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.

The Sewing Thimble - For Seamstress And Digitabulist

A sewing thimble is worn on a finger or thumb by someone doing hand sewing to help push needles through the material being sewn and to prevent fingers getting stuck by the needle. Some history and facts about the sewing thimble:
  • Thimbles of one sort or another have probably been around since the beginning of sewing, more than five thousand years ago.
  • The oldest known thimble is made from bronze and dates from the 1st century A.D. It was found in the ruins of ancient Pompeii.
  • Thimbles have been made from many different materials, including all types of metal, wood, glass, porcelain, bone, leather, rubber, whale bone, marble and ivory. Thimbles made for the use of royalty were fashioned from diamonds, sapphires and rubies.
  • Hand-made metal thimbles were made by either casting the thimble in a mold, or rolling a piece of metal into a cylinder and soldering a cap onto it. The dimples in the thimble were punched by hand.
  • Thimble production became mechanized around 1850 in England. The dimples were no longer hand-punched in to the thimble, but were done by machine. Industrially manufactured thimbles differed from hand made in that the metal was much thinner, the top of the thimble was flat and the dimples were made in a regular pattern.
  • In the 19th century higher quality thimbles began to be made from silver. This metal is quite soft and a steel needle sometimes pierced the thimble. So a steel thimble was made and covered inside and outside with silver.
  • Fine china thimbles were used for sewing delicate silk, as the thimble was very hard and smooth, thus eliminating any chance of snagging the material.
  • Thimbles are more than an object for use by seamstresses. They have become works of art in their own right. From early hand made ones to modern ones decorated in many different ways, thimbles are a highly collectible item. Sewers and non sewers have made thimble collecting a popular activity. People that collect sewing thimbles are known as digitabulists.
  • The most expensive thimble on record was auctioned off at a London auction house. It sold for over $39,000 in 1992. It was a 16th century gold and jeweled thimble thought to be a gift from the Mogul court in India to Queen Elizabeth I.

Men's Underwear - The Revealing History

What men wear under their clothes has a history all its own:
  • During the Middle Ages in Europe the loincloth was slowly replaced by undergarments that were similar to trousers. The legs of these garments were short, and the garment was tied about the waist by laces.
  • This underwear of the Middle Ages many times had a flap in the front to allow men to be able to answer nature's call. This flap was called a codpiece. These flaps were padded, probably initially for comfort. But paintings of the time show how the padding of codpieces became much more than a matter of comfort.
  • The start of the industrial age in the late 18th century made cotton fabrics widely available. Mass manufacturing of underwear was one result, and people began to buy underwear instead of having to make it themselves.
  • The jockstrap, or athletic supporter was introduced in 1874. It offered extra support and comfort to bicycle riders of the rough cobblestone streets of Boston.
  • The union suit was standard underwear for men in the late 19th century. Also called long johns, they provided coverage front wrist to ankle, and had a drop flap in the back (for obvious reasons).
  • The early 20th century saw the underwear manufacturing business boom. On of the companies that came from this boom was Hanes, and it quickly established itself as a top manufacturer of union suits.
  • U.S. soldiers in World War One were issued shorts that buttoned in the front as underwear. This design grew in popularity so much that it began to replace the union suit as standard underwear.
  • The first briefs came on the market in 1935. They were dubbed jockey because they gave the same kind of support the jockstrap did. The new style sold over 30,000 pair within 3 months. The buttoned underwear of WWI also gave way to the button less boxer shorts, named for their similarity to the shorts worn by boxers.
  • Underwear made from rayon, dacron and nylon was introduced in the late 1940's. The 1950's saw the introduction of underwear made from colored and patterned materials.
  • Boxer briefs were introduced in the 1990's that gave the support of briefs and retain the length of boxers. These were touted as something new, but were actually very similar to the type worn by soldiers in WWI.
What does the future hold for men's underwear? From form-fitting and hidden, to ultra baggy and exposed, what men wear under their clothes undergoes changes in trends and fashion as much as what they outwardly wear.

