Book: Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things

Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things




Charles Panati

Perennial Library

Harper & Row, Publishers, New York

Cambridge, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Washington

London, Mexico City, São Paulo, Singapore, Sydney

Books by Charles Panati



LINKS (a novel)



THE SILENT INTRUDER (with Michael Hudson)




EXTRAORDINARY ORIGINS OF EVERYDAY THINGS. Copyright © 1987 by Charles Panati. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information address Harper and Row, Publishers, Inc., 10 East 53rd Street, New York, N.Y. 10022. Published simultaneously in Canada by Fitzhenry & Whiteside Limited, Toronto.

Copy editor: Marjorie Horvitz

Designer: Erich Hobbing

Indexer: Maro Riofrancos

Chapter 1

From Superstition


Superstitions, • Rabbit's Foot, 3. Horseshoe, 4.

Wishbone, 5. Knock Wood, 6. Four-Leaf Clover,

8 • Crossed Fingers, 8 • Thumbs Up, 9 • "God

Bless You," 10. Broken Mirror, 11 • Number

Thirteen, 11 • Black Cat, 13 • Flip of a Coin, 15.

Spilling Salt, 15 -. Umbrella Indoors, 16. Walking

Under a Ladder, 17. Evil Eye, 17. Stork Brings

Baby, 19 • Covering a Yawn, 19.

Chapter 2

By Custom


Marriage Customs, • Wedding Ring, 22.

Diamond Engagement Ring, 22 • Ring Finger, 24 •

Marriage Barins, 25 • Wedding Cake, 25 •

Throwing Shoes at the Bride, 26 • Honeymoon,

28. Wedding March, 28. White Wedding Dress

and Veil, 29. Divorce, 30. Birthdays, 31 •

Birthday Cake and Candles, 33 • "Happy Birthday

to You," 34. Death Traditions, 35. Hearse, 37.

Hands Joined in Prayer, 38. Rosary, 39. Halo,

40 • Amen, 41 • Handshake, 42 •

Chapter 3 On the Calendar

New Year's Day, 45. Groundhog Day, 49. St.

Valentine's Day, 50 • St. Patrick's Day, 53 • Easter,

55. April Fool's Day, 58. Mother's Day, 58.

Father's Day, 60 • Halloween, 62 • Thanksgiving,

64 • Christmas, 67 • Mistletoe, 68 • Christmas

Tree, 69. Christmas Cards, 71. Santa Claus, 72.

Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, 75.

Chapter 4 At the Table

Table Manners, 76 • Fork, 78 • Spoon, 79 • Knife,

80. Napkin, 81 • Chopsticks, 83. Western

Etiquette Books, 83. Children's Manners, 85.

Emily Post, 87. Wedgwood Ware, 88. StainlessSteel

Cutlery, 89. Table Talk, 91 •

Chapter 5 Around the Kitchen

Kitchen, 96. Kitchen Range, 98 • Porcelain Pots

and Pans, 100. Aluminum Ware, 101. S.O.S.

Pads, 102. Dishwasher, 103. Home Water

Softeners, 104. Teflon Utensils, 105. Brown

Paper Bag, 107. Friction Match, 108. Blender,

III • Aluminum Foil, 113 • Food Processor, 114 •

Can Opener, 115 ~ Thermos Bottle, 116. Toaster,

117 • Whistling Teakettle, 119 • Coffeepot, 119 •

Pressure Cooker, 121 • Disposable Paper Cup,

122. Pyrex, 124. Microwave Oven, 125. Plastic

126 • Tupperware, 129 •

Chapter 6 In and Around the House

Central Heating, 131 • Indoor Lighting, 133 •

Candle, 134. Gaslight, 135. Electric Light, 136.

Vacuum Cleaner, 138. Clothes Iron, 143. Clothes

Washer and Dryer, 146. Sewing Machine, 147.

Wallpaper, 149. Ready-Mixed Paint, 150.

Linoleum, 151 • Detergent, 152. Chlorine Bleach,

155. Glass Window, 156. Home Air-Cooling

System, 1~9. Lawn, 160. Lawn Mower, 162.

Burpee Seeds, 163 • Rubber Hose, 164 •

Wheelbarrow, 166.

Chapter 1

From Superstition

Superstitions: 50,000 Years Ago, Western Asia

Napoleon feared black cats; Socrates the evil eye. Julius Caesar dreaded dreams. Henry VIII claimed witchcraft trapped him into a marriage with Anne Boleyn. Peter the Great suffered a pathological terror of crossing bridges. Samuel Johnson entered and exited a building with his right foot foremost.

Bad-luck superstitions still keep many people from walking under a ladder,

opening an umbrella indoors, or boarding an airplane on Friday the thirteenth.

On the other hand, these same people, hoping for good luck, might

cross their fingers or, knock wood.

Superstitious beliefs, given their irrational nature, should have receded

with the arrival of education and the advent of science. Yet even today,

when objective evidence is valued highly, few people, if pressed, would not

admit to secretly cherishing one, or two, or many superstitions. Across

America, tens of thousands of lottery tickets are penciled in every day based

on nothing more or less than people's "lucky" numbers.

Perhaps this is how it should be, for superstitions are an ancient part of

our human heritage.

Archaeologists identify Neanderthal man, who roamed throughout

Western Asia fifty thousand years ago, as having produced the first superstitious

(and spiritual) belief: survival in an afterlife. Whereas earlier Homo

sapiens abandoned the dead, Neanderthals buried their dead with ritual funerals, interring with the body food, weapons, and fire charcoals to be

used in the next life.

That superstition and the birth of spirituality go hand in hand is not

surprising. Throughout history, one person's superstition was often another's

religion. The Christian emperor Constantine called paganism superstition,

while the pagan statesman Tacitus called Christianity a pernicious,

irrational belief. Protestants regarded the Catholic veneration of saints and

relics as superstitious, while Christians similarly viewed Hindu practices.

To an atheist, all religious beliefs are superstitions.

Today there seems to be no logical reason why a wishbone symbolizes

good luck while a broken mirror augurs the opposite. But in earlier times,

every superstition had a purposeful origin, a cultural background, and a

practical explanation.

Superstitions arose in a straightforward manner. Primitive man, seeking

answers for phenomena such as lightning, thunder, eclipses, birth, and

death, and lacking knowledge of the laws of nature, developed a belief in

unseen spirits. He observed that animals possessed a sixth sense to danger

and imagined that spirits whispered secret warnings to them. And the miracle

of a tree sprouting from a seed, or a frog from a tadpole, pointed to otherworldly

intervention. His daily existence fraught with hardships, he assumed

that the world was more populated with vengeful spirits than with

beneficent ones. (Thus, the preponderance of superstitious beliefs we inherited

involve ways to protect ourselves from evil.)

To protect himself in what seemed like a helter-skelter world, ancient

man adopted the foot of a rabbit, the flip of a coin, and a four-leaf clover.

It was an attempt to impose human will on chaos. And when one amulet

failed, he tried another, then another. In this way, thousands of ordinary

objects, expressions, and incantations assumed magical significance.

In a sense, we do the same thing today. A student writes a prize-winning

paper with a certain pen and that pen becomes "lucky." A horseplayer

scores high on a rainy day and weather is then factored into his betting.

We make the ordinary extraordinary. In fact, there's scarcely a thing in our

environment around which some culture has not woven a superstitious

claim: mistletoe, garlic, apples, horseshoes, umbrellas, hiccups, stumbling,

crossed fingers, rainbows. And that's barely the beginning.

Though we now have scientific explanations for many once-mysterious

phenomena, daily life still holds enough unpredictability that we turn, especially

in times of misfortune, to superstitions to account for the unaccountable,

to impose our own wishes on world vicissitudes. So, thumbs up,

fingers crossed, with luck, here are the ancient origins of many of our most

cherished irrational beliefs. Cross my heart.

Rabbit's Foot: Pre-600 B.C., Western Europe

Adhering strictly to early tradition, a person in search of luck should carry

the foot of a hare, the rabbit's larger cousin. Historically, it was the hare's

foot that possessed magical powers. However, most early European peoples

confused the rabbit with the hare, and in time the feet of both animals

were prized as potent good luck charms.

The luck attributed to a rabbit's foot stems from a belief rooted in ancient

totemism, the claim, predating Darwinism by thousands of years, that humankind

descended from animals. Differing from Darwinism, however,

totemism held that every tribe of people evolved from a separate species

of animal. A tribe worshiped and refrained from killing its ancestral animal

and employed parts of that animal as amulets, called totems.

Remains of totemism are with us today.

In biblical literature, totemism is the origin of many dietary laws prohibiting

consumption of certain animals. It has also given us the custom of

the sports mascot, believed to secure luck for a team, as well as our penchant

for classifying groups of people by animal images or traits. On Wall Street,

there are bulls and bears; in government, hawks and doves; and in politics,

elephants and donkeys. We may have abandoned the practice of physically

carrying around our identifying totems, but they are with us nonetheless.

Folklorists have not yet identified the "Hare" tribal society that gave the

early inhabitants of Western Europe, sometime before 600 B.C., the rabbit

foot amulet. They have ample evidence, though, of why this lagomorph

became a symbol of good luck, not bad.

The rabbit's habit of burrowing lent it an aura of mystery. The Celts, for

instance, believed that the animal spent so much time underground because

it was in secret communication with the netherworld of numina. Thus, a

rabbit was privy to information humans were denied. And the fact that

most animals, including humans, are born with their eyes closed, while

rabbits enter the world with eyes wide open, imbued them with an image

of wisdom: for the Celts, rabbits witnessed the mysteries of prenatal life.

(Actually, the hare is born with open eyes; the rabbit is born blind. And it

is the rabbit that burrows; hares live aboveground. Confusion abounded.)

Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things

It was the rabbit's fecundity, though, that helped to give its body parts

their strongest association with good luck and prosperity. So prolific was

the animal that early peoples regarded it as an outstanding example of aJ,1 '

that was procreative in nature. To possess any part of a rabbit-tail, ear,

foot, or dried innards-assured a person's good fortune. Interestingly, the

foot was always the preferred totem, believed to be luckier than any other

body part.

Why the foot? Folklorists claim that long before Freudian sexual interpretations existed, man, in his cave drawings and stone sculptures, incorporated

the foot as a phallic symbol, a totem to foster fertility in women

and a cornucopian harvest in the fields.

A blacksmith who forged horseshoes possessed

white magic against witchery. Lest

its luck drain out, a horseshoe is hung

with pointed ends upward.

Horseshoe: 4th Century, Greece

Considered the most universal of all good luck charms, the horseshoe was

a powerful amulet in every age and country where the horse existed. Although

the Greeks introduced the horseshoe to Western culture in the

fourth century and regarded it as a symbol of good fortune, legend credits

St. Dunstan with having given the horseshoe, hung above a house door,

special power against evil.

According to tradition, Dunstan, a blacksmith by trade who would become

the Archbishop of Canterbury in A.D. 959, was approached one day by a

man who asked that horseshoes be attached to his own feet, suspiciously

cloven. Dunstan immediately recognized the customer as Satan and explained

that to perform the service he would have to shackle the man to

the wall. The saint deliberately made the job so excruciatingly painful that

the bound devil repeatedly begged for mercy. Dunstan refused to release

him until he gave his solemn oath never to enter a house where a horseshoe

was displayed above the door.

From the birth of that tale in the tenth century, Christians held the

horseshoe in high esteem, placing it first above a doorframe and later moving

it down to middoor, where it served the dual function of talisman and door

knocker. Hence the origin of the horseshoe-shaped knocker. Christiansonce celebrated St. Dunstan~s feast day, May 19, with games of horseshoes.

For the Greeks, the horseshoe's magical powers emanated from other

factors: horseshoes were made of iron, an element believed to ward off evil;

and a horseshoe took the shape of a crescent moon, long regarded as a

symbol of fertility and good fortune. The Romans appropriated the object

both as a practical equestrian device and as a talisman, and their pagan

belief in its magical powers was passed on to the Christians, who gave the

superstition its St. Dunstan twist.

In the Middle Ages, when the fear of witchcraft peaked, the horseshoe

assumed an additional power.

It was believed that witches traveled on brooms because they feared

horses, and that any reminder of a horse, especially its iron shoe, warded

off a witch the way a crucifix struck terror in a vampire. A woman accused

of witchcraft was interred with a horseshoe nailed atop her coffin to prevent

resurrection. In Russia, a blacksmith who forged horseshoes was himself

credited with the ability to perform "white magic" against witchery, and

solemn oaths pertaining to marriage, business contracts, and real estate

were taken not on a Bible but upon anvils used to hammer out horseshoes.

The horseshoe could not be hung just any way. It had to be positioned

with points upward, lest its luck drain out.

In the British Isles, the horseshoe remained a powerful symbol of luck

well into the nineteenth century. A popular Irish incantation against evil

and illness (originating with the St. Dunstan legend) went: "Father, Son,

and Holy Ghost, Nail the devil to a post." And in 1805, when British admiral

Lord Horatio Nelson met his nation's foes in the Battle of Trafalgar, the

superstitious Englishman nailed a horseshoe to the mast of his command

ship, Victory. The military triumph-commemorated in London's Trafalgar

Square by Nelson's Column, erected in 1849-ended Napoleon's dream

of invading England. The horseshoe may have brought luck to the British

people, but Nelson himself lost his life in the battle.

Wishbone: Pre-400 B.C., Etruria

Two people, making secret wishes, tug on opposite ends of the dried,

V-shaped clavicle of a fowl. For the person who breaks off the larger piece,

a wish comes true. The custom is at least 2,400 years old, and it originated

with the Etruscans, the ancient people who occupied the area ofthe Italian

peninsula between the Tiber and Arno rivers, west and south of the


A highly cultured people, whose urban civilization reached its height in

the sixth century B.C., the Etruscans believed the hen and the cock to be

soothsayers: the hen because she foretold the laying of an egg with a squawk;

the cock because his crow heralded the dawn of a new day. The "hen

oracle," through a practice of divination known as alectryomancy, was consulted

for answers to life's most pressing problems. A circle, traced on the ground, was divided into about twenty parts, representing letters of the

Etruscan alphabet. Grains of com were placed in each sector, and a sacred

hen was set in the center of the circle. Her pecking at the com generated

a sequence of letters, which a high priest interpreted as answers to specific

questions-a sort of living Ouija board.

When a sacred fowl was killed, the bird's collarbone was laid in the sun

to dry. An Etruscan still wishing to benefit from the oracle's powers had

only to pick up the bone and stroke it (not break it) and make a wish; hence

the name "wishbone."

For more than two centuries, Etruscans wished on unbroken clavicles.

We know of this superstition from the Romans, who later adopted many

Etruscan ways. Roman writings suggest that the practice of two people's

tugging at a clavicle for the larger half sprang from a simple case of supply

and demand: too few sacred bones, too many people wishing for favors.

Why did the Etruscans not regard all the thin bones of a fowl's skeleton

as wishbones? That could have solved the problem of scarcity. According

to Roman legend, the Etruscans chose the V-shaped clavicle for a symbolic

reason: it resembles the human crotch. Thus, a symbol of the repository

of life was employed to unravel life's mysteries.

In all, we have inherited more than the Etruscan wishbone superstition.

Etymologists claim that the expression "get a lucky break" initially applied

to the person winning the larger half in a wishbone tug-of-war.

It was the Romans who brought the wishbone superstition to England,

where the bone itself became known as a "merry thought, " for the "merry"

wishes people typically made. Breaking the clavicle of a chicken was a wellestablished

British tradition by the time the Pilgrims reached the New World.

Finding the wooded northeastern shore of America populated with wild

turkeys, which possessed clavicles similar to those of chickens, the Pilgrims

instituted the turkey wishbone custom, making it part of Thanksgiving festivities.

Colonial folklore holds that wishbones were snapped at the first

Thanksgiving, celebrated in 1621. (See "Thanksgiving," page 64.) Thus,

by a circuitous route, an ancient Etruscan superstition became part of an

American celebration.

Knock Wood: 2000 B.C., North America

Children who play tree tag, in which touching a tree signifies safety, are

unwittingly enacting a four-thousand-year-old custom begun by the Indians

of North America.

In the modern game of tag, the base of any tree serves as a safe haven.

Historically, though, the tree to touch was an oak, venerated for its strength,

stately height, and numinous powers. Furthermore, when a person today

ventures a hopeful prediction and superstitiously knocks wood, that wood

ought only to be, traditionally, oak.

Cults surrounding the oak tree are ancient. They sprang up independently among the North American Indians around 2000 B.C. and later among the

Greeks. Both cultures, observing that the oak was struck frequently by

lightning, assumed it was the dwelling place of the sky god (the Indians)

and the god of lightning (the early Greeks).

The North American Indians carried their superstitious belief one step

further. They held that boasting of a future personal accomplishment, battle

victory, or windfall harvest was bad luck, a virtual guarantee that the event

would never occur. A boast, deliberate or inadvertent, could be neutralized

from sinister retribution by knocking on the base of an oak tree. In effect,

the person was contacting the sky god, seeking forgiveness.

In Europe during the Middle Ages, Christian scholars argued that the

knock-wood superstition originated·in the first century A.D. and stemmed

from the fact that Christ was crucified on a wooden cross. To knock wood

Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things

Cock and hen, ancient oracles.

The expression

"lucky break" applied to a

person winning the larger

half in a wishbone tug-ofwar.

hopefully was supposedly synonymous with a prayer of supplication, such

as: "Lord, let my wish come true." But modern scholars claim that there

is no more truth to that belief than to the onetime boast that every Christian

cathedral on the European continent possessed a piece of wood from the

true cross. Thus, the Catholic veneration of wooden crucifix relics did not

originate the custom of regarding wood with awe; rather, it mimicked,

modified, and reinforced a much older, pagan view.

Other cultures revered, knocked on, and prayed to different kinds of

trees. Whereas the American Indians and the early Greeks favored the oak,

for the Egyptians the sycamore was sacred, and for ancient Germanic tribes

the tree of choice was the ash. The Dutch, with a purist bent, adhered to

the knock-wood superstition, but for them the kind of wood was unimportant;

what mattered was that the wood be unvarnished, unpainted, uncarved,

in every way unadorned. Tree cults were commonplace throughout history, and they are the point of origin of many modern superstitious practices,

such as kissing beneath mistletoe. (See page 68.)

In America, our custom of knocking on wood to keep a boast from

boomeranging descended not from the homegrown American Indian superstition

but from the later Greek belief, passed on to the Romans and

then to the Britons. In time, when oak was not conveniently at hand, a rap

on any type of wood sufficed. And in today's high-tech world of plastics

and laminates, the knock-wood superstition persists, even though real wood,

of any kind, is not always in arm's reach.

Four-Leaf Clover: 200 B.C., British Isles

More than any other factor, the rarity of the four-leaf clover (normally,

the clover is a three-leaf plant) made it sacred to the sun-worshiping Druid

priests of ancient England.

The Druids, whose Celtic name, dereu-wid, means "oak-wise" or "knowing

the oak tree," frequented oak forests as worshiping grounds. They believed

that a person in possession of a four-lf:af clover could sight ambient demons

and through incantations thwart their sinister influence. Our information

on the origin of this good luck charm (as well as on other beliefs and

behaviors of that learned class of Celts who acted as priests, teachers, and

judges) comes mainly from the writings of Julius Caesar and from Irish


Several times a year, Druids assembled in sacred oak forests throughout

the British Isles and Gaul. There they settled legal disputes and offered

human sacrifices for any person who was gravely ill or in danger of death

from forthcoming battle. Huge wicker cages filled with men were burned.

Though Druid priests preferred to sacrifice criminals, during periods of

widespread law and order they incinerated the innocent. The immortality

of the soul, and its transferal after death to a newborn, was one of their

principal religious doctrines. Before terminating the forest ritual, Druids

collected sprigs of mistletoe (believed to be capable of maintaining harmony

within families) and scouted for rare clover.

Four-leaf clovers are no longer rare. In the 1950s, horticulturists developed

a seed that sprouts only clover with four lobes. The fact that today

they are grown in greenhouses by the millions and cultivated by the score

on kitchen windowsills not only strips the tiny herb of the uniqueness that

is its luck but usurps the thrill and serendipity of finding one.

Crossed Fingers: Pre-Christian Era, Western Europe

!fyou cross your fingers when making a wish, or if you tell a friend, "Keep

your fingers crossed," you're partaking of an ancient custom that required

the participation of two people, intersecting index fingers.

The popular gesture grew out of the pagan belief that a cross was a symbol of perfect unity; and that its point of intersection marked the dwelling

place of beneficent spirits. A wish made on a cross was supposed to be

anchored steadfastly at the cross's intersection until that desire was realized.

The superstition was popular among many early European cultures.

Interestingly, the notion of trapping a fantasy until it becomes a reality

is found in another ancient European superstition: tying a string around

the finger. Today we label the practice a "memory aid," a means of "psychological association" in which the string serves merely as a reminder of

a task to be performed. To the Celts, the Romans, and the Anglo-Saxons,

however, the string was thought to physically prevent the idea from escaping

the body.

Originally, in crossing fingers for good luck, the index finger of a wellwisher

was placed over the index finger of the person expressing the wish,

the two fingers forming a cross. While one person wished, the other offered

mental support to expedite the desire. As time elapsed, the rigors of the

custom eased, so that a person could wish without the assistance of an

associate. It sufficed merely to cross the index and the middle fingers to

form an X, the Scottish cross of St. Andrew.

Customs once formal, religious, and ritualistic have a way of evolving

with time to become informal, secular, and commonplace. As the ancient

"knock oak" custom generalized to "knock wood" to today's "knock whatever is handy," so the "crossed fingers" of friends degenerated to a wisher crossing his own fingers and finally to today's expression "I'll keep my fingers crossed," with the well-wisher never actually doing so, and no one expecting him or her to.

Thus, what was once deliberate and symbolic becomes reflexive and insignificant- though not obsolete. The contemporary street custom among young boys of hooking index fingers as a means of agreement on a deal is similar in form and content to the ancient and original crossed fingers of friends.

Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down: 500 B.C., Etruria

Today a "thumbs up" gesture is an expression of approval, courage, or stick-to-itiveness. But to a fourth-century B.C.

Etruscan gladiator it meant something more: literally, "Spare his life." And whereas "thumbs down" today suggests disapproval, in Etruscan times the disapproval was invariably terminal.

While the meaning of the Etruscan "rule of the thumb" was adopted by the Romans and is the proximate origin of our modern gesture, the Egyptians developed a thumb language with meanings closer to our own. The Egyptian

"thumbs up" signified hope or victory, while "thumbs down" meant ill will or defeat.

Why, though, in these cultures did the thumb become the signaling finger?

Roman historians in the time of Julius Caesar offered the first written explanation for the gestures. They observed that an infant often enters the world with its thumbs tucked within clutched fists. As the baby gradually responds to stimuli in its environment, the hands slowly unfold, releasing the thumbs upward. As if to come full circle, at the time of death the hands often contract, enclosing the down turned thumbs. Thus, to the Romans, "thumbs up"

became an affirmation of life, "thumbs down" a signal for death.

"God Bless You": 6th Century, Italy

"Gesundheit," say Germans; "Felicita," say Italians; Arabs clasp hands and reverently bow. Every culture believes in a benediction following a sneeze.

The custom goes back to a time when a sneeze was regarded as a sign of great personal danger.

For centuries, man believed that life's essence, the soul, resided in the head and that a sneeze could accidentally expel the vital force. This suspicion was reinforced by the deathbed sneezing of the sick. Every effort was made to hold back a sneeze, and an inadvertent or unsuppressed sneeze was greeted with immediate good luck chants.

Enlightenment arrived in the fourth century B.C. with the teachings of Aristotle and Hippocrates, the "father of medicine." Both Greek scholars explained sneezing as the head's reaction to a foreign or offensive substance that crept into the nostrils. They observed that sneezing, when associated with existing illness, often foretold death. For these ill-boding sneezes, they recommended such benedictions as "Long may you live!" "May you enjoy good health!" and "Jupiter preserve you!"

About a hundred years later, Roman physicians extrapolated the lore and superstition surrounding a sneeze.

The Romans preached the view that sneezing, by an otherwise healthy individual, was the body's attempt to expel the sinister spirits of later illnesses.

Thus, to withhold a sneeze was to incubate disease, to invite debility and death. Consequently, a vogue of sneezing swept the Roman Empire and engendered a host of new post-sneeze benedictions: "Congratulations" to a person having robustly executed a sneeze; and to a person quavering on the verge of an exhalation, the encouraging "Good luck to you."

The Christian expression "God bless you" has a still different origin. It began by papal fiat in the sixth century, during the reign of Pope Gregory the Great. A virulent pestilence raged throughout Italy, one foreboding symptom being severe, chronic sneezing. So deadly was the plague that people died shortly after manifesting its symptoms; thus, sneezing became synonymous with imminent death.

Pope Gregory beseeched the healthy to pray for the sick. He also ordered that such well-intended though leisurely phrases as "May you enjoy good health" be replaced with his own more urgent and pointed invocation, "God bless you!" And if no well-wisher was around to invoke the blessing, the sneezer was advised to exclaim aloud, "God help me!"

Pope Gregory's post-sneeze supplications spread throughout Europe, hand in hand with the plague, and the seriousness with which a sneeze was regarded was captured in a new expression, which survives to this day: "Not to be sneezed at." Today we voice it after a declamation in order to emphasize the gravity of our statement. But without knowledge of the expression's history, the words themselves are puzzlingly vague.

Broken Mirror: 1st Century, Rome

Breaking a mirror, one of the most widespread bad luck superstitions still extant, originated long before glass mirrors existed. The belief arose out of a combination of religious and economic factors.

The first mirrors, used by the ancient Egyptians, the Hebrews, and the Greeks, were made of polished metals such as brass, bronze, silver, and gold, and were of course unbreakable. By the sixth century B.C., the Greeks had begun a mirror practice of divination called catoptromancy, which employed shallow glass or earthenware bowls filled with water. Much like a gypsy's crystal ball, a glass water bowl-a miratorium to the Romans was supposed to reveal the future of any person who cast his or her image on the reflective surface. The prognostications were read by a "mirror seer." If one of these mirrors slipped and broke, the seer's straightforward interpretation was that either the person holding the bowl had no future (that is, he or she was soon to die) or the future held events so abysmal that the gods were kindly sparing the person a glimpse at heartache.

The Romans, in the first century A.D., adopted this bad luck superstition and added their own twist to it-our modern meaning. They maintained that a person's health changed in cycles of seven years. Since mirrors reflect' a person's appearance (that is, health), a broken mirror augured seven years of ill health and misfortune.

The superstition acquired a practical, economic application in fifteenthcentury Italy. The first breakable sheet-glass mirrors with silver-coated backing were manufactured in Venice at that time. (See "Mirror," page 229.) Being

Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things

costly, they were handled with great care, and servants who cleaned the mirrors of the wealthy were emphatically warned that to break one of the new treasures invited seven years of a fate worse than death.

Such effective use of the superstition served to intensify the bad luck belief for generations of Europeans. By the time inexpensive mirrors were being manufactured in England and France in the mid-1600s, the broken-mirror superstition was widespread Cj.nd rooted firmly in tradition.

Number Thirteen: Pre-Christian Era, Scandinavia

Surveys show that of all bad luck superstitions, unease surrounding the number thirteen is the one that affects most people today-and in almost countless ways.

The French, for instance, never issue the house address thirteen. In Italy,

Norse god Balder

(right), source of the

number thirteen

superstition; Norse


Frigga, crowned with

crescent moon, source

of the Friday the



American dollar bill

symbols incorporate

numerous items



the national lottery omits the number thirteen. National and international

airlines skip the thirteenth row of seats on planes. In America, modem

skyscrapers, condominiums, co-ops, and apartment buildings label the floor

that follows twelve as fourteen. Recently, a psychological experiment tested

the potency of the superstition: A new luxury apartment building, with a

floor temporarily numbered thirteen, rented units on all other floors, then

only a few units on the thirteenth floor. When the floor number was changed

to twelve-B, the unrented apartments quickly found takers.

How did this fear of the number thirteen, known as triskaidekaphobia,


The notion goes back at least to Norse mythology in the pre-Christian

era. There was a banquet at Valhalla, to which twelve gods were invited.

Loki, the spirit of strife and evil, gate-crashed, raising the number present

to thirteen. In the ensuing struggle to evict Loki, Balder, the favorite of

the gods, was killed.

This is one of the earliest written references to misfortune surrounding

the number thirteen. From Scandinavia, the superstition spread south

throughout Europe. By the dawn of the Christian era, it was well established

in countries along the Mediterranean. Then, folklorists claim, the belief

was resoundingly reinforced, perhaps for all time, by history's most famous meal: the Last Supper. Christ and his apostles numbered thirteen. Less

than twenty-four hours after the meal, Christ was crucified.

Mythologists have viewed the Norse legend as prefiguring the Christian

banquet. They draw parallels between the traitor judas and Loki, the spirit

of strife; and between Balder, the favorite god who was slain, and Christ,

who was crucified. What is indisputable is that from the early Christian era

onward, to invite thirteen guests for dinner was to court disaster.

As is true with any superstition, once a belief is laid down, people search,

consciously or unconsciously, for events to fit the forecast. In 1798, for

instance, a British publication, Gentlemen's Magazine, fueled the thirteen

superstition by quoting actuarial tables of the day, which revealed that, on

the average, one out of every thirteen people in a room would die within

the year. Earlier and later actuarial tables undoubtedly would have given

different figures. Yet for many Britons at the time, it seemed that science

had validated superstition.

Ironically, in America, thirteen should be viewed as a lucky number. It

is part of many of our national symbols. On the back of the U.S. dollar bill,

the incomplete pyramid has thirteen steps; the bald eagle clutches in one

claw an olive branch with thirteen leaves and thirteen berries, and in the

other he grasps thirteen arrows; there are thirteen stars above the eagle's

head. All of that, of course, has nothing to do with superstition, but commemorates

the country's original thirteen colonies, themselves an auspicious


Friday the Thirteenth. Efforts to account for this unluckiest of days have

focused on disastrous events alleged to have occurred on it. Tradition has

it that on Friday the thirteenth, Eve tempted Adam with the apple; Noah's

ark set sail in the Great Flood; a confusion of tongues struck at the Tower

of Babel; the Temple of Solomon toppled; and Christ died on the cross.

The actual origin of the superstition, though, appears also to be a tale

in Norse mythology.

Friday is named for Frigga, the free-spirited goddess oflove and fertility.

When Norse and Germanic tribes converted to Christianity, Frigga was

banished in shame to a mountaintop and labeled a witch. It was believed

that every Friday, the spiteful goddess convened a meeting with eleven

other witches, plus the devil-a gathering of thirteen-and plotted ill turns

of fate for the coming week. For many centuries in Scandinavia, Friday was

known as "Witches' Sabbath."

Black Cat: Middle Ages, England

As superstitions go, fear of a black cat crossing one's path is of relatively

recent origin. It is also entirely antithetical to the revered place held by the

cat when it was first domesticated in Egypt, around 3000 B.C.

All cats, including black ones, were held in high esteem among the ancient

Egyptians and protected by law from injury and death. So strong was cat

idolatry that a pet's death was mourned by the entire family; and both rich

and poor embalmed the bodies of their cats in exquisite fashion, wrapping

them in fine linen and placing them in mummy cases made of precious

materials such as bronze and even wood-a scarcity in timber-poor Egypt.

Entire cat cemeteries have been unearthed by archaeologists, with mummified

black cats commonplace.

Impressed by the way a cat could survive numerous high falls unscathed,

the Egyptians originated the belief that the cat has nine lives.

The cat's popularity spread quickly through civilization. Sanskrit writings

more than two thousand years old speak of cats' roles in Indian society;

and in China about 500 B.C., Confucius kept a favorite pet cat. About A.D.

600, the prophet Muhammad preached with a cat in his arms, and at approximately

the same time, the Japanese began to keep cats in their pagodas

to protect sacred manuscripts. In those centuries, a cat crossing a person's

path was a sign of good luck.

Dread of cats, especially black cats, first arose in Europe in the Middle

Ages, particularly in England. The cat's characteristic independence, willfulness,

and stealth, coupled with its sudden overpopulation in major cities,

contributed to its fall from grace. Alley cats were often fed by poor, lonely

old ladies, and when witch hysteria struck Europe, and many of these homeless

women were accused of practicing black magic, their cat companions

(especially black ones) were deemed guilty of witchery by association.

One popular tale from British feline lore illustrates the thinking of the

day. In Lincolnshire in the 1560s, a father and his son were frightened one

moonless night when a small creature darted across their path into a crawl

space. Hurling stones into the opening, they saw an injured black cat scurry

out and limp into the adjacent home of a woman suspected by the town of

being a witch. Next day, the father and son encountered the woman on

the street. Her face was bruised, her arm bandaged. And she now walked

with a limp. From that day on in Lincolnshire, all black cats were suspected

of being witches in night disguise. The lore persisted. The notion of witches

transforming themselves into black cats in order to prowl streets unobserved

became a central belief in America during the Salem witch hunts.

Thus, an animal once looked on with approbation became a creature

dreaded and despised.

Many societies in the late Middle Ages attempted to drive cats into extinction.

As the witch scare mounted to paranoia, many innocent women

and their harmless pets were burned at the stake. A baby born with eyes

too bright, a face too canny, a personality too precocious, was sacrificed

for fear that it was host to a spirit that would in time become a witch by

day, a black cat by night. In France, thousands of cats were slaughtered throughout Europe, it is surprising that the gene for the color black was not deleted

from the species ... unless the cat does possess nine lives.

Flip of a Coin: lst Century B.C., Rome

In ancient times, people believed that major life decisions should be made

by the gods. And they devised ingenious forms of divination to coax gods

to answer important questions with an unequivocal "yes" or "no." Although

coins-ideally suited for yes/no responses-were first minted by the Lydians

in the tenth century B.C., they were not initially used for decisionmaking.

It was Julius Caesar, nine hundred years later, who instituted the heads/

tails coin-flipping practice. Caesar's own head appeared on one side of

every Roman coin, and consequently it was a head-specifically that of

Caesar-that in a coin flip determined the winner of a dispute or indicated

an affirmative response from the gods.

Such was the reverence for Caesar that serious litigation, involving property,

marriage, or criminal guilt, often was settled by the flip of a coin.

Caesar's head landing upright meant that the emperor, in absentia, agreed

with a particular decision and opposed the alternative.

Spilling Salt: 3500 B.C., Near East

Salt was man's first food seasoning, and it so dramatically altered his eating

habits that it is not at all surprising that the action of spilling the precious

ingredient became tantamount to bad luck.

Following an accidental spilling of salt, a superstitious nullifying gesture

such as throwing a pinch of it over the left shoulder became a practice of

the ancient Sumerians, the Egyptians, the Assyrians, and later the Greeks.

For the Romans, salt was so highly prized as a seasoning for food and a

medication for wounds that they coined expressions utilizing the word,

which have become part of our language. The Roman writer Petronius, in

the Satyricon, originated "not worth his salt" as opprobrium for Roman

soldiers, who were given special allowances for salt rations, called salarium"

salt money"-the origin of our word "salary."

Archaeologists know that by 6500 B.C., people living in Europe were

actively mining what are thought to be the first salt mines discovered on

the continent, the Hallstein and Hallstatt deposits in Austria. Today these

caves are tourist attractions, situated near the town of Salzburg, which of

course means "City of Salt." Salt purified water, preserved meat and fish,

and enhanced the taste of food, and the Hebrews, the Greeks, and the

Romans used salt in all their major sacrifices.

The veneration of salt, and the foreboding that followed its spilling, is

poignantly captured in Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper. Judas has

spilled the table salt, foreshadowing the tragedy-Jesus' betrayal-that was to follow. Historically, though, there is no evidence of salt having been

spilled at the Last Supper. Leonardo wittingly incorporated the widespread

superstition into his interpretation to further dramatize the scene. The

classic painting thus contains two ill-boding omens: the spilling of salt, and

thirteen guests at a table.

Umbrella Indoors: 18th Century, England

Bad luck superstitions surrounding the umbrella began with the Egyptians,

who imparted their intricately designed umbrellas of papyrus and peacock

feathers with religious significance. These early umbrellas were never intended

to protect against rain (which was rare and a blessing in arid Egypt),

but served as sunshades in the blistering heat of day. (See "Umbrella,"

page 318.)

The Egyptians believed that the canopy of the sky was formed by the

body of the celestial goddess Nut. With only her toes and fingertips touching

the earth, her torso spanned the planet like a vast umbrella. Man-made

umbrellas were regarded as small-scale earthly embodiments of Nut and

suitable only to be held above the heads of nobility. The shade cast by an

umbrella outdoors was sacred, and for a commoner to even accidentally

step into it was considered sacrilegious, a harbinger of bad luck. (This belief

was reversed by the Babylonians, who deemed it an honor to have even a

foot fall into the umbra of the king's sunshade.)

Folklorists claim that the superstitious belief that opening an umbrella

indoors augurs misfortune has a more recent and utilitarian origin. In

eighteenth-century London, when metal-spoked waterproof umbrellas began

to become a common rainy-day sight, their stiff, clumsy spring mechanism

made them veritable hazards to open indoors. A rigidly spoked umbrella,

opening suddenly in a small room, could seriously injure an adult

or a child, or shatter a frangible object. Even a minor accident could provoke

unpleasant words or a serious quarrel, themselves strokes of bad luck in a

family or among friends. Thus, the superstition arose as a deterrent to

opening an umbrella indoors.

Today, with the ubiquitousness of radio, television, and newspaper

weather forecasts, the umbrella superstition has again been altered. No

longer is it really considered a bad luck omen to open an umbrella indoors

(though it still presents a danger). Rather, on a morning when rain is in

the forecast, one superstitious way to assure dry skies throughout the day

is to set off for work toting an umbrella. On the other hand, to chance

leaving the umbrella at home guarantees getting caught in a downpour.

Subtle, unobtrusive, and even commonplace, superstitious beliefs infiltrate

our everyday conversations and actions.

Walking Under a Ladder: 3000 B.C., Egypt

Here is one superstition whose origin appears to be grounded in obvious

and practical advice: walking under a ladder, after all, should be avoided

since a workman's plummeting tool could become a lethal weapon.

The true origin of the superstition, though, has nothing to do with practicality.

A ladder leaning against a wall forms a triangle, long regarded by

many societies as the most common expression of a sacred trinity of gods.

The pyramid tombs of the pharaohs, for example, were based on triangular

planes. In fact, for a commoner to pass through a triangulated arch was

tantamount to defiance of a sanctified space.

To the Egyptians, the ladder itself was a symbol of good luck. It was a

ladder that rescued the sun god Osiris from imprisonment by the spirit of

Darkness. The ladder was also a favorite pictorial sign to illustrate the ascent

of gods. And ladders were placed in the tombs of Egyptian kings to help

them climb heavenward.

Centuries later, followers of Jesus Christ usurped the ladder superstition,

interpreting it in light of Christ's death: Because a ladder had rested against

the crucifix, it became a symbol of wickedness, betrayal, and death. Walking

under a ladder courted misfortune. In England and France in the 1600s,

criminals on their way to the gallows were compelled to walk under a ladder,

while the executioner, called the Groom of the Ladder, walked around it.

Ancient cultures invariably had antidotes to their most feared superstitions.

For a person who inadvertently walked under a ladder, or who was

forced to do so for convenience of passage, the prescribed Roman antidote

was the sign of the fico. This nullifying gesture was made by closing the fist

and allowing the thumb to protrude between the index and middle fingers.

The fist was then thrust forward at the ladder. Any person interested in

applying the antidote today should be aware that the fico was also a Roman

phallic gesture, believed to be the precursor of the extended middle finger,

whose accompanying incantation is not all that different in sound from fico.

Evil Eye: Antiquity, Near East and Europe

A "dirty look," a "withering glance," "if looks could kill," and "to stare with daggers" are a few common expressions that derive from one of the

most universal of fears, the evil eye.

It has been found in virtually all cultures. In ancient Rome, professional

sorcerers with the evil eye were hired to bewitch a person's enemies. All

gypsies were accused of possessing the stare. And the phenomenon was

widespread and dreaded throughout India and the Near East. By the Middle

Ages, Europeans were so fearful of falling under the influence of an evil

glance that any person with a dazed, crazed, or canny look was liable to be

burned at the stake. A case of cataracts could spell death.

How did such a belief originate independently among so many different


One of the most commonly accepted theories among folklorists involves

the phenomenon of pupil reflection: If you look into a person's eyes, your

own minuscule image will appear in the dark of the pupil. And indeed, our

word "pupil" comes from the Latin pupilla, meaning "little doll."

Early man must have found it strange and frightening to glimpse his own

image in miniature in the eyes of other tribesmen. He may have believed

himself to be in personal.danger, fearing that his likeness might lodge permanently

in, and be stolen by, an evil eye. This notion is reinforced by the

belief among primitive African tribes less than a century ago that to be

photographed was to permanently lose one's soul.

The Egyptians had a curious antidote to an evil stare-kohl, history's

first mascara. Worn by both men and women, it was applied in a circle or

oval about the eyes. (See "Eye Makeup," page 223.) The chemical base was

antimony, a metal, and while soothsayers prepared the compound for men

to smear on, women concocted their own antimony formulas, adding preferred

secret ingredients.

Why should mascara be an evil-eye antidote?


Covering a Yawn: Antiquity, Middle East

No one today is certain. But darkly painted circles around the eyes absorb

sunlight and consequently minimize reflected glare into the eye. The phenomenon

is familiar to every football and baseball player who has smeared

black grease under each eye before a game. The early Egyptians, spending

considerable time in harsh desert sunlight, may have discovered this secret

themselves and devised mascara not primarily for beautifying purposes, as

is the standard belief, but for practical and superstitious ones.

Stork Brings Baby: Antiquity, Scandinavia

To account for the sudden appearance of a new baby in a household, Scandinavian

mothers used to tell their children that a stork brought it. And to

account for the mother's much-needed bed rest, the children were told

that before the bird departed, it bit the mother's leg.

The need to offer young children some explanation for the arrival of a

new baby (especially in a time when infants were born at home) is understandable.

But why a stork?

Early Scandinavian naturalists had studied storks and their nesting habits

on home chimney stacks. The birds, in their long, seventy-year life span,

returned to the same chimney year after y€ar, and they mated monogamously.

Young adult birds lavished great attention and care on elderly or

infirm parents, feeding them and offering their extended wings for support.

In fact, the ancient Romans, impressed with the stork's altruistic behavior,

passed legislation called Lex Ciconaria, the "Stork's Law," compelling children to care for their aged parents. The Greeks were equally impressed.

Their term storge, the origin of our word "stork," means "strong natural affection. "

Thus, the stork's gentleness, along with the convenience of its nesting in

a home's chimney, made it an ideal creature to deliver a new arrival down

the chimney. For centuries, the old Norse legend was popular throughout

Scandinavia. It was nineteenth-century Danish writer Hans Christian

Andersen, through his fairy tales, who popularized the myth worldwide.

Covering a Yawn: Antiquity, Middle East.

Today, covering the mouth when yawning is considered an essential of

good manners. But the original custom stemmed not from politeness but

from fear-a fear that in one giant exhalation the soul, and life itself, might

depart the body. A hand to the lips held back the life force.

Ancient man had accurately observed (though incorrectly interpreted)

that a newborn, struggling to survive, yawns shortly after birth (a reflexive

response to draw additional oxygen into the lungs). With infant mortality

extraordinarily high, early physicians, at a loss to account for frequent

deaths, blamed the yawn. The helpless baby simply could not cover its

mouth with a protective hand. Roman physicians actually recommended


An ancient belief that

the breath of life might

escape the body during

a yawn established the

custom of covering the


that a mother be particularly vigilant during the early months of life and

cover any of her newborn's yawns.

Today it is also considered good manners when yawning to tum one's

head. But courtesy had nothing to do with the origin of the custom, nor

with the apology that follows a yawn. Ancient man had also accurately

observed that a yawn is contagious to witnesses. Thus, if a yawn was dangerous

to the yawner, this danger could be "caught" by others, like the

plague. The apology was for exposing friends to mortal danger.

Modem science has explained the yawn as the body's sudden need for a

large infusion of oxygen, especially on awakening, when one is physically

exhausted, and in the early stages of strenuous exercise. But there still is

no physiological accounting for the contagiousness of yawning. We know

only that the sight of a person yawning goes to the visual center of the

brain and from there is transmitted to the yawn center. Why such a particular

pathway should exist is as mysterious to us today as was the yawn itself to

ancient man.


Chapter 2

By Custom

Marriage Customs: A.D. 200, Northern Europe

Among the Germanic Goths, a man married a woman from within his own

community. When women were in short supply, he captured his bride-tobe

from a neighboring village. The future bridegroom, accompanied by a

male companion, seized any young girl who had strayed from the safety of

her parental home. Our custom of a best man is a relic of that two-man,

strong-armed tactic; for such an important task, only the best man would


From this practice of abduction, which literally swept a bride off her

feet, also sprang the later symbolic act of carrying the bride over the

threshold of her new home.

A best man around A.D. 200 carried more than a ring. Since there remained

the real threat of the bride's family's attempting to forcibly gain

her return, the best man stayed by the groom's side throughout the marriage

ceremony, alert and armed. He also might serve as a sentry outside the

newlyweds' home. Of course, much of this is German folklore, but it is not

without written documentation and physical artifacts. For instance, the

threat of recapture by the bride's family was perceived as so genuine that

beneath the church altars of many early peoples-including the Huns, the

Goths, the Visigoths, and the Vandals-lay an arsenal of clubs, knives, and


The tradition that the bride stand to the left of the groom was also more


By Custom

than meaningless etiquette. Among the Northern European barbarians (so

named by the Romans), a groom placed his captured bride on his left to

protect her, freeing his right hand, the sword hand, against sudden attack.

Wedding Ring: 2800 B.C., Egypt

The origin and significance of the wedding ring is much disputed. One

school of thought maintains that the modern ring is symbolic of the fetters

used by barbarians to tether a bride to her captor's home. If that be true,

today's double ring ceremonies fittingly express the newfound equality of

the sexes.

The other school of thought focuses on the first actual bands exchanged

in a marriage ceremony. A finger ring was first used in the Third Dynasty

of the Old Kingdom of Egypt, around 2800 B.C. To the Egyptians, a circle,

having no beginning or end, signified eternity-for which marriage was


Rings of gold were the most highly valued by wealthy Egyptians, and

later Romans. Among numerous two-thousand-year-old rings unearthed at

the site of Pompeii is one of a unique design that would become popular

throughout Europe centuries later, and in America during the Flower Child

era of the '60s and '70s. That extant gold marriage ring (of the type now

called a friendship ring) has two carved hands clasped in a handshake.

There is evidence that young Roman men of moderate financial means

often went for broke for their future brides. Tertullian, a Christian priest

writing in the second century A.D., observed that "most women know nothing

of gold except the single marriage ring placed on one finger.;' In public,

the average Roman housewife proudly wore her gold band, but at home,

according to Tertullian, she "wore a ring of iron."

In earlier centuries, a ring's design often conveyed meaning. Several

extant Roman bands bear a miniature key welded to one side. Not that the

key sentimentally suggested a bride had unlocked her husband's heart.

Rather, in accordance with Roman law, it symbolized a central tenet of the

marriage contract: that a wife was entitled to half her husband's wealth,

and that she could, at will, help herself to a bag of grain, a roll of linen, or

whatever rested in his storehouse. Two millennia would drag on before

that civil attitude would reemerge.

Diamond Engagement Ring: 15th Century, Venice

A Venetian wedding document dated 1503 lists "one marrying ring having

diamond." The gold wedding ring of one Mary of Modina, it was among

the early betrothal rings that featured a diamond setting. They began a

tradition that probably is forever.

The Venetians were the first to discover that the diamond is one of the


Diamond Engagement Ring: 15th Century, Venice

hardest, most enduring substances in nature, and that fine cutting and

polishing releases its brilliance. Diamonds, sets in bands of silver and gold,

became popular for betrothal rings among wealthy Venetians toward the

close of the fifteenth century. Rarity and cost limited their rapid proliferation

throughout Europe, but their intrinsic appeal guaranteed them a

future. By the seventeenth century, the diamond ring had become the most

popular, sought-after statement of a European engagement.

One of history's early diamond engagement rings was also its smallest,

worn by a two-year-old bride-to-be. The ring was fashioned for the betrothal

of Princess Mary, daughter of Henry VIII, to the dauphin of France, son

of King Francis I. Born on February 28, 1518, the dauphin was immediately

engaged as a matter of state policy, to assure a more intimate alliance

between England and France. Infant Mary was presented with the veriest

vogue in rings, which doubtless fit the tiny royal finger for only a short


Though the origin of the diamond engagement ring is known, that of

betrothal rings in general is less certain. The practice began, though, well

before the fifteenth century.

An early Anglo-Saxon custom required that a prospective bridegroom

break some highly valued personal belonging. Half the token was kept by

the groom, half by the bride's father. A wealthy man was expected to split

a piece of gold or silver. Exactly when the broken piece of metal was symbolically

replaced by a ring is uncertain. The weight of historical evidence

seems to indicate that betrothal rings (at least among European peoples)

existed before wedding rings, and that the ring a bride received at the time

of proposal was given to her again during the wedding ceremony. Etymologists

find one accurate description of the engagement ring's intent in its

original Roman name, arrhae, meaning "earnest money."

For Roman Catholics, the engagement ring's official introduction is unequivocal.

In A.D. 860, Pope Nicholas I decreed that an engagement ring

become a required statement of nuptial intent. An uncompromising defender

of the sanctity of marriage, Nicholas once excommunicated two

archbishops who had been involved with the marriage, divorce, and remarriage

of Lothair II of Lorraine, charging them with "conniving at bigamy."

For Nicholas, a ring of just any material or worth would not suffice.

The engagement ring was to be of a valued metal, preferably gold, which

for the husband-to-be represented a financial sacrifice; thus started a


In that century, two other customs were established: forfeiture of the

ring by a man who reneged on a marriage pledge; surrender of the ring by

a woman who broke off an engagement. The Church became unbending

regarding the seriousness of a marriage promise and the punishment if

broken. The Council of Elvira condemned the parents of a man who terminated

an engagement to excommunication for three years. And if a



m~ tn_

e ~'"





,- ---- -


A wedding ring symbolizes the fetters used to tether a captive bride to

her new home. The ring finger, adjacent to the pinky, was thought to

contain a "vein of love" connecting to the heart.

woman backed out for reasons unacceptable to the Church, her parish

priest had the authority to order her into a nunnery for life. For a time,

"till death do us part" began weeks or months before a bride and groom

were even united.

Ring Finger: 3rd Century B.C., Greece

The early Hebrews placed the wedding ring on the index finger. In India,

nuptial rings were worn on the thumb. The Western custom of placing a

wedding ring on the "third" finger (not counting the thumb) began with

the Greeks, through carelessness in cataloguing human anatomy.

Greek physicians in the third century B.C. believed that a certain vein,

the "vein of love," ran from the "third finger" directly to the heart. It

became the logical digit to carry a ring symbolizing an affair of the heart.


Wedding Cake: 1st Century B.C., Rome

The Romans, plagiarizing Greek anatomy charts, adopted the ring practice

unquestioningly. They did attempt to clear up the ambiguity surrounding

exactly what finger constituted the third, introducing the phrase "the finger

next to the least." This also became the Roman physician's "healing finger,"

used to stir mixtures of drugs. Since the finger's vein supposedly ran to

the heart, any potentially toxic concoction would be readily recognized by

a doctor "in his heart" before being administered to a patient.

The Christians continued this ring-finger practice, but worked their way

across the hand to the vein of love. A groom first placed the ring on the

top of the bride's index finger, with the words "In the name of the Father."

Then, praying, "In the name of the Son," he moved the ring to her middle

finger, and finally, with the concluding words "and of the Holy Spirit,

Amen," to the third finger. This was known as the Trinitarian formula.

In the East, the Orientals did not approve of finger rings, believing them

to be merely ornamental, lacking social symbolism or religious significance.

Marriage Banns: 8th Century, Europe

During European feudal times, all public announcements concerning

deaths, taxes, or births were called "banns." Today we use the term exclusively

for an announcement that two people propose to marry. That interpretation

began as a result of an order by Charlemagne, king of the Franks,

who on Christmas Day in A.D. 800 was crowned Emperor of the Romans,

marking the birth of the Holy Roman Empire.

Charlemagne, with a vast region to rule, had a practical medical reason

for instituting marriage banns.

Among rich and poor alike, a child's parentage was not always clear; an

extramarital indiscretion could lead to a half-brother and half-sister marrying,

and frequently did. Charlemagne, alarmed by the high rate of sibling

marriages, and the subsequent genetic damage to the offspring, issued an

edict throughout his unified kingdom: All marriages were to be publicly

proclaimed at least seven days prior to the ceremony. To avoid consanguinity

between the prospective bride and groom, any person with information

that the man and woman were related as brother or sister, or as half-siblings,

was ordered to come forth. The practice proved so successful that it was

widely endorsed by all faiths.

Wedding Cake: 1st Century B.C., Rome

The wedding cake was not always eaten by the bride; it was originally thrown

at her. It developed as one of many fertility symbols integral to the marriage

ceremony. For until modern times, children were expected to follow marriage

as faithfully as night follows day; and almost as frequently.

Wheat, long a symbol of fertility and prosperity, was one of the earliest

grains to ceremoniously shower new brides; and unmarried young women


By Custom

were expected to scramble for the grains to ensure their own betrothals,

as they do today for the bridal bouquet.

Early Romans bakers, whose confectionery skills were held in higher

regard than the talents of the city's greatest builders, altered the practice.

Around 100 B.C., they began baking the wedding wheat into srpall, sweet

cakes-to be eaten, not thrown. Wedding guests, however, loath to abandon

the fun of pelting the bride with wheat confetti, often tossed the cakes.

According to the Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius, author of De

rerum natura ("On the Nature of Things"), a compromise ritual developed

in which the wheat cakes were crumbled over a bride's head. And as a

further symbol of fertility, the couple was required to eat a portion of the

crumbs, a custom known as confarreatio, or "eating together." After exhausting the supply of cakes, guests were presented with handfuls of confetto-"

sweet meats"-a confetti-like mixture of nuts, dried fruits, and,

honeyed almonds, sort of an ancient trail mix.

The practice of eating crumbs of small wedding cakes spread throughout

Western Europe. In England, the crumbs were washed down with a special

ale. The brew itself was referred to as bryd ealu, or "bride's ale," which

evolved into the word "bridal."

The wedding cake rite, in which tossed food symbolized an abundance

of offspring, changed during lean times in the early Middle Ages. Raw

wheat or rice once again showered a bride. The once-decorative cakes became

simple biscuits or scones to be eaten. And guests were encouraged

to bake their own biscuits and bring them to the ceremony. Leftovers were

distributed among the poor. Ironically, it was these austere practices that

with time, ingenuity, and French contempt for all things British led to the

most opulent of wedding adornments: the multitiered cake.

The legend is this: Throughout the British Isles, it had become customary

to pile the contributed scones, biscuits, and other baked goods atop one

another into an enormous heap. The higher the better, for height augured

prosperity for the couple, who exchanged kisses over the mound. In the

1660s, during the reign of King Charles II, a French chef (whose name,

unfortunately, is lost to history) was visiting London and observed the cakepiling

ceremony. Appalled at the haphazard manner in which the British

stacked baked goods, often to have them tumble, he conceived the idea of

transforming the mountain of bland biscuits into an iced, multi tiered cake

sensation. British papers of the day are supposed to have deplored the

French excess, but before the close of the century, British bakers were

offering the very same magnificent creations.

Throwing Shoes at the Bride: Antiquity, Asia and Europe

Today old shoes are tied to newlyweds' cars and no one asks why. Why, of

all things, shoes? And why old shoes?

Originally, shoes were only one of many objects tossed at a bride to wish


The wedding cake was once tossed at a bride as a symbol of fenility. The multitiered

confection is a French creation.

her a bounty of children. In fact, shoes were preferred over the equally

traditional wheat and rice because from ancient times the foot was a powerful

phallic symbol. In several cultures, particularly among the Eskimos,

a woman experiencing difficulty in conceiving was instructed to carry a

piece of an old shoe with her at all times. The preferred shoes for throwing

at a bride-and later for tying to the newlyweds' car-were old ones strictly

for economic reasons. Shoes have never been inexpensive.

Thus, the throwing of shoes, rice, cake crumbs, and confetti, as well as

the origin of the wedding cake, are all expressions for a fruitful union. It

is not without irony that in our age, with such strong emphasis on delayed

childbearing and family planning, the modern wedding ceremony is replete

with customs meant to induce maximum fertility.


By Custom

Honeymoon: Early Christian Era, Scandinavia

There is a vast difference between the original meaning of "honeymoon"

and its present-day connotation-a blissful, much-sought seclusion as prelude

to married life. The word's antecedent, the ancient Norse hjunottsmanathr,

is, we'll see, cynical in meaning, and the seclusion it bespeaks was

once anything but blissful.

When a man from a Northern European community abducted a bride

from a neighboring village, it was imperative that he take her into hiding

for a period of time. Friends bade him safety, and his whereabouts were

known only to the best man. When the bride's family abandoned their

search, he returned to his own people. At least, that is a popular explanation

offered by folklorists for the origin of the honeymoon; honeymoon meant

hiding. For couples whose affections were mutual, the daily chores and

hardships of village life did not allow for the luxury of days or weeks of

blissful idleness.

The Scandinavian word for "honeymoon" derives in part from an ancient

Northern European custom. Newlyweds, for the first month of married

life, drank a daily cup of honeyed wine called mead. Both the drink and

the practice of stealing brides are part of the history of Attila, king of the

Asiatic Huns from A.D. 433 to 453. The warrior guzzled tankards of the

alcoholic distillate at his marriage in 450 to the Roman princess Honoria,

sister of Emperor Valentinian III. Attila abducted her from a previous

marriage and claimed her for his own-along with laying claim to the western

half of the Roman Empire. Three years later, at another feast, Attila's

unquenchable passion for mead led to an excessive consumption that induced

vomiting, stupor, coma, and his death.

While the "honey" in the word "honeymoon" derives straightforwardly

from the honeyed wine mead, the '\moon" stems from a cynical inference.

To Northern Europeans, the term "moon" connoted the celestial body's

monthly cycle; its combination with "honey" suggested that all moons or

months of married life were not as sweet as the first. During the sixteenth

and seventeenth centuries, British prose writers and poets frequently employed

the Nordic interpretation of honeymoon as a waxing and waning

of marital affection.

Wedding March: 19th Century, England

The traditional church wedding features two bridal marches, by two different

classical composers.

The bride walks down the aisle to the majestic, moderately paced music

of the "Bridal Chorus" from Richard Wagner's 1848 opera Lohengrin. The

newlyweds exit to the more jubilant, upbeat strains ofthe "Wedding March"

from Felix Mendelssohn's 1826 A Midsummer Night's Dream.

The custom dates back to the royal marriage, in 1858, of Victoria, princess


White Wedding Dress and Veil: 16th Century, England and France

of Great Britain and empress of Germany, to Prince Frederick William of

Prussia. Victoria, eldest daughter of Britain's Queen Victoria, selected the

music herself. A patron of the arts, she valued the works of Mendelssohn

and practically venerated those of Wagner. Given the British penchant for

copying the monarchy, soon brides throughout the Isles, nobility and commoners

alike, were marching to Victoria's drummer, establishing a Western

wedding tradition.

White Wedding Dress and Veil: 16th Century,

England and France

White has denoted purity and virginity for centuries. But in ancient Rome,

yellow was the socially accepted color for a bride's wedding attire. and a

veil of flame-hued yellow, the flammeum, covered her face. The bridal veil,

in fact, predates the wedding dress by centuries. And the facial veil itself

predates the bridal veil.

Historians of fashion claim that the facial veil was strictly a male invention,

and one of the oldest devices designed to keep married and single women

humble, subservient, and hidden from other males. Although the veil at

various times throughout its long history also served as a symbol of elegance

and intrigue, modesty and mourning, it is one article of feminine attire

that women may never have created for themselves.

Originating in the East at least four thousand years ago, veils were worn

throughout life by unmarried women as a sign of modesty and by married

women as a sign of submissiveness to their husbands. In Muslim religions,

a woman was expected to cover her head and part of her face whenever

she left the house. As time passed, rules (made by men) became stricter

and only a woman's eyes were permitted to remain uncovered-a concession

to necessity, since ancient veils were of heavy weaves, which interfered with


Customs were less severe and formal in Northern European countries.

Only abducted brides wore veils. Color was unimportant, concealment paramount.

Among the Greeks and the Romans by the fourth century B.C.,

sheer, translucent veils were the vogue at weddings. They were pinned to

the hair or held in place by ribbons, and yellow had become the preferred

color-for veil and wedding gown. During the Middle Ages, color ceased

to be a primary concern; emphasis was on the richness of fabric and decorative


In England and France, the practice of wearing white at weddings was

first commented on by writers in the sixteenth century. White was a visual

statement of a bride's virginity-so obvious and public a statement that it

did not please everyone. Clergymen, for instance, felt that virginity, a marriage

prerequisite, should not have to be blatantly advertised. For the next

hundred fifty years, British newspapers and magazines carried the running

controversy fired by white wedding ensembles.


The veil was a male invention to keep women subservient and hidden from other

males. A bride's white wedding ensemble is of comparatively recent origin; yellow

was once the preferred color.

By the late eighteenth century, white had become the standard wedding

color. Fashion historians claim this was due mainly to the fact that most

gowns of the time were white; that white was the color of formal fashion.

In 1813, the first fashion plate of a white wedding gown and veil appeared

in the influential French Journal des Dames. From that point onward, the

style was set.

Divorce: Antiquity, Africa and Asia

Before there can be a formal dissolution of marriage, there has to be an

official marriage. The earliest extant marriage certificate was found among

Aramaic papyri, relics of a Jewish garrison stationed at Elephantine in Egypt

in the fifth century B.C. The contract is a concise, unadorned, unromantic

bill of sale: six cows in exchange for a healthy fourteen-year-old girl.

Under the Romans, who were great legal scholars, the marriage certificate

mushroomed into a complex, multipage document of legalese. It rigidly

stated such terms as the conditions of the dowry and the division of property


Birthdays: 3900 B.C., Egypt

upon divorce or death. In the first century A.D., a revised marriage certificate

was officially introduced among the Hebrews, which is still used today with

only minor alterations.

Divorce, too, began as a simple, somewhat informal procedure. In early

Athens and Rome, legal grounds for the dissolution of a marriage were

unheard of; a man could divorce his wife whenever like turned to dislike.

And though he needed to obtain a bill of divorce from a local magistrate,

there are no records of one ever having been denied.

As late as the seventh century, an Anglo-SaXon husband could divorce

his wife for the most far-flung and farfetched of reasons. A legal work of

the day states that "A wife might be repudiated on proof of her being

barren, deformed, silly, passionate, luxurious, rude, habitually drunk, gluttonous,

very garrulous, quarrelsome or abusive."

Anthropologists who have studied divorce customs in ancient and modern

societies agree on one issue: Historically, divorce involving mutual consent

was more widespread in matrilineal tribes, in which the wife was esteemed

as the procreative force and the head of the household. Conversely, in a

patrilineal culture, in which the procreative and sexual rights of a bride

were often symbolically transferred to the husband with the payment of

so-called bridewealth, divorce strongly favored the wishes and whims of the


Birthdays: 3000 B.C •. , Egypt

It is customary today to celebrate a living person's birthday. But if one

Western tradition had prevailed, we'd be observing annual postmortem

celebrations of the death day, once a more significant event.

Many of our birthday customs have switched one hundred eighty degrees

from what they were in the past. Children's birthdays were never observed,

nor were those of women. And the decorated birthday cake, briefly a Greek

tradition, went unbaked for centuries-though it reappeared to be topped

with candles and greeted with a rousing chorus of "Happy Birthday to

You." How did we come by our many birthday customs?

In Egypt, and later in Babylonia, dates of birth were recorded and celebrated

for male children of royalty. Birthday fetes were unheard of for

the lower classes, and for women of almost any rank other than queen;

only a king, queen, or high-ranking nobleman even recognized the day he

or she was born, let alone commemorated it annually.

The first birthday celebrations in recorded history, around 3000 B.C.,

were those of the early pharaohs, kings of Egypt. The practice began after

Menes united the Upper and Lower Kingdoms. Celebrations were elaborate

household feasts in which servants, slaves, and freedmen took part; often

prisoners were released from the royal jails.

Two ancient female birthdays are documented. From Plutarch, the firstcentury

Greek biographer and essayist, we know that Cleopatra IV, the last


By Custom

member of the Ptolemaic Dynasty to rule Egypt, threw an immense birthday

celebration for her lover, Mark Antony, at which the invited guests were

themselves lavished with royal gifts. An earlier Egyptian queen, Cleopatra

II, who incestuously married her brother Ptolemy and had a son by him,

received from her husband one of the most macabre birthday presents in

history: the slaughtered and dismembered body of their son.

