Category: Inventions

3-D Pictures, 19th Century Style (Reprise)

Hello everyone, Winnie Griggs here. I’m afraid this month’s blog date sort of snuck up on me – a combination of dealing with my foot in a cast, a looming book deadline and planning an impromptu Disney vacation in a couple of weeks.  So I hope you will forgive me if I reprise an older post.  And to make it up to you, I’m offering 2 folks who leave a comment here their choice of any book in my backlist.

Did you know that the scientific principles behind 3-D movies had their first practical application as early as 1838?  That’s when Charles Wheatstone patented his reflecting stereoscope.   I’m sure you’ve all seen stereoscopes before, in pictures if not in actuality.  But do you know how they work?

Actually, they work in much the same way human vision works.  Because our eyes are spaced about two inches apart we see everything from slightly different angles.  Our brains, wonderful creations that they are, then process these into a single image with both dimension and depth.  Charles Wheatstone applied this principle to his invention, using drawings that were pairs of reverse images and a series of mirrors to create the illusion of a single three dimensional image.

In 1850, glass images were developed.  Though an improvement on the earlier drawings, the quality was low and the price was relatively high.

Queen Victoria took a fancy to the device when she saw one demonstrated at the Crystal Palace Exposition in 1851, and suddenly they were all the rage in Europe.  It was somewhat later before the fascination took hold in America.

These early stereoscopes were large, bulky and table mounted, requiring a large commitment of space as well as money.  But all of that changed a few short years later.  With the advent of photographic improvements, tintypes, daguerreotypes and flat mount paper became available, greatly improving the quality of the images.  Early attempts had photographers taking one photograph then slightly shifting the camera and taking a second.  The next evolution had photographers utilizing a rig that had two cameras mounted on it to take the twin photos.  Eventually an enterprising inventor created a camera with two lenses

Then, in 1862 Oliver Wendell Holmes and Joseph Bates created a compact, handheld viewer named the Holmes stereopticon and the popularity of stereoscopes exploded.  In fact, by the end of the century, in spite of their expense, you could find one of these devices in many middle and upper class parlors of the time.  The most popular slides were the travelogue type that depicted exotic landmarks such as the pyramids of Egypt and the closer-to-home scenic beauty of Yellowstone.   The marvels of the Chicago World’s Fair of 1892 and the St. Louis World Fair also made their way onto stereoscopic slides.  As Burke Long put it, “Mass-produced and relatively cheap, the integrated system of mechanical viewer and photographs became fashionable for classroom pedagogy, tourist mementos, and parlor travel to exotic places of the world.”  You could say that, as a form of entertainment, the stereopticon was the Victorian era’s equivalent of today’s video players. 

By the 1920s movies and the enhanced availability of cameras to the ‘common man’ began to supplant the stereopticon’s hold on people’s  interest.  But, believe it or not,  the stereopticon survives to this day.  The child’s toy View-Master, named one of the top 50 toys of the twentieth century, is a direct ‘descendant’ of the stereopticon, utilizing the very same principles.

 

So, did anything in today’s post surprise you? Do you have firsthand experience with a stereopticon? Did you play with a View-Master as a child? 

Leave a comment to be entered in a drawing for winner’s choice of one book from my backlist!

Updated: June 1, 2019 — 3:12 pm

Cha-Ching: The Bell Heard Around the World

 

This past week, while working on a scene set in a general store, I got to wondering when cash registers might have been found in the Old West. I was surprised to discover that the cash register (called a Cashier at the time) was invented in 1879 by a saloon owner.

James Ritty (public domain)

James Jacob Ritty, owner of the popular Pony House Saloon in Dayton, Ohio, knew something was wrong.  Buffalo Bill and John Dillinger were among his many customers and business was booming.  Still he saw no profit.  He was suspicious that his bartenders were dipping into the till but couldn’t prove it.

The problem was very much on his mind during a sailing trip to Europe. While studying the ship’s mechanics, particularly the counting mechanism that recorded the propeller’s revolutions, he got an idea; why not invent a device that would record a shop’s sales? 

Upon returning to the states, he ran his idea by his brother, John, and after a couple of false starts, the two patented what became known as Ritty’s Incorruptible Cashier. 