Zippers - History And Facts

The zipper is found everywhere in the modern day world, and is used in myriad applications. But the common zipper was not so common not so long ago:
  • Elias Howe, one of the pioneer inventors of the sewing machine, patented an early type of zipper in 1851 called The Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure. His sewing machine took up most of his time, and he abandoned his early type of fastener.
  • The next person in the line of zipper evolution was named Whitcomb Judson. A tinkerer and experimenter, Judson invented many labor saving devices, including a type of fastener he patented called The Clasp Locker in 1893. Some of these fasteners were used by 1905 in the garment industry, but proved to be impractical.
  • The next step in zipper evolution led to the zipper as it is known today. An employee of Judson's named Gideon Sundback first patented his Hookless Fastener in 1913, and with further improvements patented the new and improved version as the Separable Fastener in 1917. One of the first large customers for this fastener was the U.S. Army and the fastener was used in apparel and gear for U.S soldiers in World War One.
  • How did the fastener get the name 'zipper'? The B.F.Goodrich company opted to use the new fasteners on its rubber galoshes. An executive trying out a prototype of the galoshes by sliding the fastener up and down, and said, "Zip'er up!", emulating the sound made by the fastener. Thus the name zipper came into being. The story sounds apocryphal, but B.F. Goodrich registered the name as a trademark for overshoes with fasteners, Zipper Boots, in 1925. Other items began using the fastener, and the name 'zipper' stuck. B.F. Goodrich sued to protect its trademark, but was only allowed to retain its rights for 'Zipper Boots' and not for the name of the fastener.
  • For the first twenty years of the zipper's existence it was used almost exclusively for boots and tobacco pouches.
  • In the 1930's sales campaigns for children's clothing that were equipped with zippers stressed the independence the fastener would give children to dress themselves. When French fashion designer in 1937 raved about the zipper being used in men's pants, the zipper replaced buttons for fastening the fly of men's trousers.
  • Clothing with zippers was seen as inappropriate for women because the clothing could be taken off quickly. Many religious leaders frowned on the use of zippers for this reason, and zippers were found mostly in men's and children's apparel for a number of years.
  • Zippers today are made not only from metal, but nylon and other materials. They are available in many different colors, lengths and styles.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Teddy Bears - Named After A U.S. President

Did you know that the Teddy Bear got its name from a United States President? The origins of the Teddy Bear go back to a traditional story that took place in 1902 that involved President Theodore Roosevelt. The President was in the state of Mississippi trying to settle a border dispute between Mississippi and Louisiana. His hosts knew that the President was a devoted hunter, so they took him bear hunting. The only bear that they could find was a small bear that they tied to a tree. The President refused to shoot it, as he didn't see any sport in killing a helpless animal.

The story got out, and an editorial cartoonist for The Washington Post named Clifford Berryman drew a cartoon showing a cub bear tied to a tree, and Teddy Roosevelt refusing to shoot it. The cartoon carried the caption "Drawing The Line In Mississippi." The cartoon caused an immediate sensation and was reprinted many times.

The owners of a candy and stationary store in Brooklyn, New York named Morris and Rose Michtom were inspired by the President's act and made a stuffed toy bear to honor him. They fashioned the toy bear to look like the bear in the cartoon, and placed it in the window of their shop. Next to the bear was a copy of Berryman's cartoon and a sign saying TEDDY'S BEAR. The public created such a demand for the bear that the Michtoms joined up with a wholesale firm named Butler Brothers and started the Ideal Novelty & Toy Company, the first teddy bear factory in the United States.

Made from inexpensive materials to the most exotic fur, and from the size of a thimble on up to very large, it has been a perennial favorite of children and adults ever since.

