Tag Archive | Technical/Scientific equipment

Object: Typewriter

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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: Camera

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Rochester, NY
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:


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: Contact printer


Contact Printer
Ansco Company
Materials: Wood/Glass/Wire

This object is a contact printer made by Ansco Company in Binghamton, New York.  Before photography became primarily digital, it was designed to create a photographic image from a film negative.  Several images from a strip of film would be lined up on a sheet, creating rows of small picture prints, called contact prints.  This contact printer was owned by James W. Zintgraff, Sr.  Zintgraff, along with his son, James, Jr., owned and ran a well-known photography business in San Antonio from the 1920s through the 1980s.

Wings (1927) film poster. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Wings (1927) film poster. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

James Zintgraff Sr. was a cameraman in Hollywood in the early 1920s.  After deciding he didn’t like the pace of the west coast, he moved back to San Antonio with the idea of starting a local film industry.  In 1927, he worked as a cameraman on a movie called “Wings,” which was filmed in several areas in and around San Antonio, and went on to become the very first movie to ever win best picture at the Academy Awards.

Around that same time, Zintgraff started a still photography business in his backyard.  In the early days, the owner of the Coca-Cola plant in San Antonio would enlist Zintgraff to take pictures of the plant and warehouse.  Zintgraff would run home, develop the pictures, and deliver them within four hours.  He believed the owner was doing him a favor to help him get started.

Though there wasn’t much competition in the early days, James felt that Zintgraff Studios could attribute his success to “having a lot of good friends” from his time in Hollywood.  When a movie premiere or famous people came to town, James would get the jobs through his Hollywood connections.  Most notably, Zintgraff photographed Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman when they came to San Antonio for presidential duties.  When James, Jr. joined his father’s business, he worked closely with Hollywood elites such as Cecil B. DeMille and even worked with John Wayne when he was filming The Alamo in Brackettville, a town about 130 miles west of San Antonio.

Through the years, Zintgraff Studios worked closely with some of the most well-known brands in the city, including Pearl, Lone Star, Rainbo Breads, and Coca- Cola.  In addition, they were official photographers for the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, numerous Fiesta events, and captured thousands of photographs of area movie theaters, street scenes, parks, schools, and even the new Convention Center when it opened it the 1960s.

Roy Rogers and the "Sons of the Pioneers" singing in studio of KTSA Radio Station in Gunter Hotel, San Antonio, Texas, 1943. Image by Zintgraff Studios, via UTSA Special Collections Library, Digital identifier CD #1406: Z-2088-A-13.

Roy Rogers and the “Sons of the Pioneers” singing in studio of KTSA Radio Station in Gunter Hotel, San Antonio, Texas, 1943. Image by Zintgraff Studios, via UTSA Special Collections Library, Digital identifier CD #1406: Z-2088-A-13.

The photographs taken by the Zintgraff Studios span seven decades of history.  They tell the story of San Antonio and its people.  Today, more than 850,000 of the Zintgraff photographs are stored in the UTSA Special Collections Library, located inside the Institute of Texan Cultures.  The moments they captured are locked in time, preserving a bit of the past for future generations. [Carrie Klein, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]


Lochbaum, Jerry.  Old San Antonio: History in Pictures.  San Antonio, TX: Express Publishing Co., 1965.

Tausk, Petr.  Photography in the 20th Century.  London: Focal Press: Focal/Hastings House, 1980.

Thompson, Frank T.  Texas Hollywood: Filmmaking in San Antonio Since 1910.  San Antonio, TX: Maverick Publishing, 2002.

Turner, Peter.  History of Photography.  New York: Exeter Books: Distributed by Bookthrift, 1987.

Object: Lamp

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Hanging lamp
Materials: Metal, & glass

This object is a hanging lamp made by Bradley and Hubbard Manufacturing Company. Bradley and Hubbard Manufacturing Company made many different types of lamps, some of them, like this one, had a detachable shade, which had a wire connected to it. The company was in business between the years 1852-1940. The company also manufactured bookends, matchbox holders, chandeliers, candlesticks and other metal household accessories. This lamp could be placed on a table and then moved to a hanging position when the owner needed it.

