Jumbo Peanut Butter: Good Enuf for Me

Peanut butter is a staple of the average American kitchen.   It’s a favorite in the lunch boxes of school age children, college students, and archaeologist’s in the field. And although the peanut has been widely cultivated for a long time, peanut butter as we know it today only dates to the late 1800s. In 1895 John Harvey Kellogg (yes that’s Kellogg) applied for a U.S. patent for a nut butter made from peanuts or almonds. By 1896 the Kellogg Company was producing nut butter on a small scale. By the turn of the century peanut butter was fairly widely available from commercial sources, as it gained popularity following the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. By 1922 there’s even a National Peanut Butter Manufacturers Association (Shurtleff and Aoyagi 2015).

Jumbo Peanut Butter Jar from Brody/Emmons complex.

Jumbo Peanut Butter Jar from Brody/Emmons complex.

There’s a single peanut butter jar recovered from the Brody/Emmons amphitheater excavations: Frank’s Tea & Spice Company Jumbo Peanut Butter. In 1896, Jacob, Emil, and Charles Frank founded the Frank Tea & Spice Company in Cincinnati, Ohio. The company originally sold small, shelf-size packages of whole and ground spices. They later expanded their offerings to tea, spices, peanut butter, and olives (American Jewish Archive). However, their most famous and most enduring product was Frank’s RedHot® hot sauce, first produced in 1920 (www.franksredhot.com). Unfortunately this jar doesn’t have any makers mark or date stamps.  The overall construction of the jar, and the date range of the other artifacts recovered from the Brody/Emmons complex suggests that this jar is from the 1930s.

Information about their Jumbo brand peanut butter is spotty. We know that the Frank Tea & Spice Company applied for a trademark on the world “Jumbo” in 1927 (Shurtleff and Aoyagi 2015). So, why Jumbo peanut butter? To unwrap this decision, we need to look to the elephant on the jar.

Jumbo and his caretaker. Image source.

Jumbo and his caretaker. Image source.

Well, today jumbo as a word is part of every day speech – a word to describe something that is large. Merriam-Webster notes that the first use of the word was only in 1883. That’s because the common use of the word comes from Jumbo the Elephant. Jumbo was the most famous elephant of the 19th century. He was sold to the London Zoo in 1865, and became famous for giving rides to visitors. Jumbo was fold in 1882 to Barnum & Bailey Circus, where he quickly became their most popular attraction. Jumbo was a beloved public figure and was featured on soda bottles, popcorn bags, matches, playing cards, puzzle, children’s toys, and even used as advertisement for tires and spark plugs (http://now.tufts.edu/articles/glory-was-jumbo).

Jumbo smoking tobacco ad. Image source.

Jumbo smoking tobacco ad. Image source.

Jumbo brings soap trade card. Image source.

Jumbo brings soap trade card. Image source.










Jumbo at Coney Island. Image source.

Jumbo at Coney Island. Image source.

Advertisement to see Jumbo's skeleton at the circus. Image source.

Advertisement to see Jumbo’s skeleton at the circus. Image source.

Jumbo was killed in an unfortunate train accident in 1885, but that did not mark the end of his illustrious career. Barnum had his hide taxidermied and his skeleton mounted. The skeleton and mount traveled with the circus for years. Today the skeleton is at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The hide was donated to the P.T. Barnum Hall at Tufts’ University. Although the hide was unfortunately destroyed in a 1975 fire (Jumbo’s ashes are kept in a Peter Pan Crunchy Peanut Butter Jar in the Tufts athletic director’s office), Jumbo remains the Tufts mascot. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jumbo)

Jumbo peanut butter elephant shaped jar. Image source.

Jumbo peanut butter elephant shaped jar. Image source.

The fact that Jumbo had died more than 40 years before Jumbo Peanut Butter was produced speaks to the endurance of his legacy.  And the connection between elephants and peanuts.  Elephants don’t eat peanuts as part of their natural diets. However, roasted peanuts were popular fair at the circus, and were often purchased to feed elephants. So perhaps Frank’s Tea & Spice Company was playing on national nostalgia in naming their peanut butter Jumbo.  Although our jar only has an image of Jumbo, they also produced small jars in the shape of an elephant (wouldn’t that be fun to find!).

Jumbo Peanut Butter was also known for the eclectic sayings on the bottom of the jars including “Try Jumbo Peanut Butter Sandwiches”, “Best for the kiddies”, or like our jar says “Jumbo Good Enuf for Me”.

Bottom of Jumbo Peanut Butter jar from Brody/Emmons complex. Reads "Jumbo Good Enuf for Me".

Bottom of Jumbo Peanut Butter jar from Brody/Emmons complex. Reads “Jumbo Good Enuf for Me”.

When I started researching this peanut butter jar I never imagined I’d be learning about a famous elephant (but that’s what makes research fun!). Jumbo the elephant impacted many facets of history: rise of mass entertainment/pop culture, museums, advertisement, ever our lexicon.  To learn more about Jumbo, and the wild rumors P.T. Barnum concocted about his death, check out the information video produced by Tufts.







Elephants shaped jar: https://i.pinimg.com/236x/21/1f/3a/211f3a60888660aa1849f6533a9d989d–antique-glassware-vintage-kitchenware.jpg


William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi. 2015. Origin and early history of peanut butter (1884-2015): Extensively annotated bibliography and sourcebook. Soyinfo Center.

