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From the Object Files: The all too true tales and back stories behind some of Hagley’s most remarkable collections. (Part 1) From the Object Files: The all too true tales and back stories behind some of Hagley’s most remarkable collections. (Part 1)
It often happens that a trip into museum storage will generate questions, and most likely the question is “What is that”? A recent excursion generated just such a discussion, when a colleague noticed a tall oddly shaped metal object at the back of the room and asked “What kind of lamp is that”? My answer, that it wasn’t a lamp at all but a machine for perming women’s hair, was sufficient enough at the time. However, what it was is only part of the mystery, how and why it worked and why it was here were bigger questions. As it turns out, that odd machine was a key innovation in the pursuit of the perfect coif. The quest for curls has taken many forms over the years. We are all familiar with curling irons or curling tongs; heated rods around which hair is wrapped with a clamp to hold it in place. And presto! Curled hair! And we are all familiar with permanents; hair is secured around a curler and a chemical solution is applied. And presto! Permanently curled hair. But why combine the two? In the initial days of permanent waving, the chemical solution needed to be heated in order to sufficiently change the hair structure to make it hold the curl. In these early incarnations, curlers would need to be heated individually. Heating them with electricity allowed the curlers to all be heated at once and to a controlled temperature, producing better curls with fewer injuries. The first permanent wave machine to use electricity to heat strands of hair was patented in England by Karl Nessler. Nessler’s machine combined electric heat with a chemical process to produce lasting curls. It wasn’t an instant hit in London, but the idea was revolutionary enough to inspire many alternate versions on both sides of the Atlantic. One such machine was invented by Marjorie Stewart Joyner, an African American, in 1939. She created and patented a machine that could add curl to straight hair or straighten curly hair, using electrically heated metal rods. Hagley’s machine, which came to us as part of the Amram/Brick Woman Inventor Collection, is a representation of further improvements on Joyner’s work. In the middle of the 20th century a new all chemical process of perming hair, that didn’t require heat, was introduced and these types of machines began to disappear from salons. This odd looking contraption is now a permanent (ha!) reminder of man’s (and woman’s) ability to apply a little ingenuity to an everyday problem and possibly change things forever. [Joyner Patent Link](
Paging Doctor Thornton: New Discoveries about the First Superintendent of the Patent Office in Hagley’s Collections Paging Doctor Thornton: New Discoveries about the First Superintendent of the Patent Office in Hagley’s Collections
As a recent hire, I am still becoming familiar with Hagley and its collections. Sure, I spend most of my time laser focused on patent models, but the models are only a part of the museum collection. And I have not had the opportunity to explore the library collection. That all changed after a random database search that served as an example of the richness and depth of Hagley’s holdings. At the time, I was working on a presentation and researching the first Superintendent of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, Dr. William Thornton. Who is Thornton? To even touch upon his biography would take up too much space. His Forrest-Gumpian talent for being present at important moments during the formation of our early republic warrant a book of its own. For this article, it is my research into an object in our museum associated with him that established a surprising connection between Thornton, the DuPont Company, E.I. du Pont, and Thomas Jefferson. It all started when, on a lark, I simply typed Thornton’s name into our museum collection search engine. To my astonishment, we had an object associated with him in the collection! It is pictured here. It is a tiny, three-inch tall tin container with a label that reads: English Canister Pdr. from a Blocktin Can. Presented by Dr. Thornton/Novb 1824. This container entered Hagley’s collections through the old DuPont Company Museum. How did it get there? Who did Thornton send this to and why? Did it contain a sample of powder for testing or was the container itself unique enough? All these questions inspired me to do some more digging. Unfortunately, there was little information in the museum object files. If this was presented to the DuPont Company, was there any other documentation in the company’s archives? If I struck gold in Hagley’s collections once, could it happen twice? Spoiler alert: Yes! Just like before, I typed Thornton’s name into a search engine. But this time, I focused on the library’s holdings. Not only was there a book in the stacks written by Thornton with a personal dedication to E.I., but the archives contained 16 letters written by Thornton to E.I. and others in his circle! Could these letters provide any information about the powder container? Well, no. But they did highlight a shared interest between Thornton, E.I., and Thomas Jefferson. While I already knew Thornton advised E.I. on his patent application for a gunpowder graining machine, and I knew that Jefferson was critical to helping E.I. with his gunpowder business, the letters proved there was more of a personal connection between these three men. The focus of that connection was the breeding of merino sheep. All three were passionate about these animals and the potential for developing a domestic market for their wool. Thornton stated that Jefferson was sending “a thorough bred ram to every County in Virginia”. E.I. allowed his prized rams Don Pedro and Don Ferdinand to pay conjugal visits to Thornton’s flock. Thornton, who in addition to being a physician, knew a great deal about animal husbandry and veterinary care. He offered E.I. advice on how to care for Don Ferdinand after he became ill. Thornton also received a gift of French sheepdogs from Jefferson and promised to set aside one for du Pont. Thornton shared some rather interesting viewpoints on Jefferson’s mountaintop home, Monticello. I shared the existence of these letters, as well as Thornton’s impressions, with the folks at Monticello. They were thrilled to hear about the letters and requested digital copies. Hopefully together our two institutions can continue to reveal new information about the relationship between these three men who contributed immensely to the growth of American industry. And it all started when I simply typed “Thornton” into our search engine. Who knows what new connections we can trace? Isn’t technology grand?