The Bradley and Hubbard Manufacturing Company factory complex, ca1880. via http://www.si.edu/ahhp/bradley_hubbard

The Bradley and Hubbard Manufacturing Company factory complex, ca1880. via http://www.si.edu/ahhp/bradley_hubbard

The Bradley and Hubbard Manufacturing Company was originally named Bradley, Hatch and Company, until the Hatch brothers sold their piece of the company. The company started by manufacturing clocks up until the Civil War. At this time in history, metal companies started to expand and flourish because the country was expanding west of the Mississippi River. During this time Bradley and Hubbard expanded their company’s production line to include match safes for keeping matches dry, call bells for businesses with a reception desk, andirons for fireplaces, urns, and a variety of other items. The company was able to expand so much by keeping their prices lower than the competition, while maintaining the quality of their products.

When Colonel Edwin Drake discovered oil in Titusville, Pennsylvania in 1859, one of the partners of Bradley and Hubbard Manufacturing Company, Nathaniel Bradley, saw an opportunity to expand their company’s production line to include kerosene lamps, like this hanging lamp. Once the kerosene business started to boom the company started to specialize in kerosene lamps, each lamp had a ‘B&H’ stamped on its base. Between the spring of 1868 and the winter of 1913 the company created 89 patents, which means they discovered new designs of lamps and had the right to legally exclude anyone from using the designs, similar to a copyright or license. The designs of lamps and chandeliers were the designs of Bradley and Hubbard.i-0026i-6

One of the patents was a design for a type of chandelier that could be lowered and raised. This chandelier was advertised in 1875 in the Crockery and Glass JournalFinding success in these chandeliers, they sold, them to churches, and banquet halls. Keeping up with the changing times, the company started to manufacture electric lamps and chandeliers when those became popular. Their products were in demand all around the country, and they are still valued today.  [Amanda Rock, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Resources:

Wenrich, Jeanne. 1989. Bradley and Hubbard Manufacturing Company.

American Petroleum Institute. 1954. The story of Colonel Drake. New York, N.Y.: American Petroleum Institute.

Carey, Charles W. 2002. American inventors, entrepreneurs, and business visionaries. New York: Facts on File.

Cooke, Lawrence S. 1976. Lighting in America: from colonial rushlights to Victorian chandeliers. New York: Main Street/Universe Books.

Object: Photo Enlarger

I-0397a scan

R. B. Enlarging Camera
Folmer & Schwing Division Eastman Kodak Co.
Rochester, NY
San Antonio
Materials: Metal and wood

This object is a photo enlarger that was used by Zintgraff Studios, a commercial photography studio in San Antonio in the mid-2oth century. A photo enlarger was used to make a larger negatives or a photographic print from the negative image created by the camera on to its film. A negative is the image that the camera captures on film. When looking at a negative of a picture the shades of the people, places or in the image are opposite to what they are in reality. Light colored objects are dark, and dark colored objects are light. A photo enlarger is a tool photographers used to enlarge a negative before developing the prints.

 Homecoming banquet, at Gunter Hotel, for General Walter Krueger after his return to city after commanding Sixth Army in South Pacific during WWII.  	Zintgraff Studio Photograph Collection, UTSA Special Collections -- Institute of Texan Cultures. Digital identifier 	Z-1368-B-02

Homecoming banquet, at Gunter Hotel, for General Walter Krueger. Zintgraff Studio Photograph Collection, UTSA Special Collections — Institute of Texan Cultures. Digital identifier Z-1368-B-02