Jumbo and care taker”: http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2014/02/05/article-2552606-1B14452D00000578-388_634x589.jpg

Jumbo at coney island: http://www.heartofconeyisland.com/uploads/5/1/5/8/51585031/8778343_orig.jpg

Jumbo skeleton: http://www.ohiohistoryhost.org/ohiomemory/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/jumbo4.jpg

Jumbo trade card: http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/soapona-ordered-this-anthropomorphic-trade-card-news-photo/93302350?esource=SEO_GIS_CDN_Redirect#soapona-ordered-this-anthropomorphic-trade-card-capitalizing-on-the-picture-id93302350

Jumbo tobacco: https://i.pinimg.com/736x/27/4c/bd/274cbdf9cfdbd25ae60362476a0c4e4c–lettering-art-advertising-signs.jpg




Blind Pigs, Jazz, and Bolshevism: The Spirit(s) of Revolt at Michigan State

The artifacts recovered from the Brody Complex/Emmons Amphitheater excavations are providing many research avenues.. As Mari mentioned in her previous blog, this area was originally used as the East Lansing City Dump for about three decades – from the 1920s to 1950s. One cultural and constitutional phenomenon that this period encapsulates is the enacting and later redacting of the 18th Amendment, also known as Prohibition. This amendment made it illegal to produce, buy, sell, or transport alcohol although private ownership and consumption was not illegal (Tyrell 2015).

Various liquor bottles from many types of spirits were recovered during the excavations at Emmons Amphitheater including gin, whisky (and whiskey), beer, and wine bottles, as well as a few yet-to-be identified alcohol bottles. For this post, I will not go too specifically into the history of any one liquor bottle (that will be in my next post), but will dig more into what these bottles tell us about student life during the Prohibition and how a few variations of these laws made a surprising resurgence in East Lansing in the 1990s.

A variety of alcohol bottles recovered from the Brody/Emmons amphitheater excavations.

A variety of alcohol bottles recovered from the Brody/Emmons amphitheater excavations.

First, a quick history of prohibition in Michigan. Although the 18th Amendment received the required number of states to pass in 1919 and was enacted in 1920, Michigan was actually the first state in the nation to go dry. The state enacted its own alcohol prohibition starting on May 1st, 1918. Due to its easy access to Windsor, Canada, Detroit became the biggest pipeline in the nation for liquor smuggling (Tyrell 2015). Some researchers estimate that up to 75% of liquor smuggled into the United States during this time came through Michigan via what was called the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel. During this time, people tried to get alcohol any way they could. Speakeasies (also known as blind pigs or blind tigers) popped up all over the country. Organized crime soared in Detroit (ever hear of the Purple Gang?) and the illicit liquor trade became the city’s second largest industry. However, when the 21st Amendment was passed which repealed Prohibition, Michigan was the first state in the nation to ratify the amendment, mostly due to the rise in organized crime in the Detroit area during the period (Tyrell 2015). On December 5, 1933, a ¾ majority was reached in Congress, thereby officially repealing the 18th Amendment. This day became known as Repeal Day and is still celebrated by pubs and bars everywhere with great drink specials.

Photo of alcohol smuggling bust from truck with false bottom. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

Photo of alcohol smuggling bust from truck with false bottom. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

So generally, what do these bottles tell us? Primarily, that people (and presumably students since the dump abutted the school and students lived off campus in East Lansing) drank alcohol. Drinking on campus has been prohibited ever since the school’s foundation, yet that hasn’t stopped students from breaking the rules.  Students have always engaged in breaking rules, and it’s probable that they were still purchasing alcohol during Prohibition. One of the driving factors for breaking a school rule is just to break it – an act of revolt against “The Man” or the administration. It gives a sense of both agency and community with other students who can feel weighed down by rules and regulations.

Eleven male students at Michigan Agricultural College are shirtless and posing for a photo while smoking pipes and holding cards and bottles of liquid that are presumably alcohol c. 1906. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

Eleven male students at Michigan Agricultural College are shirtless and posing for a photo while smoking pipes and holding cards and bottles of liquid that are presumably alcohol c. 1906. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

Although these liquor bottles date to the post-Prohibition era, it still gives us insight as to the nature of student life and activities. The year of 1920, the first year of national Prohibition, was reported to be a particularly rebellious year. The Age of Jazz was in its early years with many people around the nation considering this new form of music to be immoral. Kuhn notes that due to the strict regulations of the college at this time, students revolted by hosting unscheduled and impromptu dances with lots of jazz music, much to the chagrin of the professors who were said to have been “quite dejected at all the goings on” (p. 321). Most likely a culmination of the desire to break school rules, rebel against the administration, and put the devastation from WWI behind them, students at M.S.C. regularly engaged in activities of this sort which led some people to refer to this period or student revolt as the “Bolshevik Days” at the college (Kuhn 1955, pg. 321). Further, the academic year of 1919-1920 earned its own nickname as the year of Jazz and Bolshevism.

The desire to socialize further from school-sanctioned activities also led to an increase in parties where alcohol flowed freely. Planning and throwing one of these liquor-laden parties would have been a difficult process for a few reasons. First, when the charter for the City of East Lansing was issued in 1907, it was incorporated as a dry city so local vendors and establishments would not have had alcohol. Second, state prohibition in 1918 and National Prohibition in 1920 would have meant that the procurement of liquor would have been difficult and both a state and federal crime. However, the convenient geographic distance to Detroit would have meant that students at the school most likely obtained their illicit alcohol from connections with the rum-running capital of the nation. One account on campus during this time states that a briefcase with no less than 12 bottles of fine whiskey was found in a bush with a note inside saying “This is a sample of what you won’t get if the State goes dry” (Kuhn 1955, pg. 321).

