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 …
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 …
The site where Brody Hall stands today (intersection of Harrison & Michigan Ave) was once used by the city East Lansing as a landfill. There is little historical documentation on the landfill, which made it difficult to find information about the site. What we do know is that it was active from the early 1900s until the 1940s. The artifacts recovered during construction projects and CAP excavations near Brody and the Emmons amphitheater date to the late 1920s and early 1930s. This suggests that this particular portion of the landfill was used during that time period. The most plentiful artifact type is glass bottles. The bottles show us a rare glimpse of the different kinds of products used by people living in East Lansing at the time, from health products to milk and alcohol bottles.
The process of dating the bottles was not too complicated, mostly due to the guide the Society for Historical Archaeology has that explains the changes of bottle morphology though time. Small markings such as lines or pontiff marks that are caused during the process of glass molding can tell help you narrow down the time frame more. As the methods used for making glass bottles changed, small characteristics of the bottles changed with it. Another way for dating glass bottles are the codes/date stamps or company marks found on the bottom, similar to the way modern day plastic bottles have numbers for the quality of plastic and recycling marks. These bottle marks are a much faster way to identify the company that manufactured the bottle and can even be helpful enough to tell you the time frame it could have been made and even the location it was manufactured.
It has been interesting to learn about how the process for making bottles has changed throughout time because it is something that I normally would not have the opportunity to research. For my research project this semester I have decided to focus on learning what I can about health in East Lansing around that time. By looking at these bottles I have started thinking about the types of products we found and comparing it with the kinds of products we still use today. The similar products were household cleaners, such as bleach or ammonia, and various kinds of alcohol like whiskey and wine, but when looking at the healthcare products we found some things I would not have thought of as being used.
The products used for cleaning such as Roman Cleanser, the first commercial version of bleach cleansers, and Little Bo beep Ammonia are not new to many people. Some of the kinds of alcohol we found that many have not heard of are Wilkin’s Whiskey and Hiram Walker Whiskey. The healthcare products we found were Wildroot and Vitalis, haircare products that are still around, but have fallen out of common use. There were also a few bottles of Bromo-Seltzer, an early form of antacids. Hair gel and antacids are not new products, but it is easy to see that varieties and companies can be popular at a point in time, but then other companies rise to replace them. There were still some healthcare products that were easily recognizable, such as the Listerine bottle mentioned in a previous post. Another way to be able to see how the culture thought of the product in that time is to look at their advertisements. Looking at these products and their advertisements can show us the differences in ways of life that we normally would not think about. Researching health from this time period has been an eye-opener for how people used to live. I have learned so much about the different kinds of health and how much we have changed over the past hundred years.
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 …
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 …
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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)
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. …
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 …
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.
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).
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).
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.
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).
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.
- Loalbo, S. 2009. Vintage Fashion Accessories. Iola, WI: Krause Publications.
- http://cosmeticsandskin.com/aba/cold-cream.php – 1951 ad
- https://i.pinimg.com/736x/f4/b8/61/f4b861cdfe5edde595d484e1112b3394–cold-cream-mad-men.jpg – 1940s ads
- https://perfumeatomizers.blogspot.com/p/devilbiss.html (ad)