Ritty’s Incorruptible Cashier 1879. public domain

The machine had a clock-like feature that rang up sales, but no cash drawer.  During each sale, a paper tape was punched with holes so that the merchant could keep track of sales. At the end of the day, the merchant could add up the holes.  This was no easy task. Even though the machine was designed to record daily sales no greater than $12.99, the tally could be as long as twenty feet.

Their invention worked and Ritty’s profits rose, but it wasn’t fool proof. Without a cash drawer, money still turned up in the wrong pockets.

The brothers later added a cash drawer and the Cha-Ching sound that shop owners love to hear.  (It’s thought that merchants came up with odd prices like forty-nine or ninety-nine cents, so cashiers would have to open the till to make change. This helped insure that all sales were recorded.)

The brothers opened a factory above the saloon. Running two businesses soon proved too much for James, and he sold his cashier business to a group of investors.  Eventually, the company sold to John H. Patterson who renamed it the National Cash Register Corporation.

The Thief Catcher

By the 1880s, cash registers could be found in retail shops across the country.  Though the new and improved registers aided bookkeeping and inventory chores, they were resented by clerks.  It’s easy to understand why; the machines were called “thief catchers.”  Honest clerks resented the implication and dishonest clerks missed the extra income.   

But then, as now, enterprising thieves always found a way. 

Speaking of thieves, do you always ask for receipts, even at fast food outlets?  If not, you should. Dishonest clerks can do a lot with unclaimed receipts–and none of it good!

 

The only thing threatening their success is love!

Amazon

Updated: May 20, 2018 — 8:26 am

Going, going, GONE!

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I think you should know that the classic candy that has been a constant since 1847, is about to go the way of phone booths.   Yes, that’s right.  The company that makes Necco Wafers has announced that, unless it finds a buyer, it will close its doors forever in May.

Do you know what that means?  Future generations will never know what drywall tastes like. 

Originally called hub wafers, the coin-shaped candies were carried by soldiers during the Civil War and World War II.  Since the candy traveled well and never melted or spoiled, soldiers and yes, even cowboys, could carry them with confidence.

These candies traveled as far as the North Pole, and that’s not all. Admiral Byrd took two tons of the things with him to the Antarctica.  Even more impressive; Necco Wafers was the first candy to multi-task.  They served as wafers during communion and were tossed in baskets for payment at toll booths.

Sad to say, Necco isn’t the only old company at risk. In recent years, we’ve seen the demise of the Sears Wish book and five and dime stores. Who knows what will be next? 

I don’t mean to be an alarmist, but I shudder to think that Baker’s chocolate—a friend to cooks since 1780—might someday be declared unfit for human consumption.  Don’t laugh. It happened to wheat, eggs and red meat. Who’s to say the same thing won’t happen to chocolate?

Never mind that cowboys and civil war soldiers enjoyed morning cups of Baker’s hot chocolate with no known problems.  Cast-iron stomachs of the past have no place in today’s world. 

It’s not just food and drink that’s in danger. The next company that could bite the dust could very well be Remington, established in 1818. It’s hard to believe that the company that produced the “rifle that won the west” might one day close its doors. But firearms aren’t all that popular these days.  Nor for that matter are typewriters. So who knows? 

And what about Brooks Brothers, another formidable company founded in 1818? The company made the first ready-to-wear suits in 1849.  Those flocking to California that year for the gold rush couldn’t wait for tailors to outfit them. For that reason, forty-niners depended on Brooks Brothers for their clothing needs. So did Abe Lincoln, Eisenhower and J.F. Kennedy.

Anything made of paper is about to become obsolete, including maps, shopping bags and checks.  Here in California, the war on drinking straws is heating up.  If that’s not enough, many of the nation’s newspapers have vanished in recent years. That means that old standbys like The New York Times (founded in 1851 as the New York Daily Times) could one day shut down their presses forever. 

I also worry about Merriam-Webster, founded in 1831. If it goes the way of encyclopedia salesmen, I will have to share the blame. I can’t remember the last time I actually looked something up in an honest-to-goodness, print dictionary, can you? 

Nothing is safe in today’s fast-paced world as proven by Kodak. Who would have thought that a company that we all knew and loved would close its dark-room doors forever and stop making cameras?

Founded in 1889, Kodak was the absolute leader in photography. It’s still in business making mobile devices, but its past glory is gone. Phone cameras have taken its place, but it’s not the same. An iPhone second just doesn’t have the same ring as a Kodak moment.