University Reporter Intelligence Sept 20th 1990. Source.

University Reporter Intelligence Sept 20th 1990. Source

Even in recent decades there have been Prohibition-esque crack-downs on liquor and parties at MSU. In 1980, the City of East Lansing amended its definition of what constitutes a ‘blind pig’ which up to that point was an establishment that sold liquor without a liquor license. The amendment expanded that definition to include parties where there is a cover charge, required donations, or a purchase of a cup for unlimited alcohol – common house or student party practices. In 1989 and 1990, East Lansing felt that parties of this nature were getting out of control and decided to revive the Prohibition-era law and began shutting down these MSU student parties which, under the new city amendments, were considered blind pigs – a possible felony. Arrests and charges were brought up on students, particularly at Cedar Village, as reported by a September 20, 1990 edition of the uR-I (the university Reporter-Intelligencer – a student-run newspaper).

The past is not as far back as we think, be it an old law that has risen from the dead or just the attitudes of students towards the rules and regulations of the day. Students rebel and revolt in any way they can. There is something satisfying about going against the establishment, whether that means holding unscheduled dances, stashing briefcases or liquor in shrubs across campus, or hosting blind pigs. So next time you’re strolling around the Brody Complex near the Emmons Amphitheater, remember that you’re not just standing above an old city dump site, you’re standing above the material memory of student acts of rebellion as they tried (and will always try) to assert their own agency and independence.


Works Cited

Kuhn M. 1955    Michigan State: The First Hundred Years, 1855-1955. MSU University Press, East Lansing, Michigan.

Tyrell P. 2015    Utilizing a Border as a Local Economic Resource: The Example of the Prohibition-Era       Detroit-Windsor Borderland (1920–33). Comparative American Studies an International      Journal, 13 (1-2): 16-30.

university Reporter-Intelligencer, Vol. 2, No.1. 20 September, 1990. (http://spartanhistory.kora.matrix.msu.edu/files/1/4/1-4-1636-54-A006374.pdf)




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!



  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.

Adams Field: Michigan State University’s Original Sports Complex

While often not considered an important topic in archaeology, sports and sports heritage have become an increasingly popular area of inquiry (Schofield 2012; Wood 2016).  Like most human activities, a majority of sports involve material culture and impact landscapes and the way people used them.  Sport culture also influences the way people think of themselves and others, often affecting the way they interact with each other.  For instance, I am a huge fan of the St. Louis Cardinals, so whenever I see the red and blue emblem of our rivals, the Chicago Cubs, on a hat or shirt, an irrational anger rises in my chest.  The same can also be said for fans of MSU and the University of Michigan, who constantly antagonize each other all over the midwest.  Harnessing this sense of identity, community projects involving archaeology at historic sporting venues have been able to engage large fan bases and benefit from their participation in recovering more about the history of these locations (Wood 2016).  Michigan State University, with its long history of athletics, also has a rich sports heritage that has impacted the shape of the campus over time and played a major part in student experiences.

Sports have been a part of campus life since the very beginning of the University.  The first students, when they were not working or studying, played various games including soccer, rugby, boxing, track events, baseball, and tennis.  Other, more eclectic activities were also pursued, such as swinging on trapezes hung from tree limbs (Kuhn 1955:44, 93, 134).  These were unorganized activities that took place wherever there was space, including open areas of the campus and in the halls of school buildings themselves (Kuhn 1955:93).  Baseball was hugely popular, and games were played daily when weather and time permitted.  By the mid-1860s, baseball clubs had been organized on campus that competed with other clubs from local towns, including Lansing, Mason, Okemos, St. Johns, and others (Kuhn 1955:135).  As required by the Morrill Act of 1862, the College also instructed interested students in military training.  While not a sport, the necessity of housing these military activities helped to spur the construction of the first sports facilities on MSU’s campus.

Students playing tennis in front of the Chemical Labratory, 1884. Courtesy of the MSU Archives and Historical Collections.

Students playing tennis in front of the Chemical Laboratory, 1884. Courtesy of the MSU Archives and Historical Collections.

Around 1885, an armory was built where the Music Building currently stands.  The field to the west of this, now Adams Field, was also leveled in order to form an area for holding large military drills (Kuhn 1955:155).  At this same time, intercollegiate athletic competitions began at MSU in the form of a “Field Day.”  These massive competitions involved athletes from other local colleges who came to compete in numerous sports, such as track and field, baseball, wrestling, boxing, bicycle races, tennis, football, rugby, gymnastics, and many others.  These events, when on campus, were held on Adams Field and inside the armory, spilling over onto the roadway at Faculty Row (Kuhn 1955:157-158).  Some of the best athletes from MSU’s early days competed in this area every year.

In 1892, as these competitions became entrenched in collegiate life, the College began to invest in further facilities for athletics.  Part of Adams Field was once again leveled out and a 1/5 mile cinder track was placed there to facilitate the track and field events at Field Days (Kuhn 1955:159).  The location of this track is seen in maps from this time period, such as the one from 1899 below (Lautner 1978).  Temporary grandstands were also assembled in this area for events, but it is unknown where they were located in relation to these facilities (Kuhn 1955:159).

