Out in the Wash: Laundry Products from the East Lansing Dump

Little Boy Blue Bluing bottle from the Brody/Emmons Complex

Little Boy Blue Bluing bottle from the Brody/Emmons Complex

For many of us today, laundry is a pretty simple affair: separate the lights from the darks, add detergent, and let the washing machine do its work. Before the advent of automatic washing machines and newfangled detergents with optical brighteners, laundry was more of an art form involving many complicated steps. Housekeeping books often contained lengthy descriptions of the best way to do laundry. Mrs. Christine Frederick’s Household Engineering book, published in 1920, contains a 55-page chapter on laundry alone. Mrs. Christine Frederick may have been able to tell us immediately the purpose of two whimsically labeled bottles recovered during excavations at Brody/Emmons Amphitheater: a small, round, clear glass bottled embossed with “Little Boy Blue Bluing” and a large, oval, clear glass bottle embossed with “Little Bo Peep Ammonia.” Since none of us here at Campus Archaeology are laundry experts, we needed to do a little research to figure out the purpose and product history of these objects.

Little Bo Peep Ammonia Bottle from the Brody/Emmons Complex.

Little Bo Peep Ammonia Bottle from the Brody/Emmons Complex.

The question of purpose is easy to answer. Ammonia has various uses as a household cleaner. When added to laundry ammonia can help whiten whites, soften fabrics, and remove an impressive array of stains due to grease, food, ink, grass, rust, and even blood, urine, and sweat (1). Bluing is a product that can be added to laundry to make whites look whiter and brighter. Whereas bleach whitens fabrics by removing color, bluing creates an optical illusion that makes fabrics look whiter. Since blue is opposite yellow on the color wheel, small amounts of blue dye help neutralize yellowness. Trace amounts of dye also leave a bluish cast that our eyes perceive as brilliant white (2).

Historically, various substances have been used for bluing. Early bluing was sold in solid form. Blocks of indigo, a plant dye, were placed inside muslin bags and shaken into the laundry water during rinsing (3). Another type of solid bluing used ultramarine, a pigment derived either synthetically or from ground lapis lazuli (3). Ultramarine was mixed with baking soda and rolled into balls. For this reason, it was sometimes called ball bluing (4). Today most bluing is sold in liquid form (2). Liquid bluing is often made with Prussian blue, a synthetic pigment made from the suspension of ferric ferrocyanide (colloidal iron) in organic acid (5).

Research into the product history of Little Boy Blue Bluing and Little Bo Peep Ammonia took a bit more digging. These products can be traced back to a Chicago company called the Condensed Bluing Company. John Puhl, president of Condensed Bluing, applied for trademarks for Little Boy Blue laundry bluing in 1914 (6,7) and Little Bo Beep Ammonia in 1922 (8). In 1924, historical records show trademarks for Little Boy Bluing and Little Bo Peep Ammonia given to the John Puhl Products Company (9).

Advertising pamphlet featuring a Fuzzie Wuzzie Fairy Story and “Daddy Puhl and his kiddies”

Advertising pamphlet featuring a Fuzzie Wuzzie Fairy Story and “Daddy Puhl and his kiddies” Image Source

Advertisements for these products ran in newspapers in Midwestern and Central States from the 1910’s to the 1940’s (10). The products were often advertised together and contained cheerful imagery of the fairy tale characters for which they were named. These names were likely meant to evoke the fleecy whiteness of sheep—both Bo Peep and Boy Blue were caretakers of sheep. One series of advertisements featured short stories about cartoon bears named Fuzzie and Wuzzie, illustrated by Chicago artist Milo Winter. These “fairy stories” described Fuzzie and Wuzzie doing things like playing store, gardening, and cleaning, and they always featured Little Boy Blue Bluing and Little Bo Peep Ammonia products prominently. The use of fairy tales as a motif in advertising was particularly common at the beginning of the 20th century (11). According to Zipes, allusions to well known fairy tales were supposed to remind readers of magic, happy endings, and wish fulfillment (11).

Advertising pamphlet featuring a Fuzzie Wuzzie Fairy Story and “Daddy Puhl and his kiddies”

Advertising pamphlet featuring a Fuzzie Wuzzie Fairy Story and “Daddy Puhl and his kiddies” Image Source

This advertising strategy sometimes even pulled John Puhl himself into the fairy tale. Some ads featured a photograph of Puhl surrounded on either side by cartoon Bo Beep and Boy Blue, labeled “Daddy Puhl and his kiddies.” This takes on a somewhat sinister tone considering Puhl’s own record. An 1894 Report of the Illinois Department of Factory Inspection reports John Puhl, then manager of Puhl & Webb baking powder factory at 157 East Kinzie Street, was charged with illegally employing 4 children without affidavits (12).

Ownership of Little Boy Blue Bluing and Little Bo Peep Ammonia changed hands at least two times after 1924. Sterling Drugs purchased John Puhl Products in 1949 (13). In 1958, Purex purchased the John Puhl Division of Sterling Drugs (14). Both Little Boy Blue Bluing and Little Bo Peep Ammonia continued to be sold under the Purex brand name after the purchase (14). Unfortunately, we do not have precise dates on our Little Boy Blue and Little Bo Peep bottles. However, styles of the bottles are consistent with products featured in advertisements from the 1930’s and early 1940’s. These dates are also consistent with those of other artifacts found in the Brody/Emmons assemblage. This would suggest that the bottles date prior to the purchase of John Puhl by Purex.

Many times when we are looking at artifacts in the CAP lab we come across brand names or products that were once ubiquitous but that we don’t often see today. It is always an interesting time researching these objects, learning how and why they were used, and trying to trace their origins. Sometimes, you even learn a little something about laundry along the way.

 

References

  1. Frederick, Christine. Household Engineering: Scientific Management in the Home. American School of Home Economics: Chicago, 1920.
  2. http://mrsstewart.com/purpose-of-bluing/
  3. http://www.victorianpassage.com/2009/11/what_is_bluing.php
  4. http://www.oldandinteresting.com/laundry-blue.aspx
  5. Wailes, Raymond B. Analyzing Everyday in the Home. Popular Science, December 1934, pp. 56-57.
  6. https://www.trademarkia.com/little-boy-blue-71080638.html
  7. Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office, Volume 295. February 21, 1922.
  8. Practical Druggist and Pharmaceutical Review of Reviews, Volume 40. October, 1922.
  9. Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office, Volume 331. February 19, 1925.
  10. Printer’s Ink, Volume 120. August 31, 1922.
  11. The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales, Second Edition. Jack Zipes, ed. Oxford University Press: New York, 2015.
  12. Record of Convictions. Second Annual Report of the Factory Inspectors of Illinois. 1894, p. 66.
  13. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. November 30, 1949. Retrieved from https://www.newspapers.com/newspage/88841505/.
  14. Purex Corp., Ltd. V. Procter & Gamble Co. 419 F. Supp. 931 (1976). Retrieved from https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/FSupp/419/931/1979114/.

Photos

Photos of bottles taken by Lisa

Advertising pamphlet featuring a Fuzzie Wuzzie Fairy Story and “Daddy Puhl and his kiddies”

https://www.ebay.com/itm/Advertising-Pamphlet-Fuzzie-amp-Wuzzie-Play-Story-Little-Boy-Blue-Bluing-Bears-/371079369173

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow: Hair Care Products from the East Lansing Dump

Keeping with the theme of my last blog post on cosmetics, this week I dug into the history of some more grooming products recovered during excavations at Brody/Emmons Amphitheater, formerly the site of the East Lansing city dump from the 1920s to the early 1950s. Since my last post discussed cosmetic products most likely marketed to and used by women during this period, I decided to take this week to investigate hair care products that might have been used by men.

Wildroot bottle #1 from Brody Complex.

Wildroot bottle #1 from Brody Complex.

