Friday, January 27, 2017

The Typewriter: Its Origins, Relics, and DNA

It is said that those of us who count our ancestry from Europe can count on having in our DNA makeup traces of Neanderthal humanoids, now extinct.  Similarly, typewriters, revolutionary in their time, will someday be only images in textbooks or on relics like the artifacts shown below.  But the DNA of the typewriter will live on for years to come.

The first commercially practical typewriter was invented in 1868 by Christopher Latham Sholes in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  I could look out the window of the newspaper on which I was employed and see a plaque that stood on the place where his workshop had been.  In the development phase when his keys kept jamming Sholes fixed the problem by making sure that common letter pairs like “t” and “h” were not adjacent on the keyboard.  The result was the QWERTY arrangement that has morphed over to computers.  Many have sought to improve on Sholes’ configuration of letters but none so far have been accepted.

This brings us to the paperweights and other artifacts that early manufacturers employed to advertise their “take” on the writing machine.  The Calligraph, making its appearance in 1880, was the third typewriter to be sold in the USA.  An odd looking machine, the initial version wrote in capital letters only and had uneven printing quality.  Subsequent Calligraphs wrote in both lower and upper case letters, had a renewable ribbon, and featured improved printing. Nevertheless, the machine went out of production in 1896.

The Smith Premier, shown here on a pocket mirror, made its appearance in 1890.  It was a full-keyboard typewriter made by the Smith & Brothers gun factory in Syracuse, New York.  Instead of the levers used on earlier machines, this typewriter was designed with cranks and rods that could be adjusted for control.  The Smiths issued several models, the last being in 1908.  Shortly thereafter the company went out of business, its brand name bought by the Remington Typewriter Company.

As early as 1896, Woodstock, Illinois, became known for typewriters made by by the Emerson Typewriter Co.,  When it became financially distressed after issuing a 1909 model called “Standard and Visible Typewriter,” Emerson sold it to Sears-Roebuck.  Advertised as a $50 machine “that compares in every particular with a $100 machines,” the department store partners completed a $40,000 factory in Woodstock. It named their company “The Woodstock Typewriter Company.”

Also shown on a pocket mirror, North’s typewriter was manufactured in Hatton Garden, London, England.  First issued in 1892 the North machines had its type bars standing in a pair of semi-circles that struck down at the patent from behind.  This rear down-strike was an effort to create a more visible type sheet by preventing the typebars from obstructing the view of the typist.  This strategy led to other complications and the machine found little commercial success.  The company folded in 1905.

Having seen above the ultimately failed efforts to bring a commercially viable machine to the public, we turn to Remington, a name that long was associated with typewriters and other office equipment.  Sholes and his partners proved to be less than canny businessmen and sold their patent for $12,000 to investors who in turn made a production agreement with E. Remington & Sons Co., then famous for making sewing machines.  From a factory in Ilian, New York, in 1873 the first Remington typewriters went into production.  It was the first machine to incorporate a shift key that allowed use of both upper- and lower case letters.  Incorporating the QWERTY keyboard, it was a hit with the public.

In 1886, E. Remington & Sons sold its typewriter business to a group of former employees calling themselves the Standard Typewriter Manufacturing Co., with the rights to the Remington name.  By 1902 the owners had changed the name to the Remington Typewriter Company.  Their machine became the prototype of all the typewriters to come.  Over the years, the company issued a number of advertising items, many with the slogan, “To Save Time Is to Lengthen Life.”

The Underwood Company beginning in 1874 made typewriter ribbons for Remington.  When the latter decided to make their own ribbons, the founder, John Thomas Underwood, decided to make his own machines.  A company model issued in 1900 has been described as “the first truly modern typewriter” and propelled Underwood in its heyday to becoming the world’s largest typewriter manufacturer.  Its Hartford, Connecticut factory could turn out one typewriter a minute.  The company merged with Olivetti in 1963.

The Royal Typewriter Company emerged 1904, boasting its origins in a workshop in Brooklyn where Edward B. Hess and Lewis C. Myers had developed an improved machine. Convincing a wealthy financier to back them, they launched the firm to great success over the years. Their typewriter featured numerous innovations including a friction-free one-track rail to support the carriage, a improved paper feeder, better typebar and good visibility of typed words. Shown here on a pack of matches, Royal today survives as the maker of general office equipment.
The more modern typewriter shown here on a paperweight was the product of  Smith-Corona.  This company originated in 1886 when four Smith brothers who owned a gun factory in Syracuse, New York, financed a typewriter invented by one of their employees, Alexander T. Brown.  It sold so well that the Smiths stopped making shotguns and concentrated on Brown’s machine.  With the success of its Corona model in 1914, the company reorganized in 1926 and became known primarily as the maker of portable typewriters.

