Connecticut Invention of the Day: It’s Pothole Season!

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In case you haven’t noticed (or jarringly felt it) we’ve entered pothole season here in New England. The constant swings in temperature and precipitation have left many roads looking and feeling like something one reads about in a novel about traveling through a third world country. But it’s nothing new, it happens every year and has been happening every year for decades. Of course repairing an aluminum rim from a car today might be a bit more costly than repairing a wooden wheel from a buckboard a 150 years ago….

Keeping our roads in good order is a constant battle. There are a number of Connecticut inventions from years gone by that have sought the best way to build and or repair roads:

James Brooks of Stafford Springs devised this “Road Scraper” in 1862:

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Another “Road Scraper”, this from Wallingford and Marcus Cook dates to 1884:

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Then from Thomas Barber of Hampton, circa 1865, we have the “Road Device”. A sort of all in one machine that digs, scrapes and crowns a road:

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Now all these fancy tools can make the best roads in the world. But sometimes a driver needs a bit more help keeping his or her car on the path so to speak. John Lawson of West Haven thought he solved that by offering up the “Road Guard” back in 1923. Funny thing is this reminds me of my kids slot car racing sets that have those plastic barriers on the corners to keep their mini cars traveling down the road…..works for them, maybe not a bad idea after all.

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Connecticut Invention of the Day: “Turning Darkness into Light”

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Sure, October is a beautiful month in some respects. The blazing colors of fall foliage. The crisp, clear air, devoid of humidity. But then there’s a darker side to October…….namely the sun setting earlier and earlier, denying us of the sun’s rays after school and work. Then the worst day of all, a day I think that should be considered a National Day of Mourning….The End of Daylight Saving, which occurs this year on November 3rd. I get depressed just thinking about it.

I complain yearly about this (to the consternation of my wife) mainly because I just love to be outdoors in the light of day. And I hate winter….but that’s another story. Imagine living and working before the days of electric lights. Squinting to see whatever project or job you are working on. As the sun goes down earlier and earlier it got harder and harder to see. As our world got more industrialized and mechanized this could be quite dangerous. Ever try to use a drill press, lathe, weaving machine or sewing machine in darkness? If it was your job or your family needed it you just dealt with it and hoped for the best. Or you tried to invent a solution to the problem.

Here’s a solution, a Connecticut invention, that aimed to solve the problem of using in this case a sewing machine under limited light. Mary E. Smith of Southbury patented this “Lamp Supporting Bracket for Sewing Machines” in 1883. In her application she notes that “In the use of sewing machines in the nighttime a difficulty has always been experienced in using a light to properly light the work because of want of room on the sewing machine table to receive a lamp or burner, and the insecurity of a lamp standing on the table, subject as it is to continual jarring and the danger of it being knocked off or upset.”

Mary E. Smith, a Connecticut inventor “turning darkness into light”……

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Connecticut Invention of the Day: Creepy Cool

My outreach school programs are done for the school year so now its time to review, add up the numbers and plan for changes for next year. This past year I decided to bring out a bunch more Connecticut inventions to share with the kids. One that I brought out was by far the most popular. One fourth grader even went so far to call it the “creepiest, coolest thing ever”. I think he has a point:

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Patented by Hartford resident William Brodrib in 1953 this is the “Ambulatory Animal Toy”. I remember when I first saw this on one of our shelves in the museum storage area. The lighting was kind of dark, the toy was pushed back to the rear, yet all I saw was this goofy, kind of creepy, smiling dog face looking at me. Surrounded by other shelves full of tools, bottles, clocks swords etc. this thing really stood out. Upon further inspection and yes, trying it out,  it is a true charmer. The tail wags, a small bell jingles and on carpeting the legs move quite naturally……

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How can you not smile when you look at this toy? The kids in the classrooms love it. The same kids who are used to X-Box, iphones and the like are completely blown away with this old school kind of toy when I walk the dog around their classroom. We end up having good discussions about toys, technology and inventors of the past present and future. And every time I take this little guy out of the box he’s still smiling…..

Connecticut Invention of the Day: A Sweetheart of a Toaster

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The common American kitchen toaster. Found in many homes around the United States. Often tucked into a small spot on a counter, frequently used, but not often truly noticed and appreciated. Perhaps because today many toasters are bland, boring objects that invite anonymity. There was once a time though when kitchen toasters were something special, worthy of a design that has withstood the test of time with its beauty, style and panache……here’s a Connecticut example:

The “Sweetheart Toaster”. Officially known as the Model E-9410, made by Landers, Frary and Clark of New Britain Connecticut. A design patent was granted to George E. Curtiss in May of 1929 for this design which still charms today.

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The mechanicals of how it works are also something special. Press either button on the side of the unit and a cage swings out for you to put the bread in. Release the button and the cage swings back in to begin the toasting process. Simple, effective and even somewhat entertaining. We have a large collection of toasters here at the museum. This is one of my favorites…..my sweetheart you might say.

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Connecticut Invention of the Day: Ahem

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Courtesy antiquemedicines.com

There’s a whole lot of coughing, throat clearing and the like going on. At least to my ears. Of course I spend a lot of time in elementary school classrooms where some strain of the common cold or  some allergy causing particles seem to be always floating through the air. My first act upon leaving a school is to douse myself in hand sanitizer……I keep a gallon jug of it in my trunk….of course it’s all in vain, eventually something will get you.

