Author: Jack Biggs

International Students and Institutional Wares at MSU

International Students and Institutional Wares at MSU

The presence of international students on campus began early in MSU’s history. Not even two decades after MSU’s founding, four international students were enrolled for the fall semester in 1873. Two of these students were from Japan, one from Holland, and one from Canada [1]. 

The Haunted Tour Re-CAP: Going Virtual in the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Haunted Tour Re-CAP: Going Virtual in the COVID-19 Pandemic

With COVID-19 still dictating much of our day-to-day lives, Campus Archaeology made the early call to put all of our outreach events for the foreseeable future online or in some digital format. One of our most popular and fun events we put on is the 

Just a Pipe Dream: The use of Wooden Water Pipes at MSU

Just a Pipe Dream: The use of Wooden Water Pipes at MSU

One of the most important infrastructural aspects of buildings today is how to get water to and from the building. Plumbing, of sorts, has been archaeologically visible and investigated at sites throughout the world. The earliest evidence of plumbing dates back to the civilizations of ancient Egypt and the Indus Valley in India, each at around 4000 BC. Since then, plumbing innovations and techniques have been refined into the elaborate systems we see today, such as using AI and Machine-Learning technologies in water management. However, it might be surprising to learn that just over 100 years ago, many water pipes on MSU’s campus were constructed of wood.

Different views of a 3D model of the Wyckoff wooden water pipe found during Faculty Row excavations.
Different views of a 3D model of the Wyckoff wooden water pipe found during Faculty Row excavations. (3D model will be view-able 3-18-2019)

Former MSU Campus Archaeologist Dr. Terry Brock excavated one of these wooden water pipes in 2008 along Faculty Row and wrote an initial blog post about it, linked here [1]. Dr. Brock analyzed the water pipe and concluded that it was a specific type of water pipe called a Wyckoff pipe, from the Wyckoff Pipe and Creosoting Company. Moreover, this pipe was likely manufactured at the Michigan Pipe Co. in Bay City, Michigan, one of the largest producers of wooden pipes in the entire country. Wooden water pipes using the Wyckoff augur started being produced in Bay County, Michigan in 1871 with the Northwestern Gas and Water Pipe Company. Ten years later, this company was succeeded by the Michigan Pipe Company [2]. Since buildings on Faculty Row were constructed throughout the last half of the 19th century, it is likely that the college bought their wooden water pipes from the Michigan Pipe Company.

Sketch of the North Western Gas & Water Pipe Company (that eventually became the Michigan Pipe Company) in Bay City, MI, ca. 1870s. Image from “History of Bay County”.

Other CAP excavations have revealed water pipe fragments, most commonly made of salt-glazed ceramic material. So why would the college have been using wooden water pipes? The answer likely lies in what was happening at the college at the time as well as Michigan’s climate.

As the (then called) State Agricultural College greatly expanded in the last quarter of the 19th century, partly as a result of the Morrill Land-Grant Acts, cheaper materials were favored in some areas of construction to aid in this rapid expansion. Wooden water pipes were generally thought to be out of use or favor by this time, having their hey-day in the early to mid-19th century. However, the Michigan Pipe Co. was actually flourishing. They claimed that their improved Wyckoff wooden water pipe was cheaper in terms of material and upkeep, resistant to frost due to the thick nature of the pipes (the logs), maintained cleaner water due to their tarred insulation, and being constructed of wood made the pipes more elastic and less resistant to burst or breaking [2,3]. It appears that this sales pitch was convincing enough for the college at the time as these pipes were installed along Faculty Row. The overall cheaper nature of the wooden pipes compared to iron pipes were no doubt a positive for the rapidly expanding college. Additionally, Michigan’s harsh winters meant that water pipes needed be able to flow in some of the coldest conditions. The claim that the wood water pipes decreased the likelihood of frost within the pipes would have also been a major draw.

