It was the mid 1920s: a happening time between world wars. The United State Postal Service had successfully proved its experiment in putting excess planes to work ferrying mail from coast to coast, so that the government felt confident putting its airmail routes out to bid to private aviation companies.
An unknown Charles Lindbergh would fly mail between Chicago and St. Louis for one of those little firms. Meanwhile, another, Colonial Air Transport, launched in New York City by ex-air force pilo Juan Trippe, who later founded Pan Am, got its first contract in 1925. Colonial originally flew just a mail route between New York and Boston.
However, in 1927, the same year the small airline relocated its headquarters to Boston and Lindbergh captivated Americans with his flight across the Atlantic, Colonial began offering the first regular passenger service. Starting in April, Colonial’s planes, like the one in this photo by photographer Leslie Jones, flew steadily between Boston and New York.
Jones, a Boston Herald-Traveler photographer, took this particular photo in 1929 at the East Boston Airport.
Another company, AVCO purchased Colonial in 1930 and combined it into a network that eventually would become American Airlines.
In 1812, William Croswell, an “early nineteenth century eccentric“ – otherwise known for writing little-read, obscure books about astronomy, creating a well-received map of the stars (the first American star-map), and incurring debts to friends – was hired by Harvard to produce a new printed catalog for the library.
The library contained about 20,000 books, and was arranged by donor of the volumes.
Croswell apparently didn’t get on well with students, who played pranks on him including hanging a skeleton in the library. But he slowly and steadily progressed, until he had a list. He then began the task of putting it in a more logical order. Eventually in May of 1817 Croswell began cutting the list into strips, a task which took six weeks. Then he was able to arrange the slips under the appropriate headings.
Croswell eventually got fired for taking too long to finish the catalog.
But in 1840, librarian Thaddeus William Harris wrote that the Harvard Library should compile a slip catalog, listing all the collection’s titles on pieces of paper.
Harvard College Librarian Thaddeus William Harris urges in his 1840 annual report that a “slip catalogue” be created consisting of the title of every work in the library on pieces of card 6 1/2 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. Library historian Kenneth E. Carpenter (who put together a comprehensive history of the library in 1936 [PDF]) gives Croswell the credit.
Lists of a library’s inventory date back much farther, from writing on the walls to scrolls. Harvard at least claims their catalog is the first of its kind. The Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science says perhaps not and points back to Europe. The Harvard library was one of the first libraries to hire women, who hand-wrote many of the cards.
Would take one of these for people right about now.
The ASPCA, founded in 1866 spread to many American cities, and lobbied on behalf of draft horses.This scene was already on the wane in the 1920s. Horses were superseded by electric trolley lines through expanding cities (What’s that off in the background? A stretch of elevated railway). This mode of transport first proved commercially viable…in Boston. From “The decline of the urban horse in American cities“:
Henry Whitney, a Boston land speculator, and Charles Francis Adams, Jr (scion of the famous Adams family) built a trolley line to connect their suburban landholdings in Brookline with downtown Boston. Reports on the windfall profits that Whitney made on his property led to the rapid adoption of electric trolleys in other cities. The 1890 census estimated that trolley operation cost only $38,000 per mile, compared with $50,000 for horse cars.
As or more importantly, the automobile also made headway in cities after 1900. More from the same academic publication:
Between 1742, when horses were taxed for the first time, and 1841 there were roughly forty humans for each horse. By 1880 the ratio had dropped to twenty-five, although it was back up to forty in 1900 after the electrification of street railways…by 1920 Boston had fewer horses than in 1820.
Interestingly, Atlantic Ave, where this fountain for parched draft animals is set up has seen a lot of clearance and reconstruction. The streetscape looks nothing like this today. This 1922 photo is another by Leslie Jones, Herald-Traveler staff photographer.
Boston’s really really big blizzard dumped 40 to 50 inches of snow over Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York State. The storm, also called “The White Hurricane” arrived in Boston without warning (weather forecasters in the 19th century weren’t thought to be too accurate either). The spring had been unseasonably warm and few were prepared for a 36-hour snowstorm.
Cities like Boston and New York, which were more dependent on receiving outside food and supplies than rural areas, did worst. Snow stranded trains and winds downed telegraph lines — The Boston Globe‘s newfangled telephone remained a rare, surviving link to the outside world. Snow cleared from streets blocked sidewalks until men were hired to freight it away. Mass Moments says the blizzard had the belated effect of inspiring some major infrastructure investments, including burying lines and the nation’s first subway.
Clearing away snow wasn’t typical at the time, under less drastic conditions. The normal treatment for roads before the automobile was to use a snow roller to pack it down. Sleighs and wagons could ride on top of the flattened snow. The Brattleboro Historical Society has a fantastic article on the changing modes of snow removal, including one man’s memories of his father getting up to roll the nearby hills and photos of a horse-drawn wooden snow roll.
Regular favorite of this author, The Boston Globe’s Brainiac blog has a post on the age-old question: who invented the paper bag? Brainiac is chiming into the much-watched debate in which MoMA curator Aidan O’Connor and an irate, historically-minded visitor who questioned the historical accuracy of a caption in the museum’s kitchen design exhibit.
Brainiac summarizes the history of the events that have since inspired an unfortunate number of paper bag puns:
MoMA had attributed the paper bag to Charles Stilwell, who is remembered here-and-there as the “inventor of the self-opening sack.” It turns out, however, that Stillwell’s method of producing the bags drew heavily upon a previous method invented and patented by Margaret Knight. Knight worked at the Columbia Paper Bag Company here in Springfield, MA, and, O’Connor writes, is “believed to be the first woman to achieve a U.S. patent.”
