How ‘bout that apple?

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries trade cards were commonly used to announce and advertise a company’s product or service. The cards, typically 2” x 4” or 3” x 5” in size were printed with images and other useful information about a specific item or service. Trade cards with enticing images lured in potential customers. Information about  the product or service was printed on the back of the card. Many of the cards were chromolithographed, a popular printing process which used multiple lithographic stones.  In this example from the Skandia Plow Company of Rockford, Illinois, an anthropomorphic apple wearing slippers was printed in bright yellow, orange, and blue tones. The eye-catching colorful image was intended to promote their iron lever harrow, patented in 1889, to would be plow buyers. An important piece of farm equipment, a harrow leveled the soil and prepared it for seeding. The apple, looking as tough as an iron plow in her rose colored ruffled skirt has her fist raised and is angry. Perhaps she thinks a Skandia harrow will level her apple orchard leaving no trees or worse, she’ll be made into apple sauce. Buy a Skandia plow or else! As the apple shuffles along you can hear her shout the refrain :

The plowman homeward plods his weary way.
Surprising all at tea, with what he has to say
About his troubles with his old inferior plow;
And wondering where he’ll get a better now.

He goes to town and sees across the street,
A sign that dazzles every eye it meets.
He staggers in, and buys himself a Skandia plow,
That somehow tells him, “He’ll be happy now.”

Trade card, Skandia Plow Company, 1887. (AC0060-0000026-01) (front-apple)

Trade card, Skandia Plow Company, 1887. (AC0060-0000026-01) (front-apple)

Trade card, Skandia Plow Company, 1887. (AC0060-0000026-02) (verso-plow)

Trade card, Skandia Plow Company, 1887. (AC0060-0000026-02) (verso-plow)

 To learn more trade cards in our collections, visit the Archives Center and the Warshaw Collection of Business Americana.

Abracadabra!

One of the pleasures of working at the National Museum of American History is discovering the connections between the collections and research. A good example is my recent experience with Ajeeb, the famous chess-checker playing automaton. I learned about this amazing automaton while processing the William L. Bird Holidays on Display Collection. I was immediately smitten with Ajeeb, a ten-foot high, wax and papier-mâché mechanical wonder that won most every game of chess and checkers it played.

Ajeeb, also known as “The Egyptian,” was conceived of by Charles Edward Hooper of England in 1867. First displayed at the Crystal Palace in London, Ajeeb was brought to the United States in 1886 and featured at the Eden Museé, a New York City amusement place which opened in March 1884. Ajeeb is a descendant of earlier chess-checker playing automatons. In 1769, Wolfgang von Kempelen of Austria introduced the Mechanical Turk, which served as the inspiration for Ajeeb. Other automatons with similar abilities and names like Mephisto, Hajeb, and As-Rah also appeared. While the Ajeeb enjoyed a long stint at the Eden Museé (almost forty years), he was not the only Ajeeb on the circuit. Martinka & Company of New York, America’s oldest magic shop sold a chess-playing automaton in its 1898 and 1906 catalogs. Although we don’t know the price or sales figures, the idea that individual consumers could purchase their own Ajeeb is delightful.

The Ajeeb’s chess and checker playing prowess was greatly doubted and debated. Many believed Ajeeb was operated from an adjacent room; others thought that he had a magic brain. Indeed, inside the Ajeeb’s base, cleverly concealed by panels displaying complex machinery, were hidden operators maneuvering the arms, and carefully choreographing every move. The greatest wonder ever invented was an elaborate hoax—a great illusion that entertained crowds all over the world.

Lithographed trade card from Eden Museé, 1896. (AC0060-0000003-01)

Lithographed trade card from Eden Museé, 1896. (AC0060-0000003-01)

Months after discovering the Ajeeb in the collections I was talking with a colleague who was researching the early history of mathematical games played on computers. I mentioned my discovery and she shared my enthusiasm for this mysterious automaton. Several months later I found Ajeeb elsewhere in our collections. While examining a box about vending machines in the Warshaw Collection of Business Americana I found the Ajeeb on a trade card from the Eden Museé. To learn more about our collections, visit the Archives Center website.

Sources

“Eden Museé Faces Bankruptcy,” New York Times, p. 17, June 8, 1915.

Ensmenger, Nathan. Is chess the drosophila of artificial intelligence? A social history of an algorithm.  Social Studies of Science, 42 (1), pp. 5-30, 2012.

Kobler, John. “Where Are they Now? The Pride of the Eden Musee,” New Yorker, November 20, 1943.

[Trade catalogs from Martinka & Co.], January 27, 1898.

Sol’s Place

We talk a lot about “place” of invention these days in the Lemelson Center. Center staff is exploring this topic for an upcoming exhibit titled Places of Invention. The exhibit will take visitors on a journey through time and place to meet people who lived, worked, played, collaborated, adapted, and took risks in order to solve problems and create new solutions. But what does a place of invention look like? Examining the life and work of Solomon “Sol” Adler (1901-1989), an American-born inventor of sewing machines, provides a glimpse of one invention space.

Adler’s personal papers, which are housed at the National Museum of American History’s Archives Center, contain numerous sketches and drawings demonstrating his precision as a draftsman. They provide insight into the drawing abilities he later used to prepare patent drawings. Adler also enjoyed metalworking. An expert machinist and toolmaker, his home workshop boasted a geared lathe, tilling head machine, drill press, bench grinder, and an assortment of hand tools. Living in New York City did not afford much room for a home workshop—some of this equipment and tools was set-up in closets! Adler, who devoted most of his inventive life to improving sewing machines, moved to Japan in 1954 to work for Brother International Corporation (BIC), a subsidiary of the Nippon Company, as a consultant. At BIC, Adler solved certain design and operational problems the company was having in developing a zigzag sewing machine for sale in the United States. While in Japan, Adler created this pencil sketch of his workshop, circa 1955. It depicts his vision for his “place of invention” and how it would be organized.

