Tag Archive | Domestic tool

Object: Icebox


Materials: Wood/Metal

This object is a wood and metal icebox that was popular in homes before electricity was widely available.  It is currently being exhibited in the sharecropper’s cabin in the museum.  Iceboxes were developed and used before modern day refrigerators, and were designed to preserve foods.

Basic iceboxes were made of wooden frames, and had a gap on the inside, with a smaller metal lining.  The iceboxes had separate drawers and shelves to store different types of foods. Ice would be packed in the space between the wood and metal, and then insulated with straw, sawdust, seaweed, or cork.  Cheaper versions would just have a drip pan underneath to catch the melting ice, but fancier models would have a container that caught the water, and a faucet to drain it.

Shows iceman holding block of ice in tongs behind horse drawn ice wagon. Photo by Russell Lee for Farm Security Administration/WPA via WikiMedia Commons

Every year when the weather turned warm, ice was delivered daily to homes by the iceman.  The iceman would drive from home to home, on a wagon lined with straw and full of ice blocks.  For each home, he would chip off pieces of ice for the icebox, and for an additional fee, he would insert the ice into the icebox for the homeowners.  During the summer months, kids would hitch a ride on the wagon of ice, or chip off small pieces of ice as a treat. Icemen worked for ice houses, which stored ice year round.  Every winter, ice was harvested from frozen lakes and stored in ice houses.  Ice harvesting and storage became a huge trade for states in New England, with many people becoming rich from shipping ice to the Southern states and the Caribbean.

However, ice houses were around long before the dawn of the icebox.  Records dating back to 1780 BC talk about construction of an icehouse in Mesopotamia.  Starting as dug out pits lined with straw, ice houses evolved around the world over the years, into everything from brick buildings to underground tunnels. By 1930, electric refrigerators like we use now began replacing the old iceboxes.  As the need for ice delivery declined, so did the business of ice houses.  By 1960, ice houses no longer served a purpose, and most were closed. In Texas however, ice houses were more innovative and started selling groceries and beer.  They became gathering spots for people to get together and relax.  The national convenience store 7-Eleven developed from ice houses that were operated by Southland Ice Company in Dallas and San Antonio in the 1930s.

Though it’s easy to take ice for granted today, many things around us are reminders of our modern innovations.  Modern refrigerators still contain many elements of original iceboxes, such as shelving and drawers; and every time we pass a convenience store- it sits as a reminder of a bygone era, when ice houses served an exclusive purpose, still present in the bags of ice sold there. [Carrie Klein, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Cornell, Brad and Renny Kranich.  Pocket Guide to Best Texas Ice Houses.  Houston, TX: Lone Star Books, 1999.

Frigidaire Corporation.  Food Preservation in Our Daily Life.  Dayton, OH: Frigidaire Corp.

Jackson, Tom.  Chilled: How Refrigeration Changed the World and Might Do So Again.  London: Bloomsbury Sigma, 2015.

Rees, Jonathan.  Refrigeration Nation: A History of Ice, Appliances, and Enterprise in America.  Baltimore:  The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013.

Object: Cookie iron

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Krumkake Iron
Late 19th- early 20th Century
Materials: Metal, Wood

 Krumake panorama in a Minnesota home. Photo by NorskPower, via Wikimedia Commons.

Krumake panorama in a Minnesota home. Photo by NorskPower, via Wikimedia Commons.

This object is a Norwegian krumkake iron.  Not to be confused with crumb cake, this Norwegian cookie is pronounced kroom-kai-kuh, and means bent or curved cake.  The plural is krumkaker. Krumkake is a traditional Norwegian Christmas cookie.  Krumkaker are made from flour, sugar, eggs, butter, and cream.  They look and taste very similar to waffle cones, and are made in a device that looks similar to a waffle iron.

Krumkake irons are decorative two-sided iron griddles, with intricate patterns that vary based on what region of Norway it’s from.  Older irons were designed to be held and turned over an open fire, and had wooden handles to be able to turn them without getting burned.  Newer versions are electric, and allow bakers to make more, in a shorter period of time.