The Greeks adopted the Egyptian idea of birthday celebrations, and from

the Persians, renowned among ancient confectioners, they added the custom

of a sweet birthday cake as hallmark of the occasion. The writer Philochorus

tells us that worshipers of Artemis, goddess of the moon and the hunt,

celebrated her birthday on the sixth day of every month by baking a large

cake of flour and honey. There is evidence suggesting that Artemis's cake

might actually have been topped with lighted candles, since candles signified

moonlight, the goddess's earthward radiance.

Birthdays of Greek deities were celebrated monthly, each god hailed with

twelve fetes a year. At the other extreme, birthdays of mortal women and

children were considered too unimportant to observe. But when the birthday

of the man of the house arrived, no banquet was deemed too lavish. The

Greeks called these festivities for living males Genethlia, and the annual

celebrations continued for years after a man's death, with the postmortem

observances known as Genesia.

The Romans added a new twist to birthday celebrations. Before the dawn

of the Christian era, the Roman senate inaugurated the custom (still practiced

today) of making the birthdays of important statesmen national holidays.

In 44 B.C., the senate passed a resolution making the assassinated

Caesar's birthday an annual observance-highlighted by a public parade,

a circus performance, gladiatorial combats, an evening banquet, and a theatrical

presentation of a dramatic play.

With the rise of Christianity, the tradition of celebrating birthdays ceased


To the early followers of Christ, who were oppressed, persecuted, and

martyred by the Jews and the pagans-and who believed that infants entered

this world with the original sin of Adam condemning their souls-the world

was a harsh, cruel place. There was no reason to celebrate one's birth. But

since death was the true deliverance, the passage to eternal paradise, every

person's death day merited prayerful observance.

Contrary to popular belief, it was the death days and not the birthdays

of saints that were celebrated and became their "feast days." Church historians

interpret many early Christian references to "birthdays" as passage

or birth into the afterlife. "A birthday of a saint," clarified the early Church

apologist Peter Chrysologus, "is not that in which they are born in the

flesh, but that in which they are born from earth into heaven, from labor

to rest."

There was a further reason why early church fathers preached against

celebrating birthdays: They considered the festivities, borrowed from the


Birthday Cake and Candles: Late Middle Ages, Germany

Egyptians and the Greeks, as relics of pagan practices. In A.D. 245, when

a group of early Christian historians attempted to pinpoint the exact date

of Christ's birth, the Catholic Church ruled the undertaking sacrilegiolJs,

proclaiming that it would be sinful to observe the birthday of Christ "as

though He were a King Pharaoh."

In the fourth century, though, the Church began to alter its attitude

toward birthday celebrations-and it also commenced serious discussions

to settle the date of Christ's birth. The result, of course, marked the beginning

of the tradition of celebrating Christmas. (See page 67.) It was

with the celebration of Christ's nativity that the Western world returned

to the celebration of birthdays.

By the twelfth century, parish churches throughout Europe were recording

the birth dates of women and children, and families were observing

the dates with annual celebrations. Around this time, the birthday cake

reemerged, now topped with candles.

Birthday Cake and Candles: Late Middle Ages, Germany

As we've seen, the custom of a birthday cake was observed for a brief time

in ancient Greece. It reemerged among German peasants in the Middle

Ages, and through a new kind of celebration, a Kinderfeste, held specifically

for a young child, or Kind. In a sense, this marked the beginning of children's

birthday parties, and in many ways a thirteenth-century German child received

more attention and honor than his or her modern-day counterpart.

A Kinderfeste began at dawn. The birthday child was awakened by the

arrival of a cake topped with lighted candles. The candles were changed

and kept lit throughout the day, until after the family meal, when the cake

was eaten. The number of candles totaled one more than the child's age,

the additional one representing the "light of life." (Belief that the candle

symbolizes life is found throughout history. Macbeth speaks of life as a

"brief candle," and the proverb cautions against "burning the candle at

both ends.") The birthday child also received gifts and selected the menu

for the family meal, requesting his or her favorite dishes.

Our custom of making a wish and blowing out the candles also stems

from the German Kinderfeste. Birthday candles were to be extinguished in

a single breath, and the wish, if it was to come true, had to remain a secret.

German birthday lore has one custom we do not observe today: the Birthday

Man, a bearded elf who brought well-behaved birthday children additional

gifts. Although the Birthday Man never achieved the stature of a

Santa Claus or an Easter Bunny, his image could still be purchased in the

form of a German doll well into the early part of this century.


The child's birthday party began with the thirteenth-century German kinderfeste.

Worship of Artemis (right), goddess of the moon, initiated the use of candles

on celebratory cakes.

"Happy Birthday to You": 1893, Kentucky

This melody, regarded as the most frequently sung music in the world, was

first published in an 1893 book, Song Stories of the Kindergarten, under the

title "Good Morning to All."

Written by two sisters from Louisville, Kentucky, the tune was never

intended to be sung at a birthday celebration, but was a morning classroom

welcome to youngsters. Through theft, it became a birthday tradition.

Mildred Hill, who composed the song's melody, was a church organist,

concert pianist, and authority on Negro spirituals. Born in Louisville in

1859, she died in Chicago at age fifty-seven, a few years before her tune

received its "happy birthday" wording.

Mildred's sister, Patty Smith Hill, born in 1868, wrote the song's lyrics

while principal of the ~ouisville Experimental Kindergarten school, where

her sister taught. As one of the country's first kindergartens to apply modern

methods of education to young children, the school, and the Hill sisters,

were honored in an educational exhibition at the Chicago World's Fair of


With a lifelong interest in teaching children, Dr. Patty Smith Hill came

to Columbia University's Teachers College in 1906. Three years later, she

became head of the Department of Kindergarten Education. Though Dr.

Hill was a professor emeritus at Columbia and won a host of honors before

her death in New York City in 1946, she will probably always be best remembered

for her contribution to "Happy Birthday to You."


Death Traditions: 50,000 Years Ago, Western Asia

The Hill sisters copyrighted their "Good Morning to All" song on October

16, 1893. But it appeared without authorization in a songbook edited by

a Robert H. Coleman, and published by him in Dallas on March 4, 1924.

While the song bore its original title and first-stanza lyrics, Coleman altered

the second stanza's opening to read "Happy birthday to you." And through

Coleman, the Hill sisters' line "Good morning, dear children" became

"Happy birthday, dear [name]."

Over the next decade, the song was published several times, often with

minor alterations in its lyrics. By 1933, its widely accepted title was "Happy

Birthday to You." A year later, when the birthday tune was belted out

nightly in a Broadway musical,. As Thousands Cheer, a third Hill sister, Jessica,

tired of the blatant theft and total absence of royalties, took the case to

court. She won. The Hill family owned the melody. They were entitled to

royalties every time the song was performed commercially.

Most people, worldwide, were shocked to learn that the familiar tune

was copyrighted. Western Union, which had sent some half a million singing

birthday greetings via telephone and singing messengers, ceased offering

the selection. It was dropped from As Thousands Cheer. And when Broadway

backers of another show, Angel in the Wings-which had opened with a

score containing the tune-found that they would have to pay the Hill

family royalties for every performance, the show's composer penned another

melody. And in the later hit play Happy Birthday, its star, Helen Hayes,

spoke the lyrics so the producers could avoid royalty payments.

Dr. Patty Smith Hill died at age seventy-eight, after a long illness, aware

that she and her sister had started a modem, worldwide birthday tradition.

Death Traditions: 50,000 Years Ago, Western Asia

The earliest evidence of a funeral tradition has been traced to Western

Asia's Neanderthal man, a member of our own classification, Homo sapiens.

Illustrations often depict the Neanderthal as a primitive creature with a

heavy brow, thick, large nose, and brutish expression. Actually, many Neanderthals

possessed classic European features and fair, hairless skin. From

unearthed skulls, archaeologists calculate that Neanderthals had a brain

capacity equivalent to our own.

Neanderthals began the practice of burying their dead with ritual funerals.

They interred the deceased's body, along with food, hunting weapons, and

fire charcoals, and strewed the corpse with an assortment of flowers. A

Neanderthal grave discovered in Shanidar, Iraq, contained the pollen of

eight different flowers. Even fifty thousand years ago, man associated fire

with funerals, for there is evidence of torches at Neanderthal gravesites,

though their meaning remains unknown. Much later, the ancient Romans

believed that flaming funeral torches guided the departed soul to its eternal

abode; our word "funeral" derives from the Latin funus, "torch."

In addition to the word "funeral," the Romans gave us the modem

35 .

Fear of spirit possession

by the dead led to the

practice of wearing

black at a funeral.

practice of candles at death services. Lighted candles around the body

supposedly frightened away spirits eager to reanimate the corpse and take

possession of it. Since the spirits' domain was darkness, they were thought

to shun light.

As we are about to see, it was fear of the spirit world, more than respect

for the beloved deceased, that served as the origin for most of our modern

death traditions.

Black for Mourning. We say we wear black to a funeral as a sign of respect

for the deceased. But it was fear of a dead relative, foe, or stranger that

formalized black as the standard color of mourning in the Western world.

The custom is ancient.

Early man believed that without continual vigilance, the spirit of the dead

reentered and possessed the body of the living. Anthropological evidence

suggests that primitive white men painted their bodies black at funerals to

disguise themselves from spirits. And there is more recent proof, in this

century and the last, of black Mrican tribes coating their bodies the opposite

color, chalk white, to evade recognition and possession by the recently


Extrapolating from black body paint, anthropologists arrive at black funeral

attire-which in many societies was worn by the closest relatives of

the deceased for weeks or months as protective camouflage. The veil covering

a mourner's face originated from this fear. In Mediterranean countries,

a widow wore a veil and black clothing for a full year to hide from

her husband's prowling spirit. There is, after all, nothing intrinsically re-


Hearse: 16th Century, England

spectful about the color black, but for a white-skinned person it is the

antithetical mask.

Coffin. Our word "coffin" comes from the Greek kophinos, meaning "basket."

It was in baskets woven of plaited twigs that the ancient Sumerians,

about 4000 B.C., interred their dead. But again, it was fear of the deceased

that accounted for the origin of a coffin in the first place.

In Northern Europe, drastic measures served to prevent the dead from

haunting the living. Frequently, a dead man's body was bound and his feet

and head were amputated. To further handicap him, en route to the gravesite

a circuitous course was followed so he could not retrace the path to

his former home. In many cultures, the dead were carted from the house

not through the once-familiar front door, but via a hole in the wall cut out

for the occasion and closed up immediately afterward.

While burial six feet underground was viewed as a good precaution,

entombment first in a wooden coffin was even safer. Nailing down the lid

afforded additional protection. Not only were many early coffins secured

with numerous nails (far too many, archaeologists contend, merely to prevent

· a lid from sliding off during a procession), but once the coffin was

lowered into the ground, a large, heavy stone was placed atop the lid before

soil was shoveled in. A larger stone topped off the closed grave, giving birth

to the practice of the tombstone.

Later in history, of course, relatives affectionately inscribed a family

member's tombstone and respectfully visited the gravesite. But before these

civilities arose, family and friends never ventured near their dead.

Hearse: 16th Century, England

A hearse was originally not a vehicle to transport the dead to a final resting

place but an ancient agricultural implement-a rake. The route from rake

to he~rse is not straightforward.

After a Roman farmer plowed his fields, he raked the land with a hirpex,

a triangular tool of wood or iron with spikes attached to one side. In 51

B.C., when the Romans, under Caesar, completed their conquest of Gaul,

they introduced the hirpex (Latin for "rake") to Western Europe. Inhabitants

of the British Isles called the tool a "harrow." The name changed again in

the eleventh century when the Normans invaded England, giving "harrow"

the pronunciation herse.

The conquering Normans observed that the raking device, when inverted,

resembled their ecclesiastical candelabra. In time, the church's candelabra

was renamed herse, and as additional candles were incorporated to honor

a growing list of saints and to celebrate new holidays, the herse grew larger

and larger.

The church candelabra, resting on the altar, had always been an integral

part of a funeral service. The larger ones now were placed over the bier


By Custom

during the services for distinguished people. By the fifteenth century, the

rake's progress was such that it measured six feet long, skewered scores of

candles, and was a masterpiece of craftsmanship. Now it rode on the lid of

a coffin during a funeral cortege. In the next century, in England, the

entire wheeled cart drawing the coffin became known as a "hearse," the

later British spelling of herse. Thus, the agricultural rake became the funereal

wheeled cart or hearse. The route from wheeled cart to limousine is far

more straightforward.

It is interesting to note that the snail's pace of a funeral cortege is not

only a mark of respect for the dead. It recalls earlier days, when lighted

candles were a ceremonious part of a funeral march. For no matter how

reverently slowly the mourners chose to stride, the solemnity of their pace

was also influenced by the practical need to keep the candles burning. This

pedestrians' pace still suggests a limit to the motored hearse's speed.

Hands Joined in Prayer: 9th Century, Europe

For our ancestors, one of the most ancient and reverential gestures that

accompanied prayer was the spreading of arms and hands heavenward. In

time, the arms were pulled in, folded across the breast, wrists intersecting

above the heart. Each of these gestures possesses an intrinsic logic and

obviousness of intent: God resided in the heavens; the heart was the seat

of emotions.

The still later practice of joining hands in an apex seems less obvious, if

not puzzling.

It is mentioned nowhere in the Bible. It appeared in the Christian Church

only in the ninth century. Subsequently, sculptors and painters incorporated

it into scenes that predated its origin-which, it turns out, has nothing to

do with religion or worship, and owes much to subjugation and servitude.

Religious historians trace the gesture back to the act of shackling a prisoner's

hands together. Although the binding vines, ropes, or handcuffs

continued to serve their own law-and-order function, the joined hands

came to symbolize man's submission to his creator.

Substantial historical evidence indicates that the joining of hands became

a standard, widely practiced gesture long before it was appropriated and

formalized by the Christian Church. Before waving a white flag signaled

surrender, a captured Roman could avert immediate slaughter by affecting

the shackled-hands posture.

For the early Greeks, the gesture held the magic power to bind occult

spirits until they complied with a high priest's dictates. In the Middle Ages,

feudal lords adopted the joining of hands as an action by which their vassals

did homage and pledged fealty.

From such diverse practices, all with a common intent, Christianity assumed

the gesture as a sign of man's total obedience to divine authority.


Rosary: Pre-500 B.C., India

Later, many writers within the Christian Church offered, and encouraged,

a more pious and picturesque origin: joined hands represented a church's

pointed steeple.

Rosary: Pre-500 B.C., India

The term "rosary," meaning "wreath of roses," first appeared in fifteenthcentury Europe. But the practice of reciting prayers on a string of knots

or beads goes back to the Indic priests of the Middle East prior to 500 B.C.

It also developed in the Western world before the dawn of Christianityand

for a very practical reason.

According to many early religions, the frequent repetition of a prayer

was believed to increase its efficacy. To beseech the gods, the God, or a

saint for deliverance from, say, a plague by reciting a prayer a hundred

times was twice as effective as saying the same prayer only fifty times. Many

religions prescribed the exact number of repetitions of a specific prayer.

For instance, the traveling Knights of Templar, founded in the year 1119

to fight in the Crusades, could not attend regular church services and were

required to recite the Lord's Prayer fifty-seven times a day; on the death

of a fellow knight, the number increased to a hundred times a day for a


Quite simply, to count and pray simultaneously, even with the aid of the

fingers, is practically impossible; assistance was required. And the rosary

was the perfect memory aid. It was referred to in Sanskrit as the "remembrancer,"

and in European languages as the calculi and the numeralia.

For many peoples, simple memory aids sufficed: strings of fruit pits,

dried berries, bones, knotted cords. Priests of the Greek Church tallied

their numerous genuflections and signs of the cross with cords of a hundred

knots. Wealthy people strung together precious stones, trinkets of glass,

and nuggets of gold.

Europeans even referred to a knot, berry, or pit as a prayer; our word

"prayer" comes from the Anglo-Saxon for "bead," hede, which in turn derived from biddan, "to ask."

In the eleventh century, the Anglo-Saxon gentlewoman Lady Godiva,

famous for her tax-protesting nude ride through Coventry, England, bequeathed

to a monastery "a circlet of gems which she had threaded on a

string, in order that by fingering them one by one, as she successively recited

her prayers, she might not fall short of the exact number."

It was in the following century that the rosary was popularized in the

Catholic Church by the Spanish Saint Dominic, founder of the Friars

Preachers, which evolved into the Dominican order of priests. In an apparition,

the, Virgin Mary asked him to preach the rosary "as a spiritual

remedy agai~st heresy and sin."

Etymologists offer two possible origins for the word "rosary" itself. Many

early rosaries had beads carved of rosewood and were known as wreaths


By Custom

of roses. An alternate theory holds that the linguistic origin is found in the

French for "bead," rosaire. In many Mediterranean countries, rosaries were

simply called' "the beads."

Halo: Antiquity, Europe and Asia

The luminous circle of light used for centuries by artists to crown the heads

of religious figures was originally not a Christian symbol but a pagan oneand

was itself the origin of the royal crown.

Early writings and drawings are replete with references to nimbuses of

light surrunding the heads of deities. In ancient Hindu, Indian, Greek, and

Roman art, gods emit a celestial radiance about the head. Early kings, to

emphasize their special relationship to a god, and the divine authority thus

invested in them, adopted a crown of feathers, gems, or gold. Roman emperors,

convinced of their divinity, seldom appeared in public without a

symbolic orb. And the crown of thorns thrust upon Christ's head was intended

as a public mockery of his heavenly kingship.

Through extensive use over time, the circle of light lost its association

with pagan gods and became a valid ecclesiastical symbol in its own right

for many faiths-with one notable exception. Fathers of the early Catholic

Church, perspicacious of the halo's pagan roots, deliberately discouraged

artists and writers from depiction or mention of celestial auras. (Illustrated

manuscripts from the Middle Ages reveal the religious admonitions to have

been less than one hundred percent effective.)

Historians trace the Church's gradual adoption of the halo, around the

seventh century, to a prosaic, utilitarian function it served: as a kind of

umbrella to protect outdoor religious statuary from precipitation, erosion,

and the unsightly droppings of birds. Such haloes were large circular plates

of wood or brass.

During these centuries, the halo was known by a variety of namesexcept


Etymologists trace the origin of the word to neither its pagan roots nor

Christian recognition. Millennia before Christ, farmers threshed grain by

heaping the sheaves over hard terrain and driving a team of oxen round

and round over them. The circuits created a circular track, which the Greeks

called a halos, literally "circular threshing floor." In the sixteenth century, when astronomers reinterpreted the word, applying it to the auras of refracted

sunlight around celestial bodies, theologians appropriated it to describe

the crown surrounding a saint's head.

Thus, as one modem religious historian observes, "The halo combines

traditions of Greek farming, the Roman deification of megalomaniac rulers,

medieval astronomy and an early protective measure against dirt and inclemerit



Amen: 2500 B.C., Egypt

Amen: 2500 B.C., Egypt

One ofthe most familiar and frequently used of all religious words, "amen"

appears in both early Christian and Moslem writings. The word makes thirteen

appearances in the Hebrew Bible; 119 in the New Testament.

To the Hebrews, the word meant "so it is' -expressing assent or agreement,

and also signifying truth. Thus, a Hebrew scholar terminating a speech

or sermon with "amen" assured his audience that his statements were trustworthy

and reliable.

The word originated in Egypt, around 2500 B.C. To the Egyptians, Amun

meant "the hidden one" and was the name of their highest deity, at one

time worshiped throughout the Middle East. As later cultures invoked the

god Jupiter with the exclamation "By Jove!" the Egyptians called on their

deity: "By Amun!" It was the Hebrews who adopted the word, gave it a

new meaning, and passed it on to the Christians.

The origins of other common religious words:

Pew. To draw an analogy with a 1960s civil rights issue, a pew was originally

the church's equivalent of the front of the bus.

Our designation of the long seats found in many churches comes from

the French puie, meaning "raised place" or "balcony." The French word, in turn, originated from the Latin podium, an amphitheater's balcony reserved

for prominent families and royalty.

In colonial America, the European tradition was continued. Certain

church seats were cordoned off so Christian families of stature could appreciate

sermons on the equality of mankind without having to mix with

families of lesser stature. These segregated rows were called "pews." As

the ropes gradually yielded to a doctrine of democracy, the term "pew"

came to apply to all rows in a church.

Reverend. The word has been associated with clergymen since the seventeenth

century in England. The designation, from the Latin reverendus,

meaning "worthy of respect," was given by British townspeople to their

local minister as a gesture of respect for his spiritual leadership.

Pastor. From the Latin for "shepherd," since a minister traditionally has

been viewed as the shepherd of his flock. Christ often referred to himself

as the "Good Shepherd," willing to lay down his life for his sheep.

Parson. In colonial America, farmers had little time for education. If they

needed certain book information, they turned to the one person in the

region esteemed for his formal learning: the minister. Reverently, he was

referred to as "the town person," which when spoken with a heavy New

England accent became "the town parson."


By Custom

Evangelist. The term comes from the Greek evangelion, meaning "welcome

message," for the traveling preacher was regarded as God's messenger, the

bearer of good news.

The four writers of the Gospels-Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Johnwere

known as the Four Evangelists. Later, the term was applied to the

religious circuit riders who traveled on horseback to their assigned churches

in the western frontier of the United States during the 1890s.

Monsignor. The term derives from monseigneur, French for "my lord."

Monk. From the Latin monachus, meaning "one who lives alone." Many

of the oldest historical records, sacred and secular, are writings of monks,

who were among the relatively few learned people of the Dark Ages.

Abbot. When Christ prayed to Almighty God, he referred to him as "abba,"

which comes from the Hebrew Ab, meaning "Father." St. Paul, emphasizing

the theme, urged Christians to employ the term when addressing the Lord.

Gradually, the head of a monastery was addressed as "Abbot," to signify

that he was the monks' spiritual father.

Nun. In Sanskrit, nana meant "mother"; in Latin, nonna was "child's nurse"; in Greek, nanna was "aunt"; and the Coptic word nane meant

"good." All precursors of "nun," they say much about the vocation itself.

The word for the nun's traditional garb, the "habit," is derived from the

Latin habitus, meaning "appearance" or "dress."

Vicar. The term comes from the same root as the word "vicarious," and

it connotes a "substitute" or "representative." Vicars are Christ's representatives on earth, and the Pope bears the title "Vicar of Christ."

The word "pontiff" stems from the Latin pontifex, meaning "bridge

builder," for one of the pontiff's principal functions is to build a bridge

between God and humankind.

The word "see," as in "Holy See," is a corruption of the Latin sedes,

meaning "seat." It refers to the official headquarters (or seat) ofthe bishop

of Rome, the highest level of church authority. The Pope's residence was

known as the "Holy Seat," or "Holy See."

Handshake: 2800 B.C., Egypt

In its oldest recorded use, a handshake signified the conferring of power

from a god to an earthly ruler. This is reflected in the Egyptian verb "to

give," the hieroglyph for which was a picture of an extended hand.

In Babylonia, around 1800 B.C., it was required that the king grasp the


The handshake once symbolized the transferral of authority from a god to a

king. A fifteenth-century woodcut combines the musical tones "so" and "la"

with Latin words to form Sola fides sufficit, suggesting good faith is conveyed

through a handshake.

hands of a statue of Marduk, the civilization's chief deity. The act, which

took place annually during the New Year's festival, served to transfer authority

to the potentate for an additional year. So persuasive was the ceremony

that when the Assyrians defeated and occupied Babylonia, subsequent

Assyrian kings felt compelled to adopt the ritual, lest they offend a

major heavenly being. It is this aspect of the handshake that Michelangelo

so magnificently depicted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Folklore offers an earlier, more speculative origin of the handshake: An

ancient villager who chanced to meet a man he didn't recognize reacted

automatically by reaching for his dagger. The stranger did likewise, and

the two spent time cautiously circling each other. If both became satisfied

that the situation called for a parley instead of a fight to the death, daggers

were reinserted into their sheaths, and right hands-the weapon handswere

extended as a token of goodwill. This is also offered as the reason

why women, who throughout history were never the bearers of weapons,

never developed the custom of the handshake.

Other customs of greeting have ancient origins:

The gentlemanly practice of tipping one's hat goes back in principle to

ancient Assyrian times, when captives were required to strip naked to demonstrate

subjugation to their conquerors. The Greeks required new servants

to strip from the waist up.

Removing an article of clothing became a standard act of respect. Romans

approached a holy shrine only after taking their sandals off. And a person

oflow rank removed his shoes before entering a superior's home-a custom

the Japanese have brought, somewhat modified, into modem times. In

England, women took off their gloves when presented to royalty. In fact,


By Custom

two other gestures, one male, one female, are remnants of acts of subjugation

or respect: the bow and the curtsy; the latter was at one time a full


By the Middle Ages in Europe, the symbol of serfdom to a feudal lord

was restricted to baring the head. The implicit message was the same as in

earlier days: "I am your obedient servant." So persuasive was the gesture

that the Christian Church adopted it, requiring that men remove their hats

on entering a church.

Eventually, it became standard etiquette for a man to show respect for

an equal by merely tipping his hat.


Chapter 3

On the Calendar

New Year's Day: 2000 B.C., Babylonia

Our word "holiday" comes from the Middle English halidai, meaning "holy

day," for until recently, humankind's celebrations were of a religious nature.

New Year's Day is the oldest and most universal of all such "holy day"

festivals. Its story begins, oddly enough, at a time when there was as yet no

such thing as a calendar year. The time between the sowing of seeds and

the harvesting of crops represented a "year," or cycle.

The earliest recorded New Year's festival was staged in the city of Babylon,

the capital of Babylonia, whose ruins stand near the modem town of alHillah,

Iraq. The new year was celebrated late in March, at the vernal

equinox, when spring begins, and the occasion lasted eleven days. Modem

festivities pale by comparison. Initiating events, a high priest, rising two

hours before dawn, washed in the sacred water of the Euphrates, then

offered a hymn to the region's chief god of agriculture, Marduk, praying

for a bountiful new cycle of crops. The rump of a beheaded ram was rubbed

against the temple walls to absorb any contagion that might infest the sacred

edifice and, by implication, the next year's harvest. The ceremony was called

kuppuru-a word that appeared among the Hebrews at about the same

time, in their Day of Atonement festival, Yom Kippur.

. Food, wine, and hard liquor were copiously consumed-for the enjoyment

they provided, but more important, as a gesture of appreciation to

Marduk for the previous year's harvest. A masked mummers' play was enacted

on the sixth day, a tribute to the goddess of fertility. It was followed


A high priest presiding

over a New Year's

celebration, once a

religious observance

staged in spring to mark

the start of a new

agricultural season.

Julius Caesar moved the

holiday to the dead of


by a sumptuous parade-highlighted by music, dancing, and costumesstarting

at the temple and terminating on the outskirts of Babylon at a

special building known as the New Year House, whose archaeological remains

have been excavated.

How New Year's Day, essentially a seed-sowing occasion, shifted from

the start of spring to the dead of winter is a strange, convoluted tale spanning

two millennia.

From both an astronomical and an agricultural standpoint, January is a

perverse time for symbolically beginning a crop cycle, or new year. The

sun stands at no fiduciary place in the sky-as it does for the spring and

autumn equinoxes and the winter and summer solstices, the four solar

events that kick off the seasons. The holy day's shift began with the Romans.

Under an ancient calendar, the Romans observed March 25, the beginning

of spring, as the first day of the year. Emperors and high-ranking officials,

though, repeatedly tampered with the length of months and years to extend

their terms of office. Calendar dates were so desynchronized with astronomical

benchmarks by the year 153 B.C. that the Roman senate, to set

many public occasions straight, declared the start of the new year as January

1. More tampering again set dates askew. To reset the calendar to January

1 in 46 B.C., Julius Caesar had to let the year drag on for 445 days, earning

it the historical sobriquet "Year of Confusion." Caesar's new calendar was


New Year's Day: 2000 B.C., Babylonia

eponymously called the Julian calendar.

After the Roman conversion to Christianity in the fourth century, emperors

continued staging New Year's celebrations. The nascent Catholic

Church, however, set on abolishing all pagan (that is, non-Christian) practices,

condemned these observances as scandalous and forbade Christians

to participate. As the Church gained converts and power, it strategically

planned its own Christian festivals to compete with pagan ones-in effect,

stealing their thunder. To rival the January 1 New Year's holiday, the Church

established its own January 1 holy day, the Feast of Christ's Circumcision,

which is still observed by Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians, and many

Eastern Orthodox sects.

During the Middle Ages, the Church remained so strongly hostile to the

old pagan New Year's that in predominantly Catholic cities and countries

the observance vanished altogether. When it periodically reemerged, it could

fall practically anywhere. At one time during the high Middle Ages-from

the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries-the British celebrated New Year's

on March 25, the French on Easter Sunday, and the Italians on Christmas

Day, then December 15; only on the Iberian peninsula was it observed on

January 1.

It is only within the past four hundred years that January 1 has enjoyed

widespread acceptance.

New Year's Eve. From ancient times, this has been the noisiest of nights.

For early European farmers, the spirits who destroyed crops with disease

were banished on the eve of the new year with a great wailing of horns and

beating of drums. In China, the forces of light, the Yang, annually routed

the forces of darkness, the Yin, when on New Year's Eve people gathered

to crash cymbals and explode firecrackers. In America, it was the

seventeenth-century Dutch, in their New Amsterdam settlement, who originated

our modern New Year's Eve celebration-though the American

Indians may have set them a riotous example and paved the way.

Long before settlers arrived in the New World, New Year's Eve festivities

were observed by the Iroquois Indians, pegged to the ripening of the corn

crop. Gathering up clothes, furnishings, and wooden household utensils,

along with uneaten corn and other grains, the Indians tossed these possessions

of the previous year into a great bonfire, signifying the start of a

new year and a new life. It was one ancient act so literal in its meaning that

later scholars did not have to speculate on its significance.

Anthropologist Sir James Frazer, in The Golden Bough, described other,

somewhat less symbolic, New Year's Eve activities of the Iroquois: "Men

and women, variously disguised, went from wigwam to wigwam smashing

and throwing down whatever they came across. It was a time of general

license; the people were supposed to be out of their senses, and therefore

not to be responsible for what they did."

The American colonists witnessed the annual New Year's Eve anarchy of


On the Calendar

the Indians and were not much better behaved themselves, though the

paucity of clothes, furnishings, and food kept them from lighting a Pilgrims'

bonfire. On New Year's Eve 1773, festivities in New York City were so

riotous that two months later, the legislature outlawed firecrackers, homemade

bombs, and the firing of personal shotguns to commemorate all future

starts of a new year.

Mummers' Parade. Bedecked in feathered plumes and strutting to the

tune "Oh, Dem Golden Slippers," the Mummers make their way through

the streets of Philadelphia, led by "King Momus," traditional leader of the

parade. This method of welcoming in the New Year is of English, Swedish,

and German derivation.

Modem mumming is the European practice of going from house to house

dressed in costumes and presenting plays for money or treats. As the practice

developed in eighteenth-century England and Ireland, a masked man, designated

the "champiori" (in ancient mumming rites, the "god"), is slain in

a mock fight, then resurrected by a masked "doctor" (originally, "high

priest"). The ancient mumming ceremony, staged in spring, symbolized the

rebirth of crops, and its name comes from the Greek mommo, meaning


The Swedes adopted British mumming. And they enriched it with the

German New Year's tradition of a street festival, marching bands, and the

pagan practice of parading in animal skins and feathers. The Swedes who

settled along the Delaware River established the practice in America, which

in Philadelphia turned into the spectacular Mummers' Day Parade.

Tournament of Roses. This famous Pasadena, California, parade was started

on January 1, 1886, by the local Valley Hunt Club. Members decorated

their carriages with flowers, creating what the club's charter described as

"an artistic celebration of the ripening of the oranges in California." (The

intent is not dissimilar to that of the ancient Babylonians, who marked the

new year with a parade and the sowing of seeds.) In the afternoon, athletic

events were staged.

The Rose Bowl football game became part of the festivities in 1902, but

the following year, chariot races (a Roman New Year's event) provided the

main sports thrills. It wasn't until 1916 that the football game returned, to

become the annual attraction. Since then, New Year's parades, parties,

pageants, and bowl games have proliferated and occupy a large share of

today's celebrations-the very kinds of secular events that for centuries

equated celebrating New Year's with sinning.

New Year's Resolutions. Four thousand years ago, the ancient Babylonians

made resolutions part of their New Year's celebrations. While two of the

most popular present-day promises might be to lose weight and to quit


The lore of a groundhog (left) predicting the start of spring began in Germany

where the forecasting animal was actually a badger (right).

smoking, the Babylonians had their own two favorites: to payoff outstanding

debts and to return all borrowed farming tools and household utensils.

New Year's Baby. The idea of using an infant to symbolize the start of a

new cycle began in ancient Greece, about 600 B.C. It was customary at the

festival of Dionysus, god of wine and general revelry, to parade a babe

cradled in a winnowing basket. This represented the annual rebirth of that

god as the spirit of fertility. In Egypt, a similar rebirth ceremony was portrayed

on the lid of a sarcophagus now in a British museum: Two men, one

old and bearded, the other in the fitness of youth, are shown carrying an

infant in a winnowing basket.

So common was the symbol of the New Year's babe in Greek, Egyptian,

and Roman times that the early Catholic Church, after much resistance,

finally allowed its members to use it in celebrations-if celebrators acknowledged

that the infant was not a pagan symbol but an effigy of the

Christ Child.

Our modern image of a baby in a diaper with aNew Year's banner across

its chest originated in Germany in the fourteenth century. Celebrated in

folk songs and illustrations of the day, the diapered tot was brought to

America by German immigrants.

Groundhog Day: 16th Century, Germany

Horniness and hunger are the actual elements that determine a groundhog's

behavior when it emerges in winter from months of hibernation.

Quite simply, if on awakening a groundhog is sexually aroused and famished,

he'll stay aboveground and search for a mate and a meal. If, on the

other hand, these appetites are still dulled from his winter torpor, he'll

return to his burrow for a six-week doze. Weather has nothing to do with


As to the folklore concerning the animal's seeing his shadow, that orig-


On the Calendar

inated with sixteenth-century German farmers. And the original animal of

German legend was not a groundhog-a fifteen-inch-Iong woodchuck,

Marmota monax, with coarse red-brown fur. Rather, it was a badger, a sixteento-

twenty-eight-inch-Iong, broad-backed, carnivorous mammal of the genera

Taxidea and Meles, with thick, short legs, and long claws on its forefeet.

The switch from badger to groundhog did not result from mistaken identity.

German immigrants who settled in the nineteenth century in Punxsutawney,

Pennsylvania-a small town in the heart of the Allegheny plateau,

eighty-five miles northeast of Pittsburgh-found that the area had no badgers.

It did, however, have hordes of groundhogs, which the immigrants

conveniently fitted to their folklore.

Weather did come to play one key role in the legend:

At Punxsutawney's latitude, a groundhog emerges from its hibernating

burrow in February. Had the immigrants settled a few states south, where

it's warmer, they would have found the groundhog waking and coming

aboveground in January; in the upper Great Lakes region, the cold delays

his appearance until March. Thus, it was the latitude at which the German

immigrants settled that set Groundhog Day as February 2.

German folklore dictated that if the day was sunny and the groundhog

(badger) was frightened by his shadow back into hibernation, then farmers

should refrain from planting crops, since there would be another six weeks

of winter weather. Scientific studies have dashed that lore. The groundhog's

accuracy in forecasting the onset of spring, observed over a sixty-year period,

is a disappointing 28 percent-though, in fairness to the groundhog, the

figure is no worse than the estimate of a modem weatherman.

St. Valentine's Day: 5th Century, Rome

The Catholic Church's attempt to paper over a popular pagan fertility rite

with the clubbing death and decapitation of one of its own martyrs is the

origin of this lovers' holiday.

As early as the fourth century B.C., the Romans engaged in an annual

young man's rite of passage to the god Lupercus. The names of teenage

women were placed in a box and drawn at random by adolescent men;

thus, a man was assigned a woman companion, for their mutual entertainment

and pleasure (often sexual), for the duration of a year, after which

another lottery was staged. Determined to put an end to this eight-hundredyear-

old practice, the early church fathers sought a "lovers' " saint to replace

the deity Lupercus. They found a likely candidate in Valentine, a bishop

who had been martyred some two hundred years earlier.

In Rome in A.D. 270, Valentine had enraged the mad emperor Claudius

II, who had issued an edict forbidding marriage. Claudius felt that married

men made poor soldiers, because they were loath to leave their families for

battle. The empire needed soldiers, so Claudius, never one to fear unpopularity,

abolished marriage.


St. Valentine's Day: 5th Century, Rome

Valentine, bishop of Interamna, invited young lovers to come to him in

secret, where he joined them in the sacrament of matrimony. Claudius

learned of this "friend oflovers," and had the bishop brought to the palace.

The emperor, impressed with the young priest's dignity and conviction,

attempted to convert him to the Roman gods, to save him from otherwise

certain execution. Valentine refused to renounce Christianity and imprudently

attempted to convert the emperor. On February 24,270, Valentine

was clubbed, stoned, then beheaded.

History also claims that while Valentine was in prison awaiting execution,

he fell in love with the blind daughter of the jailer, Asterius. Through his

unswerving faith, he miraculously restored her sight. He signed a farewell

message to her "From Your Valentine," a phrase that would live long after

its author died.

From the Church's standpoint, Valentine seemed to be the ideal candidate

to usurp the popularity of Lupercus. So in A.D. 496, a stem Pope Gelasius

outlawed the mid-February Lupercian festival. But he was clever enough

to retain the lottery, aware of Romans' love for games of chance. Now into

the box that had once held the names of available and willing single women

were placed the names of saints. Both men and women extracted slips of

paper, and in the ensuing year they were expected to emulate the life of

the saint whose name they had drawn. Admittedly, it was a different game,

with different incentives; to expect a woman and draw a saint must have

disappointed many a Roman male. The spiritual overseer of the entire

affair was its patron saint, Valentine. With reluctance, and the passage of

time, more and more Romans relinquished their pagan festival and replaced

it with the Church's holy day.

Valentine Cards. Traditionally, mid-February was a Roman time to meet

and court prospective mates. The Lupercalia had established the practice.

While no one reinstated the Lupercian lottery (under penalty of mortal

sin), Roman young men did institute the custom of offering women they

admired and wished to court handwritten greetings of affection on February

14. The cards acquired St. Valentine's name.

As Christianity spread, so did the Valentine's Day card. The earliest extant

card was sent in 1415 by Charles, duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was

a prisoner in the Tower of London. It is now in the British Museum.

In the sixteenth century, St. Francis de Sales, bishop of Geneva, attempted

to expunge the custom of cards and reinstate the lottery of saints' names.

He felt that Christians had become wayward and needed models to emulate.

However, this lottery was less successful and shorter-lived than Pope

Gelasius's. And rather than disappearing, cards proliferated and became

more decorative. Cupid, the naked cherub armed with arrows dipped in

love potion, became a popular valentine image. He was associated with the

holiday because in Roman mythology he is the son of Venus, goddess of

love and beauty.


The earliest extant Valentine's

Day card, c. 1415, sent

by Charles, duke of Orleans,

to his wife while he was imprisoned

in the Tower of


By the seventeenth century, handmade cards were oversized and elaborate,

while store-bought ones were smaller and costly. In 1797, a British

publisher issued "The Young Man's Valentine Writer," which contained

scores of suggested sentimental verses for the young lover unable to compose

his own. Printers had already begun producing a limited number of

cards with verses and sketches, called "mechanical valentines," and a reduction

in postal rates in the next century ushered in the less personal but

easier practice of mailing valentines. That, in turn, made it possible for the

first time to exchange cards anonymously, which is taken as the reason for

the sudden appearance of racy verse in an era otherwise prudishly Victorian.

The burgeoning number of obscene valentines caused several countries to

ban the practice of exchanging cards. In Chicago, for instance, late in the

nineteenth century, the post office rejected some twenty-five thousand cards

on the ground that they were not fit to be carried through the U.S. mail.

The first American publisher of valentines was printer and artist Esther

Howland. Her elaborate lace cards ofthe 1870s cost from five to ten dollars,

with some selling for as much as thirty-five dollars. Since that time, the

valentine card business has flourished. With the exception of Christmas,

Americans exchange more cards on Valentine's Day than at any other time

of year.

XXXfor Kisses. Lovers who affectionally sign "XXX"s to valentine cards

and letters are usually unaware that the custom goes back to the early


St. Patrick's Day: A.D. 493, Ireland

Christian era, when a cross mark, or "X," conveyed the force of a sworn


The cross was, of course, a religious symbol. Not only did it refer to the

cross of Calvary; it also was the first letter of the Greek word for Christ,


In the days when few people could write, their signature cross, or "X,"

was a legally valid mark. To emphasize their complete sincerity in an accord,

they often kissed the mark, as a Bible was frequently kissed when an oath

was sworn upon it.

It was this practice of kissing the "X" that led to its becoming a symbol

of a kiss. During World War II, the British and American governments

both forbade men in the armed forces from putting "XXX"s on their letters,

afraid that spies within the services might begin sending clandestine messages

coded as kisses.

St. Patrick's Day: A.D. 493, Ireland

Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, was born in either Scotland, England,

Wales, or France, but definitely not in Ireland. His given name was not

Patrick but Maewyn. Or Succat. He barely became bishop of Ireland, because

his superiors felt he lacked the finesse and scholarship the position

called for. Nonetheless, he did do something that made him a saint and

merited him a holy day-now more of a holiday.

Many facts about Patrick have been distorted under the weight of Irish


He was born about A.D. 385, most likely in a small village near the mouth

of the Severn River in what is now Wales. The region was part of the vast

Roman Empire. He was by the locale of his birth Romano-Briton, by parentage

a Roman Catholic; by his own later admission, until age sixteen he

was covetous, licentious, materialistic, and generally heathen.

When he was sixteen, a group of Irish marauders raided his village and

carried off Patrick and hundreds of other young men and women to be

sold as slaves. For six years, he toiled as a sheepherder in County Antrim,

Ireland, and it was during this period of slavery and solitude that he felt

an increasing awareness of God. One of his two published works, Confession,

in which he renounces his heathen bent, begins: "I, Patrick, a sinner, the

most rustic and the least of all the faithful ... "

Escaping Ireland and slavery, he spent a dozen idyllic, studious years at

a monastery in Gaul under the tutelage of St. Germain, bishop of Auxerre.

Germain instilled in Patrick the desire to convert pagans to Christianity.

As a priest, Patrick planned to return to pagan Ireland as its first bishop.

But his monastery superiors felt that the position should be filled by someone

with more tact and learning. They chose St. Palladius. Patrick importuned

for two years, until Palladius transferred to Scotland. By the time he was


On the Calendar

appointed Ireland's second bishop, he had already adopted the Christian

name Patrick.

His imposing presence, unaffected manner, and immensely winning personality

aided him in winning converts, which aggravated Celtic Druid

priests. A dozen times they arrested him, and each time he escaped. Eventually,

he traveled throughout Ireland, founding monasteries, schools, and

churches, which would in time transform the non-Christian country into

the Church's proud "Isle of Saints."

After thirty years of exemplary missionary work, Patrick retired to Saul

in County Down, where he died on March 17, his commemorated "death

day," in or about the year 461. He is believed to be buried in Downpatrick,

and many pilgrims each year visit a local tombstone, carved with a "P,"

which mayor may not mark his grave.

Shamrock. Among the less authenticated lore surrounding St. Patrick are

the tales that he raised people from the dead and kindled fire from snow,

and that from a hilltop he delivered a sermon that drove the snakes from


However, one of the more historically cogent stories concerning St.

Patrick explains how the shamrock came to be associated with the celebration

of his holy day.

One central church doctrine Patrick repeatedly preached to converts'

was that of the Trinity: the belief that three Gods-the Father, the Son,

and the Holy Ghost-coexist in a single entity but are nonetheless separate

and distinct. Once, struggling in a sermon to convey the complexity by way

of analogy, Patrick glanced to the ground and spotted a three-leafed shamrock.

Holding up the herb, he asked his audience to imagine the three

leaves as representing the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and the stem as

the single Godhead from which they proceeded. In homage, after Patrick's

death, his converts wore a shamrock as a religious symbol on his feast day.

The first public celebration of St. Patrick's Day in America was in 1737,

sponsored by the Charitable Irish Society of Boston. Oddly enough, the

society was a Protestant organization, founded that year to assist ill, homeless,

and unemployed Irishmen.

Fifth Avenue Parade. The largest of all worldwide St. Patrick's Day parades

is the one up New York City'S Fifth Avenue. It began in 1762 as a proud

display of Irish heritage, when the city was still confined to the lower tip

of the island.

As the city spread uptown, the parade followed, higher and higher, until

at one time it ran as far north as the area that is now Harlem. Over two

hundred thousand people annually have taken part in this enormous showing

of the green, a number that would have delighted the parade's original

organizers, Irish veterans of the Revolutionary War. For the group, com-


Easter: 2nd Century, Rome

posed of both Catholics and Presbyterians, conceived the parade as a defiant

public display against "nutty people who didn't like the Irish very much."

They took to the streets to "show how many there were of them."

Easter: 2nd Century, Rome

Easter, which in the Christian faith commemorates the Resurrection of

Christ and consequently is the most sacred of all holy days, is also the name

of an ancient Saxon festival and of the pagan goddess of spring and offspring,

Eastre. How a once-tumultuous Saxon festival to Eastre was transformed

into a solemn Christian service is another example of the supreme

authority of the Church early in its history.

Second-century Christian missionaries, spreading out among the Teutonic

tribes north of Rome, encountered numerous heathen religious observances.

Whenever possible, the missionaries did not interfere too strongly

with entrenched customs. Rather, quietly-and often ingeniously-they

attempted to transform pagan practices into ceremonies that harmonized

with Christian doctrine. There was a very practical reason for this. Converts

publicly partaking in a Christian ceremony-and on a day when no one

else was celebrating-were easy targets for persecution. But if a Christian

rite was staged on the same day as a long-observed heathen one, and if the

two modes of worship were not glaringly different, then the new converts

might live to make other converts.

The Christian missionaries astutely observed that the centuries-old festival

to Eastre, commemorated at the start of spring, coincided with the time of

year of their own observance of the miracle of the Resurrection of Christ.

Thus, the Resurrection was subsumed under the protective rubric Eastre

(later spelled Easter), saving the lives of countless Christians.

For several decades, Easter was variously celebrated on a Friday, Saturday,

or Sunday. Finally, in A.D. 325, the Council of Nicaea, convened by the

emperor Constantine, issued the so-called Easter Rule: Easter should be

celebrated on "the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the

vernal equinox." Consequently, Easter is astronomically bound never to

fall earlier than March 22 or later than April 25.

At this same council, Constantine decreed that the cross be adopted as

the official symbol of the Christian religion.

Easter Bunny. That a rabbit, or more accurately a hare, became a holiday

symbol can be traced to the origin of the word "Easter." According to the

Venerable Bede, the English historian who lived from 672 to 735, the

goddess Eastre was worshiped by the Anglo-Saxons through her earthly

symbol, the hare.

The custom of the Easter hare came to America with the Germans who

immigrated to Pennsylvania in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.


On the Calendar

From Pennsylvania, they gradually spread out to Virginia, North and South

Carolina, Tennessee, New York, and Canada, taking their customs with

them. Most eighteerith-century Americans, however, were of more austere

religious denominations, such as Quaker, Presbyterian, and Puritan. They

virtually ignored such a seemingly frivolous symbol as a white rabbit. More

than a hundred years passed before this Teutonic Easter tradition began

to gain acceptance in America. In fact, it was not until after the Civil War,

with its legacy of death and destruction, that the nation as a whole began

a widespread observance of Easter itself, led primarily by Presbyterians.

They viewed the story of resurrection as a source of inspiration and renewed

hope for the millions of bereaved Americans.

Easter Eggs. Only within the last century were chocolate and candy eggs

exchanged as Easter gifts. But the springtime exchanging of real eggswhite,

colored, and gold-leafed-is an ancient custom, predating Easter by

many centuries.

From earliest times, and in most cultures, the egg signified birth and


The Egyptians buried eggs in their tombs. The Greeks placed eggs atop

graves. The Romans coined a proverb: Omne vivum ex OVO, "All life comes

from an egg." And legend has it that Simon of Cyrene, who helped carry

Christ's cross to Calvary, was by trade an egg merchant. (Upon returning

from the crucifixion to his produce farm, he allegedly discovered that all

his hens' eggs had miraculously turned a rainbow of colors; substantive

evidence for this legend is weak.) Thus, when the Church started to celebrate

the Resurrection, in the second century, it did not have to search far for

a popular and easily recognizable symbol.

In those days, wealthy people would cover a gift egg with gilt or gold

leaf, while peasants often dyed their eggs. The tinting was achieved by

boiling the eggs with certain flowers, leaves, logwood chips, or the cochineal

insect. Spinach leaves or anemone petals were considered best for green;

the bristly gorse blossom for yellow; logwood for rich purple; and the body

fluid of the cochineal produced scarlet.

In parts of Germany during the early 1880s, Easter eggs substituted for

birth certificates. An egg was dyed a solid color, then a design, which included

the recipient'S name and birth date, was etched into the shell with

a needle or sharp tool. Such Easter eggs were honored in law courts as

evidence of identity and age.

Easter's most valuable eggs were hand crafted in the 1880s. Made by the

great goldsmith Peter Carl Faberge, they were commissioned by Czar

Alexander III of Russia as gifts for his wife, Czarina Maria Feodorovna.

The first Faberge egg, presented in 1886, measured two and a half inches

long and had a deceptively simple exterior. Inside the white enamel shell,

though, was a golden yolk, which when opened revealed a gold hen with

ruby eyes. The hen itself could be opened, by lifting the beak, to expose a


Easter egg rolling in Germany (left); Easter procession in Holland. Once a pagan

feast honoring Eastre, goddess of spring and offspring, it later came to represent

the Resurrection of Christ.

tiny diamond replica of the imperial crown. A still smaller ruby pendant

hung from the crown. The Faberge treasures today are collectively valued

at over four million dollars. Forty-three of the fifty-three eggs known to

have been made by Faberge are now in museums and private collections.

Hot Cross Buns. Traditionally eaten at Easter, the twice-scored biscuits

were first baked by the Saxons in honor of Eastre. The word "bun" itself

derives from boun, Saxon for "sacred ox," for an ox was sacrificed at the

Eastre festival, and the image of its horns was carved into the celebratory


The Easter treat was widespread in the early Western world. "Hot cross

buns" were found preserved in the excavations at the ancient city of Herculaneum,

destroyed in A.D. 79 along with Pompeii by the eruption of

Mount Vesuvius.

Early church fathers, to compete with the pagan custom of baking oxmarked

cakes, used in numerous celebrations, baked their own version,

employing the dough used for the consecrated host. Reinterpreting the oxhom

image as a crucifix, they distributed the somewhat-familiar-looking

buns to new converts attending mass. In this way, they accomplished three


On the Calendar

objectives: Christianized a pagan cake; gave the people a treat they were

accustomed to; and subtly scored the buns with an image that, though

decidedly Catholic, at a distance would not dangerously label the bearer

"Christian." The most desirable image on today's hot cross buns is neither

an ox horn nor a cross, but broad smears of glazed frosting.

April Fool's Day: 1564, France

Many different explanations have been offered for the origins of April

Fool's Day, some as fanciful as April Fool jokes themselves.

One popular though unlikely explanation focuses on the fool that Christ's

foes intended to make of him, sending him on a meaningless round of visits

to Roman officials when his fate had already been sealed. Medieval mystery

plays frequently dramatized those events, tracing Christ's journey from

Annas to Caiaphas to Pilate to Herod, then back again to Pilate. (Interestingly,

many cultures have a practice, predating Christianity, that involves

sending people on "fool's errands.")

The most convincing historical evidence suggests that April Fooling originated

in France under King Charles IX.

Throughout France in the early sixteenth century, New Year's Day was

observed on March 25, the advent of spring. The celebrations, which included

exchanging gifts, ran for a week, terminating with dinners and parties

on April 1.

In 1564, however, in beginning the adoption of the reformed, more

accurate Gregorian calendar, King Charles proclaimed that New Year's

Day be moved back to January 1. Many Frenchmen who resisted the change,

and others who merely forgot about it, continued partying and exchanging

gifts during the week ending April 1. Jokers ridiculed these conservatives'

steadfast attachment to the old New Year's date by sending foolish gifts

and invitations to nonexistent parties. The butt of an April Fool's joke was

known as a poisson d'Avril, or "April fish" (because at that time of year the sun was leaving the zodiacal sign of Pisces, the fish). In fact, all events

occurring on April 1 came under that rubric. Even Napoleon I, emperor

of France, was nicknamed "April fish" when he married his second wife,

Marie-Louise of Austria, on April 1, 1810.

Years later, when the country was comfortable with the new New Year's

date, Frenchmen, fondly attached to whimsical April Fooling, made the

practice a tradition in its own right. It took almost two hundred years for

the custom to reach England, from which it came to America.

Mother's Day: 1908, Grafton, West Virginia

Though the idea of setting aside a day to honor mothers might seem to

have ancient roots, our observance of Mother's Day is not quite a century

old. It originated from the efforts of a devoted daughter who believed that


Mother's Day: 1908, Grafton, West Virginia

grown children, preoccupied with their own families, too often neglect

their mothers.

That daughter, Miss Anna Jarvis, a West Virginia schoolteacher, set out

to rectify the neglect.

Born in 1864, Anna Jarvis attended school in Grafton, West Virginia.

Her close ties with her mother made attending Mary Baldwin College, in

Stanton, Virginia, difficult. But Anna was determined to acquire an education.

Upon graduation, she returned to her hometown as a certified public

school teacher.

The death of her father in 1902 compelled Anna and her mother to live

with relatives in Philadelphia. Three years later, her mother died on May

9, leaving Anna grief-stricken. Though by every measure she had been an

exemplary daughter, she found herself consumed with guilt for all the

things she had not done for her mother. For two years these naggings

germinated, bearing the fruit of an idea in 1907. On the second Sunday

in May, the anniversary of her mother's death, AnnaJarvis invited a group

of friends to her Philadelphia home. Her announced idea-for an annual

nationwide celebration to be called Mother's Day-met with unanimous

support. She tested the idea on others. Mothers felt that such an act of

recognition was long overdue. Every child concurred. No father dissented.

A friend, John Wanamaker, America's number one clothing merchant, offered

financial backing.

Early in the spring of 1908, Miss Jarvis wrote to the superintendent of

Andrews Methodist Sunday School, in Grafton, where her mother had

taught a weekly religion class for twenty years. She suggested that the local

church would be the ideal location for a celebration in her mother's honor.

By extension, all mothers present would receive recognition.

So on May 10,1908, the first Mother's Day service was held in Grafton,

West Virginia, attended by 407 children and their mothers. The minister's

text was, appropriately, John 19, verses 26 and 27, Christ's parting words

to his mother and a disciple, spoken from the cross: "Woman, behold thy

son!" and "Behold thy Mother!"

At the conclusion of that service, Miss Jarvis presented each mother and

child with a flower: a carnation, her own mother's favorite. It launched a

Mother's Day tradition.

To suggest that the idea of an annual Mother's Day celebration met with

immediate public acceptance is perhaps an understatement. Few proposed

holidays have had so much nationwide support, so little special-interestgroup

dissension. The House of Representatives quickly passed a Mother's

Day resolution. However, one Midwestern senator came off like Simon

Legree. "Might as well have a Father's Day," the Congressional Record

states. "Or a Mother-in-Law's Day. Or an Uncle's Day." The resolution

stalled in the Senate.

A determined Anna Jarvis then began what has been called one of the

most successful one-person letter-writing campaigns in history. She con-


On the Calendar

tacted congressmen, governors, mayors, newspaper editors, ministers, and

business leaders throughout the country, everyone of importance who would

listen. Listen they did, responding with editorials, sermons, and political

orations. Villages and towns, cities and states, began unofficial Mother's

Day observances. By 1914, to dissent on the Mother's Day issue seemed

not only cynical but un-American. Finally, the Senate approved the legislation,

and on May 8, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation

designating the second Sunday in Mayas Mother's Day.

Although the British had long paid tribute to mothers on the fourth

Sunday of the Lenten season, known as "Mothering Sunday," it took the

American observance to give the idea worldwide prominence. Within a few

years after President Wilson's proclamation, almost every country had a

Mother's Day. By every measure, though, the United States outdoes all the

others. On Mother's Day, Americans now purchase 10 million bouquets of

flowers, exchange 150 million greeting cards, and dine at restaurants more

than at any other time of the year. A third of all American families take

Mother out to dinner on her day.

Though Anna Jarvis triumphed in her campaign for a Mother's Day, her

personal life did not have a happy ending. Disillusioned by a disastrous love

affair, she vowed never to marry and, childless, came to view each Mother's

Day as a painful personal mockery. And as commercialization encroached

upon what had been intended as a religious observance, she became litigious,

initiating lawsuits against companies seeking to profit from Mother's Day.

The suits failed, and Anna Jarvis became a recluse. Within a short time,

she exhausted her savings and lost her family home; a blind sister, Elsinore,

to whom she had devoted her life, died. These misfortunes undermined

her own health, and in November 1944 she was forced to seek public assistance.

Realizing her desperate plight, friends provided funds so she could

spend her final years in a private sanitarium. Deaf, ailing, and nearly blind,

the woman whose efforts brought happiness to countless mothers died in

1948, childless and alone, at the age of eighty-four.

Father's Day: June 19, 1910, Spokane, Washington

The idea for an official Father's Day celebration came to a married daughter,

seated in a church in Spokane, Washington, attentive to a Sunday sermon

on Mother's Day in 1910-two years after the first Mother's Day observance

in West Virginia.

The daughter was Mrs. Sonora Smart Dodd. During the sermon, which

extolled maternal sacrifices made for children, Mrs. Dodd realized that in

her own family it had been her father, William Jackson Smart, a Civil War

veteran, who had sacrified-raising herself and five sons alone, following

the early death of his wife in childbirth. For Mrs. Dodd, the hardships her

father had endured on their eastern Washington farm called to mind the

unsung feats of fathers everywhere.


Father's Day: June 19, 1910, Spokane, Washington

Her proposed local Father's Day celebration received strong support

from the town's ministers and members of the Spokane YMCA. The date

suggested for the festivities, June 5, Mrs. Dodd's father's birthday-a mere

three weeks away-had to be moved back to the nineteenth when ministers

claimed they need extra time to prepare sermons on such a new subject as


Newspapers across the country, already endorsing the need for a national

Mother's Day, carried stories about the unique Spokane observance. Interest

in Father's Day increased. Among the first notables to support Mrs. Dodd's

idea nationally was the orator and political leader William Jennings Bryan,

who also backed Mother's Day. Believing that fathers must not be slighted,

he wrote to Mrs. Dodd, "too much emphasis cannot be placed upon the

relation between parent and child."

Father's Day, however, was not so quickly accepted as Mother's Day.

Members of the all-male Congress felt that a move to proclaim the day

official might be interpreted as a self-congratulatory pat on the back.

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson and his family personally observed

the day. And in 1924, President Calvin Coolidge recommended that states,

if they wished, should hold their own Father's Day observances. He wrote

to the nation's governors that "the widespread observance of this occasion

is calculated to establish more intimate relations between fathers and their

children, and also to impress upon fathers the full measure of their

obligations.' ,

Many people attempted to secure official recognition for Father's Day.

One of the most notable efforts was made in 1957, by Senator Margaret

Chase Smith, who wrote forcefully to Congress that "Either we honor both

our parents, mother and father, or let us desist from honoring either one.

But to single out just one of our two parents and omit the other is the most

grievous insult imaginable."

Eventually, in 1972-sixty-two years after it was proposed-Father's Day

was permanently established by President Richard Nixon. Historians seeking

an ancient precedent for an official Father's Day observance have come up

with only one: The Romans, every February, honored fathers-but only

those deceased.

In America today, Father's Day is the fifth-largest card-sending occasion,

with about 85 million greeting cards exchanged.

Mother-in-Law's Day. Few people, including mothers-in-law, realize that

the fourth Sunday in October, according to a resolution passed by the U.S.

House of Representatives in 1981, is set aside to honor mothers by marriage.

To date, the resolution has not been adopted by the Senate, nor is there

any recent activity to do so. Nonetheless, the greeting card industry continues

to promote the idea and estimates that each year about 800,000

cards are given to mothers-in-law.


On the Calendar

Grandparent's Day. As a result of legislation signed by President Jimmy

Carter in 1978, Grandparent's Day is the Sunday after Labor Day. The

person primarily responsible for pushing through the bill was a sixty-fiveyear-

old grandparent from Atlanta, Georgia: Michael Goldgar.

Goldgar got the idea for the national holiday while visiting an elderly

aunt confined to a nursing home. Through conversations, he learned that

most of the home's residents were grandparents. The majority of them had

living children, but they preferred the relatively independent life in the

home over a more dependent and burdensome existence they felt would

come from moving in with a child. For Goldgar, this brought to mind

earlier times in history, when grandparents were the nucleus of an extended

family, respected for their accumulated wisdom. The nursing home experience,

coupled with his regret that so many families were being disrupted

through divorce, led him to begin a grass-roots movement for a Grandparent's


Using eleven thousand dollars from his own savings, Goldgar commenced

his first of seventeen trips to Washington, D.C., to lobby for legislation.

After a seven-year struggle, he succeeded in getting a day honoring grandparents

signed into law. Today Americans send their grandparents more

than four million greeting cards a year.

Halloween: 5th Century B.C., Ireland

Even in ancient times, Halloween was a festival for witches, goblins, and

ghosts, as well as for lighting bonfires and playing devilish pranks.

What has changed over the centuries are the reasons for dressing up

ghoulishly, lighting fires, and acting mischievous. Now these things are

done for fun-and by children; in the past, they were done in deathly

earnest-and by adults.

Named "All Hallows Eve," the festival was first celebrated by the ancient

Celts in Ireland in the fifth century B.C. On the night of October 31, then

the official end of summer, Celtic households extinguished the fires on

their hearths to deliberately make their homes cold and undesirable to

disembodied spirits. They then gathered outside the village, where a Druid

priest kindled a huge bonfire to simultaneously honor the sun god for the

past summer's harvest and to frighten away furtive spirits.

The Celts believed that on October 31, all persons who had died in the

previous year assembled to choose the body of the person or animal they

would inhabit for the next twelve months, before they could pass peacefully

into the afterlife. To frighten roving souls, Celtic family members dressed

themselves as demons, hobgoblins, and witches. They paraded first inside,

then outside, the fireless house, always as noisy and destructive as possible.

Finally, they clamored along the street to the bonfire outside town. A villager,

deemed by appearance or mannerism to be already possessed, could


Halloween customs

originated as a means

of frightening away

spirits eager to possess

the living. The earliest

American mischief

night pranks: overturning

outhouses and

unhinging front gates.

be sacrificed in the fire as a lesson to other spirits contemplating human


The Romans adopted Celtic Halloween practices, but in A.D. 61 they

outlawed human sacrifice, substituting the Egyptian custom of effigies (called

ushabti by the Egyptians, who buried scores of statuettes with a pharaoh in

place of his living attendants, once entombed with their king). In time, as

belief in spirit possession waned, the dire portents of many Halloween

practices lightened to ritualized amusement.

Irish immigrants fleeing their country's potato famine in the 1840s

brought to America with them the Halloween customs of costume and

mischief. The favorite pranks played by New England Irish youths on "mischief

night" were overturning outhouses and unhinging front gates.

The Irish also brought with them a custom that New England agriculture

forced them to modify. The ancient Celts had begun the tradition of a sort

of jack-o'-lantern, a large turnip hollowed out and carved with a demon's

face and lighted from inside with a candle. Immigrants found few turnips

in their new land but numerous fields of pumpkins. Whereas the Pilgrims

had made the edible part of the pumpkin a hallmark of Thanksgiving, the

Irish made the outer shell synonymous with Halloween.

It was also the Irish who originated the term jack-o'-lantern, taken from

Irish folklore. As the legend goes, a man named Jack, notorious for his

drunken and niggardly ways, tricked the devil into climbing up a tree.

Quickly carving a cross into the tree's trunk, Jack trapped Satan until he


On the Calendar

swore he'd never again tempt Jack to sin. Upon his death, Jack found himself

barred from the comforts of heaven for his repeated sinning, and also

refused entrance to the heat of hell from an unforgiving Satan. Condemned

to wander in frigid darkness until Judgment Day, he implored the devil for

burning embers to light his way. Though Satan had embers in surplus, he

allotted Jack a single coal that would last an agonizingly short time. Putting

the ember into a turnip he had chewed hollow, he formed Jack's lantern.