Four hair bottles of hair products were discovered in the Emmons assemblage. The bottles include 1) a tall, rectangular bottle with rounded shoulders and a long neck, embossed with the label “Wildroot” and vines on each side; 2) a square glass bottle with the remnants of a gold paper label reading “Wil—Brilli—”; 3) a small, squoval glass bottle with “Wildroot Company—Inc” embossed on one side and “Buffalo New York” on the other; and 4) a round glass bottle labeled “Vitalis” at the shoulder and base, with a metal cap.

Wildroot bottle #2 from the Brody Complex.

Wildroot bottle #2 from the Brody Complex.

To understand what these products were and how they might have been used, I first did some research into men’s hairstyles from the 1920s to the 1950s. In the 1920s, men almost always wore hats (1). Beneath the hat, the hair was kept pin-straight, slicked straight back, and shiny in a style sometimes nicknamed “patent leather” (1,2). In the 1930s, men wore their hair short around the ears and neck, with the longer hair at the top of the head parted to the side and kept sleekly in place (2). In the 1940’s, the short-back-and-sides hair cut remained popular (2,3). Practical, short-cropped military cuts were also common during and after World War II. The pompadour became fashionable in the 1940s and ‘50s, giving rise to the quiff made popular by stars like Elvis and James Dean (3,4). In order to wear these hairstyles, black men first had to undergo a painful process to chemically relax hair with congolene, a substance made from lye (5). Once straightened, the hair could be parted and combed flat or piled into a pompadour. These “conk” hairstyles (derived from the word “congolene”) fell out of favor in the 1960s with the Black Power era (5).

Wildroot bottle #3 from Brody Complex.

Wildroot bottle #3 from Brody Complex.

While the specifics of men’s hairstyles varied over the decades, the general principles of doing one’s hair remained the same. These styles involved keeping the hair neatly in place, often slicked back, and the shinier, the better. Hair tonic was often used to achieve these looks. The product held hair in place and made hair appear glossier, a look that was seen as a sign of health (6). Hair tonics were generally liquid with mineral oil, petroleum jelly, or wax as the primary ingredient. In addition to their use as styling products, hair tonics were advertised as hair care that was supposed to prevent dandruff and hair loss. Hair tonics lost favor in the 1960s with the introduction of gels and mousses that provided better hold with less grease (6). Two different brands of hair tonics are present in the Brody/Emmons trash context: Wildroot and Vitalis.

Vitalis bottle from Brody Complex.

Vitalis bottle from Brody Complex.

Wildroot was manufactured in Buffalo, New York from 1911 to 1959 (7). Wildroot hair tonic was oil-based, with ingredients including mineral oil, lanolin, and beeswax and was especially popular in the 1920s (8). So popular, in fact, that it had to protect its brand name from counterfeiters. A 1920 article from the Journeyman Barber chronicles a raid of Cleveland barbershops to confiscate counterfeit bottles of hair tonics, including Wildroot (9).

The tall, vine-embossed Wildroot bottle from the Brody/Emmons assemblage is most likely a hair tonic and dandruff remedy, similar to this one. The metal cap on the Emmons bottle indicates that it post-dates the 1920s, since advertisements for Wildroot hair tonic from the 1920s show a product with a glass stopper.

The square bottle with the gold label is Wildroot Brilliantine. I could find only few references to this particular product, but an advertisement from 1941 describes a product called “Wildroot Brilliantine” with added olive oil, probably for the purpose of increasing grease—I mean, shine. I have not yet found a good match for the third Wildroot bottle, so let us know in the comments if you know what this product is.

Advertisement for Wildroot: urging women to use Wildroot on their husbands to prevent baldness

Advertisement for Wildroot: urging women to use Wildroot on their husbands to prevent baldness. Image source.

Advertisements for Wildroot reveal an interesting history of gendered marketing. Early advertisements for Wildroot were aimed at women. An ad from the 1920s warned women that bobbed hairstyles and tight hats were sure to cause baldness—unless, of course, one applied Wildroot to prevent hair loss. An ad from 1924 urges women to use Wildroot hair tonic on their husbands to prevent dandruff and baldness. By the 1930s, however, Wildroot was directing advertisements specifically at men, such as this one.

TheBrody/ Emmons assemblage also included a bottle of Vitalis, a product made by Bristol-Meyers that became popular in the 1940s (8). In contrast to Wildroot and other popular hair products of the time, Vitalis was alcohol-based. Its formula with “V7” was supposed to make hair shiny but not greasy. Ads that ran in the 40’s and 50’s promoted the “60-second Workout”: men were supposed to massage their hair with Vitalis for 50 seconds and comb for another ten to stimulate the scalp, prevent dryness, control dandruff, and prevent hair loss (8). The Vitalis bottle from the Brody assemblage probably postdates 1938 and looks similar to the one shown in this 1946 advertisement.

The cosmetic and hair care products from the Brody/Emmons assemblage have provided an interesting look into how men’s and women’s beauty routines have—and in some cases haven’t—changed over time (here’s looking at you, everyone with an undercut). If you enjoyed this blog post, don’t forget to check out my last post about cosmetic products from this site!

 

References

  1. https://vintagedancer.com/1920s/1920s-mens-hairstyles-and-products-history/
  2. https://www.dmarge.com/2016/03/iconic-mens-hairstyles-history-1920-1969.html
  3. https://vintagedancer.com/1940s/1940s-mens-hairstyles-facial-hair/
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hairstyles_in_the_1950s
  5. http://www.jazma.com/black-hair-history
  6. https://sharpologist.com/2014/06/hair-tonic.html
  7. http://www.forgottenbuffalo.com/forgottenbuffalolost/wildrootfactory.html
  8. “Tonic.” In Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History. Sherrow, Victoria, ed. Greenwood Press: Westport, Connecticut: 2006, pp. 374-375.
  9. “Good News for the Barbers of Cleveland and Vicinity.” The Journeyman Barber, Volume 16, No. 1. February, 1920. Accessed here
  10. Wildroot Advertisement. The Chain Store Age, Volume 17. August 1941, p.123. Accessed here.

Beauty Junk(ies): Cosmetics from the East Lansing City Dump

A fun fact for freshmen: if you live in Brody, you might be living in a dump. To be more specific, from the 1920s to the early 1950s, parts of the area now occupied by Brody Complex once served as the site of the City of East Lansing garbage dump. Campus Archaeology investigated a portion of this site during construction near Brody in 2009 and the Emmons Amphitheater in 2011. The large number of artifacts recovered includes everything from food containers to medicines to cleaning products, providing insight into various aspects of East Lansing life during this period.

One category of artifacts that caught my interest includes several cosmetic and hair care products. As a regular makeup user (maybe she got enough sleep, maybe it’s Maybelline) I thought it would be interesting to research these objects and learn about beauty standards and cosmetic use in this era. For this week’s blog post, I focused on three cosmetic items from the Brody/Emmons site that were most likely marketed to and used by women. To provide some historical context for these artifacts, I researched how attitudes toward cosmetics have changed over time, how these attitudes might have affected the availability and forms of cosmetic products, and thought about how this might be reflected in the archaeological record.

In the 18th century, both men and women of the upper class wore makeup (1). Heavy paints and rouges helped to smooth complexions often marred by pockmarks. By the 19th century, however, changing gender norms and beauty standards made it socially unacceptable for men and women to paint their faces (1). For men, the use of cosmetics began to be seen as effeminate (2). For women, conspicuous makeup was considered vulgar due to its association with prostitution. Few cosmetics were commercially manufactured during this time. Instead, cosmetics were mixed at home and applied discreetly to achieve a “natural” look (1). Therefore, we can expect few commercial cosmetics from this era in the archaeological record.

The 20th century brought about another about-face (no pun intended) in attitudes. The influences of Hollywood and flapper culture made it more socially acceptable for women to wear conspicuous makeup (3). By the 1940s, makeup became not just acceptable but a key aspect of feminine identity (3). As women entered the workforce during World War II, bold makeup—particularly lipstick—helped signal femininity and counterbalance the short hairstyles and masculine clothing worn by female workers (1). This era of increased social acceptance, burgeoning production, and conspicuous consumption of cosmetic products frames the context of the Brody/Emmons artifacts and helps us think about how gendered ideals of beauty may have influenced what the people of East Lansing purchased and how they presented themselves.

