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Object: Button hook

I-0471d
Button hook
1900-1950
Materials: Metal, wood

Image by Birgit Brånvall, via Wikimedia Commons.

An essential household item in the  Victorian era, used on everything from garments to shoes. A button hook was an ideal tool to have on hand when needing to button a difficult button. In the Victorian era clothing, including shoes were worn tighter than clothes today and as close to the body as possible, with many buttons and laces to hold them in place. Shoes and articles of clothing of this style often needed a button hook to help fasten them. Particularly when the buttons were spaced fairly close together. So, a button hook was a good device to have. It was a small tool with a handle that had a long metal hook attached. The hook itself came in different diameters ranging from ¼ inches loops to 3/8 inches loops for larger buttons.

Image from Miami U. Libraries – Digital Collections, via Wikimedia Commons.

Introduced in 1611 in France, it was used throughout Europe and patented in 1876. It was described in the patent as “an instrument to facilitate the buttoning of shoes, gloves and like purposes.” Men were the first to have a need for this tool when wearing spats, also known as spatter dashers, and gaiters were popular men’s fashions. The gaiter, which was made of cloth or leather went on top of the shoe like a wrap or covering. The buttons on the gaiter helped to keep it in place and the button hook was used to aid in fastening the small buttons. Women’s shoes at that time resembled men’s spats but with a higher heel. They were buttoned up past the ankle, often with more than 6 buttons. Button hooks were an important tool for changing one’s shoes in Victorian times.

Portability of a button hook was essential when traveling. Most shoe manufactures also produced a button hook that was included with the shoe and had the name of the manufacturer printed on them. Some shoes even had a small pocket or loop inside the shoe for keeping a hook, in case of any emergencies.

The button hook currently in the collections here at the Institute of Texan Cultures came with an past. Donated to the museum in 2004 along with several other items, it was donated by a former electrician who worked at the notorious Chicken Ranch Brothel. The Chicken Ranch operated in La Grange, TX from 1905 to 1973, and was the inspiration for the movie “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” and the song “La Grange” by ZZ Top. It isn’t entirely clear if the donor got the button hook from the brothel but, it definitely would have been a handy tool for buttoning up corsets and tight-fitting dresses.

Image by Simon Speed, via Wikimedia Commons.

Though this little device does not seem to be much, they have become very popular with collectors and there are even conventions held about these handy instruments. Collectors go in search of various types of button hooks made with different materials, such as handles made from mother of pearl, wood or brass. They are also looking for more ornate highly decorated handles, or some just collect to have one from all over the world.

Devices such as these may not be common anymore, but they could be handy for people who have difficulty using their hands. There are more modern types of button hooks available today made for the elderly or people with arthritis. [Marisol Martinez, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Blodgett, Debora E. “A Fascinating Fastener: The Button Hook- an Essential Garment Tool.” The Chronicle of the Early American Industries Association, Inc. 69.3 (2016): 89.

Brandon, Sue. Buttonhooks and Shoehorns. Buckinghamshire: Shire Publications Ltd, 2008.

Buttonhook Society. A Compendium of Information on Buttonhooks and Associated Items. Maidstone: Buttonhook Society, 1995.

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Object: Typewriter

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I-0443a
Typewriter
American
New York, NY
ca. 1893
Materials: Metal, plastic, wood

Charles Thurber’s “Chirographer” typewriter, image from http://www.officemuseum.com via Wikimedia Commons.

Today, with the emergence of new digital technology, older technology also known as low tech is slowly on the outs. The typewriter is turning into an obsolete machine, much like home telephones and cassette tapes. A patent for the first typewriter was introduced in 1714. In 1845 a working machine was produced. Invented by, Charles Thurber it had 36 plunger like keys that would strike the paper and print the letters on the paper. Most of the early machines were large, about the size of a table top. They were not easy to transport and were very heavy. In 1856, a typewriter made by the Wheatstone Co. was the first machine to be produced with individual keys, it struck the paper from the bottom. These early typewriters came in many different shapes and designs, many look nothing like the keyboard you see on your computer today.