Trick or Treat. The most widely accepted theory on the origins of trickor-

treating traces the practice to the ninth-century European custom of

"souling. "

On All Soul's Day, Christians walked from village to village begging for

square biscuits with currants, called soul cakes. The beggars promised to

offer up prayers for the dead relatives of the donors, the number of prayers

to be proportional to the donors' generosity. The quantity of prayers a

dead person amassed was significant in a practical way, for limbo was the

penitential layover stop on the journey to heaven, and sufficient prayer,

even by an anonymous individual, greatly shortened the stay.

Thanksgiving: 1621, Plymouth, Massachusetts

Though the Pilgrims held the first Thanksgiving dinner, our celebration of

the holiday today is due in large part to the tireless efforts of a nineteenthcentury

female editor of a popular ladies' magazine.

The 102 Pilgrims who sailed on board the Mayflower, fleeing religious

oppression, were well acquainted with annual thanksgiving day celebrations.

The custom was ancient and universal. The Greeks had honored Demeter,

goddess of agriculture; the Romans had paid tribute to Ceres, the goddess

of corn; while the Hebrews had offered thanks for abundant harvests with

the eight-day Feast of Tabernacles. These customs had never really died

out in the Western world.

The Pilgrims, after a four-month journey that began in Holland, landed

at Plymouth on December 11, 1620. Confronted with severe weather, and

a plague that killed hundreds of local Indians, they had by the fall of 1621

lost forty-six of their own members, mainly to scurvy and pneumonia. The

survivors, though, had something to be thankful for. A new and bountiful

crop had been harvested. Food was abundant. And they were alive, in large

part thanks to the assistance of one person: an English-speaking Pawtuxet

Indian named Squanto, who was to stay by their side until his death two

years later.

As a boy, Squanto had been captured by explorers to America and sold

into slavery in Spain. He escaped to England, spent several years working

for a wealthy merchant, and, considerably Anglicized, returned to his native

Indian village just six months before the Pilgrims landed. He had helped

them build houses and to plant and cultivate crops of corn and barley. In


Thanksgiving: 1621, Plymouth, Massachusetts

the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims elected a new governor, William Bradford,

and proclaimed a day of thanksgiving in their small town, which had seven

private homes and four communal buildings.

According to Governor Bradford's own history, OJ Plimoth Plantation,

the celebration lasted three days. He sent "four men fowling," and the

ducks and geese they brought back were added to lobsters, clams, bass,

corn, green vegetables, and dried fruit.

The Pilgrims invited the chief of the Wampanoag tribe, Massasoit, and

ninety of his braves, and the work of preparing the feast-for ninety-one

Indians and fifty-six settlers-fell to only four Pilgrim women and two

teenage girls. (Thirteen women had died the previous winter.)

The first Thanksgiving Day had all the elements of modern celebrations,

only on a smaller scale. A parade of soldiers, blasting muskets and trumpeting

bugles, was staged by Captain Myles Standish, later to be immortalized

in Longfellow's "The Courtship of Miles Standish." The ninety Indian braves

competed against the settlers in foot races and jumping matches. And after

the Indians displayed their accuracy with bow and arrow, the white men,

with guns, exhibited their own breed of marksmanship.

Turkey, Cranberries, and Pumpkin Pie. The six women who prepared the

first Thanksgiving Day meal worked with the meager resources at hand.

But they produced a varied menu, with many of the elements that have

since come to be traditional holiday fare.

Despite popular legend, two major staples of a modern Thanksgiving

meal-turkey and pumpkin pie-may not have been enjoyed at the Pilgrims'


Though Governor Bradford sent "four men fowling," and they returned

with "a great store of wild Turkies," there is no proof that the catch included

the bird we call a turkey. Wild turkeys did roam the woods of the Northeast,

but in the language of the seventeenth-century Pilgrims, "turkey" simply

meant any guinea fowl, that is, any bird with a featherless head, rounded

body, and dark feathers speckled white.

It is certain, however, that the menu included venison, since another

Pilgrim recorded that Chief Massasoit sent braves into the woods, who

"killed five Deere which they brought to our Governour." Watercress and

leeks were on the table, along with bitter wild plums and dried berries, but

there was no apple cider, and no milk, butter, or cheese, since cows had

not been aboard the Mayflower.

And there was probably no pumpkin pie. Or bread as we'd recognize it.

Stores of flour from the ship had long since been exhausted anl;l years

would pass before significant quantities of wheat were successfully cultivated

in New England. Without flour for a pie crust, there could be no pie. But

the Pilgrims did enjoy pumpkin at the meal-boiled.

The cooks concocted an ersatz bread. Boiling corn, which was plentiful,

they kneaded it into round cakes and fried it in venison fat. There were


On the Calendar

fifteen young boys in the company, and during the three-day celebration

they gathered wild cranberries, which the women boiled and mashed into

a sauce for the meal's meats.

The following year brought a poor harvest, and boatloads of new immigrants

to house and feed; the Pilgrims staged no Thanksgiving feast. In

fact, after that first plentiful and protracted meal, the Pilgrims never regularly

celebrated a Thanksgiving Day.

A National Holiday. October 1777 marked the first time all the thirteen

colonies joined in a common thanksgiving celebration, and the occasion

commemorated the patriotic victory over the British at Saratoga. It, too,

however, was a one-time affair.

The first national Thanksgiving proclamation was issued by President

George Washington in 1789, the year of his inauguration, but discord

among the colonies prevented the executive order from being carried out.

For one thing, many Americans felt that the hardships endured by a mere

handful of early settlers were unworthy of commemoration on a national

scale-certainly the brave new nation had nobler events that merited celebration.

On this theme, President Thomas Jefferson went so far as to

actively condemn a national recognition of Thanksgiving during his two


The establishment of the day we now celebrate nationwide was largely

the result of the diligent efforts of magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale.

Mrs. Hale started her one-woman crusade for a Thanksgiving celebration

in 1827, while she was editor of the extremely popular Boston Ladies' Magazine.

Her hortatory editorials argued for the observance of a national

Thanksgiving holiday, and she encouraged the public to write to their local


When Ladies' Magazine consolidated with the equally successful Godey's

Lady's Book of Philadelphia, Mrs. Hale became the editor of the largest

periodical of its kind in the country, with a readership of 150,000. Her

new editorials were vigorous and patriotic, and their criticism of dissenters

was caustic.

In addition to her magazine outlet, over a period of almost four decades

she wrote hundreds of letters to governors, ministers, newspaper editors,

and each incumbent President. She always made the same request: that the

last Thursday in November be set aside to "offer to God our tribute of joy

and gratitude for the blessings of the year."

Finally, national events converged to make Mrs. Hale's request a reality.

By 1863, the Civil War had bitterly divided the nation into two armed

camps. Mrs. Hale's final editorial, highly emotional and unflinchingly patriotic,

appeared in September of that year, just weeks after the Battle of

Gettysburg, in which hundreds of Union and Confederate soldiers lost

their lives. In spite of the staggering toll of dead, Gettysburg was an important

victory for the North, and a general feeling of elation, together

with the clamor produced by Mrs. Hale's widely circulated editorial,


Christmas: A.D. 337, Rome

prompted President Abraham Lincoln to issue a proclamation on October

3, 1863, setting aside the last Thursday in November as a national Thanksgiving


Since then, there has been one controversial tampering with that tradition.

In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt shifted Thanksgiving back one

week, to the third Thursday in November-because store merchants requested

an increase in the number of shopping days between Thanksgiving

and Christmas.

This pleased the merchants but just about no one else. Vehement protests

were staged throughout the country. Millions of Americans, in defiance of

the presidential proclamation, continued to celebrate Thanksgiving on the

last Thursday in November-and they took the day off from work. Protests

grew even louder the following year. Not wanting to go down in history as

the Grinch who stole Thanksgiving, in the spring of 1941 Roosevelt publicly

admitted he had made an error in judgment and returned the holiday to

the last Thursday in November. The merchants countered by offering sales

and discounts, thus beginning the annual practice of promoting Christmas

earlier and earlier.

Christmas: A.D. 337, Rome

As a holy day and a holiday, Christmas is an amalgam of the traditions from

a half-dozen cultures, accumulated over centuries. A turkey dinner and a

decorated tree, Christmas cards and Santa Claus, yule logs, mistletoe, bells,

and carols originated with different peoples to become integral parts of

December 25, a day on which no one is certain Jesus Christ was born.

The idea to celebrate the Nativity on December 25 was first suggested

early in the fourth century, the clever conceit of church fathers wishing to

eclipse the December 25 festivities of a rival religion that threatened the

existence of Christianity.

It is important to note that for two centuries after Christ's birth, no one

knew, and few people cared, exactly when he was born. Birthdays were

unimportant; death days counted. Besides, Christ was divine, and his natural

birth was deliberately played down. As mentioned earlier, the Church even

announced that it was sinful to contemplate observing Christ's birthday "as

though He were a King Pharaoh."

Several renegade theologians, however, attempted to pinpoint the Nativity

and came up with a confusion of dates: January 1, January 6, March 25,

and May 20. The latter eventually became a favored date because the Gospel

of Luke states that the shepherds who received the announcement of Christ's

birth were watching their sheep by night. Shepherds guarded their flocks

day and night only at lambing time, in the spring; in winter, the animals

were kept in corrals, unwatched. What finally forced the issue, and compelled

the Church to legitimize a December 25 date, was the burgeoning

popularity of Christianity's major rival religion, Mithraism.


On the Calendar

On December 25, pagan Romans, still in the majority, celebrated Natalis

Solis Invicti, "Birthday of the Invincible Sun God," Mithras. The cult originated

in Persia and rooted itself in the Roman world in the first century

B.C. By A.D. 274, Mithraism was so popular with the masses that Emperor

Aurelian proclaimed it the official state religion. In the early 300s, the cult

seriously jeopardized Christianity, and for a time it was unclear which faith

would emerge victorious.

Church fathers debated their options.

It was well known that Roman patricians and plebeians alike enjoyed

festivals of a protracted nature. The tradition was established as far back

as 753 B.C., when King Romulus founded the city of Rome on the Palatine

Hill. Not only the Roman observance of Natalis Solis Invicti occasioned

December feasts and parades; so, too, did the celebration of the Saturnalia,

in honor of Saturn, god of agriculture. The Church needed a December


Thus, to offer converts an occasion in which to be pridefully celebratory,

the Church officially recognized Christ's birth. And to offer head-on competition

to the sun-worshipers' feast, the Church located the Nativity on

December 25. The mode of observance would be characteristically prayerful:

a mass; in fact, Christ's Mass. As one theologian wrote in the 320s: "We

hold this day holy, not like the pagans because of the birth of the sun, but

because of him who made it." Though centuries later social scientists would

write of the psychological power of group celebrations-the unification of

ranks, the solidification of collective identity, the reinforcement of common

objectives-the principle had long been intuitively obvious.

The celebration of Christmas took permanent hold in the Western world

in 337, when the Roman emperor Constantine was baptized, uniting for

the first time the emperorship and the Church. Christianity became the

official state religion. And in A.D. 354, Bishop Liberius of Rome reiterated

the importance of celebrating not only Christ's death but also his birth.

Mistletoe: 2nd Century B.C., British Isles

The custom of embracing under a sprig of mistletoe, if not actmuly kissing

under it, originated in ancient Britain around the second century B.C.,

among the Druids, the learned class of the Celts.

Two hundred years before Christ's birth, the Druids celebrated the start

of winter by gathering mistletoe and burning it as a sacrifice to their gods.

Sprigs of the yellow-green plant with waxy white berries were also hung in

homes to ensure a year's good fortune and familial harmony. Guests to a

house embraced under the auspicial sprig. Twigs of the evergreen outside

a house welcomed weary travelers. And if enemies chanced to meet under

a tree that bore mistletoe (a parasite on deciduous and evergreen trees),

they were required to lay down their arms and forget their differences for

a day.


Christmas Tree: 8th Century, Germany

The Druids named the parasitic plant omnia sanitatem, meaning "all heal,"

and prescribed ~t for female infertility and as an antidote for poison. Gathering

mistletoe was an occasion for great ceremony, and only sprigs that

grew on sacred oak trees were collected-by the highest-ranking priest,

and with a gold knife; an event later dramatized in Bellini's opera Norma.

Mistletoe was a plant of hope, peace, and harmony not only for the Celts

but also for the Scandinavians, who called it mistilteinn. Its name derived

from mista, meaning "dung," since the evergreen is propagated by seeds

in birds' excrement. For the Scandinavians, mistletoe belonged to Frigga,

goddess of love, and the kissing custom is thought to be rooted in this

romantic association.

In the ancient world, mistletoe was also a decorative green. During the

Roman feasts of Natalis Solis Invicti and Saturnalia, patricians and plebeians

bound sprigs into boughs and festively draped the garlands throughout the

house. With the official recognition of Christmas on December 25 in the

fourth century, the Church forbade the use of mistletoe in any form, mindful

of its idolatrous associations. As a substitute, it suggested holly. The sharply

pointed leaves were to symbolize the thorns in Christ's crown and the red

berries drops of his blood. Holly became a Nativity tradition.

The Christian ban on mistletoe was in effect throughout the Middle Ages.

And surprisingly, as late as the present century, there were churches in

England that forbade the wearing of mistletoe sprigs and corsages during


Poinsettia. The adoption of the poinsettia as the Christmas flower is relatively

recent, dating from 1828.

Native to Mexico, the plant, a member of the spurge family, has small

yellow flowers surrounded high up by large, tapering red leaves, which

resemble petals and are often mistaken for them. At least as early as the

eighteenth century, Mexicans called the plant "flower of the blessed night,"

because of its resemblance to the Star of Bethlehem. This is the first association

between the plant and Christmas.

In 1828, Dr. Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States ambassador

to Mexico, brought the plant into the States, where it was renamed in his

honor. By the time of his death in 1851"the poinsettia's flaming red color

had already established its Christmas association.

Christmas Tree: 8th Century, Germany

The custom of a Christmas tree, undecorated, is believed to have begun in

Germany, in the first half of the 700s.

The earliest story relates how British monk and missionary St. Boniface

(born Winfrid in A.D. 680) was preaching a sermon on the Nativity to a

tribe of Germanic Druids outside the town of Geismar. To convince the

idolators that the oak tree was not sacred and inviolable, the "Apostle of


On the Calendar

Germany" felled one on the spot. Toppling, it crushed every shrub in its

path except for a small fir sapling. A chance event can lend itself to numerous

interpre~ations, and legend has it that Boniface, attempting to win

converts, interpreted the fir's survival as a miracle, concluding, "Let this

be called the tree of the Christ Child." Subsequent Christmases in Germany

were celebrated by planting fir saplings.

We do know with greater authority that by the sixteenth century, fir

trees, indoors and out, were decorated to commemorate Christmas in Germany.

A forest ordinance from Ammerschweier, Alsace, dated 1561, states

that "no burgher shall have for Christmas more than one bush of more

than eight shoes' length." The decorations hung on a tree in that time, the

earliest we have evidence of, were "roses cut of many-colored paper, apples,

wafers, gilt, sugar."

It is a widely held belief that Martin Luther, the sixteenth-century Protestant

reformer, first added lighted candles to a tree. Walking toward his

home one winter evening, composing a sermon, he was awed by the brilliance

of stars twinkling amidst evergreens. To recapture the scene for his family,

he erected a tree in the main room and wired its branches with lighted


By the 1700s, the Christbaum, or "Christ tree," was a firmly established

tradition. From Germany the custom spread to other parts of Western

Europe. It was popularized in England only in the nineteenth century, by

Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's German consort. Son of the duke of SaxeCoburg-

Gotha (a duchy in central Germany), Albert had grown up decorating

Christmas trees, and when he married Victoria, in 1840, he requested

that she adopt the German tradition.

The claim of the Pennsylvania Germans to have initiated the Christmas

tree custom in America is undisputed today. And it's in the diary of Matthew

Zahm of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, under the date December 20, 1821, that

the Christmas tree and its myriad decorations receive their first mention

in the New World.

It is not surprising that, like many other festive Christmas customs, the

tree was adopted so late in America. To the New England Puritans, Christmas

was sacred. The Pilgrims' second governor, William Bradford, wrote

that he tried hard to stamp out "pagan mockery" of the observance, penalizing

any frivolity. The influential Oliver Cromwell preached against "the

heathen traditions" of Christmas carols, decorated trees, and any joyful

expression that desecrated "that sacred event."

In 1659, the General Court of Massachusetts enacted a law making any

observance of December 25 (other than a church service) a penal offense;

people were fined for hanging decorations. That stern solemnity continued

until the nineteenth century, when the influx of German and Irish immigrants

undermined the Puritan legacy. In 1856, the poet Henry Wadsworth

Longfellow commented: "We are in a transition state about Christmas here

in New England. The old Puritan feeling prevents it from being a cheerful


Christmas Cards: 1843, England

hearty holiday; though every year makes it more so." In that year, Christmas

was made a legal holiday in Massachusetts, the last state to uphold

Cromwell's philosophy.

Interestingly, Godey's Lady's Book, the women's publication of the 1800s

that did so much to nationalize Thanksgiving, also played a role in popularizing

festive Christmas practices. Through its lighthearted and humorous

drawings, its household-decorating hints, its recipes for Christmas confections

and meals, and its instructions for homemade tree ornaments, the

magazine convinced thousands of housewives that the Nativity was not just

a fervent holy day but could also be a festive holiday.

Xmas. The familiar abbreviation for Christmas originated with the Greeks.

X is the first letter of the Greek word for Christ, Xristos. By the sixteenth

century, "Xmas" was popular throughout Europe. Whereas early Christians

had understood that the term merely was Greek for "Christ's mass," later

Christians, unfamiliar with the Greek reference, mistook the X as a sign of

disrespect, an attempt by heathen to rid Christmas of its central meaning.

For several hundred years, Christians disapproved of the use of the term.

Some still do.

Christmas Cards: 1843, England

A relatively recent phenomenon, the sending of commercially printed

Christmas cards originated in London in 1843.

Previously, people had exchanged handwritten holiday greetings. First

in person. Then via post. By 1822, homemade Christmas cards had become

the bane of the U.S. postal system. That year, the Superintendent of Mails

in Washington, D.C., complained of the need to hire sixteen extra mailmen.

Fearful offuture bottlenecks, he petitioned Congress to limit the exchange

of cards by post, concluding, "I don't know what we'll do if it keeps on."

Not only did it keep on, but with the marketing of attractive commercial

cards the postal burden worsened.

The first Christmas card designed for sale was by London artist John

Calcott Horsley. A respected illustrator of the day, Horsley was commissioned

by Sir Henry Cole, a wealthy British businessman, who wanted a

card he could proudly send to friends and professional acquaintances to

wish them a "merry Christmas."

Sir Henry Cole was a prominent innovator in the 1800s. He modernized

the British postal system, managed construction of the Albert Hall, arranged

for the Great Exhibition in 1851, and oversaw the inauguration of the

Victoria and Albert Museum. Most of all, Cole sought to "beautify life,"

and in his spare time he ran an art shop on Bond Street, specializing in

decorative objects for the home. In the summer of 1843, he commissioned

Horsley to design an impressive card for that year's Christmas.

Horsley produced a triptych. Each of the two side panels depicted a good


On the Calendar

deed-clothing the naked and feeding the hungry. The centerpiece featured

a, party of adults and children, with plentiful food and drink (there was

severe criticism from the British Temperance Movement).

The first Christmas card's inscription read: "merry Christmas and a happy

New Year to you." "Merry" was then a spiritual word meaning "blessed,"

as in "merry old England." Of the original one thousand cards printed for

Henry Cole, twelve exist today in private collections.

Printed cards soon became the rage in England; then in Germany. But

it required an additional thirty years for Americans to take to the idea. In

1875, Boston lithographer Louis Prang, a native of Germany, began publishing

cards, and earned the title' 'father of the American Christmas card."

Prang's high-quality cards were costly, and they initially featured not

such images as the Madonna and Child, a decorated tree, or even Santa

Claus, but colored floral arrangements of roses, daisies, gardenias, geraniums,

and apple blossoms. Americans took to Christmas cards, but not to

Prang's; he was forced out of business in 1890. It was cheap penny Christmas

postcards imported from Germany that remained the vogue until World

War I. By war's end, America's modern greeting card industry had been


Today more than two billion Christmas cards are exchanged annuallyjust

within the United States. Christmas is the number one card-selling

holiday of the year.

Santa Claus: Post-4th Century, Europe, Asia, America

The original Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, was born in the ancient southeastern

Turkish town of Lycia early in the fourth century. To show his piety as a

child, he adopted a self-imposed twice-weekly fast (on Wednesdays and

Fridays). Then, upon the early death of his parents, he fully dedicated his

life to Christ, entering a Lycian seminary. It was on a boat journey to

Palestine that he is supposed to have extended his arms and stilled a violent

sea, the first of his many miracles. Later, he would become the patron saint

of sailors.

At an early age, Nicholas was appointed bishop of Myra, in Asia Minor.

His success in winning converts: and his generosity toward the poor, incensed

Roman officials. During a great Christian persecution, he was imprisoned

and tortured under orders of the despotic Roman emperor Gaius

Diocletianus. The ruler, after a reign of terror and profligacy, abruptly

abdicated at age sixty in favor of the simple life of farming and raising

cabbages. This pleased many Romans and was most fortunate for Nicholas.

The new emperor, Constantine (who would later convert to Christianity),

freed the bishop. And when Constantine convened the first Church council

at Nicaea in 325, Nicholas attended as a prominent member. He is believed

to have died on December 6, 342, and eventually was adopted as the patron

saint of Russia, Greece, and Sicily.


Santa Claus: Post-4th Century, Europe, Asia, America

Two aspects of St. Nicholas's life led to his becoming Santa Claus: His

generosity was legend, and he was particularly fond of children. We know

this primarily through Roman accounts of his patronage of youth, which

eventually led to his becoming the patron saint of children. Throughout

the Middle Ages, and well beyond, he was referred to by many namesnone

of them Santa Claus.

Children today would not at all recognize the St. Nick who brought gifts

to European children hundreds of years ago-except perhaps for his cascading

white beard. He made his rounds in full red-and-white bishop's

robes, complete with twin-peaked miter and crooked crozier. He was pulled

by no fleet-footed reindeer, but coaxed an indolent donkey. And he arrived

not late on Christmas Eve but on his Christian feast day, December 6. The

gifts he left beside the hearth were usually small and disappointing by today's

standards: fruit, nuts, hard candies, wood and clay figurines. They were

better, though, than the gifts later European Santas would leave.

During the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century, St. Nicholas

was banished from most European countries. Replacing him were more

secular figures, such as Britain's Father Christmas and France's Papa NoeL

Neither was known as a lavish gift-giver to children, who in general were

not at center stage at that point in history. Father Christmas, for instance,

was more the fictive sponsor of adult fetes concerned with amOT.

The Dutch kept the St. Nicholas tradition alive. As the "protector of

sailors," St. Nicholas graced the prow of the first Dutch ship that arrived

in America. And the first church built in New York City was named after


The Dutch brought with them to the New World two Christmas items

that were quickly Americanized.

In sixteenth-century Holland, children placed wooden shoes by the hearth

the night of St. Nicholas's arrival. The shoes were filled with straw, a meal

for the saint's gift-laden donkey. In return, Nicholas would insert a small

treat into each clog. In America, the limited-volume shoe was replaced with

the expandable stocking, hung by the chimney with ... expectations. "Care"

would not corne until 1822.

The Dutch spelled St. Nicholas "Sint Nikolass," which in the New World

became "Sinterklass." When the Dutch lost control of New Amsterdam to

the English in the seventeenth century, Sinterklass was Anglicized to Santa


Much of modern-day Santa Claus lore, including the reindeer-drawn

sleigh, originated in America, due to the popularity of a poem by a New

York theology professor.

Dr. Clement Clarke Moore composed "The Night Before Christmas" in

1822, to read to his children on Christmas Eve. The poem might have

remained privately in the Moore family if a friend had not mailed a copy

of it (without authorial attribution) to a newspaper. It was picked up by

other papers, then it appeared in magazines, until eventually every line of


Cartoonist Thomas

Nast, who published

this drawing in Harper's


1, 1881, established

the prototype for the

modern Santa Claus.

the poem's imagery became part of the Santa legend. Dr. Moore, a classical

scholar, for many years felt that to acknowledge having written a child's

poem might damage his professional reputation; as a result, he did not

publicly admit authorship until 1838, by which time just about every child

across the country could recite the poem by heart.

It was in America that Santa put on weight. The original St. Nicholas

had been a tall, slender, elegant bishop, and that was the image perpetuated

for centuries. The rosy-cheeked, roly-poly Santa is credited to the influential

nineteenth-century cartoonist Thomas Nast. From 1863 until 1886, Nast

created a series of Christmas drawings for Harper's Weekly. These drawings,

executed over twenty years, exhibit a gradual evolution in Santa-from the

pudgy, diminutive, elf-like creature of Dr. Moore's immortal poem to the

bearded, potbellied, life-size bell ringer familiar on street corners across

America today. Nast's cartoons also showed the world how Santa spent his

entire year-constructing toys, checking on children's behavior, reading

their requests for special gifts. His images were incorporated into the Santa



Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer: 1939, Chicago

Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer: 1939, Chicago

"Rollo, the Red-Nosed Reindeer." "Reginald, the Red-Nosed Reindeer."

Both names were considered for the most famous reindeer of all. And the

now traditional Christmas song began as a poem, a free handout to department

store shoppers.

In 1939, the Montgomery Ward department store in Chicago sought

something novel for its Santa Claus to distribute to parents and children.

Robert May, an advertising copywriter for the store, suggested an illustrated

poem, printed in a booklet, that families would want to save 'and reread

each holiday season.

May conceived the idea of a shiny-nosed reindeer, a Santa's helper. And

an artist friend, Denver Gillen, spent hours at a local zoo creating whimsical

sketches of reindeer at rest and at play. Montgomery Ward executives approved

the sketches and May's poem, but nixed the name Rollo. Then

Reginald. May considered other names to preserve the alliteration, and

finally settled on Rudolph, the preference of his four-year-old daughter.

That Christmas of 1939,2.4 million copies of the "Rudolph" booklet were

handed out in Montgomery Ward stores across the country.

"Rudolph" was reprinted as a Christmas booklet sporadically until 194 7.

That year, a friend of May'S, Johnny Marks, decided to put the poem to

music. One professional singer after another declined the opportunity to

record the song, but in 1949, Gene Autry consented. The Autry recording

rocketed to the top of the Hit Parade. Since then, three hundred different

recordings have been made, and more than eighty million records sold.

The original Gene Autry version is second only to Bing Crosby's "White

Christmas" as the best-selling record of all time.

Rudolph became an annual television star, and a familiar Christmas image

in Germany, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, England, Spain, Austria,

and France-many of the countries whose own lore had enriched the international

St. Nicholas legend. Perhaps most significantly, "Rudolph, the

Red-Nosed Reindeer" has been called by sociologists the only new addition

to the folklore of Santa Claus in the twentieth century.


Chapter 4

At the Table

Table Manners: 2500 B.C., Near East

Manners are a set of rules that allow a person to engage in a social ritualor

to be excluded from one. And table manners, specifically, originated in

part as a means of telling a host that it was an honor to be eating his or

her meal.

Etiquette watchers today claim that dining standards are at an all-time

low for this century. As a cause, they cite the demise of the traditional

evening meal, when families gathered to eat and parents were quick to

pounce on errant behavior. They also point to the popularity of ready-toeat

meals (often consumed quickly and in private) and the growth of fastfood

restaurants, where, at least among adolescents, those who display table

manners can become social outcasts. When young people value individual

statement over social decorum, manners don't have a chance.

Evidence of the decline comes from surprisingly diverse quarters. Army

generals and corporate executives have complained that new recruits and

MBA graduates reveal an embarrassing confusion about formal manners

at the table. This is one reason cited for the sudden appearance of etiquette

books on best-seller lists.

The problem, though, is not new. Historians who chart etiquette practices

claim that the deterioration of formal manners in America began a long

time ago-specifically, and ironically, with Thomas Jefferson and his fondness

for equality and his hatred of false civility. Jefferson, who had impeccable

manners himself, often deliberately down played them. And during


From The Instructions of

Ptahhotep, c. 2500 B.C.,

history's first code of correct

behavior. To ingratiate one

to a superior, the author advises:

"Laugh when he

laughs. "

his presidency, he attempted to ease the rules of protocol in the capital,

feeling they imposed artificial distinctions among people created equal.

But before manners can be relaxed or abused, they have to be conceived

and formalized, and those processes originated centuries ago.

Early man, preoccupied with foraging for food, which was scarce, had

no time for manners; he ate stealthily and in solitude. But with the dawn

of agriculture in the Near East, about 9000 B.C., man evolved from huntergatherer

to farmer. He settled down in one place to a more stable life. As

food became plentiful, it was shared communally, and rules were developed

for its preparation and consumption. One family's daily habits at the table

became the next generation's customs.

Historical evidence for the first code of correct behavior comes from

the Old Kingdom of Egypt, in a book, The Instructions of Ptahhotep (Ptahhotep

was grand vizier under the pharaoh Isesi). Written about 2500 B.C., the

manuscript on manners now resides in a Paris antiquities collection.

Known as the "Prisse papyrus" -not that its dictates on decorum are

prissy; an archaeologist by that name discovered the scrolls-the work predates

the Bible by about two thousand years. It reads as if it was prepared

as advice for young Egyptian men climbing the social ladder of the day. In

the company of one's superior, the book advises, "Laugh when he laughs."

It suggests overlooking one's quiddities with a superior's philosophy, "so

thou shalt be very agreeable to his heart." And there are numerous references

to the priceless wisdom of holding one's tongue, first with a boss:

"Let thy mind be deep and thy speech scanty," then with a wife: "Be silent,

for it is a better gift than flowers."

By the time the assemblage of the Bible began, around 700 B.C., Ptahhotep's

two-thousand-year-old wisdom had been well circulated throughout

the Nile delta of Egypt and the fertile crescent of Mesopotamia. Religious

scholars have located strong echoes of The Instructions throughout the Bible,

especially in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes-and particularly regarding the

preparation and consumption of food.


At the Table

Fork: 11th Century, Tuscany

Roman patricians and plebeians ate with their fingers, as did all European

peoples until the dawning of a conscious fastidiousness at the beginning of

the Renaissance. Still, there was a right and a wrong, a refined and an

uncouth, way to go about it. From Roman times onward, a commoner

grabbed at his food with five fingers; a person of breeding politely lifted it

with three fingers-never soiling the ring finger or the pinkie.

Evidence that forks were not in common use in Europe as late as the

sixteenth century-and that the Roman "three-finger rule" still was-comes

from an etiquette book of the 1530s. It advises that when dining in "good

society," one should be mindful that "It is most refined to use only three

fingers of the hand, not five. This is one of the marks of distinction between

the upper and lower classes."

Manners are of course relative and have differed from age to age. The

evolution of the fork, and resistance against its adoption, provides a prime


Our word "fork" comes from the Latinjurea, a farmer's pitchfork. Miniatures

of these ancient tools, the oldest known examples, were unearthed

at the archaeological site of Catal Hoyuk in Turkey; they date to about the

fourth millennium B.C. However, no one knows precisely what function

miniature primitive pitchforks served. Historians doubt they were tableware.

What is known with certainty is that small forks for eating first appeared

in eleventh-century Tuscany, and that they were widely frowned upon. The

clergy condemned their use outright, arguing that only human fingers,

created by God, were worthy to touch God's bounty. Nevertheless, forks

in gold and silver continued to be custom made at the request of wealthy

Tuscans; most of these forks had only two tines.

For at least a hundred y~ars, the fork remained a shocking novelty. An

Italian historian recorded a dinner at which a Venetian noblewoman ate

with a fork of her own design and incurred the rebuke of several clerics

present for her "excessive sign of refinement." The woman died days after

the meal, supposedly from the plague, but clergymen preached that her

death was divine punishment, a warning to others contemplating the affectation

of a fork.

In the second century of its Tuscan incarnation, the two-prong fork was

introduced to England by Thomas a Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury and

British chancellor under Henry II. Renowned for his zeal in upholding

ecclesiastical law, Becket escaped England in 1164 to avoid trial by the lay

courts; when he returned six years later, after pardon by the king, the

archbishop was familiar with the Italian two-tined dining fork. Legend has

it that noblemen at court employed them preferentially for dueling.

By the fourteenth century, the fork in England was still nothing more

than a costly, decorative Italian curiosity. The 1307 inventory of King


Spoon: 20,000 Years Ago, Asia

Edward I reveals that among thousands of royal knives and hundreds of

spoons, he owned a mere seven forks: six silver, one gold. And later that

century, King Charles V of France owned only twelve forks, most of them

"decorated with precious stones," none used for eating.

People were picking up their food in a variety of accepted ways. They

speared it with one of a pair of eating knives, cupped it in a spoon, or

pinched it with the correct three fingers. Even in Italy, country of the fork's

origin, the implement could still be a source of ridicule as late as the seventeenth

century-especially for a man, who was labeled finicky and effeminate

if he used a fork.

Women fared only slightly better. A Venetian publication of 1626 recounts

that the wife of the doge, instead of eating properly with knife and

fingers, ordered a servant to "cut her food into little pieces, which she ate

by means of a two-pronged fork." An affectation, the author writes, "beyond

beliefl" Forks remained a European rarity. A quarter century later, a popular

etiquette book thought it necessary to give advice on something that

was not yet axiomatic: "Do not try to eat soup with a fork."

When, then, did forks become the fashion? And why?

Not really until the eighteenth century, and then, in part, to emphasize

class distinction. With the French Revolution on the horizon, and with

revolutionaries stressing the ideals of "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity,"

the ruling French nobility increased their use of forks-specifically the

four-tined variety. The fork became a symbol of luxury, refinement, and

status. Suddenly, to touch food with even three bare fingers was gauche.

An additional mark distinguishing classes at the dining table was individual

place settings-each aristocrat present at a meal received a full complement

of cutlery, plates, and glasses. Today, in even the poorest families, separate

dining utensils are commonplace. But in eighteenth-century Europe, most

people, and certainly the poorer classes, still shared communal bowls, plates,

and even drinking glasses. An etiquette book of that period advises: "When

everyone is eating from the same dish, you should take care not to put your

hand into it before those of higher rank have done so." There were, however,

two table implements that just about everyone owned and used: the knife

and the spoon.

Spoon: 20,000 Years Ago, Asia

Spoons are millennia older than forks, and never in their long history did

they, or their users, suffer ridicule as did forks and their users. From its

introduction, the spoon was accepted as a practical implement, especially

for eating liquids.

The shape of early spoons can be found in the origin of their name.

"Spoon" is from the Anglo-Saxon spon, meaning "chip," and a spoon was a thin, slightly concave piece of wood, dipped into porridge or soupy foods

, not liquid enough to sip from a bowl. Such spoons have been unearthed


At the Table

in Asia dating from the Paleolithic Age, some twenty thousand years ago.

And spoons of wood, stone, ivory, and gold have been found in ancient

Egyptian tombs.

Upper-class Greeks and Romans used spoons of bronze and silver, while

poorer folk carved spoons of wood. Spoons preserved from the Middle

Ages are largely of bone, wood, and tin, with many elaborate ones of silver

and gold.

In Italy during the fifteenth century, "apostle spoons" were the rage.

Usually of silver, the spoons had handles in the figure of an apostle. Among

wealthy Venetians and Tuscans, an apostle spoon was considered the ideal

baptismal gift; the handle would bear the figure of the child's patron saint.

It's from this custom that a privileged child is said to be born with a silver

spoon in its mouth, implying, centuries ago, that the family could afford

to commission a silver apostle's spoon as a christening gift.

Knife: 1.5 Million Years Ago, Africa and Asia

In the evolution to modern man, Homo erectus, an early upright primate,

fashioned the first standardized stone knives for butchering prey. Living

1.5 million years ago, he was the first hominid with the ability to conceive

a design and then labor over a piece of stone until the plan was executed

to his liking. Since that time, knives have been an important part of man's

weaponry and cutlery. They've changed little over the millennia, and even

our word "knife" is recognizable in its Anglo-Saxon antecedent, cnif.

For centuries, most men owned just one knife, which hung at the waist

for ready use. One day they might use it to carve a roast, the next to slit

an enemy's throat. Only nobles could afford separate knives for warfare,

hunting, and eating.

Early knives had pointed tips, like today's steak knives. The round-tip

dinner knife, according to popular tradition, originated in the 1630s as

one man's attempt to put an end to a commonplace but impolite table


The man was Armand Jean du Plessis, better known as Duc de Richelieu,

cardinal and chief minister to France's Louis XIII. He is credited with

instituting modern domestic espionage, and through iniquitous intrigues

and shrewd statesmanship he catapulted France to supreme power in early

seventeenth-century Europe. In addition to his preoccupation with state

matters and the acquisition of personal authority, Richelieu stressed formal

manners, and he bristled at one table practice of the day. During a meal,

men of high rank used the pointed end of a knife to pick their teeth cleana

habit etiquette books had deplored for at least three hundred years.

Richelieu forbade the offense at his own table and, according to French

legend, ordered his chief steward to file the points off house knives. Soon

French hostesses, also at a loss to halt the practice, began placing orders

for knives like Richelieu's. At least it is known factually that by the close of


Napkin: Pre-500 B.C., Near East

the century, French table settings often included blunt-ended knives.

Thus, with the knife originating 1.5 million years ago, the spoon twenty

thousand years ago, and the fork in the eleventh century, the full modernday

complement of knife, fork, and spoon took ages to come together at

the table. And though we take the threesome for granted today, just two

hundred years ago most inns throughout Europe and America served one,

or two, but seldom all three implements. When wealthy people traveled,

they carried with them their own set of cutlery.

Crossing Knife and Fork. The custom of intersecting a knife and fork on

a plate at the conclusion of a meal began in seventeenth-century Italy.

Today some people regard it as a practical signal to a hostess or waitress

that we've finished eating. But it was introduced by Italian nobility as a

religious symbol-a cross. The gesture was considered not only good manners

but also a pious act of thanksgiving for the bounty provided by the


Napkin: Pre-500 B.C., Near East

The small napkins of paper and cloth that we use to dab our lips and protect

our laps would never have sufficed centuries ago, when the napkin served

a more functional purpose. To put it simply: eating a multicourse meal

entirely with the fingers-whether three fingers or five-made a napkin

the size of a towel essential. And the first napkins were indeed full-size


Later called "serviettes," towel-like napkins were used by the ancient

Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Romans to wipe food from their hands.

And to further cleanse the hands during a meal, which could last many

hours, all three cultures used finger bowls, with water scented by such

flowers and herbs as rose petals and rosemary. For the Egyptians, the

scent-almond, cinnamon, or orange blossom; myrrh, cassia, or spikenard-

was tailored to the course being consumed.

During the sixth-century B.C. reign of Tarquinius Superbus, the seventh

and last king of Rome, Roman nobility instituted a second use for the

napkin-as a sort of doggie bag. Guests at a banquet were expected to

wrap delicacies from the table in serviettes to take home. To depart emptyhanded

was unmannerly.

Preserved documents reveal the onetime splendor of the serviette. In

Italy in the 1680s, there were twenty-six favored shapes in which dinner

napkins were folded for various persons and occasions; these included

Noah's Ark (for clergymen), a hen (for the noblewoman of highest rank

present), chicks (for the other women), plus carp, tortoises, bulls, bears,

and rabbits.

A 1729 etiquette book clearly states the many uses of a large serviette:

"For wiping the mouth, lips, and fingers when they are greasy. For wiping


At the Table

the knife before cutting bread. For cleaning the spoon and fork after using

them." The same book then zeros in on a fine point: "When the fingers

are very greasy, wipe them first on a piece of bread, in order not to spoil

the serviette too much."

What undermined the reign ofthe towel-size serviette (and for that matter,

the finger bowl) was the fork. Once forks were adopted to handle food,

leaving fingers spotless, the large napkin became redundant. Napkins were

retained, but in smaller size and to wipe the mouth.

British folklore records an additional use of the napkin, which arose in

the eighteenth century. A tailor by the name of Doily-legend does not

. record his Christian name-opened a linen shop on the Strand in London.

One of his specialty items was a small circular napkin trimmed in delicate

lace, to be used to protect a tablecloth when serving desserts. Customers

called Mr. Doily's napkins just that-"Doily's napkins"-and through frequent

use of the phrase, the article became known as a doily.

The original size and function of the serviette is evinced in the etymology

of the word "napkin." It derives from the Old French naperon, meaning

"little tablecloth." The English horrowed the word naperon but applied it

to a large cloth tied around the waist to protect the front of the body (and

to wipe the hands on); they called it a napron. Due to a pronunciation shift

involving a single letter, a napron became "an apron." Thus, a napkin at

one time or another has been a towel, a tablecloth, a doily, and an apron.

After surviving all that colorful, controversial, and convoluted history, the

noble napkin today has reached the lowly status of a throwaway.

Additional examples of our tableware have enjoyed a long history and

contain interesting name origins. Several pieces, for instance, were named

for their shapes. A dish still resembles its Roman namesake, the discus, and

is still sometimes hurled.

Bowl simply comes from the Anglo-Saxon word bolla, meaning "round."

And the Old French word for "flat," plat, echoes in plate and platter.

It is the original clay composition of the tureen that earned it its name.

Old French for "clay" is terre, and during the Middle Ages, French housewives called the clay bowl a "terrine."

The Sanskrit word kupa meant "water well" and was appropriately

adopted for the oldest of household drinking vessels, the cup. And glass

derives from the ancient Celtic word glas, for "green," since the color of

the first crude and impure British glass was green.

Some name origins are tricky. Today a saucer holds a cup steady, but

for many generations it was a special small dish for holding sauces (including

salt) to flavor meats. Although it was popular in Europe as early as 1340,

only mass production in the machine age made the saucer inexpensive

enough to be merely in service to a cup.


Western Etiquette Books: 13th Century, Europe

And the object upon which all of the above items rest, the table, derived

its name from the Latin tabula, meaning "board," which was what a table

was, is, and probably always will be.

Chopsticks: Antiquity, China

During the late Middle Ages, Europeans were confronted with a new vogue:

cutting food at the table into small, bite-size pieces. They found the custom,

recently introduced by merchants trading with China, tedious and pointlessly

fastidious. Unknown to thirteenth-century Europeans was the Oriental philosophy

dictating that food be diced-not at the table, but in the kitchen

before it was served.

For centuries, the Chinese had taught that it was uncouth and barbaric

to serve a large carcass that in any way resembled the original animal. In

addition, it was considered impolite to expect a dinner guest to struggle

through a dissection that could have been done beforehand, in the kitchen,

out of sight. An old Chinese proverb sums up the philosophy: "We sit at

table to eat, not to cut up carcasses." That belief dictated food size, which

in turn suggested a kind of eating utensil. Chopsticks-of wood, bone, and

ivory-were perfectly suited to conveying the precut morsels to the mouth,

and the Chinese word for the implements, kwai-tsze, means "quick ones."

Our term "chopsticks" is an English phonetic version of kwai-tsze.

In the Orient, the father of etiquette was the fifth-century philosopher

Confucius-who, despite popular misconceptions, neither founded a religion

nor formulated a philosophical system. Instead, motivated by the

social disorder of his time, he posited principles of correct conduct, emphasizing

solid family relationships as the basis of social stability. The Oriental

foundation for all good manners is taken to be Confucius's maxim

"What you do not like when done to yourself, do not do to others."

Western Etiquette Books: 13th Century, Europe

During the dark days of the Middle Ages, when barbarian tribes from the

north raided and sacked the civilized nations of Southern Europe, manners

were people's least concern. Formal codes of civility fell into disuse for

hundreds of years. It was the popularity of the eleventh-century Crusades,

and the accompanying prestige of knighthood, with its own code of chivalry,

that reawakened an interest in manners and etiquette.

One new court custom, called "coupling," paired a nobleman with a lady

at a banquet, each couple sharing one goblet and one plate. Etymologists

locate the practice as the source of a later expression for cohorts aligned

in any endeavor, said to "eat from the same plate."

The rebirth of strict codes of behavior is historically documented by the

appearance, starting in thirteenth-century Europe, of etiquette books. The


The Crusades and the prestige of knighthood occasioned a rebirth in etiquette. A

cultured person ate with three fingers; a commoner with five.


Children's Manners: 1530, Netherlands

upper class was expanding. More and more people had access to court,

and they wanted to know how to behave. The situation is not all that different

from the twentieth-century social phenomenon of upward mobility, also

accompanied by etiquette books.

Here is a sampling of the advice such books offered the upwardly mobile

through the centuries. (Keep in mind that what the etiquette writers caution

people against usually represents the behavioral norm of the day.)

13th Century

• "A number of people gnaw a bone and then put it back in the dishthis

is a serious offense."

• "Refrain from falling upon the dish like a swine while eating, snorting

disgustingly and smacking the lips."

• "Do not spit over or on the table in the manner of hunters."

• "When you blow your nose or cough, tum round so that nothing falls

on the table."

14th Century

• "A man who clears his throat when he eats, and one who blows his nose

in the tablecloth, are both ill-bred, I assure you."

• "You should not poke your teeth with your knife, as some do; it is a bad


• "I hear that some eat unwashed. May their fingers be palsied!"

15th Century

• "Do not put back on your plate what has been in your mouth."

• "Do not chew anything you have to spit out again."

• "It is bad manners to dip food into the salt."

During these centuries, there was much advice on the proper way of

blowing one's nose. There were of course no tissues, and handkerchiefs

had still not come into common use. Frowned upon was the practice of

blowing into a tablecloth or coat sleeve. Accepted was the practice of blowing

into the fingers. Painters and sculptors of the age frankly reproduced these

gestures. Among the knights depicted on the tombstone of French king

Philip the Bold at Dijon, France, one is blowing his nose into his coat,

another, into his fingers.

Children's Manners: 1530, Netherlands

The one book that is credited more than any other with ushering manners

out of an age of coarseness and into one of refinement is a 1530 treatiseso

popular following its publication that it went through thirty editions in

the author's lifetime, qualifying it as an outstanding best-seller of the six-


Table manners should be instilled in the young, the philosophy espoused by

Erasmus of Rotterdam, whose etiquette book became a best-seller and a standard

school text.

tee nth century. The author, Christian philosopher and educator Erasmus

of Rotterdam, the greatest classical scholar of the northern Humanist

Renaissance, had hit on a theme ripe for discussion: the importance of

instilling manners at an early age.

Titled De civilitate morum puerilium, or On Civility in Children, his text

continued to be reprinted into the eighteenth century, and spawned a multitude

of translations, imitations, and sequels. It became a standard schoolbook

for the education of boys throughout Europe. While upwardly mobile

adults were struggling to break ingrained habits and acquire proper manners,

Erasmus pointed out that the easiest, most painless place to begin is

in childhood. Manners ought to be not a patina over coarse adult actions

but a foundation upon which a child can erect good behavior.

Here is a sampling of Erasmus's advice (some of it is coarse by today's


• "If you cannot swallow a piece of food, turn round discreetly and throw

it somewhere."

• "Retain the wind by compressing the belly."

• "Do not be afraid of vomiting if you must; for it is not vomiting but

holding the vomit in your throat that is foul."

• "Do not move back and forth on your chair. Whoever does that gives

the impression of constantly breaking or trying to break wind."

• "Turn away when spitting lest your saliva fall on someone. If anything

purulent falls on the ground, it should be trodden upon, lest it nauseate


• "You should not offer your handkerchief to anyone unless it has been

freshly washed. Nor is it seemly, after wiping your nose, to spread out

your handkerchief and peer into it as if pearls and rubies might have

fallen out of your head."


Emily Post: 1922, United States

• "To lick greasy fingers or to wipe them on your coat is impolite. It is

better to use the tablecloth or the serviette."

• "Some people put their hands in the dishes the moment they have sat

down. Wolves do that."

If some of Erasmus's advice seems laughable today, we should pause to

consider at least one admonition from an etiquette book in our own century.

On the only way to eat large lettuce leaves: "They must be cut with the

blunt edge of the fork-never, never with a knife."

Emily Post: 1922, United States

European etiquette was based on precedence and dominated by the doctrine

of exclusivity. American manners, on the other hand, were founded on the

bedrock of equality and freedom. In the country's short history, many

hundreds of etiquette books were published, most having little effect on

the vast majority of Americans. Etiquette-the practice and the wordwas

for society folk. In fact, no etiquette writer had ever got the public to

pay serious attention to the subject of manners until Emily Post. She caused

something of a revolution. Almost overnight, her name became synonymous

with correct behavior.

In 1922, purchasers of Emily Post's new, landmark book rarely asked

for it by title, let alone its full title, Etiquette: The Blue Book of Social Usage.

It sufficed to ask for "Emily Post." The book zoomed to the top of the

nonfiction best-seller list, pushing Papini's Life of Christ into second place

and sharing the number one spot with Sinclair Lewis's Babbitt, a novel that,

ironically, highlighted social ineptitude. Everyone was reading Emily Post

and in any social situation asking, "What would Emily Post say?"

But why was the book so widely received?

As Erasmus's volume had appeared at the dawn of the Renaissance, Emily

Post's arrived when society was at another abruptly upward transformation.

In the 1920s, the old standards were crumbling under the impact of the

automobile, worldwide telephone communications, the movies, and general

postwar prosperity and euphoria. The social trend for millions of Americans

was upward and, as in Erasmus's day, people were desperate to know how

to behave in higher, if not high, society.

Emily Post had not intended to write an etiquette book. She was a prizewinning

novelist and newspaperwoman from Tuxedo Park, New York. She

had a loathing for the pretensions of virtually all etiquette books of her

day and had often suggested to friends that someone should write an honest,

unaffected treatment of American manners. A friend, Frank Crowninshield,

then editor of Vanity Fair, goaded her with a copy of a recently published

etiquette book that exuded snobbishness and elitism. Further, the book


Manners change with time. In America, formal etiquette was regarded antithetical

to the principles of equality and individual freedom.

was being promoted in accordance with a new trend in American advertising:

an attempt to embarrass people into believing they needed certain products.

For instance, the book claimed that not only were Americans ignorant of

which fork to use and when, but they suffered from slovenliness, halitosis,

body odor, and total social ineptitude.

Even before she finished the gift book, Emily Post decided to write a nononsense,

lighthearted, egalitarian manual of her own. And that she did.

By 1945, Etiquette had sold 666,000 copies, and "Post, Emily" had become

a dictionary entry.

Wedgwood Ware: 18th Century, England

Although pottery had been fashioned and fired for thousands of years, by

the 1700s there were still no mass-produced, identical plates, bowls, cups,

and saucers. A craftsman could produce an exquisitely delicate, multihued

plate-or a whole series of plates, handmade and hand painted-but there

was no way to ensure that each item and its color would be consistently the

same. In fact, pieces from a set of high-quality dinnerware often varied

from yellowish cream to pearl white. One determined man, Josiah Wedgwood,

born in 1730 into a family of potters from Staffordshire, England,

would soon change that.

The youngest of twelve children, Wedgwood received only rudimentary

schooling before his father died, forcing him to work in the fam.ily pottery

plant at age nine. While still a child, Wedgwood began exploring new ways

to color clay-first by trial and error, then by painstaking chemical methods.


Stainless-Steel Cutlery: 1921, United States

The idea of tampering with the family's proven pottery formulas so infuriated

his brothers that Josiah opened a rival pottery business in 1759.

As his own master, Wedgwood experimented with new glazes, clayadditives,

and firing techniques, keeping meticulous research notes so a particularly

promising process could be exactly duplicated.

His systematic tenacity paid off. In the early 1 760s, he perfected a method

for uniformly coloring the popular earthenware of the day. Throughout

Europe, the results were heralded as a major breakthrough. And the simple

elegance ofWedgwood ware-delicate neoclassical figures applied in white,

cameolike relief on a tinted background-captured the changing taste of

European aristocrats, who were moving away from the ornate clutter of

baroque and rococo designs.

Wedgwood's high-quality, perfectly reproducible dinnerware arrived at

the right time in history. With the industrial revolution under way in

England, steam power and inexpensive factory labor greatly increased the

availability of his product.

Wedgwood's plates came to the attention of England's royal court. In

1765, he was commissioned to make a tea service for Queen Charlotte. An

instinctive self-promoter, Wedgwood was keenly aware of the publicity value

of royal patronage. He sought and received permission to christen his service

"Queen's Ware." If orders were brisk before, now it seemed that every

aristocrat in Europe desired to own full place settings. From Russia, Empress

Catherine commissioned service for two hundred guests-a total of 952

pieces of Queen's Ware.

Despite his personal wealth and friendships with European nobility,

Wedgwood remained a man of strong democratic views. He publicly supported

the American Revolution and was outspoken in his opposition to

slavery; an "antislavery cameo"he produced showed a slave in chains and

bore the inscription "Am I not a man and a brother?"

Josiah Wedgwood died in 1795, leaving a large part of his estate to his

daughter, Susannah Wedgwood Darwin, whose son, Charles, would one

day be even more renowned than his grandfather.

Stainless-Steel Cutlery: 1921, United States

Until the early part of this century, knives, forks, and spoons were the bane

of the average housewife, for great effort was required to keep them shining.

Flatware was made of a compound of carbon and steel, which yielded a

sturdy, durable product but one that quickly discolored. To retain a semblance

of its original luster, table cutlery had to be routinely rubbed with

a dry cork and scouring powder or with steel wool.

The great cutlery breakthrough came with the development of stainless


As early as 1820, a French metallurgist, L. Berthier, observed that when


Stainless steel liberated homemakers

from the weekly polishing

of flatware, while

Bakelite handles (right) offered

protection from burns.

carbon steel was combined with an alloy like chrome, it yielded a rustresistant

metal. Not fully appreciating the significance of his discovery,

Berthier abandoned the research. It was continued by British scientists,

who in 1913 alloyed the pure element chromium with a variant of Berthier's

carbon steel (called 35-point carbon steel) and produced steel that held its

luster and merited the name stainless. The following year, Krupp, the German

steel and munitions manufacturers, introduced a stainless steel containing

chromium and nickel. At first, in Britain and Germany, the metal's

industrial applications overshadowed its culinary possibilities. Not until

1921, at the Silver Company of Meriden, Connecticut, was the first stainlesssteel

dinnerware produced-not forks or spoons, but knives, and in a pattern

the company named "Ambassador."

The glistening flatware was its own best advertisement. American hotels

and restaurants, calculating the hours and dollars spent polishing carbon

steel, ordered all their kitchen and dining room cutlery in stainless steel.

Magazine ads appeared that seemed to promise the impossible: "No tarnish!

No rust! No plating to wear off-it's solid gleaming stainless steel!" By the

1930s, Gimbel's and Macy's in New York were offering stainless-steel flatware

at nineteen cents apiece. And a further incentive to purchase the new

product was the introduction of handles-in pastel and two-tone colors-


Table Talk: Antiqu.ity to Present

made of a durable new heat-resistant plastic called Bakelite. Even among

the wealthy, stainless-steel flatware became a formidable contender for silver's

long-held position of prestige at the table.

Table Talk: Antiquity to Present

"Bottoms Up!" "Here's looking at you!" "Mud in your eye!" "Cheers!"

The traditional things we say at the table-including toasts and graceoften

originated in earlier times and for purposes that may not seem obvious

or purposeful today. The same is true for table- and food-related expressions.

A husband who is a ham may bring home the bacon, and his wife, a

cold turkey, may make him eat humble pie. They may both take the cake.

How did such customs and phrases originate? Well, let's talk turkey.

Making a Toast. Anyone who has ever drunk a toast to a friend's health

or good fortune may have wondered how the word "toast" came to designate

a ceremony that involves no roasted slice of bread.

The custom of a host drinking to a friend's health originated with the

Greeks, as early as the sixth century B.C., and for a highly practical reason:

to assure guests that the wine they were about to consume was not poisoned.

Spiking wine with poison had long been a preferred way to dispose of a

political rival or suspected enemy, or to circumvent divorce. Thus, a host

sipped the first wine poured from a decanter, and satisfied of its safety, the

guests raised their glasses and drank. This drinking in sequence-guests

following host-came to symbolize a sort of pledge of friendship and amity.

The Romans adopted the Greek penchant for poisoning (the ambitious

Livia Drusilla, empress of Rome in the first century B.C., made something

of a science of the practice) and the custom of drinking as a pledge of

friendship. The Roman custom of dropping a burnt piece of toast into a

cup of wine is the origin of the verbal usage. The practice continued into

Shakespeare's time. In Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor, Falstaff orders

a jug of wine and requests "put toast in't."

For many years, it was assumed that the Roman slice of toast was a piece

of spiced or sugared bread, added to wine for sweetening. More recently,

it was scientifically shown that charcoal can reduce a liquid's acidity, and

that a blackened piece of bread added to an inferior, slightly vinegary wine

can render it more mellow and palatable-something the Romans' may

have discovered for themselves. Our word "toast" comes from the Latin

tostus, meaning "parched" or "roasted."

In summary: The Greeks drank to a friend's health; the Romans flavored

the drink with toast; and in time, the drink itself became a "toast."

In the early eighteenth century, the custom of drinking a toast took a

new twist. Instead of drinking to a friend present at a dinner, the toast was

drunk to the health of a celebrated person, particularly a beautiful woman-


Toasting arose as a goodwill gesture to prove a libation was not spiked with

poison. In England, toasting a celebrated woman elevated her to being the

"toast of the town. "

whom the diners might never have met. In The Tatler of June 4, 1709, Sir

Richard Steele mentions that British men were so accustomed to toasting

a beautiful woman that "the lady mentioned in our liquor has been called

a toast." In Steele's lifetime, a celebrated or fashionable Briton became

known as the "toast of the town."

In the next century, drinking toasts acquired such popularity in England

that no dinner was complete without them. A British duke wrote in 1803

that "every glass during dinner had to be dedicated to someone," and that

to refrain from toasting was considered "sottish and rude, as if no one

present was worth drinking to." One way to effectively insult a dinner guest

was to omit toasting him or her; it was, as the duke wrote, "a piece of direct


Saying Grace. The custom of offering a prayer before a meal did not


Table Talk: Antiquity to Present

originate as an expression of thanksgiving for the food about to be consumed.

That came later-after the dawn of agriculture, when civilization's

first farmers began to pray to their gods for bountiful harvests.

In earlier times, nomadic tribes were not always certain of the safety of

the food they found. Meat quickly rotted, milk soured, and mushrooms,

berries, and tubers could often be poisonous. Since nomads changed habitats

frequently, they were repeatedly confronted with new sources of food

and determined their edibility only through trial and error. Eating could

be hazardous to one's health, resulting in cramps, fever, nausea, or death.

It is believed that early man initially prayed to his gods before eating to

avert any deleterious influence the found or foraged food might have on

him. This belief is reinforced by numerous later accounts in which peoples

of the Middle East and Africa offered sacrifices to gods before a feastnot

in thanksgiving but with deliverance from poisoning in mind. Later,

man as a farmer grew his own crops and raised cattle and chickens-in

short, he knew what he ate. Food was safer. And the prayers he now offered

before a meal had the meaning we are familiar with today.

Bring Home the Bacon. Though today the expression means either "return

with a victory" or "bring home cash"-the two not being unrelated-in

the twelfth century, actual bacon was awarded to a happily married couple.

At the church of Donmow, in Essex County, England, a flitch of cured

and salted bacon used to be presented annually to the husband and wife

who, after a year of matrimony, proved that they had lived in greater harmony

and fidelity than any other competing couple. The earliest recorded

case of the bacon award dates from 1445, but there is evidence that the

custom had been in existence for at .least two hundred years. Exactly how

early winners proved their idyllic cohabitation is unknown.

However, in the sixteenth century, each couple that came forward to

seek the prize was questioned by a jury of (curiously) six bachelors and six

maidens. The couple giving the most satisfactory answers victoriously took

home the coveted pork. The prize continued to be awarded, though at

irregular intervals, until late in the nineteenth century.

Eat One's Hat. A person who punctuates a prediction with "If I'm wrong,

I'll eat my hat" should know that at one time, he or she might well have

had to do just that-eat hat. Of course, "hat" did not refer to a Panama

or Stetson but to something more palatable-though only slightly.

The culinary curiosity known as a "hatte" appears in one of the earliest

extant European cookbooks, though its ingredients and means of preparation

are somewhat vague. "Hattes are made of eggs, veal, dates, saffron,

salt, and so forth," states the recipe-but they could also include tongue,

honey, rosemary, kidney, fat, and cinnamon. The book makes it clear that

the concoction was not particularly popular and that in the hands of an


At the Table

amateur cook it was essentially uneatable. So much so that a braggart who

backed a bet by offering to "eat hatte" had either a strong stomach or

confidence in winning.

Give the Cold Shoulder. Today this is a figurative expression, meaning to

slight a person with a snub. During the Middle Ages in Europe, however,

"to give the cold shoulder" was a literal term that meant serving a guest

who overstayed his welcome a platter of cooked but cold beef shoulder.

After a few meals of cold shoulder, even the most persistent guest was

supposed to be ready to leave.

Seasoning. Around the middle of the ninth century, when French was

emerging as a language in its own right, the Gauls termed the process of

aging such foods as cheese, wine, or meats saisonner. During the Norman

Conquest of 1066, the French invaders brought the term to England, where

the British first spelled it sesonen, then "seasoning." Since aging food, or

"seasoning" it, improved the taste, by the fourteenth century any ingredient

used to enhance taste had come to be labeled a seasoning.

Eat Humble Pie. During the eleventh century, every member of a poor

British family did not eat the same food at the table. When a stag was caught

in a village, the tenderest meat went to its captor, his eldest son, and the

captor's closest male friends. The man's wife, his other children, and the

families of his male friends received the stag's "umbles"-the heart, liver,

tongue, brain, kidneys, and entrails. To make them more palatable, they

were seasoned and baked into an "umble pie." Long after the dish was

discontinued (and Americans added an h to the word), "to eat humble pie"

became a punning allusion to a humiliating drop in social status, and later

to any form of humiliation.

A Ham. In the nineteenth-century heyday of American minstrelsy, there

existed a popular ballad titled "The Hamfat Man." Sung by a performer

in blackface, it told of a thoroughly unskilled, embarrassingly self-important

actor who boasted of his lead in a production of Hamlet.

For etymologists, the pejorative use of "ham" in the title of an 1860s

theater song indicates that the word was already an established theater

abbreviation for a mediocre actor vain enough to tackle the role of the

prince of Denmark-or any role beyond his technical reach. "The Hamfat

Man" is credited with popularizing the slurs "ham actor" and "ham."

Take the Cake. Meaning, with a sense of irony, "to win the prize," the

American expression is of Southern black origin. At cakewalk contests in

the South, a cake was awarded as first prize to the person who could most

imaginatively strut-that is, cakewalk. Many of the zany walks are known


Table Talk: Antiquity to Present

to have involved tap dancing, and some of the fancier steps later became

standard in tap dancers' repertoires.

"Let Them Eat Cake." The expression is attributed to Marie Antoinette,

the extragavant, pleasure-loving queen of Louis XVI of France. Her lack

of tact and discretion in dealing with the Paris proletariat is legend. She is

supposed to have uttered the famous phrase as a retort to a beggar's plea

for food; and in place of the word for "cake," it is thought that she used

the word for "crust," referring to a loaf's brittle exterior, which often

broke into crumbs.

Talk Turkey. Meaning to speak candidly about an issue, the expression is

believed to have originated from a story reported in the nineteenth century

by an employee of the U.S. Engineer Department. The report states:

"Today I heard an anecdote that accounts for one of our common sayings.

It is related that a white man and an Indian went hunting; and afterwards,

when they came to divide the spoils, the white man said, 'You take the

buzzard and I will take the turkey, or, I will take the turkey and you may

take the buzzard.' The Indian replied, 'You never once said turkey to me.' "


Chapter 5

Around the Kitchen

Kitchen: Prehistory, Asia and Africa

If a modern housewife found herself transported back in time to a firstcentury

Roman kitchen, she'd be able to prepare a meal using bronze frying

pans and copper saucepans, a colander, an egg poacher, scissors, funnels,

and kettles-all not vastly different from those in her own home. Kitchenware,

for centuries, changed little.

Not until the industrial revolution, which shook society apart and reassembled

it minus servants, did the need arise for machines to perform the

work of hands. Ever since, inventors have poured out ingenious gadgetsthe

dishwasher, the blender, Teflon, Tupperware, S.O.S. pads, aluminum

foil, friction matches, the humble paper bag, and the exalted Cuisinartto

satisfy a seemingly unsaturable market. The inventions emerged to fill a

need-and now fill a room in the house that has its own tale of origin and


In prehistoric times, man prepared food over an open fire, using the

most rudimentary of tools: stone bowls for liquids, a mortar and pestle for

pulverizing salt and herbs, flint blades for carving meat roasted on a spit.

One of the earliest devices to have moving parts was the flour grinder.

Composed of two disk~shaped stones with central holes, the grinder accepted

grain through the top hole, crushed it between the stones, then released

flour through the bottom hole.

