Remembering Ralph Baer (1922-2014)

The Lemelson Center notes, with great sadness, the passing of Ralph Baer, considered by many to be the “father of video games.”

Ralph Baer plays his Telesketch game, 1977.

Ralph Baer plays his Telesketch game, 1977.

In 1966, Baer transformed people’s relationship to home television by inventing a way for them to interact with their sets, playing games like Ping-Pong, tennis, checkers, and more. His work led directly to the game Odyssey in 1972, the first home video game for the consumer market, and launched a million-dollar industry, though no one predicted that at the time. That same year, a young Nolan Bushnell played Odyssey at a trade show. Bushnell went on to found Atari and create the arcade version of Baer’s Ping-Pong game, the now infamous Pong. Baer’s groundbreaking work shaped the leisure-time activities of a large segment of the world’s population and spawned numerous businesses, but the historical record of his achievements very nearly disappeared. In 2008, Baer told us the following story of how his original documents and apparatus were lost … and then found. They are now preserved in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, where Baer’s home workshop will go on display next summer.

In the late 1990s I became aware that there is a growing community of classic video-game enthusiasts in the U.S. and elsewhere and that collecting hardware (game consoles, accessories, etc.) is an ongoing, growing hobby. So I became very concerned about the fate of all of the TV game hardware, as well as its supporting documentation, that we had built at Sanders Associates in Nashua, N.H., from 1966 through 1969. Hence, I began to inquire into the whereabouts and recoverability of the developmental games and the many supporting documents that Bill Harrison, Bill Rusch, and I generated during that period.

Photocopies of some of that documentation, used in various lawsuits against infringers of our patents, had been in my possession, but that was about all. Fortunately, people at Sanders were very cooperative and agreed that this material should be preserved. So I took charge of the collection effort and went after the hardware because I knew where it was stored and because it was most vulnerable to loss or destruction. Tracking down original documentation took place several years later.

There were a series of video-game-related patent infringement lawsuits, starting in the mid-seventies and finally ending in the mid-1990s, and I was not only deposed frequently but often appeared as an expert witness in court. Therefore I had a chance to review our game-development documents over and over again during that period of twenty years. That fact would later be of great help to me in my new task of trying to locate and preserve both hardware and documentation.

Depositions for the last of the lawsuits took place in Chicago in 1997 and I found myself once again in the offices of Leydig, Voit & Mayer, an intellectual-property law firm. During that deposition, video was shot in the Leydig, Voit & Mayer offices (these VHS tapes were recovered in 2004 by my friend and associate, David Winter) and show me handling every one of the eight different models of TV games, as well as other apparatus, that we had built at Sanders in the 1960s. In July 1997 I got the recovery effort rolling and received about half of the games from Leydig, Voit & Mayer a year later; the other games could not be located.

Because of health issues, I needed someone to help me continue the effort of data collection. I felt that that individual had to be a person of integrity who was a dedicated video-game historian and who had an existing, detailed knowledge of much of the early 1970s hardware, starting with the Magnavox Odyssey 1TL200. Preferably, he or she would also be someone who understood the technology and who was intensely interested in the details of the genesis of video games.

The only person I knew who qualified under these preconditions was David Winter in Paris, France. I began corresponding frequently by email with David starting in 1998. He was then in his mid-twenties, had a background in electrical engineering and software, and had already amassed a substantial collection of classic video-game consoles. What is more, he turned out to be that rare individual who is a true collector, intensely interested in the history of video games. He was then already exceptionally knowledgeable about the technical and marketing details of video-game hardware from the early 1970s.

And in many ways, he reminded me of myself. I came back to the U.S. from Paris as a GI in 1946, World War II being over, and brought eighteen tons of foreign small arms home with me. I had been teaching the use of some of these weapons to GIs and in the process was thoroughly drawn into understanding those weapons’ heritage and technology. I became the self-motivated collector of, and resident expert on, foreign small arms for the War Department. This intense experience made me intimately familiar with what it takes to be a collector–and I recognized those traits in David Winter.