From the Object Files: The all too true tales and back stories behind some of Hagley’s most remarkable collections. (Part 4) From the Object Files: The all too true tales and back stories behind some of Hagley’s most remarkable collections. (Part 4)
If you spend a significant amount of time amongst museum collections there are bound to be some objects for which you develop a fondness and some you just fail to appreciate. One such object came to Hagley in the Amram/Brick Woman Inventor Collection. He is a Billiken and, to me at least, seems rather unpleasant. But does that impish grin truly disguise a fiendish heart? Or is he just misunderstood? As it turns out this little guy has no sinister intention after all. In fact it is just the opposite. It turns out, Billiken, the self proclaimed “God of things as they ought to be” was created as a symbol of good luck and good fortune. His journey began in Kansas City where a young artist teacher named Florence Pretz had a idea for a small pudgy deity who would bring luck to all who worshiped him. Miss Pretz was awarded a patent on Oct. 6, 1908 for her “design for an image” [Patent Link]( And not long after that small plaster statues of Billiken were available to the public. In accordance with the lighthearted Billiken philosophy, he was not available for purchase but could be obtained on a 99 year loan with a deposit of 75 cents. Within a few short months the little grinning god was everywhere. By that fall he had his own corporate force in The Billiken Company, who managed the use of his image. His smiling face appeared on cards, as jewelry, in books and toys, spreading happiness, hope and luck where ever he appeared, including as the mascot of St. Louis University. The little totem had become an honest to goodness national craze. By Early 1909 one of members of the company designed and patented a small throne on which the statue could be placed. A fitting seat for a happy idol. Like all fads, the Billiken eventually faded from the public imagination. But he lives on here at Hagley as a testament to one woman’s inventiveness. (Even if I think he is a little creepy.)
The du Pont Story on a Hooked Rug The du Pont Story on a Hooked Rug
Many times, people have asked me what my favorite artifact in the collection is. But I have too many to just give one. Here is one of my favorites. This artifact is an incredible work of art. Not only is this magnificent, hooked rug visually interesting, it combines both of our collecting areas admirably. It represents important icons from the history of the du Pont family in America and was made from DuPont Company’s nylon. The artist who designed and made this rug was a du Pont who was a direct descendent of Eleuthère Irénée du Pont, the founder of the DuPont Company. Born Nancy du Pont Reynolds (later Mrs. Edward W. Cooch, Jr.), she began making this rug in her late 20s. It was intended for use in a house but ended up in storage where it remained until it came to Hagley. The process began by her drawing the pattern you see below and determining what kind of material to make the rug out of. Typically, hooked rugs were made from wool, but she decided to use nylon instead. Introduced to the public in the late 1930s, by the late 1940s DuPont chemists were exploring new uses for nylon including for carpets and rugs and this had great appeal to her. It was so new that all colors in the rug had to be customed-dyed using experimental dyes to her color specifications. This is probably the only hooked rug made from nylon. Ultimately nylon turned out to be a poor choice even though the colors are as brilliant as they were when new. But in limited active use, the rug began to fray and pill on the surface when it was walked on and there is evidence of that on the rug. The rug depicts the history of the du Pont family and the DuPont Company in America. Each image shows a time, event, invention or symbol in the du Pont story. The design centers around the “American Eagle which was the ship that brought E. I. du Pont and his family to America. He later founded the DuPont Company. The date 1800 indicates the year they arrived in America and 1950 represents their 150th anniversary. Images include buildings on the Hagley property such as the barn and first office towards the top and a gunpowder roll mill on the Brandywine River on the lower right side. Mrs. Cooch was an artist and I believe this is her masterpiece! One of the most amazing things she told me was that she started it in the middle and worked her way out to the edges. After she finished almost half the rug, she discovered a mistake and pulled everything out and started over again! Remarkable!