In the Near East, the primitive kitchen was first modernized around 7000

B.C. with the invention of earthenware, man's earliest pottery. Clay pots

and baking dishes then as now ranged in color from creamy buff to burnt


Terriers were trained

as "spit runners" to relieve

a cook from

the tedium of handcranking

a turnspit.

red, from ash gray to charcoal black. An item of any desired size or shape

could be fashioned, fired by kiln, and burnished; and a wide collection of

the earliest known kitchen pottery, once belonging to a Neolithic tribe, was

unearthed in Turkey in the early 1960s. Bowls, one of the most practical,

all-purpose utensils, predominated; followed by water-carrying vessels, then

drinking cups. A clay food warmer had a removable bowl atop an oil lamp

and was not very different in design from today's models, fired by candles.

Throughout the Greek and Roman eras, most kitchen innovations were

in the realm of materials rather than usage-gold plates, silver cups, and

glass bottles for the wealthy; for poorer folk, clay plates, hollowed rams'

hom cups, and hardwood jugs.

A major transformation of the kitchen began around A.D. 700. Confronted

by the hardships of the Middle Ages, extended families banded

together, life became increasingly communal, and the kitchen-for its food

and the warmth offered by its fire-emerged as the largest, most frequented

room in the house.

One of the valued kitchen tools of that time was the turnspit. It was to

survive as the chief cooking appliance for nearly a thousand years, until

the revolutionary idea in the late 1700s of roasting meat in an oven. (Not

that the turnspit has entirely disappeared. Many modem stoves include an

electrically operated rotary spit, which is also a popular feature of outdoor


In the turnspit'S early days, the tedious chore of hand-cranking a roast

led to a number of innovations. One that today would incense any animal

lover appeared in England in the 1400s. A rope-and-pulley mechanism led

from the fired spit to a drum-shaped wooden cage mounted on the wall.

A small dog, usually a terrier, was locked in the cage, and as the dog ran,

the cage revolved and cranked the spit. Terriers were actually trained as


Around the Kitchen

"spit runners," with hyperactive animals valued above others. Gadgets were

beginning to make their mark.

A century later, in Italy, Leonardo da Vinci devised a thoroughly humane

self-turning spit, powered by heat ascending the chimney. A small turbine

wheel, built into the chimney, connected to the fired spit. Rising heat rotated

the wheel with a speed proportional to the ferocity of the flames. But the

centuries-old concept of cooking directly above an open fire was about to

be replaced by a revolutionary cooking innovation: the enclosed range.

Kitchen Range: 17th Century, England

Bricking up the kitchen inglenook around the hearth formed the earliest

range, which had a heated top surface and side hobs for keeping a kettle

or saucepan warm.

In 1630, British inventor John Sibthrope patented a large metal version

of such a device, which was fired by coal, a substance that would soon

replace wood as the domestic fuel. But the idea of cooking above an enclosed

fire instead of above or in an open flame was slow to catch on. And the

cooking process itself was slower, since an intermediate element, the rangetop,

had to be heated.

An American-born innovator set out to develop a compact, efficient range

but instead produced two other kitchen appliances.

Count von Rumford of Bavaria was born Benjamin Thompson in Woburn,

Massachusetts, in 1753. Loyal to the British crown, Thompson served as a

spy during the American Revolution, and in 1776 he fled to London, leaving

his wife and daughter behind. Knighted by King George III, Thompson

studied physics in England, with special emphasis on the application of

steam energy. His experiments led to his invention of the double boiler

and the drip coffee maker. But his work on a compact kitchen range was

interrupted by state business.

Entering the Bavarian civil service, Thompson was appointed the country's

grand chamberlain. In between instituting numerous social reforms, he

found time to modernize James Watt's steam engine and to popularize the

potato-long regarded as animal fodder and sustenance for the poor-as

a European table food among the upper classes. But his dream of producing

a compact, closed-top cooking range became a reality in someone else's

hands. In 1802, while the then-renowned Sir Benjamin Thompson was

establishing the Rumford professorship at Harvard University, British iron

founder George Bodley patented a cast-iron even-heating range with a

modern flue, which became 'the prototype of British and American kitchen

ranges until the present century.

Gas and Electric Ranges. The same year that George Bodley brought out

his closed-top, coal-powered range, German inventor Frederick Albert

Winson cooked history'S first meal by gas.


Gas ranges, c. 1890, the year the electric range debuted. Whereas gas models

once leaked fumes and exploded, early electric ranges, with crude temperature

controls, could incinerate a meal.

Winson's device was makeshift, designed merely to demonstrate gas's

cooking possibilities and its cleanliness compared to coal fires. Many of the

experimental gas ranges that followed were hazards, leaking fumes and

exploding. Thirty years would pass before a truly practical and safe gas

range was manufactured in Europe; American homes would not have the

clean-cooking innovations in any significant number until the 1860s.

Once homemakers felt safe and comfortable cooking with gas, they were

reluctant to abandon it for the kitchen's newest innovation, the electric


The first electric stoves appeared in 1890, and they made almost any

meal cooked on them a disaster. With only the crudest of thermostats, heat

control was not so much a matter of low, medium, or high as of raw or

incinerated. And the price for this unpredictability was steep, since inexpensive

home electric rates would not become a reality until the late 1920s.

In addition, many homes in parts of America had yet to be wired for electric

power. The electric stove proved to be even less popular than the early gas

stove had been, and it took longer to become a standard feature of the

American kitchen, never superseding gas, as had once been the prediction.

Gadget. It was during the early years of electric power that any small,

handy item for the kitchen acquired the name "gadget," a word that did

not exist prior to 1886. Although the word-as well as the idea it conveyssounds

American to its core, according to popular legend it is French. And


Around the Kitchen

if we were to pronounce it correctly, we would be naming the man who

gave us the eponym.

Monsieur Gaget was a partner in the French construction firm of Gaget,

Gauhier &Cie., which built the Statue of Liberty to the design specifications

of sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi. For the statue's inauguration ceremonies

in 1886, Gaget conceived the idea of selling miniature Liberty

souvenirs to Americans living in Paris. Americans abroad bought the replicas

and began referring to them as "gadgets," mispronouncing Gaget's name.

Consequently, the 1986 centennial of the Statue of Liberty also marked

the one hundredth birthday of the word "gadget," though possibly only

Monsieur Gaget's descendants celebrated that event.

Porcelain Pots and Pans: 1788, Germany

The first real cooking utensil made in America was a 1642 cast-iron pot,

the now-famous Saugus Pot, produced at the Saugus Iron Works in the

old Massachusetts city of Lynn. The crudely fashioned, three-legged potwith

a lid and a one-quart capacity-marked the beginning of the kitchenware

industry in America, for prior to that time every metallic item in a

colonist's kitchen was a British import.

Just as American foundries were beginning to produce black cast-iron

pots with rough exteriors, the German kitchenware industry was moving

toward something totally unheard of-and seemingly impractical-for

cooking: porcelain. In 1750, inventor Johann Heinrich Gottlob von Justy

suggested coating the coarse exterior of iron pots and pans with the smooth,

lustrous enamel glazes long used on jewelry. His critics contended that the

delicacy of porcelain enamel would never withstand kitchen usage. Von

J usty countered with the indisputable fact that hundreds of ancient porcelain

artifacts had retained their brilliance and hardness for centuries; some

Egyptian ornaments dated back to 1400 B.C.

For a while, the technical problems of annealing a heat-resistant porcelain

to cast iron seemed insurmountable. But in 1788, the Konigsbronn foundry

in Wiirttemberg produced the first kitchen pots with a shimmering white

enamel finish. The development ushered in a new era in culinary ware,

providing homemakers with a wide range of utensils that cleaned more

easily than anything previously known. Porcelain was the Teflon of the

eighteenth century. One early advertisement punned: "No longer can the

pot call the kettle black."

But the porcelain innovators had not anticipated one surprising public

reaction. The glistening pots, pans, and ladles were simply too attractive

to use for cooking only. Thus, for a number of years, German housewives

proudly displayed their porcelainware as objets d'art-on knickknack

shelves, atop pianos, and on windowsills for passersby to appreciate.

The British, in sharp contrast, took the artful German breakthrough and


Aluminum Ware: Early 19th Century, France

gave it a highly practical if thoroughly mundane application: they produced

the first porcelain-enamel bedpans and urine bottles for hospitals and

homes. Again, it was the material's nonstick, nonstain surface that contributed

to the utensils' rapid acceptance.

It was not until the final year of the American Civil War that porcelainenamel

cooking utensils were manufactured in the United States-initially

in three cities: Sheboygan, Wisconsin; Woodhaven, New York; and St. Louis,


Aluminum Ware: Early 19th Century, France


While the Germans were cooking in porcelain and the British were using

it to sanitize homes and hospitals, Napoleon Bonaparte in France was serving

his guests on the world's first aluminum plates-which then cost more than

gold ones. The newly mined metal sold for six hundred dollars a pound,

and by the 1820s Europe's nobility was packing away some of its goldware

and silverware to highlight aluminum plates, cups, and cutlery.

Aluminum, however, rapidly lost its social luster. Aggressive mining of

the metal, coupled with electric extraction techniques, caused its price to

plummet to $2.25 a pound in 1890. Despite the lower price, American

homemakers had yet to discover the advantages of cooking with aluminum.

Two events-a technical advance and a department store demonstrationwould

soon change that.

On February 23,1886, twenty-two-year-old inventor Charles Martin Hall,

a recent college graduate in science, was experimenting with aluminum in

his laboratory in Oberlin, Ohio. Hall's notebooks record that on that day

he perfected a procedure for inexpensively producing an aluminum compound

that could be cast into cookware. Hall founded his own company

and began manufacturing lightweight, durable, easy-to-dean cooking utensils

that yielded a remarkably even distribution of heat and retained their

sheen. Their durability suggested a trademark name: Wear-Ever.

Hall's products met formidable opposition. American housewives were

reluctant to abandon their: proven tinware and ironware, and the country's

major department stores refused to stock the new product, whose benefits

sounded too fantastical to be true. The turning point came in the spring

of 1903. At the persuasion of a buyer, the renowned Wanamaker's store

in Philadelphia staged the first public demonstration of aluminum's cooking

abilities. Hundreds of women watched in amazement as a professional chef

cooked apple butter without stirring. Once the onlookers were allowed to

step forward and assure themselves that the ingredients had not stuck to

the pan or burned, orders poured in for aluminum cookware. By the time

of Charles Hall's death in 1914, his line of Wear-Ever products had spawned

a new aluminum-cookware industry, transformed the American kitchen,

and rewarded Hall with a personal fortune of thirty million dollars.


Around the Kitchen

s.o.s. Pads: 1917, San Francisco

In 1917, Edwin W. Cox of San Francisco was a door-to-door salesman

whose line of merchandise included the new, highly touted aluminum cookware.

Sales were mediocre; West Coast housewives had not yet been sold

on the latest in pan technology. Cox found it difficult even to get into a

kitchen to demonstrate his products. He needed a gimmick. So, in the best

salesmen's tradition, he decided to offer each potential client a free introductory

gift for allowing him to display his line.

From experience, Cox knew that a major cooking complaint was the way

food stuck to pans. Why not develop a pad that combined the abrasiveness

of steel wool and the cleansing ability of soap?

In his own kitchen, Cox hand-dipped small, square steel-wool pads into

a soapy solution. When each pad dried, it was redipped, and the process

was diligently repeated until every pad was saturated with dried soap.

As he began calling on housewives, he found that the yet-unnamed pads

opened doors-and boosted sales. Each woman received one free sample.

Most women asked for more. Many called his home to learn where additional

pads might be purchased. Within a few months, demand for the pads outgrew

Cox's ability to dip and dry them in his kitchen. Edwin Cox stopped

selling pots and pans and went into the business of manufacturing soap


In need of a catchy name for the new product, Cox turned to the housewife

he knew best-his wife. In her own kitchen, Mrs. Cox referred to the

pads as "S.O.S." for "Save Our Saucepans," and because she believed

(incorrectly) that the letters stood for the universal distress call at sea, "Save

Our Ship." Needless to say, Mr. Cox took his wife's suggestion-though

S.O.S. is a misnomer on two counts.

The actual Morse code distress signal, accepted by international agreement

among the world's nations, is not an acronym for "Save Our Ship,"

"Save Our Souls," or any other popular salvation phrase. In fact, it is not

an abbreviation for anything.

When New York University art professor Samuel Morse, a painter turned

inventor, devised his telegraphy code in 1835, he attempted to choose

combinations of dots and dashes that were relatively easy to memorize. A

few years later, when the international committee sought a distress signal

that would be easy to recall in a time of crisis, and could be transmitted by

an amateur with only the slightest knowledge of Morse code, they decided

on a simple combination of threes: three letters, each represented by three

marks. Three, they felt, was a universally favored number.

In Morse code, only two letters of the alphabet are represented by three

identical marks: three dashes for 0, three dots for S. Thus, the universal

distress signal (and the name of the soap pads) could have been "OSO."

Dashes, however, are longer electrical signals to transmit than dots. An


Dishwasher: 1886, Shelbyville, Illinois

urgent message should be broadcast as quickly as possible and consume as

little as necessary of the transmitting device's energy. Consequently, the

only three-letter, three-dot, three-dash, rapid, energy-efficient call for assistance

could be "SOS." Without punctuation. Mrs. Cox's error, though,

has not hurt the sale of soap pads.

Dishwasher: 1886, Shelbyville, Illinois

"If nobody else is going to invent a dishwashing machine, I'll do it myself."

With that determined proclamation, Josephine Cochrarie, wife of an Illinois,

politician in the 1880s, set out to invent a major kitchen appliancethough

not because Mrs. Cochrane was fed up with the humdrum chore

of dirty dishes; she was a wealthy woman, with a full staff of servants. A

blueblood from Chicago, living in the small prairie town of Shelbyville,

Illinois, Josephine Cochrane frequently gave formal dinners and she was

fed up with dishwashing servants breaking her expensive china. Every party

ended with more shattered dishes, which took months to replace by mail.

A machine seemed like the ideal solution.

In a woodshed adjoining her home, Josephine Cochrane measured her

dinnerware, then fashioned individual wire compartments for plates, saucers,

and cups. The compartments fastened around the circumference of

a wheel that rested in a large copper boiler. As a motor turned the wheel,

hot soapy water squirted up from the bottom of the boiler and rained down

on the dinnerware. The design was crude but effective, and it so impressed

her circle of friends that they dubbed the invention the "Cochrane Dishwasher"

and placed orders for machines for their kitchens. They, too, viewed

the device as a solution to the vexing problem of irresponsible help.

Word spread. Soon Josephine Cochrane was receiving orders from Illinois

hotels and restaurants, where volume dishwashing-and breakage-was a

continual and costly problem. Realizing that she had hit upon a timely

invention, Mrs. Cochrane patented her design in December 1886; her

washer went on to win the highest award at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair

for, as the citation read, "the best mechanical construction, durability, and

adaptation to its line of work."

Hotels and restaurants remained the best customers for Josephine Cochrane's

large-capacity dishwashers. But in 1914, the company she had

founded came out with a smaller machine, for the average American home.

To management's astonishment, the average American housewife was unimpressed

with the labor-saving device.

Part of this reluctance was technological. In 1914, many homes lacked

the quantity of scalding water a dishwasher then required. The entire contents

of a family's hot-water tank might be insufficient to do just the dinner

dishes. Furthermore, in many parts of the country the water was "hard,"

containing dissolved minerals that prevented soap from sudsing enough to


Around the Kitchen

spray-clean the dishes. Elbow power was required to get dinnerware


But there was another problem that no one in Mrs. Cochrane's company

had anticipated. Josephine Cochrane, who had never washed a dish, assumed

that American housewives viewed dishwashing as a disagreeable chore.

However, when her executives polled housewives, hoping to learn why the

home models weren't selling, they discovered that while numerous household

duties were dreaded (principally laundering the family clothes), dishwashing

was not one of them. Quite the contrary. The majority of the

women questioned in 1915 reported that doing dinner dishes was a welcome

relaxer at the end of a hard day.

Mrs. Cochrane's company (which later would merge with an Ohio manufacturing

firm to produce the popular Kitchenaid dishwasher) adopted

another advertising angle: A major reason for purchasing a dishwasher was

the proven fact that a machine could use water far hotter than the human

hand could bear. Thus, dishwashers not only got plates and glasses cleaner;

they also killed more germs. Sales still did not appreciably improve. The

home market for dishwashers would not become profitable until the early

1950s, when postwar prosperity made leisure time, glamour, and an emerging

sense of self, independent from husband and children, major concerns

of the American housewife.

Home Water Softeners: 1924, St. Paul, Minnesota

One feature that home owners in many parts of America take for granted

today is soft water-that is, tap water which has been treated to remove

ions of calcium and magnesium so they will not form an insoluble residue

in pipes and will not link up with soap to form an unsightly, dandruff-like

precipitate on dishes and clothes.

Soft water, though, did not flow in every home's pipes in the early part

of this century (and it still doesn't). In many parts of the country, water

was "hard." And hard water, as we have seen, was one reason for the slow

sales of early dishwashing machines. One man had a profound effect on

the quality of America's ~ater.

Emmett Culligan did not set out to invent water softeners. He wanted

to be a wealthy real estate tycoon and was headed in that direction until

disaster rerouted him.

In his hometown, Porter, Minnesota, the twenty-four-year-old Culligan

bore the nickname "Gold Dust," for the sizable fortune he had amassed

in real estate since leaving cQllege in his sophomore year. His forte was

unwanted prairie land, which he would sow to flax, selling field and crop

at a handsome profit. Before he turned thirty, his landholdings were worth

a quarter of a million dollars.

Then in 1921, a severe farm recession drove down the price of agricultural

products and precipitated a rash of farm failures. The value of Culligan's


Teflon Utensils: 1954, France

property plummeted. Unable to repay loans, he declared bankruptcy and

moved his wife and newborn infant to his parents' home in St. Paul.

One afternoon, Emmett Culligan encountered a boyhood friend who

had been experimenting with ways to soften water, a challenge that had

intrigued many inventors. Culligan's friend demonstrated his "conditioning

machine." It used a natural sand, zeolite, to filter ions of magnesium and

calcium from hard water.

The friend explained that the zeolite exchange resin contained sodium

ions that literally swapped places in water with the undesirable ions. When

the zeolite became exhausted-that is, when most of its exchangeable sodium

had been replaced by magnesium and calcium-it could be restored

by washing with a strong solution of common table salt, sodium chloride.

Intrigued by the principle, Culligan borrowed a bag of zeolite. At home,

he poured the chemical into a perforated coffee tin and passed hard tap

water through it. Then he used the filtered water to wash his baby's diapers.

Their resulting softness convinced him and his wife that any parent made

aware of the improvement would never again put an infant into a hardwater-

washed diaper. On the spot, he resolved to stage a business comeback

based on water softeners.

Culligan launched his water softener firm in 1924, producing filtering

machines that sold for two hundred dollars. Despite the steep price, sales

were impressive and the "Gold Dust" boy was back in the money.

Surviving another setback (the market crash of 1929), he devised a marketing

strategy based on the telephone company's practice ofleasing equipment

to sell a service. Home owners could rent an expensive water-softening

machine for a modest monthly fee of two dollars.

Culligan's business grew quickly, and by 1938 he had franchises throughout

the Northeast. A decade later, the dealership network was national.

Homemakers used filtered water to hand- and machine-wash clothes and

dishes, with noticeable improvements in both. Then a clever ad campaign,

featuring a hard-water housewife shouting, "Hey Culligan Man!" swept the

country. Acquiring the popularity of the latter-day "Where's the beef?"

the phrase helped turn home water softeners into a multimillion-dollar


Teflon Utensils: 1954, France

Although Teflon was the serendipitous discovery of an American chemist,

it took the cooking ingenuity of the French to produce the world's first

nonstick Teflon frying pan. Once the item was, so to speak, hot in Paris,

American manufacturers, who had disbelieved the possibility of a no-stick

cooking surface, scrambled to place orders.

The Teflon tale begins with a small dinner in Baltimore in 1958. Thomas

Hardie, foreign correspondent for United Press International, accepted

an invitation to the home of a friend who had recently returned from Paris.


Around the Kitchen

The meal was prepared in an amazing French skillet to which not a particle

of food stuck-even though the friend had avoided using butter or oil.

Hardie marveled at the pan's coating, which he learned the French called

Tefal, though the product was an American "plastic" manufactured for

industrial purposes by Du Pont under the name Teflon. Why, wondered

Hardie, wasn't such a pan available in America?

Hardie flew to France.

Atthe Tefal factory outside Paris, he met the company's president, Marc

Gregoire. Gregoire had first heard of Teflon in the early 1950s-also

through a friend, one who had devised a way to affix a thin layer of the Du

Pont plastic to aluminum for industrial applications. An avid fisherman,

Gregoire began coating his tackle with the substance to minimize sticking

and tangling. His wife conceived the idea of coating cookware. At her request,

he coated one of her frying pans, then another. That was several

years before Hardie's arrival. Now French stores were selling more than a

million Tefal-coated pans a year.

Hardie returned to the United States with several pans and even greater

disbelief that the miracle product had not yet hit America's shores. For the

next two years, he called on every major cooking-utensil manufacturer in

the country. Not one expressed the slightest interest. Convinced that an

American market existed for Teflon cookware, he cabled Gregoire to ship

him three thousand pans. When they arrived, he sent a complimentary

sample and instructions to one hundred major department stores. Not a

single buyer placed an order. No one believed the pans were stick-free.

Eventually, he persuaded the housewares buyer at Macy's Herald Square

store in New York City to take two hundred pans. Priced at $6.94, the pans

went on sale December 15, 1960, during one of the city's severest snowstorms.

Seventeen inches of snow blanketed the city and the mercury quavered

at nine degrees Fahrenheit. Nonetheless, New Yorkers weathered

the blustery elements in such numbers that Macy's' stock sold out in two

days. The store clamored for more pans. And so did American housewives.

When the Paris factory could no longer meet the American demand, Hardie

formed his own company and in 1961 built a highly automated factory in

Timonium, Maryland. By this time, every American kitchen utensils manufacturer

was planning its own line of Teflon-coated cookware.

A new item had entered the kitchen.

All this activity delighted Dr. Roy Plunkett, the soft-spoken Du Pont

chemist who had accidentally discovered Teflon, while experimenting with

coolant gases, the kind used in refrigerators and air conditioners.

On the morning of April 6, 1938, at Du Pont's laboratory in New Jersey,

Plunkett examined a container that had been stored overnight. It should

have held a very cold gas, but instead he found the new gas had congealed

to form a waxy solid that had affixed itself to the container's wall. He was

amazed at its slipperiness and utter imperviousness to all sorts of corrosive

chemicals he subjected it to.


Brown Paper Bag: 1883, Philadelphia

He named the compound Teflon, short for its chemical name: tetrafluoroethylene.

The Guinness Book of World Records would later list Teflon as the slipperiest

substance on earth, having the "lowest coefficient of static and dynamic

friction of any known solid." The slipperiness has been measured as equivalent

to that of two wet ice cubes rubbing against each other in a warm

room. After ten years of further research, the Du Pont chemical was introduced

for industrial applications in 1948. Never was there talk at that

time about putting it on frying pans.

Today Teflon is used in space suits and computer microchips; it replaces

arteries of the human heart and serves as a heat shield during a rocket's

reentry into the earth's atmosphere. And Teflon has also been applied to

the Statue of Liberty's fifteen thousand joints to slow her aging. Around

the home, a Teflon coating on light bulbs minimizes shattering, and on a

car's brakes it reduces the wear and tear of friction. For his discovery, Dr.

Roy Plunkett was inducted into the National Inventors' Hall of Fame in


Brown Paper Bag: 1883, Philadelphia

There are few things simpler and more functional than the paper bag.

Picasso painted on them. The artist Saul Steinberg has used them to create

elaborate masks. And Americans consume them at the rate of forty billion

a year. As simple and indispensable as the paper bag is, the invention as

we know it today-with its convenient flat bottom and pleated sides-is,

surprisingly, only one hundred years old.

Charles Stilwell, the inventor of the brown paper grocery bag, was born

on October 6, 1845, in Fremont, Ohio. He enlisted in the Union Army at

age seventeen, and served in the Civil War. It was shortly after his discharge

that Stilwell began to tinker with inventions, and one of his earliest successes,

in the summer of 1883, was ~he first machine to produce paper bags. Bags

existed before Stilwell's time, but they were pasted together by hand; their

V-shaped bottoms prevented them from standing on their own; and they

were not easily collapsible or conveniently stackable.

Stilwell's design was a marvel of simple engineering. He named the flatbottom,

pleated-sides bag S.O.S., for "Self-Opening Sack" (the bag could

open instantly to its full shape with a snap of the wrist). And its pleats, or

gussets, which allowed the bag to open quickly, also permitted it to collapse

and stack neatly. But the feature that endeared it to grocers and market

baggers was its ability to stand upright, fully opened, by itself.

The biggest boom to the Stilwell bag came with the birth of the American

supermarket in the early 1930s. Never had a single store offered a wider

selection of foods and household products-all to be carted away in humble

brown sacks. As supermarkets multiplied in response to the country's expanding

population, demand for Stilwell's flat-bottom bags grew propor-


Hand-gluing paper

bags and boxes. A machine

to mass-produce

flat-bottom grocery bags

was patented in 1883.

tionally. Versatility, strength, and low cost made them a nationwide, then

worldwide, institution. Today America's 28,680 supermarkets alone purchase

25 billion bags a year.

Charles Stilwell died on November 25, 1919, in Wayne, Pennsylvania,

but not before his fertile mind had invented a machine for printing on

oilcloth, a movable map for charting stars, and at least a dozen other brainstorms.

The masterpiece of his career, though, is patent number 279,505,

the machine that made the bag at once indispensable and disposable.

Friction Match: 1826, England

Homo erectus, a forerunner of modern man, accidentally discovered fire

through the friction generated by two sticks rubbed together. But 1.5 million

years would pass before a British chemist, John Walker, produced instantaneous

fire through the friction of a match rubbed over a coarse surface.

Ironically, we know more today about Homo erectus than we do about John

Walker, who also made his discovery by accident.

Other inventors and scientists had attempted to make matches. The first

friction device of note was the Boyle match.

In 1669, an alchemist from Hamburg, Hennig Brandt, believed he was

on the verge of transforming an olio of base metals into gold, when instead

he produced the element phosphorus. Disappointed, he ignored the discovery,

which came to the attention of British physicist Robert Boyle. In

1680, Boyle devised a small square of coarse paper coated with phosphorus,

along with a splinter of wood tipped with sulfur. When the splinter was


Friction Match: 1826, England

drawn through a folded paper, it burst into flames. This marked the first

demonstration of the principle of a chemical match. However, phosphorus

was scarce in those days, so matches were relegated to the status of a costly,

limited-quantity novelty. They disappeared before most Europeans-who

kindled fires with sparks from flint striking steel-knew they had existed.

The year 1817 witnessed a more dramatic attempt to produce a striking

match. A French chemist demonstrated to university colleagues his "Ethereal

Match." It consisted of a strip of paper treated with a compound of

phosphorus that ignited when exposed to air. The combustible paper was

sealed in an evacuated glass tube, the "match." To light the match, a person

smashed the glass and hastened to kindle a fire, since the paper strip burned

for only the length of a breath. The French match was not only ethereal

but ephemeral-as was its popularity.

Enter John Walker.

One day in 1826, Walker, the owner of an apothecary in Stockton-onTees,

was in a backroom laboratory, attempting to develop a new explosive.

Stirring a mixture of chemicals with a wooden stick, he noticed that a tearshaped

drop had dried to the stick's tip. To quickly remove it, he scraped

the drop against the laboratory's stone floor. The stick ignited and the

friction match was born in a blaze.

According to Walker'sjournal, the glob at the end of his stick contained

no phosphorus, but was a mixture of antimony sulfide, potassium chlorate,

gum, and starch. John Walker made himself several three-inch-Iong friction

matches, which he ignited for the amusement of friends by pulling them

between a sheet of coarse paper-as alchemist Hennig Brandt had done

two centuries earlier.

No one knows if John Walker ever intended to capitalize on his invention;

he never patented it. But during one of his demonstrations of the threeinch

match in London, an observer, Samuel Jones, realized the invention's

commercial potential and set himself up in the match business. J ones named

his matches Lucifers. Londoners loved the ignitable sticks, and commerce

records show that following the advent of matches, tobacco smoking of all

kinds greatly accelerated.

Early matches ignited with a fireworks of sparks and threw off an odor

so offensive that boxes of them carried a printed warning: "If possible,

avoid inhaling gas. Persons whose lungs are delicate should by no means

use Lucifers." In those days, it was the match and not the cigarette that

was believed to be hazardous to health.

The French found the odor of British Lucifers so repellent that in 1830,

a Paris chemist, Charles Sauria, reformulated a combustion compound based

on phosphorus. Dr. Sauria eliminated the match's smell, lengthened its

burning time, but unwittingly ushered in a near epidemic of a deadly disease

known as "phossy jaw." Phosphorus was highly poisonous. Phosphorus

matches were being manufactured in large quantities. Hundreds of factory

workers developed phossy jaw, a necrosis that poisons the body's bones,


Around the Kitchen

especially those of the jaw. Babies sucking on match heads developed the

syndrome, which caused infant skeletal deformities. And scraping the heads

off a single pack of matches yielded enough phosphorus to commit suicide

or murder; both events were reported.

As an occupational hazard, phosphorus necrosis plagued factory workers

in both England and America until the first nonpoisonous match was introduced

in 1911 by the Diamond Match Company. The harmless chemical

used was sesquisulfide of phosphorus. And as a humanitarian gesture, which

won public commendation from President Taft, Diamond forfeited patent

rights, allowing rival companies to introduce nonpoisonous matches. The

company later won a prestigious a,ward for the elimination of an occupational


The Diamond match achieved another breakthrough. French phosphorus

matches lighted with the slightest fiction, producing numerous accidental

fires. Many fires in England, France, and America were traced to kitchen

rodents gnawing on match heads at night. The Diamond formula raised

the match's point of ignition by more than 100 degrees. And experiments

proved that rodents did not find the poisonless match head tempting even

if they were starving.

Safety Match. Invented by German chemistry professor Anton von

Schrotter in 1855, the safety match differed from other matches of the day

in one significant regard: part of the combustible ingredients (still poisonous)

were in the head of the match, part in the striking surface on the box.

Safety from accidental fire was a major concern of early match manufacturers.

However, in 1892, when an attorney from Lima, Pennsylvania,

Joshua Pusey, invented the convenience he called a matchbook, he flagrantly

ignored precaution. Pusey's books contained fifty matches, and they had

the striking surface on the inside cover, where sparks frequently ignited

other matches. Three years later, the Diamond Match Company bought

Pusey's patent and moved the striking surface to the outside, producing a

design that has remained unchanged for ninety years. Matchbook manufacturing

became a quantity business in 1896 when a brewing company

ordered more than fifty thousand books to advertise its product. The size

of the order forced the creation of machinery to mass-manufacture matches,

which previously had been dipped, dried, assembled, and affixed to books

by hand.

The brewery's order also launched the custom of advertising on matchbook

covers. And because of their compactness, their cheapness, and their

scarcity in foreign countries, matchbooks were also drafted into the field

of propaganda. In the 1940s, the psychological warfare branch of the U.S.

military selected matchbooks to carry morale-lifting messages to nations

held captive by the Axis powers early in World War II. Millions of books

with messages printed on their covers-in Burmese, Chinese, Greek,

French, Spanish, Dutch, Italian, and English-were dropped by Allied


Blender: 1922, Racine, Wisconsin

planes behind enemy lines. And prior to the invasion of the Philippines,

when native morale was at a wartime low, American aircraft scattered four

million matchbooks bearing the promise: "I Shall Return-Douglas

MacArthur. "

Today Americans alone strike more than five hundred billion matches a

year, about two hundred billion of those from matchbooks.

Blender: 1922, Racine, Wisconsin

Popular legend has it that Fred Waring, the famous 1930s bandleader of

the "Pennsylvanians," invented the blender to liquefy fruits and vegetables

for a relative suffering from a swallowing ailment.

Though this is not entirely correct, the bandleader did finance the development

and marketing of a food liquefier named the Waring Blendorwhich

he insisted be spelled with an 0 to distinguish his machine from the

competition. And it was the promotional efforts of his Waring Mixer Corporation,

more than anything else in the 1930s, that acquainted the American

public with the unique new blending device.

But Fred Waring never had a relative with a swallowing problem. And

his interest in the blender was not to liquefy meals but to mix daiquiris, his

favorite drink. In fact, the Waring Blendor, which sold in the '30s for

$29.95, was pitched mainly to bartenders.

The actual inventor of the blender (initially known as a "vibrator") was

Stephen]. Poplawski, a Polish-American from Racine, Wisconsin, who from

childhood displayed an obsession with designing gadgets to mix beverages.

While Waring's blender was intended to mix daiquiris, Poplawski's was

designed to make malted milk shakes, his favorite drink. Opposite as their

tastes were, their paths would eventually intersect.

In 1922, after seven years of experimentation, Poplawski patented a

blender, writing that it was the first mixer to have an "agitating element

mounted in the bottom of a cup," which mixed malteds when "the cup was

placed in a recess in the top of the base."

Whereas Fred Waring would pitch his blender to bartenders, Stephen

Poplawski envisioned his mixer behind the counter of every soda fountain

in America. And Racine, Poplawski's hometown, seemed the perfect place

to begin, for it was home base of the Horlick Corporation, the largest

manufacturer of the powdered malt used in soda fountain shakes. As

Poplawski testified years later, during a 1953 patent litigation and after his

company had been purchased by Oster Manufacturing, "In 1922 I just

didn't think of the mixer for the maceration of fruits and vegetables."

Enter Fred Waring.

On an afternoon in the summer of 1936, the bandleader and his Pennsylvanians

had just concluded one of their Ford radio broadcasts in Manhattan's

Vanderbilt Theater, when a friend demonstrated one of Poplawski's

blenders for Waring. This device, the friend claimed, could become a stan-


Mixers, c. 1890, that

predate the blender and

food processor. (Left to

right) Magic Milk

Shake Vibrator, Egg

Aerater, Egg Beater.

dard feature of every bar in the country. He sought Fred Waring's financial

backing, and the bandleader agreed.

The mixer was redesigned and renamed, and in September of 1936 it

debuted at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago's Furniture Mart as

the Waring Blendor. Highlighted as a quick, easy method for mixing frothy

daiquiris and other iced bar drinks, and with beverage samples dispensed,

Waring's device attracted considerably more attention than Stephen

Poplawski's malted milk machine.

The Waring Blendor really caught the American public's eye when the

Ron Rico Rum Company launched a coast-to-coast campaign, instructing

bartenders and home owners on the exotic rum drinks made possible by

the blender. Ironically, by the early 1950s, blenders had established themselves

so firmly in public and home bars and in restaurants that attempts

to market them for kitchen use-for cake mixes, purees, and sauces-met

with abysmal failure. To reeducate the homemaker, Fred Waring took to

the road, demonstrating his blender's usefulness in whipping up his own

recipes for hollandaise sauce and mayonnaise. Still, the public wanted


Determined to entice the housewife, the Waring company introduced

designer-colored blenders in 1955. An ice crusher attachment in 1956. A

coffee grinder head in 1957. And the following year, a timing control. Sales

increased. As did blender competition.

The Oster company launched an intensive program on "Spin Cookery,"

offering entire meals developed around the blender. They opened Spin

Cookery Schools in retail stores and mailed housewives series of "Joan

Oster Recipes."

In the late 1950s, an industry war known as the "Battle of the Buttons"


The first blenders had only two speeds, "Low" and "High." Oster doubled

the ante with four buttons, adding "Medium" and "Off." A competitor


Aluminum Foil: 1947, Louisville, Kentucky

introduced "Chop" and "Grate." Another touted "Dice" and "Liquify."

Another "Whip" and "Puree." By 1965, Oster boasted eight buttons; the

next year, Waring introduced a blender with nine. For a while, it seemed

as if blenders were capable of performing any kitchen chore. In 1968, a

housewife could purchase a blender with fifteen different buttons-though

many industry insiders conceded among themselves that the majority of

blender owners probably used only three speeds-low, medium, and high.

Nonetheless, the competitive frenzy made a prestige symbol out of blenders

(to say nothing of buttons). Whereas in 1948 Americans purchased only

215,000 blenders (at the average price of $38), 127,500,000 mixers were

sold in 1970, and at a low price of $25 a machine.

Aluminum Foil: 1947, Louisville, Kentucky

It was the need to protect cigarettes and hard candies from moisture that

led to the development of aluminum wrap for the kitchen.

In 1903, when the young Richard S. Reynolds went to work for his uncle

the tobacco king R. R. Reynolds, cigarettes and loose tobacco were wrapped

against moisture in thin sheets of tin-lead. After mastering this foil technology,

in 1919 R.S. established his own business, the U.S. Foil Co., in

Louisville, Kentucky, supplying tin-lead wraps to the tobacco industry, as

well as to confectioners, who found that foil gave a tighter seal to hard

candies than did wax paper. When the price of aluminum (still a relatively

new and unproven metal) began to drop in the late '20s, R. S. Reynolds

moved quickly to adapt it as a cigarette and candy wrap.

Reynolds believed that lightweight, noncorrosive aluminum had a bright

future, and soon his expanded company, Reynolds Metals, offered home

owners an impressive list of firsts: aluminum siding and windows, aluminum

boats, and a competitive line of aluminum pots, pans, and kitchen utensils.

But the product that introduced most Americans to the benefits of alu~

minum was Reynolds's 1947 breakthrough: 0.0007-inch-thick aluminum

foil, a spin-off of the technological know-how he had acquired in over two

decades of developing protective wraps.

Lightweight, nonrusting, nontoxic, paper:thin, the product conducted

heat rapidly, sealed in moisture, and for refrigerating foods it was odorproof

and lightproof. Homeware historians claim that few if any products this

century were more rapidly and favorably welcomed into American homes

than aluminum foil. In fact, the kitchen wrap, with its remarkable properties,

is credited with winning Americans over to all sorts of other aluminum


Today aluminum has an almost unimaginable number of applications: in

the space program; in the fields of medicine, construction, and communications;

in the soft-drink and canning industries. Given the scientific convention

of characterizing ages of technological development by reference

to the predominant metal of the time-as with the Iron Age and the Bronze


Around the Kitchen

Age-archaeologists centuries hence may identify the Aluminum Age, which

dawned circa 1950, ushered in by the inhabitants of North America with

a foil used in the ritual preservation of their foods.

Food Processor: 1947, England

No one could have predicted a decade earlier that the Cuisinart and scores

of less expensive imitations would transform 1980s America into a food

processor society. When the Cuisinart was unveiled at the Chicago Housewares

Show in January 1973, the country's department store buyers failed

to see the machine as anything more than a souped-up blender with a highclass

price tag. After all, blender sales then were near their all-time peak,

and their price was at a then all-time competitive low.

In England and France, however, the food processor was already an

invaluable kitchen appliance for many professional and amateur chefs. Designed

by British inventor Kenneth Wood, and marketed in 1947 as the

Robot Kenwood Chef, the first powerful machine came with a variety of

fitted accessories: juice squeezer, pasta wheel, flour mill, can opener, slicer,

shredder, mixer, mincer, and centrifuge. Wood's versatile food processor,

though, was not the prototype for the American Cuisinart. That would

come from France.

In 1963, French inventor and chef Pierre Verdun introduced his own

processor, the Robot-coup. It consisted of a cylindrical tank with an inner

knife revolving close to the bottom .and walls. The device was popular with

professional chefs, and to tap the home market, Verdun created the more

compact, streamlined Magimix in 1971.

That year, a retired electronics engineer from Connecticut, Carl

Sontheimer, who was an amateur chef, was scouting a Paris housewares

show in search of a spare-time project. Impressed with the compact machine

that could grind, chop, mince, slice, puree, pulverize, mix, and blend,

Sontheimer secured U.S. distribution rights and shipped a dozen processors

to Connecticut.

At home, he analyzed the machine's strengths and shortcomings, incorporated

improvements, and turned each revamped device over to his wife

for kitchen testing. Christening his best design Cuisinart, he readied it for

the 1973 Chicago Housewares Show.

Undaunted by the Cuisinart's tepid reception from houseware buyers,

Sontheimer undertook a personal cross-country campaign to convince

America's best-known chefs and food writers of the machine's potential.

Sontheimer was not surprised that every person who took the time to test

the Cuisinart became a food processor disciple, spreading the word by

mouth, newspaper column, or magazine article. As sales steadily increased,

competing manufacturers offered food processors with refinements and

attachments, recalling the blender's "Battle of the Buttons" era. By the

late 1970s, the Cuisinart alone was selling at the rate of a half-million ma-


Can Opener: 1858, Waterbury, Connecticut

chines a year. Blenders still sold in handsome numbers, but the food processor

had, ironically, largely relegated the blender to Fred Waring and

Stephen Poplawski's original intention-mixing drinks.

Can Opener: 1858, Waterbury, Connecticut

It seems hard to believe that a half century elapsed between the birth of

the metal can and the dawn of the first practical can opener. How, during

those fifty years, did people open canned foods?

The can-or "tin cannister," as it was first called-was developed in

England in 1810 by British merchant Peter Durand and used to supply

rations to the Royal Navy under a government contract. Though it was

introduced as a means of food preservation in America as early as 1817,

the can was virtually ignored until 1861, when the twenty-three Northern

states of the Union fought the eleven Southern states of the Confederacy.

The American Civil War, with its resultant need for preserved military rations,

popularized the can in the United States the way the War of 1812

had done in Britain. By 1895, canned foods were a familiar sight on American

grocery store shelves.

But despite Peter Durand's great ingenuity in having devised canned

foods, he overlooked entirely the need for a special device to get into a

can. British soldiers in 1812 tore open canned rations with bayonets, pocket

knives, or, all else failing, rifle fire. A can of veal taken on an Arctic expedition

in 1824 by British explorer Sir William Parry carried the instructions:

"Cut round on the top with a chisel and hammer." In fact, some

warfare historians make the earnest claim that the bayonet, first designed

by a blacksmith in the French city of Bayonne, was intended for use not as

a weapon but as a can opener.

Even the Englishman William Underwood, who in the early 1800s established

in New Orleans America's first cannery, saw no need to produce a

special device for opening his product. His advice, standard for the day,

was to employ whatever tools were available around the house.

Not all this oversight, however, was due to widespread stupidity on two

continents. In truth, early cans were large, thick-walled, often made of iron,

and sometimes heavier than the foods they contained; Sir William Parry's

can of veal weighed, when empty, more than a pound. Only when thinner

cans of steel, with a rim round the top, came into general use, in the late

1850s, did a can opener have the possibility of being a simple device.

The first patented can opener (opposed to home tools and weapons) was

the 1858 invention of Ezra J. Warner of Waterbury, Connecticut. Still, it

was a cumbersome, forbidding device. Part bayonet, part sickle, its large

curved blade was driven into a can's rim, then forceably worked around its

periphery. A slip could draw more than an ouch. American families, already

adept at their own can-opening procedures, ignored Warner's inventionwhich

was kept from extinction only through its adoption by the U.S. military


Around the Kitchen

(as a can opener) during the Civil War.

The can opener as We appreciate it today-with a cutting wheel that rolls

round the can's rim-was the brainchild of American inventor William W.

Lyman, who patented the device in 1870. Revolutionary in concept and

design, it won immediate acclaim, and in its long history underwent only

one major improvement. In 1925, the Star Can Opener Company of San

Francisco modified Lyman's device by adding a serrated rotation wheelnamed

the "feed wheel," since the can being opened rotated, for the first

time, against the wheel. The basic principle continues to be used on modern

can openers, and it was the basis of the first electric can opener, introduced

in December 1931.

Thermos Bottle: 1892, England

The vacuum thermos bottle, a picnic plus, was developed not to maintain

the temperature of hot coffee or iced lemonade but to insulate laboratory

gases. It was a nineteenth-century scientific apparatus that found its way

into twentieth-century homes.

"Dewar's flask," as it was called in the 1890s, was never patented by its

inventor, the British physicist Sir James Dewar. He viewed his breakthrough

vessel as a gift to the scientific community, and his original container is on

display at London's Royal Institute. As simple as the vacuum-walled thermos

bottle is in principle, it was two hundred years in the making.

The insulating properties of a vacuum were understood in 1643 when

Italian physicist Evangelista Torricelli invented the mercury barometer,

forerunner of all thermometers. Early problems with the thermos involved

maintaining the vacuum once it was created, and employing a thermally

nonconductive material (like rubber, virtually unknown to most Europeans

in the first half of the seventeenth century) to seal all points of contact

between the inner and outer vessels.

James Dewar, in 1892, successfully constructed a container with insulated

inner and outer glass walls sealing an evacuated space; and to further diminish

heat transfer by radiation, he silvered the inner glass. Scientists used

Dewar's flask to store vaccines and serums at stable temperatures, and even

to transport rare tropical fish. Dewar's gift to the British scientific establishment

would become his German assistant's ticket to fortune.

Laboratory vacuum flasks were manufactured for Dewar by a professional

glass blower, Reinhold Burger, partner in a Berlin firm specializing in glass

scientific apparatus. It was Burger who realized the vacuum bottle's broad

commercial applications, and designing a smaller home version, with a metal

exterior to protect the delicate glass walls (absent from Dewar's model), he

secured a German patent in 1903. Seeking a name for his flask, and hoping

to drum up publicity at the same time, Burger promoted a contest, offering

a cash prize for the most imaginative suggestion. The winning entry was

Thermos, Greek for "heat."


Toaster: 1910, United States

An American businessman, William B. Walker, traveling in Berlin in 1906,

was impressed with the thermos and within three months was importing

thermoses into the United States. Campers, hunters, and housewives purchased

them so quickly that Walker secured German patent rights and set

up his own manufacturing operation, the American Thermos Bottle Company

of New York. A quart-size thermos sold for $7.50; the pint size for


What contributed to the thermos's rapid acceptance, say industry leaders,

was the fact that the flasks were used and praised by notable men in history.

President William Taft used a thermos in the White House; Sir Ernest

Shackleton carried one to the South Pole; Lieutenant Robert Peary brought

one to the North Pole; Sir Edmund Hillary took one up Mount Everest;

and thermoses flew with the Wright brothers and Count Zeppelin. Pictured

in the hands of prominent men, invariably commented upon in newspapers

and in magazine articles on exploration, the thermos, without Madison

Avenue's assistance, received a tremendous amount of favorable press in

a relatively short time. 'And from the American public's standpoint, if a

thermos was dependable enough to take to the farthest reaches of the

globe; surely it would keep soup warm on a picnic.

Until July 1970, the word ' 'Thermos'' was a patented trademark. It was

only after a lengthy court battle between rival manufacturers that the U.S.

courts ruled that "thermos has become and is now a generic term in the

English language."

Toaster: 1910, United States

Ever since the Egyptians began baking bread, around 2600 B.C., man has

eaten toast, although the reasons for parching bread today are different

from those of the past.

The Egyptians toasted bread not to alter its taste or texture but to remove

moisture, as a form of preservation. Quite simply, a parched slice of bread,

harboring fewer molds and spores, had a longer shelf life in the Egyptian


For over four thousand years, people throughout the world toasted bread

as the Egyptians had: skewered on a prong and suspended over a fire. Even

the device that eighteenth-century Britons and Americans called a "toaster"

was nothing more than two long-handled forks, crudely connected, that

sandwiched the bread over the flames. Given the vagaries of the fireplace,

each slice of toast was guaranteed a unique appearance.

A contraption heralded in the nineteenth century as a toasting revolution

did not significantly alter the nonuniformity of slices of toast. Named the

Toaster Oven, it was the first regularly manufactured toaster in America.

Constructed as a cage of tin and wire, it sat over the opening in a coalpowered

stove and held four slices of bread tilted toward the center. Rising

heat from the fire gradually darkened one side of the bread, which was


Around the Kitchen

watched diligently. Then the bread was turned over.

The arrival of electricity, and later of timers, changed all that.

Electric toasters appeared soon after the turn of the century-skeletal,

naked-wire structures, without housing or shells. They lacked heat controls,

so bread still had to be watched moment to moment. But the great advantage

of the electric toaster was that in order to enjoy a slice of toast at any time

of day, a person did not have to fire up the entire stove. This feature was

prominently touted in the summer of 1910, in a Westinghouse advertisement

in the Saturday Evening Post announcing the company's electric model:

"Breakfast without going into the kitchen! Ready for service any hour of

the day or night." The copy promised that by simply plugging a toaster

into a wall socket, the owner could prepare toast in "any room in the

home." The luxury caught on; many wealthier families installed a toaster

in each bedroom. These status symbols, selling for $8.95, still required that

individual slices of bread be watched and flipped manually from side to


Pop-up Toaster. This convenience had its beginning in a plant in Stillwater,

Minnesota, where, during World War I, a master mechanic, Charles Strite,

decided to do something about the burnt toast served in the company

cafeteria. To circumvent the need for continual human attention, Strite

incorporated springs and a variable timer, and he filed the patent for his

pop-up toaster on May 29, 1919.

Receiving financial backing from friends, Strite oversaw production of

the first one hundred hand-assembled toasters, which were shipped to the

Childs restaurant chain. Every machine was returned, each requiring some

sort of mechanical adjustment. The restaurants, however, which were in

the volume toast business, loved the pop-up principle and waited patiently

for Strite to iron out the bugs in his invention.

The first pop-up toaster for the home, the Toastmaster, arrived on the

scene in 1926. It had a timing adjustment for the desired degree of darkness,

and when the toast reached the preseleCted state, it was ejected, rather

forcefully. The device stirred so much public interest that March 1927 was

designated National Toaster Month, and the advertisement running in the

March 5 issue of the Saturday Evening Post promised: "This amazing new

invention makes perfect toast every time! Without watching! Without turning!

Without burning!"

That was not entirely true.

The machine's overall operating temperature grew hotter and hotter

with each subsequent slice of bread toasted. The first slice, when Toastmaster

was coolest, was underdone. The second and third slices were usually as

desired. The fourth and later ones grew darker and darker. In fine print,

the operating manual recommended running the toaster once without

bread,just to warm it up; then, later, letting it cool down slightly. But these

were quiddities, to be ironed out by technicians. The automatic toaster had



Coffeepot: 1800, France

Whistling Teakettle: 1921, Germany

Teakettles were used by primitive societies, as were whistles. Among Mayan

ruins, archaeologists have unearthed two-thousand-year-old clay pots with

multiple whistle spouts. When water pours out of one hole, another emits

a faint, thin whistling noise. Whether or not the devices were history's first

whistling teakettles is unknown. But history does record that in 1921, while

touring a German teakettle factory, Joseph Block, a retired cookware executive

from New York, conceived such an idea.

Growing up in New York, Block had watched his father design a pressurized

potato cooker that whistled at the end of the cooking cycle. Years

later, at the Westphalia, Germany, teakettle plant, that memory spontaneously

awakened in Block's mind and suggested a variation. Intrigued by

the idea, the Germany factory produced thirty-six whistling teakettleswhich

went on sale at Wertheim's department store in Berlin at nine o'clock

one morning and sold out by noon.

The following year, the kettle debuted in America, at a Chicago housewares

fair. For the duration of the week-long show, Joseph Block kept at

least one demonstration kettle whistling continuously. The sound drove

store buyers to other exhibits, but not before many of them placed orders.

Wanamaker's in New York took forty-eight kettles and discovered that the

whistling one-dollar novelty attracted customers in droves from other

counters into the housewares department. And the retired Joseph Block

found himself back in business, selling department stores across the nation

35,000 whistling teakettles a month.

Block was the first to admit that his invention made no great contribution

to the American kitchen, but it did bring a smile of amusement to the lips

of those who stopped to listen to the high-pitched sound, especially children-

who may have duplicated the reaction of Mayan children to their

pots that whistled.

Coffeepot: 1800, France

Coffee has been a favorite food (the beans were chewed for four hundred

years) and beverage ever since its discovery by an Ethiopian goatherder

named Kaldi in A.D. 850. But no commercial device such as a coffeepot

existed for brewing ground beans until the introduction of the French

biggin in 1800. During those intervening centuries, in the many countries

that prodigiously consumed coffee, people prepared the drink simply by

boiling ground beans in water and pouring the mixture through a filter of

their own design. Bags of grounds came with the standard instruction to

boil until the coffee "smelled good."

The biggin, simple as it was, became a welcome kitchen accessory.

Created by nineteenth-century French pharmacist R. Descroisilles, it

consisted of two slender metal containers-available in tin, copper, or pew-


The quest fDr a perfect cup Df cDffee. The Filter PDt, c. 1870, mDdeled Dn the

Biggin; Coffee Warmer; CDffee BDiler (IDwer right), in which grDunds were

bDiled until the brew. "smelled gDDd, " then the liquid was strained.

ter-separated by a plate containing holes, the filter. Around 1850, French

manufacturers introduced the first porcelain-enameled biggins.

The first American adaptation of the biggin was patented in 1873. The

single-chamber cylinder contained a filter that was pressed down through

the mixture of grounds and hot water, forcing the grounds to the bottom

of the vessel. Unfortunately, filters were not always flush with the container's

walls, and a gritty drink might result. The problem annoyed one woman

enough to drive her to invent a better cup of coffee.

Melitta. In 1907, Mrs. Melitta Bentz of Germany began experimenting

with different materials to place between the two chambers of a biggin-like

coffeepot. A circle of cotton fabric cut out and placed over the pot's own

metal filter worked for a time, but the fabric soon shredded. She hit on a

near-perfect kind of heavy-duty, porous paper in 1908 when she cut out a

disk from a desk ink blotter, and the Melitta filter system was on its way

toward commercial development.

In America at that time, sales of all kinds of coffeepots were slow and

manufacturers conceived an idea that would be popular until the late '20sthe

combination of several functions into one appliance. A prime and successful

example was the Armstrong company's Perc-O-Toaster. It toasted

. bread, baked waffles, and perked coffee. But it was the. percolator part that

Americans loved best, and it was the percolator that in America won out

over all competing types of coffeepot in the first half of this century.


Pressure Cooker: 1679, England

Chemex. Next in the never-ending quest for the perfect cup of coffee

came the Chemex, in 1940. The brainchild of a German chemist, Dr. Peter

Schlumbohm, it embodied the Bauhaus design philosophy: a table must be

a table, a chair a chair, and a coffeepot should do nothing except make

great coffee.

Schlumbohm, who immigrated (0 America in 1939, adapted a trusty piece

of scientific laboratory equipment: a heat-tempered Pyrex pot. He added

no more than an inverted conical top that held filter paper and a measured

amount of finely ground coffee beans.

At first, major appliance makers turned down Schlumbohm's design.

Chemex, they argued, looked too simple to actually work. Finally, he persuaded

a buyer for Macy's Herald Square store in New York City to take

a Cherne x home overnight and prepare coffee with it the next morning.

Before noon, he received a phone call and an order for a hundred pots.

Corning Glass, developers of Pyrex, agreed to produce Chemex, but by

then World War II was in full force and the company notified Schlumbohm

that they could not legally manufacture a new product without priority

clearance from the War Production Board. The determined inventor wrote

directly to President Roosevelt, heading his letter, "Minima rex non cumt,"

"a king does not bother with details"-then adding, "Sed President cumt et

minima," "but a President cares even about details." A lover of good coffee, Roosevelt permitted Chemex to go into production.

A wartime clearance to produce the novelty of an all-glass coffeemaker,

at a time when almost all metal-coffeepot production had ceased, was more

than Dr. Schlumbohm had dreamed. Although he acquired some two

hundred patents for technological devices throughout his lifetime, none

would achieve the success of his simplest invention of all.

Pressure Cooker: 1679, England

At a London dinner party on the evening of April 12, 1682, the au~st

members of the Royal Society sat down to a meal such as they-or anyone

else-had never eaten before. Cooked by the invited guest, thirty-five-yearold

French inventor Denis Papin, a pioneer of steam power, the evening's

fare was prepared in Papin's latest marvel, the "steam digester."

Papin, an assistant to the renowned Irish physicist Robert Boyle, formulator

of the laws governing gases, had developed his steam digester in

1679. It was a metal container with a safety valve and a tightly fitting lid,

which increased internal steam pressure, raising a cooking liquid's boiling


Following the historic meal, the Royal Society's esteemed architect,

Christopher Wren, wrote that thanks to the steam digester, "the oldest and

hardest Cow-Beef may now be made as tender and savoury as young and


Around the Kitchen

choice meat"; one wonders what was served at the meal. Wren oversaw the

publication of a booklet, "A New Digester," which offered recipes for steamcooking

mutton, beef, lamb, rabbit, mackerel, eel, beans, peas, cherries,

gooseberries, plums, pike, and pigeon.

In the booklet, Papin astutely observed that pressure cooking preserved

more of a food's natural flavor and nutritive value. Other contributors

demonstrate the "bandwagon effect" of attempting to employ a new invention

for a multiplicity of purposes. The authors offer methods for steamcooking

desserts, punches, hot toddies, and puddings.

History's first pressure cooker bombed-figuratively and literally. Not

only did the majority of Londoners not take favorably to the idea of steamed

pike and pigeon, but those who purchased a digester and attempted its

recipes often ended up with 'the evening's meal on the kitchen wall. The

temperature vicissitudes of an open fire were no match for Papin's imperfect

safety valve. Several serious accidents were reported. Except for scientific

applications (as autoclaves), pressure vessels were forgotten for about a

hundred fifty years. It was French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte who was

responsible for the pressure cooker's reemergence.

In 1810, Napoleon, proclaiming that "an army moves on its stomach,"

was desperate to find a means of supplying preserved food to his troops.

The government offered a handsome prize for a solution to the problem.

Employing a modification of Papin's pressure cooker, French chef Nicholas

Appert developed the first practical method for cooking, sterilizing, and

bottling foods. For his preservation technique, Appert won the prize of

twelve thousand francs, and his methods reawakened interest in pressure


Manufacturers today claim that although pressure cookers, incorporating

high safety standards, sell in respectable numbers, the public'S main resistance

to them is the same as it was in Papin's day: fear of an explosion.

Disposable Paper Cup: 1908, New England

The small waxed paper cup that serves so well as a disposable drinking glass

and an individual ice cream container-to mention only two of its applications-

originated out of one man's frustrated attempts to market an

unlikely product: a drink of water. The penny drink of water never achieved

popularity, but the specially designed throwaway cup that held the water

started an industry.

The paper cup story begins in 1908, when an enterprising inventor,

Hugh Moore, produced a porcelain vending machine to dispense a cup of

pure, chilled drinking water. Similar to the later glass-tank office cooler,

Moore's Penny Water Vendor had three separate compartments: an upper

one for ice, a middle one for water, and a lower part to hold discarded

cups. Each machine bore a sign stating that no sanitary cup was ever reused.

Water was the commodity being sold, the cup an incidental.


Disposable Paper Cup: 1908, New England

In New York, the Anti-Saloon League immediately endorsed Moore's

water vendor. The League ran ads stating that each day thousands of

parched men, desiring nothing stronger than a drink of water, were driven

into saloons, where they were faced with "terrible temptation." Water

vending machines on public street corners was the path back to sobriety.

Several water vending machines were set up at transfer points of New

York City trolley lines, but no one bought Moore's water. Discouraged,

Moore wondered if it was possible to save his newly formed American Water

Supply Company of New England.

Opportunity appeared in the guise of a public health officer, Dr. Samuel

Crumbine. In those days, people drank water in most public places not

from individual glasses but from a tin sipper, which was seldom washed,

never sterilized, and used indiscriminately by the diseased and the healthy.

Dr. Crumbine had already begun an ardent crusade for a law banning

public drinking sippers. The entrepreneuring Moore and the healthconscious

Crumbine could help each other. There was a niche-a chasmfor

the disposable paper cup.

Financial backing was hard to obtain. Everyone Moore approached

scoffed at the thought of a disposable cup turning a profit, and most people

disbelieved the health threat from communal tin sippers. Fortunately, Moore

met a wealthy hypochondriac, a New York banker with a longtime dread

of the sipper, who promptly invested $200,000 in the venture. Virtually

overnight, in 1909, the American Water Supply Company of New England

was reincarnated as the Public Cup Vendor Company.

The scientific climate for success could not have turned balmier. That

same year, Kansas passed the first state law abolishing the sipper, concluding

that "disease was communicated to well persons who drank from the same

cup as did, for instance, tubercular persons." And a biology professor at

Lafayette College placed scrapings from several public sippers under a

microscope and published a report on the alarming varieties of germs


State after state began passing laws prohibiting the use of communal

sippers and recommending that individual drinking vessels be used in public

places. Moore again changed his company's name, this time to the Individual

Drinking Cup Company. Railroads, schools, and offices started" to buy disposable

pa,per cups, which now were regarded as a symbol of health.

"Health" became the public byword, and for a third time Moore renamed

his company, to Health Kups. Today, we might be purchasing ice cream in

Health Kups had Moore not eventually tired of that name and sought something

with a less antiseptic ring.

Dixie Cup. Hugh Moore's neighbor in the building where he manufactured

Health Kups was the Dixie Doll Company. One day in 1919, while attempting

to dream up a catchy new name for his organization, Moore glanced

at his neighbor's sign and recalled a story he had heard as a boy.


Around the Kitchen

In New Orleans before the Civil War, a bank note valued at ten dollars

was called a dix, French for "ten." Riverboat men referred to the notes as

"dixies," and they would announce that they were heading downriver "to

pick up some dixies." Etymologists believe this legend is the origin of the

word "dixie," as well as the sobriquet for the South, Dixie Land.

For Hugh Moore, Dixie had all the qualities he sought in a name. It had

brevity and a symmetrical handsomeness in print, and it tripped easily off

the tongue. Whereas Moore's previous and short-lived company names had

been calculated to capitalize on public sentiment, the Dixie Cup Company,

the only one to arrive in a spontaneous rush of inspiration, survived.

The name change came just as the ice cream industry was seeking a way

to increase Americans' consumption of their product. Ice cream was sold

only in bulk, A person could buy an individual soda, an individual candy

bar, but ice cream only came in a package large enough to feed an entire

family. Moore's company perfected the two-and-a-half-ounce cup with a

flat, pull-up lid fitting into a locking circumferential groove. It gave the

industry, and ice cream lovers everywhere, the first individual-size servings.

The association between Hugh Moore's cup and the dessert became so

strong that by 1925, adults and children ordered individual prepackaged

ice cream by the generic name Dixie Cup. Moore had finally hit on the

right product with the right name, and had been in the right place at the

right time.

Pyrex: 1915, Corning, New York

Etymologists, pursuing the ancient roots of contemporary words, often tell

the tale that Pyrex, the heat-tempered glass, was named by its creator, Jesse

Littleton, for the Greek word pyra, meaning "hearth." Logical as that

sounds, the remarkable glass actually derived its name from a much humbler

source: the word "pie," since the first Pyrex product to be manufactured

by Corning Glass Works was a circular nine-inch pie plate.

It is a cake, though, not a pie, that begins the Pyrex story.

On a morning in 1913, Dr. Jesse Littleton arrived at his laboratory at

the Corning Glass Works in Corning, New York, carrying a chocolate cake,

which he offered to his co-workers. It was delicious, they acknowledged

between bites, but cake for breakfast?

As Littleton later recounted, he said: "You fellows laughed at me when

I suggested that you could cook in glass, so I've brought you first-hand

evidence." The previous evening, Littleton had sawed off the bowl-shaped

bottom of a glass battery jar and asked his wife to bake a cake in it. The

noncorrosive, heat-tempered glass had been developed in Germany at the

end of the nineteenth century and had already found several industrial

applications. But no one before Littleton had thought of baking in it.

Corning introduced the first line of Pyrex ovenware in 1916, and as if

to convince scientific skeptics of the capabilities of tempered glass, one of


Microwave Oven: 1952, United States

the earliest advertisements ran in National Geographic. The public, impressed

by the novelty of baking in glass, purchased over 4.5 million Pyrex items

in the year 1919 alone-despite the fact that this early glassware was thick,

heavy, slightly discolored, and marred by numerous internal hairline cracks

and bubble blisters.

But cooking involves more than baking, and Littleton realized that if

Pyrex was to become a major contender in the cookware field, it would

have to withstand the stove top's open flame.

For more than a decade, technicians experimented with ways of strengthening

the glass-for example, by rapid air-chilling, or by immersion in cold

oil baths. After numerous failures, they hit on the technique of slightly

altering the composition of the glass itself. Months of patient testing followed,

in which Corning scientists boiled and fried more than eighteen

thousand pounds of potatoes in glass vessels.

Finally, in 1936, Corning announced a line of flame-resistant Pyrex. Now

glass utensils could be used for cooking as well as baking. The perfection

of heat-tempered and flame-tempered ware laid the technical groundwork

for a greater challenge: child-tempered, unbreakable dinnerware that had

the look and feel of fine china. After years of experimentation, and tens

of thousands of broken plates, the product debuted in 1970 as Corelle


Microwave Oven: 1952, United States

Microwave cooking can accurately be described as the first absolutely new

method of preparing food since Homo erectus's discovery of fire a million

and a half years ago. The claim is justified by the fact that in microwave

cooking there is no application of fire, or of a fiery element, direct or

indirect, to the food. Pure electromagnetic energy agitates the water molecules

in food, producing sufficient heat for cooking.

