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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.]
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Furry Therapists

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It’s long been accepted that animals play an integral role in the overall well-being of humans.  One would be tempted to say that the significance of animal-human interaction is a modern discovery, and it may well be in the sense of measurable data, as science can monitor the changes in a heart rate (if you want a really science-y report, click here), though anyone who owns a cat can tell you that stroking a purring cat is calming.  But from the time that man domesticated wild dogs and wolves to become a vital part of their daily lives in hunting, protection and companionship, animals have been prevalent.   However, as hunting and gathering gave way to farming homesteads, which gave way eventually to urban development as the predominant habitation of modern man (particularly in western societies), we began to lose touch with just how important animals are to us.

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1956:  Three little boys reaching into a water bin of baby ducks as one of the hospital’s methods of using therapy with animals. Source:  Time Magazine

Now, hospitals, nursing homes, universities, and even prisons have begun to rediscover the rehabilitating effects of furry therapists.  More recently, a VA hospital in Los Angeles, California has recognised the effects of animals on PTSD sufferers; yet they’ve gone a step farther:  They’ve paired PTSD birds with their human counterparts.

Please click on the links to watch videos of amazing work being done with and for animals; that both species benefit from the interaction is more than evident, and will make you smile!

Leader Dogs trained in Prison

Hawaii, ca. 1924

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By clicking on the image below, you can watch a ~9-minute video of a series of short video clips from the 1920’s of Hawaii, interspersed with silent-film era title cards.  Not only is it an interesting time-capsule glimpse of a simpler time on the islands, but it’s also an insight into what the rest of America knew about the islands, the foods and customs.  Back before you could find certain fruits and vegetables in the grocery stores year round, many people didn’t know what some were, such as papaya.  My Swiss mother-in-law remembers when bananas came to Switzerland, and were exotic and expensive; in her house they were only bought for her brother, who was very sick at the time, as a source of energy; that was during World War 2.  Once, she confessed stealing a bit of money from her brother’s piggy bank to buy herself a banana.

Back then the world in general also knew very little about strange customs such as “surf riding” (surfing), and the footage of surfers is utterly tame compared to the monster wave-riding considered “for surfers” today!  Volcanic activity also seems to have been a fascination; such footage may well have been the first time anyone had seen such a thing outside of volcanic regions; it still had to be described in colours, however, such as “cherry red” for the lava, as the footage was, obviously, black and white.

The image below is of King’s Mansion, in Kealakekua, Hawaii, on the Big Island.  I actually lived here in 1986, as a student (my dorm window was the left bay window at the front).  The mansion originally belonged to Kamehameha dynasty; thus the name.  We had avocado trees in the back garden, and our neighbour’s horses, across a stone wall, would come trotting to the wall when they saw us in the garden, hoping for an avocado; we’d feed them, entertained as they carefully chewed away the flesh around the pit (reminding me of an old man chewing tobacco!), and then skillfully spit the seed aside.  In the bottom of our front garden stood a huge banyan tree [if you were standing on the covered lanai (porch) at the front of the house, it would be to your left]; it was a favourite tree to climb.

King's Mansion

The Eighty-Dollar Champion

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I just came across this story, and knew it was a piece of history that needed to be “undusted”!  The Eighty-Dollar Champion, having inspired both two books and a film, was a white plow horse on the way to the slaughterhouse at the end of an unsuccessful auction.  Harry De Leyer, a Dutch immigrant to New York who fled the Nazi invasion of his home country, was running late to the auction due to a flat tire along the way.  When he got there, he and the white horse looked at each other through the slats of the slaughterhouse truck, and he knew that horse was special.  He bought the horse with the last eighty dollars he had, and the rest is, as they say, history.  Together, they broke into the world run by the wealthy elite owning thoroughbreds, and went on to beat all odds and all competitors.  To see a short trailer for the film, please click on the image below of Snowman and Harry.

Snowman, the Eighty-Dollar Champion - Credit, LIFE Magazine

Also, please check out Elizabeth Lett’s best-selling book, “The Eighty-Dollar Champion:  Snowman, The Horse That Inspired a Nation“, and click on her name to see her sharing the history of her book!

The History of the Treadmill

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Have you ever been jogging on one of those contraptions called treadmills and thought, “Who the heck thought up this torture device?!”  Like the Rack, the treadmill actually started off as a form of torture in British prisons.  Just click on the image below to watch a short TED talk on the history of the Treadmill.

TED - Treadmill.jpg

Image Credit:  TED Talk

Building a hut with a kiln-fired tiled roof, underfloor heating and mud pile walls.

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You can’t get much more “History Undusted” than building a wood, stone and mud hut, complete with a heated floor! Check out this blog, complete with time-lapse video.

I built a hut with a tiled roof, underfloor heating and mud and stone walls. This has been my most ambitious primitive project yet and was motivated by the scarcity of permanent roofing materials in this location. Here, palm thatch decays quickly due to the humidity and insects. Having some experience in making pottery I wondered if roof tiles could feasibly be made to get around these problems. Another advantage of a tiled is that it is fire proof. A wood fired, underfloor heating system was installed for cold weather. A substantial wall of mud and stone were built under the finished roof. It should be obvious that this is not a survival shelter but a project used to develop primitive technological skills.

Time line: 102 days (21/5/15-30/8/15)

Chopping wood, carving mortises, putting up frame:  10 days (21/5/ 15 -31/5/15)

Using a celt stone axe I had made previously (

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Wild Women of the Old West

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Often unsung heroines, the women who trailblazed (alongside their husbands, or on their own through the loss of said man along the trail, or who headed west to forge a new way of living) were the backbone of settlements.  Without the women, there would have been no way for a man to survive for long.  I grew up in Kansas, and my father’s ancestors were immigrants from Denmark who travelled west to Kansas in covered wagons in the 1880s; the farm which my great-great grandfather built was eventually inherited by my grandfather, and many of my happy childhood memories are associated with that farmstead.  Looking back through family photos, there’s not a photo of a weak woman among them; weak women (or men, for that matter) simply didn’t survive.  They became the strength that built the West.

For a 46-minute documentary on the importance of the pioneer woman, and the legends that grew up around the likes of Calamity Jane, Annie Oakley and Belle Starr, please click on the image below.  It’s well worth the time to watch, when you have a moment!

Annie Oakley

Annie Oakley

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