1899 Map of the Michigan Agricultural College, from Lautner 1978. Courtesy of MSU Archives and Historical Collections.

1899 Map of the Michigan Agricultural College, from Lautner 1978. Courtesy of MSU Archives and Historical Collections.

While few artifacts have been found in Adams Field over the years, CAP has found some possible evidence of these landscape alterations in our shovel tests.  Toward the northwest corner of the current Music Building, where the southeast corner of the track would have been, a gravel layer made of large cobbles was found below the surface (Stawski 2011).  This layer may have been purposefully constructed as part of the efforts to level out this area for military drills and sporting events, which require even ground to prevent injuries.

Official sporting events in Adams Field were not long lived.  Around 1900, property south of the Red Cedar River was purchased by the College and it was decided to build updated permanent sports facilities, including permanent grandstands, to house intercollegiate competitions (Kuhn 1955:255).  This work was completed by 1902, and official athletic competitions moved to this new location, where they still take place today (M.A.C. Record, June 3rd, 1902; Kuhn 1955:255).  While Adams Field may no longer be the official sports complex for MSU, students still use this space for impromptu games every year, keeping the spirit of early sports at MSU alive.



Kuhn, Madison
1955   Michigan State: The First Hundred Years.  The Michigan State University Press, East Lansing.

Lautner, Harold W.
1978   From an Oak Opening: A Record of the Development of the Campus Park of Michigan State University, 1855-1969.  Volume 1.  Self-published manuscript on file at the MSU Archives and Historical Collections.

MSU Archives and Historical Collections
M.A.C. Record, Vol. 7, no. 36, June 3rd, 1902.

Schofield, John
2012   The Archaeology of Sports and Pastimes.  World Archaeology 44(2):171-174.

Stawski, Christopher
2011   “Walter Adams Field Survey: Archaeological Report”.  Campus Archaeology Program, Michigan State University, East Lansing.

Wood, Jason
2016   Archaeology and Sports History: Towards an Inclusive Methodology.  The International Journal of the History of Sport 33(6-7):752-756.


Hunting and Gathering on Campus: New Insights from Old Sources

This past year, I wrote a blog post detailing several stories of hunting and gathering on campus that I had uncovered while researching food practices on MSU’s early campus. I have continued to explore this aspect of campus and recently discovered some new information that sheds a little more light on these activities!

It is well documented that the first students and faculty on campus supplemented their diet with fruit and game animals from the surrounding area, but the motivation behind this was not completely clear. Within Madison Kuhn’s book Michigan State: The First Hundred Years, there is a passage that discusses the student reactions to the board rate increase from $2.50 per week to $3.15 in the early 1880s. The students were outraged that the raise in rate did not correspond with the quality of food that they were being served. A student committee investigated the university accounts and discovered the university steward “paid excessive prices, that he failed to enter all receipts, and that he bough canned goods while vegetables rotted in the field, and that he charged the boarding-hall for the feed of his personal driving-horse” (Kuhn, p.126). All of these irregularities resulted in the resignation of the steward. This hefty price, plus the less-than desirable taste of the dining hall food, could have been a key factor in the student’s motivation to supplement their diet from the surrounding area.

As Susan mentioned in her blog post last week, students would steal food from different areas around campus including bread, cakes, and fruit from the MSU Orchards (Kains, 1945). In addition to swiping food from around the college, students would also forage across several of the neighboring farms. Using spare clothing as impromptu bags, students would raid nearby fields, coming back to campus with apples, musk melons, and occasionally a stray chicken (Kuhn p. 46).

MAC Gardens and Orchard, date unknown. Image Source.

MAC Gardens and Orchard, date unknown. Image Source.

However, this less than legal practice was not the only way that students added variety to their diet. In the 1870s, a competitive “grand match hunt” was commonly held in October. In 1873, the hunt “bagged seventy-nine squirrels, twelve pigeons, nine quail, six partridges, four turkeys, eight ducks” and the winning team was treated to an oyster dinner by the losers (see Mari’s blog post about Oysters!; Kuhne, p.99). This and other hunting stories are made all the more interesting since, according to the rules and regulations established by the College in 1857, students were not supposed to possess or use firearms on campus (Meeting Minutes 1857, p.32). Because of this rule, students used other means, such as building pens to capture wild turkeys or getting faculty assistance, in order to feast on wild game (Kuhn, p.45). Like smoking and alcohol, the use of firearms was either not strongly enforced or was easily kept secret on a sparsely populated campus. Maybe the promise of a few choice cuts of meat was enough to make faculty members look the other way when it came to hunting on campus.

Student with Turkey, date unknown. Image Source

Student with Turkey, date unknown. Image Source


Kains, Maurice G., editor.
1945   Fifty Years out of College: A Composite Memoir of the Class of 1895 Michigan State College of Agriculture and Applied Science
. New York: Greenberg.

Kuhne, Madison  1910   Michigan State: the first hundred years, 1855-1955. Michigan State University Press [1955].

Meeting Minutes, 1857, Offices of Board of Trustees and President, UA 1 http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/3-F-1D9/meeting-minutes-1857/

Turkey Photo, date unknown: http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-74C/student-with-turkey-presents-to-onlookers-date-unknown/

MAC Gardens and Orchard, date unknown: http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-6A2/mac-gardens-and-orchard-date-unknown/

You Eat What You Are: Consuming Identities of the Recent and Ancient Past

Chicken and waffles from Eastside Fish Fry in Lansing, MI.

Chicken and waffles from Eastside Fish Fry in Lansing, MI.

