Thursday, May 6, 2021

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. 

Sunday, April 25, 2021

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 Asian flavor, as a marketing ploy.
  • Checkers

Thursday, April 22, 2021

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' dry 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, ones with rechargeable batteries, 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.

Monday, April 12, 2021

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 stationery 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. 

Monday, April 5, 2021

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, April 1, 2021

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.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

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. 
  • Chewing Gum