The electronic tube that produces microwave energy-a magnetronwas

in use a decade before the birth of the microwave oven. It was the

ingenious 1940 invention of Sir John Randall and Dr. H. A. Boot, perfected

at England's Birmingham University. The thoughts of the two scientists

were focused not on how to roast a turkey but on how to cook the Nazis'

goose. For the magnetron was essential to Britain's radar defenses during

World War II.

Thoughts of cooking with the internal heat of microwaves did not occur

until after the war years-and then entirely as a result of an accident.

One day in 1946, Dr. Percy Spencer, an engineer with Raytheon Company,

was testing a magnetron tube when he reached into his pocket for a

candy bar. He discovered that the chocolate had melted to a soft, gooey

mess. Well aware that microwaves generate heat, he wondered if the candy

had been critically close to radiation leaking from the tube. He'd sensed

no heat. Too intrigued to be irritated over a pair of soiled trousers, he sent


Around the Kitchen

out for a bag of popcorn kernels, placed them near the tube, and within

minutes, kernels were popping over the laboratory floor.

The following morning, Spencer brought a dozen raw eggs to the laboratory.

He cut a hole in a pot, placed an egg inside, and aligned the hole

with the magnetron. A curious colleague, leaning a bit too close, ended up

with egg on his face. Spencer immediately realized that the egg had cooked

from the inside out, pressure having caused the shell to burst. If an egg

could be cooked so quickly and unconventionally with microwaves, thought

Spencer, why not other foods?

Raytheon set out to develop a commercial microwave oven, and within

a few years announced the Radar Range-which in size more closely resembled

a refrigerator, though its actual cooking space was quite modest.

The Radar Range suffered from a problem characteristic of all electronic

devices before the advent of microminiaturization: most of its bulk housed

vacuum tubes, cooling fans, and a Medusan tangle of wires. Although some

Radar Ranges sold to restaurants, from the consumer standpoint the product

was unmemorable.

Not until 1952 could a home owner purchase a domestic microwave

oven. Produced by the Tappan Company, the oven had two cooking speeds,

an on-off switch, and a twenty-one-minute timer; it retailed for $1,295.

Despite the steep price tag, the Tappan oven, and later the Hotpoint model,

generated unprecedented enthusiasm at houseware shows throughout the

, 50s. American homemakers had not yet become microwave cooking converts

in large numbers, but sales of the ovens, year by year, had already

begun the steady upward trend that has yet to abate.

Plastic: 1900, United States

In plastic's early days, the product seemed at times like a science fiction

movie prop. Plastic strainers washed in hot water twisted and curled. Plastic

refrigerator storage bowls exposed to cold cracked open. Plastic trays for

flatware melted and oozed in a sunny kitchen.

People complained that plastic was ersatz, and bad ersatz at that. In a

way, they were right.

Plastic was actually developed as an inexpensive substitute for ivory. The

plastics industry in America was born in 1868, when a serious shortage of

ivory prompted a New England manufacturer of ivory billiard balls to offer

a ten-thousand-dollar prize for a suitable substitute.

A young printer from Albany, New York, John Wesley Hyatt, met that

challenge and won the prize with a product he christened Celluloid and

registered as a trademark in 1872.

Hyatt did not actually develop Celluloid himself but acquired the British

patent for it in 1868 from a Birmingham professor of natural science,

Alexander Parkes. Around 1850, Parkes was experimenting with a labo-




Celluloid shirtfronts, cuffs, collars, and comb. Developed as a substitute for

ivory, Celluloid ushered in the era of synthetic1abric clothing such as acrylic

sweaters, polyester pants, and nylon stockings.

ratory chemical, nitrocellulose. Mixing it with camphor, he discovered that

the compound formed a hard but flexible transparent material, which he

called Parkesine. He teamed up with a manufacturer to produce it, but

there was no market in the early 1850s for the thin, transparent plastic

film-which in a short time would revolutionize still photography and give

birth to the field of cinematography. Dr. Parkes was only too glad to sell

patent rights for the useless novelty to John Hyatt.

With his prize money, Hyatt began manufacturing ersatz-ivory billiard

balls in Newark, New Jersey. But he almost immediately realized that Celluloid

was too versatile a compound for only one application.

By 1890, Celluloid was a household word in America. Men shot Celluloid

billiard balls while wearing high, "wipe-clean" Celluloid collars, cuffs, and

shirtfronts. Women proudly displayed their Celluloid combs, hand mirrors,

and jewelry. The elderly began to wear the first Celluloid dental plates, and

children were playing with the world's first Celluloid toys. Ivory had never

enjoyed such popularity.

Celluloid was the world's first plastic and its heyday was hastened by two

monumental developments. American inventor George Eastman introduced

Celluloid photographic film in his Kodak cameras in 1889, and then Thomas

Edison conceived of Celluloid strips as just the thing to make motion


In any room-temperature application, the world's first plastic performed

admirably; the science fiction nightmares occurred only after manufacturers


Around the Kitchen

introduced plastic into the extreme hot and cold temperatures of the


A new plastics breakthrough, though, was just over the horizon: Bakelite,

a seemingly indestructible material that could be produced in a rainbow of

designer colors-and would lead to the development of nylon stockings

and Tupperware.

Bakelite. Celluloid was developed as an ivory substitute; Bakelite was conceived

as a durable replacement for rubber, for when rubber was used on

the handle of a frying pan, or as the head of an electrical plug for a toaster

or an iron, it dried out and cracked. Bakelite's creator, Leo Hendrik Baekeland,

would become famous as the "father of plastics," responsible for the

modern plastics industry.

Born in Belgium in 1863 and trained in the latest organic chemistry

techniques at the University of Ghent, Baekeland transformed everything

he touched into an imaginative, practical marvel. One of his early triumphs

after settling in Yonkers, New York, was a photographic paper that allowed

the taking of pictures in indoor artificial light instead of the strong sunlight

previously required. He sold the paper to George Eastman of Kodak in

1899 for three-quarters of a million dollars, confirming his faith in the

opportunities available in America.

Equipping himself with an elaborate home laboratory, Baekeland began

the search for a rubber substitute. A notebook entry in June 1907, commenting

on a certain mixture of phenols, formaldehyde, and bases, reveals

that he had hit upon something special: "solidified matter yellowish and

hard ... looks promising ... it will be worth while to determine how far

this mass is able to make moulded materials .... [It may] make a substitute

for celluloid and for hard rubber."

A later entry records: "I consider these days very successful work ....

Have applied for a patent for a substance which I shall call Bakelite."

Bakelite was the first in a long line of so-called thermoset plasticssynthetic

materials that, having been shaped under heat and pressure, become

rock hard and resistant to heat, acids, and electric currents. And the

fact that it could be tinted in a variety of hues increased its popularity. In

shades of black and deep brown, Bakelite became the handles of kitchen

pots and pans, the heads of electrical plugs, and the dials of radios. And

in the '20s, Bakelite fit right in with the flowing lines and glossy finishes of

art deco design. The toast of society as well as industry, Leo Hendrik Baekeland

appeared on the cover of Time magazine in September 1924. Plastic,

once the ugly duckling of the housewares industry, had become its darling.

With the chemistry gleaned from the development of Celluloid and Bakelite,

a whole new lines of household products entered the marketplace. The

everyday, commonplace products-all synthetic polymers-are notable

because their raw materials are utterly original in history. Whereas man

for 100,000 years had employed his innate ingenuity to shape nature's


Tupperware: 1948, United States

rocks, woods, and minerals into useful tools and utensils, with the start of

the twentieth century he used his acquired learning to fashion long chains

of molecules, called polymers, that were unknown to his predecessors, unavailable

in nature, and probably unique in the five-billion-year life of the

planet-if not in the fifteen-billion-year history of the universe.

In the chronological (and rapid) order of their debuts, giving early applications,

the miracle plastics were:

• Cellophane, 1912-a transparent food wrap

• Acetate, 1927-soap dishes, bathroom tumblers

• Vinyl, 1928-tablecloths, garment bags, shower curtains

• Plexiglas, 1930-wall partitions, windows, boats

• Acrylics, 1936-novelty items, sweaters

• Melmac, 1937-dinnerware

• Styrene, 1938-drinking glasses, refrigerator egg trays

• Formica, 1938-kitchen countertop laminate; developed as a substitute

for mica, a naturally occurring, heat-resistant mineral

• Polyester, 1940-clothing

• Nylon, 1940-toothbrush handles and bristles (see page 209), stockings

(see page 346)

Tupperware: 1948, United States

To assume that Tupperware, developed by Massachusetts inventor Earl S.

Tupper, is nothing more than another type of plastic container is to underestimate

both the Dionysian fervor of a Tupperware party and the versatility

of polyethylene, a synthetic polymer that appeared in 1942. Soft,

pliant, and extremely durable, it ranks as one of the most important of

household plastics.

Among polyethylene's earliest molders was Du Pont chemist Earl Tupper,

who since the 1930s had had the dream of shaping plastics into everything

from one-pint leftover bowls to twenty-gallon trash barrels. Tupper immediately

grasped the important and lucrative future of polyethylene.

In 1945, he produced his first polyethylene item, a seven-ounce bathroom

tumbler. Its seamless beauty, low cost, and seeming indestructibility impressed

department store buyers. A year later, a trade advertisement announced

"one of the most sensational products in modern plastics," featuring

Tupper's tumblers "in frosted pastel shades oflime, crystal, raspberry,

lemon, plum and orange, also ruby and amber."

Next Tupper developed polyethylene bowls, in a variety of sizes and with

a revolutionary new seal: slight flexing of the bowl's snug-fitting lid caused

internal air to be expelled, creating a vacuum, while external air pressure

reinforced the seal.

Plastic kitchen bowls previously were rigid; Tupper's were remarkably

pliant. And attractive. The October 1947 issue of House Beautiful devoted


Around the Kitchen

a feature story to them: "Fine Art for 39 cents."

As good a businessman as he was a molder, Earl Tupper took advantage

of the windfall national publicity afforded Tupperware. He devised a plan

to market the containers through in-home sales parties. By 1951, the operation

had become a multimillion-dollar business. Tupperware Home Parties

Inc. was formed and retail store sales discontinued. Within three years,

there were nine thousand dealers staging parties in the homes of women

who agreed to act as hostesses in exchange for a gift. The firm's 1954 sales

topped $25 million.

Satisfied with the giant industry he had created, Earl Tupper sold his

business to Rexall Drugs in 1958 for an estimated nine million dollars and

faded from public view. Eventually, he became a citizen of Costa Rica,

where he died in 1983.


Chapter 6

In and Around the House

Central Heating: 1 st Century, Rome

There was a time when the hearth and not the cathode-ray tube was the

heart of every home. And though it would seem that electronic cathoderay

devices like television, video games, and home computers most distinguish

a modern home from one centuries ago, they do not make the quintessential


What does are two features so basic, essential, and commonplace that

we take them for granted-until deprived of them by a blackout or a downed

boiler. They are of course lighting and central heating. A crisis with these,

and all of a home's convenience gadgets offer little convenience.

Roman engineers at the beginning of the Christian era developed the

first central heating system, the hypocaust. The Stoic philosopher and

statesman Seneca wrote that several patrician homes had "tubes embedded

in the walls for directing and spreading, equally throughout the house, a

soft and regular heat." The tubes were of terra cotta and carried the pot

exhaust from a basement wood or coal fire. Archaeological remains of

hypocaust systems have been discovered throughout parts of Europe where

Roman culture once flourished.

The comfort of radiative heating was available only to the nobility, and

with the fall of the Roman Empire the hypocaust disappeared for centuries.

During the Dark Ages, people kept warlll by the crude methods primitive

man used: gathering round a fire, and wrapping themselves in heavy cloaks

of hide or cloth.


Louvre, Paris. Before its conversion into an art museum, the royal palace on the

Seine boasted one of the first modern hot-air systems for central heating.

In the eleventh century, huge centrally located fireplaces became popular

in the vast and drafty rooms of castles. But since their construction allowed

about eighty percent of the heat to escape up the chimney, people still had

to huddle close to the fire. Some fireplaces had a large wall of clay and

brick several feet behind the flames. It absorbed heat, then reradiated it

when the hearth fire began to die down. This sensible idea, however, was

used only infrequently until the eighteenth century.

A more modern device was employed to heat the Louvre in Paris more

than a century before the elegant royal palace on the Seine was converted

into an art museum. In 1642, French engineers installed in one room of

the Louvre a heating system that sucked room-temperature air through

passages around a fire, then discharged the heated air back into the room.

The air, continually reused, eventually became stale. A hundred years would

pass before inventors began devising ways to draw in fresh outdoor air to

be heated.

The first major revolution in home heating to affect large numbers of

people arrived with the industrial revolution in eighteenth-century Europe.

Steam energy and steam heat transformed society. Within a hundred

years of James Watt's pioneering experiments with steam engines, steam,

conveyed in pipes, heated schools, churches, law courts, assembly halls,

horticultural greenhouses, and the homes of the wealthy. The scalding surfaces

of exposed steam pipes severely parched the air, giving it a continual


Indoor Lighting: 50,000 Years Ago, Africa and Europe

odor of charred dust, but this trifling con was amply outweighed by the

comforting pro, warmth.

In America at this time, many homes had a heating system similar to the

Roman hypocaust. A large coal furnace in the basement sent heated air

through a network of pipes with vents in major rooms. Around 1880, the

system began to be converted to accommodate steam heat. In effect, the

coal furnace was used to heat a water tank, and the pipes that had previously

carried hot air now transported steam and hot water to vents that connected

to radiators.

Electric Heater. In the decade following home use of Edison's incandescent

lamp came the first electric room heater, patented in 1892 by British inventors

R. E. Crompton and J. H. Dowsing. They attached several turns of

a high-resistance wire around a flat rectangular plate of cast iron. The

glowing white-orange wire was set at the center of a metallic reflector that

concentrated heat into a beam.

The principle behind the device was simple, but the success of the electric

heater rested completely on homes' being wired for electricity, an occurrence

prompted almost entirely by Edison's invention. Improved models

of the prototype electric heater followed rapidly. Two of note were the

1906 heater of Illinois inventor Albert Marsh, whose nickel-and-chrome

radiating element could achieve white-hot temperatures without melting;

and the 1912 British heater that replaced the heavy cast-iron plate around

which the heating wire was wrapped with lightweight fireproof clay, resulting

in the first really efficient portable electric heater.

Indoor Lighting: 50,000 Years Ago, Africa and Europe

"The night cometh, when no man can work." That biblical phrase conveyed

earlier peoples' attitude toward the hours of darkness. And not until late

in the eighteenth century would there be any real innovation in home lighting.

But there were simply too many hours of darkness for man to sleep or

remain idle, so he began to conceive of ways to light his home artificially.

First was the oil lamp.

Cro-Magnon man, some fifty thousand years ago, discovered that a fibrous

wick fed by animal fat kept burning. His stone lamps were triangular, with

the wick lying in a saucerlike depression that also held the rank-smelling

animal fat. The basic principle was set for millennia.

Around 1300 B.C., Egyptians were lighting their homes and temples with

oil lamps. Now the base was of sculpted earthenware, often decorated; the

wick was made from papyrus; and the flammable material was the less malodorous

vegetable oil. The later Greeks and Romans favored lamps of

bronze with wicks of oakum or linen.

Until odorless, relatively clean-burning mineral oil (and kerosene) became


In and Around the House

widely available in the nineteenth century, people burned whatever was

cheap and plentiful. Animal fat stunk; fish oil yielded a brighter flame, but

not with olfactory impunity. All oils-animal and vegetable-were edible,

and in times of severe food shortage, they went into not the family lamp

but the cooking pot.

Oil lamps presented another problem: Wicks were not yet self-consuming,

and had to be lifted regularly with a forceps, their charred head trimmed

off. From Roman times until the seventeenth century, oil lamps often had

a forceps and a scissors attached by cord or chain.

To enable him to work throughout the night, Leonardo da Vinci invented

what can best be described as history'S first high-intensity lamp. A glass

cylinder containing olive oil and a hemp wick was immersed in a large glass

globe filled with water, which significantly magnified the flame.

There was, of course, one attractive alternative to the oil lamp: the candle.

Candle: Pre-1st Century, Rome

Candles, being entirely self-consuming, obliterated their own history. Their

origins are based, of necessity, on what early people wrote about them.

It appears that the candle was a comparative latecomer to home illumination.

The earliest description of candles appears in Roman writings of

the first century A.D.; and Romans regarded their new invention as an

inferior substitute for oil lamps-which then were elaborately decorative

works of art. Made of tallow, the nearly colorless, tasteless solid extract

from animal or vegetable fat, candles were also edible, and there are numerous

accounts of starving soldiers unhesitantly consuming their candle

rations. Centuries later, British lighthouse keepers, isolated for months at

a time, made eating candles almost an accepted professional practice.

Even the most expensive British tallow candles required regular halfhour

"snuffing," the delicate snipping off of the charred end of the wick

without extinguishing the flame. Not only did an un snuffed candle provide

a fraction of its potential illumination, but the low-burning flame rapidly

melted the remaining tallow. In fact, in a candle left untended, only 5

percent of the tallow was actually burned; the rest ran off as waste. Without

proper snuffing, eight tallow candles, weighing a pound, were consumed

in less than a half hour. A castle, burning hundreds of tallow candles weekly,

maintained a staff of "snuff servants."

Snuffing required great dexterity and judgment. Scottish lawyer and

writer James Boswell, the biographer of Samuel Johnson, had many occasions

to snuff tallow candles, not all successfully. He wrote in 1793: "I

determined to sit up all night, which I accordingly did and wrote a great

deal. About two o'clock in the morning I inadvertently snuffed out my

candle ... and could not get it re-Iumed."

Reluming a candle, when the household fire had been extinguished, could

be a time-consuming chore, since friction matches had yet to be invented.


Gaslight: 19th Century, England

Cervantes, in Don Quixote, comments on the frustrations of reluming a

candle from scraps of a fire's embers. Snuffing tallow candles so often

extinguished them, it is not surprising that the word "snuff" came to mean

"extinguish. "

Up until the seventeenth century, part of a theatrical troupe consisted

of a "snuff boy." Skilled in his art, he could walk onto a stage during a

scene's emotional climax to clip the charred tops from smoking candles.

While his entrance might go ignored, his accomplishment, if uniformly

successful, could receive a round of applause.

The art of snuffing died out with the widespread use of semi-evaporating

beeswax candles late in the seventeenth century. Beeswax was three times

the price of tallow, and the wax candles burned with a brighter flame.

British diarist Samuel Pepys wrote in 1667 that with the use of wax candles

at London's Drury Lane Theater, the stage was "now a thousand times

better and more glorious."

The Roman Catholic Church had already adopted the luxury of beeswax

candles, and the very rich employed them for special occasions that called

for extravagance. Household records of one of the great homes of Britain

show that during the winter of 1765, the inhabitants consumed more than

a hundred pounds of wax candles a month.

Luxury candles during the next century would be the glossy white beeswax

candle from England; a hard, yellow vegetable tallow from China; and the

green bayberry-scented candle from the northeastern coast of America.

Gaslight: 19th Century, England

Three thousand years ago, the Chinese burned natural gas to evaporate

brine and produce salt. And in parts of Europe, early fire-worshiping tribes

erected their temples around natural gas jets, igniting them to produce

eternal flames.

But lighting homes with gas did not occur until the nineteenth ceniuryabout

two hundred years after Belgian chemist Jan Baptista van Helmont

first manufactured coal gas. A scientist and a mystic, who believed in the

existence of a philosopher's stone for transforming base metals to gold,

Helmont bridged alchemy and chemistry. His work on coal gas encouraged

the French chemist Antoine Lavoisier to consider lighting Paris streets with

gaslamps; Lavoisier even constructed a prototype lamp in the 1780s. But

before his plans could be carried out, he was guillotined during the French


Not until the world's first gas company was established in London in

1813 did home gaslamps become a reality. Advances were rapid. German

scientist Robert von Bunsen diminished the annoying flickering of a pure

gas flame by premixing gas with air. And to greatly intensify gas's illumination,

a student of Bunsen's developed the gas mantle in 1885. Constructed

of thread dipped in thorium and cerium nitrate, the mantle, when initially


In and Around the House

lit, had its thread consumed, leaving behind a skeleton of carbonized compounds,

which glowed a brilliant greenish white. By 1860, gas illuminated

homes, factories, and city streets. Gas was such a clean, efficient, inexpensive

source of lighting that it seemed improbable that any other mode of illumination

would, or could, replace the gaslamp.

Electric Light: 1878-79, England and America

Although Thomas Edison is rightly regarded as the father of the incandescent

lamp, his was not the first. British inventors had been experimenting

with electric lights more than a half century before Edison perfected his


The basis of the incandescent lamp is a filament, in an evacuated glass

chamber, that glows white-hot when current is passed through it. Inventor

Joseph Swan in England, and Edison in the United States, both hit on the

idea of using carbon for the filament. Swan patented his lamp in 1878;

Edison registered his patent in 1879. Edison, though, in setting up a system

of electric distribution, took the incandescent bulb out of the laboratory

and into the home and street. The Pearl Street Power Station in New York

City was the first to supply public electricity on consumer demand. By

December 1882, 203 Manhattan customers, individuals and businesses,

were living and working by the light from 3,144 electric lamps.

These privileged pioneers had to be satisfied with an average bulb life of

only 150 hours (compared with 2,000 hours today). But by early 1884,

Edison had perfected a 4QO-hour bulb, and two years later, one that burned

for 1,200 hours.

The electric lamp, despite its great convenience, had a slow start. People

were curious; they flocked to demonstrations to observe a bulb glowing,

but few home owners ordered electric installation. After seven years of

operation, the Edison company had gone from 203 customers to 710. But

the electric bulb was an invention that could not fade away. Although electric

rates began decreasing, it was favorable word of mouth, from home owners

and businesses that tried electric illumination, that generated a snowballing

of orders. At the turn of the century, ten thousand people had electric

lights. Ten years later, the number was three million and climbing.

As for Thomas Edison and Joseph Swan, they sued each other for patent

violation, but eventually joined forces and cofounded an electric company.

Neon Light. A colorless, odorless, tasteless gas, deriving its name from the

Greek neos, meaning "new," neon was discovered in 1898 by two English

chemists, William Ramsay and Morris Travers. They puzzled at the gas's

natural red-orange glow and attempted to alter its color chemically. But it

was a Frenchman, physicist Georges Claude, who perfected the neon tube

in 1909 and used it the following year to illuminate the Grand Palace

in Paris. Claude demonstrated that employing a gas, rather than a rigid,


Electric Light: 1878-79, England and America

fixed filament, enabled neon bulbs to glow regardless of their length or


Neon's advertising value was quickly appreciated. A publicist, Jacques

Fonseque, persuaded Claude to prepare a line of tubing that proclaimed

the name of a client's business. In 1912, the first neon sign blazed on Paris's

Boulevard Montmartre. It read (in French), "The Palace Hairdresser," and

glowed a red orange. Only later did scientists discover that by altering the

gas and placing powders inside the tube, they could produce a full spectrum

of colors.

Fluorescent Tube. After nearly sixty years of lighting American homes,. the

incandescent bulb encountered in the 1930s its greatest rival: the strip light

or fluorescent lamp. The battle between the two bulbs would in the end

turn out to be a near draw, with both fixtures sometimes illuminating the

same room in the house. The fluorescent's harsher, less flattering glare

would win out in the bathroom; the incandescent's frosted softness would

prevail in the bedroom; and in the kitchen, the tube and the bulb would

often share honors.

The first attempt at producing fluorescence was made by the French

physicist Antoine-Henri Becquerel, discoverer of radioactivity in uranium.

As early as 1859, he coated the inside of a glass tube with a chemical-a

phosphor-:-which fluoresced under electric current. Many scientists began

work along the same lines, and soon dozens of gases and minerals were

known to glow in an electric field. It was this research that led Ramsay and

Travers to discover neon.

The first effective fluorescent lamp was developed in the United States

in 1934, by Dr. Arthur Compton of General Electric. Operated by lower

voltages, the tube was more economical than the incandescent bulb; and

where the incandescent bulb could waste up to 80 percent of its energy in

generating heat, not light, the fluorescent tube was so energy-efficient that

it was named a "cold light."

Many people glimpsed their first fluorescent light at the 1939 New York

World's Fair, where General Electric had white and colored tubes on display.

Within fifteen years, the fluorescent light slightly edged out the incandescent

bulb as the chief source of electric lighting in the United States. The victory

was due not to home owners' preference for fluorescent's eerie glow, but

to businesses' desire to cut lighting costs in the workplace.

Flashlight. The utilitarian flashlight originated as a turn-of-the-century

novelty item known as the "electric flowerpot." Had the American public

enthusiastically purchased electric flowerpots, the flashlight might have been

a longer time coming.

When Russian immigrant Akiba Horowitz arrived in New York in the

1890s, he Americanized his name to Conrad Hubert and landed ajob with

Joshua Lionel Cowen, the man who would one day create Lionel trains.


In and Around the House

Cowen had already invented and abandoned an electric doorbell (people

complained of the unacceptability of its protracted ring) and an electric

fan (which threw a slight breeze); when he hired Conrad Hubert, Cowen

had just perfected the electric flowerpot. It consisted of a slender battery

in a tube with a light bulb at one end. The tube rose up through the center

of a flowerpot and illuminated a plant.

Hubert believed in the commercial potential of the electric flowerpot

and convinced his boss to sell him patent rights. When the novelty failed

to attract buyers, Hubert found himself with a large overstock. Attempting

to salvage a portion of his investment, he separated the lights from the

pots, lengthened the design of the cylinder, and received his own U.S.

patent for a "portable electric light."

The convenient light which, with a flick of the wrist, could be flashed in

any direction sold so well that Conrad Hubert started the Eveready Flashlight

Company. When he died in 1928, Hubert was able to leave a gift of

six million dollars to charity.

As for Joshua Lionel Cowen, he expressed no bitterness. For after a long

line of failed inventions, he, too, struck it rich. He redesigned the small

motor of the almost breezeless fan and placed it in a set of miniature trains.

Vacuum Cleaner: 1901, England

In 1898, an aspiring young inventor, H. Cecil Booth, attended an exhibition

at London's Empire Music Hall, where an American was demonstrating a

new "dust-removing" machine. A metal box topped with a bag of compressed

air, the device forced air down into a carpet, causing dirt and dust

to billow up into the box.

Booth was unimpressed. A lot of dust missed the box and resettled on

the carpet. Questioning the inventor about· the possibility of sucking up

dust instead, Booth was told that many people had tried but none had


Booth thought about suction for several days. Then, as he later wrote of

his own invention, "I tried the experiment of sucking with my mouth against

the back of a plush seat in a restaurant in Victoria Street." He choked

I violently on dust but was inspired.

The secret, Booth realized, would be to find the right kind of filtering

bag to pass air and trap dust. At home, he lay on the floor and, with various

kinds of fabrics over his lips, experimented. Dust seemed to be collected

nicely by a tightly woven cloth handkerchief. He patented his suction cleaner

in 1901.

That first commercial vacuum cleaner was huge, the size of a modern

refrigerator. With a pump, a dust-collecting chamber, and the power unit,

it had to be transported on a dolly, pulled along London streets from an

office to a theater to a private home. To operate the cleaner, one man

steered the dolly while another manned the long, flexible hose. Even when


Vacuum Cleaner: 1901, England

the first home models were later constructed, two people would still be

required to operate them-usually the housewife and a daughter.

The vacuum cleaner greatly improved sanitation and health. Tons of

germ-laden dust were removed from theater seats, from home and shop

floors. One of Booth's first assignments was to vacuum the vast blue expanse

of carpet in Westminster Abbey for the 1901 coronation of Edward VII.

The church's cleaning staff gaped in disbelief at the quantity of hidden dust

extracted by Booth's machine.

During World War I, Booth received a commission to haul several of his

vacuum machines to the Crystal Palace, the famous pavilion of London's

1851 exhibition. Naval reserve men quartered in the building were falling

sick and dying from spotted fever. Doctors, helpless to halt the contagion,

suspected that germs were being inhaled on dust particles. For two weeks,

fifteen of Booth's machines sucked up dust from the floors, walls, staircases,

and girders of the building; twenty-six truckloads of it were carted away

and buried. The vacuum cleaner put an end to the spotted-fever epidemic.

Among early commercial vacuum cleaners in America, at least twoRegina

and Hoover-were particularly notable for their quality and success.

Each trade name became a household word, and each cleaner originated

in its inventor's desperate effort to survive: one, a failing business; the

other, failing health.

Regina. In 1892, a German immigrant and manufacturer of music boxes,

Gustave Brachhausen, opened the Regina Music Box Company in Rahway,

New Jersey. The hand-crafted items were exquisite and the company prospered,

employing at one point 175 technicians and tallying annual sales of

two million dollars. Regina, in fact, developed a monopoly on Americanmade

music boxes and even exported them to Europe.

Only five miles from the Rahway factory, Thomas Edison had invented

the phonograph, which was already beginning to replace the music box as

a source of entertainment in America's homes. Regina's fortunes started

to slide. Brachhausen, in a frantic attempt to remain solvent, manufactured

player pianos one year, printing presses another, and he even challenged

Edison head-on with a line of phonographs. But the device that finally saved

the Regina Music Box Company was a vacuum cleaner. The Regina Vacuum

Cleaner Company made its last music box in 1919.

Hoover Portable. Versions of H. Cecil Booth's vacuum machine were in

use in the United States during the early years of this century, some of

them superior in design. They were a luxury enjoyed by the wealthy, and

their operation required two servants. The idea for a small, handy portable

model came to James Murray Spangler, an aging, unsuccessful inventor

with a severe allergy to dust.

In 1907, debts forced Spangler to accept a position as janitor of a department

store in Canton, Ohio. The store seemed to have miles of rugs


In and Around the House

and carpeting to be cleaned, and the dust stirred up by the mechanical

sweeper issued to Spangler set off paroxysms of sneezing and coughing.

He could not afford to quit. With necessity motivating invention, Spangler

began to experiment with devices for" dustless cleaning."

His first makeshift vacuum used an old electric fan motor placed atop a

soap box, which had its cracks sealed with adhesive tape. The dust bag was

a pillow case. Spangler patented that invention in the spring of 1 908 and

with loans from friends formed the Electric Suction Sweeper Company.

His finances remained shaky until he sold a cleaner to Susan Hoover, the

wife of a prosperous Ohio executive who manufactured leather goods and

automobile accessories.

Mrs. Hoover was impressed with the machine. So, too, was her husband,

William, who had been contemplating expanding his business. Before the

close of 1 908, William Hoover had permanently solved Spangler's financial

problems by purchasing rights to manufacture the suction sweeper. In one

comer of Hoover's leather goods factory, three technicians assembled five

vacuum cleaners a day.

To market the product, Hoover placed a two-page advertisement in the

December 5, 1908, issue of the Saturday Evening Post. The copy offered

readers the chance to use an electric suction sweeper for a free ten-day

home trial. Hundreds of homemakers responded, and by letter Hoover

notified each one that her trial sweeper was being delivered to a local merchant

(whom he had yet to contact). Then he wrote to selected store owners,

offering them a commission for every machine a home owner purchased.

If a woman returned a machine, the merchant was entitled to keep it as a

ftee sample. Store owners readily accepted the shipments of Hoover's vacuum

cleaners, and soon he had a nationwide network of dealers. James

Spangler became Hoover's superintendent of production.

Whereas H. Cecil Booth's first commercial vacuum resembled a refrigerator,

Hoover's first portable home model looked like a bagpipe mated

with a breadbox. Nonetheless, it embodied all the basic principles, and

some of the accessories, of modem-day cleaners. By the 1920s, the names

Hoover and Regina conjured up images of modem twentieth-century


The vacuum was a landmark homeware invention. Its salient feature was

that for the first time in the history of housekeeping, dust was removed

from the great dust-collectors-rugs, carpets, curtains, and upholstered

cushions-while the items remained in place in the house. Previously, to

prevent dust from resettling on furnishings, items were hauled outdoors,

hung over lines and leaned against fences, and whipped. This annual ritual,

spring cleaning, could often be a week-long chore that disrupted a family's

routine. With the arrival of the vacuum cleaner, every daily or weekly cleaning

became in effect a spring cleaning.

Carpet Sweeper. Before there were vacuum machines to suck dust from


For millennia the only improvement in brooms was in the neatness of their tufted

heads. Liberation from the broom came in the 1870s with the invention of the

mechanical carpet sweeper.

carpets, there was the mechanical carpet sweeper, which whisked away debris.

In its heyday, the sweeper was considered a breakthrough, liberating

homemakers from the shortcomings of its predecessor, the broom.

For millions of American housewives, broom liberation arrived in 1876,

with the carpet sweeper invented by a husband and wife from Michigan.

Anna and Melville Bissell operated a glassware shop in downtown Grand

Rapids. Allergic to dust, they both suffered from the dust-laden straw in

which glassware shipments were packed. Melville Bissell's hobby was inventing

mechanical gadgets, and he began to develop a sweeper with a

rotary head and a box to collect dust.

Bissell was not the first to attempt to perfect a sweeper, for home or

street. As far back as 1699, a British patent was issued to inventor Edmund

Heming for "a new machine for sweeping the streets of London." Consisting

of a large circular brush connected to the revolving wheels of a horsedrawn

cart, the contraption raised clouds of dust, which were exceeded in

unpleasantness only by the clouds of protest from residents along the streets

that the machine purportedly cleaned.


In and Around the House

Smaller models had been attempted for the home but had not proved

particularly popular. The Bissell carpet sweeper arrived at a point in medical

history when dust and dirt had been labeled dangerous, if not deadly. Pasteur

had recently posited his germ theory of illness, incriminating airborne

dust as a carrier of bacteria. And Florence Nightingale was revolutionizing

hospital hygiene, preaching that "air can be soiled just like water." The

medical atmosphere generated almost an obsession with personal and home

hygiene. The Bissell sweeper caught on so widely in America and Europe

that by 1890, people spoke of "Bisselling the carpet." Queen Vi~toria ordered

Bissells for Buckingham Palace, and Turkish sultans and Arabian

sheiks Bisselled their Oriental rugs. But in the end, what the Bissell had

done to the broom, the electric vacuum cleaner did to the Bissell and all

its imitators.

Broom and Fuller Brush. Until the twentieth century, with the introduction

of synthetic fibers, the brooms and brushes used in America and Europe

differed only in neatness from those used by early man: a bundle of twigs,

or the tuft from a corn plant, clipped and secured to a handle. One transformation

to hit the broom industry in the early 1900s came knocking on

doors in the form of the Fuller Brush man.

Alfred Carl Fuller arrived in the United States from Nova Scotia in 1903.

His assets were seventy-five dollars and a Bible; his liabilities, a daydreaming

mind and an irresponsible nature. Fired from three jobs back home, Fuller

landed a position as ticket collector for Boston's elevated railway but was

dismissed when he took a train on a joyride and crashed it. Subsequently,

he was fired as a stablehand for neglecting the horses, then discharged as

a messenger for repeatedly losing packages. Fuller claimed that he had

never liked the idea of working for other people, and in 1905 he began his

own business, selling brushes door to door.

In a rented room in Hartford, Connecticut, he labored late into the night

constructing wire and bristle brushes, ideal for cleaning the nooks and

crannies of late-nine tee nth-century homes. During the day, he peddled the

brushes for fifty cents apiece. To his amazement, he turned out to be a

gifted salesman, and by 1910 he employed a staff of twenty-five men to

market his wares.

Then the buzz of the vacuum cleaner sounded the knell of the broom

and all such whisking devices. The brush and broom industry attempted to

fight back. In the July 1919 issue of House Furnishing Review, store buyers

were informed that housewives had been brainwashed into believing that

"sweeping is drudgery. What a misconception!" Then the copy boasted:

"The medical profession, in numerous instances, advises women to take up

housework, especially sweeping, to offset their ills. Sweeping," it concluded,

"is exercise of a highly beneficial nature." And to offset the then-current

association that a genteel woman uses a vacuum cleaner while only a harridan


Clothes Iron: 4th Century B.C., Greece

clings to her broom, the industry adopted the slogan: "Sweep, and still be


In the meantime, Fuller had begun expanding his line to include a wide

artillery of household cleaning products. The versatility enabled the company

to survive handsomely. When Alfred Fuller retired as president in

1943, annual sales topped ten million dollars, and the Fuller Brush man

had become a familiar part of the American scene.

Clothes Iron: 4th Century B.C., Greece

Smooth, wrinkle-free clothing has been a symbol of refinement, cleanliness,

and status for at least 2,400 years-although the desired effect was never

easy to achieve. All early irons employed pressure; only some used heat to

remove creases and impart pleats to washed garments.

The Greeks in the fourth century B.C. bore down on a "goffering iron,"

a cylindrical heated bar, similar to a rolling pin, which was run over linen

robes to produce pleats. Two centuries later, the Romans were pressing

garments and creating pleats with a hand-held "mangle," a flat metal mallet

that literally hammered out wrinkles. With such devices, ironing was more

than just a tedious, time-consuming chore; it was slaves' work-and \\las

done by slaves.

Even the warring tenth-century Vikings of Northern Europe prized

wrinkle-free garments, often pleated. They employed an iron in the shape

of an inverted mushroom, which was rocked back and forth on dampened

fabric. Fashion historians claim that it was the difficulty in producing pleats

that made them a clothing distinction between upper and lower classes.

Peasants did not have the time to iron in rows of creases; pleats became

an outward statement of owning slaves or servants.

By the fifteenth century, wealthier European homes had a "hot box"

iron, with a compartment for heated coals or a single fired brick. Poorer

families still used the "flat" iron, a piece of metal with a handle, which was

periodically heated over a fire. The tremendous disadvantage of the flat

iron was that the soot it collected from fireplace flames could be transferred

to clothes.

Once gas lighting was introduced into homes in the nineteenth century,

many inventors produced gas-heated irons, which tapped into a family's

gas line. But the frequency with which the irons leaked, exploded, and

started home fires made wrinkled clothes preferable. The real boom in

ironing came with the installation of electric lines into the home.

Electric Iron. On June 6, 1882, New York inventor Henry W. Weely received

the first United States patent for an electric iron. Although Weely's

concept of heat-resistant coils was imaginative, the iron itself was impractical.

It heated up (slowly) only while plugged into its stand, and cooled down


Ironing was exhausting when models weighted up to fifteen pounds.

(ToP to bottom) Detachable walnut handle and three iron heads so that

two were heating atop a stove while one was in use; heater, placed

above a burner, to hold four flatirons; hot box iron containing fired


(quickly) once disconnected from the stand and in use. Most of the operator's

time was spent in reheating the iron. Even a better design could not

have gotten around the problem that in the early 1880s only a few hundred

American homes had electricity.

With the burgeoning growth of power companies around the turn of the

century, a wide array of electric irons competed for housewives' attention.

Although today it would seem hard to conceive of models weighing in

excess of ten pounds as labor-saving devices (the heaviest tipped the ironboard

at fifteen pounds), it was as such that electric irons were promoted

by advertisers and greeted by homemakers.

Electric irons also suffered from a problem that undermined all electrical

appliances in those years, with the sole exception of the light bulb. Home

electricity had been conceived of almost exclusively in terms of powering

incandescent lights. Consequently, as late as 1905, most power companies

turned on their generators only at sunset, and they turned them off at


Clothes Iron: 4th Century B.C., Greece

daybreak. Thus, a family wishing to benefit from such new conveniences

as the electric toaster, the electric percolator, the electric clock, and the

electric iron had to do so during the night. The purr of progress was silenced

by the rising sun.

One electric utility man, Earl Richardson, set out to rectify the drawbacks

of both home electricity and the electric iron, a device he was attempting

to refine.

A meter reader for an Ontario, California, power company, Richardson

polled homemakers on his weekly rounds. He learned that they would gladly

switch to electric irons if the appliances were lighter and could be used

during daylight hours. He persuaded several housewives to try his homemade

lighter-weight irons, and he convinced his plant supervisors to experiment

with generating electricity round-the-clock for one day, Tuesday,

the day most of his customers claimed they ironed.

The supply-and-demand experiment paid off. As housewives ironed every

Tuesday, consuming increasing amounts of electricity, the plant gradually

extended the hours that its generators operated.

Homemakers, though, had one complaint about Earl Richardson's trial

irons: a nonuniform distribution of heat along the iron's flat plate, with a

"hot point." In 1906, when Earl Richardson decided to manufacture irons,

he already had the name for his product.

Steam Iron. By the mid-1920s, American households were buying more

than three million electric irons a year, at an average price of six dollars.

Thus in 1926, when the first electric steam irons went on sale in New York

City department stores for ten dollars, they were considered a nonessential

appliance-despite the claim that their trickling moisture would prevent

the scorching of clothes. Since conscientious ironing would also preyent

scorching, and at a savings of four dollars, steam irons were not an immediate

success. They caught on in the 1940s, when clothing manufacturers

introduced a dizzying array of synthetic fabrics that, while stain proofed

and permanently pressed, could melt like wax under a hot dry iron.

Within the housewares industry, the late 1940s marked the outbreak of

what was called the "holy war."

Whereas the first steam irons had only one hole, those that appeared in

the '40s had two, then four, then eight. Holes became a marketing ploy.

If eight holes were good, reasoned Westinghouse, sixteen were surely twice

as appealing. Proctor-Silex discreetly upped the ante to seventeen. Sunbeam

escalated the battle with a thirty-six-hole steam iron. The holes, of course,

got smaller and smaller. For a while, Westinghouse seemed to be pushing

some upper limit of perforation technology with its sixty-five-hole iron.

But Sears, determined to win the war, came out with a seventy-hole model.

Then, without fanfare, the Presto debuted with eighty holes. Now it was

impossible to scorch clothes with a steam iron, since they came off the


In and Around the House

ironing board damp, if not wet. Like plants, clothes were being misted.

And "misting" became the new marketing ploy.

Clothes Washer and Dryer: 1800s, England and France

For centuries, people on sea voyages washed their clothes by placing the

dirty laundry in a strong cloth bag, tossing it overboard, and letting the

ship drag the bag for hours. The principle was sound: forcing water through

clothes to remove dirt. Early hand-operated washing machines attempted

to incorporate the same principle through the use of a "dolly"-a device

resembling an upside-down milkmaid's stool, which fitted into a tub and

pummeled clothes, squeezing water out, then permitting it to seep back in.

So numerous were the inventions devised to lessen the drudgery of washing

clothes that the origin of the ~ashing machine is unclear, though it is

generally agreed that in the early 1800s, in Western Europe, the concept

of placing laundry in a wooden box and tumbling the box by means of a

hand-operated crank was beginning to catch on. Mothers and daughters

took turns cranking the box's handle hour after hour.

The rotating-drum concept carried over to the clothes dryers of the day.

A typical dryer, invented in France in 1800 by a M. Pochon, was known

as the "ventilator." Hand-wrung clothes were .placed, damp, in a circular

metal drum pierced with holes, and as a handle was cranked the drum

rotated above an open fire. Depending on the strength of the fire and the

height of the flames, clothes would either dry slowly or burn, and they

always acquired the aroma of the hearth, and sometimes its soot. None of

these hand-cranked dryers ever threatened to obsolete the clothesline.

The first electric clothes washers, in which a motor rotated the tub, were

introduced in England and America around 1915. For a number of years,

the motor was not protectively encased beneath the machine. Water often

dripped into it, causing short-circuits, fires, and jolting shocks.

Touted in advertisements as "automatic," the early electric clothes washers

were anything but. Many washers were manually filled with buckets of

water and also drained by hand. Clothes were removed saturated with water,

and the wash "cycle" continued until the operator decided to pull the

machine's plug. Not until 1939 did washers appear that were truly automatic,

with timing controls, variable cycles, and preset water levels. Liberation

from one of the most ancient of household chores came late in



Steam-powered sewing machine of questionab.ze advantage.

Sewing Machine: 1830, France

The eyed needle appeared astonishingly early in man's past. Needles of

ivory, bone, and walrus tusks have been found in Paleolithic caves inhabited

about forty thousand years ago. In a sense, the invention of the eyed needle

ranks in importance with that of the wheel and the discovery of fire. One

altered man's eating habits, another his mode of transportation, while the

needle forever changed the way he dressed.

But from that ancient Paleolithic era until the year 1830, men and women

sewed by hand. An experienced tailor could make about thirty stitches a

minute. By comparison, the first sewing machine, crude and inefficient as

it was, made two hundred stitches a minutes.

That machine, creating a simple, single-thread stitch, was produced in

1830 by a tailor from Lyon, France, Barthelemy Thimmonier. The machine's

speed so impressed the government that within a short time Thimmonier

had eighty machines in operation, turning out military uniforms-until an

angry mob, composed of professional tailors who viewed the machine as a

threat to their livelihood, stormed Thimmonier's factory, destroying all the

machines and nearly killing their inventor. Thimmonier fled to the town of

Amplepuis, where he died in poverty, but his concept of a machine that

sewed lived on in numerous versions.


In and Around the House

The development of the modern sewing machine-with a double-thread,

lock-stitch system-came chiefly from two Bostonians.

Elias Howe and Isaac Singer. Elias Howe was a struggling Boston machinist

with a wife and three children to support. One day in 1839, he overheard

his boss tell a customer that a fortune was assured to anyone who could

invent a machine that sewed. The idea became Howe's obsession.

At first, Howe carefully observed his wife's hands sewing, then attempted

to produce a machine to duplicate her stitching motions. When that failed,

he decided to devise a new kind of stitch, one equally sturdy but within the

capabilities of machine design.

He patented his sewing machine in September 1846, and began demonstrating

it to potential manufacturers. The machine sewed in a straight

line for only a short distance before the cloth had to be repositioned, but

it formed two hundred fifty firm stitches a minute. Impressed as American

manufacturers were, they balked at the machine's three-hundred-dollar

price tag, and they also feared the threats made by organized groups of

tailors and seamstresses.

Destitute, and disillusioned with American enterprise, Howe and his

family sailed for England in 1847. Two years later, with even less money

and bleaker prospects for a future, the family sailed back to America, Howe

earning their passage as ship's cook. Arriving in New York City, he was

startled to discover that stores were advertising sewing machines like his

own, for about a hundred dollars. He legally contested the patents of the

various manufacturers-in particular, the patent belonging to another

Boston machinist, Isaac Singer.

Singer'S machine was superior to Howe's. It had a straight needle that

moved up and down (Howe's needle was curved and moved horizontally);

it had an adjustable lever that held the fabric in place, enabling the machine

to sew a long straight or curved seam; and it had a foot-operated treadle

(Howe's had a hand-driven wheel). But Singer's machine formed the special

stitch patented by Howe.

A flamboyant, ambitious businessman, uninterested in acquiring fame as

the sewing machine's inventor, Singer refused to come to an out-of-court

agreement with Howe. He was supporting a wife and two children, plus a

mistress and six additional children. He informed his lawyers, "I don't give

a damn for the invention. The dimes are what I'm after."

As the court case dragged on, another American inventor came forward

who had devised a sewing machine eleven years before Howe. The prolific

Walter Hunt was a genius with a wide assortment of inventions to his credit,

among them the safety pin, which he had created in three hours (he sold

the patent rights for four hundred dollars to repay a fifteen-dollar debt).

Hunt had never patented or publicized his sewing machine, afraid that the

invention would put tailors out of business. By the time of the Howe-Singer


Wallpaper: 15th Century, France

court battle in 1853, Hunt's machine was a rusty piece of disassembled


The judge presiding over the case decided that the dimes Singer was

after had to be shared-not with Walter Hunt but certainly with Elias

Howe. For every sewing machine manufactured, Howe received a royalty.

Before he died in 1867, at age forty-eight, the formerly impoverished machinist

was collecting royalties of more than four thousand dollars a week.

His one regret was that his wife, long his staunchest supporter, who never

doubted the commercial potential of the sewing machine, had died before

he made a penny from his invention.

Wallpaper: 15th Century, France

Wallpaper originated in the latter part of the fifteenth century as a relatively

inexpensive substitute for densely woven, richly embroidered tapestries.

Bearing stenciled, hand-painted, or printed designs, it developed shortly

after the rise of paper mills in Europe.

The earliest preserved examples date from the year 1509. Because the

Chinese had developed papermaking centuries earlier, it was long assumed

that wallpaper was an Oriental invention, but its actual birthplace was


Heavy tapestries had been popular since Roman times, not merely as

decorative hangings but also because full-length wall coverings, in vast castles

and stately homes, effectively minimized drafts. They were so costly that

even the most profligate monarchs trundled entire sets on their seasonal

peregrinations from castle to castle. Less expensive substitutes were tried;

the most popular was embossed and gilded leather, introduced in the eleventh

century by the Arabs. But thick decorative paper, pasted to a wall,

was even less costly, and as good an insulator from the cold.

As modem-day Con-Tact paper is printed to imitate certain surfaces, so

early wallpaper, by the late sixteenth century, represented more expensive

wall finishings. A British advertisement of the period conveys an idea of

the simulated surfaces available: "We selleth all sorts of Paper Hangings

for Rooms ... Flock Work, Wainscot, Marble, Damask, etc." In fact, early

wallpaper was admired precisely because it authentically yet inexpensively

simulated the appearance of more costly materials.

Flocking, a process in which powdered wool or metal was scattered over

a predesigned and gummed paper, achieved great popularity in the next

century. Examples are extant from as early as 1680. Prized at the same

time was the distinctly different painted Chinese wallpaper, called "India

paper." It bore images of birds and flowers against brightly colored backgrounds.

The paper was valued for its absence of repetitive design: every

vertical strip of wallpaper plastered about a room was unique, creating a

dizzying effect. In the seventeenth century, French supremacy in wallpaper


In and Around the House

execution was nearing its apex, with exquisite designs of country landscapes

and classical architectural forms, employing columns and friezes. Ironically,

what began as inexpensive ersatz tapestry became in a short time a costly

art form.

Ready-Mixed Paint: 18805, United States

Although painted interior house walls were popular since about 1500 B.C.and

paint itself had been known for some twenty thousand years-the first

commercial, ready-mixed paints did not appear until 1880. Home owners

or professional painters had been preparing their own bases and blending

their own colors, and paint was usually applied by a professional. Readymixed

paints would create the entirely new phenomenon of the "do-ityourself"


Paint for decorative purposes existed thousands of years before its use

as a protective interior and exterior coating was conceived. Early peoples

of Europe, Africa, and the Americas used paints of iron oxides to decorate

caves, temples, and homes. The Egyptians prepared yellow and orange pigments

from soil and imported the dyes indigo and madder to make blue

and red. By 1000 B.C., they had developed paints and varnishes based on

the gum of the acacia tree (gum arabic). The mixtures contributed to the

permanence of their art and also were used as protective coatings and

sealants on wooden warships. Yet paint as a preservative for exposed surfaces

did not come into common use until the Middle Ages.

Medieval paints used such raw materials as egg whites, and craftsmen

kept their formulas secret and their products expensive. City streets bore

evidence of the craftsman's art, with colorful tradesmen's signs and shop

facades. The two' favorite shades for signs in those centuries were red and

blue. Still, the average home went unpainted. Even in th~ seventeenth century,

when white lead paint became widely available, ordinary houses-and

such essential structures as bridges-remained unpainted for another

hundred years.

It was the large-scale manufacture of linseed oil from the flax plant and

of pigment-grade zinc oxide that produced a rapid expansion of the paint

industry. In the nineteenth century, for the first time, paint pigment and

the liquid that carried it were combined before the paint was marketed. The

concept was revolutionary. A major pioneer in the field of ready-mixed paint was

Henry Alden Sherwin, who in creating a new industry changed the way we

decorate our homes.

In 1870, when Sherwin informed his partners in a paint component

business that he was going ahead with plans for a ready-mixed paint, they

responded that the time had come to dissolve the young firm of Sherwin;


Linoleum: 1860, England

Dunham and Griswold. Home owners, they argued, mixed their own paint

and knew what colors they wanted.

Sherwin believed that factory-crafted paint, benefiting from standardized

measurements and ingredients, would be consistently superior to the hitor-

miss home-mixed kind. He located a new partner, Edward Williams, who

shared that conviction, and after ten years of painstaking developmentgrinding

pigments fine enough to remain suspended in oil-the SherwinWilliams

Company of Cleveland, Ohio, introduced the world's first readymixed

paint in 1880.

Professional and amateur painters gladly abandoned the chore of combining

their own white lead base, linseed oil, turpentine, and coloring pigments.

And Sherwin encouraged Americans to become do-it-yourself

painters inside and outside their homes. To bolster this new market, the

company, through its local distributors, guided home owners through the

labors of surface preparation, preliminary coatings, color aesthetics, and

the appropriate choice of brushes and clean-up materials. The public discovered

that commercial paint did more than protect a surface; it rejuvenated

a home.

What home and furniture restorers would discover decades later was that

the first ready-mixed paint created a painting frenzy. It became voguish to

cover over carved wooden mantels, window and door moldings, paneled

walls and beamed ceilings of walnut, mahogany, oak, ebony, and other

inherently rich woods. Antique armoires, hutches, and settles were painted.

Today these surfaces are being stripped by owners who, engaged in a labor

of love, question: "Why did anyone ever paint this piece?"

Linoleum: 1860, England

We tend to take decorative and protective floor coverings in the home for

granted; few people, except by choice or poverty, walk on bare boards. But

if we examine paintings, drawings, and the written record back to as recently

as the middle of the eighteenth century, it becomes apparent that except

in the wealthiest of homes, families walked only on bare floors.

Carpets and rugs had of course existed for centuries. Mats made of dry

stalks and tendrils covered the dirt and stone floors of Sumerian homes

five thousand years ago. The Egyptians wove carpets of linen, ornamented

by brightly colored sewn-on patches of wool. The Chinese perfected a knotted

silk-pile carpet backed by cotton. And before the eighth century B.C.,

elaborately patterned Oriental carpets decorated the royal palaces of central

and western Asia.

What did not exist until the 1860s was a cheap, hard-wearing, massproduced,

easy-to-clean floor covering. Specifically, one made from flax

(linum in Latin) and oil (oleum). Today linoleum has been relegated largely

to bathroom and kitchen floors, but that was not always its place in the



In and Around the House

Inventors had been searching for an inexpensive floor covering. In 1847,

Scottish chemist Michael Narin mixed oily paint with cork fibers and produced

a slick linoleum-like product, but his process was lengthy and costly.

Around the same time, British chemist Elijah Galloway cooked cork powder

and shreds of rubber, which yielded a hard but somewhat sticky rubber

flooring he named "kamptulicon." In- the 1860s, kamptulicon was laid in

selected rooms of the British House of Parliament, but its cost and consistency

could not compete with another British inventor's creation. Byoxidizing

linseed oil with resin and cork dust on a flax backing, Frederick

Walton produced history's first successful synthetic floor covering, known

then as a "resilient floor."

A Briton had invented linoleum. But it took an American to introduce

it into every room in the home.

In 1860, Frederick Walton obtained a British patent for his linoleummaking

process. The same year, an industrious twenty-four-year-old American,

Thomas Armstrong, decided to supplement his meager wages as a

shipping clerk in a Pittsburgh glass plant by investing his savings of three

hundred dollars in a machine that cut cork stoppers for bottles.

Shaving corks for various-size bottles generated huge mounds of cork

dust, which the frugal Armstrong hated to waste. When he heard that a

new floor covering, which was rapidly gaining in popularity in England,

was manufactured from cork dust and often backed with sheets of cork,

Armstrong revamped his business. By 1908, he was selling Armstrong linoleum.

But unlike its forerunner, available in a few somber, solid colors,

Armstrong linoleum offered home owners a spectrum of hues and patterns

that rivaled those found in woven carpets. And unlike linoleum's British

inventor, who saw only the utilitarian side of his creation, Armstrong promoted

his bright, cheery patterns as a way to "beautify the home."

The "linoleum carpet," as the wall-to-wall coverings were called, became

the new desideratum for the modem American home. An early advertisement

summed up both the manufacturer's and the public's sentiment: "In

many of the finest homes, you will find linoleum in every room. Not gaudy

oil cloth, but rich, polished linoleum carpets."

Detergent: 1890s, Germany

All detergents are soaps, but not all soaps are detergents. That distinction

is not trifling but paramount at a practical level to anyone who has, in a

pinch, laundered clothes or washed his or her hair with a bar of hand soap.

Soap forms a precipitate in water that leaves a ring around the bathtub,

a whitish residue on glassware, a sticky curd in the washing machine's rinse

water, and a dull, lusterless plaque on hair. Furthermore, clothes washed

in ordinary soap often develop yellow stains when ironed.

These undesirable properties occur because soap, which has been in use

for 3,500 years, reacts with minerals and acids naturally present in water


A selection of medicinal

and toilet soaps

available in the nineteenth

century. Soap

changed little from

Phoenician times until

the invention of detergents.

to form insoluble molecules that refuse to be rinsed away. Synthetic detergents

were specifically engineered in the 1890s to overcome this problem.

They were first produced in quantity by the Germans during World War

I. This was done for a practical, wartime reason: so that the precious fats

that go into making ordinary soap could be used as lubricants for military

vehicles and weapons.

To understand the revolution caused by detergents, it is necessary to

examine the evolution and importance of soap as a world commodity.

Soap has always been made with fats. The Phoenicians in 600 B.C. concocted

the world's first soap by blending goat fat with wood ash. Inveterate

traders who sailed the Mediterranean, the Phoenicians introduced soap to

the Greeks and the Romans, and according to the Roman writer Pliny the

Elder, sold it as a laxative to the Gauls.

Soap manufacturing was a flourishing business in eleventh-century Venice,

and at one point in history the tax on soap was so high that people

secretly manufactured their own bars in the darkness of night. The

nineteenth-century German chemist Baron Justus von Liebig argued that

the wealth of a nation and its degree of civilization could be measured by

the quantity of soap it consumed.

It was during von Liebig's time that the first commercial cleanser appeared.

Adding to soap abrasive, nondissolving substances-something as

fine as talc or chalk, or as coarse as pumice or ground quartz-produced

an excellent scouring material. With a chick on the front of a red-andyellow

wrapper, Bon Ami, invented in 1886, became one of the most popular

of the early heavy-duty cleansers.

Chemists by then had begun to unravel the mystery of how soap cleans.

Soap is composed of molecules with two distinctly different arms: one arm

"loves" to grasp onto water molecules, while the other arm "fears" water

and latches onto molecules of dirt or grease. Thus, when rinse water is

washed away, it takes with it dirt and grease. Chemists dubbed soap's waterloving

arm "hydrophilic" and its water-fearing arm "hydrophobic." But

soap's preeminence as an all-purpose cleansing agent was about to be



In and Around the House

In 1890, a German research chemist, A. Krafft, observed that certain

short-chained molecules, themselves not soapy substances, when coupled

with alcohol, lathered up like soap. Krafft had produced the world's first

detergent, but at that time the discovery excited no one and remained

merely a chemical curiosity.

Then came World War I. The Allied blockade cut off Germany's supply

of natural fats used to manufacture lubricants. Soap's fats were substituted,

and soap itself became a scarce commodity in the country. Two German

chemists, H. Gunther and M. Hetzer, recalled Krafft's chemical curiosity

and concocted the first commercial detergent, Nekal, which they believed

would serve only as a wartime substitute for soap. But the detergent's advantages

over soap quickly became apparent. By 1930, much of the industrialized

world was manufacturing a wide range of synthetic detergents that

left no scum, no residue, and were far superior in many respects to soap.

A very popular all-purpose household detergent of that period was Spicand-

Span. Though a thoroughly modern product, it derived its name from

a sixteenth-century Dutch expression used by sailors in speaking of a new

ship: Spiksplinternieuw, meaning the ship was new in every spike and splinter

of wood. The British later Anglicized the phrase to "Spick and Spannew,"

and U.S. sailors Americanized it to "spic and span." The sailor's expression

"spic and span" entered the vernacular once it became a trade name, and

has since applied to anything spotlessly clean or brand new.

In 1946, the first successful clothes-washing detergent for the home debuted.

Trade named Tide, it appeared just when every housewife in America

was deciding she could not live without an automatic washing machine.

Tide's success was rapid and it became the forerunner of the many delicate

detergents that would soon crowd supermarket shelves.

Whiteners and Brighteners. Although it did not require arm-twisting advertising

to convince homemakers that for many jobs detergent was superior

to soap, one factor that helped launch early detergents was the addition of

fluorescent brightening agents that were supposed to get a garment "whiter

than white."

It was another German chemist, Hans Krais, who in 1929 conceived the

idea of combining tiny trace quantities of fluorescent substances, actually

dyes, into detergents.

These chemicals enter a garment's fibers during a wash and do not pull

free during rinsing. They become part of the body of the fabric. And they

produce their brightening magic through a simple chemical process. When

the garment is worn in sunlight, the fluorescent substances convert the

sun's invisible ultraviolet rays into slightly bluish visible light. This causes

the garment to reflect more light than it otherwise would. The net effect

is that the garment appears brighter, though it is no cleaner.

Hans Krais recognized an additional advantage to the fluorescent chemicals.

The tone of the extra light reflected from them lies toward the blue


Chlorine Bleach: 1744, Sweden

side of the spectrum, and thus complements any natural yellowishness present

in the fibers, making them look not only brighter but also whiter. The

German chemical company I. G. Farben-which had manufactured Nekalreceived

the first patents for "optical brighteners" as well.

Detergents have by no means ousted soap from the field of personal

hygiene, but in industrialized countries, consumption of detergents exceeds

that of soaps three to one. Today the country with the highest per capita

consumption of soap and detergents is the United States; it is followed

closely by Switzerland and West Germany. The countries with the lowest

soap consumption are Finland, Greece, and Ireland. (See also "Soap,"

page 217.)

Chlorine Bleach: 1744, Sweden

From the earliest written records, there is evidence that people bleached

their clothing five thousand years ago, although the process was tedious

and protracted and required considerable space-often entire fields, where

clothes were laid out in the sun to whiten and dry.

The Egyptians, in 3000 B.C., produced-and highly prized-white linen

goods; the naturally brownish fabric was soaked in harsh alkaline lyes. Timing

was critical to prevent the garment from decomposing into shreds.

In the thirteenth century, the Dutch emerged as the leading exponents

of the bleaching craft, retaining a near monopoly of the industry until the

eighteenth century. Most European fabric that was to be used in making

white garments was first sent to Holland to be bleached. The Dutch method

was only slightly more sophisticated than the one employed by the ancient


Dutch dyers soaked fabric in alkaline lyes for up to five days. They then

washed it clean and spread it on the ground to dry and sun-fade for two

to three weeks. The entire process was repeated five or six times; then, to

permanently halt the "eating" effect of the alkaline lye, the chemical was

neutralized by soaking the fabric in a bath of buttermilk or sour milk, both

being acidic. The complete process occupied entire fields and ran on for

several months.

By the early eighteenth century, the British were bleaching bolts of fabric

themselves. The only real difference in their method was that dilute sulfuric

acid was substituted for buttermilk. A new and simple chemical bleaching

compound was needed and many chemists attempted to produce it. In

1774, Swedish researcher Karl Wilhelm Scheel found the base chemical

when he discovered chlorine gas, but it took another chemist, Count Claude

Louis Berthollet, who two decades later would be appointed scientific adviser

to Napoleon, to realize that the gas dissolved in water to produce a powerful


In 1785, Berthollet announced the creation of eau de Javel, a pungent

solution he perfected by passing chlorine gas through a mixture of lime,


In and Around the House

potash, and water. But eau de Javel was never bottled and sold; instead,

every professional bleacher of that era had to combine his own ingredients

from scratch, and the chlorine gas was highly irritating to the tissues of the

eyes, nose, and lungs. Bleaching now required less time and space, but it

involved an occupational hazard.

The situation was improved in 1799. A Scottish chemist from Glasgow,

Charles Tennant, discovered a way to transform eau de Javel into a dry

powder, ushering in the era of bleaching powders that could simply be

poured into a wash. The powders not only revolutionized the bleaching

industry; they also transformed ordinary writing paper: For centuries it

had been a muddy yellowish-brown in color; Tennant's chlorine bleach

produced the first pure-white sheets of paper. By 1830, Britain alone was

producing 1,500 tons of powdered bleach a year. Whites had never been


Glass Window: A.D. 600, Germany

The Romans were the first to draw glass into sheets for windows, around

400 B.C., but their mild Mediterranean climate made glass windows merely

a curiosity. Glass was put to more practical purposes, primarily in jewelry


Following the invention of glass blowing, around 50 B.C., higher-quality

glass windows were possible. But the Romans used blown glass to fashion

drinking cups, in all shapes and sizes, for homes and public assembly halls.

Many vessels have been unearthed in excavations of ancient Roman towns.

The Romans never did perfect sheet glass. They simply didn't need it.