The typewriter was not inexpensive to produce and would cost up to $100 at the time of its first introduction, equivalent to roughly $2,500 today. Typewriters rapidly become popular, especially in the business world. This created a need for cheaper typewriters to be produced. In 1856 a smaller, more portable typewriter known as the index typewriter was introduced. It was manufactured by the American Typewriter Company and was sold for only $5. It was cast in one piece that sat on a heavy base. It had an arc shaped plate at the top that displayed the letters and numbers. There was a roller in front that the paper went through that could be fed by turning a knob on the right side. There was a rubber band with letters under the plate and two keys that shifted between the rows to indicate what key was going to strike the paper. Under the plate was a small type guide that the chosen key would strike through.

Image from U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, via Wikimedia Commons.

This style of typewriter would eventually die out as more user-friendly, faster versions came about. Electric typewriters emerged during the 1920’s, but by the 1970’s the typewriter was becoming a machine of the past. The images of offices filled with women clicking away on the keyboard and the distinct sound of the keys striking the paper and the bell ringing when you have come to the end of your line is slowly fading away. These once noisy machines have been replaced by the more quieter and versatile computer. Today, some people like musician John Mayer do still prefer to use a typewriter. He likes how he is not interrupted by spell check or grammar suggestions. He states that he likes to see his mistakes. He can see his brain working through his writing process. It is not just musicians, but actors like Tom Hanks have kept the nostalgia alive. Tom Hanks personalizes his notes by typing them from a typewriter. There is a renewed interest in using typewriter especially with busking street poets. They can set up shop on a random street and share their words with others. Sometimes taking requests to add that artist element to a love note or thank you note. Though not as portable as the more modern computer or iPad. It is still nice to hear the nostalgic clicking sounds of the once beloved typewriter. [Marisol Martinez, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Allan, Tony, and Richard F. H. Polt. Typewriter: The History, the Machine, the Writers. New York: Shelter Harbor Press, 2015.

Roby, Henry W., and Milo Milton Quaife. Henry W. Roby’s Story of the Invention of the Typewriter. [Whitefish, Mont.]: Kessinger Publishing, 2007.

Science Museum (Great Britain). The Typewriter. London: Science Museum, 1978.

Weller, Charles Edward. Early History of the Typewriter. [Place of publication not identified]: Nabu Press, 2012.

Object: Shredder

I-0393s
Shredder/Grinder
American
20th century
Materials: Metal

Grinders and shredders would have been a staple kitchen tool in many American households prior to the widespread use of electricity. These tools were used to make a variety of food products, and were key to making everything from sausage to coffee. This particular grinder was reportedly used to make sauerkraut, meaning “sour cabbage” in German. Sauerkraut has been a staple food in the German diet since it was brought over from China in the 16th century. The Chinese started eating sauerkraut 2,000 years before the Germans. The Chinese made it by shredding the cabbage and fermenting it in rice wine. When the dish made it to Germany the Germans would shred the cabbage, then sprinkle salt over it and let it ferment in its own juices. It became very popular with Dutch sailors because sauerkraut does not need to be refrigerated to stay fresh and it helped prevent scurvy. Sauerkraut was then brought over to the United States, and Texas, with the German immigrants.

Sauerkraut is usually a finely sliced white cabbage that salt is added to help it ferment. The sugars in the cabbage are converted into lactic acid when it is fermenting, and it is commonly served on Reuben sandwiches or with sausage, or bratwurst.  A variety of spices and additional vegetables can be added to create specialty krauts, or even Korean style kimchi.

Before the hand-cranked style grinder, people had to cut the cabbage by hand with knives. This process took a long time; so many tools were invented to make it easier to cut cabbage. One of these tools was a cabbage cutter, which was made of a blade and a wooden box. It was arranged so that the blade would be slightly higher than the bottom of the box. Over time the design of the cabbage cutter was improved upon. It would soon have more than one blade, as many as three, and instead of being inside of a box it would be on a slider with something to catch the cabbage under it. After the cabbage cutter the grinder was invented. The grinder is able to attach to a table and all one would have to do is push the cabbage through with one hand while the other turned the crank and the cabbage again would fall into a container.

You can still find cabbage cutters and hand-cranked grinders today. The designs are basically the same as when they were first created, but they have an updated look. Cutters are now usually made with plastic or metal instead of wood, but one can still find some made of wood. Grinders today are usually powered by electricity. A food processor can be used to shred cabbage, but if you do not want to go through the hassle of shredding cabbage and then fermenting it for 4 to 6 weeks you can easily go to the store and buy some instead. [Illa Bennett edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Frias, Juana, Cristina Martinez-Villaluenga, and Elena Peñas. Fermented Foods in Health and Disease Prevention. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2017.

