This summer was an eventful one for the Campus Archaeology Program field crew! We monitored construction, conducted several pedestrian and shovel test surveys, excavated one test unit, conducted lab analysis, and helped with the IB STEM archaeology camp and grandparents university. Plus, we uncovered an …
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 …
For many of us today, laundry is a pretty simple affair: separate the lights from the darks, add detergent, and let the washing machine do its work. Before the advent of automatic washing machines and newfangled detergents with optical brighteners, laundry was more of an art form involving many complicated steps. Housekeeping books often contained lengthy descriptions of the best way to do laundry. Mrs. Christine Frederick’s Household Engineering book, published in 1920, contains a 55-page chapter on laundry alone. Mrs. Christine Frederick may have been able to tell us immediately the purpose of two whimsically labeled bottles recovered during excavations at Brody/Emmons Amphitheater: a small, round, clear glass bottled embossed with “Little Boy Blue Bluing” and a large, oval, clear glass bottle embossed with “Little Bo Peep Ammonia.” Since none of us here at Campus Archaeology are laundry experts, we needed to do a little research to figure out the purpose and product history of these objects.
The question of purpose is easy to answer. Ammonia has various uses as a household cleaner. When added to laundry ammonia can help whiten whites, soften fabrics, and remove an impressive array of stains due to grease, food, ink, grass, rust, and even blood, urine, and sweat (1). Bluing is a product that can be added to laundry to make whites look whiter and brighter. Whereas bleach whitens fabrics by removing color, bluing creates an optical illusion that makes fabrics look whiter. Since blue is opposite yellow on the color wheel, small amounts of blue dye help neutralize yellowness. Trace amounts of dye also leave a bluish cast that our eyes perceive as brilliant white (2).
Historically, various substances have been used for bluing. Early bluing was sold in solid form. Blocks of indigo, a plant dye, were placed inside muslin bags and shaken into the laundry water during rinsing (3). Another type of solid bluing used ultramarine, a pigment derived either synthetically or from ground lapis lazuli (3). Ultramarine was mixed with baking soda and rolled into balls. For this reason, it was sometimes called ball bluing (4). Today most bluing is sold in liquid form (2). Liquid bluing is often made with Prussian blue, a synthetic pigment made from the suspension of ferric ferrocyanide (colloidal iron) in organic acid (5).
Research into the product history of Little Boy Blue Bluing and Little Bo Peep Ammonia took a bit more digging. These products can be traced back to a Chicago company called the Condensed Bluing Company. John Puhl, president of Condensed Bluing, applied for trademarks for Little Boy Blue laundry bluing in 1914 (6,7) and Little Bo Beep Ammonia in 1922 (8). In 1924, historical records show trademarks for Little Boy Bluing and Little Bo Peep Ammonia given to the John Puhl Products Company (9).
Advertisements for these products ran in newspapers in Midwestern and Central States from the 1910’s to the 1940’s (10). The products were often advertised together and contained cheerful imagery of the fairy tale characters for which they were named. These names were likely meant to evoke the fleecy whiteness of sheep—both Bo Peep and Boy Blue were caretakers of sheep. One series of advertisements featured short stories about cartoon bears named Fuzzie and Wuzzie, illustrated by Chicago artist Milo Winter. These “fairy stories” described Fuzzie and Wuzzie doing things like playing store, gardening, and cleaning, and they always featured Little Boy Blue Bluing and Little Bo Peep Ammonia products prominently. The use of fairy tales as a motif in advertising was particularly common at the beginning of the 20th century (11). According to Zipes, allusions to well known fairy tales were supposed to remind readers of magic, happy endings, and wish fulfillment (11).
This advertising strategy sometimes even pulled John Puhl himself into the fairy tale. Some ads featured a photograph of Puhl surrounded on either side by cartoon Bo Beep and Boy Blue, labeled “Daddy Puhl and his kiddies.” This takes on a somewhat sinister tone considering Puhl’s own record. An 1894 Report of the Illinois Department of Factory Inspection reports John Puhl, then manager of Puhl & Webb baking powder factory at 157 East Kinzie Street, was charged with illegally employing 4 children without affidavits (12).
Ownership of Little Boy Blue Bluing and Little Bo Peep Ammonia changed hands at least two times after 1924. Sterling Drugs purchased John Puhl Products in 1949 (13). In 1958, Purex purchased the John Puhl Division of Sterling Drugs (14). Both Little Boy Blue Bluing and Little Bo Peep Ammonia continued to be sold under the Purex brand name after the purchase (14). Unfortunately, we do not have precise dates on our Little Boy Blue and Little Bo Peep bottles. However, styles of the bottles are consistent with products featured in advertisements from the 1930’s and early 1940’s. These dates are also consistent with those of other artifacts found in the Brody/Emmons assemblage. This would suggest that the bottles date prior to the purchase of John Puhl by Purex.
Many times when we are looking at artifacts in the CAP lab we come across brand names or products that were once ubiquitous but that we don’t often see today. It is always an interesting time researching these objects, learning how and why they were used, and trying to trace their origins. Sometimes, you even learn a little something about laundry along the way.
Author: Mari Isa
Frederick, Christine. Household Engineering: Scientific Management in the Home. American School of Home Economics: Chicago, 1920.