Once the batter is poured onto the griddle, it’s baked to a light golden brown.  While still hot, it’s rolled into small cones with the use of a conical rolling pin.  Krumkaker can be filled with virtually anything- from whipped cream, to chocolate, to berries, or can just be sprinkled with powdered sugar.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that the term “Christmas cookie” became popular, possibly due to the fact that ovens became popular household appliances around that time.  However, cookies in Norway were categorized as one of three types: those baked in an iron, those that were deep fried, and those baked in ovens.  Cookies baked in irons- like krumkaker– can be traced back at least a thousand years.

In the pre-Christian Viking tradition, during the dark afternoons of the Winter Solstice, children would go from house to house looking for treats.  Because Norway is so close to the North Pole, darkness came by 4 o’clock during the months of December and January.

Before Christmas began being celebrated in Norway, around 1000- 1100, Norwegians celebrated Jul (the English tweaked this to yule) a time to celebrate the last of the harvest, and a way to look forward to spring.  It was a celebration of light manifested through the yule log thrown on the fire.

Norwegian Christmas is a celebration of more than a thousand years of beliefs and traditions, all tied together in a month-long celebration.  The baking, the solstice, the celebration of light, and Christian faith, all come together for the holiday season.

Seven Sorts – Traditional Norwegian Christmas Cookies. Photo by www.mylittlenorway.com

Seven Sorts – Traditional Norwegian Christmas Cookies. Photo by http://www.mylittlenorway.com

Perhaps this explains why krumkake has endured.  Today, it is a featured element in the tradition of “seven sorts,” which is a Norwegian holiday baking custom.  Per tradition, seven traditional cookies are to be baked and served during the holidays.  Although which cookies are included in the seven are disputed, krumkake is the most widely accepted, along with pepperkaker (gingerbread).

Norway’s holiday traditions are still honored by Norwegian immigrants and their descendants across the American mid-west, and communities in Texas.  The krumkake is just one of many elements of Norwegian tradition that interlock the past and the present. [Carrie Klein, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]


Cornelius, James M.  The Norwegian Americans.  New York: Chelsea House, 1989.

Mellbye, Anne-Lise, Dana Fossum.  Christmas in Norway.  Oslo, Norway: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1996.

Stokker, Kathleen.  Keeping Christmas: Yuletide Traditions in Norway and the New Land.  St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2000.

University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures at San Antonio.  The Norwegian Texans.  San Antonio: University of Texas, 1970.

Object: Hearing Aid

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Hearing Aid
Date: 19th Century
Material: Metal and Enamel

Hearing aid technologies have a long history, going nearly as far as deaf culture and community itself. Hearing technologies over time have empowered the deaf culture in the fight to be recognized as able citizens, not individuals with a disability. As one might guess much of the culture and identity of the deaf community is centered on language, but it is also focused on shared knowledge and a large support system. The deaf community is more than a group of non-hearing individuals; it is made up of people who share a history, language and struggle, which is an integral part of cultural development.


London Dome IMAGE CREDIT: OTICON, ERIKSHOLM MUSEUM Via: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/soundandfury/cochlear/cipop/popup4.html

This object is very similar to the early London Dome Ear trumpet or, as it was also known, the Grand Opera Dome (1850-1880s). This device got its name because of their popularity at the opera. The dome shape of the piece made them well equipped to pick up voice frequencies. It is a simple hearing device, with a large thin metal dome attached to a smaller metal tube that would fit into the user’s ear. Struggles for the non-hearing to be seen as normal in the eyes of a hearing society were evident in many of the hearing aid technologies throughout history.

In the earliest written records we find philosophers and saints giving the first perspectives on individuals who could not hear, and they felt they were inherently inferior to those who could hear. This notion was based on the idea that the deaf could not be properly educated because they lacked language. In the deaf culture’s formative years they were cast out of religious institutions because they were thought to be under the punishment of God and without language could not learn about faith. It was not until Saint Augustine that the deaf community was recognized as having the foundations of language. He claimed that their body movements and gestures could be considered language and thus they could learn about faith and find salvation.