With my health deteriorating, I decided to invite David to accompany me on a trip to Chicago in June 2002 to try and locate the missing TV game hardware items. Unfortunately, in two long, hot, and dusty days at the storage facility, we located only one hardware item, but did find hundreds of photocopies of documents that shed new light on the early history of video games. For example, we found records of the pre-Odyssey product consumer acceptance tests carried out by Magnavox, as well as many internal documents that fleshed out the details of how the home-console video-game business really got started at Magnavox. With the availability of all that data, we had moved a big step forward in our mission to create a detailed historical track of who did what, when, and where to make the home-console video-game industry a reality.

The next year, David went to Chicago again, this time on his own, to take one more crack at the storage boxes in an effort to find Harrison’s, Rusch’s, and my original documents. He was eminently successful, locating the standard-issue Sanders notebooks kept by Bill Rusch and Bill Harrison during 1967 and 1968 as well as the original loose-leaf papers containing my 1966-72 notes, including the cover sheet and four-page document that I wrote on September 1, 1966. In that document I had laid out the concept of playing games using an ordinary TV set and proposed a lot of game ideas, thus making that document the closest thing to the Magna Carta of the home video-game industry. David also found the original guest book used by Magnavox in May 1972 to sign in visitors at its San Francisco showroom. There Nolan Bushnell, later president of Atari, signed that book and played the Odyssey Ping-Pong game hands-on. That act became the genesis of the arcade game Pong.

Baer demonstrating his original video game equipment in 2003.

Baer demonstrating his original video game equipment in 2003. © 2003 Smithsonian Institution; photo by Jeff Tinsley.

In October 2002 I had contacted David Allison, chair and curator of the Division of Information Technology and Communications at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, and we agreed, in principle, that the Smithsonian would become the repository for the game apparatus, as well as some of the supporting photocopied documentation. Finding and donating the original documents was not even a remote possibility at the time. But in January 2006 I sent the newly located original documents to the Smithsonian. These have been digitized by the Lemelson Center and are available as part of the finding aid  to the materials that I have donated.

The search goes on for additional documents relevant to the 1966-75 period that brackets the conceptual, developmental, and early production and marketing years of the nascent console video-game industry. As they surface, I expect to add them to the material already in the custody of the Smithsonian. Through the work of the Lemelson Center’s Modern Inventors Documentation (MIND) program, the fragile historical record representing my nearly lost legacy and that of other inventors as well is preserved and accessible.

For more about Ralph Baer, watch the video of his visit to Spark!Lab in 2009 and listen to our 2007 podcast.

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 about 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.

A Day at the Armory: Part II

One of the most exciting aspects of historical research is the thrill of finding a truly great primary source. Recently, while researching Hartford’s industrial history for our Places of Invention exhibition, I uncovered a remarkable first person account of the inner working of Samuel Colt’s Hartford Armory from 1857. Fortunately, copyright protection has expired on such an old piece, so I thought it would be fun to reprint it here. The original article is quite long so I have cut and provided a digest of certain sections, while retaining the descriptions of the factory and grounds. Enjoy Part II…and go back to read Part I.

Part II: “Repeating Fire-Arms:  A Day at the Armory of Colt’s Patent Fire-Arms Manufacturing Company,” United States Magazine, vol. 4, no. 3 (March 1857): 221-249.

With the exception of the steam engine and boilers, a majority of the machinery was not only invented, but constructed on the premises. When this department was commenced, it was the intention of the Company to manufacture solely for their own use. Some months since, applications were made by several foreign Governments to be supplied with machines and the right to operate them. After mature deliberation, it was concluded to supply orders, and on the day of our visit we saw a complete set of machinery for manufacturing fire-arms, that will shortly be shipped to a distant land. The Company have now determined to incorporate this manufacture as a branch of their regular business. The machine shop is the lower floor of the front parallel; its dimensions are 60 by 500 feet; it is supplied with power and hand tools of every desired kind, all of the most approved construction.

Drawing of A Colt workman at a jigging machine, 1857.

Figure 4: A Colt workman at a jigging machine. The machine featured a revolving wheel with various metal cutting tools attached so the machinist could perform several operations on a single work piece. From United States Magazine, 1857.

