Close Only Counts in Horseshoes & Hand Grenades

Horseshoe from Brody/Emmons Complex site.

Horseshoe from Brody/Emmons Complex site.

No, I’ll stop any speculation; we haven’t uncovered any hand grenades (think of how much paperwork that would be!). But we do have a horseshoe. Now you might be saying, so what? You’ve surely recovered horseshoes before. And yes, that’s true. We have found full and partial horseshoes at a number of locations around campus. However, this horseshoe from the Brody/Emmons Complex (site of East Lansing’s first landfill) never saw a horses hoof. This horseshoe was made specifically for gaming.

Although much of archaeological evidence relates to the more routine portions of life, such as cooking, hunting, or household structure, archaeologists have also found evidence of sports and gaming. Artifacts that are believed to be associated with games have been found all over the world, such as these 5,000 year old gaming tokens from Turkey, or evidence of Pre-Columbian ball courts. CAP, however, has not uncovered many sports or game related artifacts.

Men playing horseshoes circa. 1942. Image source.

Men playing horseshoes circa. 1942. Image source.

Horseshoes is an outdoors game played between two people, or two teams of two people, using four horseshoes and two targets (stakes) set up in a lawn or sandbox area. Players alternate turns tossing horseshoes at stakes in the ground, which as typically 40 feet apart. There are two ways to score: by throwing the horseshoes nearest to the stake, or by throwing “ringers”. A ringer is when the horseshoe has been thrown in a way that makes it completely encircle the stake. Disputes about the authenticity of a ringer is settled by using a straightedge to touch the end points of the horseshoe, called heel caulks. If the straightedge does not touch the stake, the throw is classified as a ringer.

1929 catalog featuring pitching horseshoes. Image source.

1929 catalog featuring pitching horseshoes. Image source.

It’s possible that this horseshoe was homemade/handmade, but they were also being sold in kits during the early 1900s.  Our horseshoe weights approximately 1 1/2 lbs, but rusting has resulted in some loss.  It is interesting to note that the pitching horseshoe catalog entry on the right sells different weights for men’s pitching horseshoes and women’s pitching horseshoes.  Since our horseshoe is close to the 1 3/4 lb weight range, it’s possible that this horseshoe was meant to be used by women.  Additionally it’s also possible that this horseshoe simply did not meet regulation standards for size and weight requirements.

Horseshoes diagram. Image source.

Horseshoes diagram. Image source.

A 1940s beer advertisement showcasing a family playing horseshoes. Image source.

A 1940s beer advertisement showcasing a family playing horseshoes. Image source.

The first formal rules for the game were established in England in 1869. However the first recorded tournament in the United States wasn’t until 1909 in Bronson, Kansas. Though the popularity of horseshoes had faded some, yard games are easy to spot today at MSU, especially on game days and at tailgates. Games like corn hole (aka bag toss, sack toss, baggo, and many other regional variations of the name) and ladder toss are easy to spot, but a  horseshoe pit is slightly more illusive these days.  Although we’ll never know why someone decided to throw away this horseshoe, we’re happy to have found it.  This artifact provides an interesting viewpoint into East Lansing’s past.








Drama, Drama, Drama!: The Tragedy of Archaeologically Invisible Histories

As I mentioned in my first blog post for this year, my CAP project is to go through all of the dissertations, and bachelor’s and master’s theses written by Michigan State students about Michigan State University during its entire history as an institution of higher education.  Doing this has granted me access to previous students’ hard work about something they believed in and wished to make known to someone other than themselves and their advisor.  The goal of this project (of which I will share more of my results later on) is to find and identify any information that can help supplement the complex and rich histories that we dig up in our excavations.

The 1931 production of Death Takes a Holiday. Photo courtesy of MSU Special Collections, originally in W.G. Butt’s Master’s Thesis.

The 1931 production of Death Takes a Holiday. Photo courtesy of MSU Special Collections, originally in W.G. Butt’s Master’s Thesis.

However, sometimes you come across sources that paint such a rich history, but unfortunately have left no (as yet identified) archaeological trace.  I came across one such instance a few weeks ago while reading a master’s thesis in the MSU Special Collections room of the library.  Written by William Gibson Butt in 1947, the master’s thesis A History of Dramatic Activities at Michigan State College to 1937 reveals the humble beginnings of the Drama Club on campus and traces its first few decades of history as it became a staple in campus life.

Butt (1947) writes that the Drama Club started in 1910 at the behest of student who wished to put on performances on campus as there was no Department of Theatre at the college at that time.  The student put on the play The School for Scandal by Richard Brinsley Sheridan in the Spring of 1910 to great success.  Since there was no stage on campus at the time, the students were required to build their own stage at the old Armory (located where the Music Building is now) but could only construct the stage the day of the play and were required to tear it down that evening after the performance.  Sylvester King, a faculty member at MAC, agreed to help the students put on the play.  Having a background in theater, King was able to acquire costumes for the production from New York City.  After the first production, the club was officially recognized by MAC and put on at least two productions every year.

The cast of the first play put on at MSC, performing The School for Scandal in 1910. Photo courtesy of MSU Special Collections, originally in W.G. Butt’s Master’s Thesis.

The cast of the first play put on at MSC, performing The School for Scandal in 1910. Photo courtesy of MSU Special Collections, originally in W.G. Butt’s Master’s Thesis.

Once they started doing two productions per year, the Drama Club began putting on plays outdoors in a wooded area just east of where Howard Terrace used to stand.  This building was demolished in the early 1920s to make room for the Home Economics Building which still stands today, now called the Human Ecology Building.  This would place the location of this outdoor performance area somewhere around where the parking ramp between Human Ecology and Olin Health Center.  The Drama Club’s first performance outdoors was As You Like It by William Shakespeare.  Again, this performance was so successful that the club started putting all of their Spring plays in this same area, and always performed a work by Shakespeare.  Due to these annual plays, this wooded area became known as the Forest of Arden, a setting in As You Like It.