Sketch of Sol Adler’s workshop, circa 1955.

Sketch of Sol Adler’s workshop, circa 1955. (AC1157-0000003)

The same precision Adler used in his drawings is evident in his workshop. Tools and containers are precisely placed and labeled indicating he appreciated the economy of the space and how to make it function efficiently. Note Adler’s use of cigar boxes to organize his many and diverse machine parts. And, Adler (noted as “A” on the drawing) intended to share his place of invention and collaborate with someone named “Micri.” I don’t know if this workshop was ever realized, but Adler certainly captured it well on paper. Visit our website for more stories about invention and to learn more about Places of Invention.

Extraordinary Attractions! Be Amazed! Must See!

Hidden Motors Give Life to Prehistoric Monsters. Robot Cow Moos and Gives Milk. Mechanical Monster Eats Girl on Movie Stage. These spectacles and more were created by Messmore & Damon, a New York firm that specialized in window displays and parade floats. Founded in 1916, the dynamic and creative duo of George H. Messmore and Joseph Damon designed and constructed parade floats, dioramas for museums, exhibits for expositions, displays for department stores, scenery, exhibits for corporate clients, and for film, theater, and television. Most of their parade and department store work featured animated mechanical devices.

1.Hidden Motors Give Life to Prehistoric Monsters, Popular Science Monthly, June 1933. (AC0846-0000002.tif)

Hidden Motors Give Life to Prehistoric Monsters, Popular Science Monthly, June 1933. (AC0846-0000002.tif)

Mechanical Monster “Eats” Girl on Movie Stage, Popular Science Monthly, October 1931.

Mechanical Monster “Eats” Girl on Movie Stage, Popular Science Monthly, October 1931. (AC0846-0000003.tif)

Messmore & Damon brought to life huge dinosaurs, tigers, mastodons, dragons, other monsters, and even cows. One of their creations was a life-sized (48 foot long, 9 foot high, 4,000 pound) mechanized reproduction of a dinosaur, Amphibious Dinosaur Brontosaurus (aka “Dolores” or “Dino”). It could laugh, breathe, roll its eyes, shake its head, and move its jaws. It was a must see. Created for the Century of Progress International Exhibition (1933-1934), “The World a Million Years Ago,” Dino was made of layers of chicken wire, canvas, rattan, papier-mâché and paint. A human ran a complicated series of motors, chains, ball bearings, gears, cranks, counterweights, and universal joints that worked in concert to create a spectacular experience. The dinosaur was capable of moving its head in all directions and it had a moveable jaw. George Messmore’s 1933 patent (US Patent 1,898,587) stated “the jaw was intended to hold a dancer so that the dancer may be lifted up by the animal for entertaining purposes.”  Dino hit the entertainment circuit after the Fair entertaining thousands at department stores and other venues. He even inspired an essay contest for youngsters who were asked, “What Would Happen if Dino Lived Today?”

Drawing for US Patent 1,898,587, February 21, 1933.

Drawing for US Patent 1,898,587, February 21, 1933. (AC0846-0000006.tif)

Drawing for US Patent 1,898,587, February 21, 1933.

Drawing for US Patent 1,898,587, February 21, 1933. (AC0846-0000007.tif)

For more information about Messmore & Damon, Inc., Records, visit the Archives Center and Holidays on Display, an online exhibition featuring Messmore & Damon.

5.Postcard, Amphibious Dinosaur Brontosaurus, 1933. (AC0846-0000009.tif)

Postcard, Amphibious Dinosaur Brontosaurus, 1933. (AC0846-0000009.tif)

Set Em’ Up! Knock Em’ Down! Bowling’s Automated Pin Technology

According to the United States Bowling Congress (the national governing body for bowling as recognized by the United States Olympic Committee), 71 million people bowled at least once in 2010 and bowling is the number one participation sport in the United States. I began bowling at a young age, thanks to my parents who bowled in a weekly league at alleys in Northern Wisconsin and Upstate New York. In fact, my father and uncle were pin setters (aka “pin boys”) at the Lakeview Recreation (Chicago) and the Red Ray Lanes (Kewaunee, Wisconsin) respectively. And, no one “rolled” quite like my mother. She was so good that she even appeared, briefly although unsuccessfully, on Rochester television’s Bowling for Dollars. I recently rolled a few games and began thinking about how mechanization changed bowling. The AMF Automatic Pinspotter Records at the Archives Center details part of this history. The AMF Records allowed me to learn about part of the story—bowling’s “electric brain.”

Letterhead of the Ten-Pinnet Company, automatic bowling alleys, 1911.

Letterhead of the Ten-Pinnet Company, automatic bowling alleys, 1911. (AC0060-0001482)
The Tin-Pinnet Company of Indianapolis introduced an automatic bowling alley circa 1911 boasting the game was healthy, thrilling and automatic. Owners could purchase the alley (38 to 50 feet long), easily set it up in a space, and make a profit.

The game of bowling has changed over the years, thanks in large part to technology. Automatic pin setting technology was the first of many advances that would transform the game of bowling. Other advances, including the automatic ball return, lighted pin indicator, automatic scoring, and the electric-eye foul line violation detection, made the game more efficient and caused bowling as an industry to thrive.

