Archive for April, 2008

Radium Baths For Your Health

Monday, April 28th, 2008

Combining bathing and radium doesn’t strike me as a wise idea: as the name alludes, radium is a highly radioactive element that decomposes into Radon, another not-so-healthful element. Back in the 1920s and 1930s, however, radioactive compounds were seen as quite the opposite: a curative, capable of curing pretty much whatever ails you. Radium was relatively stable (‘relatively’ when it comes to radioactive elements), common enough to be available to quacks everywhere, and just radioactive enough to not cause instant death. On top of it all, radium was naturally-occurring, and with the new radiation-detecting apparatuses developed at the beginning of the Atomic Age, people were amazed to find out just how much radiation existed around them. They began looking for hot-spots, and soon discovered that some of the natural mineral baths made a Geiger counter sound like a flamenco tapdancer.

So, if you were interested in going to the spa, you might pass up on the average, non-radioactive hot-water mineral spa and visit a radium spa like the one on the right…while it wasn’t immediately deadly to casual users, the already-ill tended to continue to get sicker, so they used more radium-laced products, and got sicker, so they got more radium…you get the idea. Just going home wasn’t necessarily going to get you away from radium – if you couldn’t make it to the spa, you could irradiate your own water at home, or buy the stuff pre-packaged. All of these photos are slightly blurry — it makes me wonder just how much was the photographer, and how much was the proximity to radiation. That dead, scraggly tree in the foreground should have been a clue.

Cape Cod Illustrated

Sunday, April 27th, 2008


This map, short on words but large on illustrations, diagrams just a small portion of Massachusetts known as Cape Cod. It was printed as part of a booklet by the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad Co (which, in turn, was part of a 7-booklet set covering the entirety of the railroad’s reach). The booklets were designed for tourists and encouraged them to contact the railroads internal ‘travel bureau’, as though East Coast residents had no idea the Cape was known for its beaches and fishing — although its target was probably not locals, but folks like me from the flyover states who’d be intrigued by the treasure chest marked “Kidd“. I had no idea his lost treasure was marked so clearly on local maps!

Portable Radios: Root of Modern Technology

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

This is where it all started: you might argue that it was the portable record player, or the Walkman, or the laptop, or the iPod, but portable personal electronics started in the 1930s with the advent of portable radios. As a revolution, the cover shows just how large the jump was from the last comparable technology. The magazine compares a person carrying a portable radio to a hurdy-gurdy street performer. The concept of carrying around a small box of audible music was unbelievably new for the time — music boxes were one thing, but a broadcast receiver was beyond anything that had been seen before. It didn’t replace anything, like the lineage from cassette to CD to MP3; it struck out in uncharted territory.

Battery powered equipment was not new; before mains were run to homes, everything was either battery-powered or hand-powered. The advent here is miniaturization. Vacuum tubes were the size of a fingertip and required far less electricity to run their internal parts than ever before, and smaller compact batteries had the oomph to power them. This continues to be the focus of today’s portables: how much can you fit into the smallest case? The article in the magazine reads, on one hand, like it’s been transcribed and word-replaced every year for the past hundred: Now you can take it with you, smaller technology improves weight and portability, new power sources get you longer operation times, includes headphones for private listening, and people are integrating it into their daily lives. The details are delightfully dated, but are easily echoed with modern technology. Celphone users can immediately sympathize with a person of 1930 seeking a a signal while deep inside a steel-structured building. People still attend sports events with a media-receiver, to not only see the event live but get up-to-the-minute commentary from outside sources. And, lastly — a point that the article emphasizes without divining the social cost — people demand the ability to take their personal, in-home media with them wherever they go. As the adage goes, the times may change, but people will remain the same, whether they’ve got a 10-pound AM radio slung over their shoulder or a fully-featured computer in their pocket.

20th Century Fox Organization Diagrams

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

In 1940, this is how 20th Century Fox looked like, when diagrammed out on paper. These sheets — 38 of them — outline nearly every part of studio operation, from the restaurants to the sound effects to the studio security. The extreme detail is absorbing, looking at every little box and seeing where it leads to. Some are less than informative, while others explain a lot about how movies made it to the public.

The Stereo Realist In Wisconsin

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

Today’s image isn’t about deerskin jackets, or who this model is, or about where in Wisconsin this advertisment comes from. In this lady’s hands comes one of the technological marvels of the twentieth century: the Stereo Realist, a 3D camera that the average person could own and use.

First manufactured in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1947, the camera was produced for nearly thirty years and enjoyed a lot of publicity and popularity for a time. The camera used regular 35mm film, still the standard size today, which also made processing more available to the public.

The advertisment comes from the Milwaukee Journal’s Sunday Picture Journal, December 7, 1958, putting it well within the era of the Stereo Realist’s popularity. The Stereo Realist had a very high-profile life, though, as a photographic toy carried by celebrities of all kinds, from Vincent Price to Dwight Eisenhower. What better way to add to the class and style of a deerskin jacket than to include a home-town boy that went and got famous? The camera had a reputation for being mechanically complex, but the designer accomodated this with quality structure, and the camera’s downfall wasn’t complexity or difficulty but an overall decline in 3d photography. Still, just put “stereo realist” into a search engine, and you’ll find rabid collectors who want the camera in the ad — that specific camera — in their collection.