Checkers - Facts And History

The game of checkers is older than most people think. Some facts and history about the ancient game of checkers:
  • Scholars believe the modern game evolved from a similar game played as far back as 1400 B.C.E. called Alquerque or Quirkat. It was played in ancient Egypt, Rome, Greece and India. The game used two sets of round flat pieces in different colors. It was played on a 5 x 5 grid. There were ten pieces per side, and the object was to capture all the opposing pieces.
  • The next development towards modern checkers is thought to have come from 13th century southern France. The rules and pieces of Alquerque were expanded to be played on an 8 x 8 chess board. The game was called Fierges, the pieces called ferses, the identical name given to the queen in chess.
  • By the 15th century, the earlier association with the queen in chess saw the name of the game changed to Jeu De Dames, most often shortened to Dames.
  • By the 16th century, Dames was very popular in France. Variants of the game were many, and one of these was the 'forced capture' variant, where a player had to capture an opponents piece instead of making a different move. This variant became known as Jeu Force.
  • The game of Jeu Force was taken to England where it was called draughts, and finally to North America where it was called checkers.
  • In France the game of Dames without the forced capture rule was still popular and called Le Jeu Plaisant De Dames, shortened to Plaisant. In the 18th century, the game in France changed to a 10 x 10 grid and 20 pieces on each side. This game is still played and is known as International or Continental Draughts.
  • There are international tournaments for both Checkers/Draughts and International Draughts. The first tournament for English Draughts occurred in 1847.
  • There are many variants of the game around the world today, but Chinese Checkers is not one of them. The game has nothing to do with China, but originated in Germany. The game was put on the market in the early 1900's and was called Chinese Checkers to capitalize on people' familiarity with checkers and to give the game an oriental flavor, as marketing ploys.

Natural Fibers - The Beginning of Textiles

When early humankind needed warmth and protection for their bodies, what did they use? Animal hides, grasses, bark and other plant material fashioned into crude garments most likely. When was it discovered that fibers from plants and animals could be fashioned into something much more flexible, versatile, and attractive? When was cloth invented? There is much scientific and archaeological inquiry devoted to trying to answer that question. As for the fibers themselves? There are four main types of natural fibers used in the creation of fabric and textiles; flax, cotton, wool and silk.

Most historians are in agreement that the first fiber used for the making of textiles came from the flax plant. The fibers in the stem of the plant are removed, cleaned, and woven together to make linen. Flax fibers were use to make linen over 5,000 years ago, and was of such value that it was used for burial shrouds for Egyptian Pharaohs. The Egyptians mastered the art of making fine linen, as some linen items found in tombs have threads so fine that they were woven 200 to the inch.

There is archaeological evidence that dates to 3,000 years ago concerning the growing of cotton in the Indus River Valley region of Pakistan, and the use of it in making cloth to make apparel from. It was also being used in ancient Egypt. It is believed that cotton was brought to Europe around 800 from Arab merchants. The invention of the cotton gin in the late 18th century combined with the dawn of the industrial revolution to help create inexpensive textiles.

Wool is one of the most versatile fibers known. It can be used to produce very lightweight fabric to thick, heavy fabric. The oldest documented piece of wool textile was found in a bog in Denmark that dates to 1500 B.C.E. The ancestor of the domesticated sheep had long coarse hair that protected a short under layer of fleece. It is this short under layer that is used in the production of wool textiles. Careful breeding has lead to over 40 different varieties of sheep used in the production of wool that utilize that soft under layer. Wool has unique properties of water repelling and water absorption that no man made fiber has been able to duplicate. Wool remains a versatile and much-used fiber for all kinds of apparel and other applications.

The beginnings of silk is wrapped in the legend of The Goddess of Silk, the wife of the mythical Yellow Emperor of China, who is credited for introducing silk to China over 5,000 years ago. Silk is derived from the cocoon of a specific type of worm, and the documented evidence of an unearthed silkworm cocoon found in Northern China dates to around 2600 B.C.E. The cocoon of the silkworm consists of one continuous filament that can be 1,800 to 2,700 feet long. This filament is carefully unraveled from the cocoon and placed on a spool. A number of these filaments (usually five to eight) are spun together to create a single silk thread. The silk thread is then woven into textiles. Clothing made from silk has the ability to be warm in cool weather, and cool in hot weather.

The historically recent creation of man-made fibers has not eliminated the use of natural ones. Natural fibers have qualities that have not been duplicated. After more than 5000 years, humans still want and enjoy the warmth of wool, the feel of cotton, the characteristics of linen and the beauty of silk.

Synthetic Fibers - Mans' Attempt to Improve on Nature

Until the 19th century, the only fibers that were available for weaving textiles were nature's own; linen, wool, silk and cotton. A list of some synthetic fibers, and information about each:

Rayon -
The first man-made fiber was produced about 1855 and it was primarily used as a replacement for silk. It went by the name Viscose. This fiber did not actually become commercially viable until 1924 when more modern production methods made it more economical to produce, when it was renamed Rayon. Rayon is technically not synthetic, nor is it natural. It is made from wood cellulose. It remains a versatile fiber for apparel as it has many of the same comforts as natural fibers. Rayon does not retain body heat very well, so it is mostly used in apparel made for hot and humid seasons and climates. It is not only used for apparel, but in bedspreads, blankets, curtains, upholstery, yarn, medical surgery products and other items.