Brochure, "The Automatics are Here..." AMF Pinspotter's Inc., [circa early 1950s]

Brochure, “The Automatics are Here…” AMF Pinspotter’s Inc., [circa early 1950s] (AC0823-0000001)

Brochure, "The Automatics are Here..." AMF Pinspotter's Inc., [circa early 1950s], inside spread. (AC0823-0000001-01)

Brochure, “The Automatics are Here…” AMF Pinspotter’s Inc., [circa early 1950s], inside spread. (AC0823-0000001-01)

Bowling is simple right? Throw a ball weighing approximately six to sixteen pounds down a lane and knock down ten pins. If you’re lucky, you’ll avoid throwing a gutter ball and knock down a few pins. Then, the pins you knocked down will disappear, the remaining ones will be reset and your ball will appear magically in the ball return and you can try again. This wasn’t the case with bowling prior to 1946. The technology of the automatic pin setting machine was slow to catch on. Pin setting apparatuses, such as John Kilburn’s 1908 invention (US Patent 882,008), were early attempts to mechanize the process. Before mechanization, humans did the pins setting, typically young men. Not only was this terribly inefficient, the work was tiring, gritty, and low-paid. Subsequent patents by Kilburn in 1911, 1917, and later years were not adopted, but in 1941, Gottfried “Fred” Schmidt of Pearl River, New York, patented a bowling pin setting apparatus (US Patent 2,208,605) and a suction lifter (US Patent 2,247,787). As Schmidt noted in his patent application, previous apparatuses did not work satisfactorily because they “could not accurately spot the pins or engage with the pins left standing.” Schmidt would know.  A bowler himself, he received twelve patents for bowling pin setting apparatuses. All of Schmidt’s patents were assigned to the Bowling Patents Management Corporation, which was later purchased by American Machine & Foundry Company (AMF) thus giving AMF the patent rights to manufacture and use the technology. AMF was no stranger to diversification or tackling mechanization projects. In 1900, the company made tobacco manufacturing machinery; in the 1920s, bread wrapping machines; and in the 1930s necktie making machines. Bowling fit right in with their plans.

Photograph, American Bowling Congress Tournament, Fort Worth, Texas, 1957 March. (AC0823-0000002)

Photograph, American Bowling Congress Tournament, Fort Worth, Texas, 1957 March. (AC0823-0000002)

Photograph, American Bowling Congress Tournament (showing machinery), Fort Worth, Texas, 1957 March. (AC0823-0000003)

Photograph, American Bowling Congress Tournament (showing machinery), Fort Worth, Texas, 1957 March. (AC0823-0000003)

The pinspotter weighed 2,000 pounds and operated at a speed of seven to ten games per hour—depending on the speed of the bowler. The machine had eight principle assemblies: the cushion (stops the ball); the ball lift (carries the ball high enough to allow a gravity return); the sweep (removes deadwood from the alley); the carpet (carries pins from the alley into the pin elevator); the pin elevator (wheel that carries the pins and delivers them to the distributor); the distributor (takes pins from the elevator wheel and delivers them to the table); the table (location where the pins are spotted for the next frame); and the electrical system (selects the cycle for the machine to perform). After a bowler released the ball and knocked pins down, the rack above the pins came down and using a suction cup, picked up any pins left standing.  A bar then dropped down and swept away the fallen pins (aka “deadwood”). The fallen pins then moved onto a pit conveyor belt and were fed into a moving cylinder that carried them to the top of the machine. The pins, still held in place by suction were reset onto the alley and the bowler’s ball was returned to them via a conveyor belt mechanism. Finally, pins were set back (spotted) into place and the process could begin again.

Ticket for Bellevue Bowling Club Masquerade, 1900 January 20 (AC0060-0001483-01)

Ticket for Bellevue Bowling Club Masquerade, 1900 January 20 (AC0060-0001483-01)

Ticket, Bellevue Bowling Club Masquerade, 1900 January 20 (AC0060-0001483-02)

Ticket, Bellevue Bowling Club Masquerade, 1900 January 20 (AC0060-0001483-02)

In 1946, AMF unveiled the new pin setter, known as the Automatic Pinspotter (Model 82-30), to the public during the American Bowling Congress (ABC) Tournament in Buffalo, New York.  AMF was unable to demonstrate their machine at the tournament itself, so they set-up their new machine in a nearby building to promote its efficiency. Not until 1952 would the Pinspotter be ready for prime time and have finally gained acceptance. By 1958, AMF had leased 40,000 pinspotters, truly mechanizing bowling centers across the United States.

So, if you haven’t bowled lately, get out there and roll a few games!

Sources

New York Times, “40,000th Pinspotter: American Machine & Foundry Marks Bowling Aid Leasing,”  June 22, 1958, page F2.

New York Times, “Diversification for Growth and Stability…Horizons Unlimited for AMF—Serving the Consumer, Industry and Defense,” November 4, 1956, page 376.

Safekeeping

For more than a decade, every morning I opened the doors to the Archives Center’s vault. The doors, made by the Mosler Safe Company of Hamilton, Ohio, have protected portions of the national collections since 1964 when the National Museum of American History (then known as the National Museum of History of Technology) opened. Behind these heavy, solid, gray doors are hundreds of collections documenting the history of American technology, invention, consumer culture, music, and popular culture. Among these collections are manuscripts, posters, sound recordings, visual ephemera, motion picture film, historical photographs, and oral histories.

20130404_08004620130404_080104The Mosler Safe Company was created by Gustave Mosler (1816-1874), an Austrian immigrant who came to the United States in 1849.  Mosler joined the safe manufacturing firm Diebold, Bahmann and Company in 1859 and began to see other possibilities for safe manufacturing. In 1869, Mosler formed Mosler, Bahmann and Company in Cincinnati, Ohio. The company, which was run primarily by four of Mosler’s sons (Moses, William, Max, and Julius) was renamed Mosler Safe Company in 1876. In 1891, the company moved its operations from Cincinnati to Hamilton, Ohio, where it has been ever since. Numerous patents were issued to the Mosler Safe Company, beginning in 1880 with Moses Mosler’s US Patent 229,905 for a safe. Mosler appeared to have a good share of the “safe” market and was a trusted brand among banks, not to mention our museum. After all, the name Mosler meant safety.

moslerfactory_SMALL

Mosler Safe Company factory, Hamilton, Ohio, 1932. “Mosler Safe Company Catalog,” 1932. Smithsonian Institution Libraries Trade Literature Collection.