The breakthrough occurred farther north, in the cooler Germanic climates,

at the beginning of the Middle Ages. In A.D. 600, the European center of

window manufacturing lay along the Rhine River. Great skill and a long

apprenticeship were required to work with glass, and those prerequisites

are reflected in the name that arose for a glassmaker: "gaffer," meaning

"learned grandfather." So prized were his exquisite artifacts that the opening

in the gaffer's furnace through which he blew glass on a long rod was

named a "glory hole."

Glassmakers employed two methods to produce windows. In the cylinder

method, inferior but more widely used, the glassmaker blew molten silica

into a sphere, which was then swung to and fro to elongate it into a cylinder.

The cylinder was then cut lengthwise and flattened into a sheet.

In the crown method, a specialty of Normandy glassmakers, the craftsman

also blew a sphere, but attached a "punty" or solid iron rod to it before

cracking off the blowing iron, leaving a hole at one end. The sphere would

then be rapidly rotated, and under centrifugal force the hole would expand

until the sphere had opened into a disk. Crown glass was thinner than

cylinder glass, and it made only very small window panes.

During the Middle Ages, Europe's great cathedrals, with their towering


Gaffers producing glass windows by two ancient methods.

stained-glass windows, monopolized most of the sheet glass manufactured

on the Continent. From churches, window glass gradually spread into the

houses of the wealthy, and still later, into general use. The largest sheet,

or plate, of cylinder glass that could be made then was about four feet

across, limiting the size of single-plate windows. Improvements in glassmaking

technology in the seventeenth century yielded glass measuring up

to thirteen by seven feet.

In 1687, French gaffer Bernard Perrot of Orleans patented a method

for rolling plate glass. Hot, molten glass was cast on a large iron table and

spread out with a heavy metal roller. This method produced the first large

sheets of relatively undistorted glass, fit for use as full-length mirrors.

Fiberglass. As its name implies, fiberglass consists of finespun filaments

of glass made into a yarn that is then woven into a rigid sheet, or some

more pliant textile.

Parisian craftsman Dubus-Bonnel was granted a patent for spinning and

weaving glass in 1836, and his process was complex and uncomfortable to

execute. It involved working in a hot, humid room, so the slender glass

threads would not lose their malleability. And the weaving was performed

with painstaking care on a jacquard-type fabric loom. So many contemporaries

doubted that glass could be woven like cloth that when DubusBonnel

submitted his patent application, he included a small square sample

of fiberglass.

Safety Glass. Ironically, the discovery of safety glass was the result of a


In and Around the House

glass-shattering accident in 1903 by a French chemist, Edouard Benedictus.

One day in his laboratory, Benedictus climbed a ladder to fetch reagents

from a shelf and inadvertently knocked a glass flask to the floor. He heard

the glass shatter, but when he glanced down, to his astonishment the broken

pieces of the flask still hung together, more or less in their original contour.

On questioning an assistant, Benedictus learned that the flask had recently

held a solution of cellulose nitrate, a liquid plastic, which had evaporated,

apparently depositing a thin coating of plastic on the flask's interior. Because

the flask appeared cleaned, the assistant, in haste, had not washed it but

returned it directly to the shelf.

As one accident had led Benedictus to the discovery, a series of other

accidents directed him toward its application.

In 1903, automobile driving was a new and often dangerous hobby among

Parisians. The very week of Benedictus's laboratory discovery, a Paris newspaper

ran a feature article on the recent rash of automobile accidents.

When Benedictus read that most of the drivers seriously injured had been

cut by shattered glass windshields, he knew that his unique glass could save


As he recorded in his diary: "Suddenly there appeared before my eyes

an image of the broken flask. I leapt up, dashed to my laboratory, and

concentrated on the practical possibilities of my idea." For twenty-four

hours straight, he experimented with coating glass with liquid plastic, then

shattering it. "By the following evening," he wrote, "I had produced my

first piece of Triplex [safety glass]-full of promise for the future."

Unfortunately, auto makers, struggling to keep down the price of their

new luxury products, were uninterested in the costly safety glass for windshields.

The prevalent attitude was that driving safety was largely in the

hands of the driver, not the manufacturer. Safety measures were incorporated

into automobile design to prevent an accident but not to minimize

injury if an .accident occurred.

It was not until the outbreak of World War I that safety glass found its

first practical, wide-scale application: as the lenses for gas masks. Manufacturers

found it relatively easy and inexpensive to fashion small ovals of

laminated safety glass, and the lenses provided military personnel with a

kind of protection that was desperately needed but had been impossible

until that time. After automobile executives examined the proven performance

of the new glass under the extreme conditions of battle; safety glass's

major application became car windshields.

"Window. " There is a poetic image to be found in the origin of the word

"window." It derives from two Scandinavian terms, vindr and auga, meaning

"wind's eye." Early Norse carpenters built houses as simply as possible.

Since doors had to be closed throughout the long winters, ventilation for

smoke and stale air was provided by a hole, or "eye," in the roof. Because

the wind frequently whistled through it, the air hole was called the "wind's


Home Air-Cooling System: 3000 B.C., Egypt

eye." British builders borrowed the Norse term and modified it to "window."

And in time, the aperture that was designed to let in air was glassed

up to keep it out.

Home Air-Cooling System: 3000 B.C., Egypt

Although the ancient Egyptians had no means of artificial refrigeration,

they were able to produce ice by means of a natural phenomenon that

occurs in dry, temperate climates.

Around sundown, Egyptian women placed water in shallow clay trays on

a bed of straw. Rapid evaporation from the water surface and from the

damp sides of the tray combined with the nocturnal drop in temperature

to freeze the water-even though the temperature of the environment

never fell near the freezing point. Sometimes only a thin film of ice formed

on the surface of the water, but under more favorable conditions of dryness

and night cooling, the water froze into a solid slab of ice.

The salient feature of the phenomenon lay in the air's low humidity,

permitting evaporation, or sweating, which leads to cooling. This principle

was appreciated by many early civilizations, which attempted to cool their

homes and palaces by conditioning the air. In 2000 B.C., for instance, a

wealthy Babylonian merchant created his own (and the world's first) home

air-conditioning system. At sundown, servants sprayed water on the exposed

walls and floor of his room, so that the resultant evaporation, combined

with nocturnal cooling, generated relief from the heat.

Cooling by evaporation was also used extensively in ancient India. Each

night, the man of the family hung wet grass mats over openings on the

windward side of the home. The mats were kept wet throughout the night,

either by hand or by means of a perforated trough above the windows,

from which water trickled. As the gentle warm wind struck the cooler wet

grass, it produced evaporation and cooled temperatures inside-by as much

as thirty degrees.

Two thousand years later, after the telephone and the electric light had

become realities, a simple, effective means of keeping coolon a muggy

summer's day still remained beyond the grasp of technology. As late as the

end of the last century, large restaurants and other public places could

only embed air pipes in a mixture of ice and salt and circulate the cooled

air by means of fans. Using this cumbersome type of system, the Madison

Square Theater in New York City consumed four tons of ice a night.

The problem bedeviling nineteenth-century engineers was not only how

to lower air temperature but how to remove humidity from warm air-a

problem appreciated by ancient peoples.

Air-Conditioning. The term "air-conditioning" came into use years before

anyone produced a practical air-conditioning system. The expression is

credited to physicist Stuart W. Cramer, who in 1907 presented a paper on


In and Around the House

humidity control in textile mills before the American Cotton Manufacturers

Association. Control of moisture content in textiles by the addition of measured

quantities of steam into the atmosphere was then known as "conditioning

the air." Cramer, flipping the gerundial phrase into a compound

noun, created a new expression, which became popular within the textile

industry. Thus, when an ambitious American inventor named Willis Carrier

produced his first commercial air conditioners around 1914, a name was

awaiting them.

An upstate New York farm boy who won an engineering scholarship to

Cornell University, Carrier became fas~inated with heating and ventilation

systems. A year after his 1901 graduation, he tackled his first commercial

air-cooling assignment, for a Brooklyn lithographer and printer. Printers

had always been plagued by fluctuations in ambient temperature and humidity.

Paper expanded or contracted; ink flowed or dried up; colors could

vary from one printing to the next.

A gifted inventor, Carrier modified a conventional steam heater to accept

cold water and fan-circulate cooled air. The true genius of his breakthrough

lay in the fact that he carefully calculated, and balanced, air temperature

and airflow so that the system not only cooled air but also removed its

humidity-further accelerating cooling. Achieving this combined effect

earned him the title "father of modern air-conditioning." With the groundwork

laid, progress was rapid.

In 1919, the first air-conditioned movie house opened in Chicago. The

same year, New York's Abraham and Straus became the first air-conditioned

department store. Carrier entered a profitable new market in 1925 when

he installed a 133-ton air-conditioning unit at New York's Rivoli Theater.

Air-conditioning proved to be such a crowd pleaser in summer that by 1930

more than three hundred theaters across America were advertising cool

air in larger type than their feature films. And on sweltering days, people

flocked to movies as much to be cooled as to be entertained. By the end

of the decade, stores and office buildings were claiming that air-conditioning

increased workers' productivity to the extent that it offset the cost of the

systems. Part of that increase resulted from a new incentive for going to

work; secretaries, technicians, salesclerks, and executives voluntarily arrived

early and left late, for home air-conditioning would not become a widespread

phenomenon for many years.

Lawn: Pre-400 B.C., Greece

Grass is by far humankind's most important plant. It constitutes one quarter

of the earth's vegetation and exists in more than seven thousand species,

including sugarcane, bamboo, rice, millet, sorghum, corn, wheat, barley,

oats, and rye. However, in modern times, "grass" has become synonymous

with "lawn," and a form of the ancient once-wild plant has evolved into a

suburban symbol of pride and status.


The garden of medieval

times was a blend of

herbs, vegetables, and


Each year, Americans sift and sprinkle one million tons of chemical fertilizers

on their lawns to keep them lush and green. We also toss uncounted

tons of lime, potash, and bone meal to fix soil pH, ensuring brightly colored

flowering shrubs, bulbs, and plants. About one hundred gallons of water

a day are consumed by the average American home, with no insignificant

portion of that being sprayed on front, back, and side lawns.

But we weren't always so ardent about our lawns.

The meticulously manicured, weed-free, crabgrass-proof lawn is largely

a modern phenomenon. In the mid-1800s, when American novelist Nathaniel

Hawthorne visited England-where the rage for solid-green lawns

was in full cry-he was distressed by the vista's artificiality and pretension.

He wrote home that he longed for the more natural American front yard,

rich in its varieties of weeds, nettles, clovers, and dandelions. This "natural

look," in fact, is the earliest recorded vogue in lawns.

The classical Greek garden of 400 B.C. boasted a small plot of mixed

green grasses and weeds. Commingled with these were wildflowers, planted

to resemble a miniature natural meadow. Hand watering was a timeconsuming

chore and lawns were kept small and easily manageable. Two

hundred years later, the Persians were celebrated for their small, intricate

flower gardens, where stretches of green grass were used only to offset the

flowers' colors. Grass was background, not foreground. And in the Middle

Ages, lawns, as depicted in tapestries, paintings, and illustrated manuscripts,

were festooned with delicate wildflowers, with grass kept to an accenting



In and Around the House

For centuries before the invention of the lawn mower, grass went uncut.

A tall, free-growing, weedy plot of green was regarded as a thing of beauty.

While Hawthorne longed for the naturalness of the American lawn, poet

Walt Whitman sang the praises of grass as "the beautiful uncut hair of

graves." Perhaps it is not surprising that lawn weeds were tolerated, if not

cultivated, since truly weed-free grass seed had yet to be developed. Moreover,

animal manure-the most common form of garden fertilizer for centuries-

was replete with undigested weed seeds. Fertilizing a lawn was

equivalent to sowing weeds.

In the 1800s, with the growing popularity in the British Isles and Holland

of golf and bowling (the latter originally an outdoor lawn game), closely

cropped turfs became a necessity. Lawn mowing was often achieved by

flocks of grazing sheep. The sheep, though, were soon to be replaced with

a mechanical, man-made contrivance.

Lawn Mower: 1830, England

In one of those ironies where a man's surname seems to predestine his

professional calling, the lawn mower was the creation of a British gardener

named Budding.

As foreman in an English textile plant, Edwin Budding was familiar with

a new rotary shearing machine used to cut nap off cotton cloth. In the

1820s, he wondered if the machine could be adapted to shear his own yard,

and for the British "bowling green," a grassy turf down a stand of stately

trees. By 1830, in Stroud, Gloucestershire, Budding was ready to patent

his machine "for cropping or shearing the vegetable surface of lawns, grassplots

and pleasure grounds." The device was a nineteen-inch roller mower

that employed the principle of a set of rotating cutters operating against

fixed ones-a rather straightforward adaptation of the method for shearing

nap at the textile factory where Budding worked.

One popular grass-cutting method in Budding's time was the centuriesold

technique of scything. It required that grass first be dampened to give

it "body" against the blow from a scythe. Consequently, Budding stressed

that his mechanical mower would cut dry grass. And he advertised in 1832

that "Country gentlemen will find in using my machine an amusing, useful

and healthful exercise." To his disappointment, country gentlemen were

unimpressed with the rotary lawn-mowing invention, preferring to take

their exercise by swinging a scythe.

Large, horse-drawn versions of Budding's mower were tried on British

country estates in the 1860s. But gardeners and estate owners objected to

hoof scars (which had to be patched up) and horse droppings (which had

to be picked up). The horse-drawn rotary mower was no real time-saver.

When the cost of hand-pushed rotary mowers began to drop, around

the 1880s, their popularity increased among average home owners in Britain

and America. The mowers became the preferred way to cut grass, despite


(Clockwise) Scythe cutting

blade; hand-held

grass sickle; rotary

blade mower and grass

catcher; mower after

Budding's 1830s'


several attempts by inventors and manufacturers to introduce steampowered


The first major improvement over the manual rotary device was developed

in 1919 by an American army colonel, Edwin George. Installing the gasoline

motor from his wife's washing machine in a walk-behind, roller-blade lawn

cutter, George produced the first gasoline-powered lawn mower. It was

the advent of inexpensive mowers in general, and especially of the gasolinepowered

invention of Edwin George, that helped popularize the vogue of

manicured lawns among the middle class.

The lawn seed business in America also experienced a significant turning

point around this time. An inexpensive, genuinely weed-free grass seed was

perfected by an Ohio farmer, Orlando Mumford Scott, a man whose surname

would become synonymous with an extensive line of home gardening

products. Scott, and the company he formed, also produced the first homelawn

fertilizer designed specifically to provide the nutritional requirements

of grass, Turf Builder (in 1928); and the first combined grass fertilizer and

chemical weed killer, Weed and Feed (in 1946).

But it was Scott's weed-free grass seed, combined with the convenience

of the gasoline-powered mower, that launched the greening of American

lawns. The roots of a grass movement were under way.

Burpee Seeds: 1880s, Philadelphia

One man more than any other-a poultry farmer named Washington Atlee

Burpee-was responsible for adding splashes of color to the American

lawn. What Orlando Mumford Scott did for grass, W. A. Burpee did for


Before his name became a commonplace adjective for flower and vegetable

seeds, Burpee was something of a poultry prodigy. In the 1860s, as


In and Around the House

a young boy living in Philadelphia, he took up the hobby of breeding chickens,

geese, and turkeys. By the time he entered high school, he was contributing

insightful articles to leading poultry trade journals of the day.

And before graduating, he operated a pure breed-poultry mail-order business

out of his parents' home, offering not only his own fowl but also his

own breeding manuals.

The business expanded to include purebreed livestock. And the twentyyear-

old Burpee, to provide his customers with the proper food for their

pedigreed animals, in 1878 began to offer special, high-quality seeds in his

catalogues. Much to his surprise, more orders poured in for seeds than for

animals. Within two years, he was heavily promoting seeds for tomatoes,

cucumbers, turnips, lettuce, and other vegetables.

By the turn of the century, livestock and fowl were a minor sideline in a

catalogue devoted to vegetables, fruits, and flowers. The catalogues themselves,

which at one time ran up to two hundred pages, became popular

reading material. They contained not only trustworthy gardening advice

but also colorful anecdotes of Burpee's worldwide travels in pursuit of the

biggest and tastiest produce. Throughout America, numerous families

named their sons Washington Atlee, and on Burpee's cross-country seedhunting

trips, he'd visit his young namesakes and present them with gifts.

Millions of American home owners were planting their lawns with Scott's

weed-free grass and their vegetable and flower beds with Burpee's highquality


After Burpee's death in 1915, his family led a campaign to have the

American marigold, their father's favorite, adopted as the country's national

flower. They later even christened a new marigold the "Senator Dirksen,"

in honor of the Illinois legislator'S efforts on the flower's behalf. That campaign

failed, and America did not have a national flower until 1986, when

President Ronald Reagan signed legislation adopting the rose.

Rubber Hose: 1870s, United States

The watering can is used today almost exclusively on small indoor plants,

and even then the process of repeatedly filling the container is tedious. But

before the development of the garden hose, almost all watering of lawns,

flower beds, and vegetable gardens, regardless of their size, was done with

a can. The rubber garden hose (and fire hose) was not only a time-saving

godsend; it was the first practical rubber item manufactured-before automobile

tires and weatherized raingear-and in many ways, it marked the

birth of the rubber industry.

Rubber was a new and novel material in sixteenth-century Europe. The

first rubber balls, made by the American Indians, were introduced to Spain

by Christopher Columbus, and over the next two centuries many European

inventors experimented with the substance but found it unsuited for practical

applications, the reason being that rubber, in its natural state, is brittle


Rubber Hose: 1870s, United States

when cold and sticky when hot. It was a struggling American inventor,

Charles Goodyear, who discovered through a kitchen accident the secret

to making rubber at once dry, soft, and pliant.

Goodyear believed that rubber might be made more useful if it was

"tanned," or "cured," as is leather to extend its life. One February evening in 1839, he was experimenting in his home kitchen, adding various chemicals

to "cure" rubber. A mixture of sulfur and rubber dropped from his spoon

onto the hot surface of the stove. Too busy to wipe it up, he went about

his research while the rubber melted, then later cooled and solidified. When

Goodyear did scoop up the congealed mass, he was astonished by its

smoothness, dryness, and flexibility. That night, in an intense winter cold,

he nailed the piece of "gum" outside the kitchen door. In the morning, he

brought it in, flexed it, and was jubilant. It was not brittle. It had retained

its elasticity. Charles Goodyear had discovered that sulfur "cures," or "vulcanizes,"


Additional experimentation was required to perfect the process of vulcanization.

But Goodyear was out of money. He had already expended an

enormous amount of time, and all his savings, in quest of a better rubber.

He and his wife and five children were destitute and dependent upon relatives

for food and housing. He pawned family belongings and sold his

children's schoolbooks with the justification, as he wrote in 1855 in GumElastic

and Its Varieties, that "the certainty of success warranted extreme

measures of sacrifice." But Charles Goodyear did not succeed commercially.

He was imprisoned for debt, and when he died, in 1860, he left his family

with some $200,000 in unpaid bills and loans.

After Goodyear's death, ten years passed before rubber became America~s

dream product. And that happened through the efforts of a man whose

name was strikingly similar to Goodyear's.

Dr. Benjamin Franklin Goodrich, a Civil War surgeon turned businessman,

started the B. F. Goodrich Company in Akron, Ohio, in 1870. At that

time, there were still few known applications for rubber. But Goodrich was

convinced of rubber's potential. He had watched a close friend's house

destroyed by fire because a leather fire hose burst. And in the oil fields of

Pennsylvania he had seen the need for a rubber hose to transport oil. He

also knew from his medical training that rubber could have numerous applications

in surgery and rehabilitative therapy.

Gifted and debonair, Goodrich had no difficulty persuading businessmen

to invest in his newly formed rubber company. Within a few months, the

Akron plant was producing the world's first rubber hoses. The company's

heavy-duty, cotton-covered fire hose quickly became the firm's best-selling


The year 1871 also witnessed several other rubber firsts: gaskets, bottle

stoppers, preserving-jar rings, and rollers for the popular clothes wringers

used by housewives. For outside the house, the chief product was the garden

hose. Leather hoses suffered from several drawbacks: When repeatedly wet


In and Around the House

and dried, leather ages and cracks; it becomes brittle through extended

exposure to sunlight; and its elasticity is severely limited, with the potential

of frequent ruptures. Goodrich's rubber, on the other hand, was impervious

to moisture and temperature, and it had an inherent strength that withstood

high internal water pressure with minimum chance of rupture. Through

the 1880s, professional and weekend gardeners only too gladly relinquished

the tin watering can for the rubber hose, a blessing for the gardener as

well as for the lawn.

Wheelbarrow: A.D. 200, China

The wheelbarrow holds a distinctive place in the history of man-made devices.

It illustrates a phenomenon known as independent invention-that

is, the wheelbarrow was developed in different places at different periods,

and was used for different purposes. The Chinese and European wheelbarrows

are of particular interest.

The earliest form of wheelbarrow was designed around A.D. 200 by Chuko

Liang, a general in the Chinese Imperial Army. Its purpose was to transport

large quantities of military supplies along narrow embankments. The device's

immense single wheel measured about four feet in diameter. It had a dozen

spokes, and was positioned so that the center of gravity of the load could

be directly above the wheel axle. Historians believe that General Liang

adapted the wheelbarrow from a smaller, two-wheeled handcart already in

use in China for carrying rice and vegetables.

Two-wheeled handcarts were known throughout the East and West as

early as 1000 B.C., but it appears that the need never arose, as it did in

China in Liang's time, to construct a one-wheeled device to traverse a severely

narrow track of ground.

From transporting military supplies, the Chinese wheelbarrow was used

to remove dead and wounded soldiers from battlefields. Then it was enlarged

and slightly modified to carry civilians about town, with a capacity to accommodate

about four adults or six children at a time. These larger wheelbarrows

were usually pulled by a donkey and guided from behind by a


The Chinese had two poetically descriptive names for the wheelbarrow:

"wooden ox" and "gliding horse." Commenting on the mechanical advantage

of the device for a load of given weight, a fifth-century historian wrote:

"In the time taken by a man to go six feet, the Wooden Ox would go twenty

feet. It could carry the food supply for one man for a whole year, and yet

after twenty miles the porter would not feel tired."

The European wheelbarrow originated during the Middle Ages. Whereas

the Chinese wheelbarrow had its single wheel in the center, directly under

the load, so that the pusher had only to steer and balance it, the European

version had the wheel out in front. This meant that the load was supported

by both the wheel and the pusher.


Mortar wheelbarrow

and garden variety c.

1880. Woodcut ofmedieval

laborer transporting


in a Western-style


Historians believe that the European invention was an adaptation of an

earlier vehicle, the hod, a wooden basket suspended between two poles and

carried in front and back by two or four men. Somewhere around the

twelfth century, an anonymous inventor conceived the idea of replacing

the leading carriers by a single small wheel; thus, the Western wheelbarrow

was created.

The European wheelbarrow was not as efficient as the Chinese. Nonetheless,

workmen building the great castles and cathedrals on the Continent

suddenly had a new, simple device to help them cart materials. Most manuscripts

from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries that contain illustrations

of wheelbarrows invariably show them loaded with bricks and stones, in

the service of builders. In this respect, the European wheelbarrow's function

was quite different from that of the Chinese version. And indeed, the forward

placement of the wheel meant that a man using the European wheelbarrow

had to lift a large portion of the load, besides pushing and balancing

it. Thus, unlike the Chinese invention, the Western wheelbarrow was unsuited

for carrying a burden over long distances. Consequently, it never

became a vehicle for human transportation.

Until the seventeenth century, when frequent trading began between

Europe and China, each had its own distinct form of wheelbarrow. But

then European traders to the Orient returned with astonishing tales of the

loads that could be carried effortlessly over long distances with the Chinese

wheelbarrow. That design began to appear in Western countries.

Today both models are available, depending on individual work



Chapter 7

F or the Nursery

Fairy Tales: 16th Century, Italy and France

Rape, child abuse, and abandonment are the stuff of contemporary headlines

and feature films. But they are also themes central to many of our

most beloved fairy tales-as they were originally conceived.

The original "Sleeping Beauty" does not end happily once the princess

is awakened with a kiss; her real troubles just begin. She is raped and abandoned,

and her illegitimate children are threatened with cannibalism. And

in the authentic version of "Little Red Riding Hood," the wolf has yet to

digest the grandmother when he pounces on Red, ripping her limb to limb.

Many artists of the day, believing that the two violent deaths were too much

for children to endure, refused to illustrate the tale. To make it more palatable,

one illustrator introduced a hunter, who at the last minute slays the

wolf, saving at least Little Red.

In the present century, numerous critics continue to argue that many

fairy tales and nursery rhymes read to children-and repeated by themare

quintessentially unsavory, with their thinly veiled themes of lunacy,

drunkenness, maiming of humans and animals, theft, gross dishonesty, and

blatant racial discrimination. And the stories do contain all these elements

and more-particularly if they are recounted in their original versions.

Why did the creators of these enduring children's tales work with immoral

and inhumane themes?

One answer centers around the fact that from Elizabethan times to the

early nineteenth century, children were regarded as miniature adults. Families

were confined to cramped quarters. Thus, children kept the same late


Fairy Tales: 16th Century, Italy and France

hours as adults, they overheard and repeated bawdy language, and were

not shielded from the sexual shenanigans of their elders. Children witnessed

drunkenness and drank at an early age. And since public floggings, hangings,

disembowelments, and imprisonment in stocks were well attended in town

squares, violence, cruelty, and death were no strangers to children. Life

was harsh. Fairy tales blended blissful fantasy with that harsh reality. And

exposing children to the combination seemed perfectly natural then, and

not particularly harmful.

One man more than any other, Charles Perrault, is responsible for immortalizing

several of our most cherished fairy tales. However, Perrault

did not originate all of them; as we'll see, many existed in oral tradition,

and some had achieved written form. "Sleeping Beauty," "Cinderella," and

"Little Red Riding Hood" are but three of the stories penned by this

seventeenth-century Frenchman-a rebellious school dropout who failed

at several professions, then turned to fairy tales when their telling became

popular at the court of King Louis XIV.

Charles Perrault was born in Paris in 1628. The fifth and youngest son

of a distinguished author and member of the French parliament, he was

taught to read at an early age by his mother. In the evenings, after supper,

he would have to render the entire day's lessons to his father in Latin. As

a teenager, Perrault rebelled against formal learning. Instead, he embarked

on an independent course of study, concentrating on various subjects as

mood and inclination suited him. This left him dilettantishly educated in

many fields and well-prepared for none. In 1651, to obtain a license to

practice law, he bribed his examiners and bought himself academic


The practice of law soon bored Perrault. He married and had four children-

and the same number of jobs in government. Discontent also with

public work, he eventually turned to committing to paper the fairy tales he

told his children. Charles Perrault had found his metier.

In 1697, his landmark book was issued in Paris. Titled Tales of Times

Passed, it contained eight stories, remarkable in themselves but even more

noteworthy in that all except one became, and remained, world renowned.

They are, in their original translated titles: "The Sleeping Beauty in the

Wood," "Little Red Riding Hood," "Blue Beard," "The Master Cat: or Puss in Boots," "Diamonds and Toads," "Cinderella: or, The Little Glass

Slipper," and "Hop 0' my Thumb." The eighth and least famous tale,

"Riquet ala Houppe," was the story of a deformed prince's romance with

a beautiful but witless princess.

Perrault did more than merely record stories that were already part of

popular oral and written tradition. Although an envious contemporary criticized

that Charles Perrault had "for authors an infinite number of fathers,

mothers, grandmothers, governesses and friends," Perrault's genius was to

realize that the charm of the tales lay in their simplicity. Imbuing them with

magic, he made them intentionally naive, as if a child, having heard the


For the Nursery

tales in the nursery, was telling them to friends.

Modern readers, unacquainted with the original versions of the tales

recorded by Perrault and others, may understandably find them shocking.

What follows are the origins and earliest renditions of major tales we were

told as children, and that we continue to tell our own children.

"Sleeping Beauty": 1636, Italy

"The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood" was the opening tale in Charles Perrault's

1697 book. It is the version we still tell today, but it did not represent

the complete original story; Perrault's recounting omits many of the beautiful

princess's horrifying ordeals. The first written version of the tale

was published in Italy in 1636 by Giambattista Basile in his collection


In this Neapolitan "Sleeping Beauty," a great king is forewarned by wise

men that his newborn daughter, Talia, is in peril from a poison splinter in

flax. Although the king bans flax from the palace, Talia, as a young girl,

happens upon a flax-spinning wheel and immediately catches a splinter

beneath her fingernail, falling dead.

Grief-stricken, the king lays his daughter's body on a velvet cloth, locks

the palace gates, and leaves the forest forever. At this point, our modern

version and the original diverge.

A nobleman, hunting in the woods, discovers the abandoned palace and

the insensate body of the princess. Instead of merely kissing her, he rapes

her and departs. Nine months later, the sleeping Talia gives birth to twins,

a boy and a girl. Named Sun and Moon, they are looked after by fairies.

One day, the male infant sucks on his mother's finger and the poisonous

splinter is dislodged, restoring Talia to consciousness.

Months pass, and the nobleman, recollecting his pleasurable encounter

with the fair-haired sleeping beauty, revisits the palace and finds her awake.

He confesses to being the father of Talia's children, and they enjoy a weeklong

affair before he leaves her again-for his wife, whom he conveniently

never mentions.

The original story at this point gets increasingly, if not gratuitously, bizarre.

The nobleman's wife learns of her husband's bastard children. She

has them captured and assigns them to her cook, with orders that their

young throats be slashed and their flesh prepared in a savory hash. Only

when her husband has half-finished the dish does she gleefully announce,

"You are eating what is your own!"

For a time, the nobleman believes he has eaten his children, but it turns

out that the tenderhearted cook spared the twins and substituted goat meat.

The enraged wife orders that the captured Talia be burned alive at the

stake. But Sleeping Beauty is saved at the last moment by the father of her



"Little Red Riding Hood": 1697, France

Little Red Riding

Hood and the Wolf. A

gentle 1872 depiction

of a gory tale.

This tale is the shortest and one of the best-known of Perrault's stories.

Historians have found no version of the story prior to Perrault's manuscript,

in which both Granny and Little Red are devoured. The wolf, having consumed

the grandmother, engages Red in what folklorists claim is one of

the cleverest, most famous question-and-answer sequences in all children's


Charles Dickens confessed that Little Red was his first love, and that as

a child he had longed to marry her. He later wrote that he bitterly deplored

"the cruelty and treachery of that dissembling Wolf who ate her grandmother

without making any impression on his appetite, and then ate her

[Little Red], after making a ferocious joke about his teeth."

In fact, many writers objected to Perrault's gruesome ending and provided

their own. In a popular 1840 British version, Red, about to be attacked by

the wolf, screams loudly, and "in rushed her father and some other faggot

makers, who, seeing the wolf, killed him at once."

During that same period, French children heard a different ending. The

wolf is about to pounce on Red, when a wasp flies through the window and

stings the tip of his nose. The wolf's cries of pain alert a passing hunter,

who lets fly an arrow "that struck the wolf right through the ear and killed

him on the spot."

Perhaps the goriest of all versions of the tale emerged in England at the

end of the nineteenth century. This popular telling concludes with the wolf

collecting the grandmother's blood in bottles, which he then induces the

unsuspecting Red to drink. It is interesting to note that while all the revisions

endeavor to save Red, none of them spares the grandmother.

The Grimm brothers, one hundred twenty years after Perrault, provided


For the Nursery

yet another version~the only one that spares Granny. The wolf, logy after

dining on Granny and Red, falls asleep. His thunderous snores attract the

attention of a hunter, who enters the house, guesses what has transpired,

and rips open the wolf's stomach with a pair of scissors. Out jumps Red,

exclaiming, "How dark it was inside the wolf!" Then an exhausted, dissheveled,

and silent grandmother steps out. And the wolf is chased away.

Folklorists believe that before Perrault immortalized "Little Red Riding

Hood" by committing it to paper in his skillful style, the story existed as

oral tradition, perhaps as early as the Middle Ages.

"Cinderella": 9th Century, China

The Cinderella story is believed to be the best-known fairy tale in the world.

It is a tale that may have existed for at least a thousand years in various

written and oral forms-most of which involved the brutal mutilation of

women's feet in vain attempts to claim the mystery slipper.

The tale as recounted to children today-in which a poor cinder girl is

able to attend a grand ball through the benevolence of a fairy godmotheris

due entirely to Charles Perrault. Were it not for his skilled retelling, the

Western world might instead know only the trials of "Rashin Coatie," the

lovely, impoverished daughter in a popular Scottish version.

According to that tale, the girl's three ugly stepsisters force her to wear

garments of rushes (hence her name). Instead of a fairy godmother to grant

wishes, Rashin Coatie has a magic calf, which her wicked stepmother vindictively

slaughters and cooks. The grief-stricken Rashin Coatie, desiring to

attend a ball, wishes for a new dress upon the dead calf's bones. Attired

in the "grandest" gown, she wins the heart ofa prince, and hurrying home,

loses a beautiful satin slipper.

Since the prince will marry whoever fits into the slipper, the stepmother

cuts off the toes of her eldest daughter; the foot is still too large, so she

hacks off the heel. The prince accepts the ugly (secretly mutilated) daughter,

only to be told later by a bird that the foot inside the shoe is not intactand

that Rashin Coatie is the beauty he is after. The prince marries her,

and "they lived happily all their days."

In many old European versions of the story, the ugliest daughter's foot

is mangled to fit into a slipper of satin, cloth, leather, or fur. And a bird

of some sort always alerts the prince to the deception. In the French tale

that Perrault heard as a child, the shoe is believed to have been of variegated

fur (vair in French) rather than of glass (verre). It was Perrault's genius to perceive the merits of a glass slipper-one that could not be stretched and

could be seen through. His awareness of the salient aspect of glass is apparent

in his choice of title: "Cinderella: or, The Little Glass Slipper."

In Europe, the earliest Cinderella-type tale is attributed to Giambattista

Basile. It appeared in his Pentamerone, under the title "The Hearth Cat."

A widely traveled poet, soldier, courtier, and administrator from Naples,


"Puss in Boots": 1553, Italy

Basile composed fifty stories, all supposedly related to him by Neapolitan

women. His Cinderella, named Zezolla, is a victim of child abuse.

The Basile story opens with the unhappy Zezolla plotting to murder her

wicked stepmother; she eventually breaks the woman's neck. Unfortunately,

her father marries an even more vindictive woman, with six vicious daughters

who consign Zezolla to toil all day at the hearth.

Desiring to attend a gala festa, she wishes upon a magic date tree and

instantly finds herself in regal attire, astride a white horse, with twelve pages

in attendance. The king is bewitched by her loveliness. But at midnight, he

is left holding an empty slipper-which fits no one in the land except, of

course, Zezolla.

Although this earlier Italian version is strikingly similar to Charles

Perrault's, historians believe that Perrault was unfamiliar with Giambattista

Basile's published fairy tales, and was acquainted only with the oral French

version of the story.

Who, though, told the first Cinderella story?

The earliest-dated version of such a story appears in a Chinese book

written between A.D. 850 and 860. In the Oriental tale, Yeh-hsien is mistreated

by an ill-tempered stepmother, who dresses her in tattered clothes

and forces her to draw water from dangerously deep wells.

The Chinese Cinderella keeps a ten-foot-Iong magic fish in a pool by her

home. Disguised in her daughter's tattered rags, the stepmother tricks,

catches, and kills the fish. Cinderella, desiring clothes to attend a festival,

wishes upon the fish's bones and is suddenly outfitted in magnificent feathers

and gold.

There is no prince or king at the Chinese festival. But on hurriedly leaving

the affair, Cinderella does lose a golden slipper, which was "light as down

and made no noise even when treading on stone." Eventually, the shoe

falls into the hands of the wealthiest merchant in the province. A considerable

search leads him to Cinderella, who fits into the slipper and becomes

as beautiful "as a heavenly being." They marry while an avalanche of heavy

stones buries the wicked stepmother and her ugly daughter.

This ninth-century Chinese story was recorded by Taun Ch'eng-shih, one

of history's earliest folktale collectors. He wrote that he had first learned

the story from a servant who had been with his family for years. No more

is known about the story's origin; it bears many obvious similarities with

later Western versions. Today seven hundred different Cinderella tales have

been collected.

"Puss in Boots": 1553, Italy

"Le Chat Botte, " as told by Charles Perrault in 1697, is the most renowned

tale in all folklore of an animal as man's helper. But Puss, in earlier and

later versions of the story, is a role model for the true con artist. To acquire

riches for his destitute master, the quick-witted cat, decked out in a splendid


The earliest Cinderella-like tale

tells of the mistreated Yeh-hsien

who goes from rags to riches by

way of a magic fish, a lost slipper,

and marriage to a wealthy


pair of boots, lies, cheats, bullies, and steals. As the story ends, every one

of his conniving stratagems has succeeded brilliantly, and the reader leaves

Puss, dashingly attired, mingling in high court circles. Crime pays, suggests

the story.

Once again, the story first appeared in Basile's Pentamerone. A Neapolitan

beggar dies, leaving his son a cat. The son complains bitterly about the

meager inheritance, until the cat promises, "I can make you rich, if I put

my mind to it."

As in Perrault's tale, the Italian cat, Il Gatto, lies and schemes his way to

wealth. He even cons the king into offering the princess in marriage to his

master; and he coaxes until the king provides a dowry large enough so the

master may purchase a sprawling estate. But while Perrault's tale ends there,

Basile's does not.

The master had sworn to the cat that as recompense, upon the animal's

death, its body would be preserved in a magnificent gold coffin. As a test,

Il Gatto plays dead. He then suffers the humiliation of hearing his master

joke about the feline's ludicrous attire and immoral behavior, and he uncovers

the man's true plan: to hurl the corpse by the paws out the window.

Il Gatto, livid, leaps up and storms out of the house, never to be seen again.


"Hansel and Gretel": 1812, Germany

The animal fares better in Perrault's closing line: "The Cat became a great

Lord, and never ran more after mice, but for his diversion."

The resemblance between the Italian tale and Perrault's is striking on

many counts; except that Il Gatto was bootless and the master's estate was

purchased with dowry money. Nonetheless, folklorists feel confident that

Perrault was unfamiliar with Basile's book.

There was, however, an even earlier Italian version of the story, which

mayor may not have influenced both Perrault and Basile.

In Venice in 1553, Gianfrancesco Straparola, a storyteller from Caravaggio,

near Milan, published a tale of a remarkable cat in The Delightful

Nights. He claimed that the story, as well as all others in the two-volume

work, was written down "from the lips of ten young girls." It is quite similar

to Perrault's version, differing in only minor details. And Straparola's book,

unlike Basile's, was published in France during Perrault's lifetime.

Over the centuries, in various countries, the tale has appeared in children's

books somewhat softened, to make the roguish cat more of a Robin

Hood-like prankster, stealing from the rich to give to the poor.

"Hansel and Gretel": 1812, Germany

This story, in which two children outwit a witch who is about to destroy

them, comes down to us from the brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, who

began recording folktales told to them by villagers and farmers near the

town of Kassel, Germany, about 1807.

The brothers collected 156 stories in all, many of them similar to tales

preserved by Charles Perrault, such as "Cinderella" and "Puss in Boots."

"Hansel and Gretel" was told to the brothers by a young girl, Doretchen

Wild, who years later became Wilhelm Grimm's wife.

The fairy story gained wider popularity after German composer Engelbert

Humperdinck made it the basis of a children's opera, first produced in

Munich in 1893. However, the opera-as well as subsequent versions of

the story-omits the most traumatizing aspect of the traditional tale: the

parents' deliberate abandonment of their children to the wild beasts of the


"Hansel and Gretel" was not only known through German oral tradition.

A version circulating in France as early as the late seventeenth century had

a house made not of gingerbread but of gold and jewels, in which a young

girl is held captive by a giant whom she eventually shoves into his own fire.

But it was the brothers Grimm who immortalized the tale for future


In Germany, the story lost popularity following the atrocities of Hitler.

Shortly after the war, when a major exhibition of children's books was

presented in Munich, many people objected to the story's celebration of

incinerating an opponent in an oven.


For the Nursery

"Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs": 1812, Germany

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm's stay in the Germany town of Kassel, in order

to collect oral-tradition fairy tales, resulted in more than one marriage.

Whereas Wilhelm married the girl who told him "Hansel and Gretel," his

sister, Lotte, married into the Hassenpflug family, who had told the Grimms

"Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."

The brothers Grimm were the first to artfully combine the elements of

blossoming youth, fading beauty, and female rivalry into an enduring fairy

tale. But theirs was not the first published version of such a story. The

Pentamerone contains a tale of a beautiful seven-year-old girl named Lisa

who falls unconscious when a comb sticks in her hair. Placed in a glass

coffin (as is Snow White), Lisa continues to mature (as does Snow White,

who is also seven years old when she is abandoned), growing more and

more lovely. A female relative, envious of Lisa's beauty, vows to destroy

her (as the jealous queen swears to accomplish Snow White's death). The

woman opens the coffin, and while dragging Lisa out by the hair, dislodges

the comb, restoring the beauty to life.

Basile's story appears to be the earliest recorded Snow White-like fairy

tale. It is uncertain whether the Grimms, writing their version of "Snowdrop"

(as they named the girl) two hundred years later, were familiar with

the Italian legend.

It was the Grimm version that Walt Disney brought to the screen in 1938

in the first feature-length cartoon.

Many early translators of the Grimm story omitted a gory fact: The queen

not only orders Snow White killed but also, as proof of the death, demands

that her heart be brought to the palace. Disney reinstated this original

detail, but he chose to leave out a more gruesome one. In the German

story, the queen, believing the heart returned by the huntsman is Snow

White's (it's from a boar), salts and actually eats the organ. And the original

fairy tale ends with the defeated queen being forced to don slippers made

of iron, which are heated red hot in a fire. In an agonized frenzy, she dances

herself to death.

"The Princess on the Pea": 1835, Copenhagen

Charles Perrault and the brothers Grimm wrote what are known as "classic"

fairy tales. By comparison, the nineteenth-century author Hans Christian

Andersen recounted what folklorists call "art" fairy tales. They were cultivated

in the period of German Romanticism, and though rooted in folk

legend, they are more personal in style, containing elements of autobiography

and social satire.

Andersen, born in 1805 on the Danish island of Funen, was the son of

a sickly shoemaker and an illiterate washerwoman. His own life was some-


"Goldilocks and the Three Bears": 1831, England

thing of a fairy tale, for he rose from street urchin to darling of European

society. He published Tales Told for Children in Copenhagen in 1835, but

belittled his fairy tales as "those trifles," being prouder of his concurrently

published first novel, Improvisatoren, which quickly settled into oblivion.

In a traditional Swedish version of the tale-one that predates Andersen's

immortal telling-the princess, to test the legitimacy of her nobility, sleeps

on seven mattresses, with a pea between each. And she is subjected to a

number of additional tests, in which such items as nuts, grains, pinheads,

and straw are placed between her mattresses-all to discern if she is sensitive

enough to detect their uncomfortable bulge, and thus prove herself of

royal birth.

The heightened sensitivity of royals was also the source of folktales in

the East. The earliest such Eastern story appears in Book XII of the Katha

Sarit Sagara of Somadeva the Kashmiri, who lived in the third century A.D.

In that tale, three brothers of a wealthy Brahman vie to see who is the most

sensitive. While sleeping on a pile of seven mattresses, the youngest brother

awakens in agony, with a crooked red indentation along his skin. Investigators

examine the bed and locate a single human hair beneath the bottommost


The version of "The Princess on the Pea" told today is a slight modification

of Andersen's original, which he said he had first heard as a child.

Andersen placed his princess on a bed of twenty straw mattresses and twenty

featherbeds, with a single pea at the bottom. When the Danish story was

first rendered into English in 1846, the translator, Charles Boner, feeling

that one pea under forty mattresses stretched credulity, added two peas.

Thus, the modem numbers are: forty mattresses and three peas. What

Boner never explained, unfortunately, is the logic that led him to conclude

that the addition of two peas makes the story more believable.

"Goldilocks and the Three Bears": 1831, England

A fascinating early version of the Goldilocks story was written in 1837 by

British poet laureate Robert Southey, under the title "Story of the Three

Bears." Southey's Goldilocks was neither young nor beautiful; rather, she

was an angry, hungry, homeless gray-haired crone, perhaps in her midsixties,

who broke into the bears' well-appointed home for food and lodging.

The character's evolution from an ill-tempered wiry-haired curmudgeon,

to a silver-haired beauty, and finally to a radiant golden-haired maiden

occurred over many years and at the hands of several writers.

Southey claimed that he had heard the tale from an uncle. And once the

poet published the story, it gained wide acceptance. British readers assumed

that "Story of the Three Bears" was an original creation of the Southey

family. So did historians until only a few decades ago.

In 1951, an old manuscript was discovered in the Toronto Public Library's

Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books. Home-printed and bound,


For the Nursery

the booklet was titled "The Story of Three Bears metrically related, with

illustrations locating it at Cecil Lodge in September 1831." Subtitled "The

celebrated nursery tale," it had been put into verse and embellished with

drawings as a birthday gift for a little boy, Horace Broke, by his thirty-twoyear-

old maiden aunt, Eleanor Mure. That was six years before the tale

appeared under Robert Southey'S name.

The two stories contain strong similarities. In Eleanor Mure's version,

the unwelcome intruder to the bears' home is also an "angry old woman,"

but the bowls in the parlor contained not Southey's porridge but milk

turned sour. In Southey'S version, when the homeless old woman is discovered

in bed by the bears, she jumps out the window, never to be seen

again. But in Mure's earlier tale, the incensed bears resort to several cruel

tactics to rid themselves of the hag:

On the fire they throw her, but burn her they couldn't,

In the water they put her, but drown there she wouldn't.

Worse arrives. In desperation, the bears impale the old woman on the

steeple of St. Paul's church.

Researchers can only surmise that Robert Southey'S uncle picked up the

salient details of Eleanor Mure's story. What is indisputable, however, is

that the British poet laureate introduced the fairy tale to a generation of

English readers.

Who transformed the rickety old woman to a radiant young Goldilocks?

Twelve years after the publication of Southey's story, another British

writer, Joseph Cundall, published Treasury of Pleasure Books for Young Children.

In an introductory note, Cundall explained to his readers: "I have

made the intruder a little girl instead of an old woman"; then he justified

the transformation by adding, "because there are so many other stories of

old women." And he named the girl Silver-Hair.

The character was known by that name for several years, appearing in a

variety of children's books.

Then in 1868, in Aunt Friendly's Nursery Book, the intruder to the bears'

home is once again transformed: "There lived in the same forest a sweet

little girl who was called Golden Hair." Thirty-six years later, in 1904, in

Old Nursery Stories and Rhymes, the intruder's appearance remained unaltered,

but her name was changed to fit her tresses: "The little girl had long

golden hair, so she was called Goldilocks." And Goldilocks she has remained.

"Bluebeard": 1697, France

In Charles Perrault's "La Barbe Bleue," the main character is a rich seigneur

who forbids his new bride to open one door in his immense castle. She

disobeys, discovers the bodies of his former wives, and is herself rescued

from death only at the last minute.


Dracula: 1897, England

Similar stories, involving a forbidden room, a wife's curiosity, and her

eleventh-hour rescue, exist throughout the folklore of Europe, Africa, and

the East. But Perrault's 1697 version is believed to be based in part on a

true case: the heinous crimes of the fifteenth-century marshal of France

Gilles de Rais, and his conviction for torturing and killing one hundred

forty young boys, whom he first sexually molested. De Rais's celebrated

trial for satanism, abduction, and child murder stunned Europe in the

1400s, and the case was still a source of discussion in Perrault's day. De

Rais fascinated Perrault.

Baron Gilles de Rais was born in September 1404 at Champtoce, France.

As a young man, he distinguished himself in battle against the British, and

he was assigned to Joan of Arc's guard and fought at her side. Inheriting

vast wealth, he maintained a court more lavish than that of the king of

France, and at age thirty-one he took up the practices of alchemy and

satanism, hoping to enhance his power and riches.

He also began the ritualistic killing of children. Each murder was initiated

with a feast and the drinking of a stimulant. Then the child was taken to

an upper room, bound, and told in detail how he was to be sexually abused

and slaughtered. This was done so that de Rais could delight in the youth's

terror. Eventually, after the actual debauchery and torture, the child was

usually beheaded.

De Rais was obsessed with angelic-looking children. He erected on his

estate a personal "Chapel of the Holy Innocents" and staffed it with handselected

choirboys. As rumors raged throughout the countryside concerning

the mysterious disappearances of children, one mother, in 1438, publicly

accused Gilles de Rais of her son's death. That prompted scores of similar


De Rais was arrested two years later and brought to trial. Under threat

of torture, he confessed, blaming his crimes on an adolescence of parental

overindulgence. He was hanged and burned at Nantes, on October 26,


Charles Perrault drew upon several monstrous aspects of the de Rais

case. And he replaced its pedophiliac elements with details from a sixthcentury

trial of a multiple wife-murderer. "Bluebeard" was a fairy tale of

a unique nature, one that would set a model for other grotesque tales based

on actual murders. One of the most popular in that genre to follow the

Perrault story involved a bloodthirsty count named Dracula.

Dracula: 1897, England

The nineteenth-century Irish writer Bram Stoker came serendipitously upon

the subject matter for his novel Dracula while engaged in research at the

British Museum. He discovered a manuscript of traditional Eastern European

folklore concerning Vlad the Impaler, a fifteenth-century warrior

prince of Walachia. According to Romanian legend, the sadistic Prince


For the Nursery

Vlad took his meals al fresco, amidst a forest of impaled, groaning victims.

And Vlad washed down each course with his victims' blood, in the belief

that it imbued him with supernatural strength.

Vlad's crimes were legend. On red-hot pokers, he impaled male friends

who had fallen from favor, and women unfaithful to him were impaled,

then skinned alive. Imprisoned himself, he tortured mice and birds for

amusement. His mountaintop retreat, known as Castle Drakula, suggested

the title for Stoker's novel.

Although Stoker had found his model for Dracula, it was a friend, a

professor from the University of Budapest, who suggested a locale for the

fiction by relating lore of the vampires of Transylvania. The novelist traveled

to the area and was immediately impressed with its dark, brooding mountains,

morning fogs, and sinister-looking castles.

Dracula was an immense success when published in 1897, wrapped in a

brown paper cover. And the novel was responsible for reviving interest in

the Gothic horror romance, which has continued into the present day in

books and films.

Frankenstein: 1818, Switzerland

Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus, evolved from

several evenings of storytelling in June 1816, at the Villa Diodati near

Geneva, Switzerland. The nineteen-year-old Mary engaged in a storytelling

competition with her twenty-four-year-old husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley;

her eighteen-year-old stepsister, Claire Clarement (then carrying the child

of her lover, Lord Byron); the twenty-eight-year-old Byron; and his personal

physician, twenty-three-year-old John Polidori.

During a rainy week, Byron suggested that they entertain themselves by

writing original ghost stories. Mary's inspiration came one evening as she

sat by the fireplace, listening to Shelley and Byron argue over the source

of human life and whether it could be artificially created. Electric current

was the focus of considerable scientific research at the time, and the two

poets debated the possibility of electrically reanimating a corpse, imbuing

it with what they called "vital warmth."

When the discussion concluded late in the evening, Shelley retired. But

Mary, transfixed in speculation, was unable to sleep. For an 1831 edition

of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley vividly recalled her burst of inspiration:

I saw-with shut eyes but acute mental vision-the pale student of unhallowed

arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together .... I saw the

hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of

some powerful engine, show signs of life and stir with an uneasy, half-vital

motion ....

Swift as light and as cheering was the idea that broke in upon me ....


The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: 1900, United States

On the morrow I announced that I had thought of a story. I began the

day with the words, "It was on a dreary night in November," making only

a transcript of the grim terrors of my waking dream.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: 1900, United States

Born in Chittenango, New York, in 1856, Lyman Frank Baum began his

career as a journalist but switched to writing children's books, more than

sixty of them before his death in 1919, in Hollywood. His first book, Father

Goose, published in 1899, was a commercial success, and he followed it the

next year with a novel that would quickly become a classic.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was conceived one evening in 1899 when

Baum was improvising a story to entertain his sons and several neighborhood

children. He imagined a girl named Dorothy, swept from her Kansas home

and deposited in a strange and magical land, where she encounters a scarecrow,

a tin woodsman, and a cowardly lion. Suddenly, a neighborhood girl,

Tweety Robbins, interrupted Baum to ask the name of the magical land.

The masterful storyteller was momentarily stumped. Years later, in an

interview published in the St. Louis Republic, Baum divulged the origin of

the immortal name Oz. Next to him that night had been a three-tiered

filing cabinet, the first drawer labeled A-G, the second H-N, and the last

O-Z. "Oz," he said, "it at once became."

Though Baum told that yarn often, his later biographers believe it might

reflect a bit of his own imaginative fabrication. For when he first submitted

the manuscript for the book to his publisher in 1899, the story was titled

The Emerald City, that being the name of the magical land. During the

publishing process, Baum retitled the book to From Kansas to Fairyland,

then The City of the Great Oz. But Oz, even at that late date, was the name

not of the kingdom but only of the wizard.

Finally, he arrived at a title that pleased himself and his publisher: The

Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Only then, enamored with the idea of naming the

land Oz, did he hurriedly pencil through the manuscript that the Emerald

City was located "in the land of Oz."

Baum wrote thirteen more Oz books, and the popular series was continued

with another book after his death. He did invent the name Oz, and his

biographers have posited three of their own plausible theories for its origin:

• That Baum modified the name of the biblical region of Uz, Job's


• That, delighting in the "Ohs" and "Ahs" his tales elicited from children,

he respelled the latter exclamation Oz.

• That he slightly altered Charles Dickens's pseudonym, "Boz," for he

greatly admired the British author's novels.


For the Nursery

Nursery Jlhymes: Antiquity, Europe and Asia

Although the concept of rhymes is ancient, only in the 1820s did the term

"nursery rhyme" come into use. Previously, such verses were simply known

as "songs" or "ditties," and in the 1700s, specifically, as "Tom Thumb

songs" or "Mother Goose rhymes." In America, in the next century,

"Mother Goose rhymes" would win out as the generic name for all children's

verse, regardless of authorship.

There have been many attempts to censor the sadistic phrases found in

several popular rhymes-for example, "She cut off their tails with a carving

knife." And many groups have claimed that certain rhymes, replete with

adult shenanigans, are entirely unfit for children. The fact is, most nursery

rhymes were never intended for children. That is why the adjective "nursery"

was not used for centuries. It first appeared in the year 1824, in an

article for a British magazine titled "On Nursery Rhymes in General."

If the rhymes originally were not for the nursery, what was their function?

Some rhymes were stanzas taken from bawdy folk ballads. Others began

as verses based on popular street games, proverbs, or prayers. And many

originated as tavern limericks, spoofs of religious practices, social satire,

and the lyrics of romantic songs. They don't read precisely that way today

because in the early 1800s many "nursery" rhymes were sanitized to satisfy

the newly emerging Victorian morality.

In their definitive work The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, lona and

Peter Opie write: "We can say almost without hesitation that, of those

pieces which date from before 1800, the only true rhymes composed especially

for the nursery are the rhyming alphabets, the infant amusements

(verses which accompany a game), and the lullabies .... The overwhelming

majority of nursery rhymes were not in the first place composed for

children. "

However, rhymes in their bawdy versions were often recited to children,

because children were treated as miniature adults. Then, in the early 1800s,

many rhymes were cleaned up, subsumed under the rubric "nursery," and

ascribed to a pseudonymous Mother Goose. Who was this woman? Or man?

Mother Goose: 1697, France

According to an early New England legend, the original Mother Goose was

a Boston widow, Elizabeth Goose, born in 1665. On marrying Isaac Goose

at age twenty-seven, she immediately became the stepmother of ten children,

then bore six of her own. The association of Mistress Goose with the name

Mother Goose stems from an alleged volume of rhymes published in 1719

by one of her sons-in-law and titled Mother Goose's Melodies for Children.

Widespread as this legend was-and the people involved were real-no

copy of the book has ever been found.


"Hush-a-Bye, Baby." Inspired by

the American Indian custom of

hanging cradles from birch trees.

More cogent evidence suggests that the original Mother Goose was actually

a man: Charles Perrault.

Perrault's seminal 1697 book, containing eight popular stories, bore the

subtitle "Tales of My Mother Goose." That is the first time the term appeared

in print. Whether Perrault concocted the name or adapted it from

"Frau Gosen," a woman in German folklore, is unknown. What most folklorists

believe is that the same man who immortalized such fairy tales as

"Cinderella" and "Sleeping Beauty" also popularized a fictitious mother

of rhymes who came to be known to children throughout the world.

"Hush-a-Bye, Baby": 1765, New England

Hush-a-bye, baby, on the tree top,

When the wind blows, the cradle will rock;

When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall,

Down will come baby, cradle, and all.

In the category of rhymes known as lullabies, "Hush-a-bye" is the best

known in both America and England. It first appeared in a 1765 book,

Mother Goose's Melody, along with a footnote which indicates that its anonymous

author intended it to be more than merely a lullaby: "This may serve


"Ride a Cock-Horse. "

The ''fine lady" may

have been a "Fiennes

lady, " one Celia

Fiennes of Banbury


as a Warning to the Proud and Ambitious, who climb so high that they

generally fall at last."

The slight historical evidence that exists indicates that the author was a

young Pilgrim who sailed to America on the Mayflower. He was impressed

by the way Indian squaws hung birch bark cradles containing their infants

on tree branches. Such a tree, containing several cradles, is thought to have

inspired the rhyme. According to the written record, "Hush-a-Bye" is the

first poem created on American soil.

"Ride a Cock-Horse": Pre-18th Century, England

Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross,

To see a fine lady upon a white horse;

Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,

And she shall have music wherever she goes.

Banbury Cross appears in many nursery rhymes. Not because the British

village of Banbury was a favorite locale of writers, but for the simple reason

that a major seventeenth-century publisher, Master Rusher, lived in Banbury

and frequently altered the wording in submitted manuscripts to promote

his hometown.

One phrase, "bells on her toes," suggests to historians that the rhyme


"Little Boy Blue": Pre-1760, England

may have been part of oral tradition as early as the fifteenth century. In

England at that time, small decorative bells, fastened to the long tapering

toes of shoes, were high fashion.

Two women have been identified as candidates for the "fine lady" on a

white horse. One, not surprisingly, is the famous Lady Godiva, the eleventhcentury

noblewoman of Coventry, who is supposed to have ridden naked

on a white horse to protest high taxation. The other woman is Celia Fiennes,

daughter of a member of Parliament in the 1690s. Lady Fiennes's family

owned a castle in Banbury, and she was famous for her marathon horseback

rides through the English countryside. Some authorities believe that the

phrase "To see a fine lady" originally read "To see a Fiennes lady."

"Baa, Baa, Black Sheep": Pre-1765, Europe

Baa, baa, black sheep,

Have you any wool?

Yes, sir, yes, sir,

Three bags full ...

Throughout its two-hundred-year history, this rhyme has remained essentially

unaltered. It contains no hidden symbolism or significance, and

from the start it was sung to the old French tune "Ah vous dirai je," or, in

America, the tune "A, B, C, D, E, F, G." The rhyme was employed

by Rudyard Kipling in 1888 as the framework for his story "Baa, Baa,

Black-Sheep.' ,

"Little Boy Blue": Pre-1760, England

Little Boy Blue,

Come blow your horn,

The sheep's in the meadow,

The cow's in the corn . ..

The little boy is believed to represent the influential sixteenth-century

statesman and cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who dominated the government

of England's King Henry VII from 1515 to 1529.

A butcher's son, Wolsey was educated at Oxford, then became a priest.

He was an energetic and highly self-confident man, and easily persuaded

the pleasure-loving young monarch to surrender more and more of the

chores of state. It was on Henry's recommendation that Pope Leo X promoted

the power-hungry Wolsey first to bishop, a year later to archbishop,

and the following year to cardinal. A meteoric rise. Wolsey used his ubiquitous

secular and ecclesiastical power to amass a fortune second only to

the king's.


For the Nursery

Though sworn to priestly chastity, he fathered at least two illegitimate

children. The overbearing cardinal made many enemies, but his immediate

downfall was his failure to persuade Pope Clement VII to grant Henry an

annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. The king, in an aboutface,

charged his lord chancellor with praemunire, or having overstepped

his authority, and stripped him of all titles and power.

Wolsey, as a boy in Ipswich, tended his father's sheep. And his fall from

grace and loss of authority are believed to be mirrored in Little Boy Blue's

sudden disappearance and consequent inability to blow his own hom.

"The First Day of Christmas": Pre-1780, London

The first day of Christmas,

My true love sent to me

A partridge in a pear tree . ...

The rhyme, known technically as a "chant," first appeared in a 1780

children's book published in London. However, the verse was of older oral

tradition-a so-called memory-and-forfeits game. Children, in a circle, individually

recited the rhyme's many verses, and for each mistake they were

forced to relinquish a sweet. For more than a century, it was employed in

classrooms as a teaching rhyme, intended to improve a child's memory


"Cock-a-Doodle-Doo!": Early 17th Century, England


My dame has lost her shoe,

My master's lost his fiddling stick,

And doesn't know what to do.

Although the verse's authorship is unknown, its early popularity in

England is associated with a gruesome event that took place in Hertfordshire

at the end of the reign of Elizabeth I.

The event, as recounted in a 1606 pamphlet, tells of the bludgeoning

murder of a three-year-old boy, witnessed by his slightly older sister, whose

tongue was cut out to prevent her from naming the culprit. Several years

later, the speechless girl was playing a popular street game of the day known

as "mock the cock." When other children taunted her to speak, she allegedly

opened her mouth and miraculously uttered the "Cock-a-doodle-doo!"

rhyme, ensuring it immortality in the oral tradition.


"Hey Diddle Diddle": Post-1569, Europe

"Hark, Hark": 16th Century, England

Hark, Hark,

The dogs do bark,

The beggars are coming to town;

Some in rags,

And some in jags,

And one in a velvet gown.

Our contemporary social problem of homeless individuals, particularly

in metropolises, is mirrored in the history of this verse.

The words were frequently quoted during the reign of Queen Elizabeth

in the sixteenth century, when hordes of homeless men and women flocked

to London to beg for food and drink. City folk feared that their homes

would be burglarized, and farmers on the outskirts of town often were

victimized by the down-and-out, who dressed "in rags," and some of whom,

mentally disturbed individuals suffering delusions of grandeur, imagined

themselves dressed in such finery as "a velvet gown."

"There Was a Little Girl": 1850s, United States

There was a little girl,

And she had a little curl,

Right in the middle oj her Jorehead ...

The rhyme, about a girl who is alternatively "very, very good" and "horrid,"

was written in the late 1850s by the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,

on a day when his young daughter, Edith, stubbornly refused to have her

hair curled.

For many years, Longfellow denied authorship, pointing to the inelegance

of several of the rhyme's words and to the fact that the style of composition

was not his. However, before his death in 1882, he acknowledged having

hastily composed the verse, and retrospectively admitted, "When I recall

my juvenile poems and prose sketches, I wish that they were forgotten

entirely. "

"Hey Diddle Diddle": Post-1569, Europe

Hey diddle diddle,

The cat and the fiddle,

The cow jumped over the moon . ..


For the Nursery

Any rhyme in which a cow jumps over the moon and a dish runs away

with a spoon is understandably classified in the category "nonsense rhymes."

The verse, meant to convey no meaning but only to rhyme, was composed

entirely around a European dance, new in the mid-1500s, called

"Hey-didle-didle." The object was to have something metrical to sing while


"Humpty Dumpty": 15th Century, England

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.

All the king's horses,

And all the king's men,

Couldn't put Humpty together again.

Scholars of linguistics believe this rhyme may be five hundred years old

and may have mocked a nobleman who fell from high favor with a king,

the fifteenth-century British monarch Richard III. From England the rhyme

spread to several European countries, where its leading character changed

from "Humpty Dumpty" to "Thille Lille" (in Sweden), "Boule, Boule" (in France), and "Wirgele-Wargele" (in Germany).

In the 1600s, "humpty dumpty" became the name of a hot toddy of ale

and brandy, and one hundred fifty years later, it entered British vernacular

as "a short clumsy person of either sex."

"Jack and Jill": Pre-1765, England

Jack and Jill went up the hill

To fetch a pail of water;

Jack fell down and broke his crown,

And Jill came tumbling after.

A 1765 British woodcut illustrating this rhyme shows two boys, named

Jack and Gill; there is no mention or depiction of a girl named Jill. Some

folklorists believe the boys represent the influential sixteenth-century cardinal

Thomas Wolsey and his close colleague, Bishop Tarbes.

In 1518, when Wolsey was in the service of Henry VII, Western Europe

was split into two rival camps, France and the Holy Roman Empire of the

Hapsburgs. Wolsey and Tarbes traveled back and forth between the enemies,

attempting to negotiate a peace. When they failed, full-scale war erupted.