Patent Models - This Inventor Played His Cards Right Patent Models - This Inventor Played His Cards Right
While reading through the patent document for Andrew Dougherty’s Improvement in Registering Mechanism for Printing-Presses, I was surprised to find his claim that the invention was “especially serviceable in printing… playing-cards” (Patent No. 178,608). [Patent Link]( was a very specific claim, so I decided to look up Mr. Dougherty to see if I could find out any more information on his life, career, or other patents. I was blown away by his story and success! Andrew Dougherty and his parents immigrated to the United States from Ireland when he was only 7 years old. When he was a teenager, he held a variety of jobs. He worked for a time as a whaler off the coast of New England, and then at some point moved on to work for a playing card company. If you ask me, these are two of the most opposite gigs I can think of. In any case, the playing card industry seemed to appeal to Dougherty, and at age 21 he had saved up enough money to open his own playing card business in New York City. This business would eventually merge with the Coughtry brothers and become Coughtry and Dougherty. This company created stencil-colored cards. Once Coughtry and Dougherty dissolved, Dougherty went into business for himself again. By 1870 his company could produce three and a half million decks a year. Dougherty is also credited with developing and patenting two finishes for cards: the Linoid finish and the Pegulose finish. The Linoid finish was an extra coating that decreased stickiness, while the Pegulose finish allowed for the cards to be washed if soiled. Dougherty also patented Triplicates, which was a design feature that included two small depictions of the card in the top left and lower right corners. Dougherty’s business was eventually purchased in 1907 by the United States Playing Card Company. One of Dougherty’s decks, named Tally-Ho, is still for sale to this day. The deck’s packaging has ‘A. Dougherty’ printed on it, and the cards are coated with the Linoid finish. [# Andrew Dougherty 1848-1930](
An Insubordinate Patentee An Insubordinate Patentee
The main goal of the museum’s inventor research project is to learn as much as we can about the people behind the patent models in our collection. With sometimes just one patent number, and one inventor name to go off of, our amazing volunteer is able to unearth mounds of information such as birth and death dates/places, marriages, occupations, other patents they held, and so much more! Yet, for every story that is fleshed out, is another that has seemingly been lost to us. This month, I’d like to share with a patent model that wonderfully represents this issue. In 1877, two women by the names of Mary Augusta Requa and Eleanor Dunn were granted Patent No. 189,574, [Patent Link]( for an Improvement in Copy-Books. And then, in 1881, they were granted a reissue of the same copy-book. I opened the research folder to review it, and noticed that we weren’t able to find any life details for Eleanor Dunn. Mary Augusta Requa, on the other hand, had an abundant online presence! We even found out that Requa’s sisters, Ella and Emma, held patents and designs in their names. Mary Augusta Requa was a native of New York City. She was a patentee, held a Masters in Pedagogy, an M.D. from the Women’s Medical College of New York, and a law degree from NYU. At the height of her career from 1896-1904, she was supervisor of physical education for Manhattan and the Bronx. But, her term as supervisor would not last. In 1894 she was dismissed for “insubordination” when she refused to step down to an Assistant position after a restructuring instated a new Director that would oversee the entirety of New York City. After failed attempts by “a group of masculine legal minds” to reinstate her position, Requa took it upon herself to become a lawyer and fight her own case. The 1910 Census lists Requa’s occupation as a Supervisor at the public schools, and a 1915 New York Directory lists her occupation as Director. It seems as though she was successful in her own defense! With more and more records being digitized and made available to the public daily, I’m hopeful that one day we will be able to populate Eleanor Dunn’s research file. Til then, we’ll celebrate Dr. Requa’s tenacity, and the assumption that she too would want her co-patentee to have her 15 minutes of fame in Hagley’s Research News.