Wyckoff Wooden Water Pipe advertisement an 1896 edition of ‘The Michigan Engineers’ Manual’. Original image linked here.

Despite the upsides to these cheaper and seemingly more efficient wooden pipes, the college decided to put them out of commission just a few years into the 20th century. Former CAP Fellow Nicole Raslich posted a blog on water sanitation at the university (linked here [4]), and reported that members during a board meeting in 1902 discussed that the wooden pipes did not provide safe water during the warmer months when water was most in demand. The minutes from this meeting show that they wanted to “replace the present system of wooden water main which have been in use about twenty years, with new iron pipes” [5]. They argued that in warmer months, the wood led to a constant danger of bacteria in the water unless it was boiled after coming out of the tap. So despite the fact that these wooden pipes may have been better for frost prevention, it made the water unsafe over time as the wood aged!

The iron pipes would have been much more expensive to buy and install (and would later lead to problems of their own – many of which the university and the city of Flint are still dealing with), but would have been a better investment overall. This just goes to show that even though water pipe technology is about 6000 years old, this doesn’t mean we’ve perfected it. Technological advances are all trial-and-error, and we will no doubt continue to uncover evidence of this early practice in MSU’s archaeological record.

References:
[1] – Brock, T. Wood Pipes. 2008. Blog post (URL: https://msu.edu/~brockter/files/dc576f2f0bdf61c8f2e164ba5f17e576-76.html)

[2] – The Michigan Pipe Company, InHistory of Bay County, Michigan with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers. 1883. Chicago: H.R. Page.

[3] – Wooden Water Pipe. The Manufacturer and Builder, Vol. 18, Issue 1, pp. 4-5, 1886.

[4] – Raslich, N. Water Sanitation at MSU. 2016. Blog post (URL: http://campusarch.msu.edu/?p=3974)

[5] – Board of Trustees Meeting Minutes – 1902, p. 66. (Link to meeting minutes: http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/3-F-22B/meeting-minutes-1902/)

Printing the Past: 3D Printing the Artifacts of MSU

Printing the Past: 3D Printing the Artifacts of MSU

As I have discussed in previous posts, my project for this year in CAP is to make 3D models of different artifacts found around campus that we have here in our collections. You may have also seen many of these on our Instagram and Twitter 

A Close Shave: Personal Grooming and Social Interaction during the Early History of MAC

A Close Shave: Personal Grooming and Social Interaction during the Early History of MAC

The Saints’ Rest excavations conducted by the Campus Archaeology Program have been well-documented and researched not only because this was the inaugural project for CAP, but also that it is one of the earliest buildings on campus, giving us a rare glimpse into how students 

Modeling the Past: Photogrammetry and Anthropological Research

Modeling the Past: Photogrammetry and Anthropological Research

For my CAP project this year, I decided to do something at which I feel I’m particularly good: creating 3D models of artifacts found during CAP excavations. I have been using digital technologies to render 3D models for about three years now and have created these models for a number of reasons and for a number of different projects. In making the models, I use a technique called photogrammetry, which, at its most basic, takes a set of 2D images of an object, person, or place, stitches the images together, and if all goes well, a 3D rendition of that object is created in digital space. (A lot of other computer sorcery happens deep within the software’s code to actually create the models, of which I understand none, unfortunately.)  The power of this methodology and its ultimate results cannot be overstated for a few reasons, of which I will discuss a few here.

