Materials: Metal, wood
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.
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.
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]
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]
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.
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]
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.
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.
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]
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.
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]
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.
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]
Late 19th- early 20th Century
Materials: Metal, Wood
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.
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]
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.
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.
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.
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.