What The Ban-Lon?! What The Ban-Lon?!
One of the craziest things about working in a museum is that you never quite know what you will be doing from one day to another. Sometimes this fact can be frustrating – like when you realize that there is water leaking somewhere where water should not be leaking. But, other times, it can be fascinating, and force you to learn about things you never knew you wanted to know about! A month or so ago I received an email inquiring whether the museum would like to acquire a Ban-Lon men’s shirt. Some of my audience right now may already know about this material – and how I wish I could see your reactions through the screen! But if you are like me (a 30-year-old who had never heard of this product before) let me fill you in on Ban-Lon. In 1954, Joseph Bancroft & Sons [Link]( created a synthetic yarn, called Ban-Lon, by crimping yarn to Nylon. This created a fabric with a larger bulk than with just ordinary yarn alone. The synthetic fabric was used to make polos, sweaters, swimsuits, and even wedding gowns. Surface level, it seems like the most versatile product on the planet! Hagley Library’s Digital Archives is a virtual treasure trove of advertisements for Ban-Lon. It was marketed to be as soft as a kitten and extremely flattering to the figure. [Link]( Ban-Lon was popularized further when Joseph Bancroft & Sons sponsored the Miss America pageants from 1953 to 1957. During those years, the crowned Miss America promoted a variety of Ban-Lon pieces, like the lace pageant gown here: [Link]( However, people outside of the advertising and pageant world seem to have other, shall I say, strong opinions on the fabric. I have seen it called a hot, snagging, “evil material” that is wildly unforgiving. And, if you are a Seinfeld fan – you may remember a certain episode where Frank states, “I wouldn’t be caught dead in Banlon.” Kramer proceeds to simply shake his head at the very thought of it. So, how do you remember Ban-Lon? A miracle or a misfortune?
Frances Gabe and her Amazing Self-Cleaning House! Frances Gabe and her Amazing Self-Cleaning House!
Many people complain about cleaning their house but Frances Gabe actually did something about it! She decided to invent, patent and build a prototype house that cleaned itself! According to Gabe the self-cleaning house (SCH) “was never intended to scrub a dirty house or building, but to keep a clean house clean.” In the March 1982 issue of People Magazine, Gabe said: “I want to eliminate all unnecessary motion so that handicapped and elderly people can care for themselves. My system will allow people to do so by pushing a few buttons.” Born in 1915, Frances Grace Arnholz later married Herbert Bateson. For many years, together they ran a construction and maintenance company with her eventually taking the lead. After her divorce, she decided to change her last name to Gabe which represents **G**race **A**rnholz **B**ateson which she added an “**e**” to. Her building experience led to her commitment to invent and build a self-cleaning house for her to live in which she did. Gabe’s patent application was filed in 1980 and she finally received patent number 4,428,085, [Patent Link]( on January 31, 1984 for Self-Cleaning Building Construction. According to the patent: “A self-cleaning building construction comprises apparatus for applying a fine spray or mist of water and/or water and detergent to wall, floor and ceiling surfaces, followed by warm air drying. Floors slope in a direction for removing excess moisture via a drain. Also included are closet apparatus for cleaning clothing, cupboard dishwasher apparatus for cleaning stored dishes, self-cleaning bathtub apparatus, and self-cleaning washbasin apparatus.” Her patent included 68 more inventions inside the house which waterproofed everything including plastic cases for books. The house itself was comprised of two stories. The first floor contained the living and dining spaces as well as the kitchen. The second floor had a bathroom, bedroom, clothes closet and an outdoor patio space. Before earthquake damage in 2001, Gabe turned on the cleaning apparatus twice a year. Gabe spent many years publicizing her SCH. She did many radio and television interviews and charged a small fee to people who wanted to see the house. Her hope was that many of these would be built throughout the country. Marketing materials she developed said: “the Self-Cleaning House safely and automatically washes and dries ceilings, wall, windows, floors, curtains, upholstery, dirty dishes, dirty clothes and books.” Hagley is extremely fortunate to have the model of Gabe’s SCH and other models, including her self-cleaning dishwasher, in the museum innovation collection. She passed away on December 26, 2016. Personally, because she was such a fascinating woman who was just so very creative, I am very happy that she lives on in the internet because words in print just don’t do her any justice. [Interview Link]( [NY Times](
The Fascinating World of Clarissa Britain The Fascinating World of Clarissa Britain