Bacon, Josephine. Preserves & Bottling: A Concise and Informative Introduction to the Skills of Preserving and Bottling. Secausus, N.J.: Chartwell Books, 1994.

Stoudt, John Joseph. Sunbonnets and Shoofly Pies; A Pennsylvania Dutch Cultural History. South Brunswick: A.S. Barnes, 1973.

Kaufmann, Klaus N., Annelies Schoeneck, and Annelies Schoeneck. The Cultured Cabbage: Rediscovering the Art of Making Sauerkraut. Burnaby, B.C.: Alive Books, 1998.

Object: Camera

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I-0069b
Camera
American
Rochester, NY
1907-1925
Materials: Metal, Glass, Wood

This object is a Seneca Competitor View Camera made by the Seneca Camera Manufacturing Company. The Competitor View was a part of the view camera series that the company created. View cameras are bigger and more complex to use than the roll-film cameras that were commonly used prior to digital cameras. The view camera was typically used for landscapes, architecture, and portraits. This type of camera captures the image on either an emulsion coated glass plate or sheet film. The Competitor View came in three different sizes 5 x 7, 6 ½ x 8 ½, and 8 x 10 inches.

The Seneca Camera Manufacturing Company started in 1895 and was based in Rochester, New York. The founders named the company after the Seneca-Iroquois tribe that was indigenous to the New York area. They often showed a Native American holding one of their cameras in their ads and brochures.Seneca mainly made simple cameras for the everyday person, including box cameras and folders, a folding camera.

Portrait of George Eastman (1854-1932) , founder of Eastman Kodak Company. Image via WikiMedia Commons.

The company did well until 1924 when it was sold to Conley Camera Company who was a subsidiary of Sears Roebuck & Company. Both the Seneca Camera Manufacturing Company and Conley Camera Company’s biggest competitor was the Kodak Company. The Kodak Company started off as the Eastman Kodak Company and founded by George Eastman who had the idea for a camera that was easier to handle when on trips when he was just 24 years old. Eastman was traveling to Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, and a coworker suggested that he take pictures on his trip. At the time the only camera that he could take with him was a large view camera, while looking for a camera for his trip he became fascinated with photography and wanted to make the process easier.

Prior to the late 1800s, photographs were taken using a “wet plate” system that used panes of glass coated in a special liquid to make a negative. This negative had to be “developed” into a photograph within 15 minutes or the image would be lost. The invention of a “dry plate” system for cameras meant that images could be stored for extended periods before being developed, making it easier to take photos on the go. Eastman developed a way to mass produce large quantities of “dry plates” for his cameras. The company continued to gradually advance its technology and started using film rolls in 1883 instead of glass plates. The film rolls were first used in view cameras, but the camera’s themselves started to become smaller and lighter. The first small Kodak camera was a box camera and from there it continued to get smaller and cheaper until it turned into the disposable camera of the twentieth century. [Illa Bennett, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

“KODAK’S DIGITAL REVOLUTION”. BRW -MELBOURNE-. 22: 78-81.

Pritchard, Michael. A History of Photography in 50 Cameras. Richmond Hill, Ontario : Firefly Books, 2015.

Simmons, Steve. Using the View Camera. Brattleboro, Vt. : Echo Point Books & Media, LLC, 2015.

Wade, John. A Short History of the Camera. Watford [England]: Fountain Press, 1979.

Object: Sewing machine

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I-0087a
Sewing Machine
American
1915
Materials: Wood, Metal

This object is a Singer Sewing Machine, it was made by the Singer Sewing Machine Company. Singer is an American company, founded by Isaac Merritt Singer and Edward Cabot Clark, that has been making sewing machines since 1851. The Singer sewing machine was the first sewing machine that was designed for home use, rather than factory production. The first machine had the basic eye-needle and lockstitch that was patented by Elias Howe. The basic eye-needle, also known as the universal needle it has a rounded point and is used to sew on woven or knitted fabrics. The lockstitch is the most basic stitch that creates a straight line by interlocking two threads together one from the top and the other from the bottom.

Isaac Singer was born October 27, 1811 the eighth son of poor German immigrants in Pittstown, New York. Isaac went to work as a mechanic and cabinetmaker when he was a young man. He designed his first invention when he was working for a manufacturing plant that made wooden type for printers. He created a machine that was better at carving the wooden type. It was in 1850 that Isaac saw a sewing machine being made and decided that he could make a better version of the machine.