Makeup compact recovered from Emmons Amphitheater

One of the cosmetic items recovered from the East Lansing dump is a makeup compact case that still contains a white powder puff and the remnants of a pinkish powder. This compact case provides an excellent example of the advent of conspicuous makeup consumption.

Before makeup gained widespread acceptance, cosmetic cases were hidden inside accessories such as walking sticks and jewelry for their owners to access discreetly when outside of the home (4). As it was unacceptable to wear makeup, it was also unacceptable to be seen applying it. Over time, both the use and application of makeup gained social presence and acceptability. Suffragettes of the 1910s applied lipstick in public to shock men (3). Flappers of the 1920s wore heavy makeup and made a show of applying it (3). Beautifully decorated, mirrored compacts became fashionable accessories to be pulled out in public and shown off like cigarette cases or purses (4).

Makeup compact recovered from Emmons Amphitheater

Makeup compact recovered from Emmons Amphitheater

The CAP compact represents such an accessory. Roughly teardrop shaped, made of a silver metal, and decorated on the outside with a geometric line pattern, the compact likely once held a mirror inside the top lid. The compact was refillable, as most compacts were until disposable plastic cases became the norm in the 1960s (5). The user would have filled a thin compartment in the makeup compact with loose powder, compressing it in place with an inner lid that snapped shut. Powder was applied with a thin cotton puff that fit between the mirror and the powder compartment (5).

 

Pond's cold cream ad from 1946. Image source.

Pond’s cold cream ad from 1946. Image source.

Another cosmetic product in the Brody/Emmons assemblage is a jar of Pond’s cold cream. Cold cream is a product made of an emulsion of wax, oil, and water that for centuries was made in the home (6). Around the turn of the century, commercially produced cold creams became available that boasted longer shelf lives than their homemade counterparts. As makeup use increased in the 20th century, these cold creams were marketed to women as a means of removing powders, lipsticks, rouges, and the rest of the makeup they were sold (6).

CAP’s cold cream jar is made of opaque white milk glass with the brand name, “Pond’s,” embossed on the bottom. The jar looks very similar to images of the product appearing in advertisements from the 1940s and 1950s (6,7). These ad campaigns show how cosmetics were marketed to women as means of attracting men. The slogan “She’s engaged! She’s lovely! She uses Pond’s!” accompanied by pictures of beautiful women and their equally beautiful engagement rings sent the clear message that women needed to use cosmetics to achieve a certain standard of beauty necessary to win husbands.

Pond's cold cream jar recovered from Brody

Pond’s cold cream jar recovered from Brody

The third item I examined from the Brody/Emmons assemblage is a clear, circular, glass perfume bottle decorated with concentric circles and embossed with “DeVilbiss” on its base. The embossing indicates the bottle predates the 1940s, as the company replaced bottle stamping with paper labels in the 1940s (8).

DeVilbiss perfume bottle recovered from Emmons Amphitheater

Like makeup compacts, perfume bottles of this era were refillable, decorative, and intended for display (9). The DeVilbiss name comes not from the perfume itself, but from the manufacturer of the atomizer. Dr. Allen DeVilbiss initially invented an atomizing spray nozzle to deliver throat medicines in 1887. In 1907, the atomizer was introduced to the perfume industry with great success. DeVilbiss Manufacturing Company produced perfume atomizers at its factory in Toledo, Ohio from 1907 to 1968, selling as many as 1.5 million per year during its peak years in the 1920s and 30s (9). Like other cosmetic products, perfume was also marketed with sexual and romantic overtones. Perfumes with names like “Mantrap” and “Irresistible” were marketed as product that increased women’s sexual desirability. Perfume was also marketed as an item that men were supposed to gift women: a 1929 ad for DeVilbiss perfume atomizers reads, “Ask her, she’ll say she wants a perfume spray” (9).

The cosmetic products in the Brody/Emmons trash dump provided an interesting opportunity to explore gendered artifacts and think about how these objects reflect the social norms of the era. If you enjoyed this blog post, my next post will focus on hair care products from the same trash dump that were likely marketed to and used by men. In the meantime, be sure to check out other CAP blog posts on personal grooming items like the beard comb found at the privy site and the nail polish bottle topper from the Gunson trash pit.

References

  1. http://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/object-groups/health-hygiene-and-beauty/make-up
  2. https://www.almanac.com/content/history-american-cosmetics
  3. http://www.americanpopularculture.com/archive/style/compact.htm
  4. Loalbo, S. 2009. Vintage Fashion Accessories. Iola, WI: Krause Publications.
  5. http://cosmeticsandskin.com/ded/compressed-face-powders.php
  6. http://cosmeticsandskin.com/aba/cold-cream.php – 1951 ad
  7. https://i.pinimg.com/736x/f4/b8/61/f4b861cdfe5edde595d484e1112b3394–cold-cream-mad-men.jpg – 1940s ads
  8. http://www.go-star.com/antiquing/devilbiss-perfume-bottles.htm
  9. https://perfumeatomizers.blogspot.com/p/devilbiss.html (ad)

Thirsty Throwback Thursday: A History of Ginger Beer

Today is the day! Campus Archaeology is throwing it wayy back with an 1860’s-inspired three-course meal. For my blog post this week, I thought I’d get into the spirit of historic food and drink with a little history—and some of my own, highly professional market research—on ginger beer.

Ginger beer bottle found at Saints’ Rest

Ginger beer bottle found at Saints’ Rest

Archaeology provides a unique opportunity to look at the physical evidence of past consumption. At MSU, archival documents tell us the official records of what the school bought for students and faculty to eat and drink. However, we can learn about what people were actually consuming on campus by looking at the archaeological record of things they threw away. This is how we learned that at least one thing people drank was ginger beer, as evidenced by a stone ginger beer bottle excavated from Saints’ Rest dormitory in 2005.

Ginger beer was a popular drink in Britain and North America from the 18th century until Prohibition. Technically speaking, ginger beer is not a beer. Whereas the production of beer involves the fermentation of a grain (typically barley or wheat) malted to turn its starch into sugar, ginger beer involves the fermentation of ginger and added sugar, typically molasses or cane sugar. Ginger beer is more likely related to the ‘small beers’ popular in Europe from Medieval times until Industrialization. Before the advent of sodas and modern soft drinks, these weakly alcoholic, fermented beverages were typically brewed at home and provided a safer alternative to often-contaminated water.

Ginger beer plant, the SCOBY responsible for fermenting ginger beer.

Ginger beer plant, the SCOBY responsible for fermenting ginger beer. Image source.

Why make a ginger drink? Humans have been drinking ginger beverages for thousands of years, often for medicinal purposes. However, the history of ginger beer is tied to the cultural and economic importance of its two main ingredients, ginger and sugar. Ginger and sugarcane, crops native to tropical regions of South Asia, were introduced to Europe via the spice trade. Europeans brought these crops and others to the New World, where they flourished in the tropical climates of the Caribbean. Powered by the labor of enslaved Africans, French- and English-controlled Caribbean plantations became the world’s biggest sugarcane producers. By 1655, England also controlled Jamaica, the Caribbean’s most prolific producer of ginger, with over two million pounds exported to Europe each year. Jamaican ginger was considered especially flavorful and was a prized ingredient in ginger beer.

Apart from ginger and sugar, ginger beer has two other traditional ingredients: lemon, and a special microorganism that aids in fermentation. The microorganisms responsible for the fermentation in ginger beer are a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (a SCOBY) known by the more innocuous name of “ginger beer plant.” A culture of ginger beer plant is added to sugar water flavored with ginger. These microorganisms ingest the sugars and produce carbon dioxide and low levels of alcohol as waste products. While today’s ginger beers are typically non-alcoholic, prior to the mid-19th century, ginger beer was up to 11% alcohol by volume. In 1855, British Parliament passed an act that imposed export taxes on beverages with an alcohol content above 2%. After this, most ginger beer brewers reduced the alcohol content in their products (via reduction of the fermentation time) in order to keep them affordable.

