Monday, December 30, 2013

Clothes Hanger

The invention of the wire clothes hanger has been attributed to Albert Parkhouse, an employee of Timberlake Wire And Novelty Company in 1903. This company fashioned wire lamp shade frames and other items from wire. One story goes that Parkhouse came to work one day, went to hang his coat up and found all of the coat hooks were in use. Out of frustration, Parkhouse grabbed a piece of wire, bent it into the shape of what we recognize as a clothes hanger on the spot. Another story says that Parkhouse was inspired by complaints from other employees of not enough coat hooks.

A patent for a clothes hanging device made from wire granted to John B. Timberlake, the owner of the company Parkhouse worked for, in 1904. It was common for the company to patent an employee's invention at that time. While it is not absolutely certain the Parkhouse was the inventor, it is for sure that the company and not the inventor profited from it. The wire clothes hanger became the preferred method of displaying clothing in shops when a men's clothing store in Grand Rapids Michigan was the first to display clothing on them in 1906.

But the idea for a clothes hanger did not start with Parkhouse or the Timberlake company. Some believe that Thomas Jefferson, the inveterate inventor of so many items also invented the first wooden clothes hanger. But all through the 18th and the first half of the 19th centuries clothing was usually hung on hooks or laid flat for storage. Hangers of various types and configurations began to be used in the middle of the 19th century. The prototype for the simple wire coat hanger began with a clothes hook that was patented in 1869 by O.A. North of Connecticut.

The basic wire coat hanger has changed very little from the original. There are also hangers made from wood, padded hangers, hangers with clips on the bottom to attach skirts or slacks. But the simple wire clothes hanger is not always used for hanging clothes. Because the type of wire used for them is relatively soft, it is easily bent, shaped and cut, wire clothes hangers have been a handy source of wire used by do-it-yourselfers, for children's arts and crafts, for lock picks and many other uses. The trend away from wire to plastic clothes hangers may be an inevitable step in the evolution of clothing storage, but what will multi-taskers do that use wire ones for more than hanging clothes on?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Chewing Gum - Keeping Jaws Moving For Centuries

Why do people chew gum? To settle nerves, sweeten the breath, aid digestion, clean the teeth, the reasons are many. Whatever the reason, folks have been chewing on various substances for thousands of years:
  • At archaeological sites in northern Europe, evidence of lumps of birch bark tar (a black sticky residue left over from burnt birch bark) have been found with teeth marks in them that date back roughly 9,000 years ago.
  • Why ancient people began chewing this tar isn't known for sure, but some of the theories are that there might have been a narcotic effect of the tar, or that it had a medicinal effect.   
  • Ancient Greeks chewed the resin of the mastic tree to help clean teeth and sweeten the breath. 
  • The sap of the sapodilla tree, or chicle, has been used for chewing for thousands of years by the peoples of southern Mexico and Central America.  
  • Native Americans chewed the resin of the spruce tree and taught the first white settlers how to use it to slake thirst.
  • For easier chewing, early American settlers mixed spruce resin with beeswax. The idea was expanded upon by John Bacon Curtis in Maine, who created the first commercially made chewing gum. It was made from spruce resin, beeswax and flavorings in 1848 and was called The State of Maine Pure Spruce Gum
  •  Curtis used paraffin to replace spruce resin in 1850, and this new combination became more popular than his original gum. 
  • When chicle failed as a substitute for rubber, dentist William F. Semple added flavoring to it and created the first chicle-based chewing gum. Semple was not the first to patent a formula for chewing gum, but he was the first to patent (in 1869) and produce a commercial gum.  Among many ingredients named in the patent that could be combined with the chicle to produce the gum are listed chalk and charcoal.
  • In 1882 Dr. Edward Beeman added pepsin powder to chewing gum to help hold in the flavor and to act as a digestive aid.
  • Frank Fleer developed the first formula for bubble gum in the middle of the 19th century but it wasn't put on the market until Walter Diemer refined the formula in 1928. He called the gum Double Bubble.
  • William Wrigley Jr. started the Wrigley Chewing Gum Company in Chicago, IL. in 1891. It went on to become the single largest manufacturer and seller of chewing gum in the world.
  • Chewing gum became very popular at the turn of the 20th century, and American soldiers stationed oversees in WW I helped spread it to Europe.
  • The first sugarless gum was created in the 1950's by dentist Dr.Petrulis. He sold his company to the Wrigley Company in the 1960's.
  • Topps bubble gum company started to include cards of professional baseball players with their gum in 1951.
  •  As of the year 2012, there are 3.74 trillion pieces of chewing gum manufactured world-wide every year; annual sales of chewing gum world-wide is 19 billion dollars, and Wrigley's Chewing Gum Company accounts for 35% of all chewing gum manufactured world-wide. 
  • Dentists encourage the chewing of gum as an aid to good dental health, as long as it's sugar-free gum. Chewing gum helps stimulate the flow of saliva, a natural way to help rid teeth of plaque and bacteria, as well as helping to dilute acids that can erode tooth enamel. 
  • Since 2004, chewing gum has been banned in Singapore. Only gum that is of therapeutic value and prescribed by a physician is allowed. 