Continue reading Modeling the Past: Photogrammetry and Anthropological Research

Precursor to the Porcelain Throne: The Chamber Pot Lid from Saints’ Rest

Precursor to the Porcelain Throne: The Chamber Pot Lid from Saints’ Rest

The Saints’ Rest Dormitory has a foundational history with Michigan State University, acting as the first dormitory for the fledgling college, and with the Campus Archaeology Program itself, being the first large-scale excavation and archaeological fieldschool on campus.  Built in 1856, Saints’ Rest was the 

The Mount Clemens Pottery Co. Plate Sherd from the Brody/Emmons Complex

The Mount Clemens Pottery Co. Plate Sherd from the Brody/Emmons Complex

One of the best parts about doing research on artifacts we find during CAP excavations is coming across incredible stories or histories that stem from what some people would consider mundane and ordinary objects.  Such is the case with a seemingly ordinary piece of a 

If You’d Like to Make a Call…: The Michigan Bell Telephone Sign from the Brody Dump

If You’d Like to Make a Call…: The Michigan Bell Telephone Sign from the Brody Dump

As technology constantly changes, so too does the constructed landscape to accommodate those changes.  One major notable change that has occurred in recent memory is the mass-production and availability of cell phones in the 1990s and 2000s.  Cell phones allow people to talk to anyone else no matter where they are.  Apart from major social and cultural changes that this brought about, the wide-spread use of cell phones resulted in public telephones and telephone booths to drastically dwindle with estimates of around 2.5 million pay phones in the U.S. in the mid-late 90s down to about 243,000 in 2012 [1].  Pay phones are no longer a commonly seen component of our cities; phone booths sit stripped and empty in older buildings.  So much has this changed that some people from younger generations have probably never even seen a pay phone!

Michigan Bell Telephone Company sign found in the Brody/Emmons Complex.
Michigan Bell Telephone Company sign found in the Brody/Emmons Complex.

Excavations at the Brody/Emmons dump site revealed an old public telephone sign.  Measuring about 30cm X 28cm, the sign is made of a square-cut piece of metal with porcelain enamel on both sides which each reads ‘MICHIGAN BELL TELEPHONE COMPANY’ and “AMERICAN TELEPHONE AND TELEGRAPH” in a ring around the image of a bell which itself has the words ‘BELL SYSTEM’ on it.  The sign also has a flange on one side indicating that it was originally intended to be fixed onto a surface and project outwards.  An exact date for the sign is not known, but signs of this design were commonly seen on public pay phones during the 1920s-1940s.  Michigan Bell Telephone Company was once a subsidiary of the American Telephone & Telegraph Company – commonly known as AT&T [2].  While both companies still technically are around, they are no longer connected to one another in the same way when Michigan Bell was founded (a little more on that later).  In doing the research for this artifact, I decided to focus on the unexpectedly tumultuous history of the Bell Telephone Company and its role in both the social lives of the American people as well as its place in politics.

Michigan Bell Telephone Crew ca. 1890. Image source
Michigan Bell Telephone Crew ca. 1890. Image source

As is common knowledge, Alexander Graham Bell patented the first practical telephone in 1876 (although in 2002 Congress officially recognized Antonio Meucci as the true inventor of the telephone) [2, 3].  It took a while for telephones to become a common item as they originally were large and clunky, expensive to subscribe to, difficult to operate, and had poor sound quality.  The first telephone in Michigan went to one of Bell’s good friends in Grand Rapids in 1877.  After public demonstrations were held with the prototype phones, the first commercial phone line was set up in Detroit between a drugstore and its chemical laboratories a couple miles away [5].  Interestingly, a large portion of the early users/subscribers were physicians who used them to be informed of incoming patients so as to more quickly and adequately prepare for their arrival and treatment [4].  Still, the use of telephones became more popular with Bell’s public demonstrations.

The Bell Telephone Company (and its subsidiary-turned parent corporation, AT&T) held an almost entire monopoly on the telephone business until Bell’s patent expired in 1893, after which thousands of small companies popped up to get in on the business [4].  This resulted in prices and rates plummeting which made the technology more publicly available and affordable.  Expansion into rural areas and smaller towns created a boom in telephone subscriptions as well as the advent of public phones.  Unlike household phones, early public phones were initially free to use.  These public phones were predominantly located in/around pharmacies since many physicians already had them in place and were used as a way to get people to come into their stores.  However, it appears that free phone calls caused lingering crowds and constantly tied-up phone lines which angered pharmacists and store owners enough that nickel slots were installed by the turn of the century [2, 4].