Two students performing The Merry Wives of Windsor by Shakespeare in “The Forest of Arden” on campus in 1922. Photo courtesy of MSU Special Collections, originally in W.G. Butt’s Master’s Thesis.

Two students performing The Merry Wives of Windsor by Shakespeare in “The Forest of Arden” on campus in 1922. Photo courtesy of MSU Special Collections, originally in W.G. Butt’s Master’s Thesis.

Despite all of this well-documented history showcasing MSU students, it is also quite humbling for an archaeologist such as myself.  As an archaeologist, I use artifacts that I unearth to try and understand the lives of those who created or used those artifacts.  The object drives the narrative, informs the narrative, and is itself then re-informed by the narrative.  In many archaeological settings, the story cannot get told or even discovered if there is no artifact with which to start the conversation.  In the case of the storied past and early beginnings of the MSC Drama Club, no artifacts to date have been found or associated with this sect of campus life.  The area of campus where The Forest of Arden once stood is now occupied by a parking ramp. Additionally, these outdoor performances were intended to be temporary – the players would have picked up any props or potential artifacts relating to theatrical production.  It is in instances like this that we must look at our own limitations and recognize that no matter how much we dig up and even rely on archival resources, we can never encapsulate the entire story.

Playbill for the first ever theatrical production at MSC – The School for Scandal performed in 1910. These are some of the only evidences of early history of the plays performed on campus. Photo courtesy of MSU Special Collections, originally in W.G. Butt’s Master’s Thesis.

Playbill for the first ever theatrical production at MSC – The School for Scandal performed in 1910. These are some of the only evidences of early history of the plays performed on campus. Photo courtesy of MSU Special Collections, originally in W.G. Butt’s Master’s Thesis.

 There are some stories that are archaeologically invisible.  Fortunately in the case of the Drama Club, the MSU Department of Theatre, the MSU Library, and the MSU Archives have records and documentation of this history.  These stories get to be rediscovered and retold in the future.  Other stories sadly get erased through time and leave no material record behind.  Thus, we are fortunate to belong to an institution that cares about its own history and allows us to access those memories in whatever way we can so that we can pass along great stories such as these.  By understanding that we cannot tell the whole story, we become better story-tellers because the belief that we know everything only closes us up to other voices.  We must use as many resources and listen to as many voices as we can so that we can better understand ourselves and our school’s proud history.





Butt W.G. 1947    A History of Dramatic Activities at Michigan State College to 1937. Master’s thesis, Michigan State College, East Lansing, Michigan.

Jadeite: the (Negligibly) Radioactive Kitchenware for the Nuclear Age

Jadeite bowl fragment from the Emmons Amphitheater assemblage

Jadeite bowl fragment from the Emmons Amphitheater assemblage

Avid readers of the CAP blog might remember our excitement last year when we discovered a piece of yellow-green vaseline glass in the Gunson assemblage. The glass glowed bright green under black light, indicating it contained uranium. This week as we continued to sort through the large quantity of glass from the Brody/Emmons Complex assemblage we came across another piece of glowing glass: part of a horizontally ribbed bowl in a striking jade green color. If you’re a collector or a frequenter of antique stores, you’ve probably already guessed the identity of our second piece of glowing glass: jadeite, another type of uranium glass.

Jadeite bowl fragment under black light

Jadeite bowl fragment under black light

Before we continue we should probably address the radioactive elephant in the room: why would people put uranium in stuff we eat and drink from? It might sound strange, but uranium was once a common colorant added to glass and ceramic glazes. Uranium glass was particularly popular in the early 20th century, when large quantities of uranium salts were being produced as byproducts of the radium extraction industry (1). The addition of yellow uranium oxide during the initial glass melting process produces colors ranging from yellow to green, though other hues including pink, blue, and white can be obtained by adding other colorants to the mix (2). Glass colored with uranium salts is easily identified because uranium fluoresces bright green under ultraviolet light (3). Luckily, since these items emit only negligibly tiny amounts of radiation, they are safe to handle, eat and drink from (3). Uranium fell out of use after World War II when it became critical to the war effort (think: the Manhattan Project). From 1942 to 1958 civilian use of uranium was heavily regulated, so glassmakers had to find different ways of achieving similar colors (3). The fact that the fragment from the Brody/Emmons Amphitheater assemblage glows green under black light tells us it contains uranium and therefore that it dates prior to 1943.

So what’s the deal with jadeite? Or is it Jadite? Jade-ite? All of these terms refer to the opaque, milky green colored glass originally manufactured by one of three glass companies: McKee, Jeanette, and Anchor Hocking (4). McKee Glass Company of Jeannette, Pennsylvania was the first to make kitchen and dinnerware from this material. Beginning in 1930, they produced opaque green dinnerware they marketed as “Skokie” green (5). Jeannette Glass Company, also located in Jeannette, began manufacturing a similar glass product starting in the mid-1930s (4). Jeanette coined the term “Jadite” in reference to the product’s resemblance to the semi-precious stone. The Fire-King division of Anchor Hocking was the last of the three companies to start making this product, which they called “Jade-ite” (4). After World War II, Fire-King began selling jadeite kitchen and dinnerware similar to those made by Jeannette and McKee (6). They also made a highly successful line of restaurant ware that was thicker, heavier, and sturdier than the products intended for home use (6). Fire-King Jade-ite was manufactured and sold between 1945 and 1975 and is highly collectable today (6).

(3)Reproduction of a Jeannette ribbed bowl. Source:

Reproduction of a Jeannette ribbed bowl. Source

The discerning reader will notice that these later dates of production mean that Fire-King Jade-ite could not have contained uranium. This tells us that our jadeite was probably made either by McKee or Jeannette, which both used uranium in their production during the 1930s and early 1940s (3). While the fragment we recovered unfortunately does not have a maker’s mark, there are many examples of ribbed jadeite products produced by Jeanette during this period.