Wolsey committed British troops against France, and to finance the campaign

he raised taxes, arousing widespread resentment. The rhyme is

thought to parody his "uphill" peace efforts and their eventual failure.


"Little Jack Horner": Post-1550, England

"Jack Be Nimble": Post-17th Century, England

Jack be nimble,

Jack be quick,

Jack jumped over

The candle stick.

The verse is based on both an old British game and a once-popular means

of auguring the future: leaping over a lit candle.

In the game and the augury, practiced as early as the seventeenth century,

a lighted candle was placed in the center of a room. A person who jumped

over the flame without extinguishing it was supposed to be assured good

fortune for the following year. The custom became part of traditional British

festivities that took place on November 25, the feast day of St. Catherine,

the fourth-century Christian martyr of Alexandria.

"This Is the House That Jack Built": Post-1500s, Europe

This is the house that Jack built.

This is the malt

That lay in the house that Jack built.

This is the rat,

That ate the malt

That lay in the house that Jack built . ...

This is an example of an "accumulative rhyme," in which each stanza

repeats all the previous ones, then makes its own contribution.

The origin of "The House That Jack Built" is thought to be a Hebrew

accumulative chant called "Had Gadyo," which existed in oral tradition

and was printed in the sixteenth century, although the subject matter in

the two verses is unrelated. The point of an accumulative rhyme was not

to convey information or to parody or satirize a subject, but only to tax a

child's powers of recall.

"Little Jack Horner": Post-1550, England

Little Jack Horner

Sat in the corner,

Eating a Christmas pie . ..

At the end of this rhyme, when Jack pulls a plum from the pie and


Jack Homer extracting the deed

for Mells Manor.

exclaims "What a good boy am I!" he is actually commenting on his deviousness,

for the tasty plum is a symbol for something costly that the real

"Jack" stole.

Legend has it that the original Jack Horner was Thomas Horner,

sixteenth-century steward to Richard Whiting, abbot of Glastonbury in

Somerset, the richest abbey in the British kingdom under King Henry VIII.

Abbot Richard Whiting suspected that Glastonbury was about to be confiscated

by the crown during this period in history, known as the Dissolution

of Monasteries. Hoping to gain favor with the king, Whiting sent Thomas

Horner to London with a gift of a Christmas pie.

It was no ordinary pie. Beneath the crust lay the title deeds to twelve

manor houses-a token that the abbot hoped would placate King Henry.

En route to London, Horner reached into the pie and extracted one plum

of a deed-for the expansive Mells Manor-and kept it for himself.

Soon after King Henry dissolved the abbot's house, Thomas Horner took

up residence at Mells Manor, and his descendants live there to this daythough

they maintain that their illustrious ancestor legally purchased the

deed to the manor from Abbot Whiting.

Interestingly, Richard Whiting was later arrested and tried on a trumpedup

charge of embezzlement. Seated in the corner of the jury was his former

steward, Thomas Horner. The abbot was found guilty and hanged, then

drawn and quartered. Horner not only was allowed to retain Mells Manor

but was immortalized in one of the world's best-known, best-loved nursery



"London Bridge": Post-11th Century, England

"Ladybird, Ladybird": Pre-18th Century, Europe

Ladybird, ladybird,

Flyaway home,

Your house is on fire

And your children all gone.

Today the rhyme accompanies a game in which a child places a ladybug

on her finger and recites the verse. If the insect does not voluntarily fly

away, it is shaken off. According to an eighteenth-century woodcut, that is

precisely what children did in the reign of George II.

The rhyme, though, is believed to have originated as an ancient superstitious

incantation. Composed of slightly different words, it was recited to

guide the sun through dusk into darkness, once regarded as a particularly

mysterious time because the heavenly body vanished for many hours.

"London Bridge": Post-II th Century, England

London Bridge is broken down,

Broken down, broken down,

London Bridge is broken down,

My fair lady.

The first stanza of this rhyme refers to the actual destruction, by King

Olaf of Norway and his Norsemen in the eleventh century, of an early

timber version of the famous bridge spanning the Thames. But there is

more to the story than that.

Throughout Europe during the Middle Ages, there existed a game known

as Fallen Bridge. Its rules of play were virtually identical in every country.

Two players joined hands so that their elevated arms formed a bridge.

Other players passed beneath, hoping that the arms did not suddenly descend

and trap them.

In Italy, France, Germany, and England, there are rhymes based on the

game, and "London Bridge" is one example. But the remainder of the

long, twelve-stanza poem, in which all attempts to rebuild London Bridge

fail, reflects an ancient superstition that man-made bridges, which unnaturally

span rivers, incense water gods.

Among the earliest written records of this superstition are examples of

living people encased in the foundations of bridges as sacrifices. Children

were the favored sacrificial victims. Their skeletons have been unearthed

in the foundations of ancient bridges from Greece to Germany. And British



~~.:-- ...-


, --


~ -


London Bridge, c. 1616. To appease water gods children were buried in bridge


folklore makes it clear that to ensure good luck, the cornerstones of the

first non timber London Bridge, built by Peter of Colechurch between 1176

and 1209, were splattered with the blood of little children.

"See-Saw, Margery Daw": 17th Century, British Isles

See-saw, Margery Daw,

Jacky shall have a new master;

Jacky shall have but a penny a day,

Because he can't work any faster.

This was originally sung in the seventeenth century by builders, to maintain

their to-and-fro rhythm on a two-handed saw. But there is a ribald

meaning to the words. "Margery Daw" was then slang for a slut, suggesting

that the rugged, hard-working builders found more in the rhyme to appreciate

than meter.

A more explicit version of the verse, popular in Cornwall, read: "Seesaw,

Margery Daw / Sold her bed and lay upon straw," concluding with:

"For wasn't she a dirty slut / To sell her bed and lie in the dirt?"


"Mary, Mary": 18th Century, England

Later, the rhyme was adopted by children springing up and down on a


"Mary Had a Little Lamb": 1830, Boston

Mary had a little lamb,

Its fleece was white as snow;

And everywhere that Mary went

The lamb was sure to go.

These are regarded as the best-known four lines of verse in the English

language. And the words "Mary had a little lamb," spoken by Thomas

Edison on November 20, 1877, into his latest invention, the phonograph,

were the first words of recorded human speech.

Fortunately, there is no ambiguity surrounding the authorship of this

tale, in which a girl is followed to school by a lamb that makes "the children

laugh and play." The words capture an actual incident, recorded in verse

in 1830 by Mrs. Sarah Josepha Hale of Boston, editor of the widely read

Ladies' Magazine.

Mrs. Hale (who launched a one-woman crusade to nationalize Thanksgiving

Day; see page 64) was also editor of Juvenile Miscellany. When she

was told of a case in which a pet lamb followed its young owner into a I

country schoolhouse, she composed the rhyme and published it in the September-

October 1830 issue of the children's journal. Its success was immediate-

and enduring.

"Mary, Mary": 18th Century, England

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,

How does your garden grow?

With silver bells and cockle shells,

And pretty maids all in a row.

The rhyme originated in the eighteenth century and there are two schools

of thought concerning its meaning, one secular, the other ecclesiastic. .

The "silver bells," argue several Catholic writers, are "sanctus bells" of

mass; the "cockle shells" represent badges worn by pilgrims; and the "pretty

maids all in a row" are ranks of nuns marching to church services. Mary is

of course the Blessed Virgin. This argument is as old as the rhyme.

But the popular secular tradition has it that the original "Mary" was

Mary, Queen of Scots; that the phrase "quite contrary" referred to her

well-documented frivolous French ways; and that the "pretty maids" were

her renowned "Four Marys," the ladies-in-waiting Mary Seaton, Mary


For the Nursery

Fleming, Mary Livingston, and Mary Beaton. The cockle shells were decorations

on an elaborate gown given to her by the French dauphin. This

argument is also as old as the rhyme.

"Three Blind Mice": 1609, London

Three blind mice, see how they run!

They all run after the farmer's wife,

Who cut off their tails with a caroing knife,

Did you ever see such a thing in your life,

As three blind mice?

The verse is regarded as the best-known example of a "round" in the

world, and it is the earliest printed secular song still sung today. From the

time of its creation, it was a round, a verse in which multiple voices repeat

a rhyme, each voice a line behind the previous speaker. Rounds were regarded

as educational tools to improve children's powers of concentration.

"Three Blind Mice" first appeared on October 12, 1609, in Deuteromelia;

or, The seconde part of Musicks melodie, by Thomas Ravenscroft, a teenage

chorister at St. Paul's church. He is taken to be the song's creator.

"Old Mother Hubbard": Pre-1805, London


Old Mother Hubbard

Went to the cupboard

To fetch her poor dog a bone;

But when she came there

The cupboard was bare

And so the poor dog had none.

When this long, fourteen-stanza rhyme was first published in London in

June 1805, it quickly sold over ten thousand copies, to become an immediate

best-seller, with several reprintings. Overnight, Mother Hubbard became

an integral part of nursery rhyme literature.

The comedic verse was written in 1804 by Sarah Catherine Martin, an

early love of Prince William Henry, who later became King William IV.

Her manuscript is on display at Oxford University's Bodleian Library.

Sarah Martin, a vibrant, vivacious woman, composed the verse during a

stay at the home of her future brother-in-law, John Pollexfen Bastard, an

MP for Kitley, Devon. The Bastard family maintained that one day, while

John Bastard was attempting to write a letter, Sarah Martin garrulously

chattered away, until he ordered her to "run away and write one of your

stupid little rhymes." She did.

Was Sarah Martin's creation original?


"Little Miss Muffet": 16th Century, England

Not entirely. She apparently based her poem on a little-known rhyme

first published in 1803 and titled "Old Dame Trot, and Her Comical Cat."

The rhymes are too similar to be merely coincidental:

Old Dame trot,

Some cold fish had got,

Which for pussy,

She kept in Store,

When she looked there was none

The cold fish had gone,

For puss had been there before.

Other stanzas of the rhymes also parallel each other:

Mother Hubbard Dame Trot

She went to the baker's

To buy him some bread;

But when she came back

The poor dog was dead.

She went to the butcher's

To buy her some meat,

When she came back . ,

She lay dead at her feet.

"Dame Trot" was published by a T. Evans one year before Sarah Martin

composed her verse. But historians have discovered that the verse about

the "comical cat" had already been known for about a hundred years, and

was included in a 1706 book, Pills to Purge Melancholy. Moreover, Sarah

Martin did not originate the character of Mother Hubbard. She was a

popular satirical cartoon figure as early as 1590, when she appeared in a

satire, Mother Hubbard's Tale. The character is believed to have been modeled

on the eighth-century French martyr St. Hubert, patron saint of hunters

and dogs. Little is known about St. Hubert. He was bishop of TongresMaestricht

and died at Tervueren on May 30, 727, following injuries incurred

while hunting.

Historians are forced to conclude that Sarah Martin had been told the

"Dame Trot" rhyme as a child, and that she was familiar with the satirical

Mother Hubbard. When she hurried off to compose one of her "stupid

little rhymes"-drawing on a little-known cartoon character, a little-read

comic cat poem, and a long-forgotten patron saint-Sarah Martin combined

memory and imagination to immortalize a nursery rhyme.

"Little Miss Muffet": 16th Century, England

Little Miss Muffet

Sat on a tuffet,

Eating her curds and whey;

There came a big spider,


For the Nursery

Who sat down beside her

And frightened Miss MuJJet away.

Of all nursery rhymes, this appears most frequently in children's books.

It was written in the sixteenth century by, appropriately, an entomologist

with a special interest in spiders, Dr. Thomas Muffet, the author of a scholarly

work, The Silkwormes and their flies.

As Longfellow had composed "There Was a Little Girl" for his daughter

Edith, Dr. Muffet wrote "Little Miss Muffet" for his young daughter

Patience. At that time, a "tuffet" was a three-legged stool, and "curds and

whey" was a milk custard.

"Ring-a-Ring 0' Roses": Pre-18th Century, England

Ring-a-ring 0' roses,

A pocket full of posies,

A-tishoo! A-tishoo!

We all fall down.

The rhyme first appeared in an 1881 book, Mother Goose, though in oral

tradition it is much older. And for all its apparent innocence and playfulness

as a child's game, the verse is about something deathly serious: the Great

Plague of London in 1664-65, which resulted in more than 70,000 deaths

at a time when the city's population numbered only 460,000.

The disease, caused by the bacillus Pasteurella pestis, was transmitted to

humans in crowded urban areas by rat fleas. In the rhyme, "ring 0' roses"

refers to the circular rosy rash that was one of the plague's early symptoms.

And the phrase "pocket full of posies" stands for the herbs people carried

in their pockets, believing they offered protection against the disease. The

final two lines, "A-tishoo! A-tishoo! / We all fall down," tell of the plague's

fatal sneeze, which preceded physical collapse; literally, the victim fell down


"Sing a Song of Sixpence": Pre-1744, England

Sing a song of sixpence,

A pocket full of rye;

Four and twenty blackbirds,

Baked in a pie.

A sixteenth-century Italian cookbook, The Manner of Cuisine of What Meat

for What AJJair, offers a recipe for actually baking live birds between crusts

of a pie. If the instructions are followed, the book promises, "the birds

may be alive and flie out when it is cut up." The purpose of such a pie was


Children's Literature: 1650, Europe

to create a "diverting H urley-Burley amongst the Guests."

In fact, it was not uncommon in the sixteenth century for a chef to hide

surprises inside a dinner pie. (See "Little Jack Horner," page 189.) The

rhyme, first published in England in 1744, is thought to be a straightforward

attempt to capture a then-popular baking curiosity in verse.

Children's Literature: 1650, Europe

Before the mid-seventeenth century, books written expressly for children

were virtually nonexistent. Literate children from poor and wealthy families

alike had to content themselves with adult books. One of the most popular

was Aesop's Fables, a sixth-century B.C. Greek work that had existed for

centuries in French translation and was first rendered into English in 1484.

That book, which anthropomorphizes animals, remained the only truly

suitable adult literature for children until 1578. That year, a German author

and publisher, Sigmund F eyerabend, issued a Book of Art and Instruction for

Young People. This landmark volume, a picture book, was a collection of

woodcut illustrations of contemporary European life, fables, and German

folktales, with a text consisting mainly of extended captions. The volume

was an immense success, and Feyerabend, a pioneer publisher of quality

books, is honored today with the largest of all annual book fairs, held each

autumn in Frankfurt, his hometown.

Another favorite book enjoyed by children in the late 1500s-though

not intended for them-was John Foxe's 1563 Actes and Monuments, popularly

titled "The Book of Martyrs." Replete with text and illustrations of

raging infernos consuming sinners, of saints in the agonizing thro~s of

martyrdom, and of sundry Christians being stoned, flogged, and beheaded,

the book was among the volumes most widely read, by adults and youths,

in the late sixteenth century.

Not until 1657 would a truly important children's book of text reach

print: Orbis Sensualium Pictus, a Latin volume of text with illustrations, by

Czech educator Johannes Amos Cemenius; it was published in Nuremberg,

Germany. Cemenius was the first author to appreciate the importance of

combining words, diagrams, and pictures as a children's learning aid. The

book's subtitle, "A Nomenclature of All the Chief Things in the World,"

conveys a sense of its encyclopedic scope and educational tone. This seminal

volume had an enormous effect on subsequent books for young readers,

and in many ways it was a forerunner of the modern encyclopedia.

The widespread use of the printing press eventually made the production

of small, inexpensive children's books a reality. In the seventeenth century,

the popular "chapbooks" appeared. Sold by "chapmen" along European

roads and on town street corners, the thin volumes, of about ten pages,

were poorly illustrated and printed, but their low cost won them wide readership.

They featured medieval folktales, poems, jokes, and humorous

anecdotes of an uncensored, and sometimes ribald, nature. Their all-too-


For the Nursery

rapid death knell was sounded by the 1662 Act of Uniformity, which ushered

in a wave of stem puritanism and strict moral sanctions on printed materials.

It was in this repressive climate that historians locate the true birth of

children's literature-that is, the regular, rather than occasional, appearance

of books written expressly for children. The books, later called "heaven

and hell" tomes, were dogmatic, moralistic, and intended to strike terror

and shape behavior in the young. The predominant theme was that life on

earth led irrevocably to an eternity in hell-except for the mercy of God.

The books' illustrations, often showing children suffering in hell, were reinforced

by verses such as:

Children that make

Their Parents to Bleed

May live to have

Children to revenge

That deed.

For many decades, the only relief children had from this fire-andbrimstone

literature lay in alphabet and arithmetic textbooks. Escape came

at the close of the 1600s and in the form of the fairy tale-and in particular,

as we have seen, with the 1697 publication of Charles Perrault's classic,

Tales of Times Passed: Tales of My Mother Goose. For generations, such folklore

had been transmitted through oral tradition; Perrault committed the legends

to print, and in a style so vivid and imaginative that eight tales at least were

at once immortalized. Reading to youngsters in the nursery would never

again be the same.


Chapter 8

In the Bathroom

Bathroom: 8000 B.C., Scotland

Men inquire, "Where can I wash my hands?" and women ask, "Is there a

place to powder my nose?" Schoolchildren stammer, "May I be excused?"

while travelers abroad beg for directions to the nearest "comfort station,"

which the British call a "we." What everyone is really asking for is, of

course, the location of the nearest ... well, rest room.

The point being that we have developed scores of euphemisms for the

toilet, as well as for bodily functions performed there. And the trend does

not merely reflect modern civility. Even in less formally polite medieval

times, castles and monasteries had their "necessaries."

Erasmus of Rotterdam, the sixteenth-century scholar and humanist, who

wrote one of history's early etiquette books, provides us with some of the

first recorded rules of behavior for the bathroom and bodily functions. He

cautions that "It is impolite to greet someone who is urinating or defecating."

And on breaking wind, he advises the offender to "let a cough hide

the explosive sound .... Follow the law: Replace farts with coughs."

The history of the bathroom itself begins in Scotland ten thousand years

ago. Although early man, aware of the toxicity of his own wastes, settled

himself near a natural source of moving water, it was the inhabitants of the

Orkney Islands off Scotland who built the first latrine-like plumbing systems

to carry wastes from the home. A series of crude drains led from stone

huts to streams, enabling people to relieve themselves indoors instead of



In the Bathroom

In the Near East, hygiene was a religious imperative for the ancient Hindus,

and as early as 3000 B.C., many homes had private bathroom facilities.

In the Indus River Valley of Pakistan, archaeologists have uncovered private

and public baths fitted with terra-cotta pipes encased in brickwork, with

taps to control water flow.

The most sophisticated early bathrooms belonged to the royal Minoan

families in the palace at Knossos on Crete. By 2000 B.C., Minoan nobility

luxuriated in bathtubs filled and emptied by vertical stone pipes cemented

at their joints. Eventually, these were replaced by glazed pottery pipes which

slotted together very much like present-day ones. The pipes carried hot

and cold water, and linkage drained waste from the royal palace-which

also boasted a latrine with an overhead reservoir, which qualifies as history's

first flush toilet. (See "Modern Flush Toilet," page 203.) The reservoir was

designed to trap rainwater, or in its absence, to be hand-filled by buckets

of water drawn from a nearby cistern.

Bathroom technology continued among the ancient Egyptians. The homes

of Egyptian aristocrats, by 1500 B.C., were outfitted with copper pipes that

carried hot and cold water. And whole-body bathing was an integral part

of religious ceremonies. Priests, curiously, were required to immerse themselves

in four cold baths a day. The religious aspects of bathing were carried

to greater lengths by the Jews under Mosaic law, for whom bodily cleanliness

was equated with moral purity. Under the rule of David and Solomon, from

about 1000 to 930 B.C., complex public waterworks were constructed

throughout Palestine.

Spas: 2nd Century B.C., Rome

It was the Romans, around the second century B.C., who turned bathing

into a social occasion. They constructed massive public bath complexes

which could rival today's most elaborate and expensive health clubs. With

their love of luxury and leisure, the Romans outfitted these social baths

with gardens, shops, libraries, exercise rooms, and lounge areas for poetry


The Baths of Caracalla, for example, offered Roman citizens a wide range

of health and beauty options. In one immense complex there were body

oiling and scraping salons; hot, warm, and cold tub baths; sweating rooms;

hair shampooing, scenting, and curling areas; manicure shops; and a gymnasium.

A selection of cosmetics and perfumes could also be purchased.

After being exercised, washed, and groomed, a Roman patron could read

in the adjoining library or stop into a lecture hall for a discussion of philosophy

or art. A gallery displayed works of Greek and Roman art, and in

another room, still part of the complex, slaves served platters of food and

poured wine.

If this sounds like the arrangement in such a celebrity spa as the Golden

Door, it was; only the Roman club was considerably larger and catered to


Roman spa. Men and

women used separate

facilities but later

mixed bathing became

the fashion.

a great many more members-often twenty-five hundred at one time. And

that was just the men's spa. Similar though smaller facilities were often

available to women.

Though at first men and women bathed separately, mixed bathing later

became the fashion. It lasted well into the early Christian era, until the

Catholic Church began to dictate state policy. (From written accounts, mixed

bathing did not result in the widespread promiscuity that occurred a thousand

years later when public baths reemerged in Europe. During this early

Renaissance period the Italian word bagnio meant both "bath" and

"brothel. ")

By A.D. 500, Roman bathing spa luxury had ended.

From the decline of the Roman Empire-when invading barbarians destroyed

most of the tiled baths and terra-cotta aqueducts-until the later

Middle Ages, the bath, and cleanliness in general, was little known or appreciated.

The orthodox Christian view in those times maintained that all

aspects of the flesh should be mortified as much as possible, and wholebody

bathing, which completely exposed the flesh, was regarded as entertaining

temptation and thus sinful. That view prevailed throughout most

of Europe. A person bathed when he or she was baptized by immersion,

and infrequently thereafter. The rich splashed themselves with perfume;

the poor stunk.

With the demise of bathing, public and private, went the niceties of indoor

bathroom technology in general. The outhouse, outdoor latrines and

trenches, and chamber pots reemerged at all levels of society. Christian

prudery, compounded by medical superstition concerning the health evils

of bathing, all but put an end to sanitation. For hundreds of years, disease

was commonplace; epidemics decimated villages and towns.


In the Bathroom

In Europe, the effects of the 1500s Reformation further exacerbated

the disregard for hygiene. Protestants and Catholics, vying to outdo each

other in shunning temptations of the flesh, exposed little skin to soap and

water throughout a lifetime. Bathroom plumbing, which had been sophisticated

two thousand years earlier, was negligible to nonexistent-even in

grand European palaces. And publicly performed bodily functions, engaged

in whenever and wherever one had the urge, became so commonplace that

in 1589 the British royal court was driven to post a public warning in the


Let no one, whoever, he may be, before, at, or after meals, early or late,

foul the staircases, corridors, or closets with urine or other filth.

In light of this warning, Erasmus's 1530 advice-" It is impolite to greet

someone who is urinating or defecating"-takes on its full significance.

A hundred years later, etiquette books were still giving the same advice

for the same public problem. The Gallant Ethic, in which it is shown how a

young man should commend himself to polite society, written around 1700, suggests:

"If you pass a person who is relieving himself you should act as if

you had not seen him." A French journal of the day provides a glimpse of

the extent of the public sanitation problem. "Paris is dreadful. The streets

smell so bad that you cannot go out. ... The multitude of people in the

street produces a stench so detestable that it cannot be endured."

The sanitation problem was compounded by the chamber pot. With no

plumbing in the average home, wastes from the pots were often tossed into

the street. Numerous cartoons of the period illustrate the dangers of walking

under second-story windows late at night, the preferred time to stealthily

empty the pots. This danger, as well as continually fouled gutters, is supposed

to have instituted the custom of a gentleman's escorting a lady on the inside

of a walkway, removed from the filth.

Legally, the contents of chamber pots were supposed to be collected

early in the morning by "night-soil men." They transported the refuse in

carts to large public cesspools. But not every family could afford to pay,

or wait, for the service.

By the 1600s, plumbing technology had reappeared in parts of Europebut

not in the bathroom. The initial construction of the seventeenth-century

palace at Versailles-which shortly after its completion would house the

French royal family, one thousand noblemen, and four thousand attendants-

included no plumbing for toilets or bathrooms, although the system

of cascading and gushing outdoor water fountains was grand.

The dawning of the industrial revolution in Britain in the 1700s did

nothing to help home or public sanitation. The rapid urbanization and

industrialization caused stifling overcrowding and unparalleled squalor.

Once-picturesque villages became disease-plagued slums.

It was only after a debilitating outbreak of cholera decimated London

in the 18305 that authorities began campaigning for sanitation facilities at


Medieval woodcut depicting

the danger from

a chamber pot being illegally


home, in the workplace, and along public streets and in parks. For the

remainder of the century, British engineers led the Western world in constructing

public and private plumbing firsts. The bathroom, as we take it

for granted today, had started to emerge, with its central feature, the modem

flush toilet.

Modern Flush Toilet: 1775, England

That essential convenience of modem living the flush toilet was enjoyed

by Minoan royalty four thousand years ago and by few others for the next

thirty-five centuries. One version was installed for Queen Elizabeth in 1596,

devised by a courtier from Bath who was the queen's godson, Sir John

Harrington. He used the device, which he called "a privy in perfection,"

to regain the queen's favor, for she had banished him from court for circulating

racy Italian fiction.

Harrington's design was quite sophisticated in many respects. It included

a high water tower on top of the main housing, a hand-operated tap that

permitted water to flow into a tank, and a valve that released sewage into

a nearby cesspool.


Chamber pots with toilet stands flanking an eighteenth-century flush toilet


Unwisely for Harrington, he wrote a book about the queen's toilet, titled

The Metamorphosis of Ajax-Ajax being a pun on the word "jake," then

slang for chamber pot. The book's earthy humor incensed Elizabeth, who

again banished her godson, and his flush toilet became the butt of jokes

and fell into disuse.

The next flush device of distinction appeared in 1775, patented by a

British mathematician and watchmaker, Alexander Cumming. It differed

from Harrington's design in one significant aspect, which, though small in

itself, was revolutionary. Harrington's toilet (and others that had been devised)

connected directly to a cesspool, separated from the pool's decomposing

contents by only a loose trapdoor; the connecting pipe contained

no odor-blocking water. Elizabeth herself had criticized the design and

complained bitterly that the constant cesspool fumes discouraged her from

using her godson's invention.

In Cumming's improved design, the soil pipe immediately beneath the

bowl curved backward so as, Cumming's patent application read, "to constantly

retain a quantity of water to cut off all communication of smell from

below." He labeled the feature a "stink trap," and it became an integral

part of all future toilet designs.

The modern flush toilet had been invented. But more than a hundred

years would pass before it would replace the chamber pot and the outhouse,

to become a standard feature in British and American bathrooms.

Toilet Paper: 1857, United States

The first commercially packaged toilet paper, or bathroom tissue, in America

was introduced by businessman Joseph Gayetty in 1857. But the product,

available in packages of individual sheets, sold poorly and soon virtual~y


Toilet Paper: 1857, United States

disappeared from grocery store shelves. At the time, the majority of Americans

could not comprehend wasting money on perfectly clean paper when

their bathrooms and outhouses were amply stocked with last year's department

store catalogues, yesterday's newspapers, and sundry fliers, pamphlets

and advertisements, which also provided reading material.

In England, an attempt to market toilet paper was made in 1879 by

British manufacturer Walter Alcock. Whereas Gayetty produced individual

flat sheets of paper, Alcock conceived the idea of a roll of "tear sheets,"

introducing the first perforated toilet roll. Invention was one thing, but

marketing an unmentionable product in the Victorian age was another.

Alcock spent nearly a decade struggling to get his product mass-produced,

advertised, and accepted by a public at a pinnacle of prudery.

Across the Atlantic, in upstate New York, two enterprising bearded

brothers were also attempting to interest the public in their line of paper

products, which included rolled bathroom tissue. They would succeed in

the field where Alcock and Gayetty failed.

Edward and Clarence Scott were born three years apart in rural Saratoga

County, New York. In 1879, the year Alcock had perfected his perforated

roll in England, the Scotts were living in Philadelphia, beginning a business

of paper products, which, because they were generally indispensable, disposable,

and unreusable, promised to make a fortune. And the one item

that seemed indisputably to embody all three attributes best was toilet paper.

The Scotts' timing was better than Joseph Gayetty's.

In the 1880s, many home owners, hotels, and restaurants were installing

full-service indoor plumbing for sinks, showers, and toilets. Major cities

were laying down public sewer systems. In Boston, the Tremont House had

earlier boasted of being the first hotel to offer guests convenient indoor

flush toilets and baths: "8 privies and 8 bathing rooms" (though all of them

were in the basement). Philadelphia had the distinction of being the city

with the most fully plumbed bathrooms and bathtubs (1,530 tubs in 1836),

which drew water from the Schuykill Water Works. In lower Manhattan,

tenements were shooting up, in which several families shared plumbed

bathroom facilities. And manufacturers and stores were highlighting the

latest in European toilet seats, the oval "Picture Frame," as well as the

newest toilet bowl, the one-piece ceramic "Pedestal Vase," which took the

gold medal in bathroom design when it was unveiled at the 1884 British

Health Exhibition. The bathroom was changing. The climate was set for

toilet paper.

Unlike Gayetty's bathroom tissue, available only in large five-hundredsheet

packages, the Scotts' product came in small rolls. It sold in plain

brown wrappers and fit conveniently into the American bathroom, which

at the time was truly, as euphemistically called, "the smallest room in the


From unlabeled brown wrappers, the product evolved to the prestigiously

named Waldorf Tissue, then simply to ScotTissue, . each roll bearing the

slogan "soft as old linen."


In the Bathroom

Like British bathroom tissue advertising, the Scotts' early ad campaigns

were low-keyed, in deference to the public's sensibilities concerning the

product. Waldorf Tissue seemed fittingly appropriate to rest beside a Pedestal

Vase overhung by an oval Picture Frame. But following World War

I, the company attempted to corner the American bathroom tissue market

with more aggressive advertising, which sought to create snob appeal by

impugning competitors' brands. Typical was an advertisement that read:

"They have a pretty house, Mother, but their bathroom paper hurts." The

market, however, was large enough to support numerous competitors, for

as the brothers had realized, toilet paper truly was indispensable, disposable,

and unreusable.

Paper Towels. It was a factory production error in 1907 that resulted in

America's first commercially packaged, tear-off paper towels.

By that year, the Scott brothers' paper company was a business success.

Their high-quality soft bathroom tissue arrived from a large paper mill in

so-called parent rolls, which were then cut down to convenient bathroomsize

packages. One order from the mill proved to be defective. The parent

roll was excessively heavy and wrinkled. Unfit for bathroom tissues, the

product was scheduled to be returned when a member of the Scott family

suggested perforating the thick paper into small towel-size sheets. The

product, he suggested, could be advertised as disposable "paper towels."

America's first commercially packaged paper towel was named Sani-Towel

in 1907, and it sold primarily to hotels, restaurants, and railroad stations

for use in public washrooms. There was a simple, economic resistance to

paper towels on the part of home owners: Why pay for a towel that was

used once and discarded, when a cloth towel could be washed and reused

indefinitely? But as the price of paper towels gradually decreased, home

owners found them more readily disposable, and in 1931 the brand SaniTowel

was renamed ScotTowels; a roll of two hundred sheets sold for a

quarter. Whereas toilet tissue became a necessity of the bathroom, paper

towels would become a great convenience in almost every room in the


Kleenex Tissues: 1924, United States

Today we use the tissue as a disposable handkerchief, but that was not its

original purpose as conceived by its manufacturer following World War I.

In 1914, cotton was in short supply. A new, remarkably absorbent substitute

was developed for use as a surgical bandage on the battlefield and

in wartime hospitals and first-aid stations. An even more highly absorbent

form of the material found use as an air filter in GIs' gas masks. The cottonlike

wadding, produced by Kimberly-Clark and called Cellucotton, was


Kleenex Tissues: 1924, United States

manufactured in such immense quantities that following the war, huge

surpluses crowded warehouses.

The company sought a peacetime use for the product it had spent years

perfecting. One later application for Cellucotton would be in a new feminine

napkin, Kotex, but its first postwar spin-off was as a glamour product: a

cold-cream tissue, used by Hollywood and Broadway stars to remove


Named Kleenex Kerchiefs, the "Sanitary Cold Cream Remover" was

heavily promoted as a disposable substitute for cloth facial towels, and a

package of one hundred sold for sixty-five cents. Magazine advertisements

featured such celebrities as Helen Hayes, Gertrude Lawrence, and Ronald

Colman. And American women were told that Kleenex Kerchiefs were the

"scientific way," as well as the glamorous way, to remove rouge, foundation,

powder, and lipstick.

The star-studded campaign worked perfectly. For five years, Kleenex

sales increased steadily. But an unexpected phenomenon occurred. Consumer

mail poured into the company's headquarters, praising the product

as a disposable handkerchief. Men questioned why it was not promoted

that way, and wives complained that husbands were blowing their noses in

their cold-cream Kerchiefs.

Consumer mail increased late in 1921. That year, a Chicago inventor,

Andrew Olsen, had devised a revolutionary new pop-up tissue box, which

Kimberly-Clark had put into production, in which two separate layers of

tissue paper were interfolded. Named Serv-a-Tissue, the product won even

more nose-blowing converts for its quick, easy accessibility, a genuine plus

for capturing a sudden, unexpected sneeze.

Kimberly-Clark's management, confused and divided, decided in 1930

to te'st-market the twofold purpose of the tissue. A group of consumers in

Peoria, Illinois, was enticed to redeem one of two coupons, with alternative

headlines: "We pay [a free box of tissues] to prove there is no way like

Kleenex to remove cold cream," or: "We pay to prove Kleenex is wonderful

for handkerchiefs." The coupons were good for redemption at local drug

and department stores. When the votes were tallied, the numbers were

decisive: sixty-one percent of the coupon-redeemers had responded to the

handkerchief ad.

The company began to promote tissues as disposable handkerchiefs. The

campaign worked so well that management conceived more than a dozen

additional household uses for Kleenex, such as dusting and polishing furniture,

wiping food residue from the inside of pots and pans, draining

grease from French-fried potatoes, and cleaning car windshields. In fact,

a 1936 insert in a Kleenex package listed forty-eight handy uses for the

product. People, though, still wanted them mainly for blowing their noses.

And the trade name Kleenex passed into the vernacular, and the dictionary,

as a generic word for tissue.


Siberian hogs provided bristles for toothbrushes until the introduction of nylon

in 1938.

Toothbrush: 3000 B.C., Egypt

The first toothbrush used by ancients was the "chew stick," a pencil-size

twig with one end frayed to a soft, fibrous condition. Chew sticks were

initially rubbed against the teeth with no additional abrasive such as toothpaste,

and they have been found in Egyptian tombs dating to 3000 B.C.

Chew sticks are still used in some parts of the world. Many African tribes

fray twigs only from a certain tree, the Salvadore persica, or "toothbrush

tree." And the American Dental Association discovered that frayed sticks

often serve as toothbrushes for people living in remote areas of the United

States; in the South, they're known as "twig brushes." They can be every

bit as effective as a modern nylon-bristled toothbrush. Dentists reported

on one elderly man living near Shreveport, Louisiana, who had used frayed

white elm sticks all his life and had plaque-free teeth and healthy gums.

The first bristle toothbrush, similar to today's, originated in China about

1498. The bristles, hand plucked from the backs of the necks of hogs living

in the colder climates of Siberia and China (frigid weather causes hogs to

grow firmer bristles), were fastened into handles of bamboo or bone. Traders

to the Orient introduced the Chinese toothbrush to Europeans, who found

hog bristles too irritatingly firm.


Nylon-Bristle Toothbrush: 1938, United States

At the time, those Europeans who brushed their teeth (and the practice

was not at all commonplace) preferred softer horsehair toothbrushes. The

father of modern dentistry, Dr. Pierre Fauchard, gives the first detailed

account of the toothbrush in Europe. In his 1723 dental textbook, La

Chirurgien Dentiste, he is critical of the ineffectiveness of horsehair brushes

(they were too soft), and more critical of the large portion of the population

who never, or only infrequently, practiced any kind of dental hygiene.

Fauchard recommends daily vigorous rubbing of the teeth and gums with

a small piece of natural sponge.

Toothbrushes made of other animal hair, such as badger, experienced

brief vogues. But many people preferred to pick their teeth clean after a

meal with a stiff quill (as the Romans had done), or to use specially manufactured

brass or silver toothpicks.

In many cases, metal toothpicks were less of a health hazard than hard

natural-hair toothbrushes. For once the nineteenth-century French bacteriologist

Louis Pasteur posited his theory of germs, the dental profession

realized that all animal-hair toothbrushes (which retain moisture) eventually

accumulate microscopic bacterial and fungal growth, and that the sharp

ends of the bristles piercing a gum could be the source of numerous mouth

infections. Sterilizing animal-hair brushes in boiling water could permanently

leave them overly soft or destroy them entirely. And good animalhair

toothbrushes were too expensive to be frequently replaced. The solution

to the problem did not arrive until the third decade of this century.

Nylon-Bristle Toothbrush: 1938, United States

The discovery of nylon in the 1930s by Du Pont chemists set in motion a

revolution in the toothbrush industry. Nylon was tough, stiff, resilient, and

resistant to deformation, and it was also impervious to moisture, so it dried

thoroughly, discouraging bacterial growth.

The first nylon-bristle brush was marketed in the United States in 1938,

under the name Dr. West's Miracle Tuft Toothbrush. Du Pont called the

artificial fibers Exton Bristles, and through a widespread advertising campaign

the company informed the American public that "The material used

in manufacturing Exton is called nylon, a word so recently coined that you

will not find it in any dictionary." And the company played up nylon's many

advantages over hog hair, stressing, too, that while hog-hair bristles often

pulled free of the brush, to lodge annoyingly between teeth, nylon bristles

were more securely fastened to the brush head.

However, those first nylon bristles were so extraordinarily stiff that they

were hard on gums. In fact, gum tissue tore so readily that dentists at first

resisted recommending nylon brushes. By the early 1950s, Du Pont had

perfected a "soft" nylon, which they introduced to the public in the form


In the Bathroom

of the Park Avenue Toothbrush. A person could pay ten cents for a hardbristle

brush, forty-nine cents for the fancier, softer Park Avenue model.

Not only did nylon toothbrushes improve dental hygiene; they also went

a long way to spare hogs around the world pain. In 1937, for example, the

year before nylon bristles were introduced, the United States alone imported

a whopping 1.5 million pounds of hog bristles for toothbrushes.

The next technological advance came in 1961, when the Squibb Company

introduced the first electric toothbrush, under the name Broxodent. It

had an up-and-down brush action and was endorsed by the American Dental


A year later, General Electric designed a cordless electric toothbrush,

battery operated and rechargeable. GE scientists tested the brushes on

scores of dogs and assured stockholders that "dogs actually liked to have

their teeth brushed," concluding, drolly, that no other dogs in history so

aptly fitted the adage "clean as a hound's tooth."

Today people around the world favor the simple, hand-operated nylonbristle

toothbrush. However, as inexpensive and easily replaceable as the

brushes are, the American Dental Association claims that four out of five

Americans hang on to their brushes to the point where the bent bristles

are unfit for cleaning teeth and are likely to cut gums.

Toothpaste: 2000 B.C., Egypt

The first toothpaste mentioned in recorded history was devised by Egyptian

physicians about four thousand years ago. Highly abrasive and puckeringly

pungent, it was made from powdered pumice stone and strong wine vinegar

and brushed on with a chew stick. By modern standards, it was considerably

more palatable than early Roman toothpaste, made from human urinewhich

in liquid form served also as a mouthwash. First-century Roman

physicians maintained that brushing with urine whitened teeth and fixed

them more firmly in the sockets.

Upper-class Roman women paid dearly for Portuguese urine, the most

highly prized, since it was alleged to be the strongest on the Continent.

Dental historians believe that may have been true, but only because the

liquid came by land all the way from Portugal. Urine, as an active component

in toothpastes and mouthwashes, continued to be used into the eighteenth

century. What early dentists were unwittingly making use of was urine's

cleansing ammonia molecules, which would later be used in modern dental


With the fall of the Roman Empire, dental skills and hygiene rapidly

deteriorated in Europe. For five hundred years, families palliated their own

dental aches and pains with homemade poultices and makeshift extractions.

The writings of the Persian physician Rhazes in the tenth century mark

a reawakening of dental hygiene, as well as a breakthrough. Rhazes was the


Dental surgery and hygiene.

Human urine

was a popular Roman

toothpaste to whiten

teeth and prevent cavities.

In the tenth century

cavities were

drilled and filled.

first doctor to recommend filling cavities. He used a glue-like paste made

of alum (containing ammonium and iron) and mastic, a yellowish resin from

a small Mediterranean evergreen tree in the cashew family. At the time,

mastic was a main ingredient in varnishes and adhesives.

Sophisticated as Rhazes' filling material was, drilling out a cavity to accept

a filling required a high degree of dexterity in the dentist and superhuman

fortitude in the patient. The major drawback of those early drills was the

excruciatingly slow rotation of the bit. The dentist, holding the metal spike

between his thumb and index finger, manually worked it back and forth,

all the while forcefully bearing downward.

Not until the eighteenth century was there a mechanical drill, about the

size of a hand-held clock and with a clock's inner rotary mechanism. And

not until George Washington's personal dentist,John Greenwood, adapted

his mother's spinning wheel to rotate a bit was there an even moderately

rapid, foot-pedaled dental drill. Unfortunately, the intense heat generated

by its quick rotation was itself a drawback; although this was compensated

for by a shorter period of discomfort. (Whereas Greenwood's drill rotated

about five hundred times a minute, modern water-cooled models spin in

excess of a half-million turns a minute.)

Whitening Teeth. In Europe, attitudes about dental hygiene began changing

in the fourteenth century.

In 1308, barber-surgeons, the main extractors of teeth, banded into

guilds. Apart from extraction, the chief dental operation of the barber-


In the Bathroom

surgeon was whitening teeth. Brilliantly white teeth were prized, and a

barber-surgeon would first file a patient's teeth with a coarse metal instrument,

then dab them with aquafortis, a solution of highly corrosive nitric

acid. This produced white teeth for a while, but it also thoroughly destroyed

the enamel, causing massive dental decay in mid-life. Still, in the pursuit

of vanity, acid cleaning of teeth continued in Europe into the eighteenth


The rough-and-ready surgery performed by barber-surgeons gave rise

to the once-common sight of the red-and-white-striped barber's pole. It

came about in this way. The teeth-extracting surgeons also cut hair, trimmed

beards, and practiced the alleged panacea of bloodletting. During a bloodletting,

it was customary for the patient to squeeze a pole tightly in one

hand, so that the veins would swell and the blood gush freely. The pole was

painted red to minimize bloodstains, and when not in use, it hung outside

the shop as advertisement, wrapped round with the white gauze used to

bandage bloodlet arms. The red-and-white pole eventually was adopted as

the official trademark of barber-surgeon guilds. The gilt knob later added

to the top of the pole represented the brass basin that served the profession'S

dual aspects ofletting blood and whipping up shaving lather. When surgeons

and barbers split, the barbers got the pole.

The price paid for artificially whitened teeth was cavities, adding to normal

dental decay, one of humankind's oldest miseries. Terrified of tooth extraction,

people often suffered intense and chronic pain-and many of

these people were history's major policymakers. It is surprising that history

books omit the fact that, for instance, Louis XIV and Elizabeth I (to mention

only two policy-shaping figures) often had to render major decisions while

in intense dental agony. Louis, in 1685, signed the revocation of the Edict

of Nantes (which had granted religious freedom), causing thousands to

emigrate, while he was in the throes of a month-long tooth infection. It

had developed into a raw, unhealing opening between the roof of his mouth

and his sinuses.

Elizabeth, on the other hand, suffered chronically from deep, massive

cavities but feared the misery of extraction. In December 1578, an unrelenting

tooth pain kept her awake night and day for two weeks, necessitating

drugs that were themselves heavily disorienting. She finally consented to

extraction after the bishop of London volunteered to have one of his own

good teeth pulled in her presence so she might witness that the pain was

not unendurable. Throughout the weeks of misery, she had continued to

oversee legislation that affected the lives of millions of subjects.

In more recent times, George Washington suffered throughout his adult

life from decayed teeth, gum inflammation, and the inadequacies of

eighteenth-century dental treatment. From the age of twenty-two, he lost

his teeth one by one, and he acquired a succession of dentures that nearly

destroyed his gums. From a wealth of documentation, it is clear that America's

first President endured almost continual pain and found chewing nearly


Dentures: 800 B.C., Etruria

impossible later in life, and that the likely cause of his eventual deafness

was the unnatural posture he forced on his lower jaw in an attempt to give

his face a natural appearance. A volume of speculative history could be

written on the effects of severe and protracted dental pain on policy-making.

Fluoride Toothpaste. It would be hard to imagine that the toothpaste sitting

on a modern-day bathroom sink does not contain some fluoride compound,

most likely sodium monofluorophosphate. But the use of fluorides to reduce

cavities is not a twentieth-century phenomenon, though fluoride toothpastes


In 1802, in several regions surrounding Naples, Italian dentists observed

yellowish-brown spots on their patients' teeth. The spots turned out to have

resulted from an interaction between natural variations in human tooth

enamel and a high level of fluorides occurring in local soil and water. What

no Neapolitan dentist could ignore was the fact that the spotted teeth,

however unsightly, were cavity-free. By the 1840s, in both Italy and France,

dentists were suggesting that people from an early age suck regularly on

lozenges made with fluoride and sweetened with honey.

The first scientific trials with fluoridated drinking water took place in

America in 1915. The results were so encouraging that in time fluorides

found their way into water, mouthwashes, and toothpastes, substantially

reducing the incidence of cavities.

Dentures: 800 B.C., Etruria

The Etruscans, who inhabited Italy in the area that is modern Tuscany, are

regarded as the best dentists of the ancient world. They extracted decayed

teeth, replacing them with full or partial dentures, in which individual teeth

were realistically carved from ivory or bone and bridgework was crafted in

gold. Upon a person's death, good, intact teeth were surgically removed

to be incorporated into even more authentic-looking dentures for the upper

classes. Dental historians claim that the Etruscans' skill in designing dentures

and fashioning false teeth (which was passed on only in part to the Romans)

was not matched until the nineteenth century.

By comparison, medieval and early Renaissance dentists could be primitive

in their practices and beliefs. They taught that cavities were caused by

"tooth worms" boring outward (a theory depicted in numerous extant illustrations),

and though they extracted rotted teeth, they often made little

effort to replace them, leaving patients with gaping holes for a lifetime.

The rich purchased good, sturdy teeth from the mouths ofthe poor. Pulled

for a negotiated fee, the teeth were set in "gums" of ivory.

Keeping uppers in place required ingenuity in the dentist and continual

vigilance and great vanity in the patient. Fashionable women in the 1500s

had their gums pierced with hooks to secure denture wires. In the next

century, it was possible to keep uppers in place through the use of springs,


In the Bathroom

so sturdy that constant pressure was needed to keep the mouth shut. A

momentary lapse in concentration and the jaws suddenly flew apart.

Denture appearance began to improve around the time of the French


Parisian dentists made the first durable, realistic-looking porcelain teeth,

baked in one piece. The fashion was adopted in America by Dr. Claudius

Ash. Ash deplored the practice of collecting teeth from the battlefield.

Horror stories abounded of the unscrupulous operations of "teeth robbers,"

who pillaged their bounty from wounded soldiers not yet dead.

Thousands of Europeans sported "Waterloo" dentures, and as late as the

1860s, thousands of Americans wore "Civil War" plates, while barrels of

additional young American soldiers' teeth were shipped to Europe. Porcelain

teeth eventually put an end to that practice.

As porcelain greatly improved the appearance of false teeth, vulcanized

rubber, perfected in the late 1800s, paved the way for the first comfortableto-

wear, easy-to-fashion base to hold teeth. Concurrent with these two

nineteenth-century innovations was the introduction of the anaesthetic nitrous

oxide, or "laughing gas," ushering in the era of painless dentistry.

For the first time in human history, decayed, aching teeth could be extracted

painlessly and replaced with comfortable, durable, and attractive dentures.

By the 1880s, demand for false teeth was enormous. Only in the next

century would the miracle of plastics improve their appearance.

Razor: 20,000 Years Ago, Asia and Africa

Although we think of early man as a bearded creature, archaeologists have

evidence that men shaved their faces as far back as twenty thousand years

ago. Cave drawings clearly depict bearded and beardless men, and gravesites

have yielded sharpened flints and shells that were the first razors. And as

soon as man mastered working with iron and bronze, razors were hammered

from these metals.

Throughout recorded history, a man's hirsute facial growth and how he

has dealt with it was an important factor in the lives of king and peasant,

soldier and tradesman. Among ancient Egyptians, a clean-shaven face was

a symbol of status, and members of royalty took their collections of bronze

razors with them to the grave. The Greeks shaved daily, and though Romans

thought the practice sissified, they used razors on the battlefield, for in

hand-to-hand combat a full beard was a detriment. It was the Roman word

for beard, barba, that gave us the term "barber."

In the Americas, Indian men stoically pulled out their beards hair by

hair, using clam shells as tweezers. One American who used a razor selectively

was General Ambrose Everett Burnside, commander of the Union

Army of the Potomac during the Civil War. His most distinguished feature,

which launched a trend, was his profuse side-whiskers, growing down along

the ears to the cheeks,. and known as "burnsides." Around the turn of the


Look sharp. Ancient

Egyptians used bronze

straight razors, and

American Indians

tweezed their whiskers

between halves of a

clam shell. Gillette's

safety razor and disposable

blades marked the

first shaving breakthrough.

century, the word experienced a linguistic transposition, which has never

been satisfactorily explained, to become sideburns.

By General Burnside's era, the shaving razor had changed little in appearance

from the ancient Egyptian instrument. There had already been

several attempts, however, to design a safer razor.

Safety Razor: 1762, France

For centuries, a young man (or woman) learned painfully, through nicking

and gashing the skin, how to shave safely with a sharp straight razor. The

first instrument specifically designed as a safety razor appeared in France

in 1762, invented by a professional barber,JeanJacques Perret. It employed

a metal guard, placed along one edge of the blade, to prevent the blade

from accidentally slicing into the shaver's skin. About seventy years later,

in Sheffield, England, an improved design debuted, which was lighter-weight

and less cumbersome to use. The modern T-shaped razor was an American

invention of the 1880s, but its irreplaceable blade had to be sharpened


The first real shaving revolution was launched almost single-handedly by

a traveling salesman-inventor named King Gillette.

Born in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, in 1855, Gillette was tall, broadshouldered,

aristocratically handsome, and fiercely determined to succeed.

He set out not to give shavers a better razor but to give the world an entirely

new social order. In 1894, he published The Human Drift, a rambling, socialistic

blueprint for reform, which he dedicated "To All Mankind." Per-


In the Bathroom

haps every man and woman who shaves today should be thankful that the

book was a complete failure.

Gillette turned elsewhere for his fortune. A friend, William Painter, inventor

of the throwaway bottle cap, suggested that the failed author and

traveling salesman devise an item that, like the bottle cap, was used once,

discarded, then replaced.

The idea intrigued Gillette. For a year, at his home in Brookline, Massachusetts,

he repeatedly ran through the alphabet, listing household and

business items in frequent use.

Nothing clicked until one morning in 1895. Gillette started to shave and

found his razor edge dull beyond use. The instrument would have to be

taken to a barber or a cutler for professional sharpening, a familiar, disruptive

routine. He later wrote: "As I stood there with the razor in my

hand, my eyes resting on it as lightly as a bird settling down on its nest, the

Gillette razor and disposable blade were born."

The concept was simple, but the technology took more than six years to

perfect. Toolmakers Gillette contacted told him that small, inexpensive,

paper-thin steel blades were impossible to manufacture. Engineers at the

Massachusetts Institute of Technology advised him to simply drop the project.

One MIT professor, though, William Nickerson, inventor of a pushbutton

system for elevators, decided in 1901 to collaborate with Gillette.

The first fruits of their joint effort went on sale in 1903-a batch of

fifty-one razors (at five dollars apiece) and 168 disposable blades. Word of

the razor's safety and convenience spread so rapidly that production could

not keep pace with demand.

In 1906, Americans bought 300,000 razors and half a million blades,

each package bearing Gillette's portrait and signature. And when America

entered World War I, the government placed an order for 3.5 million

razors and 36 million blades-enough to keep the entire American armed

forces clean-shaven. The war introduced men from all parts of the globe

to Gillette's invention, and on returning home from the battlefield they

wanted Gillette razors and a steady supply of disposable blades.

King Gillette retired in 1931, a millionaire many times over. That same

year, the razor blade was confronted by the first significant challenger in

its long and exclusive history: the electric shaver.

Electric Shaver: 1931, United States

While serving in the U.S. Army, Jacob Schick was issued a Gillette razor

and blades. He had no complaint with the product. It always provided a

close, comfortable shave-except when water was unavailable, or soap, or

shave cream; or if cold winter water could not be heated. Once, laid up in

an Alaskan base with a sprained ankle, he had to crack a layer of surface

ice every morning to dip his razor into water.


Soap: 600 B.C., Phoenicia

After the war, Schick set out to invent what he called a "dry razor,"

operated by an electric motor.

A major drawback was that most reliable, powerful motors were larger,

and heavier, than a breadbox. For five years, Schick worked to perfect his

own small electric motor, which he patented in 1923.

But obstacles continued to thwart his best efforts. Financial backers he

approached shaved satisfactorily with Gillette razors and blades, as did millions

of people worldwide; was an electric razor really necessary? Schick

thought so. He mortgaged his home, sank into debt, and produced his first

commercial electric razor, with a steep twenty-five-dollar price tag, in

1931-the depths of the Depression.

That first year, Jacob Schick sold only three thousand shavers.

The next year, he made a small profit, which he reinvested in national

advertising. By repeating that policy year after year, in 1937 he sold almost

two million electric shavers, in the United States, Canada, and England.

The electric razor might not have been one of life's necessities, but it was

one of the twentieth century's electric novelties, and Jacob Schick had

proved that a market existed for the shavers.

Just as Schick had competed with the name Gillette in the '30s, in the

'40s such names as Remington and Sunbeam competed with Schick.

Remington, in 1940, made industry history when it introduced the twoheaded

shaver. Named the Dual, it pioneered the modern trend toward

multiheaded shavers. And that same year, Remington created something

of a minor sensation when it announced an electric shaver designed expressly

for women-who for centuries had plucked, waxed, dipilatoried, and

scraped off unwanted body hair, receiving little mention in the documented

history of shaving.

Soap: 600 B.C., Phoenicia

A staple of every bathroom, soap has served a variety of cleansing and

medicinal purposes since its discovery. It has been in and out of vogue,

praised as the acme of civilization by one nation while scorned as an excess

of fastidiousness by a neighbor.

About four thousand years ago, the Hittites of Asia Minor cleaned their

hands with the ash of the soapwort plant suspended in water. In the same

era, the Sumerians in Ur concocted alkali solutions to wash themselves.

Technically, neither of these preparations was soap, though close to the

actual product, which was developed in 600 B.C. by the seafaring Phoenicians.

In the process that today is known as saponification, the Phoenicians

boiled goat fat, water, and ash high in potassium carbonate, permitting

the liquid to evaporate to form solid, waxy soap. (See also "Detergent,"

page 152.)

Over the next twenty centuries, the fortunes of soap would follow closely

the beliefs of Western hygiene-and religion. During the Middle Ages, for


In the Bathroom

example, when the Christian Church warned of the evils of exposing the

flesh, even to bathe, production of soap virtually came to a halt. And when

medical science later identified bacteria as a leading cause of disease, soap

production soared. Throughout all those years, soap, variously scented and

colored, was essentially the same product as that developed by the Phoenicians.

Not until a factory accident in 1879 would a new and truly novel

soap surface, so to speak.

Floating Soap. One morning in 1878, thirty-two-year-old Harley Procter

decided that the soap and candle company founded by his father should

produce a new, creamy white, delicately scented soap, one to compete with

the finest imported castile soaps of the day.

As suppliers of soap to the Union Army during the Civil War, the company

was suited to such a challenge. And Procter's cousin James Gamble, a

chemist, soon produced the desired product. Named simply White Soap,

it yielded a rich lather, even in cold water, and had a smooth, homogeneous

consistency. Procter's and Gamble's White Soap was not yet christened

Ivory, nor did it then float.

Soap production began, and the product sold well. One day, a factory

worker overseeing soap vats broke for lunch, forgetting to switch off the

master mixing machine. On returning, he realized that too much air had

been whipped into the soapy solution. Reluctant to discard the batch, he

poured it into hardening and cutting frames, and bars of history's first .airladen,

floating soap were delivered to regional stores.

Consumer reaction was almost immediate. The factory was swamped with

letters requesting more of the remarkable soap that could not be lost under

murky water because it bobbed up to the surface. Perceiving they were

beneficiaries of a fortunate accident, Harley Procter and James Gamble

ordered that all White Soap from then on be given an extra-long whipping.

White Soap, though, was too prosaic a label for such an innovative


Mulling over a long list of possible names one Sunday morning in church,

Harley Procter was inspired by a single word when the pastor read the

Forty-fifth Psalm: "All thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia,

out of the ivory palaces, whereby they have made thee glad."

The first bars of Ivory Soap debuted in October 1879, the same month

that Thomas Edison successfully tested the incandescent light bulb-two

events seemingly unrelated. But the astute businessman Harley Procter

foresaw that the electric light would virtually snuff out his profitable candle

trade, so he decided to heavily promote history's first floating soap.

It was Procter's idea to etch a groove across the middle of each economysize

bar of Ivory. It enabled homemakers to decide for themselves whether

they wanted one large laundry-size bar or two smaller toilet-size cakes. And

the company would only have to manufacture a single item.

In an effort to test Ivory's quality, Procter sent the soap to chemistry


Shampoo: 1890s, Germany

professors and independent laboratories for analyses. One report in particular

impressed him. It stated that the soap had few impurities-only 56/

100 of one percent. Procter flipped the negative statement into a positive

one, which became the hallmark of the company's campaign: Ivory Soap

was "99 and 44/100 percent pure."

From a psychological standpoint, the phrase was a stroke of advertising

genius, for the concepts of purity and floatability did much to reinforce

each other~and to sell soap. To further dramatize the soap's purity and

mildness, Procter introduced the "Ivory Baby," supplying shopkeepers with

life-size cardboard display posters. Madison Avenue, then and now, claims

that the campaign to persuade American home owners to purchase Ivory

Soap was one of the most effective in the history of advertising.

As a young man, Harley Procter had promised himself that if he was a

success in business, he'd retire at age forty-five. He became such a success

because of the floating soap that he permitted himself the luxury of retiring

a year early, at forty-four.

Shampoo: 1890s, Germany

The main function of a shampoo is to remove the scalp's natural sebum oil

from the hair, for it is the oil that causes dirt and hairdressing preparations

to stick tenaciously. Ordinary soap is not up to the task, for it deposits its

own scum.

The job is easy for a detergent, but detergents were not discovered until

late in the last century, or manufactured in any sizable quantity until the

1930s. How, then, over the centuries did people effectively clean their hair?

The ancient Egyptians started one trend with the use of water and citrus

juice, the citric acid effectively cutting sebum oil. Homemade citrus preparations,

scented, and occasionally blended with small quantities of soap,

were popular for centuries.

A detergent-like alternative appeared in Europe in the late Middle Ages.

It involved boiling water and soap with soda or potash, which provides the

mixture with a high concentration of negatively charged hydroxyl ions, the

basis of good modern-day shampoos. Similar to shampoo yet closer to soap,

these brews were homemade and their formulas handed down from generation

to generation.

Ironically, the word "shampoo" originated in England at about the same

time German chemists were discovering the true detergents that would

become modern shampoos. In the 1870s, the British government had taken

control of India from the ruling British East India Company, granting the

Hindu-speaking Indians progressively more power in local affairs. Indian

fashion and art, as well as Hindu phrases, were the vogue in England. In

that decade, au courant British hairdressers coined the word "shampoo,"

from the Hindu champo, meaning "to massage" or "to knead."

Shampoo was not a bottled liquid to be purchased in a store. It was a


In the Bathroom

wet, soapy hair and scalp massage available to patrons of fashionable British

salons. The cleansing preparations, secretly guarded by each salon, were

brewed on the premises by hairdressers employing variations on the

traditional formula of water, soap, and soda. Technically, the first true

detergent-based shampoo was produced in Germany in the 1890s. When,

after World War I, the product was marketed as commercial hair-cleansing

preparations, the label "shampoo" was awaiting them.

One man, John Breck, helped launch the shampoo business in America,

turning his personal battle against baldness into a profitable enterprise.

In the early 1900s, the twenty-five-year-old Breck, captain of a Massachusetts

volunteer fire department, was beginning to lose his hair. Although

several New England doctors he consulted assured him there was no cure

for baldness, the handsome, vain young firefighter refused to accept the


Preserving his remaining hair became an obsession. He developed home

hair-restoring preparations and various scalp-massage techniques, and in

1908 opened his own scalp-treatment center in Springfield. When his

shampoos became popular items among local beauty salons, Breck expanded

his line of hair and scalp products, as well as the region he serviced. He

introduced a shampoo for normal hair in 1930, and three years later, shampoos

for oily and dry hair. By the end of the decade, Breck's hair care

business was nationwide, becoming at one point America's leading producer

of shampoos. Of all his successful hair preparations, though, none was able

to arrest his own advancing baldness.


Chapter 9

Atop the Vanity

Cosmetics: 8,000 Years Ago, Middle East

A thing of beauty may be a joy forever, but keeping it that way can be a

costly matter. American men and women, in the name of vanity, spend

more than five billion dollars a year in beauty parlors and barbershops, at

cosmetic and toiletry counters.

Perhaps no one should be surprised-or alarmed-at this display of

grooming, since it has been going on for at least eight thousand years.

Painting, perfuming, and powdering the face and body, and dyeing the

hair, began as parts of religious and war rites and are at least as old as

written history. Archaeologists unearthed palettes for grinding and mixing

face powder and eye paint dating to 6000 B.C.

In ancient Egypt by 4000 B.C., beauty shops and perfume factories were

flourishing, and the art of makeup was already highly skilled and widely

practiced. We know that the favorite color for eyeshade then was green,

the preferred lipstick blue-black, the acceptable rouge red, and that fashionable

Egyptian women stained the flesh of their fingers and feet a reddish

orange with henna. And in those bare-breasted times, a woman accented

veins on her bosom in blue and tipped her nipples gold.

Egyptian men were no less vain-in death as well as life. They stocked

their tombs with a copious supply of cosmetics for the afterlife. In the

1920s, when the tomb of King Tutankhamen, who ruled about 1350 B.C.,

was opened, several small jars of skin cream, lip color, and cheek rouge

were discovered-still usable and possessing elusive fragrances.

In fact, during the centuries prior to the Christian era, every recorded


Egyptian woman at her toilet. Lipstick was blue-black, eye shadow green, bare

nipples .were tipped in gold paint.

culture lavishly adorned itself in powders, perfumes, and paints-all, that

is, except the Greeks.

Unlike the Romans, who assimilated and practiced Egyptian makeup

technology, the Greeks favored a natural appearance. From the time of

the twelfth-century Dorian invasions until about 700 B.C., the struggling

Greeks had little time for languorous pleasures of self-adornment. And

when their society became established and prosperous during the Golden

Age of the fifth century B.C., it was dominated by an ideal of masculinity

and natural ruggedness. Scholastics and athletics prevailed. Women were

chattels. The male, unadorned and unclothed, was the perfect creature.

During this time, the craft of cosmetics, gleaned from the Egyptians, was

preserved in Greece through the courtesans. These mistresses of the wealthy

sported painted faces, coiffed hair, and perfumed bodies. They also perfumed

their breath by carrying aromatic liquid or oil in their mouths and

rolling it about with the tongue. The breath freshener, apparently history's

first, was not swallowed but discreetly spit out at the appropriate time.

Among Greek courtesans we also find the first reference in history to

blond hair in women as more desirable than black. The lighter color connoted

innocence, superior social status, and sexual desirability, and courtesans

achieved the shade with the application of an apple-scented pomade

of yellow flower petals, pollen, and potassium salt.

In sharp contrast to the Greeks, Roman men and women were often

unrestrained in their use of cosmetics. Roman soldiers returned from Eastern

duty laden with, and often wearing, Indian perfumes, cosmetics, and

a blond hair preparation of yellow flour, pollen, and fine gold dust. And

there is considerable evidence that fashionable Roman women had on their

vanity virtually every beauty aid available today. The first-century epigram-


Eye Makeup: Pre-4000 B.C., Egypt

matist Martial criticized a lady friend, Galla, for wholly making over her

appearance: "While you remain at home, Galla, your hair is at the hairdresser's;

you take out your teeth at night and sleep tucked away in a

hundred cosmetics boxes-even your face does not sleep with you. Then

you wink at men under an eyebrow you took out of a drawer that same


Given the Roman predilection for beauty aids, etymologists for a long

time believed that our word "cosmetic" came from the name of the most

famous makeup merchant in the Roman Empire during the reign of Julius

Caesar: Cosmis. More recently, they concluded that it stems from the Greek

Kosmetikos, meaning "skilled in decorating."

