Tag: east lansing

Not Ready for this Jelly Juice Glass

Not Ready for this Jelly Juice Glass

Mason jars are having a moment. If you’ve attended a wedding (particularly the barn variety) or eaten at a brunch establishment in the last decade, chances are you’ve consumed a beverage out of a Mason jar. What the youngest among us may not realize is 

Close Only Counts in Horseshoes & Hand Grenades

Close Only Counts in Horseshoes & Hand Grenades

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 

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

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.

References

 

Photo Captions

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

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 

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

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. 

Following Grand River Avenue Through History

Following Grand River Avenue Through History

For East Lansing residents, Grand River Avenue is the place to turn to for almost anything, from bookstores to restaurants to college bars. Its sidewalks are almost always bustling with students walking to class, business men and women meeting for lunch, and enthusiastic Spartans heading to football games. However, Grand River Avenue hasn’t always been the hotspot for college students and East Lansing residents. It hasn’t always been the well-traveled, paved road that we know it as now. In fact, Grand River’s history begins even before MSU’s does.

View of Grand River looking east, 1920s
View of Grand River looking east, 1920s. Courtesy Archives of Michigan

Grand River Road (the name wasn’t changed to Avenue until later on) wasn’t established until 1840; prior to this year, no record of any established roads in the area had been preserved. As it was for many early roads of the state, Grand River followed the trail that the Native Americans had made along the north bank of the Cedar River. The road stretched from Detroit to Portland (though now it stretches to Grand Rapids), and it was known as the primary overland stage-and-wagon-freight route through central Michigan until the railroad was built.

In 1852, the Lansing Central Plank Road Company built a plank road over the Lansing and Howell Road (the section of Grand River Road that ran between Howell and Lansing) and tollgates were distributed along the road every four to six miles. The plank road was completed in 1853 and was built of oak planks three inches tall and fourteen feet long. They were laid crosswise across heavy oak stringers to make a flat and hard road surface. Due to constant weathering and decay however, travelers often filled gaps in the road with gravel and mud. Eventually, the planks were completely removed, the road was paved with a gravel surface, and a streetcar was installed.

With the ever-increasing student population of MAC during the early 1900s came the development of shops and stores along the campus stretch of Grand River. The college drug store and the college café were built at the intersection of Grand River, and the Delta Apex, (where Michigan meets Grand River) became a popular place for gas stations as well as the location of the First East Lansing State Bank (established in 1916).

Because this section of Grand River was becoming busier and more popular, it was decided that the old streetcar was inadequate, and the new Interurban line was installed. It wasn’t long before East Lansing changed its major choice of transportation again, and in the 1930s the bus line took the interurban’s place. Parking along the avenue was officially banned in the 1950s

So why are we, the CAP team, interested in the history of this Grand River Avenue? Because (once again) the city of East Lansing intends to start construction on Grand River in the next couple of years, with plans to make room for a new bus route. We want to make sure that we have fully researched the history of the road so that we can anticipate any potential archaeological finds that might surface once the construction begins. We are not the official archaeological team in charge of this project, but we have written up a report to forward on to help with the process.

Excavation of Old Corduroy Road discovered in 1995. Courtesy CCRG
Excavation of Old Corduroy Road discovered in 1995. Courtesy CCRG

During construction of the road in 1995, approximately 20 logs were uncovered at the Bailey street entrance of Grand River. These logs were, in fact, part of the original plank road that was used back in the 1800s. There is potential to find more of these planks during the new construction. However, because it appears that the center of the original plank road was likely within the northernmost part of the current road, it doesn’t seem probable. Due to the current construction plans primarily focusing on the excavation/removal of the current median, it is unlikely that this work will intersect with any of the former plank/corduroy road sections.

However, that doesn’t mean that the teams involved won’t be keeping an eye out for anything with archaeological significance. The National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) was created with the intent to preserve all historical and archaeological sites in the United States, and it’s important that here in East Lansing we do just that. Should anyone involved with this project find anything significant, the necessary precautions will be taken to preserve the discoveries.

Sources:

Towner, J.D. (1933) History of the City of East Lansing.

Miller, W. (2002) East Lansing: Collegeville Revisited. Arcadia Publishing

Dunham, Sean B., John M. Gram and Mark C Branster. 1997. M-43/Grand River Avenue, East Lansing, Michigan: The Lansing and Howell Plank Road, A Data Recovery Effort. 96-07. Great Lakes Research Associates, Inc.