For years I have been interested in women inventors, especially those from Michigan which is my home state. Clarissa Britain’s 1863 United States Patent Model for an Improvement in Boilers caught my attention since she was from St. Joseph, Michigan. New research from our patentee research project has opened the door into her fascinating world. Born in Brownville, New York, in 1816, she attended Emma Willard’s Troy Female Seminary in 1838 and 1839 with the goal of becoming a teacher. What is unusual about her is that she taught and led schools in a lot of places including: Troy, New York, St. Joseph, Michigan, Beaufort, South Carolina, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Wheeling, Virginia, and Kenosha, Wisconsin. Why did she travel so much? The answer was family. Most of her jobs were places where her siblings lived. Her first move was to St. Joseph, Michigan around 1840 to live with her unmarried brother who was one of the founders of St. Joseph and later the Lieutenant Governor of Michigan. While there she became the principal of the Niles Seminary until she returned to Troy, New York for three years. In the late 1850s, she got a teaching job in Beaufort, South Carolina where she lived with her married sister. She was there when South Carolina seceded from the United States in 1860 and only lived six miles away from the naval Battle at Port Royal in 1861. When her brother died in 1862, as his executrix she had to return to Michigan. How she travelled that long journey with the country at war is unknown. What we do know is that after she got back to Michigan, she began a brief spurt of patenting inventions which seem to have been inspired by what she experienced on her trip. From 1863 to 1864 she received seven patents more than any other woman in Michigan at the time. Her patents included a floor heating stove, ambulance, boiler, combined lantern and dinner pail for workmen, vegetable boiler, dish drainer and a lamp burner. One patent that stands out is her improved ambulance to be used “for the removal of the wounded from the field of battle to safe quarters, where they may receive immediate surgical aid.” Only someone who had seen an ambulance in action could have invented an improved version of it. [Patent Link]( From Michigan she took a job at the Kenosha Seminary in Wisconsin but was there a short time when her sister in South Carolina died leaving her to care for her children. Because of the war, she and the children moved to Chicago. When they were grown, she returned to Michigan until her heath declined. Her last move was Baton Rouge, Louisiana to live with her sister. She lived a remarkable life.
Harriet Ruth Tracy - Woman Inventor Harriet Ruth Tracy - Woman Inventor
During the nineteenth century, women made up just 1% of all inventors who received United States patents. Hagley is fortunate to have approximately 80 patent models representing women inventors out of the more than 5,000 models in the collection. Unfortunately, little is known about most of these women but there are exceptions. For example, Mrs. Harriet Ruth Tracy (1834-1918) was both a prolific and successful inventor. While processing our new Rothschild Patent Model Collection, I was extremely pleased to see that we have her first patent! Born in Charleston, South Carolina, Tracy spent much of her life living in New York before moving to London where she later died after a very prominent career as an inventor. Overall Mrs. Tracy received at least twenty-seven patents during the period of 1868 to 1915. Hagley’s patent model is for an improved crib-attachment for bedsteads with the objective “to furnish an improved bedstead and crib, so constructed and arranged that when the crib is not in use, and is pushed into its place in the bedstead, the said bedstead and crib shall present a neat and uniform appearance, giving no indication of the presence of the crib-attachment…” [Patent Link]( Mrs. Tracy’s prominence as an inventor came not only from her seventeen patents on sewing-machines but also her six safety elevator patents. During the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition, she displayed her lock-stitch and chain-stitch sewing machine in the Liberal Arts Building. What impressed everyone was her improved bobbin which held up to 1,000 yards of thread hence reducing the number of times the bobbin thread had to be replaced making it a time saver. Her sewing-machines were used in both domestic and industrial settings. While her sewing machine was in one building on display, another one of her inventions was installed in the Woman’s Building. The “Tracy Gravity Safety Elevator” was selected for daily use because it had “automatic platforms that keep the shaft constantly closed, and prevent any person falling through it, or flames ascending it.” It was used to transport visitors to the roof-top restaurant. Harriet Tracy’s inventions received extensive public acclaim in the Chicago Newspapers. The *Chicago Mail* said about her sewing machine “All ladies who see the machine are delighted with it and her other meritorious inventions and proud that a woman has accomplished what man failed to do…” Tracy spent her life inventing and managing her patents to great success.