The origins of the typewriter help us remember that often with a mechanical innovation a period of trial and error occurs as the public decides which brand is the most useful.  Many early manufacturers fall out and their models disappear;  a few others survive for years until a new innovation makes them obsolete.  Then  their advertising artifacts take on new meaning and importance as collectible relics.  Note that many typewriter companies featured advertising on pocket mirrors.  That makes sense when one remembers that it was women who largely were using the machines and more likely to look at their faces during the day.  Finally, while buggy whips and hoop skirts may have become extinct, the DNA of the Sholes machine lives on — even as I write this post on my QWERTY keyboard computer.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Eateries of Memory

Thinking back over the restaurants and other purveyors of food where I have eaten during my 80 plus years, a number come readily to mind.  They range from eateries of my childhood to one which I have visited just last year.  Some are memorable because of their food.  Others are included here because of personal incidents that come associated with them.  All have a special meaning for me.

A fixture on Toledo’s Madison Avenue for more than 55 years, Bud & Luke’s was established by brother automobile salesmen, Eugene “Bud” and Glenn “Luke” Fowler, in the late 1930s.  From the outset the Fowlers tried to give their patrons a new restaurant experience, to forget the unhappy times of the Great Depression and World War II.  The waiters were famous for their antics, making wisecracks about customers, banging on pots and pans, and leading sing-a-longs.

The maitre d’ shortened the tie of one of our neighbors with a scissors, alleging that it was too long.  My father took me there for lunch once when I was about seven.  Holding court there was “Bucky” the dwarf Buckeye Beer mascot on roller-skates, but I was too shy to shake his hand.  The restaurant closed in December 1996.

When I was barely a teenager, the family went to California to visit relatives.  While we were there my aunt took my mother, brother and me for lunch to the Brown Derby, a famous Hollywood restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard.  It was famous for attracting movie stars and other celebrities.  For a green kid from Toledo it was a big thrill and while we craned our necks to find a household name or two, we glimpsed only “wannabes.”  Too young for the hard stuff we watched as our mother and aunt downed highballs.  They must have been potent.  The ladies giggled all the way home. 
I have always had a soft spot for the Diary Queen.  Although the well-known chain first began in Joliet, Illinois, in 1940, an outlet did not arrive in Toledo until after World War II.  Their soft ice cream products were a revelation.  My favorite confection was their fresh blueberry shake when the fruit was available.  It still makes my mouth water.  Dairy Queen so impressed my father, who always was looking to abandon dentistry for something else, that he seriously considered investing in a franchise.  That sounded good to my brother and me, both still in high school, until it became clear we were to work there and Mom would do the cooking.  All three of us objected and Dad went back to looking down mouths all day.  

About 1900, Richard Becker, a Milwaukee restauranteur, decided to transform an vacant Methodist church adjacent to the Pabst Brewery into a saloon called the Forst-Keller.  Then he wrote the famous axe—swinging prohibitionist, Carrie Nation, inviting her to visit.  In jail in Topeka, Kansas for another rampage, she replied that “When I come to Milwaukee I will give you a call. I will bring my hatchet and will make souvenirs of that hell hole.”  Mrs. Nation never came and the Forst-Keller was still in business when I arrived in Milwaukee and, of drinking age, made it my favorite watering hole.  The food was good, the beer fresh from Pabst, and the ambiance “Gem├╝tlichkeit.”  It closed in September 1973 but recently steps have been taken to re-open its hallowed doors.

My work frequently has taken me to Hawaii, often with companions.  Almost immediately after landing — usually about midnight at our take-off location but late afternoon in Honolulu — we headed for the Mai Tai Bar at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel on Waikiki Beach.  Awaiting us is the famed rum drink, a pu pu platter of chicken sate’, spare ribs, egg rolls, skewered beef, crab rangoon and other delectables, and graceful Hawaiian song and dance while the sun set over the Pacific — a perfect way to end a 10 hour airplane flight. 

For a while my work required trips to Paris on a regular basis, staying in the 16th Arrondissement.  Just around the corner from my hotel, almost perched on the banks of the Seine River once day I found a small neighborhood restaurant all dressed out in yellow.  Appropriately it was called Le Tournesol, or “The Sunflower.”  The ambiance inside was cozy and the food delicious, the menu a simple one that features French favorites.  I could not get there often enough.  In recent years it has been updated and given an art deco look.  Informants assure me that the meals there are still top notch.

In contrast to the relatively obscure Le Tournesol is the Brasserie Ile Saint Louis, a popular spot that sits at the southern end of an island in the middle of Paris and the Seine River.  It is popular with the sporting crowd.  My memory is not of the food but of taking my god-daughter for dinner there just after the British ruby team had bested the French at a local pitch. In a boisterous mood, dozens of British fans invaded the place, harassing the chefs, and bothering the customers until the owner mounted a table and threatened to call in the gendarme.  My only thought was what I would tell the girl’s parents when we were hauled off in a raid.  Fortunately the threat worked, the Brits calmed down, and we ate in peace. 

German food also can be delicious.  My father, a short order counterman in his youth, always proclaimed Milwaukee’s Karl Ratzsch’s as the best restaurant in which he had ever eaten.  Over subsequent years, I have enjoyed many excellent meals there — liver dumpling soup, wiener schnitzel, roast goose, port chops — the list goes on and on.  Dessert was always German schaum tort, that is, egg whites whipped to a froth, baked until stiff and then filled with a syrup of strawberries.  Ratzsch’s also served good drinks.  I had quaffed more than enough free martinis one afternoon at a motion picture promotion at the restaurant when my boss on the Milwaukee Sentinel summoned me back to the office to drive him to another story.  How I did it — and he never knew — is still a mystery to me.

Memphis is the place for barbecue, the tourist brochures tell us.  I agree.  Shown here is the front — not the back — of the Rendezvous, a ribs joint extraordinaire.  The exhaust fans and smoke stacks are aimed directly at the public, wafting the smell of charcoal ribs into the public square.  My hotel was directly across the way and I was drawn like a humming bird to a honeysuckle bush into its folds.  The dry rub ribs, the house specialty, were so delicious that I ate there for the two nights running and would have gone back for a third but had to leave Memphis.

In order not to dwell entirely on the past, for my last memorable eatery, I have chosen L’ Auberge Chez Francois.  This famous eatery in the rolling hills of Northern Virginia was located in downtown Washington, D.C., when I first arrived some 55 years ago.  It was my introduction to good French food.  Then the restaurant moved from the District to the hinterlands.  Several years ago my wife and I were reintroduced to the “Chez” and now dine there on special occasions.   A photograph of the former restaurant is on the wall and I never fail to look at it with more than a touch of nostalgia for days gone by.

Nostalgia is an appropriate way to end a piece about these ten eateries.  Bud and Luke’s, The Brown Derby, and the Forst-Keller long since have shut their  doors.  Dairy Queen exists today usually as initials.  Ratzsch’s declined after being sold by the family.  Others like the Mai Tai Bar and Chez Francois have maintained their special qualities over the years.  All continue to come to mind from time to time as special places.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

“White Beaver” and the Foe He Could Not Vanquish

Many a 19th Century boy, fetching the dime novel hidden in the corn crib, thrilled to the adventures of “White Beaver” as in story after story the hero overcame all odds to best his evil enemies.  In real life White Beaver, aka Dr. Frank Powell, found one adversary too strong:  The federal food and drug agency that condemned as fraudulent the patent medicines he had invented and given his Indian name.

Born in a Kentucky log cabin in 1845, David Frank Powell was the son of a physician of Scottish descent and a mother who was half Seneca Indian.  When his father died at an early age, his mother took him and his brothers to live in New York State during the Civil War.  During the postwar period, the Powells moved to Chicago where Frank went to work as a drug clerk and then on to Nebraska.  In 1868 he entered medical school at Louisville University in Kentucky graduating at the head of his class.

While in Nebraska, Powell had met Buffalo Bill Cody, Wild Bill Hickok, and other figures of the old West.  After graduation he went back to the state and was named to a government post as surgeon in the Department of the Platte and later made Medicine Chief of the Winnebago Indians.  According to legend, Frank got his name, “White Beaver” from riding into the camp of a hostile group of Indians, several of whom he earlier had killed in hand-to-hand combat, in order to inoculate the residents against small pox.  Others say he got it by rescuing a Sioux princess.  Regardless, he embraced the title, let his hair grow long, and began to polish his legend.
During this period he also had become reacquainted with Buffalo Bill.  An excellent marksman, Powell from time to time provided Cody’s touring show not only with a doctor but a sharpshooter.  Shown here is a photo of the two (Frank right) as they looked during their touring days.  Above is Powell's rifle.  It was a Winchester Model 1873, 38-40 caliber, with a 22 inch octagon barrel, full magazine, and a shotgun butt.

With his Indian nickname, his time in the West, and his association with Buffalo Bill Cody,  Frank Powell was a natural for dime novel fiction, a boom business in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  The stories were about his “daring do” against a string of adversaries.  White Beaver is shown here on the cover of  Beadle’s Dime Library, in a white hat on the trail of evil-doers.  Among titles were “White Beaver, the Indian Medicine Chief: the Romantic and Adventurous Life of Dr. Frank Powell,” “The Wizard Brothers, or, White Beaver’s Red Trail,” which also featured Powell’s brothers, “Buffalo Bill’s Sharpshooters, or, the Surgeon Scout to the Rescue”; “Buffalo Bill’s Swoop, a Buffalo Bill and Surgeon Frank Powell Adventure.”   Although some stories  were attributed to him as author it is doubtful that he wrote any.

In fact, much of the time Powell was working as a small town doctor in placid LaCrosse, Wisconsin.  By now divorced and remarried, he also was putting his energies into mixing up and marketing a series of patent medicines.  This was an era when Indian remedies were very popular with the American public and Powell was quick to jump on the bandwagon.  Buffalo Bill Cody helped him by investing in manufacturing the nostrums.  A photo shows Cody, left, sitting with Powell while two of White Beavers' brothers stand behind.

Best known of these concoctions was “White Beaver Cough Cream,” as advertised on the trade card that introduced this vignette and on one below.  The cough cream was described as:  “A soothing compound of lung healing root and herb juices, an unrivaled remedy for the cure of coughs, colds, croup, pleurisy, bronchitis, and all other diseases of lungs or bronchial tubes.”  Fifty cents would buy a generous helping of the cream in an apothecary type glass jar with a removable top.  Smaller amounts came in clear embossed flask-shaped containers.  

 In his advertising Powell often used testimonials.  W. G. Smith of Mahias, Michigan, opined on the cough cream:  “I consider it the Best Cough Medicine in the Country.”  N. F. Wetmore, a M.D. from North Freedom, Wisconsin, hailed it for “excellent satisfaction.”   Another potion was “White Beaver’s Wonder Worker” said to “instantly relieve either internal or external pain.”  A third product Powell dubbed “Yosemite Yarrow.”

Cody and Powell also were associated in other business ventures. They founded a cereal company that produced a coffee substitute from roasted bran called “Panmilt”. The primary target market were Mormons who did not drink caffeine.  The Latter Day Saints apparently did not like the taste of roasted bran and the venture failed.  

Apparently White Beaver had no end of schemes, including one to colonize a couple million acres of land in Mexico said to be “free for the taking.”  With money from investors, including Cody, he tried to sign up European colonists. Another investor summed up the result:  “Doc Powell couldn’t find nobody in Europe or anyplace else that wanted to colonize that acreage of Mexican desert.  I had nobody to blame but myself, and Cody lost a lot more than I did.  But he had a whole lot else.”
Although for a time the remedies sold well, with Frank regularly visiting Milwaukee and other larger cities in Wisconsin and neighboring states to push his merchandise.  With the passage of the Food and Drugs Act in 1906, however, Federal authorities were on White Beaver’s trail.  In 1915, the United States Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin filed suit in federal court alleging that both White Beaver’s Cough Cream and Wonder Worker were in violation of the pure foods statute.  Analysis by the Bureau of Chemistry showed that the cough cream contained morphine, chloroform, creosote, ammonium chloride, and methyl slicylate.   It was misbranded by claiming that it was “a remedy for croup, pleurisy and all other diseases of the lungs and air passages and effective as a lung healer in consumption when, in truth and in fact, it was not.”

White Beaver’s Wonder Worker came in for similar harsh treatment.  In liquid form, it proved to be just under 75 percent alcohol, that is, 150 proof — putting it among the strongest alcoholic liquors on the market today.  In addition, it contained 1.70 grams of chloroform, and .09 gram of morphine and traces of camphor, capsicum, oil of turpentines and free ammonia.  This concoction was not a cure for the many ailments claimed in its advertising, including cholera infantum, fever and ague, and “summer complaints of children.”  The company admitted guilt, paid a $300 fine, and White Beaver’s products disappeared.

Meanwhile Powell had complemented his doctoring with politics, winning two elections for mayor of LaCrosse and unsuccessfully running for governor of Wisconsin.  His campaigning involved handing out a card with his portrait, one without the long hair and leather garments.  It did,however, contain a reminder that the candidate was White Beaver.  Eventually Powells entrepreneur sights shifted Westward, taking him into lumber, mining and other ventures, likely with Buffalo Bill in tow.  He was on such a business trip to California in May 1906 when he died on a train near El Paso, Texas, at the age of 61. 

Even White Beaver’s going was the stuff of legends.  Powell reportedly had asked that he be cremated and his ashes be spread at Red Butte, Wyoming, shown here.   According to a biographer, the friends transporting his remains got drunk and failed to notice that his ashes were leaking out of a pack on their mule.  By the time the funeral cortege got to Red Butte, Powell's ashes were spread across a wide swath of the West.