St. Augustine by Sandro Botticelli

St. Augustine by Sandro Botticelli

Saint Augustine opened the door for the individuals with a severe hearing loss to be recognized as part of society and by the 6th century we saw physicians in Europe trying to ‘cure’ the deaf. It wasn’t until the 16th Century that schools for the deaf were developed. Doctors realized it was not something that could be ‘cured’ because being deaf is not always related to illness. These schools would become the foundations of modern deaf culture. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet in the 1800s traveled to Europe to learn about deaf education, after his to return to the United States he established the American School for the Deaf. His son Edward Miner Gallaudet would follow in his father’s footstep giving deaf culture their first university, Gallaudet University.

Over time we see technologies develop from the cumbersome ear trumpets of the 1700s to royal armchairs in Europe equipped with devices to amplify sound for whoever was occupying the chair. There were even end tables with vases or urns disguising amplifying technologies. Over time, with the drive to no longer be immediately recognized as non-hearing, technologies became smaller and more easily disguised. Developers tried everything, even fitting devices to glasses and shaping earpieces to fit directly into the ear canal, which leaves us with today’s most powerful and controversial hearing aid technology, the cochlear implant.

The cochlear implant is the most recent hearing aid technology developed and it has by far caused the most heated debate in the deaf community since its inception. This is an electronic device that is surgically placed under the skull flesh behind the ear. An external portion is attached and connects to the implant using a magnet. The external portion allows the individual to control the sound volume or turn the device on and off. For some this device gives them the opportunity to be a part of the hearing community, as well as the deaf community. Parents with children who are born with a severe hearing loss are encouraged to consider the implant at an early age so as the child matures they learn how to hear and speak. Often individuals who get the implant later in life find speaking to be a challenge, as they have to develop the muscles to speak as well as learning the language itself. The documentary ‘Sound and Fury’ (2000) outlines the controversy of the cochlear implant as it follow a family as they investigate the benefits and cultural consequences of this new technology. The deaf culture has overcome many struggles but must continue educating others to build an understanding of what it means to be deaf and help preserve their culture. [Trisha Taylor, edited by Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

Video clips from the documentary ‘Sound and Fury’ can be seen here.

Additional Resources:

Bruce Kent; Sandra Smith. They Only See It When the Sun Shines in My Ears: Exploring Perceptions of Adolescent Hearing Aid Users. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education. Vol. 11, No. 4  (FALL 2006), pp. 461-476. Oxford University Press.

P. Prinsley; G. J. Madden; D. J. Premachandra. Provision Of Hearing AIDS. British Medical Journal, Vol. 299, No. 6705  (Oct. 14, 1989), p. 979. BMJ.

Supply Of Hearing-Aids. The British Medical Journal. Vol. 2, No. 4729, Educational Number  (Aug. 25, 1951), pp. 70-71. BMJ.

T R. Scott Stevenson. The Working Of A Hearing-Aid Clinic. The British Medical Journal. Vol. 1, No. 4559  (May 22, 1948), pp. 990-992. BMJ.

Value Of Hearing-Aids. The British Medical Journal. Vol. 2, No. 4674  (Aug. 5, 1950), pp. 364-365. BMJ.

Sneak Peek

We are in the final stretch of installing the new Los Tejanos exhibit for it’s big opening gala tonight. This exhibit explores the Tejano experience. It offering a glimpse of compelling Tejano stories from the early 18th century to the present day. It officially opens to the public tomorrow, but you can get a sneak peek of our progress below.