Friday, April 13, 2012

Pencils - History and Facts

Some history and little known facts about the common pencil:
  • The first wood encased pencils came about because of the discovery of a large deposit of graphite in England in the 16th century. Graphite proved to be superior to lead (which had been used since ancient Rome for writing) as it left a darker mark on the paper. But graphite was soft and brittle so it needed a holder. Sticks of graphite were first wrapped in string, then holders were made of wood for more durability.
  • Nuremberg Germany produced the first mass produced pencils in the 17th century. 
  • The first mass produced pencils weren't painted.
  • The Industrial Revolution of the 19th century saw many pencil manufacturers competing and making pencils of different styles. Producers also started to paint their pencils and imprinting them with their brand names and logos.
  • Erasers were first put on pencils in the 1850's by an American manufacturer.
  • A type of cedar wood called Incense Cedar is used by U.S. pencil manufacturers.
  • Most pencils made in the U.S. have erasers on them. European made pencils don't.
  • More than half of all pencils come from China, over 10 billion a year.
  • The graphite cores of today's pencils are a mixture of graphite and clay. The formula is changed according to the hardness and darkness of the lead desired.
  • John Steinbeck the author used an enormous number of pencils, up to 60 a day. His novel East of Eden took over 300 pencils to write.
  • Johnny Carson of late night television fame fidgeted with a pencil on his show. They were specially made pencils that had erasers on each end to prevent accidents. 
  • Lead has not been used in pencils since Roman times, but until the middle of the 20th century lead-based paint was used to paint them which could cause lead poisoning if the pencil was chewed. 
  • Thomas Edison had his pencils made specially for him. They were shorter and thicker than a standard pencil and had softer lead.
  • Mechanical pencils were invented in 1822.
  • Penknives were used at first to sharpen pencils. After many attempts by inventors the manual pencil sharpener was invented in 1847. 
  • There are now pencils on the market that can be bent and even tied into a knot. They are made from a special flexible polymer and lead that will bend together.  