Fire-King ball jug – the holy grail of jadeite collectables. Image Source.

Fire-King ball jug – the holy grail of jadeite collectables. Image Source.

Today, jadeite is highly sought after by collectors. While the more common pieces are fairly affordable, rare pieces like the coveted Fire-King Jade-ite ball pitcher or the handled soup cup can sell for hundreds of dollars (4,7). At the time it was produced, however, jadeite was not a high-end product (8). Jadeite wares were sold at five and dime stores and were often given away as promotional items. Citrus reamers were given away to customers for free with the purchase of boxes of fruit (5) and smaller jadeite items were included in bags of flours or boxes of oatmeal in hopes of enticing consumers to buy the complete set or larger, more expensive items such as dinner plates (8).

Jadeite could be sold cheaply is because it was cheap to make. It was originally made with green scrap glass added into milk glass mixtures (8). Additionally, most jadeite items were made using presses, which allowed for mass production. Pressed glass is made by pouring molten glass into cast-iron molds either by hand or by automated machines (9). Pressed glass was particularly popular in the Depression era because this mode of production made it possible to produce a large quantity of items quickly and in a range of patterns and styles (10). These inexpensive pressed glass items carried many glass companies through the Depression (10,11).

Despite its low cost, jadeite is very durable, which explains why it can still be readily found intact in antique and vintage stores (5). Jadeite has many enthusiastic fans, including Martha Stewart and her daughter Alexis (5). Martha’s jadeite collection was featured prominently in her cooking show, which helped drive up the popularity—and prices—of vintage jadeite in the 1990s (7). Avid collectors can be very particular about their jadeite. Purists consider only McKee, Jeannette, or Anchor Hocking products authentic jadeite (4). However, jadeite’s newfound popularity has inspired production of a variety of new pieces. Martha Stewart’s company, Martha by Mail, and Cracker Barrel make jadeite reproductions that are fairly close approximations of old pieces (4,7). You know… if you’re looking to start collecting.



Photo Captions

Water of Life: How One Whiskey Bottle can Remind Us of an Infamous Part of Michigan History

In archaeology, we frequently use large assemblages of different artifacts to interpret what happened at an archaeological site.  While a greater number of artifacts is always useful, the ability of just one single artifact to tell us a story is also amazing.  I am reminded of this while researching an old whiskey bottle recovered by CAP from the Brody/Emmons Dump. Seemingly simple enough, this object has unlocked a small piece of Michigan history that I had never heard before.

Hiram Walker bottle recovered from the Brody/Emmons complex, site of East Lansings first dump.

Hiram Walker bottle recovered from the Brody/Emmons complex, site of East Lansings first dump

It all started while researching the company whose name was embossed on the top of the bottle’s lid: Hiram Walker and Sons, Inc. Hiram Walker was born in Massachusetts in 1816.  As a young man, he moved to Detroit in 1838 and began to go into business buying and selling various goods.  By setting some of his earnings aside, he saved up enough money to begin his own distilling business, starting with vinegar.  He also began producing whiskey (Chauvin 1927), whose name is an old corruption for a word meaning “water of life” (Lyons 1999).  By the early 1850’s, Walker’s whiskey had become a local favorite, but the prohibition movement threatened his success.  In 1855, a number of states, including Michigan, began to ban the sale of liquor except by apothecaries for medicinal purposes.  In response, Walker began buying property in what would become Windsor, Ontario starting in 1856 and began building new facilities.  In 1858, his new distillery and flour mill were complete and Hiram Walker and Sons was born.  Their most popular product was Walker’s Club Whiskey, which was immensely popular in the United States (Chauvin 1927).

As the prohibition movement and the Civil War shut down liquor production in the Confederacy, where most U.S. distilleries were located, Walker’s Club Whiskey was smuggled across the Detroit River into the U.S. and then distributed across the Union (Chauvin 1927; Hill 2016).  Walker’s whiskey was so popular that it was rumored that he had built a pipe running underneath the Detroit River purely for the purpose of pumping his whiskey directly into the U.S.  As alcohol production once more picked up after the war ended, Walker’s Club Whiskey dominated the market, so much so that U.S. competitors begged the U.S. legislature to require a liquor’s country of origin to be clearly marked on every bottle.   Once the law passed, his whiskey was rebranded as Canadian Club Whiskey (Chauvin 1927).

By the 1910’s, prohibition once again reared its head, this time leading to a national ban on alcohol in the U.S. from 1920 to 1933.  Prohibition hit Hiram Walker and Sons hard, but they were once again able to find outlets for their product across the Detroit River (Chauvin 1927; Hill 2016).  Al Capone, the famous gangster, was one of their best customers, who succeeded in distributing Canadian Club Whiskey across the Midwest with the aid of Detroit’s infamous Purple Gang (Pearson 2014).  Despite their rum-running success, Hiram Walker and Sons was sold in 1927 for little of its original worth.  Today, Hiram Walker’s distillery is now the largest distillery in North America and produces around 150 different products that are distributed widely.  They still make world renowned whiskeys, but their first product, Canadian Club Whiskey, is now owned and produced by a nearby competitor (Hill 2016).

1935 ad with a drawing of a bottle very similar to that recovered from the Brody/Emmons Dump

1935 ad with a drawing of a bottle very similar to that recovered from the Brody/Emmons Dump. Image Source

Aside from the name of the company, this bottle contains other information that can help us to place it within this history of Hiram Walker and Sons, Inc.  Using the free bottle dating reference guide created by Bill Lindsey (, supported by the Bureau of Land Management and the Society for Historical Archaeology), I was able to narrow down when this bottle may have been produced for sale.  Present on this bottle are embossed designs and mold seams that reach the very lip of opening, which indicate that it was machine-made.  This technology first became popular after 1900, meaning that CAP’s Hiram Whiskey and Son’s bottle post-dates the Civil War smuggling days of the company.  Since there are very few bubbles present in the glass itself, it is likely that this bottle was made with more advanced manufacturing technology, further narrowing the time table of this bottle into the 1930’s or later.  The presence of an external screw top also suggests this later date, as this closure type only became popular starting in the late 1920’s.