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Object: Bowl

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Rose Gonzales
San Ildefonso/San Juan Pueblos
New Mexico
Materials: ceramic

I-0214h detailThis small ceramic bowl is in the style of the Po-woh-ge-oweenge pueblo tribe (aka. San Ildefonso Pueblo), and Ohkay Owingeh pueblo tribe (aka. San Juan Pueblo). Po-woh-go-oweenge means “Where the water cuts through,” and Ohkay Owingeh means “Place of the strong people” in the tribes’ native Tewa language. The bottom of the bowl is signed “Rose,” and likely indicates that the bowl was made by Rose Gonzales. Rose Gonzales was born into the Ohkay Owingeh pueblo but was later married to a man from the Po-woh-ge-oweenge pueblo. She is thought to have learned pottery making from her mother-in-law, Ramona Sanchez Gonzales, which influenced the style of her pottery to reflect both San Ildefonso and San Juan designs. Today both tribes are known for their polished red and black pottery. However, the San Ildefonso style has become famous for the black-on-black designs pioneered by Maria Martinez.


Photo via: Beth E. Peterson, pottery.about.com

Traditional pueblo pottery is not made using a wheel, but is formed using a coil technique. This style of pottery is made by forming long rope-like pieces of clay. These ropes are then coiled around on top of one another to form the basic shape of the vessel. The artist then uses their hands, or various scraping tools, to join the coils together and smooth the surface of the vessel. After the vessel is shaped it can be decorated in a number of different styles, depending on the artist’s preferences or tribal background. Some of the more popular pueblo pottery decorations include painted slip designs, carved designs, and burnishing. After decorating, the pottery vessels were traditionally fired in an outdoor bonfire-style kiln. [Kathryn S. McCloud]

The following video discusses pueblo pottery in greater detail.

Additional Resources:

Chapman, Kenneth Milton, and Francis H. Harlow. The Pottery of San Ildefonso Pueblo. Albuquerque: Published for the School of American Research [by] University of New Mexico Press, 1970.

Fox, Nancy. 1977. “Rose Gonzales”. American Indian Art Magazine. 2, no. 4.

Harlow, Francis H. Modern Pueblo Pottery, 1880-1960. Flagstaff, Ariz: Northland Press, 1977.

Peaster, Lillian, and Guy Berger. Pueblo Pottery Families: Acoma, Cochiti, Hopi, Isleta, Jemez, Laguna, Nambe, Picuris, Pojoaque, San Ildefonso, San Juan, Santa Clara, Santo Domingo, Taos, Tesuque, Zia, Zuni. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Pub. Ltd, 2008.

Sprague, Linda Ferguson. San Juan Ceramics. Thesis (M.A.)–University of Idaho, 1980, 1980.

Object: Teapot

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Southern China
Date: 19th Century
Materials: Ceramic, plant materials, cloth, metal

This is a Chinese teapot which was brought over from Southern China by the donor’s father’s family in 1926. The teapot is porcelain with a blue and white design which is similar to “Chinese Export Porcelain”  and was a common way to decorate ceramics during this the early 1900s. The teapot fits inside a custom “cozy” which is a basket lined in straw with a fabric covering. The fabric was replaced by the donor’s grandmother, and is not original the basket. These types of baskets are thought to have been more popular in southern areas of China and were used like modern thermos, to help keep the tea warm.

By McCormick and company [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATea-plant-chinese-india-japanes-ceylon-flowers-seeds.png

By McCormick and company [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tea is a common beverage around the world now, but it is thought to have originated in China. All types of tea come from the Camellia sinensisplant. Camellia sinensis can grow to over 30 ft in height but is usually trimmed to waist height so it is easier to harvest the leaves. The plants generally take about three to five year to mature and be ready for harvest.