Never a More Wretched Hive of Scum and Villany

Monday, April 14th, 2008


The perspective and content of this photo requires me to get a little geeky. When I first looked at it, I immediately connected it to a scene from Star Wars — Luke and ObiWan are on their way to save the universe, and in procuring a ship they stop on a cliff overlooking the spaceport. ObiWan warns: “Mos Eisley spaceport. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.

The actual city, I don’t know — it appears to be in Arizona, given the content of other images in these slides, and the number of tall buildings would indicate it’s not a tiny town. The odds of finding a Corellian starship for hire are probably low, though.

The USS Nautilus. Artist’s Impression

Sunday, April 13th, 2008

In December, 1952, Collier’s Magazine made the USS Nautilus its cover story. Nautilus was the first US nuclear-powered sub, and it set record after record during its time at sea. The date of the Collier’s article, however, is a clue to this picture’s origin. Construction on the Nautilus started 14 June 1952, and the ship wasn’t seaworthy until 1954. The design for the sub was definitely in existence, but the ship itself was still a few years away. With the help of Rear Admiral Homer N Wallin, Collier’s was able to assemble an excellent description of our newest not-so-secret weapon.

The above image has to be enlarged to be appreciated; the detail is tremendous, and I’d bet the original was huge. The diagram spanned two pages, from edge to edge. I find it a bit disconcerting that the area marked “nuclear lab” is right next to the galley, but I’d imagine that this artist’s rendition isn’t completely accurate; it does closely resemble the map seen here, though. The article gives quite a few details about the Nautilus‘ capabilities, no doubt as a show of US power and induce fear in our enemies of the surprise attack from such a formidable opponent. The details in the diagram above do show a bit more than I’d expected — in the room marked “Crew’s Quarters”, the following detail is shown:

Yes sir, our red-blooded sailors, spending months cruising beneath the choppy waves, will enjoy the companionship of the all-American pin-up gal (nsfw). Maybe the artist was far more truthful about the submarine’s nature than I thought.

Revere, Minnesota, 1920

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

Welcome to Revere, Minnesota. Walnut Grove, where some of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books were set, is the largest town to the west, and Lamberton is the larger town to the east. All these towns are connected by US Highway 14, but the railroad was once the main way to get from here to there. Only a couple miles separate these towns, with Walnut Grove and Lamberton being larger, and Revere becoming a stopping point between the two.

During the early 1920s, however, the family of one of the residents took a bunch of photos. The photos come from the large lot of negatives I purchased last year. The people are in their twenties and thirties in the negatives I’ve scanned before, and in these photos they seem to be in their teens. I can’t quite tell if they were visiting Revere, or if they had lived in Revere during their youth. Anyhow, the photographer in the family took lots of pictures, capturing quite a bit of Revere’s downtown area.

Space Flight – Ten Cents

Monday, April 7th, 2008

In 1960, you could drop a dime in the mail and get yourself some genuine space-flight experience! The Science Program was a subscription service, delivering a booklet devoted to a single subject each month. Ten cents was the introductory offer, but future booklets cost a dollar (plus shipping). Subscribers also got posters, star-charts, and other helpful activities to help teach about the varied topics, from nuclear power to cartography.

Take a close look at the date, though: this advertisement was printed on the back of the 27 March 1960 edition of This Week magazine…a full year before the USSR and USA launched their respective manned spaceflights. The potential for wild speculation and amateurish writing was ripe, but the Science Service was above such things. Established in the 1920s, the Science Service was a newswire for scientific thought, sponsored and edited by scientists for accuracy and clarity to the layperson. These booklets were carefully written for accuracy, as much information as they had in the 1960s, and certainly inspired the minds of today’s scientists and engineers. That is, if their parents could come up with a buck a month to keep the sticker books coming.

Lectra Haul Versus Ford Mustang

Sunday, April 6th, 2008

This undated photo, from the 1960s, shows just how big a Lectra Haul is. That, on the right, is a mid-1960s Ford Mustang. If the people standing next to the Mustang were to stand on its roof, they might just reach the top of the Lectra Haul’s tire. This is actually a small one; although this was big in the early 1960s, as the decade progressed massive moving machines were growing in size at an alarming rate. This one could carry 85 tons, but by the end of the 1960s their manufacturer, Unit Rig, had moved on to bigger, more immense machines capable of carrying hundreds of tons at a time.

Now, for this photo’s origins — this came from the same set of slides as the 4H parade, but the rest were all rather scattered about…no real order. So, I’m scanning them in no particular order. I do know it was taken in the 1960s, based on other slides with marked dates. A large number of the slides are taken in Arizona or California, although pictures of houses and interiors are quite clearly in Arizona. The background doesn’t look like Arizona to me, though: distant oil storage facilities, overground pipelines, lots of ‘nothin, it looks more like Oklahoma or Texas. Turns out, Arizona has an oil industry, so its likely that an oil company would have bought a Lectra Haul from Unit Rig (which also manufactured electrically-powered oil wells and equipment), and left it parked out where tourists could gawk at it.