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Category Archives: Science & Technology

The First (& Slowest) American Car Race

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Frank and Charles Duryea, 1895

Taking nearly 10 hours to race 54 miles, it’s not exactly what we would think of today as a race; more like an amble.  But the Chicago-Times Herald race goes down in history as the first automobile race in America, and it took place on this day in 1895, which that year was Thanksgiving Day, from Chicago to Evanston and back.  The race had been delayed from an earlier date because at the time, it was forbidden for cars to drive on city streets (likely because they were loud and would frighten the numerous horses, causing traffic chaos).  Once the organizers convinced the city council to permit the cars on the roads, the race took off.

We think of cars as being four-wheeled; but aside from 4 four-wheeled cars in the race (3 of which were German Benz cars, the 4th being a motorized wagon driven by Frank Duryea and made by Charles Duryea, founder of the Duryea Motor Wagon Company, and inventor of the first working  gasoline-powered car in America), there were 2 two-wheeled “automobiles”, but these motorized cycles lacked the power to climb the steeper passages.  An electric car was also entered in the race, but because of the cold weather, its battery died before getting very far.

One Benz car struck a horse just after taking off, and was forced out of the race, leaving just three cars; Duryea’s car won the day, with a time of 7 hours and 53 minutes (making his average time 7 mph / 11 km/h). The second car made it in 1 & 1/2 hours later, and the third never made it.  The driver of the second car had fallen unconscious due to exposure in the open vehicle and the cold weather, and the car was driven across the finish line by one of the race’s umpires.

The race was widely publicized, and predicted the demise of horse-drawn transport; it sped up the production of motorized vehicles, and the rest, as they say, is history.

1896-duryea-ad

Information source:  Wikipedia

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Vintage Life Hack #4: How to Pull Out Long Nails

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Vintage Life Hack #1: How to Adjust a Door

Life hacks might seem to be a modern invention, but they’re not; they’ve probably been around as long as the need to communicate with another human has.

“How’d you light that glowing thing?”

“Fire?  I rub these sticks together until something happened.  Don’t touch – it’s… hot.”

Here’s a vintage life hack for fixing those squeaking doors; with winter coming up for those of us in the northern hemisphere, this might just come in handy if you don’t have any WD-40 on hand.

Here be Dragons!

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Recently, my husband and I had a discussion about dragons (as one does).  I had just read Job 41, in which God describes fire-breathing dragons to Job as a rhetorical example of something that Job cannot control, but that God does (vss. 10-11).  Here’s a snippet (vss. 12-34):

“I will not fail to speak of Leviathan’s limbs, its strength and its graceful form.  Who can strip off its outer coat?  Who can penetrate its double coat of armour?  Who dares open the doors of its mouth, ringed about with fearsome teeth?  Its back has rows of shields tightly sealed together;  each is so close to the next that no air can pass between.  They are joined fast to one another; they cling together and cannot be parted.  Its snorting throws out flashes of light; its eyes are like the rays of dawn.  Flames stream from its mouth; sparks of fire shoot out.  Smoke pours from its nostrils as from a boiling pot over burning reeds.  Its breath sets coals ablaze, and flames dart from its mouth.  Strength resides in its neck; dismay goes before it.  The folds of its flesh are tightly joined; they are firm and immovable.  Its chest is hard as rock, hard as a lower millstone.  When it rises up, the mighty are terrified; they retreat before its thrashing. The sword that reaches it has no effect, nor does the spear or the dart or the javelin.  Iron it treats like straw and bronze like rotten wood.  Arrows do not make it flee; slingstones are like chaff to it.  A club seems to it but a piece of straw; it laughs at the rattling of the lance.  Its undersides are jagged potsherds, leaving a trail in the mud like a threshing sledge.  It makes the depths churn like a boiling cauldron and stirs up the sea like a pot of ointment.  It leaves a glistening wake behind it; one would think the deep had white hair.  Nothing on earth is its equal — a creature without fear.  It looks down on all that are haughty; it is king over all that are proud.”

Some Bible commentators have tried to pass this off as a hippo, or even crocodile; but I have yet to hear of a crocodile that sneezes flames.  As recently as the 17th century, scholars and scientists wrote about dragons as though they were scientific fact, yet modern science seems to steer clear of them as much as they might dismiss stories about big foot and the Loch Ness Monster.  Yet for all that, there is a rich treasure trove of historical evidence for the existence of dragons.

Just seen in the light of historical literary references, it is undeniable that such creatures as we would describe as dragons existed; from Native America, throughout Europe and into China records abound. Some literary sources are as follows:  The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles (two mentions); the Epic of Gilgamesh (written 2000 BC); the ancient historian Josephus; the third century historian Gaius Solinus; the Greek researcher Herodotus; the historian Gesner; the Italian historian Aldrovandus; the first century Greek historian Strabo; and the list goes on and on.

Historical pictorial references also abound:  Of the 12 animals depicted on the Chinese zodiac, the dragon is the only one that is no longer alive today; it is also the only one that is often considered mythical – but does it seem logical that they would include one non-existent animal, when all the others are real?  Botanists, meticulous recorders of natural history, fauna and wildlife, and men who were renowned historians all make references to and descriptions of dragons.  Like the Cambodian Stegosaurus, what seems out of place to modern man might simply have been a known creature at the time of the creation of the document or the artwork construction, but unknown today.

For an excellent article on the topic, with historical references galore, please click on the image below.

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Historical Gadgets for Cosmetic Alterations

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Cosmetic alterations are nothing new; if we go way back, the first animals skins fashioned into clothing were the very first “enhancement”.  Makeup is the most common; we tend to think of it in terms of foundation, eye-liner, etc., but the term also encompasses body art, from war paint, tribal markings (whether tattoos or scarring) to henna tattoos.