The many of the photographs taken by the Zintgraff Studio were donated to the University of Texas at San Antonio and are stored at the Institute of Texan Cultures in the Special Collections Library. One can find the digital uploads on the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Library’s Special Collections website. The photographers at Zintgraff Studios captured over a thousand unique images of San Antonio between 1930 and 1980. The photographers took pictures of the river walk, one of the center points of San Antonio. They captured pilots conversing by their planes at Kelly Field, which was a critical aviation base throughout both World Wars, as well as the celebrations held for the soldiers after the war. One picture captures a homecoming party for a general who returned from commanding the sixth army, which was in the South Pacific Theater during the war, which means the sixth army was in the Southern Pacific, around New Guinea. The sixth army helped isolate a Japanese base, and joined forces with the Australian Army and other U.S. forces near New Guinea in 1943. After General Walter Krueger came home on February 13, 1946 his family and friends through him a welcome home banquet at the Gunter Hotel.

The photographers at Zintgraff Studios also captured celebrations and parades that were held in and around downtown San Antonio. For example, the photographers took pictures of the Battle of Flowers Parade in the early 1930s. The parade celebrates the men who fell during the Battle of the Alamo and to celebrate the victory that came with the Battle of San Jacinto. As well as taking pictures of the citizens celebrating, the photographers also took pictures of streets on a normal day.  These photographs serve as an important record of San Antonio’s past and they could help inspire the future. [Amanda Rock, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Resources:

Blackwell, Johnny. 1993. Photographic equipment. Vero Beach, FL: Poor Man’s Publ.

Hoyt, Edwin P. 1999. The Alamo: an illustrated history

Kroll, Harry David. 1919. Kelly field in the great world war. San Antonio: Press of San Antonio Print. Co. 

Lobb, Michael L., Robert S. Browning, Ann Krueger Hussey, and Thomas M. O’Donoghue. 1900. A brief history of early Kelly Field, 1916-1918. Kelly Air Force Base, Tex: Office of History, San Antonio Air Logistics Center. 

London, Barbara, and Jim Stone. 2009. A short course in photography: an introduction to photographic technique. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson Prentice Hall. 

Zedric, Lance Q. 1995. Silent warriors of World War II: the Alamo Scouts behind the Japanese lines. Ventura, Calif: Pathfinder Pub. of California. 

Zedric, Lance Quintin. 1993. The Alamo Scouts: eyes behind the lines–Sixth Army’s special reconnaissance unit of World War II

Object: Navigation Tools

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I-0356a, c, and e
Reproduction Norse Navigation Tools
20th century
Materials: Wood and metal

These objects are replicas of Norse navigation tools, used by sailors to find their latitude before the sextant and Global Positioning System (GPS) were invented. Tools like these were used in order to figure out where in the sea a sailor was. Traveling by land, explorers can use nature, roads, paths, mile markers and landmarks that make it easier to get one from place to another. However, terrain that has few, or no, landmarks like the desert or the sea are difficult to navigate. Using latitude and longitude helps sailors and explorers determine how far they are from their starting point. Using latitude and longitude can help sailors reach their destination correctly, give or take by a few miles.

A quadrant, was used to measure the altitude or angle above the horizon of a star, this helped sailors calculate their latitude, or the lines on a map going from West to East. Sailors in the northern hemisphere would use the North Star, the brightest star, to find their latitude at night because it is directly over the north celestial pole and never sets. They would measure the height of the star when they started their journey and then they would compare it to the measurements as they traveled with a quadrant. They measured the height of the star from the horizon by placing the quadrant near their eye and the weight will fall to the correct degree.

Other tools used by sailors, Vikings mostly, are the pelorus and the sun shadow board. A pelorus resembles a mariner’s compass, except there is no magnetic needle. This tool was used to measure latitude during the day time. The needle in the middle of the base, or the gnomen, cast a shadow and that shadow was looked at when the sun was in the noon position. A sun shadow board was placed in a bowl of water and was used to calculate the ships latitude and direction. The shadow and the little circles on the base told the sailors whether they were in the latitude they wanted to be in.