An example of a plain, early stoneware ginger beer bottle. From diggersdiary.co.uk.

An example of a plain, early stoneware ginger beer bottle. Image source.

After it was brewed, ginger beer was corked inside stoneware bottles, like the one found at Saints’ Rest. Early stoneware bottles and those brewed locally in North America at were usually fairly plain, brown in color, and etched with the bottler’s name or city. The Saints’ Rest bottle seems to fit into this category. Beginning in the 1880s, however, sleeker gray bottles with colorful shoulder slips and stamped logos designed to attract consumer attention became more popular.

Part of the reason for packaging in stone rather than glass bottles was cosmetic: ginger beer was usually unattractively cloudy in appearance. However, packaging was also functionally important in the export of ginger beer. England shipped large amounts of ginger beer to the U.S. and Canada beginning in the 1790s through the 19th century. Though ginger beer was brewed regionally, England maintained market dominance in North America because English breweries used superior quality stoneware bottles that better maintained ginger beer’s effervescence and kept it cold. The bottles were sealed with liquid- and gas-tight Bristol Glaze and wired and corked shut to maintain carbon dioxide in solution.

Examples of later, more decorative stone ginger beer bottles

Examples of later, more decorative stone ginger beer bottles. Image source

During Prohibition, ginger beer dipped in popularity in favor of its cousin, ginger ale, and other soft drinks. Unlike traditional ginger beer, ginger ale is made by adding ginger flavoring and sweetener to carbonated water and does not involve the addition of a microorganism. Today, the difference between ginger beer and ginger ale is much less clear. Many modern manufacturers use this abiotic process to make or enhance ginger beer, adding flavoring and carbonation without the use of a microorganism. For this reason, modern ginger beers differ from ginger ales primarily in flavor; they are typically spicier and less sweet than ginger ales.

All this research got me excited to try some ginger beers. Naturally, Campus Archaeologist Lisa Bright and I had to do our own taste test, you know, for science. We picked four brands of ginger beer that I hadn’t yet tried at stores near us: Regatta, Barritt’s, Q, and Bundaberg. We tasted each ginger beer alone and for science—and because #gradschool—we added vodka and lime to make some Moscow Mules.

Modern ginger beer bottles from our taste test.

Modern ginger beer bottles from our taste test.

In no particular order, the first brand we tried was Regatta. It was spicy with a strong ginger flavor and made an enjoyable cocktail. Barritt’s was up next. This one was much less flavorful so it seemed disproportionally sweet, like a ginger ale. Third, we tried the Bundaberg. This was spicy and sweet and definitely enjoyable alone. Last, we tried Q ginger beer: spicy, very fizzy, but not at all sweet. According to the Q website, it is made with chili pepper and is specifically intended to be used as a mixer. Our highly scientific and definitive ranking put the Bundaberg in first place, Regatta in second, Q in close third, and Barritt’s in fourth.

If you have a favorite ginger beer, please tell us about it! We hope you open one up and think about early MSU students who might have enjoyed a ginger beer in their dorm after a long day of classes and farm work (although this was probably enjoyed in secret as alcohol was banned on campus).

References

http://www.ilovegingerbeer.com/ginger-beer-history/

http://americanhistory.si.edu/onthewater/exhibition/1_3.html

http://www.scienceinschool.org/2008/issue8/gingerbeer

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/20/ginger-ale-vs-ginger-beer_n_1438420.html http://gingerlibation.com/what-is-ginger-libation/

http://www.antiquetrader.com/antiques/antique-glass/bottles-antique-glass/collecting-ginger-beer-bottles

http://www.fohbc.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/GingerBeerRootBeerHeritage.pdf

CAP at MSU Science Fest 2017

This month, Campus Archaeology is participating in MSU’s fifth annual Science Festival. Science Fest celebrates STEAM fields—Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics—by bringing exploration and discovery out of the laboratory and into the public eye. From April 7-23, MSU is hosting a series of free events for people of all ages including demonstrations, panel discussions, tours, open houses, hands-on activities, and science cafes aimed at connecting campus researchers with curious members of the community.

This past Saturday, April 8, CAP participated in the Science Fest Expo Zone Day event. For the Expo Zone, STEAM researchers from all over campus developed hands-on activities with the goal of “sharing the science that inspires them” with aspiring young scientists and their families.

CAP fellows Susan Kooiman, Jeff Painter, and Autumn Beyer help young archaeologists use real screens to sift through buckets of sand for artifacts.

CAP fellows Susan Kooiman, Jeff Painter, and Autumn Beyer help young archaeologists use real screens to sift through buckets of sand for artifacts.

CAP has participated in Science Fest since it began in 2013. Since this wasn’t our first rodeo, we brought two hands-on activities to the Expo Zone that we knew would spark the interest of kids and parents alike. On Saturday, our screening station activity drew big crowds and lots of curious onlookers. CAP volunteers “excavated” buckets of sand and asked visitors to help sift the sand through screens to look for “artifacts.”

We selected a variety of objects to keep things interesting and to represent the types of artifacts we expect to find when excavating on campus: toy plates and cups stood in for dinnerware found across campus; plastic combs represented personal hygiene items, like the privy beard comb; and bone-shaped dog biscuits represented butchered animal bones like the ones CAP Fellow Autumn Beyer is working on analyzing. We also included some fun items for kids to find, like matchbox cars and plastic turtles.

Dr. Heather Walder and undergraduate archaeology student SarahJane Potter explain that archaeologists are interested in people, not dinosaurs.

Dr. Heather Walder and undergraduate archaeology student SarahJane Potter explain that archaeologists are interested in people, not dinosaurs.

After they sifted through all the sand in their buckets, we asked visitors to describe, count, and sort artifacts for us. Finally, they collected them into a box to “take to the lab” for additional analysis. Even though this was a fun activity, we wanted to make sure it resembled real-life archaeology, not “treasure hunting.” At the end of the activity, we paid our budding archaeology assistants for their hard work with chocolate coins or temporary tattoos. If we accomplished nothing else, we successfully indoctrinated the youth with the idea that archaeologists should be paid for their work.

Campus Archaeologist Lisa Bright prepares Science Fest visitors to play the artifact matching game.

Campus Archaeologist Lisa Bright prepares Science Fest visitors to play the artifact matching game.

When they were done screening, we sent visitors over to the artifacts table to look at some of the real-life objects we’ve excavated right here on MSU’s campus. Campus Archaeologist Lisa Bright showed visitors several interesting items including a jar of library paste, porcelain dolls, and uranium glass that glows under black lights. Visitors were allowed to touch and handle some of the sturdier artifacts like laboratory keys, a protractor, and a pocketknife rusted shut. These examples of campus artifacts tied in with the second activity CAP brought to the Expo Zone: the artifact matching game.

The artifact matching game required visitors to play a 3-dimensional game of memory matching, where they matched four historic artifacts with their modern counterparts. Visitors of all ages enjoyed comparing and contrasting modern objects they see and use every day, like light bulbs and pop bottles, with similar items used by MSU students and faculty decades ago. Since many of the Science Fest visitors work on campus or have family members that do, they were excited to make these kinds of connections with campus history.

Archaeology undergraduate Amy Hair shows Science Fest visitors some examples of archaeological tools and artifacts found on MSU’s campus

Archaeology undergraduate Amy Hair shows Science Fest visitors some examples of archaeological tools and artifacts found on MSU’s campus

The Science Fest Expo was a lot of fun, but it also served an important purpose in that it provided a space for us to bring our work into the public sphere. Now, more than ever, scientists have to think about how we can bridge the gap between the public and the academy and make our work relevant and accessible to everyone. While this is a complicated issue, a good first step is to make sure members of the community are familiar with what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. One visitor said they had worked on campus for years and had no idea we did archaeology here!

