As every archaeologist knows for every hour you spend in the field, you can expect to spend 4 hours in the lab. This has proven true for our recent field school excavations. A fruitful 5 week field school this past summer has left us with …
We’ve been working our way through cataloging materials excavated during the summer 2015 field school. Last semester the interns, volunteers and I finished unit A. It contained an astounding 8,617 artifacts weighing 52.48 kilograms! As we’ve previously discussed, the Gunson assemblage is a mix of …
Light bulbs, everyone has them in their homes, work, and public buildings. And although light bulbs have changed in recent years with the introduction of LED and CFL bulbs, for the most part when you think of a light bulb a specific design comes to mind: an Edison style incandescent light bulb. Historic archaeologists often encounter the material remnants of various electrical artifacts, such as the white porcelain knobs, tubes and cleats used in knob and tube wiring systems (see Myers 2010 for an excellent overview). We also encounter light bulbs, although perhaps less often due to their fragile nature. Just as electrical systems have changed over time, so has the light bulb.
In 1879 Thomas Edison created the first commercially practical incandescent light bulb. However, in the early years of electrification Edison wasn’t the only game in town. Inventors had been creating “light bulbs” since 1802, but they were often flawed designs that burned out quickly, or only partially worked.
Other Notable dates:
- 1906 – General Electric patented method to make tungsten filaments used in light bulbs
- 1920s first frosted bulbs and adjustable power beam bulbs produced
- 1930s – one-time flashbulbs for photography
- 1940s – first soft light incandescent bulbs
- 1950s – Halogen light bulb first produced
- 1980s – low wattage metal halides
- 1990s – long light bulbs and compact fluorescent bulbs first produced
Thus far while cataloging the Gunson assemblage we’ve encountered several complete and fragmentary light bulbs, including ones with paper labels. Most of these are laboratory light bulbs produced by the Shelby Electric Company. We were able to figure this out because remarkably two of the bulbs still have their paper labels (pictured to the left).
Perhaps the Shelby Electric Company is ringing a few bells (or flipping a few light switches). It produced what can easily be called the most famous light bulb in the world, yes a famous light bulb. Known as the Centennial Light, it is the world’s longest-lasting light bulb, still glowing in the Livermore, California Fire Department building. The Shelby Electric Company manufactured the bulb in the late 1890s, and it was installed by the fire department in 1901. Since then it has only been turned off a handful of times, and you can watch a live streaming video of the bulb.
The Shelby Electric Company was founded in Shelby, Ohio in 1896. The factory in Ohio closed in 1914, but lamps were still produced under the Shelby Electric Company label through 1925. Newspaper accounts rave about the high quality nature of the lamps produced, and note that many women were employed in the factory.
Although I have been unable to locate an example of the specific bulb type found in the Gunson collection, it does closely resemble several patents and other bulbs curated by museums. As we move forward in cataloging the rest of the collection, perhaps more examples will be encountered.
Author: Lisa Bright
- Adrian Myers. “Telling Time for the Electrified: An Introduction to Porcelain Insulators and the Electrification of the American Home” Society for Historical Archaeology Technical Briefs in Historical Archaeology 5 (2010): 31-42.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/adrianmyers/4
My project involves examining where, what company, and the timeframe the different marker’s mark, collecting from the excavation from the Admin/Gunson site, came from. As we wrapped up with Unit A on Monday, I finished taking and collecting pictures of the marker’s mark found from …
We’ve been chugging through cataloging the artifacts from the Admin/Gunson assemblage this semester. We should finish unit A sometime next week. This may seem like slow going, but to say that the artifacts are plentiful would be an understatement (6,951 thus far in Unit A …
From Surgical Theater to Trash Pit: The Resurrection of a Listerine Bottle and What It Can Tell Us About Campus Activities
Lisa Bright, the reigning Campus Archaeologist, wrote to me recently to say that she had discovered a Listerine bottle in the Admin/Gunson assemblage that was excavated during the CAP field school this past summer. While a Listerine bottle may seem like a fairly innocuous item (especially when found in the context of the extremely large Admin assemblage), the bottle actually tells us quite a bit about past activities on campus. Or, rather, it gives us a clue about the past activities. Part of the fun of archaeology is detective work, and this bottle is a great example of how historical archaeologists can use a blend of archival information and historical advertisements in their assessment of artifacts.
What makes this bottle particularly useful for interpreting past activities is that the hand blown maker’s mark indicates that it was made by the Obear-Nester glass company of East St. Louis in Illinois between 1895-1914. According to the Listerine website (www.listerine.co.za), Dr. Joseph Lister entered the history books as the first surgeon to operate in a sterilized chamber; following this operation, sterilization became a critical component in surgical theaters, leading to a significant reduction of infections and deaths. Having been inspired by Dr. Lister’s work, Dr. Joseph Lawrence formulated a compound in 1879 that could be used as a disinfectant for surgical rooms as well as a wash for abrasions and wounds. Named after Dr. Lister, Listerine was used for surgical and dental purposes until around 1914 and could be attained only through prescription. After 1915, Listerine re-branded their product and changed their marketing focus to combatting bad breath, enabling sales of the solution over the counter (a first for a prescription product in the United States). We can even thank Listerine for coining the term, “halitosis” (www.listerine.com.za/history/brand-heritage).
So, what does a surgical and bad breath antiseptic mean for archaeology (and for early MSU students)? Because of Lisa’s research, we are able to position the Listerine bottle from the Admin/Gunson assemblage within that first wave of prescription Listerine products. The fact that it was found in this collection of materials is interesting – and its presence makes us question what activity (or mishap!) led to need for the prescription. In contrast, CAP has found another Listerine bottle at People’s Park that was made after 1915. Because Listerine was widely available then as an anti-bad breath agent, we can confidently infer its usage. The Admin/Gunson bottle, however, will have to be understood within the context of the rest of the assemblage. It will be exciting to see if more medical bottles are located in the artifacts excavated this summer.
A Google search for historical Listerine ads will result in a many images of advertisements that center around a common theme of women looking forlorn that they have such horrible breath. In modern context, they are quite funny. Imagine a student at MSU viewing one of these ads then rushing out to buy Listerine! If anyone has access to Listerine ads that ran earlier than 1914, please let us know.
Author: Amy Michael
Author: Amy Michael For the past year, I have been investigating the gendered landscape of the historic campus. University Archives keeps the scrapbooks made by past female students and we can find newspaper clippings detailing female exploits on campus, but until recently it has …
One of the major tasks for the semester (in reality probably the entire school year) is to sort, catalog, and accession the artifacts from the Summer 2015 field school. The five units produced an astounding volume of artifacts. We began the field season under the …