So, what old-time product do you or would you miss? What were you glad to see go?

 

Amazon

Updated: April 19, 2018 — 1:49 pm

Elevators – History and Trivia

Hi all, Winnie Griggs here. In December, my book Once Upon A Texas Christmas will release. The story features a hero and heroine who have been asked to team up (much to the hero’s chagrin) to renovate an old hotel building. One of the things I wanted them to include as part of the renovation was an elevator. And this, of course, led me down a rabbit hole of research into what elevators were like during this period of time. So today I thought I’d share a little bit of what I learned.

First some history:

  • While the concept of lifting heavy objects is older than the pyramids themselves, it was in 236 BC that Archimedes, a Greek mathematician, invented the first elevator that was based on ropes, wrenches and weights. His concepts became the foundation for all elevators going forward.
  • One of my favorite and unexpected bits of elevator trivia – In 1203 the Abby of Mont St Michel installed a treadmill powered hoisting elevator. Most sources say prisoners were employed to man the treadmill. But at least one source noted that monkeys were employed as well. Whether true or not, isn’t it fun to imagine what that would have looked like?
  • It was in 1743 that one of the first elevators designed specifically for human passengers, a counterweight lift, was installed in King Louis XV’s villa at Versailles, France.
  • In 1852, while working in a New York bedstead factory, Elisha Otis saw a problem he needed to fix. Workers there were reluctant to use the hoists that were required to lift the heavy equipment to the upper floors. They were afraid the cable would break and crash to the ground causing serious injury or worse. Elisha rose to the challenge and he designed and created the first elevator safety braking device. It was this invention that revolutionized elevator design and paved the way for commercial passenger elevators.

    Elisha Otis

  • In 1854 Elisha Otis introduced another safety device, an elevator cabin that featured a self-locking door gear, designed to protect occupants from falling out of the elevator. 32 years later inventor Alexander Miles patented an automatic door system for the elevator.
  • Elisha Otis died from diphtheria in 1861, he was only 49. But his two sons took over the company, turning it into an international giant. Over the next several years they installed elevators in such prestigious buildings as the Eiffel Tower, the Washington Monument and the 60 story Woolworth Building which was the world’s tallest building at the time. The Otis Elevator Company is still the world’s largest vertical transportation manufacturer today (it includes escalators as well as elevators).

Trivia and fun facts:

  • There are currently over 700,000 elevators in the US. But as of 2008, Italy holds the record for the country with the most elevators installed – approximately 850,000.
  • Statistically, elevators are the safest way to travel. And they are 20 times safer than escalators.
  • The reason most elevators have mirrors is to make them seem larger in order to help people who suffer from claustrophobia.
  • Music was first introduced in elevators in the 1920s. It was hoped that this would calm folks who might be anxious about riding in elevators for the first time.
  • Betty Oliver was an elevator operator in the Empire State Building who was on duty on July 28, 1945 when a plane crashed into the building. She was injured and when rescuers subsequently tried to lower her the elevator cable broke, plummeting her 75 stories down. Miraculously she survived the fall. She still holds the record for being the longest elevator fall survivor.
  • Over the course of three days, elevators carry the equivalent of the world’s total population.

So there’s a quick overview of some of the info I gathered in my research.  What do you think? Did any of the info surprise you? Do you have any fun stories of your own to share related to elevators?

Leave a comment to be entered into a drawing for an advanced copy of my December release, Once Upon A Texas Christmas.

ONCE UPON A TEXAS CHRISTMAS

Partners for the Holidays 

Abigail Fulton is determined to find independence in Turnabout, Texas—and becoming manager of the local hotel could be the solution. But first, she must work with Seth Reynolds to renovate the property by Christmas—and convince him she’s perfect for the job. If only he hadn’t already promised the position to someone else…

Ever since his troubled childhood, Seth yearns to prove himself. And this hotel is his best chance. But what does someone like Abigail know about decor and furnishings? Yet the closer the holiday deadline gets, the more he appreciates her abilities and her kindness. His business ambitions require denying Abigail’s dearest wish, but can they put old dreams aside for a greater gift—love and family?

Preorder Link

 

Updated: October 10, 2017 — 2:45 pm