Two days ago, Dr. Goldstein, Dr. Camp, and the Campus Archaeology fellows went to Eastside Fish Fry in Lansing to have some chicken and waffles, and we had a deliciously good time. Why did we embark on this endeavor? The Flower Pot Tea room, operating from 1922-1923 (Kuhn 1955) in the Station Terrace building the CAP field school excavated this summer, listed this dish on one of their menus. It struck us as odd that a dish so closely associated with southern cuisine would have been served in Michigan during this early period.

Although I love trying new foods, I must admit that I never tried chicken and waffles until about a year ago. This was partly because I had little opportunity to do so—it still is not a common dish in the Midwest—and partly because, well, it sounded weird. I didn’t grow up eating it and the combination, quite honestly, sounded strange to me.

This demonstrates an interesting point: the foods we choose to eat and the way we prepare them are often closely associated with the contexts in which we are raised. In other words, what we choose to eat is shaped by and representative of our identities.

This concept is evident when looking at personal accounts of early MSU students. Peter Granger, who kept a diary during his first year at MSU in 1858-1859, demonstrates this in his writing. Although from Detroit, getting used to the food at the College seemed difficult for Granger, who several times laments the lack of chicken on the menu and also wrote:

     December 28, 1859: “Didn’t get home till they were most through eating supper. Ate       a little down there and then had something good in my room.”

     January 1, 1859: “Finished my supply of good things and suppose I shall have to           live on the Institution or starve.”

Granger also several times laments the lack of chicken served in the boarding hall (he likely would have gladly enjoyed chicken and waffles!). While these accounts may simply reflect the poor food options served by the boarding hall, we must also consider our own experiences. Isn’t your mother’s or grandmother’s way of cooking a dish your favorite? No one can seem to rival mom’s roast beef or grandma’s pie. Students continuing to eat food from home or longing for the moment when they can visit home and have a home-cooked meal is something nearly all college students, past and present, can relate to. Food that evokes memories of home and comfort might best represent our personal identities.

What else is often integral to a college student’s identity? Why, getting into trouble, of course! There are a great many accounts of students stealing food from various sources across the university. Granger once “hook[ed] a loaf of bread and some molasses” while another night he and his friends feasted on a “booty [of] about a peck of fried cakes” after an “expedition to the lower regions.” Anecdotes from the class of 1895 demonstrate a similar penchant for mischief. Instead of stealing food from the kitchens, these young men concentrated on fruits from the orchard. In one hilarious tale, the boys tied the bottom of their pant legs and stuffed them full of apples. Upon getting spooked by an approaching figure, they had to dash off in pants full of fruit! (Kains 1945).

Students in the MSU Apple Orchards, 1912

Students in the MSU Apple Orchards, 1912. Image Source

These personal accounts of food habits are easy to access in the written records, given the right sources. Understanding eating behaviors of individuals in the archaeological record, however, is a bit trickier. Food remains found in ancient trash pits and historic privies can be connected to general groups, but not necessarily individuals. Sometimes trash pits can be associated with individual households, such as at Fort Michilimackinac, an 18th-century fort in northern lower Michigan. Here, archaeological faunal remains showed that French households consumed local wild animals, while later English houses ate a variety of imported domesticated livestock, as did Jewish families, with the exception of pigs (Scott 1996). The French were adaptive to their new environment, while the English wanted to express their superiority and sophistication through the consumption of animal species they had dominated and domesticated. Jewish consumers expressed their ideological identity by choosing NOT to eat pork, as dictated by their religious customs.

Colonial Fort Michilimackinac

Colonial Fort Michilimackinac. Image Source.

These archaeological and archival evidences can show how people may have expressed their identities through what they chose to eat and what they refused to eat. We have yet to find food remains in contexts associated with certain population subsets (such as students vs. faculty or men vs. women) at MSU, so determining food identities on campus archaeologically is not yet possible. Thankfully, we have the archival information to help us fill in the gaps. And as we dined on chicken and waffles, we expressed our identities as archaeologists eager to connect with the students of MSU past, as we ponder their food choices and attempt to understand them.



Kains, Maurice G., editor.
   1945   Fifty Years out of College: A Composite Memoir of the Class of 1895 Michigan State College of Agriculture and Applied Science. New York: Greenberg.

Kuhn, Madison
1955   Michigan State: The First Hundred Years. The Michigan state University Press  East, Lansing.

Scott, Elizabeth M.
1996   Who Ate What? Archaeological Food Remains and Cultural Diversity. In Case
Studies in Environmental Archaeology, edited by Elizabeth J. Reitz, Lee A.           Newsom, and Sylvia J. Scudder. Plenum Press, New York.

Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections:

UA10.3.56, Edward Granger Papers, Folder 1
Diary of E.G. Granger, 1859

Oriental Show-You Bottle: Soy Sauce from the Brody/Emmons Dump

"Oriental Show-You" bottle from Emmons Amphitheater.

“Oriental Show-You” bottle from Emmons Amphitheater

This semester two of the CAP undergrad interns are re-examining bottles recovered from the Brody Hall/Emmons Amphitheater area.  Way back in 2009 and 2011 construction around the dorms revealed many historic bottles.  That’s because, as Mari pointed out in her last post, the dormitory complex is built above the old East Lansing city landfill.  One bottle from the Emmons Amphitheater area caught my attention.  This brown octagonal bottle was embossed “Oriental Show-You”, a early 20th century soy sauce.  Show-You is a play on the Japanese word for soy sauce; shoyu (醤油).