Nylon -
Developed by the DuPont chemical company, nylon began to be manufactured in 1939. It is the first truly synthetic fiber, as it is made entirely of petrochemicals. With the outbreak of World War II, the availability of silk for military applications dropped because most silk came from Asia. Nylon replaced silk in parachutes, and was also used in tires, tents, ropes and other military items. Nylon is used in many applications. A few examples are clothing, carpeting, pantyhose, Velcro, toothbrushes, guitar strings, fishing line, and many more uses.

Acrylic -
DuPont developed acrylic in 1944 and began to commercially produce it in 1950. At first it was primarily used in outdoor applications, but is now used in apparel and carpeting. When used for clothing it is lightweight and warm, very similar to wool. It has been used as a cheap alternative to cashmere.

Polyester -
Yet another fiber created by scientists at DuPont, experimentation with the fiber was shelved with the coming of World War II and the emphasis on nylon. Polyester was introduced to America in 1951 under the trade name of Dacron. Currently, it is the most widely used of any synthetic fiber in the United States. It is used for apparel, pillow stuffing, wood finishing products, bottles, filters, tarps, and a huge list of other uses. Because polyester resists wrinkling, it is many times combined with other natural and synthetic fibers to produce wrinkle-free fabrics.

Micro fiber -
This is a type of polyester that has very thin strands, while retaining its strength. It was introduced in 1986, and can be used to make fabrics and materials that are sheer, very strong, and very absorbent. These qualities make micro fibers very useful in cleaning and polishing applications, as well as combining them with other synthetic and natural fibers to add its characteristics.

Wind Chimes - Music Of The Air

Wind chimes are probably older than knowable history. But it is in Asia where they had their recorded development. Buddhist attached many wind chimes to their temple structures. They were also hung in private homes and were thought to attract good spirits and bring good luck. The ancients understood that the sound of them can help reconnect mind and spirit and lead to a sense of well being.

The use of wind chimes in the past was not only for decoration and spiritual well being of mind and body. Wind chimes were used to detect the direction of the wind. Chimes would be hung on all sides of a house or structure to aid in weather forecasting. People that lived in a certain region began to equate wind direction and speed with the upcoming weather. The sound of the chimes could also help approximate the speed of the wind, thus giving sailors, farmers and other people a guide to weather forecasting.

They can be made in many different sizes and shapes, and of many materials. Wood, bamboo, different metals, plastic, glass, sea shells, gourds, ceramics, and stones have all been used. Each material gives a different sound, the size of the material determines pitch. Most are not tuned, thus the tones produced are random pitches. Pitch can be controlled by length and size of materials. Some of the more expensive wind chimes are tuned.

Wind chimes are not only enjoyed for their sound, but they also have visual appeal. They can be hung outside the house or inside. Feng Shui uses them in many ways to restore balance and harmony in the home and garden. There are guidelines within Feng Shui as to placement, size, number of hanging items on the chime, and material the chime is made from. But it is not necessary to follow any guidelines to enjoy wind chimes. Put them where they will please you the most, in the size you like, made out the materials you like.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Mirror - Reflections on Its Magic and History

The first mirrors of history were nature's own, reflecting the visage of the first humans on the smooth surface of water. People must have considered these images of themselves not only magical but quite attractive, for they lead to the first mirrors made by man. The first ones constructed were of polished metal; brass, bronze, silver and even gold. There were also ones made from the glass-like mineral obsidian. Highly polished metal mirrors are mentioned in The Old Testament of the Bible. Ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans used polished metal mirrors, most hand mirrors with a handle and some very ornately decorated.

After the discovery of glass making, mirrors were also made from a sheet of glass that had a polished metal backing. The first example of this kind of mirror, a small rectangular one made from glass with gold attached to the back and sealed with shellac, was found in Roman tombs of the 1st century A.D. The method of attaching a thin sheet of reflecting metal to glass was not perfected until the 16th century when widespread production of this kind began. Venice and Nuremburg were renown for glass mirror making, with some very ornate examples being made.