Many different types of teas are made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, the type of tea is determined by how the leaves are processedWhite tea  is the least processed of any tea produced. Tea “buds,” immature leaves, and the youngest tea leaves of the plant are selected for this type of tea for their mild and delicate flavor. The leaves are simply picked, steamed, and then dried. Green Tea is another non-fermented type of tea, and when prepared has a green to light yellow color, a mild aroma and a natural taste. For the production of Green Tea, the tea leaves are picked, dried, and heat treated to stop the fermentation process. A slightly more processed type of tea is Oolong Tea. This type is produced by partially fermenting the leaves. The exact amount of fermentation will effect the taste of the finished tea.  The tea leaves are picked, then intentionally bruised by shaking, and then dried.  During the drying process the edges of the bruised leaves turn reddish in color and the surface becomes light yellow due to fermentation and oxidation.  After fermenting, the tea leaves are pan fired to stop the fermentation process and create a semi-fermented tea. Oolong is a cross between green and black tea in color and taste. Black Tea  is the most processed type of tea and is made by fully fermenting the tea leaves. The tea leaves are picked, allowed to whither and then are either crushed or chopped.  Next the leaves are laid out to oxidize and once this is completed they are dried to complete the process.

The following video shows the cultivation, harvest, and processing of black tea in India today.


Map via: theteatalk.com

Camellia sinensis was first cultivated in China possibly as early as the 4th century. Tea was traded to Europe via ship and the East India Company, though the plant itself and the process of how to cultivate the leaves was a guarded secret. During the early 19th century Chinese tea seeds were brought to India in an attempt by the British to break China’s monopoly on tea production. By the 1880’s the tea production and manufacturing in India was well established. Today tea is still a very popular drink, the United States alone is thought to consume over 79 billion servings of tea each year. While once a closely guarded Chinese secret, tea is now produced as far away as Argentina, Kenya, the United States, and  Sri Lanka. [Jennifer McPhail, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:
Fang, Lili. 2011. Chinese ceramics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Heiss, Mary Lou, and Robert J. Heiss. 2007. The story of tea: a cultural history and drinking guide. Berkeley, Calif: Ten Speed Press.

Macfarlane, Alan, and Iris Macfarlane. 2004. The empire of tea: the remarkable history of the plant that took over the world. New York: Overlook Press.

Moxham, Roy. 2003. Tea: addiction, exploitation, and Empire. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers.

Object: Iron


Date: Late 19th/Early 20th century
Materials: iron, wood

This is a small metal iron, referred to as a sadiron. It was donated by Sister Alexandrine, whose family immigrated to Texas from Silesia in the late 19th century. When her great-grandparents immigrated, her grandfather traveled to find work bricklaying and her grandmother, like many immigrant and ethnic minority women, took in laundry and ironing to support herself and her family. Hattie Elam Briscoe, who went on to become the first female African American lawyer in San Antonio, put herself through college by working as a laundress and cook for a local family.

Photo via: –Kuerschner, WikiMedia Commons

Before European blacksmiths started making metal irons in the late medieval period, people would use stone, glass or wooden “smoothers” to press pleats or smooth fabric. More complex methods involved screw-presses and mangle boards which were very popular in Northern Europe and could be quite ornate. The early metal irons were mostly a flat piece of metal with a metal handle. The earliest irons were made to be placed directly into, or by, an open fire. Later irons were heated by being placed on a stove top to heat. The person ironing would need to be careful to use a rag or cloth to avoid getting burned by the handle of these early models.

Sadirons get their name from an older word, sald, which means solid. They were made with thicker metal and held heat longer. Though many households would have at least two so that one iron could heat while the other iron was being used. Over time, a number of clever inventors  improved the sadiron in a number of ways. In 1870 a woman, named Mrs. Mary F. Potts, patented an iron that was pointed on both ends, making it more versatile. Later, 1871 she also patented an iron with a removable wooden handle. he removable handle was an important safety feature, helping to prevent burns by keeping the handle from getting hot while the iron heated. One handle could have been used with multiple sad irons of this type, and since the handle was removable, it was not necessary for the handle to be attached to the iron while it was heating. They were sold in sets of 3 or 5, so that they could be continually rotated while ironing large numbers of items. Mrs. Potts also produced as small set of “toy” irons that were marketed to children. These smaller irons, like the one at the Institute of Texan Cultures, were fully operable irons and many women preferred these smaller irons for lace, doilies, and handkerchiefs.