Longitude, or the lines on a map going from North to South, was found using the sun and time. However this calculation was more difficult because, unlike today, time was not kept universally and there wasn’t a way to check that your clock was set correctly. Also, clocks and watches needed to be wound up, therefore the watches slowed down and lost time every day as the internal clockworks ran out of energy. They calculated their longitude by knowing what time the sun was in a certain position in the sky at the Prime Meridian, which is at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, United Kingdom. By carrying a clock set to the time at the Prime Meridian, travelers then could compare what time  the sun reached that set position in their location. Each hour of difference roughly equals a 15 degree change in longitude.

The map drawn by Alonso Alvarez de Pineda of the coast of the Gulf of Mexico in 1519. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

The map drawn by Alonso Alvarez de Pineda of the coast of the Gulf of Mexico in 1519. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Many sailors from the 1500s to around the 19th century were explorers. One explorer by the name of Alonso Alvarez de Pineda, a Spanish explorer, was the first known European to map the Texas coastline. Many European explorers did not know where they ended up because they did not know how to calculate both their latitude and longitude. Many shipwrecked on unknown shores, claiming it and then not being able to find it again to colonize it. A French explorer who tried to claim Texas in the name of the French by establishing Fort St. Louis was Robert Cavelier, Sieur de LaSalle. Once time became universally synchronized and sailors and land explorers knew how to calculate their latitude and longitude they could explore land more accurately and then find it again when they were starting to colonize it. [Amanda Rock, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Resources:

Berger, Melvin, and Gilda Berger. 2003. The real Vikings: craftsmen, traders, and fearsome raiders. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic.

Bravo, Michael, and Sverker Sörlin. 2002. Narrating the Arctic: a cultural history of Nordic scientific practices. Canton, Mass: Science History Publications.

Ganeri, Anita. 1998. From sextant to sonar: the story of maps and navigation. London: Evans.

Parkman, Francis. 1956. The discovery of the great West: La Salle. New York: Rinehart.

Plant, Terry, and Terry Plant. 1990. Nordic journeys. Newton Abbot: T. Plant.

Roza, Greg. 2010. Early explorers of Texas. New York: PowerKiDs Press.

Watts, Oswald Martin. 1973. The sextant simplified: a practical explanation of the use of the sextant at sea. Sunderland: Reed.

Williams, Brian. 2003. Latitude and longitude. Mankato, MN: Smart Apple Media.

Object: Lamp

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Bicycle Lamp
The Badger Brass MFG Company
Kenosha, Wisconsin
Materials: Glass, Metal

This object is a bicycle or possibly a carriage lamp from 1900. It was manufactured by the Badger Brass MFG Company from Kenosha, Wisconsin. Known as a carbide lamp, or acetylene gas lamp, it was used to for buildings, lighthouses, early car and bicycle headlights, and as lamps for miners.  This lamp was an early chemical lamp that relied on burning acetylene, a gas substance, for light.

Ancient oil lamps. Image by Hanay, via Wikimedia Commons.

According to archaeological finds, the first known personal lamp is dated at 70,000 years old and was simply a bowl-shaped rock that would have been filled with a combustible material like animal fat or plant oil. Later lamps were made using pottery and wicks, which led to more control over how long the light could last. The Ancient Greeks used this type of lamp and the word lamp actually comes from the Greek word lampas which meant torch. It wasn’t until the 1800s that lamps were radically changed from burning fuel to using electricity.

Ad for Edison Mazda Lamps, via Wikimedia Commons.

For small items, like the bike lamp, electricity was first used in 1801 by chemist Sir Humphrey Davy who created the Carbon-Arc Lamp. It wasn’t until Sir Joseph Swan of England and Thomas Edison of America separately developed the incandescent light bulb in the late 1800s that electric lights became widely available. By 1880, Edison had patented his invention and the product boomed.