This generation, as obsessed as it is with physical perfection (which is impossible, but that doesn’t seem to deter some people with more money than sense), has perhaps taken alterations to an extreme with injections of the toxin Botox and plastic surgery addictions that render the patient unrecognizable (I won’t go into the psychological implications of not being able to recognize one’s own face in the mirror each morning, but if you’re interested in the topic, please click here.)  But is such behavior new?  No; poisons have been used cosmetically before, with one example being lead-based white make-up used as far back as Roman times.  Women in 16th century Europe would bleed themselves to become paler, which was considered more aristocratic; this standard of pale being a condition to aspire to goes back to ancient times.  In Song of Solomon 1:6, the heroine explains that her dark skin came from working the fields, because her brothers were angry with her and burdened her with those tasks.  Even today, this skewed perception of what is beautiful effects the lives of many dark-skinned men and women around the globe; to watch a 5-minute video about their experiences, please click here.

Along the way, gadgets have been invented to curl, dry, tan, tuck, nip or pinch.   Here are a few historical gadgets for your amusement.  Enjoy!

Dimple machine

Dimple Machine

A 1940s beauty treatment at Helena Rubinstein’s salon

A 1940s beauty treatment at Helena Rubinstein’s salon

A fruit mask from the 1930s

A fruit mask from the 1930s

A permanent hair procedure (presumably hair waving) being performed in Germany in 1929

A permanent hair procedure (presumably hair waving) being performed in Germany in 1929

Pre-war women would spend hours with their hair bundled up into creepy heating machines like these to achieve a fashionable curled look

Pre-war women would spend hours with their hair bundled up into creepy heating machines like these to achieve a fashionable curled look

Slenderising salons in the forties devised all sorts of weight-loss treatments, one of which was massage chairs like these, which massaged clients’ legs with metal rollers

Slenderising salons in the forties devised all sorts of weight-loss treatments, one of which was massage chairs like these, which massaged clients’ legs with metal rollers

This ‘Glamour Bonnet’ from the forties promised to give users a rosy complexion by lowering atmospheric pressure around their head to simulate alpine conditions

This ‘Glamour Bonnet’ from the forties promised to give users a rosy complexion by lowering atmospheric pressure around their head to simulate alpine conditions.

This device from 1930, invented by Max Factor, helps correct the application of make-up

This device from 1930, invented by Max Factor, helps correct the application of make-up

This Thirties suction machine consisted of tiny glass nozzles, a rubber hose and  a vacuum pump. It promised smooth, spot-free skin

This Thirties suction machine consisted of tiny glass nozzles, a rubber hose and a vacuum pump. It promised smooth, spot-free skin

Toilet Mask

Toilet Mask for bleaching and preserving the skin, “to be worn three times in the week”.

[The images have been gleaned from Pinterest and around cyberspace over the years, so I don’t know where to give ownership credit – if you own one of the photos, please let me know so that I can give credit where it is due.]

The Mammoths of Niederwenigen

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Image Credit:  Mammutmuseum Niederwenigen

So far this past week, we’ve crammed more activities into one week that we’d previously done all year.  There is a lot of beautiful scenery here in Switzerland, and though we spend time in the mountains, we also like museums of all shapes and sizes.  Our busy holiday started a week ago when my husband took a few weeks off from work, and our first stop was just over the hill range in the next valley, known as Furttal:  We had a private tour (given by an old family friend) through the local mammoth museum; it is one of the few in Europe.  Roughly 185,000 years ago, glaciers and glacial lakes came and went, and the intermittent stages formed lush valleys filled with wild grasses & forests – the perfect place for mammoths to forage.  Fortunately for us, but unfortunately for the mammoths, the ground could sometimes become swampy, trapping victims, and thus preserving their remains intact.  Today, any construction site in the valley is likely to find fossils, and the archaeologists are called in on a regular basis – whether by construction crews or by farmers whose ploughing churns up artefacts (from prehistoric to Roman).

To read more details about the findings, click on the image above for a scientific report (PDF), or on the link above for the museum information.  And just as a side note:  Mammoth teeth are huge, and were formed with ridges that ground their food between the top and bottom teeth (see image below, showing a fragment in comparison to a whole tooth).

Mammoth Tooth - Plymouth-edu

Image Credit: www.plymouth.edu

Business Histories

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If you’ve ever been curious as to when the first this-or-that happened, and perhaps led to an invention or an industry, then look no further than the gem of a site that I just came across!  Just click on the image below to go to the website, and enjoy!  There, you’ll find the following categories:

Accountancy; advertising; agribusiness; agricultural machinery; aircraft; airlines; arts; automotive (A-G) & (H-W); banking; beverages; biotechnology; broadcasting; business services; chemicals; computers; conglomerates; construction; consumer (non-cyclical); containers; defence; drugs;  electronics;  engineering;  entertainment; family business; fashion & beauty; financial services; food 1 & 2; food service; footwear; forest products; gaming; gas; healthcare; high technology; home furnishings; hospitality; household appliances; industrial equipment; information technology; insurance;  internet; jewellery; law; leisure; machine tools; manufacturing; media;  metals; mining; nonprofit; office equipment; oil; oil service; paper & packaging; publishing to 1900, from 1900, A-L & M-Z; railroads; real estate; regions (A-M) & (N-Z); retail; rubber; savings & loans; securities; shipbuilding; shipping; sports; steel and iron; telecommunications; textiles; tobacco; tourism; toys; transport; utilities; waste disposal; weapons; whaling; blacks in business; kids & business; women in business; and scandal & fraud.

 

Spiral Clock Face

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