Close up of the embossed federal disclaimer on the bottle recovered by CAP

Close up of the embossed federal disclaimer on the bottle recovered by CAP.

Our greatest piece of evidence is one simple sentence embossed prominently on the bottle: FEDERAL LAW FORBIDS SALE OR RE-USE OF THIS BOTTLE.  Post-prohibition, this message was required by federal law on all liquor bottles to further discourage illegal liquor sales.  Passed in 1935, the law was repealed and the message discontinued by the mid 1960’s, placing the manufacture and use of this bottle firmly between 1935 and 1965.  Based on all of this evidence, this bottle of Hiram Walker and Sons’ whiskey was distilled and consumed legally in post-prohibition East Lansing.  While this bottle may not have been part of Al Capone’s illegal liquor empire, it still has an incredible story to tell about Michigan’s past.


References Cited

Chauvin, Francis X.
1927   Hiram Walker: His Life and His Work and the Development of the Walker
      Institutions in Walkerville, Ontario.  Manuscript accessed online through the
Southwestern Ontario Digital Archive, University of Windsor.

Hill, Sharon
2016   “Hiram Walker and Sons Distillery No Longer Shy About Telling Its Story.”
      Windsor Star, Windsor Ontario.  Published Sept. 17th, 2016.

Lyons, T. P.
1999   Production of Scotch and Irish Whiskies: Their History and Evolution.  In The
Alcohol Textbook, edited by K. A. Jacques, T. P. Lyons, and D. R. Kelsall, Pp. 137-
164.  Nottingham University Press, Nottingham.

Pearson, Craig
2014   “From the Vault: Prohibition.”  Windsor Star, Windsor, Ontario.  Published Nov.
22nd, 2014.


Time to Bone Up: A Faunal Analysis Update

Over the past year, I have been working on identifying the animal (faunal) bone material excavated by the Campus Archaeology Program. Currently, I have been working on bones that were recovered during the Saint’s Rest excavation. Saint’s Rest was the first dormitory on campus, and through CAP excavations, we have been able to learn more about the dorm itself, as well as its associated privy. My goal is to learn about what the students and staff were eating based off of what animal bones were thrown away. I am also comparing my results to the MSU archival records to determine if the bones, and the meat cuts they represent (see my previous blog about this ), align with the historical written record.

Caption: Erica with a cow pelvis. Photo by Kim Brock.

Caption: Erica with a cow pelvis. Photo by Kim Brock.

From my previous faunal analysis of over 1700 fish bones, I determined that at least 17 walleye heads were thrown away in the privy associated with Saint’s Rest. Now that we have learned about the fish remains, I moved onto the remainder of the faunal material recovered from the Saint’s Rest trash pit, located southeast off the building foundation. The fauna that I have been working with comes from excavations that took place in 2008 and 2009, comprising of mostly mammal remains. I have been working on analyzing these materials using the newly established MSU Museum zooarchaeological comparative collection, allowing me to identify the animals bones excavated by CAP.


With over three-quarters of the remainder of the collection analyzed so far I would like to report my preliminary results!

MSU Museum zooarchaeological comparative collection being used to identify CAP faunal remains. Image courtesy of Autumn Painter.

Based off of the preliminary analysis, there are at least two individual cows, one individual pig, one possible sheep/goat, and one unidentified large bird! These identifications match what Susan Kooiman and myself have found within the archival records for what the college was purchasing at the time.

In addition to determining what species of animals were being thrown away, I also wanted to determine, if possible, the meat cuts associated with those identified bones. This is a much more complicated task than I originally imagined! First, types of meat cuts that occur change over time and across space, making the exact identification of meat cuts much more difficult than anticipated! Look at the image below; you can see that across England the variation within meat cut name and placement, such as clod vs. thick brisket. Different types of meat cuts go in and out of fashion through time and space, just like the types of shoes or styles of clothing that we wear.

Figures 55-58 from Meat Cuts and Muscle Foods: an international glossary by Howard J. Swatland (page 59).

Now, compare this to the cuts of meat typically found for beef in North America. We use different names as well as cuts.

Figures 153 from Meat Cuts and Muscle Foods: an international glossary by Howard J. Swatland (page 135).

Based on what bones are present thus far in the analysis, it appears that this assemblage contains a large variety of meat cuts, including shank, loin, sirloin, rib, brisket, and chuck. These cuts are from almost all parts of the cow, and several bones including a skull fragment, molar tooth and a phalanx (toe bone) indicate that in fact, they were throwing away bones from head to toe!

While the archival records do not always list what cut of beef was purchased, it occasionally listed beef shank, steak, and roast as specific cuts purchased between 1861-1863. The archaeological record and archival record are two lines of evidence that are giving us insight into the food consumption and deposition practices of early MSU students and staff.

Stay tuned for the final update on the analysis of the Saint’s Rest trash pit animal bone analysis!



Meat Cuts and muscle foods: an international glossary by Howard J. Swatland [2000].

The Meat Book: A consumer’s guide to selecting, buying, cutting, storing, freezing, & carving the various cuts by Travers Moncure Evans and David Greene [1973].