Today soy sauce is common place in many American refrigerators, sitting right along side our ketchup and mustard. Although soy products are varied and plentiful today, soy sauce is the best known product made from the soy bean.  However, to begin to understand how soy sauce became an everyday product in America (or how to unfold how a soy sauce bottle may have come to East Lansing in the 1920s), it’s necessary to take a step back and talk about Chinese cuisine.  Now you might be thinking, but wait you just said that the soy sauce company name was based on a Japanese word, why are we talking about Chinese food?  Well, to begin to understand soy sauce, you need to think about Chop Suey.

Close up of bottle embossing, "Oriental Show-You"

Close up of bottle embossing, “Oriental Show-You”

"Oriental Show-You" bottle base

“Oriental Show-You” bottle base

Japanese food/restaurants are common parts of the American palate today.  You can go to most any larger grocery store and buy prepared sushi. Packaged ramen is a mainstay of the American college student diet and budget (last year the U.S. consumed over 4 billion servings of instant noodles).  However, Japanese food didn’t gain widespread popularity in the U.S. until the 1980s.

Chinese cuisine, however, gained its foothold at the turn of the 20th century with the emergency of Chop Suey joints.  Chop Suey is composed of celery, bean sprouts, and meat simmered in a tasty brown sauce and served over rice.  Although its exact origin is clouded in mystery (stories have Chinese chefs in both San Francisco and New York inventing it), the dishes’ popularity quickly grew and the fad spread across the country.  Like many popular Chinese dishes in the United States, this particular dish wasn’t actually Chinese.  However, adaptation of Chinese cooking to American palates was crucial in the proliferation and popularization of Chinese cuisine in the U.S., and it worked!  Today, according to the Chinese American Restaurant Association, there are over 45,000 Chinese restaurants in the U.S. (time.com).

Cover of Oriental Show-You recipe book, circa early 1920s. Recipe book owned by MSU Special Collections.

Cover of Oriental Show-You recipe book, circa early 1920s. Recipe book owned by MSU Special Collections.

In 1918 the Oriental Show-You Company was founded in Detroit by Shinzo Ohki, a recent immigrant from Japan. The company began by importing shoyu (soy sauce) and tea from China.  In 1922 Mr. Ohki traveled back to Japan to learn the traditional natural fermentation method of making shoyu.  After returning to the U.S. (later that year) he moved his business to Columbia City, Indiana.  By 1924 he was bottling his own brand of shoyu, along with canned mung bean sprouts, chow mein noodles, chop suey, and Jigg’s corn beef and cabbage (Shurtleff & Aoyago 2012).  The company was making 12,000 gallons of shoyu a year, which was mostly sold in the Midwest and only east of the Mississippi River (Yates 1998:775). At it’s peak the company was making 30,000 gallons of soy sauce per year. The factory closed in the early 1960s when the company was acquired by Beatrice Food Inc, later becoming a part of La Choy food products. (Shurtleff & Aoyago 2012).

Recipe for chop suey from early 1920s Oriental Show-You book. Book owned by MSU Special Collections.

Recipe for chop suey from early 1920s Oriental Show-You book. Book owned by MSU Special Collections.

Oriental Show-You sauce wasn’t originally marketed as soy sauce, because the average American consumer didn’t know what soy sauce was at the time.  It was marketed both as chop suey sauce, and a sauce that could be used in many American dishes. Although we at CAP agree, we’re not sure how well soy sauce worked in fruit salad.

Fruit Salad recipe from Oriental Show-You recipe book circa late 1920s. Book owned by MSU Special Collections.

Fruit Salad recipe from Oriental Show-You recipe book circa late 1920s. Book owned by MSU Special Collections.

We don’t have a precise date on our bottle, but it’s likely from 1919-1929 since it has an Owen’s machine production suction scar (SHA).  So, what does the presence of this bottle tell us about life in East Lansing at this time?  Although the Oriental Show-You company was sold mostly in Asian grocery stores (Shurtleff & Akkiko 2012), it was also being marketed to American oriented grocery stores and housewives. So although cooking Chinese cuisine at home didn’t become common in most American kitchens until the 1950s (Mendelson 2016), it’s possible that this bottle originated from many different types of households.  Either way, this bottle is an interesting peak into the Americanization of international cuisine, and life in early 20th century East Lansing.





History of Soy Sauce – 160 CE – 2012 compiled by William Shurtleff & Akkiko Aoyago Soyinfo Center 2012

Yates, Ronald 1998 History of Oriental Show-You Co. in Columbia City, Indiana in The Kikkoman Chronics.

Mendelson, Anne. 2016 Chow Chop Suey: Food and the Chinese American Journey.



Oriental “Show-You” Recipes – MSU Special Collections Rare Books (TX724.5.A1 O757 1920) and (TX724.5.A1 O757 1910)


Diss.-in’ on the School: The Importance of Student Research at and about MSU

Michigan State University is designated by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Learning as a Research 1 (R1) institution (1).  Universities do not simply achieve this status due to the population of the student body or the amount of land owned by the school.  In order to reach this designation, there are five strictly regulated objectives that must be met (although each of these each has their own numerous sub-objectives).  Overall the university must:

  • Offer a full and wide range of baccalaureate programs
  • Be committed to graduate studies and education through the doctorate program
  • Give a high priority to research
  • Award at least 50 doctoral degrees each year
  • Receive annually $40 million or more in federal support (1)

MSU meets and surpasses all these requirements, indicating that the university is dedicated to a higher level and a superior quality of research.  Furthermore, the university is equally dedicated to how that research can be used and applied in a diverse array of fields across the world.  People all around the globe are beneficiaries of institutions such as MSU and the research that they help to produce.  However, you do not need to hunt for the results of MSU-sponsored research in far-away places such as with the dam projects in Brazil through the College of Engineering or protein research in Japan with Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology.  Although these projects are necessary and help push research forward, the fruits of MSU research can also be seen everywhere on campus: in the layout of the campus itself, in the design of the buildings, in the structure of education in the classroom, in the social experience of campus life, and much more.