Another of the numerous inventions of Colonel Colt is the Metallic Foil Cartridge, a contrivance that always insures “dry powder’ to the possessor. Tin foil, cut in the required shape, is formed in an inverted cone, which is charged with gunpowder; the ball is oval, with a flat end; a circle is pierced near the edge, on this flat end, to receive the edge of the foil; on the cone and ball being brought together, the joint is closed by pressure; they are then inclosed in paper wrappers, so arranged that this covering can be instantly removed when the cartridge is about to be used. The whole operation is completed so perfectly that the cartridge is entirely impervious to water, as by experiment they have repeatedly been fired after having been immersed for hours. Owing to the peculiar shape of the bore of the nipple in Colt’s firearms, the fire from the percussion caps readily penetrated the foil, without pricking.

They are manufactured in a building erected expressly for the purpose, situated about half a mile south of the armory. No fire is allowed in any part of the works, heat being furnished by steam generated in an out-building. Nearly the whole labor here is performed by females, about thirty of whom were at work during our visit – the foreman, engineer and charger making the complement of employees.

Drawing of women assembling Colt's patented gunpowder cartridges, 1857.

Figure 5: Women doing the dangerous work of assembling Colt’s patented gunpowder cartridges at the Cartridge Works. From United States Magazine, 1857.

The principal officers of the company consist of Colonel Colt as President; E. K. Root, Esq., Superintendent, and Luther P. Sargeant, Esq., Treasurer and Secretary; besides these, there is a chief to each department – Mr. Horace Lord being master workman in the armory. Colonel Colt has been particularly fortunate in the selection of his immediate associates; they are all men of mark. Mr. Root, to whom we are indebted for a few hours of valuable instruction, is one of the most accomplished, practical and scientific mechanics of the day; although only in the prime of life, he has established a most enviable position, and his opinions on mooted questions of mechanism are eagerly sought after, even by the principals of some of our most extensive city establishments. Colonel Colt informed us that since their first connection all his views had been most ably seconded and put in practical operation by Mr. Root. In fact, the whole manufacture of every description is under his immediate direction.

Although so much care and attention have been exercised in perfecting the armory, its accessories and products, yet the general welfare of the employees has not been neglected; most extensive arrangements for their comfort and convenience are in the course of rapid completion. And we may here remark that they are deserving of such especial favor; as a body they are mostly young men, many of them having commenced their business life in the establishment. It was, in a measure, necessary to educate men expressly for the purpose, as the manipulation required is not exclusively that of the gunsmith, or of the machinist, but a combination of both of these callings. Taken as a whole, we found them decidedly a reading and thinking community, and we venture the assertion, that it would be difficult to produce a counterpart of mental capacity in the same number of mechanics employed in a manufactory. That they are well compensated for their services is evinced from the fact of the pay-roll amounting to from $1,000 to $1,200 per day.

The grounds around the armory have been laid out in squares of 500 feet each by streets 60 feet wide; upon these squares are being erected commodious three-story dwellings. Sufficient for about eighty families have already been finished, and are occupied by the employees; the operations will be continued until all who desire are accommodated. These houses have all the conveniences of city life. Gas works, of sufficient capacity to supply as large a population as can occupy the area, have already been erected and put in operation. Attached to the engine in the main building is a “cam pump,” which raises the water from the Connecticut to a reservoir on the hill beyond, from which it is distributed, by pipes, to the armory, dwellings, etc….One of the buildings is a beautiful structure known as Charter Oak Hall – so named from its being located on the same avenue as the venerable and time-honored tree, which for centuries braved the storm, and from a singular incident became celebrated in our colonial history. This hall is employed by the operatives for lectures, debates, concerts, balls, etc. The festive occasions are enlivened with music from a band organized from their midst – the instruments, which are most excellent, having been furnished though the liberality of Colonel Colt. A public park, fountains, etc., are in the plans, all of which are being successfully executed.