Perhaps if something “got you” back in 1889, a cough say, you could swill some of this Connecticut patented Cough Sirup (that’s the way it’s spelled on the application!) created by Francis M. Jaques of New London. Check out the list of ingredients. The usual ones are there including Hoarhound, Wild Cherry Bark and Licorice. My favorite though has to be a half pint of Rye Whiskey. Now that will certainly make you feel better!  Of course this recipe makes about 3 gallons of the sirup. This should be taken “three times a day after meals. In extreme cases the doses may be taken oftener.” Rye Whiskey, Cherry Bark, Rock Candy and Licorice? Ahem indeed!

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Connecticut Invention of the Day-The Stash

I spent a day recently in Madison with a bunch of curious and energetic fourth graders, sharing with them what I have learned about Connecticut inventors and inventions. I bring a number of objects with me as part of the presentation, some familiar, some not. I also bring a few patent drawings to show as we talk about the patent application process and the range of items that have been invented in Connecticut. By far the most popular one, the image that elicits much laughter, snickers and general uproar among kids in the classroom is the one for the “Improvement in Mustache-Guards” from Charles Barrows of Willimantic circa 1878:

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Kids just find moustaches hilarious. They hold their index finger above their lips, finagle a pencil to look like a stash etc. The idea to them of an invention to keep a moustache clean and dry is just completely crazy. But in a fun, 4th grade kid kind of crazy way. And it leads to great discussions about facial hair styles throughout history including who has the best beard/moustache…..my vote of course goes to Connecticut native John Brown.

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So all this has inspired me. I annually grow a winter beard. As the weather gets warmer it gets trimmed, reshaped into a goatee and then usually cut off by summer. This spring though I am going with the stash. Maybe a fu manchu style? Maybe this look donned by Pre? Of course I won’t have the wind blowin through my hair but over my bald head……

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Connecticut Invention of the Day: Potato Chips and Pi

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Happy National Potato Chip Day! Yes, every March 14th this humble snack is celebrated and consumed in all its salty goodness. In fact Americans eat about 1.2 billion pounds of chips every year! By far they are the most popular snack food  across the country.

Today, 3/14, is National Pi Day as well. Yes “pi” and not Pie. Pi as in the mathematical pi which is 3.14159265358979323846

Got it? Confused? Me too. I was always better at eating chips than understanding math….

So to celebrate chips here is a Connecticut invention that could help make them. From 1952 a Vegetable Slicer from the Strand Brothers Manufacturing Company of Ansonia:

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Now to the pi(es). I prefer the baked kind as opposed to the math variety. I’ll take Lemon Meringue, Apple, Coconut Cream and of course Pecan Pie over 3.14 any time. I can imagine this “Improvement in Pie Cases” from Henry Olds  of New Haven full of all those fresh-baked varieties back in the late 1800′s……

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Connecticut Inventions of the Day:Toys for Boys

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My birthday is coming up, so I figure I’m going to indulge myself with a few toy inventions from Connecticut’s past. Boys like toys so what the heck……here are a few of my favorite patented ones from our past…..

Old cars are one of my favorite ways to spend (read waste) money. I’m a sucker for old Swedes; Volvo’s, Saabs and the like. Like many boys I grew up playing with toy cars, but not one as fancy as this from Harold Allen and the Gong Bell Manufacturing Company of East Hampton:

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Now if one is going to spend money on toys of course you need a place to save it. My kids have some pretty basic piggy banks to store away their nickels and dimes. Back in the day though some pretty fancy and ingenious banks came from Connecticut makers such as J & E Stevens of Cromwell, H.L. Judd of Wallingford and Ives Manufacturing of Bridgeport. Here’s a design for a bank from Friend William Smith of Bridgeport:

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Another toy bank, from Charles Bailey of Cobalt, has some very prophetic words printed on it: “Oh If I Had Only Put Some Money In The Bank”. Sound familiar?

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Here’s one that I like just because of the drawing included in the patent application. A “Toy Torpedo” from William Reiff and George Curtis of Bridgeport. The kid in the picture just looks like trouble waiting to happen….but then again boys will be boys……

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Connecticut Invention of the Day: Some Stylin Ear Muffs

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Downright chilly this morning in the Nutmeg State!  A whopping 2 degrees when I started the car. Sporting my best cold weather gear including my new Hartford Whalers winter hat I was quite comfy once the heated seat in my car warmed up. While the Whalers hat might be the epitome of retro cool in my opinion it doesn’t compare to today’s Connecticut invention on style points.

Below is the design for “Jeweled Ear Muffs” patented by Jean Brownlee Dolton in 1951. Even better they are from my neck of the woods, Hazardville, Connecticut. Historically Hazardville is better known as the home of the Hazard Powder Company one of the more famous gun powder manufacturers in US history.

These muffs just seem to me to ooze 1950′s understated glamour. I can see a well dressed lady, out for a cold winter’s night on the town, sporting these as she steps out of a big, long and low 51 Caddy…..

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Connecticut Invention of the Day: Happy National Ice Skating Month!

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Apparently January is National Ice Skating Month. My Mom liked to ice skate and taught me early on how to lace up the skates and hit, (literally many times) the ice. The cold air, frozen ice and warm sunshine on a local pond is a beautiful thing. Pick up hockey games were a big part of my youth during cold Connecticut winters. I still skate occasionally in the winter if the weather cooperates. My son was asking us the other day to go skating here in Hartford at the outdoor rink in Bushnell Park. (which I think is one of the best things Hartford has done recently.)

To celebrate National Ice Skating Month here is a modern invention from Rowayton Connecticut for a “Traction Device to Walk on Ice While Wearing Ice Skate Scabbard“. The Patent Application was filed back in 2011. I don’t think it has been approved yet, so let’s hope that happens…..

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