As the blog notes, “The whole story [with great photos] is like a time-warp back to industrial-revolution America,” but most interestingly, it does reveal some of the complexities involved in nailing down long-past historical events. As a result of the online back and forth, the plaque in the museum has been changed to list Stillwell and Knight as co-inventors.
Pictured left: the Magic-Eye Doors, a pair of automatic doors facing Mass Ave on MIT’s Building 7.
Though now triggered by foot-pads, if you look closely, you can still see the glass “eyes” mounted on either side.
Horace H. Raymond worked in Connecticut as an engineer for the tool and hardware manufacture then called Stanley Works. He designed the first model of an optic device triggering the opening of an automatic door. He patented his invention in 1934 and installed his first set of magic doors in a Connecticut restaurant for the benefit of waiters carrying plates of food and drink.
The MIT pair is another of the earliest set of automatic doors, install by the university in its main entrance in the 1930s or 40s.
More? Raymond’s grandson, J.D. Heinzmann, helped to develop the segway, and liked to talk about his grandfather.
In January, 1785, Dr. John Jeffries, a Boston physician, made an eventful trip across the English Channel in the balloon of aviation pioneer, Francois Blanchard.
Jeffries, a Loyalist during the American Revolution who doctored the British Navy and left with the British troops for Halifax, was also an avid hobbyist ballooner. Blanchard was a well-known early participant in the early balloon flights which inspired a “balloonmania” in Europe. Decorative items and even clothing were detailed with images of balloons or styled au ballon. There was even a hairstyle dubbed à la Blanchard.
Jeffries financed Blanchard’s entire trip, though he was taken aboard only under strict conditions, having had to promise Blanchard he would jump overboard if necessary to reduce the weight. Preparing to depart, Blanchard put on a weighted girdle to up his weight and avoid taking Jeffries “which wasn’t very fair,” in the words of the 1916 account of Some interesting Boston events.
Blanchard did not go over the side during the three hour voyage, but spectators lining the cliffs of Dover saw the men discard:
“first their ballast, then Dr. Jeffries’ pamphlets, next their biscuits, apples, etc., then the ornaments of the car, and even the only bottle they had with them (the contents of which have never been disclosed!). Finally as they neared the French coast, the balloon again descended so rapidly that they began to throw over the clothes that they were wearing, one article of apparel after another, and when finally Dr. Jeffries caught hold of the topmost branch of one of the trees on the shore of the Continent and arrested the progress of the balloon, it was necessary for them both to search for an entirely new supply of clothing.”
In my admittedly increasingly loose definition of history, there’s plenty of room for the 1980s. The World Sculpture Racing Society, founded in 1981 by Jeff Cage and Kirby Scutter, staged annual races and exhibitions of kinetic sculpture at the Cambridge River Festival throughout the decade. In 1987, the group also staged a contest in Wisconsin, chronicled in the Milwaukee Journal.
A sculptor from Racine, Wisconsin took home first prize with a miniature racecar called the “Alchemic Terraplane.” The second prize went a visitor from Boston , Arthur Ganson, for his sculpture, ‘faster.’
Ganson also took third place with the “‘Dododecapede,’ a walking metal sculpture with dozens of intricately geared feet and legs.”
Faster had debuted in Boston. Ganson entered it in a number of races. He could have won, he says. But “every time you finish writing the word, I would stop and I would give the card to somebody on the side of the road. So I would never win the race because I’m always stopping.”
Arthur Ganson talks about his career in odd machines at TED.
Excerpt from a letter by Alexander Agassiz, curator of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard College, to Thomas Jefferson Coolidge, January 9, 1883. Part of the letter collection of Isabella Stewart Gardner on display in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
“I am sorry to find that during my absence Mr. Garman sent the Rattlesnakes to the London Zoological Society in exchange for some other equally disgusting but pickled monsters. The rascals out out once or twice and he was afraid of some accident to the other assistants of the Museum who have not at all the same faculty of handling such vermin. Now Garman will probably get a lot more later and when he does and the beasts are tamed I shall let you know and hope that Mrs. Gardner will honor the Museum by a visit.”
Some things always attract visitors. Left image: From LIFE archives. 1943. Thomas Barbour, Harvard Professor of Zoology, brings out a bull snake to entertain colleagues in his study in the museum, which had been renamed the Agassiz Museum.
We’ve looked before at how science entered the kitchen in the 19th century. You can find a lot more evidence on every page of Fannie Famer‘s Boston Cooking-School Cookbook. The Cookbook was the first put together by Farmer (also author of Chafing-Dish Possibilities and Food and Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent) in 1896.
Farmer had attended the Boston Cooking School, an institution which offered professional possibilities to woman during the post-Civil War era when few were available and more than ever were needed.
Her Cookbook incorporated the school’s scientific approach to create new type of a authoritative cookbook that contained precise directions, discussion of nutrition and caloric content. It opens by defining food, its basic constituent components like water and starch–including their chemical composition, before working its way up the food chain.
Her instructions included this precise recipe for breakfast cocoa, complete with technical terminology and instructions on proper frothing technique:
Farmer later trained dieticians and nurses and lectured at the Harvard Med School.
She also put scientific chops to work for another purpose–when chefs she visited refused to share their recipes, she took samples of food back to her lab for analysis.