MSU Archives



Rounding Up Rubbish

The site where Brody Hall stands today (intersection of Harrison & Michigan Ave) was once used by the city East Lansing as a landfill. There is little historical documentation on the landfill, which made it difficult to find information about the site. What we do know is that it was active from the early 1900s until the 1940s. The artifacts recovered during construction projects and CAP excavations near Brody and the Emmons amphitheater date to the late 1920s and early 1930s. This suggests that this particular portion of the landfill was used during that time period. The most plentiful artifact type is glass bottles. The bottles show us a rare glimpse of the different kinds of products used by people living in East Lansing at the time, from health products to milk and alcohol bottles.

Bottom of bottle with Owens Illinois makers mark, factory and date codes.

Bottom of bottle with Owens Illinois makers mark, factory and date codes.

The process of dating the bottles was not too complicated, mostly due to the guide the Society for Historical Archaeology has that explains the changes of bottle morphology though time. Small markings such as lines or pontiff marks that are caused during the process of glass molding can tell help you narrow down the time frame more. As the methods used for making glass bottles changed, small characteristics of the bottles changed with it. Another way for dating glass bottles are the codes/date stamps or company marks found on the bottom, similar to the way modern day plastic bottles have numbers for the quality of plastic and recycling marks. These bottle marks are a much faster way to identify the company that manufactured the bottle and can even be helpful enough to tell you the time frame it could have been made and even the location it was manufactured.

Owens-Illinois made Steuer wine bottle

Owens-Illinois made Steuer wine bottle.

It has been interesting to learn about how the process for making bottles has changed throughout time because it is something that I normally would not have the opportunity to research. For my research project this semester I have decided to focus on learning what I can about health in East Lansing around that time. By looking at these bottles I have started thinking about the types of products we found and comparing it with the kinds of products we still use today. The similar products were household cleaners, such as bleach or ammonia, and various kinds of alcohol like whiskey and wine, but when looking at the healthcare products we found some things I would not have thought of as being used.

Bromo-Seltzer ad from 1937

Bromo-Seltzer ad from 1937. Image Source.

The products used for cleaning such as Roman Cleanser, the first commercial version of bleach cleansers, and Little Bo beep Ammonia are not new to many people. Some of the kinds of alcohol we found that many have not heard of are Wilkin’s Whiskey and Hiram Walker Whiskey. The healthcare products we found were Wildroot and Vitalis, haircare products that are still around, but have fallen out of common use. There were also a few bottles of Bromo-Seltzer, an early form of antacids. Hair gel and antacids are not new products, but it is easy to see that varieties and companies can be popular at a point in time, but then other companies rise to replace them. There were still some healthcare products that were easily recognizable, such as the Listerine bottle mentioned in a previous post. Another way to be able to see how the culture thought of the product in that time is to look at their advertisements. Looking at these products and their advertisements can show us the differences in ways of life that we normally would not think about. Researching health from this time period has been an eye-opener for how people used to live. I have learned so much about the different kinds of health and how much we have changed over the past hundred years.

All Over the Board: Student Discontent and Agency in the Historic MSU Boarding Halls

I’ve written at length about the foods purchased by the early campus boarding hall (aka dining hall), as well as the dishes they likely served. However, what we do not know is what the students thought of this food. Did they like it? Or did they find the boarding hall offerings unsatisfactory? Items such as diaries and student newspapers can provide students’ perspectives on the meals they were served. In the case of early MSU, student dissatisfaction with food eventually led to widespread changes in the early boarding system in the 1880s.

Saints' Rest, the original boarding hall and site of illicit late-night feasting activities

Saints’ Rest, the original boarding hall and site of illicit late-night feasting activities. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Edward Granger was among the earliest students at the Agricultural College, and luckily wrote in great in detail about food served in Saints’ Rest, the first student dorm (ca. 1858-1859). Granger occasionally expressed positive feelings about the food, stating on Christmas Day that he “had a fine Christmas dinner considering that it was in the Agricultural College.” The next day, he wrote “After meeting we had a feast… Chicken and peaches, brown bread and ginger snaps. Everything was first rate, and we had a glorious meal.” (1)

However, Granger generally wasn’t the biggest fan of the food served by “the Institution,” as he refers to it. He mentions frequently skipping dinner and despairingly declares “[I] finished my supply of good things and suppose I shall have to live on the Institution or starve.” To cope, Granger and his friends ate snacks from home in their rooms or occasionally stole food from the kitchens. One late night he recounts that “Mr. Charley and Bush have just returned from an expedition to the lower regions. The booty consists in about a peck of fried cakes, to a portion of which we have been giving ample justice.” Another evening, a snack of eggs led Granger to observe, “Where Charley procured the eggs I don’t know. We asked no questions for conscience’s sake.” (1)

Cover of the first issue of The College Speculum

Cover of the first issue of The College Speculum. Courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Student discontent with food increased over the following decades as the college grew. The students expressed their anger through the establishment of a student newspaper, The College Speculum, and dissatisfaction with food served in the boarding hall is indicated as one of the principal arguments in favor of starting the paper (2). The first issue of The Speculum contains a lengthy treatise on the “question of the students’ board”. The author notes:

“Our system itself is no doubt at fault. Two hundred different tastes and dispositions can never be satisfied with the same food. The wholesale preparation of victuals is objectionable. Food cannot be well prepared in large quantities, and with the haste that necessarily attends such preparation. The wholesale use of canned and prepared goods, which are nearly always unwholesome, is a feature which has been overlooked. The finest vegetables are now growing in the garden, and are literally wasting as fast as they become eatable. Canned beans, peas, corn, tomatoes, etc., take the place of fresh food in the dining hall. With these facts before us we do not wonder that so many students complain of ill health, and so many leave college on that account.” (3).

Holy mackerel! Was Emory Fox charging his luxury food items to the students?!

Holy mackerel! Was Emory Fox charging his luxury food items to the students?! Image source.