On the hill overlooking the whole is the palatial residence of the proprietor. It is really a superb edifice, the main building being fifty by one hundred feet; it is in the Italian villa style – the ground and out buildings being on the scale which would naturally be expected of a man of his extended views and liberal taste.

The marvelous extension of use of Colonel Colt’s revolver within a few years, in Europe, and over parts of Asia – the establishment by the British Government of an armory of its own at Enfield, for its manufacture – the establishment of another by the Russian Government at Tula for the same manufacture – the call upon Colonel Colt, aided in part by some other American establishments, to provide all the important machinery for these new armories – these facts and hosts of testimonials from all parts of the world, and from the highest sources, attest the unrivaled excellence of the repeating arms of Colonel Colt, and rank him among the most remarkable inventors of the world.

A Day at the Armory: Part I

One of the most exciting aspects of historical research is the thrill of finding a truly great primary source. As you probably recall from History 101, a primary source is a document, report or set of observations written contemporaneous with the period you’re studying.  The best primary sources are first-person accounts—these reports from the past give historians our best evidence of what things were really like in a given place and time.

Recently, while researching Hartford’s industrial history for our Places of Invention exhibition, I uncovered a remarkable first person account of the inner working of Samuel Colt’s Hartford Armory from 1857. The observations of the unnamed reporter and (pre-photographic!) renderings by artist Nathaniel Orr provide a rich sense of life in Coltsville and on the factory floor.

Fortunately, copyright protection has expired on such an old piece, so I thought it would be fun to reprint it here. The original article is quite long so I have cut and provided a digest of certain sections, while retaining the descriptions of the factory and grounds. Enjoy!

“Repeating Fire-Arms:  A Day at the Armory of Colt’s Patent Fire-Arms Manufacturing Company,” United States Magazine, vol. 4, no. 3 (March 1857): 221-249.

Eric’s note: The first part of the article describes Colt’s invention and patenting of the revolver in 1836.  It then describes Colt’s first failed efforts to build a successful business in Paterson, NJ.  In 1847, after correcting some of the defects in his original design, Colt received an order for 1000 revolvers from Captain Samuel Walker of the Texas Rangers.  Colt contracted with Eli Whitney, Jr. of Hamden, CT to manufacture the revolvers to his specifications.  The proceeds from this and subsequent orders allowed Colt to establish a temporary factory in his native Hartford, then build his permanent factory in 1855.  The observer from United States Magazine, writing in 1857, describes the two-year old armory.   

[The orders from Colt’s improved revolver enabled him to] …transfer his enterprise to Hartford, his own native town, upon the banks of the Connecticut, where he has at last succeeded in founding an armory, the most magnificent of its kind, it may be safely alleged, in the known world – an establishment, built in the first place by damming out – in a project deemed by many, in its inception, almost superhuman – the waters of the mighty Connecticut in their maddened freshet time – which incorporates, in buildings and machinery, a full million of dollars – which give employment to from six to eight hundred men inside the main building, and to numerous hands outside, – which dispenses daily, in wages alone from one thousand to fifteen hundred dollars, and manufactures, year by year, from seventy-five to one hundred thousand arms…

…Within the corporate limits of the City of Hartford, immediately below the Little or Mill River, is a section land, containing about 250 acres, which, owing to its formerly being submerged at the periodical freshets of the Connecticut River, was available at certain seasons only, and then but for grazing. Colonel Colt selected and purchased this spot as his field of operations. His first move was to erect an embankment, or dyke, by which the waters of the Connecticut were entirely and permanently excluded; thus reclaiming the land for building purposes or tillage, as might be desired. This embankment is about two miles long, averaging over one hundred feet wide at the base, and over forty feet in width at the top, and from ten to twenty feet in height. It is built in the most substantial manner, the sides being covered with osier, both for protection and ornament, and for material for his willow works factory, for which he has brought fifty skilled craftsmen from Germany and plans to build for them Swiss-chalet style houses called the Potsdam village. From the smoothness of the road on the dyke, and the beautiful scenery in the vicinity, the dyke has become the fashionable drive of the citizens.

Drawing of Colt Armory from across the Connecticut River, 1857.