These in-person events also give us a chance to address common misconceptions about archaeology. When visitors arrived at our booth, we asked them if they could tell us about what archaeologists do. Before doing the activity and talking to us, most people—kids and parents—thought that archaeologists dig up dinosaur fossils! We were able to have one-on-one conversations and explain that paleontologists study dinosaurs, while archaeologists are interested in learning about past people based on the objects they leave behind.

CAP’s next Scincefest outreach event will be a Campus Archaeology Historical Walking Tour on Saturday, April 15 from 1-2 PM. The first 50 people to arrive at the MSU Union will receive a guided tour of archaeological locations important to MSU’s history, led by CAP Director Dr. Lynne Goldstein and Campus Archaeologist Lisa Bright. The tour is free and suitable for all ages!

 

Rhapsody in Flow Blue: the History of a Plate

Whenever we at CAP come across an interesting artifact, it sparks the inevitable, if inelegant question, “what was this thing doing on our campus?” It’s a simple question, but I’ve often found as I delve into researching an artifact that the journey of that object to our campus is connected not only with MSU’s history, but also with broader themes in American and even world history. This blog post explores how a broken dinner plate in an MSU professor’s trash pit is connected to a larger story of global trade, the rise of the middle class, and the beginnings of consumer society.

In his last blog post, Jeff discussed some of the decorated ceramics from the Gunson assemblage, the large collection of artifacts unearthed during excavations near Hannah Administration building. These artifacts date from the 1890s to the mid-1920s and are likely from a trash pit associated with the remodel of Professor Gunson’s house. One of these artifacts was a dinner plate decorated with a blurry, blue pattern on a white background.

Early 20th Century Flow Blue Johnson Brothers "Montana" Pattern

Early 20th Century Flow Blue Johnson Brothers “Montana” Pattern

As it turns out, this blurriness is not due to a manufacturing error or the effects of the elements, rather it is a decorative style known as “flow blue.” The name refers to the blue glaze that “flowed” as it was fired, giving patterns a characteristic blur. Flow blue was widely popular from about 1830 to 1915, and several pieces have been found on MSU’s campus.

Chinese export porcelain vase. Image courtesy Peabody Essex Museum

Chinese export porcelain vase. Image courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum

Flow blue pottery was first manufactured in England sometime in the 1820s, but its origin story begins in China over a century earlier. In 1700, the East India Trade Company had recently secured England’s first successful trading post in Taiwan. As trade between China and England increased, so did exports of Chinese porcelain to Europe. Chinese porcelain was strikingly beautiful with rich, blue patterns hand-painted on stark white vessels. It was also delicate and subject to high tariffs, making it expensive and difficult to transport. Only the wealthiest could afford to import porcelain, adding to its allure.

English potters spent the next 100 years trying to replicate Chinese porcelain to meet demand for such a product. The difficulty lay in producing vessels that matched the bright white of porcelain. After many attempts including salt-glazed earthenware, creamware, and pearlware, the desired effect was achieved in the early 1800s with ironstone, a white-glazed stoneware.

While Chinese porcelain was hand-painted, transfer printing technology developed in the mid-18th century created an opportunity for potters to market their products to a wider audience. Transfer printing uses ink and damp tissue paper to transfer designs from an engraving to a piece of pottery. This method allowed for quick and easy application of designs, which reduced the cost per item. The result was an affordable luxury that could be sold to the emerging Victorian middle class.

Flow blue plate featuring Oriental motifs. Image from passionforthepastantiques.com

Flow blue plate featuring Oriental motifs. Image from passionforthepastantiques.com

Transfer printed pottery became a highly successful early form of mass production, and precipitated some of the earliest mass marketing efforts. Transfer printed products could be produced cheaply and in large quantities, but in order to drive up demand, potters employed new marketing techniques such as catalogues, traveling salesmen, and showrooms in major cities. Items that were once primarily seen as utilitarian became decorative, collectible status symbols for the middle class.

One slight disadvantage to transfer-printed items is that they tend to have an overly crisp look that makes them appear obviously manufactured, rather than hand-painted. No one likes to look cheap, so potters had to come up with a way of disguising this quality.

Enter: Flow Blue. Cobalt oxide, the compound responsible for the blue color in transfer printing inks, tends to bleed slightly when vessels are glazed and re-fired. The bleeding produced designs that appeared handcrafted, hid minor cosmetic defects, and thus looked more expensive. The blue could be made to “flow” even more with the addition of lime or ammonium chloride.

Flow blue factory second. Image from hobbylark.com

Flow blue factory second. Image from hobbylark.com

It was sometimes difficult to control the amount of “flow.” Manufacturers ended up with large stocks of factory seconds rejected because the patterns were too blurry. Factory seconds were shipped to the US and sold cheaply in the American market. Here, flow blue became especially popular with the middle class who could now afford to buy these decorative items.

Flow blue was printed on a variety of mediums, but ironstone was particularly popular in America because it was durable and impermeable, which made it more sanitary than earlier, more porous ceramic wares. However, ironstone could only be decorated in a limited number of ways because few glazes other than the blue transfer-print could withstand the heat of firing. This meant that a lot of 19th century ironstone was decorated in flow blue—tea sets, dinner plates, and even dog bowls—and potters had to get creative with their designs.

By the late 1800’s, more than 1500 patterns were available in flow blue. Early flow blue patterns mimicked Chinese imports, featuring imagery such as pagodas, temples, and mountains. Later, English pastoral scenes and floral motifs became fashionable. The plate recovered from Professor Gunson’s trash pit features a floral “Montana” pattern manufactured by the Johnson Brothers.

The Montana pattern found on the plate in the Gunson assemblage dates to about 1913, which means Professor Gunson may have had some of the last flow blue exported from England. Around 1915, most English manufacturers stopped making flow blue. The cobalt used by English potters came from Saxony in Germany, and World War I effectively cut off this supply.

As I researched Gunson’s dinner plate, I couldn’t help but think about how this object connects MSU to a whole range of historical events. Flow blue pottery is the result of a century of English attempts to replicate Chinese porcelain, the demand for which was created over hundreds of years of trade between Western Europe and China. The transfer printing technology used to produce flow blue pottery is one example of long-term trends in mass production and mass marketing. Even the fact that such a plate made it here to a rural Michigan campus relates to the growth of a middle class able to select and purchase items like decorative dinnerware for use in their homes. Sometimes a broken is just a broken plate, but with a little bit of context, sometimes a broken plate reveals a (literal) piece of history.

 

References

http://www.collectorsweekly.com/china-and-dinnerware/flow-blue

http://www.myottcollectorsclub.com/inf-flowblue.html

https://hobbylark.com/collecting/FlowBlueHowtoIDandValuetheCollectibleBlueandWhiteAntiqueChina

http://www.collectorsweekly.com/china-and-dinnerware/flow-blue

https://thisdayinpotteryhistory.wordpress.com/2012/08/19/flow-blue/

http://www.thepotteries.org/types/transfer_ware.htm

http://www.collectorsweekly.com/china-and-dinnerware/flow-blue

http://antique-marks.com/flow-blue-porcelain.html

http://spencemeyers.com/arch/counties/knolanal.html

 

The Great Oyster Craze: Why 19th Century Americans Loved Oysters

In the 1800s, people loved oysters so much they wrote books on them. Courtesy of MSU Special Collections

In the 1800s, people loved oysters so much they wrote books on them. Courtesy of MSU Special Collections

As part of her research on historic campus cuisine, CAP Fellow Susan Kooiman visited the MSU Library’s Special Collections Department to peruse their collection of historic cookbooks. As you can (and should!) read about in her blog post, she came across several interesting recipes while looking through regional cookbooks for dishes popular in the Midwest during the late 19th century. Curiously, every cookbook she encountered seemed to include dozens of oyster recipes: fried oysters, broiled oysters, stewed oysters, escalloped oysters, fricasseed oysters, pickled oysters, oyster croquettes, oyster patties, oyster pie, oyster soup, oyster toast. Nineteenth century Americans apparently ate oysters with beefsteak, oysters stuffed in turkey, oysters with scrambled eggs, even oysters with frog legs and Parmesan cheese. If they could think of a way to prepare oysters, they tried it. By all accounts, during the 1800s America was swept up in the midst of a “great oyster craze” (1).