This treatise may have been laying the groundwork for a student movement against the boarding hall steward, Emory C. Fox. The boarding hall stewards purchased supplies, oversaw food preparation staff, and presided over the tables in the dining hall (4). Fox was the steward from 1877-1881, and was extremely unpopular with students. In 1881 they charged him with fraud, claiming that Fox purchased lemons, oysters, mackerel, and oranges but that these items were never served to the students, implying that Fox purchased these items for himself (5). The students accused Fox with several other acts of fraud, as well (6).

After a review of the charges against Fox, the college Board of Trustees found that the alleged illicit food items were actually served to sick students in their rooms, and they found Fox to be an overall competent steward (7). However, on August 15, 1881, President Abbot notes that Fox resigned following the backlash but that “there was some hesitation about allowing him to resign” on his part (8).

This was not the end of student discontent, however. The Annual Catalogue of the State Agricultural College listed average weekly boarding costs for the prior academic year. During Fox’s tenure as steward, the average cost was between $2.27-$2.38. Under his successor, Conroy B. Mallory, this cost rose to $3.15 in the Spring of 1882. Students appreciated the improved menus under Mallory’s tenure, but not the increased cost (9).

Professor Rolla C Carpenter (c. 1885 pictured with his surveying equipment) was instrumental in bringing about the boarding clubs at the College.

Professor Rolla C Carpenter (c. 1885 pictured with his surveying equipment) was instrumental in bringing about the boarding clubs at the College. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

The idea of boarding clubs was inspired by Professor Carpenter, who, after observing the boarding system of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, painted a “bright picture” of the advantages of the club-boarding system, including better food at less cost (4). The Speculum supported this idea, suggesting the establishment of cooperative boarding clubs which would be under the control of the students. The establishment of smaller clubs would also serve to resolve the “boisterous conduct” seen in the solitary boarding hall (3).

The College, likely weary of student complaints, was quick to acquiesce to this plan. Cost effectiveness and practical concerns for feeding the increasingly large student body undoubtedly also played into the decision to do away with the traditional centralized boarding system. The transition is mentioned once in the Board meeting minutes:

“Prof. Carpenter presented the petition of the from the students of the College asking the Board to allow them to adopt the System of Boarding in clubs & made recommendations regarding the carrying out of this plan… It was resolved that the Secretary be Authorized to have the College Carpenter construct moveable partitions according to the plans of Prof. Carpenter in the basement of Wells & Williams Halls for five clubs at a Cost not to exceed $150.00 dollars.” (10)

The College Catalogue for 1882-1883 includes the first formal proof of the establishment of such clubs, stating, “A new plan of boarding in clubs has lately been put into operation. Separate kitchens and dining halls have been provided, and five clubs have been organized, by which the students are divided into groups not exceeding forty persons” (11) The average cost of board was $2.45, much less than the previous year.

Following this move, The Speculum reported that “not a word of complain was heard as to [the club system’s] price or quality,” marking a drastic change from prior discontent (2). However, this level of satisfaction would not last forever, and the boarding club system would see critiques, modifications, and eventual dissolution. But that’s a story for another time…

This account of MSU’s early food services is full of the kind of drama that makes for exciting history. More importantly, it exemplifies the power of unified student voices in times of great discontent, and just how much food-related issues can drive people to question and challenge powerful institutions.



  1. Diary of Edward G. Granger, 1859 (MSU Archives UA10.3.56, Folder 1)
  2. The College Speculum (1883) Vol. 3 No. 2, p.12
  3. The College Speculum (1881) Vol. 1, No. 1, p.7
  4. Beal, W.J. (1915) History of the Michigan Agricultural College. Agricultural College, East Lansing (p. 216)
  5. State Agricultural Board of Trustees Meeting Minutes, 15 August 1881 (MSU Archives)
  6. The College Speculum (1881) Vol. 1, No. 2
  7. State Agricultural Board of Trustees Meeting Minutes 28 July 1881 (MSU Archives)
  8. Diary of Theophilus Abbot, 15 August 1881 (MSU Archives UA.2.1.3, Box 861)
  9. Kuhn, Madison (1955) Michigan State: The First Hundred Years. The Michigan state University Press East, Lansing.
  10. State Agricultural Board of Trustees Meeting Minutes 27 November 1882 (MSU Archives)
  11. The College Catalogue for 1882-1883 (1883). Agricultural College, East Lansing (p. 38)

In Sickness and Health: Dr. Sage’s Catarrh Remedy Bottle

Dr. Sage's medicine bottle from Saints Rest.

Dr. Sage’s medicine bottle from Saints Rest.

Today the non-prescription medicine we can buy at the drug store is heavily regulated yet readily available. But in the 19th century patent medicine was dominant. Patent medicines are proprietary (i.e. secret formula) mixtures that were unregulated, advertised widely and sold directly to the public. The popularity of the patent medicine industry is tied to issues with the 19th century medical industry. Qualified doctors were sparse and expensive. Medical knowledge was also undergoing profound changes during the 1800s. Prior to the 1880s most people subscribed to the miasmic theory of disease transmission. It held that diseases like cholera or the Black Death were caused by poisonous vapors or mists (called miasmas). According to the theory, illness was not passed between people, but would only impact people that were near a miasma. In the 1870s and 1880s the work of Joseph Lister and Robert Koch were instrumental in moving the germ theory of disease forward (1,2).

A family member relying on home remedies, the recipes for which were often found in cookbooks, generally provided routine health care.  However treating many of the terrible diseases that became widespread during the 19th century (typhoid, yellow fever, cholera) were beyond the skills of the average citizen. The fear of these diseases directly resulted in the incredible success of the patent medicine industry. Medicine became big business and entrepreneurs began selling all manner of completely unregulated medicine. During the 19th century any drug could be included in the formulas (like Heroin cough suppressant or cocaine toothache drops!), and any claim about the benefits and effectiveness of the medicine could be made.

Dr. Sage's Catarrh Remedy ad. Image Source.

