPERIMENT STATION TO SOLVE HOUSEKEEPERS’ PROBLEMS: Mrs. Frank A. Pattison Heads a Movement to Give Practical Aid to Tests of Inventions That Lighten Labor and Effect Economies. (PDF)

Mary Pattison was the President of the New Jersey State Federation of Women’s Clubs, “an organization of fifteen or sixteen thousand women, which believes in doing practical things.” The organization is still around today.

She set up an “experiment station” in her New Jersey home to figure out how housewives can make their daily routines easier, more efficient, and more enjoyable. Part of that involved trying new machines with potential to make labor easier.

Mrs. Pattison led the way to a small kitchen. It was full of strange objects, queer shaped ovens, and odd, black things standing on long legs.

“This,” said Mrs. Pattison, “is my electric motor.”

It was a small thing she touched, and it did not look like the solution of anything, but she wheeled it up to the coffee mill, slipped a pin somewhere, turned a crank, and in ten seconds the motor was working like a galley slave, grinding the coffee. After a minute Mrs. Pattison stopped it, drew out the pin that connected it with the mill, and explained that it would turn the washing machine, chop up the meant, or polish the silver, just as energetically as it had ground the coffee.

“This motor is not perfection by any means,” said Mrs. Pattison, “but it shows that we are on the right track. I paid $75 for it with the coffe mill, the polisher, the washing machine and the chopper included. It was quite a sum to put down at the start, but you see what a saving it is in labor…

“This,” she said, turning to another strange object that looked something like a wash boiler, “is the dishwashing machine. We had a great time getting this and it is not a very satisfactory one, though it is the best on a small scale in the market so far. I wrote to every firm that dealt in such things and I would get back answers that they had a very admirable dishwashing machine that would wash a thousand plates a minute, or something like that, and had been used in various hotels. Then they would add: ‘We have nothing as yet for the small kitchen, but we have some plans for such a model.'”

I like that women were technology early adopters back then.

[There are] vacuum cleaners which do away with the strain of sweeping, and of course it will be a part of our Federation to find out which are the best cleaners for the various purposes that our women will have need for… The average woman does not know about all these things, and if she does she is afraid to buy because she knows the chances are even that she is going to be cheated. We believe that when she knows where to turn for accurate information, she will joyfully buy them.”

A couple years later, Pattison wrote a book called Principles of Domestic Engineering, which you can read free from Google Books. The lengthy subtitle is “The what, why and how of a home; an attempt to evolve a solution of the domestic “labor and capital” problem – to standardize and professionalize housework – to re-organize the home upon “scientific management” principles – and to point out the importance of the public and personal element therein, as well as the practical.”

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Written by David

March 22nd, 2011 at 9:30 am