Figure 1. Armory of the Colt’s Patent Fire-Arms Manufacturing Company in Hartford, from across the Connecticut River. Notice the earthen work dykes secured by osier (willow) trees on the opposite river bank. From United States Magazine, 1857.

That the operations might be on the most extended scale, and also that the proprietor might have the undivided exertions of his principal assistants in the manufacture, an association was now formed under a special law from the state, styled “Colt’s Patent Fire-arms Manufacturing Company.” The stockholders in the company are few, Colonel Colt being largely the principal, and the others the heads of the various departments of the business. The capital is $1,250,000; the whole of which is invested in the buildings, tools, machinery, raw materials, etc….The new armory…was finished and operations commenced in it in the Fall of 1855.

The motive power is located about in the center of the main building. It consists of a steam engine – cylinder, 36 inches in diameter, 7 foot stroke, fly-wheel 30 feet in diameter, weighing 7 tons. This engine, which is rated at 250 horse power, is supplied with the well-known “Sickel’s Cutoff,” which the superintendent and engineer speak of as the most useful and important addition to the steam-engine since the days of Watt. The steam is furnished from two cylindrical boilers, each 22 feet long and 7 feet in diameter. The power is carried to the attic by a belt working on the fly-wheel; this belt is 118 feet long by 22 inches wide, and travels at the rate of 2,500 feet per minute.

Fully appreciating the great interest manifested by our readers in descriptions of this kind, we will now proceed to conduct them through the interior of this immense industrial pile, and on the way we will endeavor to explain, as understandingly as possible, the various processes of the manufacture, from the raw metal and wood, to the complete and effective arms familiarly known as Colt’s Revolvers.

Leaving the office we cross the bridge, pass down through the machine shop, engine room, etc., to the rear parallel, an apartment 40 by 50 feet square, the center of which is appropriated as the store-room for iron and steel. Large quantities of these materials, in bars and rods, are stored here in charge of a responsible party, whose duty it is to fill the orders from the contractors, and render an accurate statement of such deliveries to the main storekeeper’s department. This latter system is universal throughout the establishment – thus the materials of all kinds can be readily accounted for, no matter what their state of transposition.

Drawing of the furnaces and anvils of Colt Armory's forging shop, 1857.

Figure 2: The furnaces and anvils of Colt’s forging shop. From United States Magazine, 1857.

We now follow them to the armory proper, which, in the first place, is the second story of the front parallel. This is probably not only the most spacious, but the best arranged and fitted workshop extant. We fully understand this to be a broad and sweeping assertion, yet we have an abundance of competent authority to back the opinion. On first entering this immense room, from the office, the tout ensemble is really grand and imposing, and the beholder is readily impressed with an exalted opinion of the vast mechanical resources of the corporation. The room is 500 feet long by 60 feet wide, and 16 feet high. It is lighted, on all sides, by 110 windows that reach nearly from floor to ceiling; it is warmed by steam from the boilers – the pipers being under the benches, running completely around the sides and ends; there are the perfect arrangements for ventilation, and sufficient gas burners to illuminate the whole for night-work. Running along through the center is a row of cast-iron columns, sixty in number, to which is attached the shafting – which here is arranged as a continuous pulley – for driving the machines, as close together as possible, only allowing sufficient space to get around and work them. The whole of this immense floor space is covered with machine tools. Each portion of the fire-arm has its particular section. As we enter the door the first group of machines appears to be exclusively employed in chambering cylinders; the next turning and shaping them; here another is boring barrels; another group is milling the lockframes; still another is drilling them; beyond are a score of machines boring and screw-cutting the nipples, and next to them a number of others are making screws; here are the rifling machines, and there the machines for boring rifle-barrels; now we come to the jigging machines that mortice out the lock-frames; and thus it goes on all over this great hive of physical and mental exertion.

Drawing of the second floor of Colt’s East Armory, showing dozens of machine tools and operators, powered by overhead pulley, belts, and shafting, 1857.

Figure 3: The second floor of Colt’s East Armory, showing dozens of machine tools and operators, powered by overhead pulley, belts, and shafting. From United States Magazine, 1857.