The art of glass mirror making spread, and in the later years of the 16th century London and Paris became famous for mirror manufacture. The mirrors of this time were extremely expensive, especially the larger ones. They were objects that only the wealthy could afford, and were very often highly decorated. Glass mirrors remained an item of the nobility and the rich for many years due to their expense. In its day, the Hall of Mirrors of the Castle of Versailles in Paris, France was not only known for its beauty but for the tremendous expense of the 357 mirrors that are in it.

In the late 17th century, around the same time the Hall of Mirrors was built, mirrors started to be used for more than looking glasses. Highly ornate ones had frames of tortoiseshell, mother of pearl, wood veneers, silver or gold. The tradition of hanging a mirror with a decorative frame over the mantelpiece of a fireplace was begun at this time. The frames of these items would be changed to reflect current tastes and styles of the times, as it was cheaper to change the frame than to purchase a new mirror.

When the chemical process of coating a piece of glass with reflective metals began in the early 19th century, mirrors became less expensive and more widespread. Every household had at least a hand mirror, if not one or two hanging on a wall. They became more of a décor item, as they were used in decorative schemes for the home and public places.

But a mirror is far from being only an item used for gazing at oneself or for home décor. Think of the many ways they have been and are still being used. In the largest conventional telescope, the reflecting telescope. The invention of the periscope would not have been possible without mirrors. The mirror is still a reliable and inexpensive item of safety for automobiles. Dentists make full use of mirrors in their practices. And the list goes on. With a history long and rich, uses numerous and varied, the common mirror still has the magic that attracted early humans.

Flashlights - Shining Light On Their History

The flashlight is an example of an invention that would have been impossible if not for the invention of other items, such as the electric light bulb and the electric battery.  The history of the flashlight:
  • The carbon filament electric light bulb was invented and patented by Thomas Edison in 1879.
  • For many years, electric batteries were 'wet' cells, usually glass containers filled with substances that produced electricity due to chemical reactions. They were fragile, heavy, and dangerous. The dry cell replaced the wet ingredients with a paste, and the first 'D' size dry cell battery was invented in 1898 by The National Carbon Company.
  • There were many attempts to devise a portable lighting device in the late 19th century. These attempts were considered novelties with little practical value. The name flashlight comes from these early attempts, as they would not give a steady stream of light, but would flash.
  • A Russian immigrant by the name of Conrad Hubert started his own company called American Electrical Novelty And Manufacturing Company that produced lighted stick pins and a lighted flowerpot among other novelty items. He recognized the potential of the flashlight, and hired David Misell in 1897, who had invented an early bicycle lamp, to help devise a workable model.
  • The first flashlights made by Hubert were made by hand from paper and fiber tubes with a brass reflector and light bulb. They used the newly-invented 'D' cry cell batteries. A number of these flashlights were made, and Hubert gave them to some New York City policemen. The policemen gave Hubert very favorable reports about them, and in 1905 Hubert got a patent for a flashlight with an on/off switch in a cylindrical casing.
  • The National Carbon Company bought a half interest in Hubert's company in 1906. The name of the company was changed to The American Ever Ready Company. The trade name was shortened to Eveready.
The flashlight has had many changes and improvements over the years. Metal tubes used for the body instead of paper, more efficient batteries, long lasting light bulbs, even no-battery flash lights that produce their own power by shaking or cranking a handle. But the basic design is the same as that created in 1898 by Hubert and Misell.

Bookend Beginnings

Before books, knowledge and information was passed by word of mouth. The more the knowledge base of humans increased, the more the need for some way of keeping a record of things. Among the first 'books' known are clay tablets with marks made into the wet clay which was then fired in an oven like pottery. This was the first known written language, called Cuneiform Script, developed over 6,000 years ago. As innovative as these first writings were, it was not the most practical way to record information, and carrying large clay tablets around was definitely not convenient. The next innovation in the written word came with the introduction of the scroll, approximately 5,000 years ago. The first scrolls were made from animal skins or papyrus.

The scroll held many advantages over the clay tablet. They weren't as cumbersome, could hold much more information as the scroll could be made as long as was needed, and offered opportunities of editing text that were not possible with clay tablets once they had been fired. The ancient Judeans used the scroll to transmit their holy texts, beginning a tradition that is still practiced in modern Judaism with Torah scrolls.