Dr. Sage’s Catarrh Remedy ad. Image Source.

Our patent medicine bottle was recovered from the Saints Rest dormitory during excavations in 2012. As a quick reminder, Saints Rest was the first dormitory on campus and it unfortunately burned to the ground in December of 1876. This small square bottle is embossed on four sides and reads: “Dr Sage’s”, “Catarrh Remedy”, “Dr. Pierce Propr”, “Buffalo”. So what’s the story with this bottle you might ask?

Catarrh is an excessive discharge or buildup of mucus in the nose or throat – i.e. a very very stuffy nose with drainage. Today we would think of this condition as a symptom of a cold or allergy. The bottles sold for 50 cents (3). 

Figure 12 from “The People’s Common Sense Medical Adviser”, illustrating use of Dr. Pierce's Nasal Douche. Image Source.

Figure 12 from “The People’s Common Sense Medical Adviser”, illustrating use of Dr. Pierce’s Nasal Douche. Image Source.

The directions for use were published in newspaper advertisements as well as Dr. Pierce’s immensely popular book “The People’s Common Sense Medical Adviser”, which was essentially an advertisement for his various patent medicines. This book sold millions of copies and included patient testimonials touting the near-miraculous cures provided by his medicine. The Catarrh Remedy could be administered in several ways. After the powder was mixed with water, it could be snorted. Or, it is recommended that the best way to ensure that the remedy reaches all impacted areas is via hydrostatic pressure by means of Dr. Pierce’s Nasal Douche. Yes, a nasal douche.  Think of it as the great grandfather of todays neti pot. The nose is first flushed out with a saline solution, and then the Catarrh remedy fluid (4). Dr. Pierce’s remedies dominated the patent medicine market. Pierce was a master of marketing, using newspapers, broadsides, and billboards to saturate the market (5).

Advertisement for Dr. Pierces Family Medicines. Dr. Sage's Catarrh Remedy can be seen. Image Source.

Advertisement for Dr. Pierces Family Medicines. Dr. Sage’s Catarrh Remedy can be seen. Image Source.

By the beginning of the 20th century blind faith in patent medicine was beginning to waiver. A scathing exposé series, “The Great American Fraud“, was published in Colliers Magazine in 1905-1906.  The journalist, Samuel Hopkins Adams, revealed the dubious practices of the patent medicine industry, and highlighted the many shocking ingredients (6).  These articles created an immense public backlash and helped pave the way for the 1906 Pure Food & Drug Act.  The patent medicine industry, spearheaded by Dr. Pierce, fought viscously against the legislation, but eventually lost the battle.  The 1906 act dealt a substantial blow to patent medicine.  While it did not outlaw the use of alcohol or opiates in the products, the new labeling laws meant that consumers were no longer kept in the dark.  Sales of patent medicine declined rapidly (1).

This tiny bottle tells quite an interesting story that provides a glimpse into the everyday life of an early M.A.C. student.  Perhaps he suffered from allergies brought about by the abundant campus plants, or had contracted a severe head cold while out pilfering fruit from the orchard. Either way it’s a fun peek into the medicine cabinets of the past.


  3. The Current Publishing Company. July 23, 1887. No. 188: page 128.
  4.  Dr. Pierce “The People’s Common Sense Medical Adviser” 1895.

Talking Trash: Sustainability & Bottles from the Old East Lansing Landfill

Desiree examines a bottle from the Brody/Emmons complex.

Desiree examines a bottle from the Brody/Emmons complex.

If you’ve been following the blog you may have noticed the many interesting artifacts, mostly bottles, found during the Brody Hall and Emmons Amphitheater area excavations. Since the Brody complex is built above the old East Lansing Landfill, these excavations provided us with an array of items that provide some insight into what life was like during the early 20th century in East Lansing.

As an intern for CAP this past semester, I’ve been given the task of going through these bottles to catalog and re-examine them. These bottles held everything from cosmetics to cleaning products to condiments that reflect everyday life in East Lansing during this the early 20th century. This landfill was active from the late 1910s to the late 1940s, which gave us a general range for a probable date on these bottles, but part of my task as an intern has been trying to get a more specific date. This has been interesting because I had never really thought about bottles in this way before. Researching the various shapes of historic bottles and using clues to find out how the bottle was used and when it was made has been a very educational experience. For some of these bottles, figuring out a date was relatively easy when you know the code they sometimes stamp on the bottle. However, many of the bottles had little to no markings that could be used to determine a date. This meant many hours of researching bottle shapes and looking through catalogs. Since many of the bottles were like this, it has taken us some time to get through all the bottles. Now, of course, I use bottles every day, but historic bottles are much different. I’ve been pleasantly surprised many times while researching to discover a bottle’s intended use.

A selection of bottle from the Brody/Emmons complex.

A selection of bottle from the Brody/Emmons complex.

Researching these bottles has also got me thinking a lot about trash and how we treat trash. Reading literature on the history of garbage and waste management was surprisingly very interesting and made me realize why archaeologists love trash so much. When I take the trash out, I don’t see where it goes. All I know is that someone picks it up and it’s not my problem anymore. Although I try to be eco-friendly and recycle, it’s the same deal. I put my recycling or trash in bin and someone takes it far away from me. No one wants to see trash, but we throw away everything. During the time that this landfill was active, municipal trash pick-up was a relatively new thing but since then, not much has changed in terms of how we deal with garbage after we throw it away. Realizing this got me thinking about sustainability on campus and if anything has changed. While the fact that these complete bottles are still here after 70 years has been helpful for our research, it’s daunting to think about how much of our trash will long out live us.

In the past, CAP has used archaeology to investigate how sustainable practices were used on campus. Many of these sustainable practices can be traced back to events like war or recession – being sustainable because it is necessary for survival. Building from the previous research on MSU’s sustainable past, I’m using these artifacts to assess how sustainable practices in waste management have changed and examine if we are truly more sustainable today. Although these bottles are made of glass which is not considered to be “eco-friendly” when thrown away, examining how they were used could be helpful in assessing sustainable practices at that time.