Mosler insulated flat sill vault doors, Mosler Safe Company Catalog, 1932. Smithsonian Institution Libraries Trade Literature Collection.

Mosler insulated flat sill vault doors, Mosler Safe Company Catalog, 1932. Smithsonian Institution Libraries Trade Literature Collection.

Mosler-Corliss patent fire-proof bank vault doors, The Mosler-Corliss System of Security against Burglary, Mobs and Fire, 1897. Smithsonian Institution Libraries Trade Literature Collection.

Mosler-Corliss patent fire-proof bank vault doors, The Mosler-Corliss System of Security against Burglary, Mobs and Fire, 1897. Smithsonian Institution Libraries Trade Literature Collection.

Trade card for Mosler Safe Company, undated.  Safes and Vaults, Warshaw Collection of Business Americana.

Trade card for Mosler Safe Company, undated. Safes and Vaults, Warshaw Collection of Business Americana.

I’m waxing sentimental over these vault doors because they were recently replaced by a new door that uses modern access control card reader technology. There was something wonderful about spinning the combination lock, hitting all the numbers just right, and then hearing the familiar sound of “click” that signaled success. For anyone who struggled with a combination lock, you can appreciate my joy. Once open, the vault began another day of service to the numerous archivists who crossed its threshold, seeking collections for eager researchers. The new door and technology was inevitable, but I already miss those Mosler doors. To learn more about our remarkable collections visit the Archives Center.
door_before_cropped_SMALLdoor_after_SMALL

Sources

Boyer, Mike. “Mosler slams door on 300 workers,” The Cincinnati Enquirer http://enquirer.com/editions/2001/08/04/loc_1mosler_slams_door_on.html (last accessed April 8, 2013)

Encyclopedia of Biography, “William Mosler, Manufacturer, Man of Enterprise,” pages 568-171.  American Historical Society, 1920.

Spencer, Jean E. “Queen City History, Willie Sutton’s Nemesis,” Cincinnati Magazine, October 1973.

Your Electric Servant

He could do thousands of jobs (laundry, vacuuming, ironing, cooking, and more), for all kinds of people, seven days a week, every week of the year. A tireless and efficient guy, he was also fast and dependable, and never took a vacation. He was the ultimate symbol of service. Reddy Kilowatt, a cartoon stick figure with a light bulb for a nose, wall outlets for ears, and a body and limbs made of lightning bolts, was the icon of electricity for many Americans.

Pamphlet from the Central Illinois Light Co., July 1955. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000011.

Pamphlet from the Central Illinois Light Co., July 1955. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000011.

Photograph of Reddy Kilowatt (made of heavy copper), circa 1937. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000004.

Photograph of Reddy Kilowatt (made of heavy copper), circa 1937. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000004.

Reddy was the brainchild in 1925 of Ashton B. Collins (1885-1976), then commercial manager at the Alabama Power Company. The company was looking for a way to humanize electric service and Collins knew the figure needed to be appealing, clever, and able to tell the story of electricity easily. Through the talents of a company artist, D.J. Clinton, Collins’ vision of Reddy came to life. Collins copyrighted Reddy on March 6, 1926, and he debuted in a full page advertisement for the Alabama Power Company in the Birmingham News on March 14, 1926, and at the 1926 Alabama Electrical Exposition.

Image of Ashton Collins in NSP News, September 1962. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000003.

Image of Ashton Collins in NSP News, September 1962. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000003.

Letterhead of Ashton B. Collins, April 17, 1948. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000005.

Letterhead of Ashton B. Collins, April 17, 1948. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000005.

Collins worked tirelessly to develop Reddy into a comprehensive plan. By 1934 the company had launched the “Reddy Kilowatt Program,” targeted at investor-owned electric utilities. Collins wanted electric utilities to urge their customers to go “all” electric, using Reddy as the “pitchman.” The program included the use of trademarks and copyrights through the Reddy Kilowatt Service (clip art) and the Reddy News, which were sent to licensee companies to provide ideas about ways to use the Reddy Kilowatt trademark. The Philadelphia Electric Company was the first to adopt the program in January 1934. Other companies later joined, growing to almost 150 investor-owned electric utilities in the United States and in at least twelve foreign countries.Today, Reddy Kilowatt® and Reddy® are registered trademarks and service marks under Xcel Energy, Inc.

United States Trademark 302,093 for The Electrical Servant, March 28, 1933. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000008.

United States Trademark 302,093 for The Electrical Servant, March 28, 1933. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000008.

Valuable Trade Marks from The Master Link, Power Company Customers, 1944. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000009.

Valuable Trade Marks from The Master Link, Power Company Customers, 1944. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000009.

According to company literature, “Reddy was a cheerful, willing, and able servant.”  Indeed, Reddy was “readily” available in homes, stores, businesses, and on farms across the United States. He was later adopted in other countries such as Canada, Mexico, Brazil, and the Philippines. In Brazil Reddy was known as “Zet” or “Joe” Kilowatt and in Portugal he was called “Faisca” or “Sparky” Kilowatt. But Reddy also provided benefits to the utility companies who adopted his program. He was able to explain the policies, programs, and service of the electric utility to its customers.  

Advertisement reprint from Electrical World, May 20, 1957. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000007.