AT&T Telephone ad from1931 convincing customers to keep their phone service. Image source
AT&T Telephone ad from1931 convincing customers to keep their phone service. Image source

By the 1920s, AT&T started acquired many of the smaller phone companies and services which the dwindling number of non-AT&T companies required.  Although AT&T did not own all of the smaller companies, by 1930, 80% of all phones in the United States were Bell phones and of those that were not, 98% were connected to Bell lines.  However, the Depression hit the phone industry hard with over 2 million households canceling subscriptions between 1930 and 1933 [4, 6].  AT&T even revamped their marketing strategy during this time and instead of advertising to entice new subscribers, they focused on convincing current subscribers not to cancel by arguing that a phone subscription is a necessity that only costs a few cents a day.  By this point, the telephone was a common everyday item for many Americans, but one that (unlike today it seems) people were able to drop.  Public pay phones thus allowed the public to still use the service for a small price per call without requiring monthly subscriptions that could be used for more necessary items.

Bell Telephone ad from 1948 marketing Bell telephones with patriotism. Image source
Bell Telephone ad from 1948 marketing Bell telephones with patriotism. Image source

After 1933, phone subscriptions began to climb once again with the industry meeting pre-Depression Era subscriptions by 1939.  After rate freezes during World War II, AT&T again began consolidating it grip on the industry.  By the 1970s, the company once again had a monopoly on telephone service, resulting in a federal antitrust lawsuit beginning in 1974 [4].  The outcome of this court case required a divestiture of the mega parent company into seven regional large companies.  Michigan Bell was reorganized, along with other Bell operating companies in the Midwest as a subsidiary of Americtech Corp [7].  This company was then merged with SBC Teleholdings and the Ameritech branch was renamed to AT&T Teleholdings.  Although this is a relatively recent history of Bell companies which took place decades after the Michigan Bell pay phone sign was placed in the East Lansing Dump, it is interesting to see the path taken by the iconic company.  Who knew that the ability to make a simple phone call, whether on your cell phone or on a pay phone, had such a volatile history or was so deeply enmeshed in political quagmire?  Rich histories such as these can only come from conducting this type of historical research on objects we think we know enough about.  The phone we know of today is not just a phone, but is the totality of over 125 years of history wrapped in ingenuity, inventions, patent lawsuits, intense government intervention and oversight, and corporate dealings, which has allowed us to call our loved ones from (almost) anywhere on the planet.

 

References

[1]       Andreatta, D. 2013. As pay phones vanish, so does lifeline for many. USA Today. Published online 17 December, 2013.

[2]       Brooks, J. 1976. Telephone: The First Hundred Years. Harper & Row, New York.

[3] Campanella, A. J. 2007. Antonio meucci, the speaking telegraph, and the first telephone. Acoustics Today, 3(2):37-45.

[4] Fischer, C.S., 1992. America calling: a social history of the telephone to 1940. Berkeley University of California Press, Berkeley.

[5] History of the Telephone in Michigan. 1969.  Detroit: Michigan Bell Telephone Co.

[6] Angelo State University Library, 2018. Telephone Goes To War 1930-1950. Blog. http://www.angelo.edu/services/library/wtcoll/verizon/pages/Timeline/tel_war/tel_war_tx.php

[7] Coll, S. 1986. The deal of the century: The breakup of AT&T (1st ed.). New York, Atheneum.

Take Two Shots of Whiskey Every 6 Hours: Medicinal Alcohol During Prohibition Era MSU

Take Two Shots of Whiskey Every 6 Hours: Medicinal Alcohol During Prohibition Era MSU

As archaeologists, some of our most common findings are in fact trash, the things people not longer want or need which are then thrown away.  As a result, dump sites, or middens, are some of the best contexts from which to reconstruct the lives of