As soon as completed the different parts are carried to the story above, which, with the exception of the machinery and the columns through the center, is an exact counterpart of the room below. It is designated the Inspecting and Assembling Department. Here the different parts are most minutely inspected; this embraces a series of operations which in the aggregate amount to considerable; the tools to inspect a cylinder, for example, are fifteen in number, each of which must gauge to a hair; the greatest nicety is observed, and it is absolutely impossible to get a slighted piece of work beyond this point.

The finished arm is laid on a rack, ready for the prover; of course many others accompany it to the department of this official, which is located in the third story of the rear building. Here each chamber is loaded with the largest charge possible, and practically tested by firing; after which, they are wiped out by the prover and returned to the inspection department. The inspectors again take them apart, thoroughly clean and oil them, when they are for the last time put together and placed in a rack for the final inspection. This is done by Mr. William Tuller, a gentleman who has been in the constant employment of Colonel Colt since the manufacture commenced in Hartford. The parts having been so thoroughly examined and tested, it would seem that this last inspection was scarcely necessary; but, after a short observation, we saw several laid aside. Taking up one with a small mark on the barrel, “Why do you reject this?” we inquired. “Pass that to-day, and probably much larger blemishes would appear to-morrow,” replied Mr. T. The order from the Principal is perfection; and a small scratch in the bluing or varnish is sufficient to prevent the arm passing. The finished arm is now returned to the store room; from whence, after being papered, they are sent to the wareroom – situated in the basement of the office building; from this they are sent to nearly every portion of the habitable globe.

In round numbers it might be stated that supposing the cost of an arm to be 100; of this the wages of those who attended to and passed pieces through the machines was 10 per cent, and those of the best class workmen engaged in assembling the weapons was also 10 per cent, thus leaving 80 per cent for the duty done by the machinery.

Stay tuned for Part II of the article…

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.

Keep It Secret. Keep US Safe.

During our Inventing the Surveillance Society symposium on Oct. 25, we will be featuring World War II posters from the Archives Center in an “objects out of storage” program in the Museum’s 1East corridor.

Posters were one of the largest mediums for advertising during World War II.  Advertisers invented new art styles, designs, and propaganda campaigns. One campaign related to promoting privacy.

During the U.S.’s involvement in WWII (1941-1945) posters were a medium produced largely for people on the home front. They provided guidance on ways that people could feel that they were helping the war effort—one of which was maintaining secrecy.

Espionage and sabotage were serious concerns for U.S. citizens during the war. The American film industry contributed to the paranoia by producing numerous films about spies. Also, government censorship meant that credible information was hard to find, and therefore people relied more heavily on rumors as information regardless of their truth.

WWII poster advocating for secrecy

From the Princeton University Poster Collection, NMAH Archives Center, AC0433-0000037.

These factors encouraged the production of government posters stressing the importance of national security and deterring information leaks and sabotage. They made people feel that secrecy and protecting their privacy was a patriotic duty. One series of posters was the “careless talk” campaign. “The beauty of the ‘careless talk’ campaign was that people could feel involved in the war, playing a part and combating the enemy, merely by doing nothing and keeping their mouths shut,” historian O.W. Riegel concluded.

Caricatures and stereotypes were typically used in posters at this time. Often the leader of the country symbolized the country itself—i.e. Hitler came to symbolize Nazi Germany. These caricatures sometimes took a monstrous form.

An unforeseen consequence of these types of posters was that they increased paranoia about spies by making it seem like there was a spy around every corner. It also made people wary of being suspected of espionage.

WWII Poster advocating for secrecy

From the Princeton University Poster Collection, NMAH Archives Center, AC0433-0000046.

In thinking about how this advertising might relate to our contemporary society I have observed that current advertising and propaganda about U.S. citizens being spied on comes from the private sector, rather than the government. But I think that you can ask the same question of WWII posters that you can of contemporary advertising: Is encouraging people’s fear of spying in order to convince them to increase their privacy a good strategy? Do the ends justify the means? Join us for our symposium, Inventing the Suveillance Society, to explore these kinds of questions.

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.