In this blog post, I address the question you never knew you needed answered: why were 19th century Americans so obsessed with oysters?

Today, oysters are a somewhat divisive subject. Some love them, some hate them, and some refuse to try them. No matter how you feel about them, the fact is that Americans have a long-standing history with oysters. Oyster shells recovered from middens—or trash pits—indicate Native Americans have been eating oysters for almost 9,000 years. In the United States, one of the largest oyster-producing bodies of water is Chesapeake Bay. Reefs of eastern oysters (Crassotrea virginica) once dominated the area so prominently, legend has it that early colonists nearly ran aground on them. When European colonists arrived in the 17th century, they began to harvest oysters from Chesapeake Bay at a voracious pace.

Until the 1800s, wild eastern oysters were typically harvested and eaten locally. Since oysters do not preserve long once out of their shells, oysters harvested from Chesapeake Bay rarely made it further than could be transported in a day. Nineteenth century advancements in food preservation and transportation transformed the oyster industry. Newly built railways connected the coast with inland cities and made it possible to ship oysters further west. Canning technology made its way to the U.S. in the early 1800s. By the 1840s, oyster canning became a booming business in coastal cities such as Baltimore. Canned oysters and fresh oysters packed in ice were shipped inland to Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, and other Midwest cities.

Innovations in harvesting allowed for more efficient collection of oysters. Historically, oysters were collected by hand or with special tongs . In the 1800s, however, fishermen began to use dredges, iron mesh bags that were dragged across the ocean floor to collect oysters too deep for tongs. From 1880 to 1910, oysters were harvested in massive quantities. During this time, as much as 160 million pounds of oyster meat was harvested per year. This intensive exploitation did irreparable environmental damage, but it did create an ample supply of oysters.

The fact that oysters were so abundant made them inexpensive, which only boosted their popularity. In 1909, oysters cost half as much as beef per pound. Oysters were used to add bulk to more expensive dishes such as meat pies. They were eaten at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and by rich and poor alike. People even owned special plates for serving and eating oysters, shaped and painted like oyster shells.

Oyster plates for serving oysters. Image Source

Oyster plates for serving oysters. Image Source

Because oysters were cheap, they were often served with alcohol at taverns and saloons. Essentially, oysters in the 19th century were served like burgers and fries today. Every town had its own establishment for serving oysters. Oyster parlors, oyster saloons, oyster lunchrooms, and oyster cellars lined the main streets of cities. These establishments became prominent and fashionable gathering places across the East Coast and Midwest.

The consumption of oysters was immensely trendy during this era. Americans could not get enough of them. As one 19th-century author raved,

“The oyster, when eaten moderately, is, without contradiction, a wholesome food, and one of the greatest delicacies in the world. It contains much nutritive substance, which is very digestive, and produces a peculiar charm and an inexplicable pleasure. After having eaten oysters we feel joyous, light, and agreeable—yes, one might say, fabulously well” (Murray, 1861:13).

We can only speculate on what he means by “inexplicable pleasure” and “fabulously well,” but who could resist such a fervent endorsement?

A page from a historical cookbook compiled in 1890 by St. Paul’s Guild of the Episcopal Church of Lansing, MI. Oyster recipes abounded. Courtesy of MSU Special Collections

A page from a historical cookbook compiled in 1890 by St. Paul’s Guild of the Episcopal Church of Lansing, MI. Oyster recipes abounded. Courtesy of MSU Special Collections

Oysters were so popular and so ubiquitous that they were even eaten by students at MAC. As Susan found while looking through account books, canned oysters were purchased for students on occasion, including oysters and jelly at commencement, and 18 cans of oysters for students’ supper during the Week of Fires in 1871.

So, there we have our answer: 19th century Americans loved oysters because they were trendy, cheap, and readily available for questionable culinary experiments.

But this begs another question—why aren’t oysters as popular today? Whereas New Yorkers in the 1800s ate an average of 600 oysters per year, today Americans eat an average of less than three oysters per year.

One factor affecting oyster popularity is that they are less abundant and more expensive now than they were historically. A combination of overharvesting and disease has depleted once-plentiful Atlantic oyster beds, decreasing the supply. Apart from reduced availability, public perception of oysters has also played a role in the oyster’s decline. At the turn of the century, the public began to take notice of the less-than-sanitary conditions in the oyster industry. In 1906, Congress passed the Pure Food and Drug Act, which required more stringent regulations for hygienic handling, packing, and shipping of food items. However, conforming to these new regulations raised costs so much that many oyster-packing houses went out of business.

Bad press was another factor. In 1924, typhoid outbreaks in Chicago were tied to oysters exposed to sewage pollution. After this event, demand for oysters fell between 50 and 80% across the country. The 1920s also brought Prohibition, which took its own toll on the oyster industry as the saloons and bars that once sold large quantities of oysters closed. Between the loss of these establishments and various health scares, oysters fell out of fashion and have never fully regained their former status.

As an oyster skeptic, I have mixed feelings about the prospect of oysters regaining the popularity they enjoyed in the 1800s. As for me, the next time I order bar food, I’ll take a bite of my burger and consider myself lucky I’m not slurping oysters between sips of beer.

References

  1. MacKenzie, Clyde L. History of Oystering in the United States and Canada, Featuring the Eight Greatest Oyster Estuaries. Marine Fisheries Review, 1996. 58(4):1-79.
  2. http://www.chesapeakebay.net/issues/issue/oysters#inline
  3. http://americanhistory.si.edu/onthewater/exhibition/3_5.html
  4. http://www.marinersmuseum.org/sites/micro/cbhf/oyster/mod007.html
  5. https://www.nypl.org/blog/2011/06/01/history-half-shell-intertwined-story-new-york-city-and-its-oysters
  6. http://www.thetowndish.com/2007/09/02/when-oysters-were-king/
  7. Murray, Eustace Clare Grenville. The Oyster: Where, How, and When to Find, Breed, Cook, and Eat It. London, Trubner & Co., 1861.

Wedgwood Ceramics on MSU’s Historic Campus

Last week I spent some time in the CAP lab with Campus Archaeologist Lisa Bright resorting and accessioning artifacts from the 2008 and 2009 Saint’s Rest rescue excavation. This excavation uncovered many ceramic artifacts (among other items) including plates, bowls, and serving dishes. Among the many fragments of whiteware, Lisa showed me one fragment that stood out: part of a plate, embossed with a pattern of figs and bearing a Wedgwood maker’s mark.

Wedgewood blue jasperware. Image Source

Wedgewood blue jasperware. Image Source

If you’ve ever found yourself deep in the throes of an Antiques Roadshow binge-watching spiral, chances are you’ve heard of Wedgwood china. Perhaps you’ve seen pieces of Wedgwood’s iconic blue jasperware decorated with Greek figures in white bas-relief. Or, perhaps you’ve seen one of Wedgwood’s Fairyland Lustre Art Nouveau vases, opulently adorned with jewel-toned elves and dragons. Since the founding of the company in 1759, Wedgwood has graced the tables of such dignitaries as Queen Charlotte, consort of King George III, Catherine the Great of Russia, and President Theodore Roosevelt (1). And, as the Saint’s Rest bowl fragment indicates, Wedgwood also graced the tables of MAC. For my blog post, I researched Wedgwood to get a better idea of how a piece of the ceramic dynasty made its way to our campus.

The story of the CAP Wedgwood begins in the 17th century in the rural English county of Staffordshire. The soil in Staffordshire wasn’t much for farming, but the region was rich in clay, salt, lead, and coal – key ingredients for making pottery. The use of coal for fueling kiln fires gave Staffordshire potters an advantage over other rural workshops that still depended on timber for fuel (2). For centuries, Staffordshire was known as a prominent center for pottery production and innovation.