Looking for Some Gin-spiration: Fleischmann’s Gin from The East Lansing Dump

Photo of the Fleischmann’s Dry Gin bottle from the Brody/Emmons excavations, dating to 1935

Photo of the Fleischmann’s Dry Gin bottle from the Brody/Emmons excavations, dating to 1935

Continuing with my theme of alcohol bottles found on campus, I’ll be discussing one particular bottle that was discovered during excavations of the Brody/Emmons area.  The bottle is a clear, rectangular-based bottle, no doubt a liquor bottle given this shape.  If there was any doubt as to its intended use, all you would have to do is look on the side of the bottle where the words “DRY GIN” stand out in relief.  Embossed on the other side is the name “FLEISCHMANN’S”, giving us the actual company name.  In doing research about this bottle and this company, I went down a surprisingly interesting rabbit hole that has foundations all the way back into the Mid-Late 19th century.

Fleischmann’s Distilled Dry Gin boasts that this was the first gin to be distilled within the United States with production beginning in 1870 out of Riverside, Cincinnati, Ohio.  However, gin production was not the original intention or only business and manufacturing venture by the company’s owners: Charles Louis Fleischmann, his brother Maximilian Fleischmann, and American businessman James Gaff (1).

1949 Fleischmann’s Gin ad in the July 19th edition of Look Magazine.

1949 Fleischmann’s Gin ad in the July 19th edition of Look Magazine. Image Source

The Fleischmann brothers came over to the United States in 1865 from Moravia-Silesia (now a region in Czechia).  Their father had previously been a distiller and yeast producer in Europe, with the brothers following in his footsteps.  After settling in Cincinnati, Charles Louis and Maximilian found that the quality of baked goods was not up to the standards they were used to back in Europe.  Charles returned to Europe to retrieve yeast samples and upon his return, the brothers partnered with a businessman named James Gaff (1, 2).  In 1868, they began a standardized production of yeast with their new company Fleischmann Yeast Company.  Advances in their research and production into yeast led them to create active dry yeast which we all use today in our baking.  This allowed for a much longer shelf-life of the product.  Two years later, they opened their first gin distillery using their knowledge of distilling from their father and their newly improved yeast (2).  This is still the Fleischmann Distilled Dry Gin that we know of today.

Despite their early advances, widespread success would not come until the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, PA, the first official World’s Fair to be held in the United States.  There, they set up a model Austrian bakery (The Vienna Bakery) and showcased the benefits of using their improved yeast in cake and pastry baking (3).  Other new inventions and goods that premiered at the Exhibition were Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone, the Remington Typographic Machine (the typewriter), Heinz Ketchup, the arm, hand, and torch from the Statue of Liberty currently under construction, and the Kudzu vine from Japan (3).  The Exhibition brought massive commercial and financial success for the company.  Their success at the Centennial Exhibition revolutionized baking in the United States and made the company a house-hold name.  (A quick check of my cupboards confirmed that I too have Fleischmann’s Active Dry Yeast as I consider myself a VERY amateur bread baker.)

Newfound commercial success (each of the three owners became multi-millionaires almost overnight) allowed them to open another yeast factory and gin distillery in Peekskill, NY (2).  More success for the company came when they developed yeast for the U.S. Army during WWII that could survive without refrigeration, meaning that a wider range of food could be consumed by U.S. troops abroad.

Prohibition, lasting from 1920 to 1933, no doubt hurt the company as they could no longer legally sell or distribute spirits.  The Fleischmann’s gin bottle from the Brody dump dates to 1935, so we know that alcohol consumption at MSC and East Lansing was back in full swing after Prohibition ended, but a decade’s worth of minimal liquor sales would have hurt the company, despite their thriving yeast empire.  To make up some of the potential loss in sales of liquor, the Fleischmann Company attempted to rebrand their yeast and market it as high in vitamins as well as a health restorative, especially for energy, constipation, and skin improvement (5).  They even started distilling gin under a medicinal permit right after Prohibition ended (4)!

Fleischmann’s Yeast ad from the late 1930s or 40s about eating yeast cakes to get rid of acne.

Fleischmann’s Yeast ad from the late 1930s or 40s about eating yeast cakes to get rid of acne. Image Source

Fleischmann’s Yeast Company still exists today and is owned by Associated British Foods, but alcohol production is no longer directly associated with the original yeast industry.  After changing hands a few times in the past few decades, Fleischmann’s Distilled Dry Gin is owned by Sazerac of New Orleans, LA (6).  Although not the most popular gin on the shelves today, this gin has the longest distilling history of any in the United States and is intimately tied to modern baking practices.  Without finding and researching artifacts such as the bottle from the Brody Dump, we potentially lose how people lived their daily lives.  Few people write down exactly what they do everyday or what they use to do certain tasks (although social media is changing that narrative), be it using Fleischmann’s Active Dry Yeast while making bread, snacking on a Fleischmann’s Yeast Cake, or having a Fleischmann’s Gin & Tonic after a long day at the office or school, all of which may have been done by the original owner of the gin bottle, back in the late 1930s.



  1. Klieger C.P. The Fleischmann Yeast Family, Arcadia, 2004.
  2. Woods,M.L. The Fleischmann Treasury of Yeast Baking, The Company, New York, 1962.
  3. Gross L.P. & T.R. Snyder. Philadelphia’s 1876 Centennial Exhibition, Arcadia, U.K., 2005.
  4. Bottling Medicinal Gin, The Wall Street Journal. 1933. Retrieved from
  5. Price C. The Healing Power of Compressed Yeast, Chemical Heritage Foundation, 2015 (URL:
  6. Sazerac company website: