Connecticut Invention of the Day: A Sweetheart of a Toaster

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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Connecticut Invention of the Day:Merry Christmas from Waterbury!

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I’ve been spending quite a bit of time lately in the Brass City, visiting and presenting my CT Invents program at various locations to adult groups. Waterbury has an amazingly inventive history. Historically the city always ranked in the top 5 Connecticut locations as far as numbers of inventions that were patented. In fact during the period of 1800-1890 Waterbury inventors were granted 1096 patents!

Given the upcoming Christmas holiday here is a Waterbury invention that might still grace a few Christmas trees somewhere. This is Harold Hettlinger’s patented Christmas Ornament from 1956:

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Connecticut Patent of the Day: The End of an Era

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Like many others in Connecticut and beyond I was saddened and shocked to hear of the sudden death of former WTIC broadcaster Arnold Dean. Hearing the news was one of those times that makes you stop and think and realize that bit by bit, day by day what you grew up with and have fond memories of is fading into the past. Like many folks in New England I grew up listening to WTIC radio and its personalities. Bob Steele’s voice was always one of the first things I heard when I came down stairs in the morning to get breakfast before school. The radio was always on in the background at my parents house. That tradition lives on today. It’s on before work while I eat, during dinner preparation after work, (during dinner often, turned down low, especially if there is a UConn game on) and even before bedtime when I’m making lunch for the next day. In fact it’s on now in my office as I write this, still on WTIC. Old habits are hard to break.

I’ve always been a big listener of AM radio especially the news and sports variety. I was 10 years old when Arnold Dean started his sports talk show. Much of my life then revolved around the fates of the Whalers, Yankees, Red Sox and Patriots. So when I found out there was a whole show devoted to this stuff and sports in general I was hooked. I Didn’t have a TV in my bedroom but I did have a radio. Homework done, the radio would go on. Many nights, especially during the winter, it was Sports Talk with Arnold Dean followed by Whalers hockey. In the spring and summer it was Arnold Dean followed by Red Sox  baseball (even though I was a Yankee fan) My dad and I would listen to WTIC often out on the back deck or in the kitchen until bed time. My mom worked nights then at the Travelers Insurance Company, so I often fell asleep to the sounds of sports on the radio.

I only had one occasion to meet Arnold Dean. But it is something I have never forgotten. Back in the 1990’s I was working at the Old State House Museum here in Hartford. Part of my job there was as a costumed interpreter, reenacting the lives of famous persons from Connecticut’s past. On occasion I was George Washington. Yes, that George Washington, who did in fact visit Connecticut several times during the Revolutionary War. I was chosen to be him basically because I was tall, thin and fit the costume.

The Old State House was and is still today big into hosting community events of all kinds. One such occasion when I was there was a Wiffle Ball home run hitting contest for local businesses. A small-scale version of Fenway Park was put up on the lawn (even with a mini Green Monster!). Well, a few of us working there decided we wanted to play in costume. So we put together a small team to play. John Brown the Abolitionist was there, so was Mayor Cheney of Manchester and of course the clean up hitter was the man himself: George Washington. Calling all the action? Arnold Dean…….

I still remember stepping up to bat in costume. Then Arnold spoke over a loud-speaker in that voice I had been listening to since I was a kid. “Now batting for the Old State House, we have General George Washington. Here’s the pitch…. And General Washington hits one over the Green Monster! Who knew the General was such a power hitter?” I was in heaven. Even though I was in this goofy costume, I hit a home run called by a Connecticut radio legend. I went over and thanked him afterwards and told him he made my day. Arnold smiled and said he never thought he would see George Washington hit a homer. Gracious, kind and utterly professional. Just as he was on the air when interviewing famous athletes from around the world.

Arnold Dean’s kind, professional legendary voice has been silenced. Except for those of us who had the pleasure of listening to it over the years. In our minds it will live forever as a part of our youth turning into adulthood. His voice sounded great on any radio: car, kitchen whatever. Probably on this one below. Dedicated to Arnold Dean here is the Connecticut Patent of the Day. A Design for a Radio Receiver from 1946 by Frederick D. Schnoor of Stratford:

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Connecticut Patent of the Day: Have a Mary Berry Christmas!

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The lights are on the house, (including the new tree house), stockings are hung and the tree is up. This year it’s a live tree, our first in a number of years. The cats are already pawing at the ornaments.  In fact my wife was up at 3 a.m. this morning, shooing away one of them who was rolling a miniature bell around the floor. (The same bells that are supposed to let us know when the cats are playing with the ornaments….) Of course the cats are trying to snack on the tree as well…….I admit it is amusing to see them try to take a bite out of a tree needle and recoil as it sticks them in the mouth.

I’ll try to post a variety of Christmas related items invented in Connecticut over the next few weeks. Here’s the first, an artificial Christmas tree from Mary Doty Berry of New Milford:

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