Mrs.Potts traveled to a number of events to promote her invention, including the 1893 Columbia Exposition. There she demonstrated her irons in the Women’s Building, which was designed by Sophia Hayden Bennett, the first woman to graduate with a degree in architecture from MIT. This is the first time that there was an entire building dedicated for women at the World Fair.

Despite all of the innovations, ironing with sadirons could be tedious. The nature of the metal is such that it rusts, or oxidizes when in contact with water. The irons had to be sanded and polished to keep them from damaging or staining the fabric. Naturally any item being used on a daily basis such as an iron is going to be reinvented repeatedly as people discover new ways to make a tedious task less difficult. A later innovation was to make a reversible sadiron, made with the idea that if heat rises then rotating the top side to the bottom would enable the person ironing to always keep the hottest side of the iron on the clothing.

Photo via: Julo, WikiMedia Commons

Around 1900-1910 charcoal irons, which had been used in Asia for quite some time, began to catch on in the United States. At that time door to door peddlers performed a valuable service in rural regions like much of Texas, traveling between communities, carrying news and a pack full of items that otherwise might not be available in those regions. Some peddlers carried charcoal irons, the American versions of which were very similar to sad irons, but hollow and filled with hot coals instead of heating over a fire. Some had a chimney for the smoke to vent away from the clothes.

Photo via: Dnor, WikiMedia Commons

Later slug irons replaced charcoal irons. Instead of using hot coals, a removable metal slug was heated and placed inside the iron. After slug irons, asbestos irons became extremely popular, until the electric iron became widely available. Asbestos irons were a steel case lined in asbestos, used to attach to a hot metal core. The asbestos and airspace between the hot metal core and the handle ensured that the handle for the iron would be cool, while staying hot longer. Overall, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries there were a wide variety of irons on the market. [Christine Moscardini-Hall, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Barben, Arnold H. 1964. A short story of sad-iron manufacture: Downs and Co., Seneca Falls, N.Y. Seneca Falls, N.Y.: Seneca Falls Historical Society.

Brimmer C. Brandi. 2005. Laundresses. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cowan, Ruth Schwartz. “The “Industrial Revolution” in the Home: Household Technology and Social Change in the 20th Century.” Technology and Culture, Vol. 17, No. 1 (Jan., 1976), pp. 1-23.

Gullet, Gayle. “Organized Women Advance Women’s Work at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893.” Illinois Historical Journal (Winter 1994). PDF edition. Illinois State Historical Society.

Linehan, Moira. “Woman Ironing.” Prairie Schooner , Vol. 80, No. 3 (Fall 2006), p. 54

Merritt, Deborah J.  “Hypatia in the Patent Office: Women Inventors and the Law, 1865-1900.” The American Journal of Legal History, Vol. 35, No. 3 (Jul., 1991), pp. 235-306.

When all irons were sad. An exhibit of the collection of John Rowley at the Feast Hall. 1969. [Ambridge, Pa.]: Old Economy.

Object: Washing Machine


Washer, Clothes
Newton, Iowa
Date: 1920s
Materials: copper, metal, wood

This washing machine is an early type of electric washing machine. According to Lee Maxwell’s Washing Machine Museum, electric washing machines have been mass produced since approximately 1906 by the company that is now known as Whirlpool. The washing machine at the Institute of Texan Cultures was made by Automatic Electric Washer Co.  around 1925. In the 1920s there were over 1000 companies making washing machines.

Friederike and Louise Recknagel scrubbing clothes in metal washtubs, Round Top, Texas, ca. 1905, San Antonio Light Photograph collection, MS 359, University of Texas San Antonio Library Special Collection from the Institute of Texan Cultures http://digital.utsa.edu/cdm/ref/collection/p9020coll008/id/9737

Before automated machines, clothes were typically washed in natural bodies of water, or in basins, with the assistance of a washboard or hand agitating device, like a washing plunger. Hand washing often used hot water, harsh cleaning chemicals or primitive soaps to get the fabric clean.