Using electricity for large-scale operations, like lighting cities and manufacturing, began in 1895 when the water power of Niagara Falls was used to generate electricity for a nearby manufacturer and the city of Buffalo, New York. With much more innovation needed for electricity to become more widespread, many earlier forms of lighting were still in use by 1900. By 1930 most large cities had electricity with only small, rural towns still relying on older forms for lighting and cooking. Today we use electricity everywhere we go and can carry light around with us because of batteries which we use in objects like flashlights. [Briana Miano, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Readings:

Elmer, Louis Smith and Melvin Horst. Early Lighting: From Tallow to Oil in Early America. Lebanon, PA: Applied Art Publishers, 1975.

“Mining Lights and Hats.” The National Museum of American History.

Edison, Thomas A., and Reese Jenkins. The Papers of Thomas A. Edison. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989.

Object: Stethoscope


20th Century

A common symbol often associated with the medical field is a stethoscope. This device is often seen hanging around the necks of medical personnel. The stethoscope was invented in 1816, by a Frenchman named Rene Theophile Hyachinthe Laennec. The notion of listening to internal sounds of the human body is called auscultation. Before devices like the stethoscope, listening to internal sounds was done by placing ones ear on another persons body, this is called immediate auscultation. Laennec came up with the idea for the stethoscope when he was too embarrassed to place his ear on a young woman’s chest. Instead he used the concept of sound traveling through solids and rolled 24 sheets of paper, placed one end to his ear and the other end to the woman’s chest. To his surprise it worked and the sounds were loud and clear, this is called mediate auscultation.

An early model of the stethoscope belonged to Laennec.

An early model of the stethoscope belonged to Laennec.

The name for the device was not always stethoscope. In fact, Laennec preferred the device be called “Le Cylindre” but believed the device did not need a name. After his colleagues began to give it random names he decided that if the device was going to have a name it would be stethoscope. The name comes from the Greek words of stethos (chest) and scopes (examination). At that time the stethoscope was a wooden cylinder and looked similar to a hearing aid in use at the time, known as the ear trumpet. The device would look this way until 1851 when the stethoscope was made to be used with both ears, or binaural. This was made possible due to the invention of rubber. George Phillip Cammann is credited for the binaural stethoscope after he published specifications for the model in 1853. Today it is one of the most recognizable pieces of medical equipment.

Dr. Francisco G. Cigarroa photo via utsystem.

Dr. Francisco G. Cigarroa photo via utsystem.

This stethoscope belonged to Dr. Francisco Gonzalez Cigarroa a native of Laredo, Texas. One of ten children, Cigarroa attended J.W. Nixon High School and later Yale University. Cigarroa received a bachelors in biology and his medical degree from The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. Dr. Cigarroa was chief resident in General Surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital. In 1995 Dr. Cigarroa joined the University of Texas Health and Science Center at San Antonio as the director of pediatric surgery and was president from 2000-2009. In 2009 he became the first Hispanic to become chancellor of the University of Texas System. Dr. Cigarroa is known nationally as a prominent transplant surgeon.

Today the future of the stethoscope is up in the air. As new technology is integrated into the medical field many have begun to wonder if the stethoscope has run its course. Doctors rarely reach for the stethoscope when trying to figure out what the problem is. Instead doctors choose devices like the echocardiogram, as well as small pocket sized ultrasound devices over the stethoscope. These devices are more accurate, but come with a hefty price for patients.  As technology advances there are not enough doctors who can mentor younger doctors on the science of auscultation.  The stethoscope is still relevant when it comes to listening to the lungs and bowels but, for the cardiovascular system many argue it is not an effective tool. However, many view the stethoscope as a symbol of the relationship between doctor and patient. The future of the stethoscope may be unclear but one thing is for certain it still remains an iconic piece of medical equipment. [Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Sources:

Blaufox, M. Donald. An Ear to the Chest: An Illustrated History of the Evolution of the Stethoscope. New York: Parthenon Pub. Group, 2002.

Duffin, Jacalyn. To See with a Better Eye A Life of R.T.H. Laennec. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014.