With only one week until the CAP 2015 Field School begins, where we’ll be digging behind the Hannah Admin Building, we came across one more means in which to narrow down the date of the Admin Assemblage. Getting an idea of how old a site …
Not many students and recent alumni of MSU know that a rustic log cabin once stood very near where many of us have taken classes, crossed the quad on the way to the International Center, or just sat out to enjoy the sunshine in the …
Over the past few weeks, I have continued to read through the documents collected by former university historian Madison Kuhn. While my project focuses specifically on articulating historical documents detailing food and transportation with archaeological materials, I have found items in the Archives collection that have been at turns funny, poignant, surprising, and sobering. Simply holding a 100 year old pamphlet in one’s hand can be a bit of an experience, especially for those of us fascinated by the past. This project has allowed me to learn about the small details of the university that do not get published in retrospective books or highlighted in newspapers; it is in these details that we can start to piece together daily activities that can help us to better understand the archaeological materials recovered by CAP. Reading through handwritten diaries and recollections of certain events has been particularly illuminating, and in a strange way, fairly intimate. The writers of many documents express not only their fondness for the university, but give some description of their years spent here in a very personal manner. In short, it has been fun to read first-hand accounts of fires, labor, war, and hardship, in addition to circuses, dances, and classes.
At the inception of the university, there were no proper roads linking the college to surrounding towns. A plank road was built using trees sourced from local farmers’ lands. The toll gates on this road were manned by students and crossing the road in a horse and buggy would have cost 1 cent per mile. Initial construction of the road started when a group of businessmen in the Lansing area obtained a charter from the state legislature to lay the plank road. In a number of documents detailing the early years of the college, it is evident that farmers and state legislators were wary of the university. Many accounts reveal that the university had to work toward legitimization in both the eyes of the local people, and several accounts actually describe incidents in which farmers and students clashed ideologically. From the perspective of a student in 2012, this was quite interesting to read, especially the bits about the state government being fairly unsupportive of the university for some years. Today, we often defer to the notion that higher education is inherently a positive endeavor, but in the mid 1800s this was not the case. The university was viewed as impractical and expensive, though this perspective changed rapidly as more students enrolled and the university expanded.
In the next few weeks, I plan to locate documents written during years of turmoil (i.e. wars, the Depression). I would also like to investigate the fires that were happening across the state in the 1870s, as there are accounts of student and faculty involvement in controlling and manipulating these disasters. It may be interesting to see if the fires changed the landscape of campus or student activity in a meaningful way that may be read in the archaeological record. Additionally, I plan to expand upon the information I have found regarding dairy production, as CAP has excavated many bottles linked to the manufacture and distribution of dairy products. A letter written by EL Anthony, a former head of the Dairy Department at MSU, noted that prior to 1925 the dairymen of the state produced enough product required by consumers. However, after that time, dairy products began to be sourced from other locales as consumer demand escalated. This type of historical documentation can be matched up with archaeological information to provide a more sophisticated picture of the past experiences of the MSU community.
After a few days of research we’ve been able to learn many interesting facts about the bottles recovered from the Brody Complex. Other than our Vicks Vatronol and Wilkens Whiskey bottles, we also found some other bottles that we were able to identify. Not only …
This past week we collected a number of bottles from the recent construction at the Brody Complex. This isn’t the first time we’ve been called out to this area, and it likely won’t be the last. The Brody Complex is built on the site of …
Whether you call it soda, pop or cola, the fizzy beverage has been a staple to the American diet for over a century. The drink was first invented in the early 19th century, and was first bottled in the US in 1835. By 1851, Ginger Ale had been invented in Ireland, and in 1876 the first Root Beer was mass produced in Philadelphia. Dr. Pepper was created in 1885 in Texas, and the following year Coca Cola was invented in Georgia. In 1898, Pepsi was first made, and finally in the 1920’s 7-Up and Nehi were produced. The history of the production of soda is fairly well known, which makes the identification and dating of bottles a fairly straight forward process.
Early soda bottles are easily identified by their thick glass, which was necessarily so to keep the bottle intact during the carbonation process. Bottles are also either round or have over eight sides. The sharp angles of bottles with six or less sides made them prone to breaking due to the pressurized contents. The tops of early soda bottles were extremely thick and ‘blob’ like. The bottles would be held closed by corks, which can be free or fastened by a swinging wire arm (similar to those found on Ball fruit jars). These were replaced in 1892 by the crown bottle cap, a style which remains popular today on beer bottles. Instead of the neck leading to a large blob of glass, the closure consisted of a larger bulging area which thinned out and bulged again in an upper lip. The metal cap would be pressed against this upper lip and the crown was tightened around it.
The decoration, labeling and color are also important for identification. For example, the Coca Cola bottle is easily recognized by the ‘hobble skirt’ or hourglass like shape with the edges slightly rounded off. It is also embossed with the swirling Coca Cola font. Finally, the bottle is a distinctive light green color, often referred to as ‘Georgia Green’. This is easily discerned from the Nehi brand bottles which are straight, with ‘silk stocking’ embossed pattern up the sides, and capitalized bolded logo. The applied colored labels were introduced in 1934, and were baked directly onto the glass.
During our archaeological excavations at MSU, we have found a number of soda bottles in varying conditions. Some are completely intact, such as this classic embossed Nehi Bottle. The bottle has the silk stocking pattern along the sides, as well as an embossed logo. Since Nehi was quick to start using the applied color labels in he 1930’s, this bottle likely dates between 1924 and 1934. We’ve also found numerous shards of glass. Some of which have the applied color labeling, dating them to post-1934. There is a red Nehi label and a red Pepsi label visible on the fragments. By comparing these against historically dated logos, the style of red on white for both dates between the 1950’s and 1960’s.
Learning about styles of soda bottles and the types of artifacts found at MSU is part of our Campus Archaeology project to create an artifact guide for us to use both in the field and lab. Bottles are only one type of artifact we recover, and a lot of information can be gleaned from them.
Hi! When we last left each other, I had just begun my research at the Archives, digging in to see what I could find in the immense amount of resources we have there. Since then, I have continued to search through the archives, and have …