Photo via: Popular Science Monthly Volume 88, WikiMedia Commons

Heading into the late 19th century, there were a wide variety of machines, mostly hand-powered, with agitators that replaced scrubbing and wringers/mashers. These machines decreased the labor involved in getting clothes clean. While these early machines were easier to use, they came with their own safety risks. The earliest powered machines involved simply hooking up a motor to a hand turned washer. The action of the machine and the wringers, especially when powered could snag skin, hair and clothing and cause injury.

The following video shows a variety of early manually powered washing machines and demonstrations of how they worked.

It is unclear who the truly invented the first electric washing machine, but some of the first known models were produced in 1907 by Orlando B. Woodrow of the Automatic Electric Washer Company. By 1910 they were selling more than 40,000 machines a year with a corporate slogan “Everybody Works but Mother.”  Its advertising campaign declared “Ten O’clock and the Washing Done.”  Part of the story behind that slogan reportedly claims that Woodrow’s wife would call him home at 10am every laundry day to run the hand-operated washer. In order to get out of this chore he invented a way to motorize the machine so that he did not have to do the work.

The following video shows a variety of early electric washing machines and demonstrations of how they worked.

Some say the washing machine helped to liberate women however others have suggested that many of the time-saving devices benefited the men more by freeing them from helping with laborious tasks like hand-cranking a washing machine. This also meant that women had more time to do more chores in a day. What do you think? [Christine Moscardini-Hall, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Cowan, Ruth Schwartz. 1983. More work for mother: the ironies of household technology from the open hearth to the microwave. New York: Basic Books.

Foy, Jessica H., and Thomas J. Schlereth. 1992. American home life, 1880-1930: a social history of spaces and services. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.

Maxwell, Lee M. 2003. Save womens lives: history of washing machines. Eaton, CO: Oldewash.

______, 2009. Who Invented the Electric Washing Machine? An Example of how Patents are Misused by Historians.

Pershey, Edward Jay.  “Handling History: Using Material Culture to Create New Perspectives on the Role of  Technology in Society” OAH Magazine of History , Vol. 12, No. 2, Science and Technology (Winter, 1998), pp. 18-24

Object: Pressure Cooker

Fig 1

Cooker, Pressure
Graham, TX
Date: early – mid 20th century
Materials: metal

Fig 2This is a 22 quart “Improved Kook-Kwick Steam Pressure Cooker”. It is steel with wooden handles and has a lid with a pressure gauge. Inside is a basket to hold canning jars as well as a sheet of metal that goes in the bottom of the basket to help support the jars. The donor’s mother reportedly used this pressure cooker to can food for many years and earned the money to buy it by hiring out her ironing services to others.

Papin cooking pot, late 18th century

Photo via: PHGCOM, WikiMedia commons

Pressure cookers were a French invention. In 1679, Denis Papin developed a steam digester, sometimes called Papin’s Digester, which used steam to raise the cooking temperature as high as 266 F inside the pot. While considered an interesting study in physics, the pressure cooker did not catch on in the United States until 1939, when the first US commercial pressure cooker was unveiled at New York’s World’s Fair.

Pressure cookers create a seal through the use of a gasket. As the water heats and creates steam, it cannot easily escape. This builds up pressure within the cooker. This increased pressure allows the water to attain temperatures above the boiling point. This can both cook food more quickly, producing excellent broths and stews, and allow home cooks to easily can their own food.

The following video discusses how pressure cookers work in greater detail.

Prior to modern refrigeration, preserving or “putting up” fruit and vegetables would be one of the few ways to have year-round produce that was not dried, smoked, or salted. Canning has been around since the end of the 18th Century. During the Napoleonic Wars, the French sought a way to prevent their rations from becoming spoiled. Nicolas Appert developed a way to seal food in glass containers, that preserved it longer, by keeping the container air and water-tight. This type of seal is called a hermetic seal. However,  it wasn’t until Louis Pasteur wrote about the connection between microorganism growth and food spoilage that scientists began to understand why hermetic sealing. was so effective at preserving food.