Violet’s daughter, Ailsa Trundle is working on a small sewing project beside her mother. Image from State Library of Queensland, via Wikimedia Commons.

The first sewing machine that Isaac made was too bulky and expensive to be attractive to housewives, which were his target customers. But after awhile Isaac was able to come up with a mass production version, which had interchangeable parts and brought the price down to $10. In the 1850s that was equivalent to around $295 today. Isaac continued to upgrade the design and his company began offering the assistance of repair mechanics and sewing instructors. The company and the machine became a household name by 1863 when Ebenezer Butterick, a tailor, started selling the first graded dress patterns. Singer still makes sewing machines today, the only times that the company stopped manufacturing them was during World War I and II, when the factory was tasked with making weapons to support the war effort. Once the wars were over the company went back to making sewing machines and other accessories for them. [Illa Bennett, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Askaroff, Alex. Isaac Singer. Sussex: Crows Nest Publications, 2014.

Bausum, Dolores. Threading Time: A Cultural History of Threadwork. Fort Worth, Tex: TCU Press, 2001.

Brandon, Ruth. Singer and the Sewing Machine: A Capitalist Romance. New York: Kodansha International, 1996.

Carlson, Laurie M. Queen of Inventions: How the Sewing Machine Changed the World. Brookfield, Conn: Millbrook Press, 2003.

Siegel, Beatrice. The Sewing Machine. New York: Walker, 1984.

Object: Iron

2013.16.1
Iron
Hungary
Materials: Metal, Wood

This object is a charcoal iron from Hungary. A charcoal iron is an early version of a modern clothes iron that we use today. The reason it is called a charcoal iron is, because it has a container inside its base where burning charcoal is placed to heat it up. The holes that line the base allow air to circulate and keep the charcoal embers burning. Sometimes there is a funnel or a chimney that directs the smoke through the top of the iron keeping the it away from the clothes.

Ladies working new silk by Master Chang Hsüan, early 12th century. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

The charcoal iron is a step up from the stones, glass, and presses that were used in Europe when people first started ironing clothes. But there was a similar contraption used in Asia as early as the 1st century B.C. Women would iron clothes with a pot heated with coals, while stretching clothes taut. In the Middle Ages sad irons, also called flat irons, were being made out of stones and metals that are able to hold heat for a long period of time. Some of these materials were cast iron and soapstone. The way that these irons are used is by heating them up in a fire or on a stove top. The reason that this iron is called a sad iron is because; sald is an old English word for “solid.” In modern English the sad iron would be solid iron. Sad irons were still used even after the invention of the charcoal iron, up until the 1880s when the first electric iron was invented.

Kingsford’s Oswego Starch. Advertisement showing seven women around table ironing. Lithograph by Julius Bien & Co., New York, c. 1885. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Between the charcoal iron and the sad iron, the sad iron was preferred, because although the charcoal iron was easier to use, it produced a lot of smoke from the coals. The sad iron had its faults too. For one it was not easy to use. It was solid piece of metal with an attached metal handle, meaning that the handle would also heat up. To keep from burning your hands a cloth pad, like a pot holder, had to be wrapped around the handle. The iron would also cool down fast, which meant that you would have to wait for it to reheat, or you would need to have two for continuous ironing; one heating up while you ironed with the other. But around 1870 Mary Florence Potts of Ottumwa, Iowa made an iron with a detachable handle and a base with two points. This made it easier to handle without burning your hands and made it possible to move the iron back and forth without having to pick it up. [Illa Bennett, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Martin, Andrew. How to Get Things Really Flat: [a Man’s Guide to Ironing, Dusting and Other Household Arts]. London: Short Books, 2009.

Irons, David. Irons by Irons. [Northampton, PA]: D. Irons, 1994.

Jewell, Brian. Smoothing Irons: A History and Collectors Guide [Eng.]. Tunbridge Wells: Midas Books, 1977.

Rankin, Margaret Cuthbert. The Art and Practice of Laundry Work: For Students and Teachers. London: Blackie, 1905.

Sambrook, Pamela. The Country House Servant. Stroud: The History Press, 2013.

 

Object: Doll

I-0079j
Wooden Doll
American
1911 – 1928
Materials: Wood, Paint, Cloth, Thread,  & Metal

Portrait of Albert Schoenhut. Photo via German Historical Institute.