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The History Of Aspirin

One of the most common medications has a long and varied history. Some facts and history about Aspirin:
  • The Father of modern Medicine, Hippocrates, wrote about pain killers in the 5th century B.C.E. and mentioned a powder and tea made from the bark and leaves of the white willow tree that worked for headaches, pain and fever.
  • In 1829 scientists discovered that it was the compound called salicin in the willow and other plants that worked on headache, fever and pain.
  • Salicin was further chemically reduced to obtain pure salicylic acid, the actual substance that worked on pain and fever.
  • Pure salicylic acid was very hard on the stomach, so further research to combine it with another substance to make it more tolerable for the stomach lead to the production of acetylsalicylic acid. 
  • In 1899 Felix Hoffman, a German chemist that worked for the German dye and drug manufacturer Bayer found out that acetylsalicylic acid helped his father's arthritis pain.  He persuaded the company to manufacture the drug and it was patented in 1900.  The compound was given the name Aspirin - "A" from acetyl, "spir" from the spirea plant from which salicin was extracted, "in" was a common ending for drug names.
  • Aspirin in powder form was distributed to physicians and soon became the number one drug in the world.
  • By 1915 Aspirin was manufactured in tablet form and could be bought without a prescription.
  • At one time the Bayer company held the trademark rights to both Aspirin and Heroin (before it became illegal, naturally)
  • Aspirin's reputation as a pain and fever reducer was increased during the world-wide Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918-1919.
  • In 1948 a general practitioner  in California noticed that patients that he prescribed aspirin to did not have heart attacks.  He started to recommend taking aspirin for heart health. 
  • In 1952 children's chewable aspirin was introduced.
  • Aspirin's popularity waned in the early 1950's after the introduction of acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
  •  In the early 1970's scientists discovered that aspirin inhibits the production of inflammation-causing chemicals called prostaglandins in the body, thus reducing pain.
  • With research showing that daily aspirin therapy does help at risk patients from heart attacks, strokes and recurring heart attacks, aspirin sales increased.
  • Today more than 70 million pounds of aspirin are produced world wide per year, which makes it the most used drug in the world.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The History Of Silly Putty

The history of Silly Putty goes back to 1940 after the Japanese invaded the rubber-producing countries of the Far East and cut off the supply to the United States. With the subsequent hampering of war production, especially for tires, gas masks, rafts and boots, the government asked American industry to develop a synthetic rubber. 

Here's where the story gets controversial, for there was more than one person who claimed the discovery of Silly Putty.  Researchers for Dow Corning  Company and  General Electric Company both claimed discovery. The present manufacturer of Silly Putty, Crayola LLC, gives the credit to James Wright, a Scottish inventor that worked for General Electric in New Haven Connecticut in 1943.

The first Silly Putty was the result of the mixing of boric acid and silicone oil.  Wright found that the material would stretch if slowly pulled, but break if pulled rapidly. Rolled into a ball it would bounce, would not mold and had a high melting point. Despite these properties, Wright determined the substance was not suited for use as a rubber substitute and he sent samples to other scientists that came to the same conclusion.

The story goes that some of the substance was obtained by an owner of a toy store, Ruth Fallgatter.  She hired a marketing consultant, Peter Hodgson to market the bouncing putty and put it in here catalog. It out sold everything else in the catalog except for Crayola crayons, but Fallgetter did not continue to sell it. Hodgson saw its potential, and bought $147 worth of the substance. He named it Silly Putty, packed 1 ounce portions in plastic eggs that sold for a dollar each, and sold 250,000 of them in three days.  But the new business almost went under in 1951 with the start of the Korean War, as silicone, a primary ingredient of Silly Putty, was rationed.

After the war, production resumed. It was originally marketed as an adult item, but by 1955 children became the primary customers. The first advertisement for Silly Putty was produced by Hodgson in 1957 and premiered on The Howdy Doody Show.

In1961 Silly Putty went world wide and became a hit in Europe and The Soviet Union.  By the time Hodgson  died in 1976, over 300 million eggs of Silly Putty had been sold and his business was worth $140 million, making it one of the most successful toys of the 20th Century.  The following year Binney and Smith, the makers of Crayola crayons, bought the rights to it.  By 1987, production of Silly Putty was in excess of 2 million eggs annually. So while the name may be 'silly', the profits generated by this toy that was created by accident certainly aren't!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Pewter - Poor Man's Silver

At the dawn of civilization, man discovered that characteristics of familiar base metals could be changed by combining them. In correct proportions, the metals compliment each other and form an alloy. Along with bronze, pewter was one of the first alloys known to humans. The earliest piece of pewter found is from an Egyptian tomb from 1450 BC.