León, David J., and Ruben Orlando Martinez. Latino College Presidents: In Their Own Words. 2013.

Object: Toy

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20th century
Materials: Wood/Cloth

Today Vikings are quite popular, this is in large part due to television and movies. A Viking’s greatest weapon, other than his ferocity, was his warship. Viking ships were not only strong and durable, they were also lighter and faster than other ships. Due to the speed of these ships, Vikings were able to travel vast distances. These superior ships allowed them to establish a vast trade network and even colonize new areas. Ships like the toy above were called drekar, or dragon headed long ships. The secret to these ships was the way in which they were built.

Osenberg Longship. Image by Arnejohs, via Wikimedia Commons

Some famous men who used these ships to travel vast distances in the Atlantic Ocean were Erik the Red and Leif Erikson. Erik the Red was born in Norway in 950 CE. He was most likely given the name of Red because of the color of his hair. Erik’s father was exiled to the Nordic colony on Iceland. Along with his father, Erik’s whole family made the move. However, it wasn’t long before Erik was then exiled himself from Iceland. After his exile, Erik traveled to an uncharted island to the west of Iceland, he would eventually call the island Greenland. Erik, impressed with the country’s land and resources returned to Iceland to spread the word. Able to persuade many to make the move, Erik took 25 ships and headed west. On these 25 ships 500 men and woman were on-board, along with livestock, to establish a new colony. Out of the 25 ships only 14 ships made it. When they arrived two small settlements were established and were known as the east and west settlements.

Seattle's Leif Erikson memorial statue at Shilshole Bay Marina.

Seattle’s Leif Erikson memorial statue at Shilshole Bay Marina. Image by Steven Pavlov, via Wikimedia Commons.

Like his father, Leif Eriksson was an explorer, but not out of necessity like his exiled father. Leif was the second of three sons of Erik the Red. It is not known when exactly Leif was born but it is agreed that he grew up in Greenland.  According to the “Saga of Erik the Red” on his way from Greenland to Norway he stopped in Hebrides and fathered a daughter. Once in Norway, Leif was converted to Christianity by King Olaf I Tryggvason and tasked him with spreading Christianity to Greenland. On his way to back to Greenland it is believed his ship got lost and he ended up in North America in area he named Vinland. However, scholars consider other accounts such as the “Groenlendinga Saga” more reliable, this account states Leif heard of Vinland from a trader who spotted it from his ship but never actually set foot on North America. The exact location of Vinland is unknown and many sites have been cited as the location for Vinland. In the 1960s an excavation at L’Anse aux Meadows turned up evidence of what could be a Viking base camp. This find however, is also contested because it is too far north. Leif Erikson’s time in Vinland would have happened 500 years before Christopher Columbus, that is why many Nordic Americans celebrate Leif as the first European explorer in the New World. Today, October 9 is dedicated as “Leif Eriksson Day.”  [Tanner Norwood edited by Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Resources:

Brøndsted, Johannes. 1965. The Vikings. Middlesex, England: Penguin Books.

Du Chaillu, Paul B. 1970. The Viking Age: The Early History, Manners, and Customs of the Ancestors of the English-Speaking Nations. New York: AMS Press.

Fitzhugh, William W., Elisabeth I. Ward, and National Museum of Natural History (U.S.). 2000. Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga. Washington: Smithsonian Institutions, in association with the National Museum of Natural History.

Object: Eyeglasses

I-0267l (3)

Atlanta, Georgia
ca. 1870
Materials: Glass & Metal

Humans have five senses: hearing, sight, touch, taste, and smell. Although all are important for the human experience, many argue that sight is the most important. This object is a pair of eyeglasses which were made around the year 1870. It is estimated that most of the U.S. population uses eyeglasses or contacts. Today with modern technology there are all kinds of options to help if ones vision starts to fail. However, the most common and the earliest form of vision assistance are eyeglasses.