This object is Schoenhut Wood doll made by German immigrant Albert Frederick Schoenhut sometime between 1911 and 1928. Albert Schoenhut started making toys with his father and grandfather in Göppingen, Württemberg, Germany. In 1866 Schoenhut immigrated to the U.S. to work for John Wanamaker’s Philadelphia department store. While at the department store Schoenhut repaired the glass sounding bars in the toy pianos that were imported from Germany. Schoenhut left the department store in 1872 to build his own company, The Schoenhut Piano Company, which is still making toy pianos today. Schoenhut made the sounding bars in his toy pianos out of metal to make the pianos more durable, instead of the usual fragile glass sounding bars that the toys have been made of previously. This sparked Schoenhut’s idea to make other popular toys out of more durable materials. One of these toys was the doll.

The Schoenhut Wood Doll was a different type of doll than was being made in the early 1900s. Dolls made of wood and springs were durable and able to be put into different positions due to the springs in the joints. This was unheard of at the time, because most dolls were made from bisque porcelain, also known as china dolls. The Schoenhut Doll was made of wood with either carved hair or a wig, with two holes in soles of the doll’s feet to help it stand, clothes, and a paper label on its back marking that it was a Schoenhut Doll. The first set of dolls to be made was the Humpty Dumpty Circus in 1903. The set first consisted of a clown and some accessories. Later acrobats, a ringmaster, and a lion tamer were added. The set also included a variety of animals including an alligator, bears, a buffalo, an elephant, giraffe, horses, a lion, a monkey, and many other animals both exotic and domestic.

Schoenhut and his company became popular and his toys were in demand all over the United States. The company did so well with the Humpty Dumpty Circus doll set from 1903 to 1907 that in 1911 Schoenhut got a patent for jointed wooden dolls, the “All Wood Perfection Art Doll.” These dolls were so life-like at the time that they became even more popular than the Humpty Dumpty Circus set and other toy companies from the U.S. and Europe bought them to sell, even in Schoenhut’s home country Germany. The dolls outfits followed the fashion trends of the day and eventually had their own designer. The Schoenhut dolls were the Barbie dolls of the early 20th century.

Albert Schoenhut died the year after he got the patent for the “All Wood Perfection Art Doll.” His six sons (Albert, Gustav, Theodore, William, Harry, and Otto Schoenhut) took over the company after his death and the company did well for a number of years. However, like many other companies, it was hard for the company to flourish during the Great Depression. After the Depression, Albert Schoenhut’s youngest son Otto and grandson George tried to rebuild the company to its glory days by opening the O. Schoenhut Company and manufacturing the Pinn Family Dolls. But this did not last long and the company eventually was sold to Frank Trinca. The company was kept in the Trinca family with Len and Renee Trinca and the company name was changed back to Schoenhut Piano Company and returned to selling just toy pianos and other instruments. [Illa Bennett, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Dubois, Muriel. The Great Depression in America. Amawalk, N.Y.: Jackdaw Pub, 2003.

Shannon, David A. The Great Depression. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1960.

Manos, Susan. Schoenhut Dolls & Toys: A Loving Legacy. Paducah, Ky: Collector Books, 1976.

St. George, Eleanor. The Dolls of Yesterday. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1948.

Object: Yoke

I-0060yy
Yoke
Norway
Materials: Wood

Man carrying water using a yoke. Image by Paul Hamilton, via Wikimedia Commons.

This object is an ox yoke made out of wood. A yoke is a wooden beam used to help carry or pull heavy objects by distributing the weight evenly on both shoulders and can be used by humans and animals a like. There are three main types of yokes and it depends on what it is being used by. The first type of yoke is used by humans. A yoke used by humans would be a single beam of wood that sits on their shoulders where the back meets with the neck. The other two are for animals, one for a single animal and the other for two. If a single animal were to use a yoke then it would be made similar to that of the ones used by humans, but a with loop hold it in place around their neck. The two animal yoke, which is referred to as a team yoke, would be a longer beam of wood and have two loops, one for each animal.

Animal yokes allow animals to pull farming equipment, like a plow, along with wagons and carriages. The animals most commonly used to pull farm equipment, wagons, and carriages are horses, donkeys, mules, and oxen. The reasons these types of animals are used are due to their strength. Each of these types of animals all has their own merits and faults. Some of the benefits of theses animals are that they can help with a variety of crops, by lowering costs on gas and repairs for tractors, and by creating manure that works as fertilizer.