The advantage that books had over scrolls was that individual pages made access to information easier by indexing, which eventually made books more popular. Hand written on fine parchment or vellum, hand bound in fine leather and sometimes highly decorated outside and in, these early books were works of art in themselves. They were of such high value that books were actually chained to the shelves they were stored on to prevent theft. They took so long to produce at such great expense that a library with as few as 25 volumes was worth a fortune. These were stored in piles, or singly on slanted boards where they were read.

The development of movable type for printing them slowly made them more affordable and numerous. With so many more books available, shelving systems holding books vertically to save space, with the spines facing outward for ease of identification were developed to categorize and store them for ready use. The problems of a half-row of them constantly falling over, sometimes off the shelf, was solved by the use of bookends in these Renaissance libraries. Bookends have been with us ever since.

From plain metal bookends to highly ornate bookends, their function remains the same. They are a part of the evolution of the written word that began with those cuneiform tablets over 6,000 years ago. That there was ever a need for such an item speaks volumes about the ingenuity, creativity and practicality of the human mind.

Chess - A Game For The Ages

The game we call Chess goes so far back into the murky dimness of history that no one is really sure about the specifics of its origin. But scholars generally believe that it originated in what are now Northern India and Afghanistan. The oldest written reference to the game is circa 600 in India. But this game was not the modern day game we know. This version of the game had pieces representing elephants, infantry, cavalry and boatmen, all commanded by a Rajah. There is evidence that it was played on a board similar to the one used today, a board of 64 squares of alternating colors.

From ancient India the game spread to Persia (present day Iran). Tradition has it that a Hindu ambassador brought a chess set to the ruler of Persia in the 6th century. With the rise of Islam, the game was spread to the Arabs, who in turn spread the game to Byzantium.

Whenever a culture discovered the game, the game changed. An example of this was the re-naming of the pieces. In India, the most important piece was called the Rajah, in Persia it was called the Shah, in the Arab world it was called the Caliph, and in Europe it was called the King. Although many other pieces were added or removed from the game over time, the most important piece has always been the ruling piece, whether it has been called Rajah, Shah, Caliph or King.

It was also spread by traders traveling the ancient trade routes from India. This resulted in variants of the game that still exist in China, Korea, Japan, India and other countries. The game variant that is most well known in the western world came from Persia to the main trade routes of Spain and Italy around 1000 AD. The game that we know today spread all over Europe, and by 1400 AD was well established and being played under most of the rules that still apply to the game today.

The first international tournament was held in London in 1851. This first tournament was not officially sanctioned, so the winner of it, a German named Adolf Anderssen, was known unofficially as the world's best player. It was not until 1866 that the first official international chess tournament was held, also in London. Wilhelm Steinitz from Bohemia won this tournament, and was the first official World Champion.

Chess is an ancient game still being played by many people. It is estimated that in the United States alone, there are 39 million chess players. Tournaments are very popular, and a chess Grand Master can have as much notoriety as a sports star or political leader. For a game whose pieces are remnants of an ancient way of life, the game itself remains very popular in the modern world. Chess. Truly a game for the ages.

Buttons - History and Facts

When did buttons begin to be used? What was used to secure clothing before them? Some history and facts about the button:
  • Button-like objects have been found in the Indus Valley of ancient Pakistan and date back to around 2000 B.C.E. These were not used for fasteners, but for ornaments. Before buttons were used for fastening, pins, leather lacing and belts were used to secure clothing.
  • Before buttons could be used as fasteners, the button hole had to be devised. Evidence dates the first button and button hole closure systems to the 13th century in Germany. This may have been a solution to the problem of how to secure clothing that was becoming more and more form-fitting, without having to resort to sharp pins.
  • As with most anything that is new, they became a fad. Buttons and button holes covered the clothing of the well to do. The number of them and what they were made out of became a status symbol. It has been rumored that King Louis XIV of France spent over $5 million on them in his lifetime.
  • Ever wonder why men's suit coats have non-functioning buttons sewn on the sleeves? Some say they are just for decoration, but there is also the story that King Frederick The Great of Prussia started the practice in the 18th century. The rumor goes that after an inspection of his troops, he ordered that buttons be sewn on the sleeves of their coats to discourage them from wiping their noses on them.
  • The Scovill Manufacturing Company in America made a set of gold buttons with the profile of George Washington on them that were presented to Marquis de Lafayette during his U.S. visit in 1824.
  • With the increased cost of ivory in the 19th century, button manufacturers began to make them out of a nut from a specific kind of palm tree in South America. This is called vegetable ivory, or corozo. When the nut is dried, it is a very reasonable facsimile for genuine ivory, and is still used today.
  • The first buttons made from celluloid, one of the first types of plastics, were made in the 1860's.
  • Before World War One, most button manufacturing was done in Europe, specifically England. After the war, the United States became the center of button making until modern times.