Pewter is an alloy of primarily tin and copper, with other metals such as antimony, bismuth and lead. Pewter was known in ancient China, Egypt, Greece and Rome. The oldest known pewter item has been dated to 1500 B.C.E. and was found in Egypt. In ancient times it was an alloy of 70% tin and 30% lead, and this high concentration of lead caused lead poisoning when the alloy was used to make eating and drinking utensils. The lead would leach out, especially if acidic food or drink came in contact with the alloy. Modern pewter alloys no longer use lead in them due to lead poisoning dangers, and consist of tin, copper, bismuth or antimony. Pewter is a shiny metal, and has been called 'poor man's silver'. As it is highly malleable with a relatively low melting point (approximately 460 degrees F) it has been used for many items. Plates, drinking mugs, steins, flatware, candlesticks, and for jewelry. Due to the softness of the metal, pewter is not suitable for making tools.

The use of pewter had its roots in Europe about the 11th century. Pewter crafting in England grew especially skilled in the Middle Ages, and the metal's popularity continued until the late 19th century. Pewter craftsmen in the Middle Ages developed many different grades of pewter, of which three were:
Fine Grade had between 95 and 99 percent tin and 5 to 1 percent copper. This grade of pewter was very shiny, and was used to make eating and drinking utensils for nobility and the upper classes. Trifle Grade was usually 92 percent tin, 1 to 6 percent copper and up to 4 percent lead. It was also used to make eating and drinking utensils, but was not as shiny.

Lay Grade could contain up to 15 percent lead and was not used for eating or drinking utensils. It was used for candlesticks, basins, and other items. There are relatively few existing examples of early pewter ware because the metal was so easy to melt down into new items.

There has been a modern resurgence in the use of pewter. By casting, spinning on a lathe, pounding into shape and other means, pewter is used for a variety of items. The relative softness and low melting point of the metal lends it well to highly detailed figurines. Drinking steins are still being made that use pewter for the decorative lids, and jewelry of all types are cast from it. Given time, pewter will eventually oxidize and develop a satiny gray patina that can either be polished off or left on. 'Poor Man's Silver' remains a very useful and attractive alloy over 4,500 years since it was first discovered.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Sewing Thread - Stitching It All Together

Thread is a tightly twisted strand of two or more ply of yarn used for hand and machine sewing. Some facts about sewing thread:
  • The difference between thread and yarn is that thread is used to sew together garments and other products, while yarn is a collection of fibers that is woven or knit into textiles. All threads are made from yarn, but yarn is not made of threads.
  • The first 'thread' to be used in sewing was made from animal sinew and plant fibers.
  • There are three types of thread, animal, plant and synthetic, based on the materials they are made from.
  • Silk is an example of thread made from animal products. The silk caterpillar weaves a cocoon made from silk that it produces. These cocoons are unraveled, and two or more strands are twisted together to form silk thread. Silk makes a very fine, stretchable and strong thread.
  • Cotton is an example of plant fibers used to make thread. Fibers of cotton are spun into a fine yarn; two or more strands of yarn are twisted together to make the thread. Cotton thread tends to shrink and is not as strong as silk thread. The thread is singed over an open flame and mercerized (dipped in a solution of caustic soda) to improve its strength and give it sheen.
  • Nylon and polyester thread are examples made from synthetic materials.
  • Ninety-five percent of all thread of all kinds manufactured are used in industrial and commercial sewing.
  • The development of the cotton thread industry in England was the result of a blockade during the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th century. This prevented raw silk from entering the country, so no silk thread could be made for sewing. Patrick Clark invented a method for twisting cotton together to make sewing thread.
  • The original threads made by Clark were not strong enough to use in the new fangled sewing machines of the later 19th century. George Clark, a Grandson of Patrick, developed a six-stranded thread with the qualities necessary to be used in sewing machines.