Amish farmer plowing fields with mules in Mt. Hope, Holmes County, Ohio, USA. Image by Ernest Mettendorf, via Wikimedia Commons.

Historically, by growing the grains and oats that each animal ate decreased the amount of money spent on buying food and increased the the potential profitability of farming. Additionally, with the animals came a natural source of manure that can be used as fertilizer. With these things in mind a farmer had almost everything needed to run a successful farm with healthy soil, a way to plow and plant, and a way to fertilize the soil in a single purchase of a horse, donkey, mule or oxen. However, as farm tractors and machinery developed the number of farms decreased while the size of the average field grew. It wasn’t long before animal based farming became too slow and time consuming to keep up with the increasing production needs of a modern farm.

Horses that are used in farm work are called draft horses, which are bred to do work like plowing and other farm work. Draft horses are large breeds of horses like the Clydesdales, Percherons, Belgians, Shires. Draft horse breeds were developed all over the world, but the ones mentioned above come from Western Europe, Clydesdales originate in Scotland, Percherons from France, Belgians from Belgium, and Shires from England.

 

Ancient Egyptian tomb figurines depicting workers loading up a couple of donkeys with supplies. Early Middle Kingdom, circa 2000 BC. Image by Keith Schengili-Roberts, via Wikimedia Commons.

Donkeys are members of the horse family that have adapted to desert areas. The donkey’s ancestors are from Africa and the first domestic donkeys can be traced back to around 4000 B.C. and 3000 B.C. in Lower Egypt. Donkeys are considered by many to be a stubborn animal due to their stronger sense of self-preservation. Donkeys unlike the horse, who would be willing to work itself to death, will stop when it feels that it is in danger.  Also, unlike the horse and the ox, donkeys tend to be used only for pulling carts, or to carry things on their backs and are prized for their ability to handle steep and rocky terrain. Mules are a produced from the breeding of male donkeys and female horses, but the breeding of a female donkey with a male horse produces a hinny. Mules tend to be larger than donkeys are are better able to pull heavy loads.

Oxen are bulls that have been castrated and are usually easier to handle than intact bulls. Oxen are used in pairs to pull carts and farm equipment. When using animals to pull farm equipment Oxen tend to be the better of the choices. This is due to their ability to pull heavier things and to work longer than the horse or the donkey, but it will take longer for them to work, because they are slower. Oxen can also help with more than just pulling equipment they can also help with threshing by walking over the grain and they can help power machines for grinding grain. However, they don’t make good choices for riding, areas where the horse, mule and donkey excel. [Illa Bennett, edited by Kathryn McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Damerow, Gail, and Alina Rice. Draft Horses and Mules: Harnessing Equine Power for Farm and Show. North Adams, Mass: Storey Pub, 2008.

Kennedy, Malcolm J. Hauling the Loads: A History of Australia’s Working Horses and Bullocks. Rockhampton, Qld: Central Queensland University Press, 2005.

Major, J. Kenneth. Animal-Powered Machines. Oxford, UK: Shire Publications, 2008.

Object: Washboard

I-0093a
Washboard
ca. 1920
Materials: Wood, Glass

This object is a washboard, which was used to wash clothes. Before there were a washing machines and dryers to clean and dry our clothes a washboard and a clothesline were everyday household items. But this was a step up from how clothes were washed before the washboard was introduced into Western Europe. They would have to soak and beat clothes with washing bats to clean them. Some Eastern European countries like Norway and Finland have had washboards made from wood with notches carved into them for centuries but it was not officially patented until 1797. The first washboards were made entirely of wood, but in the 19th Century steel and zinc ridges replaced the wooden ones, but they still had a wooden frame. Later into the 19th century and early 20th century glass washboards, like the one pictured above, were introduced but were not as commonly used as the ones made from metal.

Woman plunges and scrubs. Photo by the Rural Electrification Administration, via Wikimedia Commons.