Unknown to many, but felt by everyone on campus, research about the university itself by its own students has been conducted since the earliest years of the school’s history.  Unfortunately, many of us are unaware of, and therefore cannot truly appreciate, the amount of hard work and years of research that went in to making MSU the renowned institution it is today.  Achieving this standard of excellence was possible by the many introspective research projects conducted at and about the school.  It is my job this year to rediscover and uncover as many of these MSU-themed bachelor’s theses, master’s theses, and dissertations as I can, document their contents, and obtain maps, photographs, and accounts that we have not had access to in the past.

One of the main reasons behind this is that there are many theses and dissertations focusing on topics related to the school that can add to the rich history of the university and aid our work.  Not only do these contain topics that we haven’t had as much access to in the past, but they also come from an interesting perspective that is seldom seen or heard: that of MSU students writing about the campus in a research capacity.

Figure 1 - Surveying equipment used by Blabach and Zerbe during their surveys in the early 1930s; photograph by Balbach and Zerbe

Figure 1 – Surveying equipment used by Blabach and Zerbe during their surveys in the early 1930s; photograph by Balbach and Zerbe.

Of the first few publications I have sorted through and recorded already, (thanks to the help of the MSU Library Special Collections) new information and insights into early campus life can be seen and read. For example, a 1934 Bachelor’s Thesis by H.A. Balbach and J.J. Zerbe through the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences (now called the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources) entitled “The Michigan State College Property Boundary from the Intersection of Mount Hope and Hagadorn Roads to the Township Intersection of Mount Hope Road” discusses the numerous and arduous surveying expeditions and calculations these two students did in order to formalize the boundaries of the college.

Figure 2 - Photo and excerpt of the excavations conducted by Balbach and Zerbe to try and find the township marker by digging through paved roads only to realize they were in the wrong location; photograph by Balbach and Zerbe

Figure 2 – Photo and excerpt of the excavations conducted by Balbach and Zerbe to try and find the township marker by digging through paved roads only to realize they were in the wrong location; photograph by Balbach and Zerbe

They write that with the original land grant from the federal government and later land acquisitions from private land owners, the piece-meal 1700-acre area owned by the college (as of 1934) was never systematically surveyed to discover the true boundaries (2).  (There are at least two other bachelor’s theses dating to around 1934 over the same topic but in different areas of campus.)  Page after page is filled with complex and highly organized surveying calculations, but Balbach and Zerbe can’t help but show their frustration at times.  On page 26 of their thesis (and in the photo below), they placed a picture of one of their marker-finding expeditions with a caption that reads: “NO LUCK!  This shot was taken when the authors had just about exhausted patience in trying to locate the cornerstone on the Township line between sections 24-25 of Lansing Township.  As one may see, it was necessary to re-fill and begin at the other side where the stone was subsequently located” (2, pg. 26). As they stated, they eventually found the cornerstone, but first dug in the wrong spot and had to break through Tarvia paved roads (a type of cost-effective road created by the Barrett Manufacturing Company in 1903 (3) and utilized by the school) with nothing other than pickaxes and shovels (2).

It is through these types of source materials that we can learn about the school’s past from unique perspectives, gain access to materials and resources that we had not previously had, and gain a greater understanding for how research has been conducted at the school through time.  I am excited to keep digging into these MSU-themed research topics and hope to share some of their results and comments in future posts.



  1. http://carnegieclassifications.iu.edu/
  2. Balbach H.A. and J.J. Zerbe. The Michigan State College Property Boundary from the Intersection of Mount Hope and Hagadorn Roads to the Township Intersection of Mount Hope Road, 1934
  3. https://barrettindustries.com/about-barrett/history/


Figure 1: Photo by Balbach H.A. and J.J. Zerbe, The Michigan State College Property Boundary from the Intersection of Mount Hope and Hagadorn Roads to the Township Intersection of Mount Hope Road, 1934.

Figure 2: Photo by Balbach H.A. and J.J. Zerbe, The Michigan State College Property Boundary from the Intersection of Mount Hope and Hagadorn Roads to the Township Intersection of Mount Hope Road, 1934, p. 26.

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.


  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)

In the Beginning: Campus before MSU

How do you picture campus before Michigan State University came into existence?  For me, on hearing that the first students spent a good portion of their time everyday cutting trees, pulling stumps, and draining swamps so that they could then get to the business of agriculture, a romantic image pops into my head of an unaltered wilderness from which an institution of learning would soon rise (thanks to the strong backs of the first students, faculty, and staff).  This is not exactly true.  While the area purchased by the State of Michigan to start a new agricultural college was largely forested wilderness, it was not unoccupied.  This is important to understand for us at the Campus Archaeology Program, as we need to be able to recognize and interpret early finds when they are discovered.

