What many Americans may not be aware of is that, from the introduction of the U.S. Patent system, in 1790, up until 1880, every submitted patent document required a model of the invention to accompany it. Thousands upon thousands of models were submitted, so many that buildings had to be built to house them all. In 1994, an upstate New York couple, Ann and Allan Rothschild, began collecting some of these surviving models, eventually amassing some 4,000 items. This model collection forms the basis for Inventing a Better Mousetrap, a beautiful and fascinating exploration of these models, the patents they illustrated, and the sometimes profound import these inventions had on the growth and development of the United States of America.
One of the more fascinating dimensions of history is context, understanding the unique circumstances out of which something developed and the impact that development had upon history’s larger canvas. Besides gorgeous photographs and details of each of the models, every chapter (e.g. Steam, Heat, Light & Fire, Leather & Shoes, Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms) provides background on the circumstances that gave rise to the developments it examines. So, for example, in the ATF chapter, we learn about how the 1779 “Corn Patch and Cabin Rights” law, enacted for the Virginia territories (giving settlers 400 acres in what is now Kentucky, if they built a cabin and planted a corn crop), led to massive corn yields in the extremely fertile soil of the region. Read the rest
Machines that bend strong steel wire have been an important part of industrial manufacturing for decades. But on Saturday, I saw a $3,000 wire-bending machine the size of a laser printer, and my brain bubbled with excitement over the possibilities for hobbyists and small businesses. The machine, called the DIWire, can take a curve that's been drawn in Adobe Illustrator and "print" it on a length of stiff wire. You could make some awesome Eames-style furniture with one of these machines. NASA is already interested in using it to make antennae. It opens new frontiers for artists and designers, too. Read the rest
Writer Christine Baumgarthuber has a really interesting article in the June issue of Dissent magazine about what working-class Victorians ate, and how their diets (and health) changed with the introduction of relative convenience foods, cheaper sugar, and margarine.
I don't know the cultural history of food—or the medical history of changes in public health—well enough to know whether Baumgarthuber's piece represents a full, nuanced perspective. (Dissent is a well-written and frequently interesting magazine, but it can't really be called an unbiased source.) But I did want to share a short bit from that article about the invention of margarine, which is absolutely fascinating:
Read the rest
Sometime in the 1860s the enterprising French chemist Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès made an important discovery. He took a pound of beef tallow soaked beforehand in a solution of 15 percent common salt and 1 percent sulfate of soda, slowly rendered it at 103 degrees Fahrenheit, poured in gastric juices of a pig, and sprinkled it with biphosphate of lime. This curdled mixture he spun in a centrifuge before adding a splash of cream. The resulting opalescent, jelly-like substance tasted much like butter.
This substance not only won Mège-Mouriès a prize offered by Emperor Napoleon III, who desperately sought a cheap, long-lasting, and easy-to-produce substitute for butter to feed the poor and his antsy army; it also secured him a place in history as the father of oleomargarine, which he patented in 1869. Two years later he sold the patent. Not long after a German pharmacist, who adapted the Frenchman’s formula, commenced its industrial production by establishing the Benedict Klein Margarinewerke.
"My Favorite Museum Exhibit" is a series of posts aimed at giving BoingBoing readers a chance to show off their favorite exhibits and specimens, preferably from museums that might go overlooked in the tourism pantheon. I'll be featuring posts in this series all week. Want to see them all? Check out the archive post. I'll update the full list there every morning.
I don't have much information on this piece. I don't know who made it, or when. But I do know that it is a hand-made wooden bicycle, produced by a clearly incredible everyday artisan somewhere on the continent of Africa. It's also Mike Lynd's favorite exhibit at the Birmingham, England, Thinktank Science Museum, where the bicycle is part of a larger section dedicated to transportation innovations.
A quick Google search tells me that a tradition of hand-made bikes with wooden parts exists in lots of African countries. I found a video of a man in Malawi riding a bike he built from recycled metal tires attached to a 2-by-4 frame; cart-like wooden bikes built in Rwanda and in the Congo to carry goods and belongings over long distances; and some stories on Jules Bassong, a wood sculptor who toured his native Cameroon on a wooden bicycle he made in 2008. Read the rest