Photo via: FiveRings, WikiMedia Commons

In the United States, the most common form of home-canning is done in Mason Jars, a popular style of jar that has been in use since John Landis Mason patented it in 1858. The zinc metal cap and threaded neck with a separate rubber seal provided a more reliable long term storage method than previous canning methods. Two of the more common brands of canning jars available in the United States today are the Ball Mason Jar and the Kerr Mason Jar. Both types of jars are very similar in construction, with the primary difference being how the gaskets were applied to the jars. Kerr was the first to make the gasket part of the lid. Today both types of jars are made by the same parent company, though they are still manufactured under their original names.

Canning reached its height of popularity during the period from the late 19th century through the end of World War II. During the Great Depression and WWII, it was a vital way for families to survive. Especially during the war, when food was rationed, home canning in glass jars saved needed metal for the war effort, while providing extra provisions beyond what was authorized by the ration books. In fact, the government encouraged women to can fruits by allowing them extra sugar rations. It was during this time that narrower lids, like the “63” lid came into use, allowing lid manufacturers to use less metal while allowing consumers to reuse a wider variety of glass jars.

Mrs. Norman Hofferichter at home-canned food display, San Antonio Light Photograph collection, MS 359, University of Texas San Antonio Libraries Special Collections from the Institute of Texan Cultures

Home canning declined after the end of the War. Large corporate farms pushed out the smaller farmers, larger supermarkets created less need for home-stored produce, and better refrigeration technology made home canning less necessary. Today home canning is once again a rising trend in US culture. Some people, often referred to as “preppers,” are concerned with the potential of future emergencies or natural disasters such as storms or floods, prefer to keep a store of non-perishable food and other supplies on hand. Others, concerned with genetically modified crops, pesticides and fertilizers have begun experimenting with home gardening, and buying locally-grown organic produce for most of their fruits and vegetables. In these cases, home canning is an excellent way to ensure the quality and content of one’s food. Finally, “boutique” or small batch food production, and gourmet dining options based on local ingredients are becoming more-and-more popular, with some small businesses and restaurants capitalizing on this trend by canning their own recipes.

Since Pasteur’s discovery on the cause of food spoilage, there have been plenty of scientific research on how to prevent food from spoiling. While pressure cookers were originally designed to cook food faster, researchers have discovered that low-acid foods, such as meat, green beans, etc. need to be heated consistently at a higher temperature than can be created in a standard water bath canning method. In 1917, the US Department of Agriculture determined that pressure canning was the only safe method to can meats and other low acid content foods. Low acid foods, if not heated to 240-250 degrees, can still harbor botulism spores and cause illness. Prior to the recommendation of using a pressure cooker to can such foods, home-canned food was a common source of food poisoning.

The early pressure cookers did not have the elaborate safety features of today’s modern pressure cookers. There was a risk of explosion based on a build-up of too much pressure. Some foods could clog the steam vent and make matters worse. Even with improved safety mechanisms, it is important to follow proper safety procedures when using a pressure cooker. [Christine Moscardini-Hall, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Chappell, Gweneth M. and Audrey M. Hamilton. “Effect Of Pressure Cooking On Vitamin C Content Of Vegetables” The British Medical Journal , Vol. 1, No. 4604 (Apr. 2, 1949), pp. 574-575.

National Pressure Cooker Company. 1945. Modern guide to pressure canning and cooking: a complete manual on the science of canning and cooking under steam pressure. Eau Claire, Wis: National Pressure Cooker Company.

Andress, E, Kuhn, G., 1998. Critical Review of Home Preservation Literature and Current Research. Athens, GA: University of Georgia, Cooperative Extension Service. Reprinted by the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Creswick, Alice M. 1987. The fruit jar works. Grand Rapids, Mich. (0-8525 Kenowa SW, Grand Rapids 49504): A. Creswick.

Lockhart, Bill, Pete Schulz, Carol Serr and Bill Lindsay. “The Knox Glass Bottle Co.” Society of Historical Archaeology. 2008 2-11.

Roller, Dick. 1983. The standard fruit jar reference. Paris, Ill: Acorn Press.

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