The Whoopee Cushion - A Tribute and Short History

Consider the whoopee cushion, also referred to as the Poo Poo Cushion and Razzbery Cushion. An object of disgust for some, merriment for others. Invented around 1950 by two employees of the Jem Rubber Company of Toronto Canada, goofing around with scrap pieces of rubber sheeting. Sounds like it was a fun place to work. The company tried to sell the new device to Sam Adams, founder of the S.S.Adams Novelty Company. But Sam Adams refused, saying the item was too vulgar and would never sell. But other companies that Jem Rubber approached did not think the same way. The rest is history.

So what is the mystique of the whoopee cushion? Flatulence has never been proper behavior in public, at least for many people. Things that are not proper are left wide open to the imagination of folks with a sense of humor. Flatulence jokes are found in the plays of the 5th century BC playwright Aristophanes, in the writings of Homer, Geoffrey Chaucer in his Canterbury Tales, in the Arabic tales translated by Sir Richard Burton Tales of 1001 Nights, Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain both included references to the fart in their writings. Famous company for such low brow humor, I'd say.

My first experience with a whoopee cushion was brought about by my Dad, one of the great practical jokesters and pranksters I ever knew. When us kids were called in to supper, we never knew what was in store. A dribble glass, a pile of rubber dog doo doo on our plates, soup spoons with clear plastic inserts that soup would roll off of, a telescopic fork that Dad would extend to swipe food off your plate, rubber vomit. And between meals was no different. Chinese Finger Traps , Joy Buzzers, cans of mixed nuts that when opened out shot a long snake. By the time us kids were old enough to leave home, we had pretty much seen it all, prankster wise anyway. Some of us had enough of the pranks when we were kids, some of us were hooked on them. I confess to being hooked on them.

There were primarily two companies that sold these types of pranks over the years. The aforementioned S.S. Adams,which began business in 1906, and Johnson Smith Company that began business in 1914. Both companies are still in business. The gag market evidently is still very strong. Johnson Smith published a 500+ page catalogue full of novelties and gags in the 1920's, and my Dad used to order from there from his childhood days until a few years before his death in 1993. Some comments from the Johnson Smith Company:

"Our story is not without sociological aspects and influences. During the 1920s and 1930s, practical jokes and home hobbies provided an escape for people wracked with economic struggle brought on by WWI and the Great Depression. Our catalog provided hours of "escape," fun and fantasy for the depressed nation, even without having to order! Even today we hear from people who remember our catalog and the "relief" we provided!" 

So there you have it. Sociological aspects from pranks and jokes, including the whoopee cushion! There are also the technological aspects of this that should not be ignored. The original whoopee cushion, made from rubber and inexpensive, has given way to a wonder of technology, the remote control whoopee cushion! While there is always a price to pay for technology, the modern version has 15 different sounds, can be operated with the remote control up to fifty feet away.

But there is still room for the original version of the whoopee cushion. It does take a certain degree of skill in use, and there are ways of getting different noises from the original whoopee cushion. For the purist, the original. For everyone else, the remote control version.
So whether the results of using a whoopee cushion (either the vintage or new-fangled style) make you laugh, cringe, or turn away in disgust the whoopee cushion is here to stay.

When Did Humans Start Wearing Clothes?

There are many schools of thought and belief about the origins of humans. Some purely religious, some purely scientific, some mix the two. Regardless of which school of thought, it seems obvious that the first humans on this earth lived in warm climates. I suppose there are those who will argue about this, but I am proceeding under the assumption that the first humans lived in a climate that was sufficiently warm to keep them alive without any kind of clothing.