The way to wash clothes with a washboard would be by setting up two tubs one with hot water and another with warm or room temperature water. Once the water is in the tubs you then add the dirty clothes to the tub with hot water in it. It is suggested that the clothes are allowed to sit in the water to loosen up any dirt or stains, but it is not a necessary step to the process. After putting the clothes in the water you will then set the washboard in the tub with the clothes. The soap is then applied; it can be applied in one of three ways. 1) By shaving some off of a bar of soap and adding it into the water. 2) By scrubbing a bar of soap against the washboard. 3) By scrubbing a bar of soap against the clothes themselves.  Any way you want to do it you will be adding soap to the clothes and the water. After the soap is applied, the clothes are then be scrubbed one-by-one against the washboard until they are clean. After a piece of clothing has been scrubbed it is then wrung out of any excess water and soap, then rinsed and repeated until the all of the soap is rinsed away. Some people had a machine that would wring the clothes out for them instead of having to do it by hand. After the clothes have been washed they are hung up on a wash line, which consists of a wire or a piece of twine tied between two objects, usually two posts are used, but in cities the line is more often strung between buildings. [Illa Bennett, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Boothroyd, Jennifer. From Washboards to Washing Machines: How Homes Have Changed. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications Co, 2014.

Hardyment, Christina. Home Comfort: A History of Domestic Arrangements in Association with the National Trust. Chicago, Ill: Academy Chicago in association with the National Trust, 1992.

Patrick, Bethanne Kelly, and John M. Thompson. An Uncommon History of Common Things. 2015.

Sambrook, Pamela. Laundry Bygones. Princes Risborough: Shire, 1983.

Object: Sword

I-0230l
Saber
American
1860-1898
Materials: Leather, Metal, Wire

This object is a US Model 1860 Light Cavalry Saber. This model of saber was used during the American Civil War and the Indian Wars by dragoons, mounted riflemen, and cavalry regiments in the Army. Dragoons and cavalry are both soldiers who fight from atop a horse, dragoons are a lighter form of cavalry. The mounted riflemen are soldiers who have been trained to shoot guns from atop of a horse, like the Texas Rangers, and once they are in the midst of a battle they dismount from their horses.

Lts. George A. Custer, Nicolas Bowen, and William G. Jones The Peninsula, Va., May 1862. Photograph by James F. Gibson, via WikiMedia Commons.

The M1860 Light Cavalry Saber was created to replace the M1840 Heavy Cavalry Saber, which was heavier and longer, but looked exactly the same as its successor. Cavalry from both sides during the Civil War preferred the M1860 Cavalry Saber for use in battle. George Armstrong Custer used the M1860 Saber throughout his military service. Custer started his military career by graduating from West Point and joining the cavalry two months after the Civil War began. Custer was promoted several times during the war, eventually rising to the rank of Major General by the end of the war in 1865. In 1866 he was promoted again to Lieutenant Colonel and placed in command of the newly formed 7th Cavalry Regiment. The 7th Cavalry was charged with protecting settlers from the Platte River in Nebraska to the Staked Plains in Texas, and from the Missouri River to the Rockies and the railroad that crossed the area from attacks from attacks by Native American tribes living on the plains.

The last U.S. saber was issued in 1913. Today officers only carry sabers as a part of their dress uniform. During the 1920s the M1860 saber could be purchased cheaply in bulk. This has made them one of the most commonly seen types of military sabers today. They are commonly seen in Hollywood western movies, Civil War recreation battles, and given as military retirement gifts.

Military Saber Arch at a Wedding, 2005. Photo by AzureCitizen, via WikiMedia Commons.

Saber teams also use the M1860 Cavalry Saber when they perform the Saber Arch at weddings and other ceremonies. This tradition started with the United Kingdoms Royal Navy and has carried over to multiple countries, including the United States. The saber arch is a tradition for military weddings and usually takes six people to perform but, can be done with as few as four people. The six line up into two rows with three on each side. The commander then orders them to present the sabers, in which they are to bring their sabers to their chins. After presenting the sabers the commander tells them to arch the sabers, thus creating an arch for people to walk under. [Illa Bennett, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Custer, George A., and Stephen Vincent Brennan. An Autobiography of General Custer. New York: Skyhorse, 2013.

Smith, Graham. Civil War Weapons. New York: Chartwell Books, 2011.

Smith, David Paul. Frontier Defense in the Civil War: Texas’ Rangers and Rebels. College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 2010.

West, Elliott. The Contested Plains: Indians, Goldseekers, & the Rush to Colorado. Lawrence, Kan: University Press of Kansas, 1998.

Swartz, Oretha D. Service Etiquette. Annapolis, Md: Naval Institute Press, 1997.

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