Josiah Wedgewood. Image Source

Josiah Wedgewood. Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery (source)

The Wedgwood dynasty began with a Staffordshire potter named Josiah Wedgwood (1). Born into a family of potters, a leg amputation left Josiah unable to work as a “thrower” in his family’s workshop (3). Instead, he developed an interest in experimenting with formulas and design. Wedgwood developed a durable, attractive, cream-colored type of earthenware that gained favor with Queen Charlotte (3). The serving set he made her pleased her so much, Charlotte agreed to allow Wedgwood to call himself the “Queen’s Potter” (1). This celebrity endorsement set Wedgwood’s sales booming.

Over the years, Wedgwood continued to innovate. He developed two new types of stoneware known as Black Basalt and Jasperware (3). Both are known for their matte, biscuit finish. Jasperware was produced in a variety of colors, though light blue was the most iconic. White ornamental appliques were molded separately and baked onto the pottery in emulation of Roman cameo glass vases. In 1773, Wedgwood developed a method of transfer printing enamel (4). This decorative technique reduced inconsistencies, eliminated the need for hand-painting decorations, and gave customers a wider array of customization options (3). Perhaps Wedgwood’s greatest innovation was as a businessman. Wedgwood sold his products via printed catalogs and advance orders (5). Since he knew which pieces his customers wanted, he was able to reduce waste and therefore costs.

So how did we get from the elegant designs of the Staffordshire Potteries to the humble piece of CAP Wedgwood? The answer is in the design: white ironware, to be precise.

Wedgewood plate base with makers mark and RD stamp.

Wedgewood plate base with makers mark and RD stamp.

The ceramic game changed in 1813 when a Staffordshire potter developed a new type of vitreous pottery dubbed “ironstone china” or, sometimes, graniteware (6). In the 19th century, ironstone quickly gained popularity as a cheap, mass-producible alternative to porcelain. It was especially popular in the America. In the 1840’s, undecorated white ironstone headed for America comprised the largest export market for Staffordshire’s potteries.

Wedgewood fig design fragments.

Wedgewood fig design fragments.

In contrast to England, where customers favored elegant designs, American consumers preferred plainer tableware (6). In the 1850’s and 60’s, however, English potteries (including Wedgwood) decided to introduce some whimsy into the American market. Potteries began embossing designs inspired by the American prairies. Stoneware from this era were commonly embossed with grains such as wheat, corn and oats, or fruits such as grapes, peaches, berries, and— like the CAP Wedgwood—figs. Because of its durability and popularity in rural America, this china became known as “farmer’s” or “threshers’” china (6).

So, there we have it. The CAP Wedgwood fragment from Saint’s Rest may have made its way to campus as a piece of thresher’s china. Its durable form and folksy fig design likely appealed to someone living at a rural Michigan college.

In parting, I’d like to leave you with some (non-alternative) facts about Josiah Wedgwood, a fascinating figure in his own right.

Fact 1: We may have Josiah Wedgwood to thank for theory of evolution. Wedgwood was the grandfather of both Charles Darwin and Darwin’s wife, Emma (7). Inheritance from the Wedgwood fortune is often credited for allowing Darwin the leisure time to sail on the S.S. Beagle and formulate his theory of evolution.

Fact 2: Apart from his pioneering efforts in the ceramics industry, Wedgwood was a prominent abolitionist (8). In the late 18th century, he commissioned and paid for a series of iconic cameo medallions that became the emblem for the abolitionist movement. The design depicts a kneeling slave beneath the inscription “Am I not a man and a brother?” The figure is prepared in Wedgwood’s own Black Basalt against a white background. It became fashionable for men and women to wear these medallions, which helped popularize the abolitionist cause.

Anti-slavery medallion (courtesy of the Smithsonian Museum of American History)

Anti-slavery medallion (courtesy of the Smithsonian Museum of American History)

 

References

  1. https://www.wedgwood.co.uk/history/
  2. http://www.thepotteries.org/six_towns/index.htm
  3. http://www.thepotteries.org/potters/wedgwood.htm
  4. http://virtual.parkland.edu/lstelle1/len/archguide/documents/arcguide.htm
  5. http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/quick-history-wedgwoodretrospe-131733
  6. http://www.thepotteries.org/types/ironstone.htm
  7. http://www.thepotteries.org/misc/Darwin.htm
  8. http://www.abolitionseminar.org/the-eighteenth-century-atlantic-world/wedgwoodmedallion/

Investigating Historic Laboratory Glassware at MSU

At Campus Archaeology, we often encounter laboratory glassware in contexts such as the veterinary and botanical laboratories, excavations near lab row, and even the Gunson assemblage. This is not surprising, as MSU has a long history of scientific research. However, the presence of lab glass presents us with some interesting challenges as we attempt to answer questions such as: what kind of equipment is this from? When is it from? What might it have been used for?

Various types of laboratory glass can be seen in this photograph of the Bacteriology laboratory from 1905. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Various types of laboratory glass can be seen in this photograph of the Bacteriology laboratory from 1905. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

In order to begin identifying the large quantities of lab glass in our collections, it helps to understand what forms of glassware exist and what they are used for. Beakers and flasks are used to hold reagents for chemical reactions. Graduated cylinders are used for measuring the volume of samples. Retorts are used for distillation, pipettes for transferring fluids, condensers for cooling hot liquids or vapors, and so on. As we encounter distinctive pieces in our assemblages, we can compare their shapes and sizes to catalogs of laboratory glass to try to identify the type of equipment they came from.

Sometimes, the color or thickness of glass might help us identify its use. Dark brown or amber (actinic) glass might indicate a bottle used for chemical storage. Actinic glass is often used for storage purposes because it blocks ultraviolet and infrared radiation that causes chemical degradation. In contrast, laboratory glass used for experiments is colorless and transparent to allow for viewing of chemical reactions. Very thick, heavy-walled glass may indicate glass used in pressure reactions, while thin, flat glass tends to be used for more delicate objects such as microscope slides.

As I learned in my research, even the type of glass and its place of manufacture can provide some information about an artifact. Ideally, laboratory glass should be resistant to cracking due to thermal stress. When glass is heated or cooled rapidly, the temperature of the external surface changes more quickly than the internal surface. This causes unbalanced expansion of the glass, which can produce cracks. Early 19th century glassmakers addressed this problem by producing thin-walled glassware made of lime glass. Thinning the walls reduced the temperature differential between inner and outer surfaces, limiting the risk of cracks.

At the end of the 19th century, a German chemist named Otto Schott discovered a more elegant solution to the problem of thermal stress. Between 1887 and 1893, Schott and his associates Carl Zeiss and Ernst Abbe developed borosilicate glass, a type of glass composed of silica and boron trioxide that expands very little in the presence of heat. This heat-resistant property quickly made borosilicate, over lime glass, then the industry standard for laboratory glassware. Borosilicate glass was marketed as “Jena glass” after Jena, Germany, where it was developed.

Whitall Tatum & Company bottle from Gunson assemblage. Chemical symbol for KO on bottle body.

Whitall Tatum & Company bottle from Gunson assemblage. Chemical symbol for KO on bottle body.

The United States produced little of its own glassware in the 19th century. By 1902 at least one American company (Whitall Tatum & Co.) was also making borosilicate laboratory glass under the brand name of “Nonsol.” Several Whitall Tatum & Co. bottles with chemical names and formulas were recovered from the Gunson site. However, most American companies struggled to compete with German-made scientific glassware. It wasn’t until World War I when, economically cut off from Europe, America began to produce most of its own laboratory glass. A 1918 Bureau of Standards study of laboratory glassware showed five American brands of borosilicate glass (Macbeth-Evans, Pyrex, Nonsol, Fry, and Libbey) performed as well as German Jena Glass. All six borosilicate glass brands were more resistant to thermal shock than Kavalier, the most popular brand of lime glass.