When the land for the Michigan Agricultural College was purchased in 1855, it encompassed a number of ecological zones, including closed forests, patches of open forest, marshes, swamps, river bottoms, and others, which all provided habitats for a variety of plants and animals (Kuhn 1955:12).  Such diversity in wildlife and soils, as well as access to the Red Cedar River and a small creek or stream, made this area ideal for individuals looking to live off the land.  Both Native Americans and frontier settlers saw the potential of this area and aimed to make the most of it.  As early as 3,000 years ago, Native Americans had been using this abundant landscape for hunting, fishing, and other activities, which you can read about here.  Much later in time, as the state of Michigan was being increasingly populated by Euro-American settlers, two families lived on plots of land that would soon become the north half of MSU’s campus.  In the corner of campus that now contains the Psychology Building, Mason-Abbot Hall, and Synyder-Phillips Hall, the Smith family ran a small farm, which included fruit trees and small agricultural fields, as well as a wood frame house that was eventually moved and reused by the College (Kuhn 1955:12).  On the other side of campus, in the current location of Adams Field and the Music building, was a small farm ran by Robert Burcham and his family (Beal 1915:14; Kuhn 1955:12; Lautner 1978:17, 35).  As I am currently exploring the history of this western side of West Circle, I decided to delve a little deeper into the Burcham Farm.

Figure 1: Composite map made to reflect how campus appeared on the first day of classes, 1857. Found in Launter (1978) on page 35. Used with permission of MSU Archives and Historical Collections.

Figure 1: Composite map made to reflect how campus appeared on the first day of classes, 1857. Found in Launter (1978) on page 35. Used with permission of MSU Archives and Historical Collections.

In 1851, four years before the land was purchased in order to form the college, Robert Burcham began to build a small log cabin and clear several small fields in the area of where the Music building and Adams Field now stand (Beal 1915; Kuhn 1955. Lautner 1978).  He also planted and tended a few fruit trees in this same area (Beal 1915:14). Based on a map that used various resources to create a vision of what campus would have looked like in 1857 (Figure 1 above, found in Lautner 1978:35), Burcham’s agricultural fields and orchard were laid out in the area that is now Adams Field, while his log cabin appears to have been built where the Music Building now stands.  Since this map is a composition from various sources and was not scientifically charted, it is unknown if the footprint of the Music building completely covers where the Burcham Cabin sat or if the cabin was located a short distance away.

In 1852, Burcham and his family moved into the cabin and began farming and trading.  While they made their living off the land, the Burchams also interacted with Native Americans that intermittently camped along the south side of the Red Cedar River.  At any one time, hundreds of Native Americans may have camped in this area, hunting, fishing, processing maple sap, and trading skins and meat with the Burchams for various agricultural products and refined goods like flour (Kuhn 1955:12; Lautner 1978:17).

After 1855, when the land was purchased by the State of Michigan, it is unclear exactly what happened to the Burcham Farm.  While Kuhn (1955:37) writes that the fields previously cleared by the Burchams were used from the very beginning of the College for growing crops and instructing students, other records indicate that the Burcham’s continued to live on this small plot of land.  As seen on the above map, their farm appears to have still been operational as of 1857, when the College first opened its doors.  Housed in the MSU Archives and Historical Collections (Madison Kuhn Collection- UA 17.107 box 2410 folder 40) are also a small number of receipts of payment spanning into the mid-1860s (Figures 2 and 3).  These receipts document payments made to Robert Burcham for a number of jobs done on behalf of the College, such as hauling stones for building materials, chopping down trees and turning them into fire wood, and days of digging.  These receipts, along with the lack of construction that took place in this area early on, suggest that the Burcham family lived on campus for at least a decade after the land was purchased.  While it is unknown when they left, the Burcham farm is not identified on a map made by Dr. Beal in 1870, indicating that they no longer lived on this property by that time.

Figure 2: In 1859, Burcham was paid $1.50 for work, what type of work is illegible. Madison Kuhn Collection- UA 17.107 box 2410 folder 40. Used with Permission of MSU archives and Historical Collections.

Figure 2: In 1859, Burcham was paid $1.50 for work, what type of work is illegible. Madison Kuhn Collection- UA 17.107 box 2410 folder 40. Used with Permission of MSU archives and Historical Collections.

Figure 3: In 1864, Burcham was paid $12 dollars for topping 23 trees on campus, burning brush, and turning the chopped sections into fire wood. Madison Kuhn Collection- UA 17.107 box 2410 folder 40. Used with Permission of MSU archives and Historical Collections.

Figure 3: In 1864, Burcham was paid $12 dollars for topping 23 trees on campus, burning brush, and turning the chopped sections into fire wood. Madison Kuhn Collection- UA 17.107 box 2410 folder 40. Used with Permission of MSU archives and Historical Collections.

So, next time you stop by the Music Building, remember the Burchams and how they helped to tame the wilderness that would soon become the campus of Michigan State University.



Beal, W. J.

1915   History of the Michigan Agricultural College and Biographical Sketches of Trustees and Professors.  Michigan Agricultural College, East Lansing.

Kuhn, Madison

1955   Michigan State: The First Hundred Years.  The Michigan State University Press, East Lansing.

Lautner, Harold W.

1978   From an Oak Opening: A Record of the Development of the Campus Park of Michigan State University, 1855-1969.  Volume 1.  Self-published manuscript on file at the MSU Archives and Historical Collections.

MSU Archives and Historical Collections

Burcham, Robert- Receipts for Services, 1853-1864.  UA 17.107, Box 2410, Folder 40.