Advertisement reprint from Electrical World, May 20, 1957. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000007.

Booklet, At the Flick of a Switch, Interstate Power Company, circa 1946. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000010.

Booklet, At the Flick of a Switch, Interstate Power Company, circa 1946. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000010.

Reddy had some competition, though, from Willie Wiredhand, an advertising trademark character developed in 1951 by Andrew McLay during a national contest sponsored by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). Willie became an official service mark on April 24, 1952, promoting and endorsing consumer-owned electric cooperatives. On August 7, 1953, Reddy sued Willie.Reddy felt Willie “was confusingly similar in appearance,” but a judge decided that the trademarks were not in competition so Reddy had to share the electric limelight.

Willie Wiredhand advertisement for Sylvania light bulbs, Rural Electrification Magazine, No. 12, September 1957. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000012.

Willie Wiredhand advertisement for Sylvania light bulbs, Rural Electrification Magazine, No. 12, September 1957. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000012.

Exhibit from Reddy Kilowatt, Inc. (opposer) v. National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (applicant), August 1953. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000013.

Exhibit from Reddy Kilowatt, Inc. (opposer) v. National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (applicant), August 1953. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000013.

United States Patent Office, service mark for Willie Wiredhand, June 9, 1953. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000014.

United States Patent Office, service mark for Willie Wiredhand, June 9, 1953. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000014.

The personification of Reddy Kilowatt dominates the clip art, ephemera, and copyrights and trademarks the company obtained. He appeared on almost everything—matchbooks, pins, aprons, balloons, puzzles, books, novelty pieces, slides, films, trophies, posters, advertisements, and electric bills. It was the electric bill where Reddy was most visible, converting kilowatt-hours into servant hours. And consumers knew what a watt was worth:a section of the bill held a message from Reddy listing his monthly wages. Funny thing, they always equaled the amount of the bill.

Brockton Edison Company electric bill, circa 1956. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000006-02.

Brockton Edison Company electric bill, circa 1956. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000006-02.

Brockton Edison Company electric bill, circa 1956. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000006-01.

Brockton Edison Company electric bill, circa 1956. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000006-01.

To learn more about his service and the visually rich historic record documenting his electrifying life, visit the Archives Center and the Reddy Kilowatt Records. Other electronic-related collections that complement Reddy include: Louisan E. Mamer  Rural Electrification Administration PapersElectricity  series, Warshaw Collection of Business Americana, Charles Came Collection, and the General Electric NELA Park Collection to name a few.

Building Bridges, Building Collections

Last fall my family trekked across two historic bridges—the Poughkeepsie Highland Railroad Bridge and the Mid Hudson Bridge. The Poughkeepsie Highland Railroad Bridge spans the Hudson River connecting Poughkeepsie and Highland, New York. Designed by John F. O’Rourke, it was built as a double track railroad bridge by the Union Bridge Company of Pennsylvania. Construction began in 1886 and the bridge operated from 1889, when it was completed, until 1974. At the time it was the only fixed railroad crossing of the Hudson River between New York City and Albany, providing freight a more direct route between New England and the Midwest. Today, the bridge is operated by the New York State Historic Park System and is open to pedestrian and bicycle traffic only. The Mid Hudson Bridge, also known as the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Mid-Hudson Bridge, opened in 1930. It is still fully operational and is open to foot, bicycle, and vehicular traffic.

Hudson River Bridge illustration

Illustration of Hudson River Bridge at Poughkeepsie, New York, “Keystone Bridge Album,” undated. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0060-0001444.

Bridges span all sorts of spaces and allow us to cross those spaces, by foot, bicycle, car, train, or bus. Made of a variety of materials—steel, wood, rope, cement, brick, and iron—bridges can also be fixed, moveable, or covered. Some of the most common types of bridges are beam, arch, suspension, and cable. Bridges are engineering marvels which require substantial planning from the very foundations to the spanning arches and connecting cables. Each bridge tells a story—its successes and failures. In all honesty I hadn’t thought much about bridges—they just were there to help me get from one place to another—until the day I walked those two bridges. As it turns out, I am surrounded by a wealth of information about the history of bridge design, building, and construction right here at the Archives Center. Our civil engineering collections tell some of the stories of design, construction, use, damage, reconstruction, rebirth, and celebration.

Specs for iron truss bridge.

Specification for iron truss bridge of the Wrought Iron Bridge Company of Canton, Ohio, undated. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0060-0001446.

The Archives Center’s vast civil engineering collections are expansive and rich in content. From 1958 to 1988, the Division of Mechanical and Civil Engineering (now the Division of Work and Industry) amassed a critical body of archival material documenting bridges, most of which is available for research through the Archives Center. Consisting of a total of approximately 313 cubic feet (more than fifty collections), the materials document bridge design, construction, and the civil engineers who made it happen in the United States and Canada from the 1860s to the 1950s. The collections contain a wide range of documentation from engineering company records to the personal papers of civil engineers to bridge ephemera such as postcards, trade cards, advertisements, business cards, and placemats acquired by hobbyist collectors.

Ad for Berlin Construction Company.

Berlin Construction Company advertising card, undated. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0060-0001442.

Photographs, specifications, ephemera, advertisements, blueprints, reports, maps, invoices, stock certificates, diaries, sketches, patents, correspondence, and artifacts help tell the story of bridge building. The numerous collections intersect and complement each other. For example, the Quebec Bridge Photograph Collection, 1905-1986 (bulk 1905-1916), is an example of a collection that “bridges” other archival collections. Photographic documentation chronicling the bridges construction in 1907, along with artifacts—a sheared-off rivet head and half of a nut—from the first Quebec Bridge (1907) and subsequent enquiry drawings (1908) to the bridges collapse form part of the Division of Work & Industry’s holdings. The Records of Modjeski and Masters Company document engineer Ralph Modjeski who worked on the Quebec Bridge. Modjeski later worked with George S. Morison (1842-1903) in a variety of capacities. The George S. Morison Collection, 1861-1903, John A. Roebling’s Sons, well known builders of the Brooklyn Bridge, the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission Records, 1848-1946 (bulk 1890-1929)Berlin Construction Company Records, circa 1904-1957, and the Bollman Truss Bridge Collection, 1852-1986 are just some of the collection highlights. Other collections with strong ties to bridge building and civil engineering are the Foundation Company Records, circa 1887-1962, documenting a New York subaqueous concrete construction firm and the Cummings Structural Concrete Company Records 1884-1952, documenting Robert Cummings, an early advocate of reinforced concrete construction.

Quebec Bridge Board of Engineers, circa 1910s.

Photograph of Quebec Bridge Board of Engineers standing in bridge cantilever, left to right: Ralph Modjeski, Charles Monsarrat and C.C. Schneider, circa 1910s. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0976-0000004.

Smaller archival collections, primarily comprised of ephemera, also provide insight into civil engineering through a different lens, that of the bridge enthusiast or hobbyist. Many bridge enthusiasts traveled extensively throughout the United States, documenting their passion for bridges through photographs and postcards. An example of this is the Lucinda Rudell Covered Bridges Collection, 1942-1979, which contains ephemera, such as this placemat documenting covered bridges throughout the United States.

Placemat featuring covered bridges.

Placemat depicting views of covered bridges, circa 1960s. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC1028-0000001.

The Warshaw Collection of Business Americana contains a wealth of ephemera documenting bridges such as this novelty mechanical postcard “The Bridge Girl” (Queensboro Bridge). The moveable bridge part allows the display of the postcard to change and “The Bridge Girl” appears. A cantilevered bridge designed by Leffert L. Buck (1837-1909) and Henry Hornbostel (1867-1961), the Queensboro Bridge was finished in 1909 and today is known as the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge. Caricatures of civil engineers Elmer L. Corthell and Charles Sooysmith and the Ralph Modjeski image with fellow engineers provide the human face to bridge technology—a reminder that humans designed, built, and ultimately used the bridges. The Warshaw Collection also contains business records, such as this 1896 receipt for ribbon wire from John A. Roebling’s Sons Company, and a published illustration of Colin Shakespear’s Portable Rope Bridge. The Smithsonian Institution Libraries Trade Literature Collection also contains a rich resource of trade catalogs about bridge manufacturers, with detailed information such as specifications, costs, illustrations, and photographs. Many of the catalogs contain company histories with crucial information about bridge projects.

Postcard titled "The Bridge Girl"

Postcard titled “The Bridge Girl,” Queensboro Bridge, [1909?]. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0060-0001451-01.

Postcard titled "The Bridge Girl"

“The Bridge Girl” appears. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0060-0001451-02.

Caricature of Charles Sooysmith.

Caricature of Charles Sooysmith (1855-1916), civil engineer and bridge builder. Sooysmith designed the Central Bridge over the Harlem River. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0060-0001449.

Caricature of Elmer L. Corthell.

Caricature of Elmer L. Corthell (1840-1916), civil engineer and bridge builder. Corthell designed the Cairo Bridge (1887-1889) over the Ohio River, the longest metal bridge in the world at that time. Modjeski and Masters were awarded the construction contract for the Cairo Bridge. And, Corthell was the associate chief engineer for the project under George S. Morison, a civil engineer who specialized in large bridges. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0060-0001450.

Artifacts related to bridge building—bolts, cable wires, wire samples, plates, expansion joints, beam sections, trunnels (wooden pegs used to fasten timbers) struts, patent models, gauges, surveying instruments, and drafting tools—also provide insight into the work of civil engineers. These small, but significant artifacts, along with the paper and photographic documentation allow us to document and preserve large objects.

Portable Rope Bridge.

Colin Shakespear’s Portable Rope Bridge, “Mechanics,” Vol. XLIII, circa 1823. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0060-0001448.

Whether you’re looking for technical data on how bridges were designed and constructed or for ephemera depicting idyllic scenes of covered bridges in New England, visit the National Museum of American History and explore our civil engineering collections.

Timeless and Enduring Skills

The need for a skilled and educated work force is a frequent topic in current discussions about revitalizing the economy. This is not a new concern. In fact, at the turn of the twentieth century, the United Shoe Machinery Corporation of Beverly, Massachusetts, was actively engaged in its own effort to promote skills, knowledge, and expertise for young men (ages 14-18) by teaching “skills for living in the world, problem-solving, learning, and collaborating.” In May 1909, the company initiated, with the City of Beverly Massachusetts and the State of Massachusetts Commission on Industrial Education, a chartered industrial school, where generations of future shoe workers and managers were trained. Known as the Beverly Independent Industrial School or Beverly School, it was a model in industrial education for mechanics in the United States. The school officially opened on August 2, 1909, and according to the Three Partners, 1911, “one of the most important features of the welfare work at the [United Shoe Machinery] factory is the industrial school for the boys who will one day be inventors and the trained mechanics of the Company.” The school intended to teach skills in the shoe trade under actual shop conditions.

Postcard of the United Shoe Machinery new plant, Beverly, Massachusetts, 1907. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0277-0000010.

Secondary industrial education began in the United States at the Manual Training School of Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. Established in 1879 and opened in 1880, the school provided instruction in math, drawing, science, language, and shop work (use of tools). Tool instruction included carpentry, wood turning, patternmaking, iron chipping and filing, forge work, brazing and soldering, and the use of machine shop tools. Students divided their time between classroom instruction and manual labor on the shop floor. Other schools would open too, modeling their curriculum and daily program upon the Manual Training School of Washington University. While there were variations in curriculum based on local conditions, finances, and ideals, the schools all adhered to a formula of classroom instruction and manual labor. The growth of manual training schools grew rapidly. The idea ultimately took hold in general high schools where specific “shop” courses were offered and evening schools for industrial workers also became more widely available. Some included the Chicago Manual Training School (1884); Manual Training School for the City of Baltimore (1884); Philadelphia Training School (1885); Toledo Manual Training School (1885); the Technical School of Cincinnati (1886); the Manual Training School at St. Paul (1886); and the Hackley Manual Training School at Muskegon (1896).

In 1905, Governor William L. Douglass of Massachusetts appointed a commission to “investigate the needs for education in the different grades of skill and responsibility in the various industries of the Commonwealth.” The commission learned that though there was wide-spread interest in special training there was a lack of skilled workman in the industries, and public schools were not meeting the needs of industry. The commission recommended that local high schools in Massachusetts modify their instruction to align with the needs of  local industries. Towns throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts were urged to provide industrial courses in high schools and evening schools. In 1906, an act by the State of Massachusetts authorized the establishment of independent industrial schools, providing partial state funding and which were administered through a commission independent of the State Board of Education.

Around 1907, the three great shoe centers of Massachusetts—Beverly, Brockton, and Lynn—began discussing the feasibility of establishing a shoe trade school to teach the development of shoe making and shoe machinery. In order to explore this question of training, the Beverly Commission on Industrial Education was formed.

On May 18, 1909, Alderman James A. Torrey of Beverly introduced the following order to the Board of Aldermen which passed and was signed on June 26, 1909.

“Ordered, That an Independent Industrial School be and is hereby established in Beverly in accordance with Chapter 505 of the Acts of 1906, as supplemented by Chapter 572 of the Acts of 1908, for the purpose of instructing youths between the ages of fourteen and twenty-one years in day or evening classes in the machinist’s trade or in such other industrial trades or occupations as shall be deemed expedient by the Board of Trustees of said Industrial School, and also for the purpose of instructing any persons already employed in the industries in evening classes in such industrial trades or occupations as shall be deemed expedient by the Board of Trustees of said Industrial School.”

Two groups, A and B, each consisting of thirty-five young men, alternated between the United Shoe Machinery factory and Beverly Industrial School, spending one week at the factory and then one week at the high school. Instruction included mathematics, chemistry, electricity, mechanics, mechanical drawings, blueprint reading, English civics, and industrial economics. The machinist-instructors taught both in the factory and the classroom, while subject specialists taught the other subjects. Beverly Superintendent Adelbert L. Safford said, “Today we need men who can do things, men who can create not only with the brain—and it takes brains to be a good mechanic or a good farmer in this age—but with skilled hands as well.”

"The Three Partners," Industrial School, Section I, page 20, 1911. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0277-0000008.

"The Three Partners," Industrial School, Section II, page 22, 1911. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0277-0000009.

Fourteen young men graduated from the Beverly Industrial School on December 18, 1912. The school would undergo several name changes—Beverly Independent Industrial School; Beverly Industrial Training School; the Beverly Cooperative Trade School (1925-circa 1980); Claude H. Patten Trade School (1968) opened at the new Beverly High School;  and the Claude H. Patten Trade School Vocational High School (1970-1995). The Vocational High School eventually ceased operation in 1995.

Photograph of the Beverly Industrial School football team, 1913. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0277-0000011.

In addition to teaching skills in the industrial school, United Shoe also established a program to teach its immigrant workforce English. Using the English for American Citizenship Program (Industrial Series, 1919) the program not only taught the workforce to speak English, it taught life lessons in “punching the clock,” “buying clothes,” “spending money,” “asking for directions,” and “buying groceries.” Prepared by the Massachusetts Department of Education, University Extension, the Industrial Series Program was free to all residents of the State of Massachusetts. The courses were wide ranging, and included language, economics, mathematics, government, civil service, drawings, electricity, natural science, and homemaking. Courses were also taught for teachers and were held at Boston area schools such as Simmons College, Boston University, and Franklin Union.

Plant Survey for English and American Citizenship Classes, 1921. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0277-0000006.

English for American Citizenship, Industrial Series, Lesson XII, Buying Groceries, 1919. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0277-0000005.

Helping its immigrant workforce is just one example of United Shoe fostering skills for living in the world. United Shoe also sought to weave into its English lessons and hands-on training with machinery, “civic literacy” with lessons about Washington’s Birthday, the flag, and the Constitution. This page from an employee’s copybook shows a lesson an employee practiced writing titled, “The Declaration of  Independence.”  Most of the texts used by United Shoe promoted middle class values and habits along with instruction in the language.

Employee copybook page, Declaration of Independence, 1921. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0277-0000007.

To learn more about the United Shoe Machinery Corporation and its rich history of shoe making and educating its workforce, visit the Archives Center.

Sources

  • American Machinist, March 17, 1920.
  • Bennett, Charles Alphheus. History of Manual and Industrial Education, 1870 to 1917. Peoria: The Manual Arts Press, 1937.
  • Boston Daily Globe, August 1, 1909.
  • First Annual Report of the Trustees of Beverly Independent Industrial School, 1909, at www.primaryresearch.org (last accessed December 11, 2012)
  • The Three Partners, 1911.
  • Morse, Charles Henry. Some representative American industrial and manual training school. Massachusetts. Commission on Industrial Education. Boston, Wright & Potter Print. Co., State Printers, 1908.

A Concrete Example

Concrete is everywhere. Foundations, buildings, bridges, sidewalks, roads, sculptures, tunnels, retaining walls, and even skateboard parks are made with concrete. We are surrounded by this gray, cold, often impersonal, and ubiquitous material. Yet, I know very little about concrete, except that it is a construction material composed primarily of aggregate (sand and crushed rock), cement, and water, and that it is often reinforced with steel. On the rare occasions when I think about concrete, I immediately picture the Hoover Dam, a construction and engineering marvel built with more concrete than I can fathom.  According to the Bureau of Land Reclamation, Lower Colorado Region, the Hoover Dam “contains enough concrete to pave a strip 16 feet wide and 8 inches thick from San Francisco to New York.”  However, prior to the Hoover Dam’s construction in 1931, others were mixing it up with concrete.

In the early-twentieth century, for example, Robert Augustus Cummings (1866-1962), a civil engineer who worked primarily in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, made significant contributions to the field of reinforced-concrete construction and foundation work. Cummings clearly stated his confidence in his material of choice in a 1904 presentation to the Member Engineers’ Society of Western Pennsylvania (and “member” refers to construction components, not engineers with a secret handshake):

Reinforced concrete makes an excellent paint for preserving iron or steel, adhering to the metal very firmly and protecting it thoroughly against corrosion. It can easily be made water tight, and its durability is beyond question. . . . Correctly designed re-enforced concrete structures are not liable to sudden failures, as is the case with ordinary concrete, but gives warning by the falling off of the surface concrete long before the point of failure is reached.

Pamphlet, Reinforced Concrete The Cummings System, circa 1907.

Cummings knew his concrete and built his reputation and livelihood around it. Founded in 1900 and incorporated in 1911, Cummings Structural Concrete Company specialized in reinforced concrete for the construction of all types of structures, from bridges, barges, warehouses, filtration systems, private residences, machine shops, dry docks, and piers, to retaining walls, abutments, factories, dams, and locks. If it involved concrete, Cummings was doing it.

Cummings is best known for inventing the “Cummings System of Reinforced Concrete,” in which iron or steel bars are embedded within a mixture of Portland cement (a finely ground powder made of limestone mixed with clay or shale) water, sand, and gravel or broken stone. The Cummings system utilized steel rods of any size or grade that were welded together to form a variety of shapes. Cummings held over 25 patents related to reinforced concrete and metal structures (see U.S. Patent 761,288 for one example). Spaces between the metal structure were filled with concrete to form arches, walls, floors, walls, and roofs.

Types of metal bars and framework (1905) that Cummings used.

Cummings's son, Robert A. Cummings, Jr., holding metal framework, around 1905.

Some of Cummings more noteworthy projects included the Davis Island Dam on the Ohio River; a water tank for the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad; the Ninth Street Bridge in Pittsburgh; the Harbison-Walker Refractories in Birmingham, Alabama; a concrete floor for the machine shop, National Tube Company in Mckeesport, Pennsylvania; a mill building and boiler house for the National Casket Company in Ashville, North Carolina; pilings, abutments, and retaining walls for the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad Company; and a clear water basin (a drainage area to collect runoff) for the H. J. Heinz Company in Pittsburgh.

A 1911 image of a commercial building being constructed near H.J. Heinz Company. Depicted are metal bars in wood frames awaiting concrete.

A reinforced concrete column at the National Bureau of Standards Laboratory in Pittsburgh, 1913. Robert A. Cummings is standing to the right of the column.

In 1915, the Scott Paper Company (also known as the Chester Paper Company) of Chester, Pennsylvania, manufacturers of Scott tissues, toilet paper, and paper towels, contracted with Cummings to work on their beater rooms (housing machines that beat, rolled, and processed paper fibers) and machine rooms. Cummings work at the Scott Paper Company is well documented through sketches, blueprints, design notebooks, specifications, correspondence, progress reports, payroll records, and photographs. For example, in a July 21, 1916 letter, Cummings sent a quote for the work to Mr. Leibeck at the company:

[O]ur bid, entire job, $132,250.00. Substitutes reinforced concrete for structural steel in floors. Also flat slabs for docks. Sheet piling omitted. Reinforced concrete piles $1.40 per [linear?] foot in place. Can start work immediately. Alternate bid, actual cost, labor, materials, and miscellaneous expenses, plus ten percent.

In his Manual of Uniform Field Methods, 1915, Cummings outlined how the company would conduct its work. Job sites were to be photographed on the first and sixteenth of each month to show progress and special features of the work, leaving behind a wealth of photographic documentation such as these images from a construction album for the Scott Paper Company. Meticulously documented, the album pages provide a rich visual history of concrete construction processes, equipment used, and men laboring.

The negotiations with Scott Paper Company were carefully and thoroughly recorded, primarily through correspondence. Details of the work, especially the timeframe for completing the job would become an issue for Cummings.  Among papers related to “contract planning” is a letter dated May 7, 1917, from President Edward Irvin Scott of Chester Paper Company to Cummings.

Now Mr. Cummings, we have got some plain talk to give you. We cannot stand for the delay on the buildings at Chester; our beater rooms are nowhere near completion; you only have a small amount of people, and we have absolutely got to have that work finished, and we cannot submit to further unnecessary delay.

Scrapbook of photographs, Scott Paper Company, Chester, Pennsylvania, 1916-1917.

Cummings finally finished the project a month later; clearly, Cumming wasn’t working with quick-set.

To learn more about the concrete endeavors and inventive career of civil engineer Robert A. Cummings, visit the Archives Center.

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References

The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Volume 50, Ann Arbor: University Microfilm, 1971.

United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Reclamation, Lower Colorado Region, http://www.usbr.gov/lc/hooverdam/History/essays/concrete.html (last accessed October 17, 2012)

All images are from the Cummings Structural Concrete Company Records, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.