Archival information on campus purchases of laboratory glassware is often limited. The archives do not always provide specifics about the types of laboratory glass that were being purchased or what they were used for. Sometimes, there are records that glass purchases were made—in the 1897 Minutes of the Meeting of the Board of Trustees, for example, the records show that the veterinarian requested $100 worth of “glassware—test tubes, etc.,” but no other information is provided. Photographs of students and faculty working in various laboratories across campus can provide more direct evidence as to the types of glassware used around campus. A photograph of the bacteriology laboratory in 1905 shows a collection of bell jars, petri dishes, test tubes, glass reagent bottles, a microscope (and, I presume, microscope slides), and a large Erlenmeyer flask. A 1914 photograph of students in the chemistry laboratory shows an array of clear reagent bottles with glass stoppers (some helpfully labeled “Alcohol” and “Acid Acetic”), volumetric flasks, an Erlenmeyer flask, and a graduated cylinder.

Glassware in the chemistry laboratory in 1914. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Glassware in the chemistry laboratory in 1914. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Sometimes we are lucky enough to come across lab glass with makers’ marks. A piece of a flask or beaker with the mark “Schott & Gen” recovered from the Gunson assemblage probably refers to Schott & Genossen, the glass manufacturing company founded by Otto Schott and associates. This tells us that this item was manufactured after 1887, and was probably imported from Germany, likely before World War I when American production of borosilicate glassware became more common.

Recent excavations have provided us with an abundance of laboratory glassware. As we encounter these artifacts in our laboratory, we will continue to use some of the strategies described here to identify them and connect them with activities on campus.

 

References

MSU Archives & Historical Collections. UA 1 State Board of Agriculture/Board of Trustee Records. Board of Trustee Meeting Minutes Notes: 1897

Jenson, WB. The Origin of Pyrex. J. Chem. Educ., 2006;83:692-693.

Walker PH and FA Smither. Comparative Tests of Chemical Glassware, Technological Papers of the Bureau of Standards, No. 107, Government Printing Office: Washington, DC, 1918.

 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laboratory_glassware

http://www.rsc.org/eic/2015/07/pyrex-glass-borosilicate-laboratory

 http://americanhistory.si.edu/science-under-glass/importing-innovation-glassmaking

Let’s Make Botany Hip Again, Part 2: Experimenting with Experimenting

Beal in the botanical garden. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Beal in the botanical garden. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

In my previous blog post, I discussed Professor Beal’s pioneering hands-on teaching strategies and his efforts in building the College’s first botanical laboratory. As I delved into research about the botanical laboratory and Beal, it became apparent that the lab was not Beal’s only, or most sacred teaching space; during his tenure at Michigan Agricultural College, Beal turned campus itself into an extended laboratory of sorts. This post focuses on Beal’s work in the fields of botany and forestry, and how these contributions changed the landscape of agricultural research and, quite literally, the landscape of this campus.

In researching the botanical laboratory, I discovered a large collection of reports and bulletins on Beal’s work. Academics are all too familiar with the adage “publish or perish,” but at MAC, there were also legal imperatives for professors to publish. As part of the 1861 legislative act transferring control of MAC to the State Board of Agriculture, the College was charged with conducting scientific experiments to promote education and progress in agriculture, and with publishing results in annual reports. These records provide us with a sense of what MAC professors, including Beal, were doing and thinking about during this time.

Much of Beal’s research was inspired by real-world problems. During his first 13 years at MAC, Beal “mingle[d] considerably with the farmers in the interest of horticulture to learn their needs and modes of work and thought.” Drawing on the work of Charles Darwin, Beal experimented with selection and hybridization of various crops to improve their yield and quality. In 1878, Beal cross-pollinated different strains of corn, increasing corn production by 53 percent. Beal corresponded with Darwin himself about this line of study, evidenced by letters in the MSU Archives.

Man excavating a bottle from Beal’s seed vitality experiment. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Man excavating a bottle from Beal’s seed vitality experiment. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

One of the experiments Beal reported, a long-term seed vitality study, would turn out to be his most famous. Just before the first botanical laboratory was built in 1879, Beal buried identical bottles of seeds at a secret location on campus. The goal of the experiment was to retrieve one bottle every five years and test how many sprouted. The last bottle is due for excavation in 2100. It is currently the world’s longest continually monitored scientific study.

Not all of Beal’s ideas were so inspired. One experiment was called “Feeding the leaves of plants with soup” and it was exactly what you’re thinking. In what I can only describe as an attempt to generate carnivorous tomatoes, Beal made a soup from “a quart of water and a hand-sized piece of meat,” then applied the soup daily to the leaves of the tomato plants. Instead of nourishing the plants, as he had predicted, the soup produced dead spots that gave the plants a “sickly appearance.” With an almost tangible shrug, Beal wrote, “Perhaps the soup was too strong; probably the plants do not like food served up in this form.”

Beal’s various research reports make clear that much of his research was conducted outside of the laboratory around campus and in the extensive arboretum and “wild garden” he planted. It appears he conceptualized these campus spaces as extensions of his botanical laboratory and invaluable spaces for experimentation and observation.

Close up map of campus, 1880. U is the botanical laboratory. The trees north of L are the arboretum. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

Close up map of campus, 1880. U is the botanical laboratory. The trees north of L are the arboretum. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

The arboretum began in 1874 as two rows of swamp white oaks near where Mary Mayo and Campbell Halls now stand. By 1880 there were over 275 species of shrubs and trees across two acres of land. Beal often published on his observations in the arboretum, including which species of trees flourished and their rates of growth. Perhaps an even more impressive feat was the wild garden. Planted in 1877, it contained over 700 species of flowering plants. The work of planting, labeling, and maintaining the garden was undertaken almost entirely by students with Beal’s oversight. Specimens from the garden, which was located just outside the first botanical laboratory, were regularly used as materials for Beal’s classes. While the organization of the garden has changed over the years, it is currently the longest continually maintained university garden in the nation and a pleasant place to wander as one escapes the library.

During the period of operation of the first laboratory, the legal push for agricultural research intensified. The Hatch Act of 1887 gave federal funds to state land-grant colleges to establish Agricultural Experimental Stations and required publication on agricultural research. MAC professors received part of their salaries from Experimental Station funds and were expected to devote a third of their time to experiments.

Man in the botanical garden, 1875. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Man in the botanical garden, 1875. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

To put it lightly, Beal was not enamored of the pace of this directive. While he published some experimental results, he often used the platform instead to promote education and conservation. In an 1891 bulletin titled “Why not plant a grove?” he wrote, “These few pages on forestry have not been written to secure the applause of those who see little use for a bulletin unless it contain some new truths brought out by conducting careful experiments.” Instead, Beal expressed his concerns about deforestation, urged farmers and landowners to plant trees, and drew on his own experiences with the arboretum in explaining the best methods of doing this.

Reflecting on my research into Beal’s research, it is clear the first botanical laboratory served as the center of botanical research and education at MAC. However, as I hope I have illuminated in this post, these efforts neither began nor ended with the building itself. From his arrival at MAC to his retirement, Beal claimed campus spaces as sites for teaching and scientific observation. That said, the construction of the second botanical laboratory apparently came as a welcome relief after two years of sharing space in the agricultural laboratory. When its cornerstone was laid on June 22, 1892, Beal held a ceremony at which prayers were read and his daughter Jessie sang a hymn. Perhaps it was the prayer, or perhaps it was its construction in brick, but the building still stands today as part of Laboratory Row. 

References

True, Alfred Charles. A history of agricultural experimentation and research in the United States 1607-1925 including a history of the United States Department of Agriculture. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1937.

History of Beal’s Botanical Garden

 Beal, William J. The Agricultural College of Michigan Bulletin No. 45, Department of Botany and Forestry: Why not plant a grove?

Beal, William J. A Brief Account of the Botanic Garden of the Michigan State Agricultural College, 1882.

MSU Archives & Historical Collections

UA 1 State Board of Agriculture/Board of Trustee Records

  • Board of Trustee Meeting Minutes Notes: 1878
  • Board of Trustee Meeting Minutes Notes: 1879
  • Board of Trustee Meeting Minutes Notes: 1880
  • Michigan Board of Agriculture Department Reports, 1880: Report of the Professor of Botany and Horticulture
  • Report: Michigan State Agricultural College Experiments and Other Work of the Horticultural Department (1880)