Pursuing that thought can reveal the reasons humans began to wear clothing. For warmth and protection, especially when humans begin migrating to colder climates. Further down the line of human progress, the naked body became taboo and modesty came into the picture. It's very easy to come up with some reasons for wearing clothes. But now ask the question, "When did humans begin wearing clothes?"

Not an earth-shattering question. Perhaps not a question many people would think very important (or possible) to get an answer to. But there are those who burn with the desire to get an answer to this question, believe it or not.

Groups of researchers have thought of possible ways to determine the approximate date of apparel wearing. One idea says this could be determined by analyzing the date of origin of human body lice. The reasoning is that since humans have sparse body hair, the only way human body lice could survive would be in clothing. Seems an awfully long stretch to me. What about lice jumping off an animal and chowing down on a human? But supposed serious research has been done under this premise.

So how to determine when body lice appeared on humans? Simple. Take a modern day louse and do a genetic analysis of it. One group has determined that the human body louse appeared roughly 107,000 years ago, thus humans began to wear clothing about the same time. But nothing is that simple, let alone the ancestral DNA of a louse, for yet another team of researchers did the same genetic analysis on the modern louse and determined that it appeared roughly 540,000 years ago. The two groups are still haggling about it.

This is all according to some articles I've read on the Internet. Of course, reading something on the Internet doesn't make it so. It is hard to believe that scientists would take the trouble to invest effort, time and money on such a project. And just think of how many innocent body lice had to be sacrificed.

While I can't verify all of this, as ludicrous as it seems it most certainly is possible that this research has happened. Especially if you consider these other areas of research, a mere handful of crazy research projects I found while surfing the 'net:
  • Arm pit odor research.
  • Research to determine the relationship between beards and hierarchy.
  • Research to prove that familiar children's nursery rhymes were written by aliens.
After reading those, the possibility of scientists hovering over a dead body louse and extracting its DNA to determine when humans began to wear clothing doesn't seem so far fetched. But if this research did take place, I don't mind saying I think it was a lousy idea.

The Hand Sewing Needle - History and Facts

Even a small thing like a hand sewing needle has had a role in the history of humans. Some facts and history about the hand sewing needle:
  • The first sewing needles were made from bone and were used to sew animal hides together. The oldest known bone sewing needle was one found in what is now southwestern France and has been estimated to be over 25,000 years old.
  • Needles made from copper, silver and bronze were used in ancient Egypt.
  • The oldest iron needle known was found in what is now Germany, and dates back to the 3rd century B.C.E.
  • Bookbinders and shoemakers used needles made from hog bristles in the Middle Ages.
  • Native Americans used porcupine quills and the pointed end of agave leaves for sewing needles. The fibers of the agave leaf were also used for thread.
  • Metal needle making was perfected by Muslims in Spain in the 11th century. Spanish Muslims were some of the most knowledgeable medical doctors in the world at the time, and had perfected many surgical techniques that required needles for suturing.
  • When the Muslims were driven out of Spain in the 15th century, they took the knowledge of needle making with them to Arab lands. Muslims returned to needle making, and Arab traders took them to Europe.
  • Europe learned the art of needle making from Arab needle makers, and it came to England in the 17th century. Before this time, metal needles were made in Europe by the local blacksmith, and resulted in very crude needles.
  • The knowledge of needle making was also used to make fish hooks in England. The country became well known for high quality fish hooks as well as sewing needles in the middle of the 17th century.
  • Metal needles were handcrafted before the industrial age. The process began with cutting wire long enough to make two needles. Then points were ground on either end of the wire, the wire was flattened in the middle and eyes punched out. The needles were then separated. This operation is still followed today, but machines now do the work instead of humans.
  • Around 1850 needle making machines began producing needles and turned needle making from a cottage industry into an industry done in factories. By 1866 there were 100 million needles being made in England a year.
  • The English town and district of Redditch in central England became the center of the world's needle production in the 19th century. The craftsmanship of the needles made there was so great that a foreign manufacturer sent a hypodermic needle to Redditch claiming that it was smaller than Redditch needle makers could produce. The needle was sent back to the manufacturer with a needle made by Redditch craftsman so small that it fit inside the foreign manufacturer's!
  • Needle making is still being done in the Redditch area and other places in England.