Before the invention of glasses, people had to go about their lives in a blur. However, people used whatever was available to help them see. For example in a letter written in about 100 B.C. by a Roman, he states that because he could no longer see and read for himself and had to rely on his slaves. It was also said that the philosopher Seneca read books by looking at them through a glass globe in water. The oldest known lenses were found in ancient Nineveh and were made of polished rock crystal. The reading stone, a simple type of magnifying glass, was created around 1000 A.D.

Reading stone.

Reading stone. Photo via Wikimedia Commons, Ziko van Dijk.

It is not known who exactly invented glasses or in what year they were invented but it is estimated that they were developed between 1268 and 1289, based on written accounts of their use. For example, in a manuscript dated 1289 it was written “I am so debilitated by age that without the glasses known as spectacles, I would not longer be able to read or write.” By the year 1306 a monk from Pisa, Italy gave a sermon in which he stated, “It is not yet twenty years since the art of making spectacles, one of the most useful arts on earth, was discovered.” By the year 1352 eyeglasses began to appear on people in paintings.

In the beginning, glasses had lenses made out of quartz and were set into bone, metal or leather. These glasses however, did not look like what we think of today. In the early days of glasses they were simply balanced on the nose of the person who wore them. This proved to be a problem because everyone’s nose is different.  One invention to try to help with this issue was using ribbons that attached to the frames and looped over the ears. The modification traveled to China but the Chinese used metal weights attached to the strings. Slowly the use of eyeglasses began to spread from  Italy to places like Germany, Spain and France.

Man wearing a monocle.

Man wearing a monocle. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

By the 1700s eyeglasses were being worn in many places around the world. Vision aids began to improve and evolve. In 1780 Benjamin Franklin is credited with inventing the bifocal lens. This lens made it possible for people with multiple vision problems to only use one set of eyeglasses. There were many types of glasses that were produced besides the traditional ones we know of. The monocle was one of them, which was a circular lens used when vision needed to be corrected in one eye. Another type of eyeglass was the lorgnette, which had a handle to hold them instead of being worn.

Today although many people still wear eyeglasses, contact lenses are very popular. Leonardo Da Vinci is credited with coming up for the idea of contact lenses in 1508. However, his ideas were never really implemented. There were many people who tried to come up with a suitable contact lens that could be worn comfortably in the eye. Many failed and others used the failed ideas and perfected them. Contact lenses started out made out of glass and then as new materials like polymethyl methacrylate were developed, plastic versions were invented. By 1949 contact lenses could be worn for up to 16 hours a day and more people were interested in them, even though they were expensive. As the years have gone by contact lens have improved drastically and serve many aspects of correcting vision. Many people also wear contact lenses for cosmetic purposes.

A pair of contact lenses.

A pair of contact lenses. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Today many people who have trouble with their vision are opting for not wearing either glasses or contact lenses. With modern technology it is now possible to correct ones vision with a procedure called LASIK. This procedure, also known as laser eye surgery, is a surgery which corrects multiple vision problems by reshaping the eyes cornea.  With this surgery many people no longer need to depend on eyeglasses or contact lenses. However, as with all surgeries there are some pros and cons to having the procedure done.

Glasses, contact lenses, and LASIK surgery are all options to help correct ones vision. However, for many people whose vision cannot be improved by any of these options, other tools must be used to replace their natural sight. These tools include canes which help them detect obstacles when trying to move from one place to another. Guide dogs are also an option to help with mobility. When it comes to things like reading, people who have severe visual impairment use braille, a writing system made up of raised dots. For other every day activities, people with visual impairment might use equipment such as calculators, or GPS devices which can speak to the user. [Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Resources:

Darrigol, Olivier. A History of Optics: From Greek Antiquity to the Nineteenth Century. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Gaustad, Edwin S. Benjamin Franklin. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

United States. Lasik Laser Eye Surgery. [Rockville, MD]: FDA Office of Women’s Health, 2007. <http://purl.fdlp.gov/GPO/gpo21770>.

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