Eye Makeup: Pre-4000 B.C., Egypt

Perhaps because the eyes, more than any other body part, reveal inner

thoughts and emotions, they have been throughout history elaborately

adorned. The ancient Egyptians, by 4000 B.C., had already zeroed in on

the eye as the chief focus for facial makeup. The preferred green eye shadow

was made from powdered malachite, a green copper ore, and applied heavily

to both upper and lower eyelids. Outlining the eyes and darkening the

lashes and eyebrows were achieved with a black paste called kohl, made

from powdered antimony, burnt almonds, black oxide of copper, and brown

clay ocher. The paste was stored in small alabaster pots and, moistened by

saliva, was applied with ivory, wood, or metal sticks, not unlike a modern

eyebrow pencil. Scores of filled kohl pots have been preserved.

Fashionable Egyptian men and women also sported history's first eye

glitter. In a mortar, they crushed the iridescent shells of beetles to a coarse

powder, then they mixed it with their malachite eye shadow.

Many Egyptian women shaved their eyebrows and applied false ones, as

did later Greek courtesans. But real or false, eyebrows that met above the

nose were favored, and Egyptians and Greeks used kohl pencils to connect

what nature had not.

Eye adornment was also the most popular form of makeup among the

Hebrews. The custom was introduced to Israel around 850 B.C. by Queen

Jezebel, wife of King Ahab. A Sidonian princess, she was familiar with the

customs of Phoenicia, then a center of culture and fashion. The Bible refers

to her use of cosmetics (2 Kings 9:30): "And when Jehu was come to Jezreel,

Jezebel heard of it; and she painted her face ... " From the palace window,

heavily made up, she taunted Jehu, her son's rival for the throne, until her

eunuchs, on jehu's orders, pushed her out. It was Jezebel's cruel disregard

for the rights of the common man, and her defiance of the Hebrew prophets

Elijah and Elisha, that earned her the reputation as the archetype of the

wicked woman. She gave cosmetics a bad name for centuries.


Atop the Vanity

Rouge, Facial Powder, Lipstick: 4000 B.C., Near East

Although Greek men prized a natural appearance and eschewed the use of

most cosmetics, they did resort to rouge to color the cheeks. And Greek

courtesans heightened rouge's redness by first coating their skin with white

powder. The large quantities of lead in this powder, which would whiten

European women's faces, necks, and bosoms for the next two thousand

years, eventually destroyed complexions and resulted in countless premature


An eighteenth-century European product, Arsenic Complexion Wafers,

was actually eaten to achieve a white pallor. And it worked-by poisoning

the blood so it transported fewer red hemoglobin cells, and less oxygen to


A popular Greek and Roman depilatory, orpiment, used by men and

women to remove unwanted body hair, was equally dangerous, its active

ingredient being a compound of arsenic.

Rouge was hardly safer. With a base made from harmless vegetable substances

such as mulberry and seaweed, it was colored with cinnabar, a poisonous

red sulfide of mercury. For centuries, the same red cream served

to paint the lips, where it was more easily ingested and insidiously poisonous.

Once in the bloodstream, lead, arsenic, and mercury are particularly harmful

to the fetus. There is no way to estimate how many miscarriages, stillbirths,

and congenital deformities resulted from ancient beautifying practicesparticularly

since it was customary among early societies to abandon a deformed

infant at birth.

Throughout the history of cosmetics there have also been numerous

attempts to prohibit women from painting their faces-and not only for

moral or religious reasons.

Xenophon, the fourth-century B.C. Greek historian, wrote in Good Husbandry

about the cosmetic deception of a new bride: "When I found her

painted, I pointed out that she was being as dishonest in attempting to

deceive me about her looks as I should be were I to deceive her about my

property." The Greek theologian Clement of Alexandria championed a law

in the second century to prevent women from tricking husbands into marriage

by means of cosmetics, and as late as 1770, draconian legislation was

introduced in the British Parliament (subsequently defeated) demanding:

"That women of whatever age, rank, or profession, whether virgins, maids

or widows, who shall seduce or betray into matrimony, by scents, paints,

cosmetic washes, artificial teeth, false hair, shall incur the penalty of the

law as against witchcraft, and that the marriage shall stand null and void."

It should be pointed out that at this period in history, the craze for red

rouge worn over white facial powder h~d reached unprecedented heights

in England and France. "Women," reported the British Gentlemen's Magazine

in 1792, with "their wooly white hair and fiery red faces," resembled


Beauty Patch and Compact: 17th Century, Europe

"skinned sheep." The article (written by a man for a male readership) then

reflected: "For the single ladies who follow this fashion there is some excuse.

Husbands must be had .... But the frivolity is unbecoming the dignity of

a married woman's situation." This period of makeup extravagance was

followed by the sober years of the French Revolution and its aftermath.

By the late nineteenth century, rouge, facial powder, and lipstick-sixthousand-

year-old makeup staples enjoyed by men and women-had almost

disappeared in Europe. During this lull, a fashion magazine of the day

observed: "The tinting of face and lips is considered admissible only for

those upon the stage. Now and then a misguided woman tints her cheeks

to replace the glow of health and youth. The artificiality of the effect is

apparent to everyone and calls attention to that which the person most

desires to conceal. It hardly seems likely that a time will ever come again

in which rouge and lip paint will be employed."

That was in 1880. Cosmetics used by stage actresses were homemade, as

they had been for centuries. But toward the closing years of the century,

a complete revival in the use of cosmetics occurred, spearheaded by the


The result was the birth of the modern cosmetics industry, characterized

by the unprecedented phenomenon of store-bought, brand-name products:

Guerlain, Coty, Roger & Gallet, Lanvin, Chanel, Dior, Rubinstein, Arden,

Revlon, Lauder, and Avon. In addition-and more important-chemists

had come to the aid of cosmetologists and women, to produce the first safe

beautifying aids in history. The origins of brand names and chemically safe

products are explored throughout this chapter.

Beauty Patch and Compact: 17th Century, Europe

Smallpox, a dreaded and disfiguring disease, ravaged Europe during the

1600s. Each epidemic killed thousands of people outright and left many

more permanently scarred from the disease's blisters, which could hideously

obliterate facial features. Some degree of pockmarking marred the complexions

of the majority of the European population.

Beauty patches, in the shapes of stars, crescent moons, and hearts-and

worn as many as a dozen at a time-achieved immense popularity as a

means of diverting attention from smallpox scars. .

In black silk or velvet, the patches were carefully placed near the eyes,

by the lips, on the cheeks, the forehead, the throat, and the breasts. They

were worn by men as well as women. According to all accounts, the effect

was indeed diverting, and in France the patch acquired the descriptive

name mouche, meaning "fly."

Patch boxes, containing emergency replacements, were carried to dinners

and balls. The boxes were small and shallow, with a tiny mirror set in the

lid, and they were the forerunner of the modern powder compact.

The wearing of beauty patches evolved into a silent, though well-


Atop the Vanity

communicated, language. A patch near a woman's mouth signaled willing

flirtatiousness; one on the right cheek meant she was married, one on the

left, that she was betrothed; and one at the corner of the eye announced

smoldering passion.

In 1796, the medical need for beauty patches ceased. An English country

doctor, Edward jenner, tested his theory of a vaccine against smallpox by

inoculating an eight-year-old farm boy with cowpox, a mild form of the

disease. The boy soon developed a slight rash, and when it faded, jenner

inoculated him with the more dangeroJIs smallpox. The child displayed no

symptoms. He had been immunized.

jenner named his procedure "vaccination," from the Latin for cowpox,

vaccinia. As use of the vaccine quickly spread throughout Europe, obliterating

the disease, beauty patches passed from practical camouflage to cosmetic

affectation. In this latter form, they gave birth to the penciled-on

beauty mark. And the jeweled patch boxes, now empty, were used to hold

compacted powder.

Nail Polish: Pre-3000 B.C., China

The custom of staining fingernails, as well as fingers, with henna was common

in Egypt by 3000 B.C. But actual fingernail paint is believed to have

originated in China, where the color of a person's nails indicated social


The Chinese had by the third millennium B.C. combined gum arabic, egg

white, gelatin, and beeswax to formulate varnishes, enamels, and lacquers.

According to a fifteenth-century Ming manuscript, the royal colors for

fingernails were for centuries black and red, although at an earlier time,

during the Chou Dynasty of 600 B.C., gold and silver were the royal


Among the Egyptians, too, nail color came to signify social order, with

shades of red at the top. Queen Nefertiti, wife of the heretic king Ikhnaton,

painted her fingernails and toenails ruby red, and Cleopatra favored a deep

rust red. Women of lower rank were permitted only pale hues, and no

woman dared to flaunt the color worn by the queen-or king, for Egyptian

men, too, sported painted nails.

This was particularly true of high-ranking warriors. Egyptian, Babylonian,

and early Roman military commanders spent hours before a battle having

their hair lacquered and curled, and their nails painted the same shade as

their lips.

Such ancient attention to fingernails and toenails suggests to cosmetics

historians that manicuring was already an established art. The belief is

supported by numerous artifacts. Excavations at the royal tombs at Ur in

southern Babylonia yielded a manicure set containing numerous pieces in

solid gold, the property of a doubtless well-groomed Babylonian nobleman


Cold Cream: 2nd Century, Rome

who lived some four thousand years ago. Well-manicured nails became a

symbol of culture and civilization, a means of distinguishing the laboring

commoner from the idle aristocrat.

Creams, Oils, Moisturizers: 3000 B.C., Near East

It is not surprising that oils used to trap water in the skin and prevent

desiccation developed in the hot, dry desert climate of the Near East. More

than two thousand years before the development of soap, these moisturizers

also served to clean the body of dirt, the way cold cream removes makeup.

The skin-softening oils were scented with frankincense, myrrh, thyme,

marjoram, and the essences of fruits and nuts, especially almonds in Egypt.

Preserved Egyptian clay tablets from 3000 B.C. reveal special formulations

for particular beauty problems. An Egyptian woman troubled by a blemished

complexion treated her face with a mask of bullock's bile, whipped ostrich

eggs, olive oil, flour, sea salt, plant resin, and fresh milk. An individual

concerned with the advancing dryness and wrinkles of age slept for six

nights in a facial paste of milk, incense, wax, olive oil, gazelle or crocodile

dung, and ground juniper leaves.

Little has really changed over the centuries. A glance at any of today's

women's magazines reveals suggestions of cucumber slices for blemishes,

moist tea bags for tired eyes, and beauty masks of honey, wheat germ oil,

aloe squeezed from a windowsill plant, and comfrey from the herb garden.

In the ancient world, the genitalia of young animals were believed to

offer the best chances to retard aging and restore sexual vigor. Foremost

among such Near East concoctions was a body paste made of equal parts

of calf phallus and vulva, dried and ground. The preparation-in its composition,

its claims, and its emphasis on the potency of infant animal tissueis

no more bizarre than such modern youth treatments as fetal lamb cell

injections. Our contemporary obsession with beauty and sexual vigor into

old age, and the belief that these desiderata can be bottled, have roots as

ancient as recorded history-and probably considerably older.

Of the many ancient cosmetic formulas, one, cold cream, has come down

to us through the centuries with slight variation.

Cold Cream: 2nd Century, Rome

First, there is something cold about cold cream. Formulated with a large

quantity of water, which evaporates when the mixture comes in contact

with the warmth of the skin, the cream can produce a slight cooling sensation,

hence its name.

Cold cream was first made by Galen, the renowned second-century Greek

physician who practiced in Rome.

In A.D. 157, Galen was appointed chief physician to the school of gladiators

in Pergamum, and he went on to treat the royal family of Rome.


Atop the Vanity

While he prepared medications to combat the serious infections and abscesses

that afflicted gladiators, he also concocted beauty aids for patrician

women. As recorded in his Medical Methods, the formula for cold cream

called for one part white wax melted into three parts olive oil, in which

"rose buds had been steeped and as much water as can be blended into

the mass." As a substitute for the skin-softening and -cleansing properties

of cold cream, Galen recommended the oil from sheep's wool, lanolin,

known then as despyum. Although many earlier beauty aids contained toxic

ingredients, cold cream, throughout its long history, remained one of the

simplest and safest cosmetics.

In more recent times, three early commercial creams merit note for their

purity, safety, and appeal to women at all levels of society.

In 1911, a German pharmacist in Hamburg, H. Beiersdorf, produced a

variant of cold cream which was intended to both moisturize and nourish

the skin. He named his product Nivea, and it quickly became a commercial

success, supplanting a host of heavier beauty creams then used by women

around the world. The product still sells in what is essentially its original


Jergens Lotion was the brainstorm of a former lumberjack. Twentyeight-

year-old Andrew Jergens, a Dutch immigrant to America, was searching

for a way to invest money he had saved while in the lumber business.

In 1880, he formed a partnership with a Cincinnati soapmaker, and their

company began to manufacture a prestigious toilet soap. Jergens, from his

years in the lumber trade, was aware of the benefits of hand lotion and

formulated one bearing his own name. His timing couldn't have been better,

for women were just beginning to abandon homemade beauty aids for

marketed preparations. The product broke through class barriers, turning

up as readily on the vanity in a Victorian mansion as by the kitchen sink in

a humbler home.

The third moderately priced, widely accepted cream, Noxzema, was formulated

by a Maryland school principal turned pharmacist. After graduating

from the University of Maryland's pharmacy school in 1899, George Bunting

opened a drugstore in Baltimore. Skin creams were a big seller then, and

Bunting blended his own in a back room and sold it in small blue jars

labeled "Dr. Bunting's Sunburn Remedy."

When female customers who never ventured into the sun without a parasol

began raving about the cream, Bunting realized he had underestimated

the benefits of his preparation. Seeking a catchier, more encompassing

name, he drew up lists of words and phrases, in Latin and in English, but

none impressed him. Then one day a male customer entered the store and

remarked that the sunburn remedy had miraculously cured his eczema.

From that chance remark, Dr. Bunting's Sunburn Remedy became

Noxzema, and a limited-use cold cream became the basis of a multimilliondollar



Mirror: 3500 B.C., Mesopotamia

Mirror: 3500 B.C., Mesopotamia

The still water of a clear pool was man's first mirror. But with the advent

of the Bronze Age, about 3500 B.C., polished metal became the favored

material, and the Sumerians in Mesopotamia set bronze mirrors into plain

handles of wood, ivory, or gold. Among the Egyptians, the handles were

of elaborate design, sculpted in the shapes of animals, flowers, and birds.

Judging from the numerous mirrors recovered in Egyptian tombs, a favorite

handle had a human figure upholding a bronze reflecting surface.

Metal mirrors were also popular with the Israelites, who learned the craft

in Egypt. When Moses wished to construct a laver, or ceremonial washbasin,

for the tabernacle, he commanded the women of Israel to surrender their

"looking-glasses," and he shaped "the laver of brass, and the foot of it of


In 328 B.C., the Greeks established a school for mirror craftsmanship. A

student learned the delicate art of sand polishing a metal without scratching

its reflective surface. Greek mirrors came in two designs: disk and box.

A disk mirror was highly polished on the front, with the back engraved

or decorated in relief. Many disk mirrors had a foot, enabling them to stand

upright on a table.

A box mirror was formed from two disks that closed like a clamshell.

One disk was the highly polished mirror; the other disk, unpolished, served

as a protective cover.

The manufacturing of mirrors was a flourishing business among the

Etruscans and the Romans. They polished every metal they could mine or

import. Silver's neutral color made it the preferred mirror metal, for it

reflected facial makeup in its true hues. However, around 100 B.C., gold

mirrors established a craze. Even head servants in wealthy households demanded

personal gold mirrors, and historical records show that many servants

were allotted a mirror as part of their wages.

Throughout the Middle Ages, men and women were content with the

polished metal mirror that had served their ancestors. Not until the 1300s

was there a revolution in this indispensable article of the vanity.

Glass Mirror. Glass had been molded and blown into bottles, cups, and

jewelry since the start of the Christian era. But the first glass mirrors debuted

in Venice in 1300, the work of Venetian gaffers, or glass blowers.

The gaffer's craft was at an artistic pinnacle. Craftsmen sought new technological

challenges, and glass mirrors taxed even Venetian technicians'

greatest skills. Unlike metal, glass could not be readily sand-polished to a

smooth reflecting surface; each glass sheet had to be poured perfectly the

first time. The technology to guarantee this was crude at first, and early

glass mirrors, although cherished by those who could afford them and cov-


A Roman vanity, centered around a hand-held mirror. Mirrors were of polished

metals until the 1300s.

eted by those who could not, cast blurred and distorted images.

Image (and not that reflected in a mirror) was all-important in fourteenthcentury

Venice. Wealthy men and women took to ostentatiously wearing

glass mirrors about the neck on gold chains as pendant jewelry. While the

image in the glass might be disappointingly poor, the image of a mirrorwearer

in the eyes of others was one of unmistakable affluence. Men carried

swords with small glass mirrors set in the hilt. Royalty collected sets of glass

mirrors framed in ivory, silver, and gold, which were displayed more than

they were used. Early mirrors had more flash than function, and given their

poor reflective quality, they probably served best as bric-a-brac.

Mirror quality improved only moderately until 1687. That year, French

gaffer Bernard Perrot patented a method for rolling out smooth, undistorted

sheets of glass. Now not only perfectly reflective hand mirrors but

also full-length looking glasses were produced. (See also "Glass Window,"

page 156.)


Hair Styling: 1500 B.C., Assyria

Hair Styling: 1500 B.C., Assyria

In the ancient world, the Assyrians, inhabiting the area that is modem

northern Iraq, were the first true hair stylists. Their skills at cutting, curling,

layering, and dyeing hair were known throughout the Middle East as nonpareil.

Their craft grew out of an obsession with hair.

The Assyrians cut hair in graduated tiers, so that the head of a fashionable

courtier was as neatly geometric as an Egyptian pyramid, and somewhat

similar in shape. Longer hair was elaborately arranged in cascading curls

and ringlets, tumbling over the shoulders and onto the breasts.

Hair was oiled, perfumed, and tinted. Men cultivated a neatly clipped

beard, beginning at the jaw and layered in ruffles down over the chest.

Kings, warriors, and noblewomen had their abundant, flowing hair curled

by slaves, using a fire-heated iron bar, the first curling iron.

The Assyrians developed hair styling to the exclusion of nearly every

other cosmetic art. Law even dictated certain types of coiffures according

to a person's position and employment. And, as was the case in Egypt, highranking

women, during official court business, donned stylized fake beards

to assert that they could be as authoritative as men.

Baldness, full or partial, was considered an unsightly defect and concealed

by wigs.

Like the Assyrians, the Greeks during the Homeric period favored long,

curly hair. They believed that long hair, and difficult-to-achieve hair styles,

distinguished them from the barbarians in the north, who sported short,

unattended hair. "Fragrant and divine curls" became a Greek obsession,

as revealed by countless references in prose and poetry.

Fair hair was esteemed. Most of the great Greek heroes-Achilles, Menelaus,

Paris, to mention a few-are described as possessing light-colored

locks. And those not naturally blond could lighten or redden their tresses

with a variety of harsh soaps and alkaline bleaches from Phoenicia, then

the soap center of the Mediterranean.

Men in particular took considerable measures to achieve lighter hair

shades. For temporary coloring, they dusted hair with a talc of yellow pollen,

yellow flour, and fine gold dust. Menander, the fourth-century B.C. Athenian

dramatist, wrote of a more permanent method: "The sun's rays are the

best means for lightening the hair, as our men well know." Then he describes

one practice: "After washing their hair with a special ointment made here

in Athens, they sit bareheaded in the sun by the hour, waiting for their hair

to tum a beautiful golden blond. And it does."

In 303 B.C., the first professional barbers, having formed into guilds,

opened shops in Rome.

Roman social standards mandated well-groomed hair, and tonsorial neglect

was often treated with scorn or open insult. Eschewing the Greek

ideal of golden-blond hair, Roman men of high social and political rank


A tonsorial obsession.

Assyrians oiled,

perfumed, tinted and

curled their tresses.

Only a coiffed soldier

was fit for battle.

favored dark-to-black hair. Aging Roman consuls and senators labored to

conceal graying hair. The first-century Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder

wrote candidly of the importance of dark hair dyes. A preferred black dye

was produced by boiling walnut shells and leeks. But to prevent graying in

the first place, men were advised to prepare a paste, worn overnight, of

herbs and earthworms. The Roman antidote for baldness was an unguent

of crushed myrtle berries and bear grease.

Not all societies favored blond or dark hair. Early Saxon men (for reasons

that remain a mystery) are depicted in drawings with hair and beards dyed

powder blue, bright red, green, or orange. The Gauls, on the other hand,

were known to favor reddish hair dyes. And in England when Elizabeth I

was arbiter of fashion,prominent figures of the day-male and femaledyed

their hair a bright reddish orange, the queen's color. An ambassador

to court once noted that Elizabeth's hair was "of a light never made by


Although men and women had powdered their hair various colors since

before the Christian era, the practice became the rule of fashion in sixteenthcentury

France. The powder, liberally applied to real hair and wigs, was

bleached and pulverized wheat flour, heavily scented. By the 1790s, at the

court of Marie Antoinette, powdering, and all forms of hair dressing generally,

reached a frenzied peak. Hair was combed, curled, and waved, and

supplemented by mounds of false hair into fantastic towers, then powdered

assorted colors. Blue, pink, violet, yellow, and white-each had its vogue.

At the height of hair powdering in England, Parliament, to replenish the


Modern Hair Coloring: 1909, France

public treasury, taxed hair powders. The returns were projected at a quarter

of a million pounds a year. However, political upheaval with France and

Spain, to say nothing of a capricious change in hair fashion that rendered

powdering passe, drastically reduced the revenue 'collected.

Modern Hair Coloring: 1909, France

Permanent coloring of the hair has never been a harmless procedure. The

risk of irritation, rash, and cellular mutations leading to cancer are present

even with today's tested commercial preparations. Still, they are safer than

many of the caustic formulations used in the past.

The first successful attempt to develop a safe commercial hair dye was

undertaken in 1909 by French chemist Eugene Schueller. Basing his mixture

on a newly identified chemical, paraphenylenediamine, he founded the

French Harmless Hair Dye Company. The product initially was not an

impressive seller (though it would become one), and a year later Schueller

conceived a more glamorous company name: L'Oreal.

Still, most women resisted in principle the idea of coloring their hair.

That was something done by actresses. As late as 1950, only 7 percent of

American women dyed their hair. By comparison, the figure today is 75

percent. What brought about the change in attitude?

In large measure, the modem hair-coloring revolution came not through

a safer product, or through a one-step, easy-to-use formulation, but through

clever, image-changing advertising.

The campaign was spearheaded largely by Clairol.

A New York copywriter, Shirley Polykoff, conceived two phrases that

quickly became nationwide jargon: "Does She or Doesn't She?" and "Only

Her Hairdresser Knows for Sure." The company included a child in every

pictorial advertisement, to suggest that the adult model with colored hair

was a respectable woman, possibly a mother.

Ironically, it was the double entendre in "Does She or Doesn't She?"

that raised eyebrows and consequently generated its own best publicity.

"Does she or doesn't she what?" people joked. Life magazine summarily

refused to print the advertisement because of its blatant suggestiveness.

To counter this resistance, Clairol executives challenged Life'S all-male censor

panel to test the advertisement on both men and women. The results

were astonishing, perhaps predictable, and certainly revealing. Not a single

woman saw sexual overtones in the phrase, whereas every man did.

Life relented. The product sold well. Coloring hair soon ceased to be

shocking. By the late 1960s, almost 70 percent of American women-and

two million men-altered their natural hair color. Modem-day Americans

had adopted a trend that was popular more than three thousand years ago.

The only difference in the past was that the men coloring their hair outnumbered

the women.


Atop the Vanity

Wigs: 3000 B.C., Egypt

Although the Assyrians ranked as the preeminent hair stylists of the ancient

world, the Egyptians, some fifteen hundred years earlier, made an art of

wigs. In the Western world, they originated the concept of using artificial

hair, although its function was most often not to mask baldness but to

complement formal, festive attire.

Many Egyptian wigs survive in excellent condition in museums today.

Chemical analyses reveal that their neatly formed plaits and braids were

made from both vegetable fiber and human hair.

Some decorative hairpieces were enormous. And weighty. The wig Queen

Isimkheb, in 900 B.C., wore on state occasions made her so top-heavy that

attendants were required to help her walk. Currently in the Cairo Museum,

the wig was chemically tested and found to be woven entirely of brown

human hair. As is true of other wigs of that time, its towering style was held

in place with a coating of beeswax.

Blond wigs became a craze in Rome, beginning in the first century B.C.

Whereas Greek courtesans preferred bleaching or powdering their own

hair, Roman women opted for fine flaxenJlair from the heads of German

captives. It was made into all styles of blond wigs. Ovid, the first-century

Roman poet, wrote that no Roman, man or woman, had ever to worry

about baldness given the abundance of German hair to be scalped at will.

Blond wigs eventually became the trademark of Roman prostitutes, and

even of those who frequented them. The dissolute empress Messalina wore

a "yellow wig" when she made her notorious rounds of the Roman brothels.

And Rome's most detestable ruler, Caligula, wore a similar wig on nights

when he prowled the streets in search of pleasure. The blond wig was as

unmistakable as the white knee boots and miniskirt of a contemporary


The Christian Church tried repeatedly to stamp out all wearing of wigs,

for whatever purpose. In the first century, church fathers ruled that a

wigged person could not receive a Christian blessing. In the next century,

Tertullian, the Greek theologian, preached that "All wigs are such disguises

and inventions of the devil." And in the following century, Bishop Cyprian

forbade Christians in wigs or toupees to attend church services, declaiming,

"What better are you than pagans?"

Such condemnation peaked in A.D. 692. That year, the Council of Constantinople

excommunicated Christians who refused to give up wearing


Even Henry IV, who defied the Church in the twelfth century over the

king's right to appoint bishops and was subsequently excommunicated,

adhered to the Church's recommended hair style-short, straight, and unadorned.

Henry went so far as to prohibit long hair and wigs at court. Not

until the Reformation of 1517, when the Church was preoccupied with the


--.,,---=--~ .




A cartoon captures

the burden of false

hair in an era

when wigs were

weighty and required

hours of attention.

more pressing matter of losing members, did it ease its standards on wigs

and hair styles.

By 1580, wigs were again the dernier cri in hair fashion.

One person more than any other was responsible for the return of curled

and colored wigs: Elizabeth' I, who possessed a huge collection of redorange

wigs, used mainly to conceal a severely receding hairline and thinning


Wigs became so commonplace they often went unnoticed. The fact that

Mary, Queen of Scots wore an auburn wig was unknown even by people

well acquainted with her; they learned the truth only when she was beheaded.

At the height of wig popularity in seventeenth-century France, the court

at Versailles employed forty full-time resident wigmakers.

Once again, the Church rose up against wigs. But this time the hierarchy

was split within its own ranks, for many priests wore the fashionable long

curling wigs of the day. According to a seventeenth-century account, it was

not uncommon for wigless priests to yank wigs off clerics about to serve

mass or invoke benediction. One French clergyman, Jean-Baptiste Thiers

from Champrond, published a book on the evils of wigs, the means of

spotting wig wearers, and methods of sneak attack to rip off false hair.

The Church eventually settled the dispute with a compromise. Wigs were

permitted on laymen and priests who were bald, infirm, or elderly, although


Atop the Vanity

never in church. Women received no exemption.

In eighteenth-century London, wigs worn by barristers were so valuable

they were frequently stolen. Wig stealers operated in crowded streets, carrying

on their shoulders a basket containing a small boy. The boy's task was

to suddenly spring up and seize a gentleman's wig. The victim was usually

discouraged from causing a public fuss by the slightly ridiculous figure he

cut with a bared white shaven head. Among barristers, the legal wig has

remained part of official attire into the twentieth century.

Hairpin: 10,000 Years Ago, Asia

A bodkin, a long ornamental straight pin, was used by Greek and Roman

women to fasten their hair. In shape and function it exactly reproduced

the slender animal spines and thistle thorns used by earlier men and women

and by many primitive tribes today. Ancient Asian burial sites have yielded

scores of hairpins of bone, iron, bronze, silver, and gold. Many are plain,

others ornately decorated, but they all clearly reveal that the hairpin's shape

has gone unchanged for ten thousand years.

Cleopatra preferred ivory hairpins, seven to eight inches long and studded

with jewels. The Romans hollowed out their hairpins to conceal poison.

The design was similar to that of the pin Cleopatra is reputed to have used

in poisoning herself.

The straight hairpin became the U-shaped bobby pin over a period of

two centuries.

Wig fashion at the seventeenth-century French court necessitated that a

person's real hair be either clipped short or pinned tightly to the head.

Thus "bobbed," it facilitated slipping on a wig as well as maintaining a

groomed appearance once the wig was removed. Both large straight pins

and U-shaped hairpins were then called "bobbing pins." In England, in

the next century, the term became "bobby pin." When small, two-pronged

pins made of tempered steel wire and lacquered black began to be massproduced

in the nineteenth-century, they made straight hairpins virtually

obsolete and monopolized the name bobby pin.

Hair Dryer: 1920, Wisconsin

The modern electric hair dryer was the offspring of two unrelated inventions,

the vacuum cleaner and the blender. Its point of origin is well known:

Racine, Wisconsin. And two of the first models-named the "Race" and

the "Cyclone" -appeared in 1920, both manufactured by Wisconsin firms,

the Racine Universal Motor Company and Hamilton Beach.

The idea of blow-drying hair originated in early vacuum cleaner


In the first decade of this century, it was customary to promote several

functions for a single appliance, especially an electrical appliance, since


Comb: Pre-4009 B.C., Asia and Africa

electricity was being touted as history's supreme workhorse. The stratagem

increased sales; and people had come to expect multifunction gadgets.

The vacuum cleaner was no exception. An early advertisement for the

so-called Pneumatic Cleaner illustrated a woman seated at her vanity, drying

her hair with a hose connected to the vacuum's exhaust. With a why-wastehot-

air philosophy, the caption assured readers that while the front end of

the machine sucked up and safely trapped dirt, the back end generated a

"current of pure, fresh air from the exhaust." Although early vacuum

cleaners sold moderately well, no one knows how many women or men got

. the most out of their appliance.

The idea of blow-drying hair had been hatched, though. What delayed

development of a hand-held electric hair dryer was the absence of a small,

efficient, low-powered motor, known technically among inventors as a

"fractional horsepower motor."

Enter the blender.

Racine, Wisconsin, is also the hometown of the first electric milk shake

mixer and blender. (See page Ill.) Although a blender would not be patented

until 1922, efforts to perfect a fractional horsepower motor to run

it had been under way for more than a decade, particularly by the Racine

Universal Motor Company and Hamilton Beach.

Thus, in principle, the hot-air exhaust of the vacuum cleaner was married

to the compact motor of the blender to produce the modem hair dryer,

manufactured in Racine. Cumbersome, energy-inefficient, comparatively

heavy, and frequently overheating, the early hand-held dryer was, nonetheless,

more convenient for styling hair than the vacuum cleaner, and it

set the trend for decades to come.

Improvements in the '30s and '40s involved variable temperature settings

and speeds. The first significant variation in portable home dryers appeared

in Sears, Roebuck's 1951 fall-winter catalogue. The device, selling for

$12.95, consisted of a hand-held dryer and a pink plastic bonnet that connected

directly to the blower and fitted over the woman's head.

Hair dryers were popular with women from the year they debuted. But

it was only in the late 1960s, when men began to experience the difficulty

of drying and styling long hair, that the market for dryers rapidly expanded.

Comb: Pre-4000 B.C., Asia and Africa

The most primitive comb is thought to be the dried backbone of a large

fish, which is still used by remote African tribes. And the comb's characteristic

design is apparent in the ancient Indo-European source of our

word "comb," gombhos, meaning "teeth."

The earliest man-made combs were discovered in six-thousand-year-old

Egyptian tombs, and many are of clever design. Some have single rows of

straight teeth, some double rows; and others possess a first row thicker and

longer than the second. A standard part ofthe Egyptian man's and woman's


Atop the Vanity

vanity, the instrument served the dual function of combing hair and of

pinning a particular style in place.

Archaeologists claim that virtually all early cultures independently developed

and made frequent use of combs-all, that is, except the Britons.

Dwelling along the coastline of the British Isles, these early peoples wore

their hair unkempt (even during occupation by the Romans, themselves

skilled barbers). They are believed to have adopted the comb only after the

Danish invasions, in 789. By the mid-800s, the Danes had settled throughout

the kingdom, and it is they who are credited with teaching coastal Britons

to comb their hair regularly.

In early Christian times, combing hair was also part of religious ceremonies,

in a ritualistic manner similar to washing the feet. Careful directions

exist for the proper way to comb a priest's hair in the sacristy before vespers.

Christian martyrs brought combs with them into the catacombs, where

many implements of ivory and metal have been found. Religious historians

suspect that the comb at one time had some special symbolic significance;

they point to the mysterious fact that during the Middle Ages, many of the

earliest stained-glass church windows contain unmistakable images of combs.

Magic, too, came to surround the comb. In the 1600s, in parts of Europe,

it was widely accepted that graying hair could be restored to its original

color by frequent strokes with a lead comb. Although it is conceivable that

soft, low-grade, blackened lead might actually have been microscopically

deposited on strands of hair, slightly darkening them, there is more evidence

to suggest that the comber dyed his hair, then attributed the results to the

instrument. The suspicion is supported by the fact that in the last few

decades of the century, the term "lead comb" -as in "He uses a lead

comb"-was the socially accepted euphemism for dyeing gray hair.

There were no real changes in comb design until 1960, when the first

home electric styling comb originated in Switzerland.

Perfume: Pre-6000 B.C., Middle and Far East

Perfume originated at ancient sacred shrines, where it was the concern of

priests, not cosmeticians. And in the form of incense, its original function,

it survives today in church services.

The word itself is compounded from per and fumus, Latin for' 'through

the smoke." And that precisely describes the manner in which the fragrant

scents reached worshipers: carried in the smoke of the burning carcass of

a sacrificial animal.

Foraging man, preoccupied with the quest for food, believed the greatest

offering to his gods was part of his most precious and essential possession,

a slaughtered beast. Perfume thus originated as a deodorizer, sprinkled on

a carcass to mask the stench of burning flesh. The Bible records that when

Noah, having survived the Flood, burned animal sacrifices, "the Lord

smelled the sweet odor"-not of flesh but of incense.


Incense, used to mask the stench of sacrificial burning flesh, evolved into perfume.

In time, through symbolic substitution, the pungent, smoky fragrances

themselves became offerings. Burning such resinous gums as frankincense,

myrrh, cassia, and spikenard signified the deepest homage a mortal could

pay to the gods. Perfume thus passed from a utilitarian deodorizer of foul

smells to a highly prized commodity in its own right. No longer in need of

heavy, masking scents, people adopted light, delicate fragrances of fruits

and flowers.

This transition from incense to perfume, and from heavy scents to lighter

ones, occurred in both the Far East and the Middle East some six thousand

years ago. By 3000 B.C., the Sumerians in Mesopotamia and the Egyptians

along the Nile were literally bathing themselves in oils and alcohols of jasmine,

iris, hyacinth, and honeysuckle.

Egyptian women applied a different scent to each part of the body. Cleopatra

anointed her hands with kyaphi, an oil of roses, crocus, and violets;

and she scented her feet with aegyptium, a lotion of almond oil, honey,

cinnamon, orange blossoms, and tinting henna.

Although the men of ancient Greece eschewed the use of facial cosmetics,

preferring a natural appearance, they copiously embraced perfumes-one

scent for the hair, another for the skin, another for clothing, and still a

different one to scent wine.


Atop the Vanity

Greek writers around 400 B.C. recommended mint for the arms, cinnamon

or rose for the chest, almond oil for the hands and feet, and extract of

marjoram for the hair and eyebrows. Fashionable young Greeks carried

the use of perfumes to such extremes that Solon, the statesman who devised

the democratic framework of Athens, promulgated a law (soon repealed)

prohibiting the sale of fragrant oils to Athenian men.

From Greece, perfumes traveled to Rome, where a soldier was considered

unfit to ride into battle unless duly anointed with perfumes. Fragrances of

wisteria, lilac, carnation, and vanilla were introduced as the Roman Empire

conquered other lands. From the Far and Middle East, they acquired a

preference for cedar, pine, ginger, and mimosa. And from the Greeks, they

learned to prepare the citric oils of tangerine, orange, and lemon.

Guilds of Roman perfumers arose, and they were kept busy supplying

both men and women with the latest scents. Called unguentarii, perfumers

occupied an entire street of shops in ancient Rome. Their name, meaning

"men who anoint," gave rise to our word "unguent."

The unguentarii concocted three basic types of perfume: solid unguents,

which were scents from only one source, such as pure almond, rose, or

quince; liquids, compounded from squeezed or crushed flowers, spices,

and gums in an oil base; and powdered perfumes, prepared from dried

and pulverized flower petals and spices.

Like the Greeks, the Romans lavished perfume upon themselves, their

clothes, and their home furnishings. And their theaters. The eighteenthcentury

British historian Edward Gibbon, writing on Roman customs,

observed, "The air of the amphitheater was continually refreshed by the

playing of fountains, and profusely impregnated by the grateful scents of

aromatics. "

The emperor Nero, who set a fashion in the first century for rose water,

spent four million sesterces-the equivalent of about $160,000 todayfor

rose oils, rose waters, and rose petals for himself and his guests for a

single evening's fete. And it was recorded that at the funeral in A.D. 65 of

his wife, Poppaea, more perfume was doused, splashed, and sprayed than

the entire country of Arabia could produce in a year. Even the processional

mules were scented. (Perhaps especially the mules.)

Such fragrance excesses incensed the Church. Perfume became synonymous

with decadence and debauchery, and in the second century, church

fathers condemned the personal use of perfumes among Christians.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, perfume was manufactured primarily

in the Middle and Far East. One of the costliest Eastern perfumes, reintroduced

to Europe by the eleventh-century Crusaders, was "rose attar,"

the essential oil from the petals of the damask rose. Two hundred pounds

of feather-light rose petals produced a single ounce of attar.

It was the Crusaders, returning with exotic fragrances, who reawakened

Europe's interest in perfumes and perfume making. And at that point in

perfume'S history, a new element entered the arena: animal oils. From the


Perfume: Pre-6000 B.C., Middle and Far East

East, pharmacists learned that small portions of four highly unlikely animal

secretions cast intoxicating effects on humans. The oils were musk, ambergris,

civet, and castor-the fundamental essences of modern perfumes.

These are unlikely ingredients for perfume because they are sexual and

glandular secretions, which in themselves can be overpowering, unpleasant,

and even nauseating. Their origins with respect to perfume are only partially


Musk. Musk derives from a particular deer, Moschus moschiferus, a small,

shy denizen of the rhododendron and birch thickets of western China. Fully

grown males weigh only twenty-two pounds.

It is the male that carries, in the front of his abdomen, a sac that secretes

a sexual signal, similar in function to the spray of a tomcat. Centuries ago,

Eastern hunters, noticing a sweet, heavy fragrance throughout local forests,

eventually isolated the source of the odor, and the diminutive deer have

been hunted ever since. After the deer is killed, the sac is removed, dried,

and sold to perfumers. Essential musk oil can be detected in amounts as

small as 0.000,000,000,000,032 ounce. That is one meaning of "essential."

Ambergris. This highly odorous, waxy substance is cast off from the stomach

of the sperm whale. It is the basis of the most expensive perfume

extracts and, like musk, is worth the equivalent of gold.

The great mammal Physeter catodon lives on a diet of cuttlefish, a squidlike

sea mollusk that contains a sharp bone, the cuttlebone, which is used

in bird cages for sharpening the beaks of parakeets. Ambergris is secreted

to protect the whale's intestinal lining from this abrasive bone.

As an oil, it floats, and often coats the nets of fishermen. It was early

Arab fishermen who first appreciated ambergris's sweet odor and its great

fixative qualities in extending the life of a perfume. Ambergris, for example,

is able to delay significantly the rate of volatility of other perfume oils with

which it is mixed. Today both musk and ambergris can be synthesized, and

the perfume trade has voluntarily refused to purchase ambergris out of

consideration for the survival of the sperm whale.

Civet. This is a soft, waxy substance secreted by the civet cat, a nocturnal,

flesh-eating animal of Africa and the Far East, with spotted yellowish fur.

Civet is a glandular secretion of both male and female cats of the family

Viverra civetta. The waxy substance is formed near the genitalia, and it can

be collected from captive cats about twice a week. It possesses a revoltingly

fecal odor, but when blended with other perfume essences, it becomes both

extremely agreeable and strongly fixative. Exactly how ancient perfumers

of the Far East discovered this fact remains a puzzling mystery.

Castor. This scent is derived from both Russian and Canadian beavers of

the family Castor fiber. The secretion collects in two abdominal sacs in both


Atop the Vanity

males and females. Extremely diluted, castor (or castoreum) is itself agreeable,

but its primary use is as a scent-extending fixative. The fixating qualities

that mark all four of these animal essences are a function of their high

molecular weight. The heavy molecules act as anchors, impeding a perfume's

predominant scents from rising too quickly above the liquid's surface and

escaping into the air.

Cologne: 1709, Germany

An Italian barber, Jean-Baptiste Farina, arrived in Cologne, Germany, in

1709 to seek his fortune in the fragrance trade. Among his special concoctions

was an alcohol-based blend of lemon spirits, orange bitters, and

mint oil from the pear-shaped bergamot fruit. His creation was the world's

first eau de Cologne, "water of Cologne," named after the city founded in

A.D. 50 by Agrippina, wife of the Roman emperor Claudius.

While the city of Cologne was famous in the Middle Ages for its great

cathedral, containing the shrine of the Magi, after Farina's creation it became

known throughout Europe as the major producer of cologne. The

first cologne fragrance enjoyed a tremendous success, particularly among

French soldiers stationed in that city in the mid-1700s during the Seven

Years' War. The Farina family prospered. Several members moved to Paris

and started another successful perfume business, which in the 1860s was

taken over by two French cousins, Armand Roger and Charles Gallet.

Broadening the Farina line of toiletries, the cousins sold them under their

combined names, Roger & Gallet.

Soon, in the trade, "cologne," "toilet water," and "perfume" acquired well-defined meanings. A perfume became any mixture of ethyl alcohol

with 25 percent of one or more fragrant essential oils. Toilet water was a

thinner dilution of the same ingredients, containing approximately 5 percent

essential oils. And cologne was a further alcoholic dilution, with 3 percent

fragrant oils. Those definitions apply today, although a particularly rich

(and pricey) perfume can contain up to 42 percent of the precious oils.

The French dominated the perfume industry well into the nineteenth

century-and beyond.

It was Fran~ois Coty, a Corsican whose real surname was Sportuno, who,

watching U.S. infantrymen sending home vast quantities of perfume following

World War I, grasped the full possibilities of the American obsession

with French fragrances. By selling name-brand products in smaller quantities

and at cheaper prices, Coty appealed to new sectors of society and ushered

in the first form of mass production in the perfume industry. Also capitalizing

on the American desire for French perfumes, Jeanne Lanvin took her

creation Mon Peche, which had failed in Paris, and in 1925 turned it into

an immediate and resounding success in America under the name My Sin.

Shalimar. The same year that My Sin debuted, two French brothers, Pierre


Avon: 1886, New York

and Jacques Guerlain, created Shalimar, Sanskrit for "temple oflove." The

brothers were inspired when a rajah, visiting Paris, enthralled them with a

tale of courtship in the Shalimar gardens of Lahore, Pakistan. In the gardens,

, replete with fragrant blossoming trees imported from around the world,

Shah J ahan, a seventeenth-century emperor of India, courted and married

Mumtaz Mahal. After her death, he built the magnificent Taj Mahal mausoleum

as her memorial.

Chanel No.5. The superstitious fashion designer Gabrielle ("Coco") Chanel

associated good luck with the number five. In 1921, she introduced to

the world her new fragrance, announcing it on the fifth day of the fifth

month and labeling the perfume No.5.

At that time, the perfume was unlike others on the market in that it did

not have the distinctive floral "feminine" scent then popular. That, in fact,

played a large measure in its appeal to the "boyish" flappers of the Jazz

Age. The revolutionary No.5, with its appropriate timing and scent, turned

out to be a lucky number all around for its creator, earning her fifteen

million dollars. Americans took immediately to the perfume, and Marilyn

Monroe once replied to a journalist who asked her what she wore to bed:

"Chanel No.5."

Avon: 1886, New York

The modern cosmetics industry in America was not dominated entirely by

foreigners. It is true that Chanel, Coty, and Guerlain hailed from France;

Helena Rubinstein from Krakow, Poland; Elizabeth Arden (born Florence

Nightingale Graham) from Canada; Max Fac~or from Russia. But Avon was

strictly an American phenomenon, and a unique and pioneering one at


The first Avon Lady was actually a man, young door-to-door salesman

David McConnell from upstate New York. He launched Avon Calling in

1886, offering women cosmetics in the comfort and privacy of their own

homes. But perfumes and hand creams were not McConnell's initial


At the age of sixteen, McConnell had begun selling books door-to-door.

When his fare was not well received, he resorted to the then-popular advertising

gimmick of offering a free introductory gift in exchange for being

allowed to make a sales pitch. A complimentary vial of perfume, he thought,

would be an ideal entree, and he blended the original scent himself, with

the aid of a local pharmacist.

Fate stepped in. As a later door-to-door salesman discovered that his

free soapy steel-wool pads (see "S.O.S. Pads," page 102) were preferred

by housewives over his actual pot-and-pan wares, McConnell learned that

women adored his perfume and remained indifferent to his books. Thus,

he abandoned books and organized the New York-based California Perfume


Atop the Vanity

Company, named in honor of a friend and investor from California. The

door-to-door approach seemed tailor-made for cosmetics, particularly in

rural areas, where homemakers, in horse-and-buggy days, had poor access

to better stores.

The first female Avon Lady was Mrs. P. F. E. Albee, a widow from Winchester,

New Hampshire. She began her chime-ringing career selling the

company's popular Little Dot Perfume Set, and she recruited other women,

training them as door-to-door salespeople. The company was rechristened

Avon for the simple reason that the New York State town in which David

McConnell lived, Suffern on the Ramapo, reminded him of Shakespeare's


By 1897, McConnell had twelve women employees selling a line of eighteen

fragrances. And the numbers kept growing and growing. Today, despite

the scores of expensive, prestigious American and foreign brand-name cosmetics,

Avon ranks first in sales nationwide, with more than half a million

Avon Ladies ringing doorbells from coast to coast.


Chapter 10

Through the Medicine Chest

Medication: 3500 B.C., Sumer

Because early man viewed illness as divine punishment and healing as purification,

medicine and religion were inextricably linked for centuries. You

became ill because you lost favor with a god, and you regained that god's

grace, and your health, by a physical and spiritual purging. This notion is

apparent in the origin of our word "pharmacy," which comes from the

Greek pharmakon, meaning "purification through purging."

By 3500 B.C., the Sumerians in the Tigris-Euphrates valley had developed

virtually all of our modern methods of administering drugs. They used

gargles, inhalations, suppositories, enemas, poultices, snuffs, decoctions,

infusions, pills, troches, lotions, ointments, and plasters.

The first drug catalogue, or pharmacopoeia, was written at that time by

an unknown Sumerian physician. Preserved in cuneiform script on a single

clay tablet are the names of dozens of drugs to treat ailments that still afflict

us today. As a gargle, salt dissolved in water; as a general disinfectant for

wounds, soured wine; as an astringent, potassium nitrate, obtained from

the nitrogenous waste products in urine. And to relieve a fever, pulverized

willow bark, nature's equivalent of aspirin.

The Egyptians added to the ancient medicine chest.

The Ebers Papyrus, a scroll dating from 1900 B.C. and named after the

German Egyptologist Georg Ebers, reveals the trial-and-error know-how

acquired by early Egyptian physicians. Constipation was treated with a laxative

of ground senna pods and castor oil; for indigestion, a chew of pep-


Through the Medicine Chest

permint leaves and carbonates (known today as antacids); and to numb the

pain of tooth extraction, Egyptian doctors temporarily stupefied a patient

with ethyl alcohol.

The scroll also provides a rare glimpse into the hierarchy of ancient drug

preparation. The "chief of the preparers of drugs" was the equivalent of

a head pharmacist, who supervised the "collectors of drugs," field workers

who gathered essential minerals and herbs. The "preparers' aides" (technicians)

dried and pulverized ingredients, which were blended according

to certain formulas by the "preparers." And the "conservator of drugs"

oversaw the storehouse where local and imported mineral, herb, and animalorgan

ingredients were kept.

By the seventh century B.C., the Greeks had adopted a sophisticated mindbody

view of medicine. They believed that a physician must pursue the

diagnosis and treatment of the physical (body) causes of disease within a

scientific framework, as well as cure the supernatural (mind) components

involved. Thus, the early Greek physician emphasized something of a holistic

approach to health, even if the suspected "mental" causes of disease were

not recognized as stress and depression but interpreted as curses from

displeased deities. Apollo, chief god of healing, and Prometheus, a Titan

who stole fire from heaven to benefit mankind, ruled over the preparation

of all medications.

Modern Drugs. The modern era of pharmacology began in the sixteenth

century, ushered in by the first major discoveries in chemistry. The understanding

of how chemicals interact to produce certain effects within the

body would eventually remove much of the guesswork and magic from


The same century witnessed another milestone: publication in Germany

in 1546 of the first modern pharmacopoeia, listing hundreds of drugs and

medicinal chemicals, with explicit directions for preparing them. Drugs

that had previously varied widely in concentrations, and even in constituents,

were now stringently defined by the text, which spawned versions in Switzerland,

Italy, and England.

Drugs had been launched on a scientific course, but centuries would pass

before superstition was displaced by scientific fact. One major reason was

that physicians, unaware of the existence of disease-causing pathogens such

as bacteria and viruses, continued to dream up imaginary causative evils.

And though new chemical compounds emerged, their effectiveness in treating

disease was still based largely on trial and error. When a new drug

worked, no one really knew why, or more challenging still, how.

As we will see in this chapter, many standard, common drugs in the

medicine chest developed in this trial-and-error environment. Such is the

complexity of disease and human biochemistry that even today, despite

enormous strides in medical science, many of the latest sophisticated additions

to our medicine chest shelves were accidental finds.


Vaseline: 1879, Brooklyn, New York

Vaseline: 1879, Brooklyn, New York

In its early days, Vaseline had a wide range of uses and abuses. The translucent

jelly was gobbed onto fishermen's hooks to lure trout. Stage actresses

dabbed the glistening ointment down their cheeks to simulate tears. Because

Vaseline resists freezing, Arctic explorer Robert Peary took the jelly with

him to the North Pole to protect his skin from chapping and his mechanical

equipment from rusting. And because the compound does not turn rancid

in steamy tropical heat, Amazonian natives cooked with Vaseline, ate it as

a spread on bread, and even exchanged jars of the stuff as money.

The reports of myriad uses from all latitudes and longitudes did not

surprise Vaseline's inventor, Robert Augustus Chesebrough, a Brooklyn

chemist, who lived to the age of ninety-six and attributed his longevity to

Vaseline. He himself ate a spoonful of it every day.

In 1859, Robert Chesebrough was searching not for a new pharmaceutical

unguent but for a way to stave off bankruptcy. At a time when kerosene

was a major source of home and industrial power, his Brooklyn-based kerosene

business was threatened by the prospect of cheaper petroleum fuel

from an oil boom in Pennsylvania.

The young Brooklyn chemist journeyed to Titusville, Pennsylvania, heart

of the oil strike, with the intention of entering the petroleum business. His

chemist's curiosity, though, was piqued by a pasty paraffin-like residue that

stuck annoyingly to drilling rods, gumming them into inactivity. The field

workers Chesebrough questioned had several unprintable names for the

stuff that clogged their pumps, but no one had a hint as to its chemical

nature. Workers had discovered one practical use for it: rubbed on a wound

or burn, the paste accelerated healing.

Chesebrough returned to Brooklyn not with an oil partnership but with

jars of the mysterious petroleum waste product. Months of experimentation

followed, in which he attempted to extract and purify the paste's essential


That compound turned out to be a clear, smooth substance he called

"petroleum jelly." Chesebrough became his own guinea pig. To test the

jelly's healing properties, he inflicted various minor, and some major, cuts,

scratches, and burns on his hands and arms. Covered with the paste extract,

they seemed to heal quickly and without infection. By 1870, Chesebrough

was manufacturing the world's first Vaseline Petroleum Jelly.

There are two views on the origin ofthe name Vaseline, and Chesebrough

seems to have discouraged neither. In the late 1800s, his friends maintained

that he dreamed up the name, during the early days of purifying the substance,

from the practice of using his wife's flower vases as laboratory beakers.

To "vase" he tagged on a popular medical suffix of that day, "line."

However, members of the production company he formed claimed that

Chesebrough more scientifically compounded the word from the German

wasser, "water," and the Greek elaion, "olive oil."


Through the Medicine Chest

As he had been the product's chief guinea pig, Robert Chesebrough also

became its staunchest promoter. In a horse and buggy, he traveled the

roads of upper New York State, dispensing free jars of Vaseline to anyone

who promised to try it on a cut or burn. The public's response was so

favorable that within a half year Chesebrough employed twelve horse-andbuggy

salesmen, offering the jelly for a penny an ounce.

New Englanders, though, were dabbing Vaseline on more than cuts and

bums. Housewives claimed that the jelly removed stains and rings from

wood furniture, and that it glisteningly polished and protected wood surfaces.

They also reported that it gave a second life to dried leather goods.

Farmers discovered that a liberal coating of Vaseline prevented outdoor

machinery from rusting. Professional painters found that a thin spread of

the jelly prevented paint splatters from sticking to floors. But the product

was most popular with druggists, who used the pure, clean ointment as a

base for their own brands of salves, creams, and cosmetics.

By the tum of the century, Vaseline was a staple of home medicine chests.

Robert Chesebrough had transformed a gummy, irksome waste product

into a million-dollar industry. In 1912, when a disastrous fire swept through

the headquarters of a large New York insurance company, Chesebrough

was proud to learn that the bum victims were treated with Vaseline. It

became a hospital standard. And the then-burgeoning automobile industry

discovered that a coating of the inert jelly applied to the terminals of a car

battery prevented corrosion. It became an industry standard. And a sports

standard too. Long-distance swimmers smeared it on their bodies, skiers

coated their faces, and baseball players rubbed it into their gloves to soften

the leather. '

Throughout all these years of diverse application, Vaseline's inventor

never missed his daily spoonful of the jelly. In his late fifties, when stricken

with pleurisy, Chesebrough instructed his private nurse to give him regular

whole-body Vaseline rubdowns. He liked to believe that, as he joked, he

"slipped from death's grip" to live another forty years, dying in 1933.

Listerine: 1880, St. Louis, Missouri

Developed by a Missouri physician,Joseph Lawrence, Listerine was named

in honor of Sir Joseph Lister, the nineteenth-century British surgeon who

pioneered sanitary operating room procedures. Shortly after its debut in

1880, the product became one of America's most successful and trusted

commercial mouthwashes and gargles.

In the 1860s, when the science of bacteriology was still in its infancy,

Lister campaigned against the appalling medical hygiene of surgeons. They

operated with bare hands and in street clothes, wearing shoes that had

trekked over public roads and hospital corridors. They permitted spectators

to gather around an operating table and observe surgery in progress. And

as surgical dressings, they used pads of pressed sawdust, a waste product


Before Lister pioneered sanitary operating conditions, postoperative mortality in

many hospitals ran as high as 90 percent.

from mill floors. Although surgical instruments were washed in soapy water,

they were not heat-sterilized or chemically disinfected. In many hospitals,

postoperative mortality was as high as 90 percent.

The majority of doctors, in England and America, scoffed at Lister's plea

for "antiseptic surgery." When he addressed the Philadelphia Medical

Congress in 1876, his speech received a lukewarm reception. But Lister's

views on germs impressed Dr. Joseph Lawrence. In his St. Louis laboratory,

Lawrence developed an antibacterial liquid, which was manufactured locally

by the Lambert Pharmacal Company (later to become the drug giant


In 1880, to give the product an appropriately antiseptic image, the company

decided to use the name of Sir Joseph Lister, then the focus of controversy

on two continents. Surgeons, employing many of Lister's hygienic

ideas, were beginning to report fewer postoperative infections and complications,

as well as higher survival rates. "Listerism" was being hotly debated

in medical journals and the popular press. Listerine arrived on the

scene at the right time and bearing the best possible name.

The mouthwash and gargle was alleged to "Kill Germs By Millions On

Contact." And Americans, by millions, bought the product. Early adver-


Through the Medicine Chest

tisements pictured a bachelor, Herb, "an awfully nice fellow, with some

money," who also "plays a swell game of bridge." But Herb's problem,

according to the copy, was that "he's that way."

Halitosis, not homosexuality, was Herb's problem. But in the early years

of this century, it was equally unspeakable. Americans began the Listerine

habit for sweetening their breath, to the extent that as late as the mid-

1970s, with scores of competing breath-freshening sprays, mints, gargles,

and gums on the market, Listerine still accounted for the preponderance

of breath-freshener sales in the United States.

Then Joseph Lawrence's early belief in the potency of his product was

medically challenged. A 1970s court order compelled Warner-Lambert to

spend ten million dollars in advertising a disclaimer that Listerine could

not prevent a cold or a sore throat, or lessen its severity.

Band-Aid: 1921, New Brunswick, New Jersey

At the 1876 Philadelphia Medical Congress, Dr. Joseph Lawrence was not

the only American health worker impressed with Sir Joseph Lister's germdisease

theory. A thirty-one-year-old pharmacist from Brooklyn, Robert

Johnson, had his life changed by the eminent British surgeon's lecture.

Lister deplored the use of pressed sawdust surgical dressings made from

wood-mill wastes. He himself disinfected every bandage he used in surgery

by soaking it in an aqueous solution of carbolic acid.

Johnson, a partner in the Brooklyn pharmaceutical supply firm of Seabury

& Johnson, was acquainted with the sawdust dressings, as well as with an

array of other nonsterile paraphernalia used in American hospitals. He

persuaded his two brothers-James, a civil engineer, and Edward, an attorney-

to join him in his attempt to develop and market a dry, prepackaged,

antiseptic surgical dressing along the lines that Lister had theoretically

outlined at the congress.

By the mid-1880s, the brothers had formed their own company, Johnson

& Johnson, and produced a large dry cotton-and-gauze dressing. Individually

sealed in germ-resistant packages, the bandages could be shipped to

hospitals in remote areas and to doctors on military battlefields, with sterility


The Johnson brothers prospered in the health care field. In 1893, they

introduced American mothers to the fresh scent of johnson's Baby Powder,

including it as a giveaway item in the multipurpose Maternity Packets sold

to midwives.

On the horizon, though, was the sterile product that soon would appear

in home medicine chests worldwide.

It was in 1920 that James Johnson, the firm's president, heard of a small

homemade bandage created by one of his employees, Earle Dickson. A

cotton buyer in the company's purchasing department, Dickson had recently

married a young woman who was accident-prone, frequently cutting or


Witch Hazel: Post-7th Century, England

burning herself in the kitchen. The injuries were too small and minor to

benefit from the company's large surgical dressings. As Earle Dickson later

wrote of the Band-Aid: "I was determined to devise some manner of bandage

that would stay in place, be easily applied and still retain its sterility."

To treat each of his wife's injuries, Dickson took a small wad of the

company's sterile cotton and gauze, placing it at the center of an adhesive

strip. Tiring of making individual bandages as they were needed, Dickson

conceived of producing them in quantity, and of using a crinoline fabric

to temporarily cover the bandages' sticky portions. When James Johnson

watched his employee strip off two pieces of crinoline and easily affix the

bandage to his own finger, Johnson knew the firm had a new first-aid


The name Band-Aid, which would eventually become a generic term for

small dressings, was suggested by a superintendent at the company's New

Brunswick plant, W. Johnson Kenyon. And those first adhesive bandages

were made by hand, under sterile conditions, in assembly line fashion.

Sales were initially poor. One of the company's strongest promoters of

the Band-Aid Brand Adhesive Bandage was Dr. Frederick Kilmer, head of

the company's research department (and father of the poet Joyce Kilmer).

Kilmer had been responsible for the development and marketing of Johnson's

Baby Powder in the 1890s, and in the 1920s he joined the campaign

to promote Band-Aids. He published medical and popular articles on the

product's ability to prevent infection and accelerate healing of minor cuts

and burns. One of the company's cleverest advertising ploys was to distribute

an unlimited number of free Band-Aids to Boy Scout troops across the

country, as well as to local butchers.

The popularity of Band-Aids steadily increased. By 1924, they were being

machine-produced, measuring three inches long by three quarters of an

inch wide. Four years later, Americans could buy Band-Aids with aeration

holes in the gauze pad to increase airflow and accelerate healing.

Band-Aids' inventor, Earle Dickson, went on to enjoy a long and productive

career with Johnson & Johnson, becoming a vice president and a

member of the board of directors. As for his invention, the company estimates

that since the product was introduced in 1921, people around the

world have bandaged themselves with more than one hundred billion


Witch Hazel: Post-7th Century, England

A mild alcoholic astringent applied to cleanse cuts, witch hazel was made

from the leaves and bark of the witch hazel plant, Hamamelis. The shrub,

whose pods explode when ripe, was used both practically and superstitiously

in Anglo-Saxon times.

Because the plant's yellow flowers appear in late autumn, after the

branches are bare of leaves and the bush is seemingly dead, the inhabitants


Through the Medicine Chest

of the British Isles ascribed supernatural powers to the witch hazel tree.

They believed, for instance, that a witch hazel twig, in a high priest's skilled

hands, could single out a criminal in a crowd.

A more practical application of a pliant witch hazel twig was as a divining

rod to locate underground water in order to sink wells. In fact, the word

"witch" in the plant'S name comes from the Anglo-Saxon wice, designating

a tree with pliant branches.

The Anglo-Saxons' interest in the witch hazel plant led to the assumption

that they developed the first witch hazel preparation. What is known with

greater confidence is that American Indian tribes taught the Pilgrims how

to brew witch hazel bark as a lotion for soothing aches, bruises, and


For the next two hundred years, families prepared their own supplies of

the lotion. Its uses in America were numerous: as an antiseptic, a facial

cleanser and astringent, a topical painkiller, a deodorant, a base for cosmetic

lotions, and as a cooling liquid (similar to today's splashes) in hot weather,

for the rapid evaporation of witch hazel's alcohol stimulates the cooling

effect of sweating.

In 1866, a New England clergyman, Thomas Newton Dickinson, realized

that a profitable market existed for a commercial preparation. He located

his distilling plant in Essex, Connecticut, on the banks of the Connecticut

River, adjacent to fields of high-quality American witch hazel shrubs,

Hamamelis virginiana.

In the 1860s, Dickinson's Witch Hazel was sold by the keg to pharmacists,

who dispensed it in bottles to customers. The keg bore the now-familiar

"bull's-eye" trademark, and Dickinson's formula for witch hazel proved so

successful that it is basically unchanged to this day. It is one product that

has been in medicine chests for at least three hundred years, if not longer.

Vick's VapoRub: 1905, Selma, North Carolina

Before the turn of the century, the most popular treatments for chest and

head colds were poultices and plasters. They were not all that different

from the mint and mustard formulations used in the Near East five thousand

years ago. Unfortunately, both the ancient and the modern preparations,

which were rubbed on the chest and forehead, frequently resulted in rashes

or blisters, for their active ingredients, which produced a tingling sensation

of heat, often were skin irritants.

There was another popular cold remedy, but one potentially more dangerous.

Physicians recommended, with caution, that children suffering from

the croup or a cold inhale hot herbal vapors. These temporarily opened

the nasal passages while a child's head was over the steam, but many a child

(and adult) received facial burns from overly hot water. Before gas and

electric stoves would provide a measured and steady source of energy to


Vick's VapoRub: 1905, Selma, North Carolina

boil water, coal or wood fires could abruptly vary in intensity, producing

a sudden geyser of scalding steam.

Many a druggist sought to produce a skin-tingling, sinus-opening ointment

that combined the best aspects of plasters and vapors with none of their

drawbacks. For Lunsford Richardson, a druggist from Selma, North Carolina,

two events occurred that led him to the perfect product. The first

was the popularity of petroleum jelly as a safe, neutral base for salves and

cosmetics. The second was the introduction in America of menthol, a waxy,

crystalline alcohol extract from oil of peppermint, which released a pungent


Menthol had first caught the public's attention in 1898 in the form of a

sore-muscle balm named Ben-Gay. Developed by, and named after, a French

pharmacist, Jules Bengue, the product combined menthol's heat-producing

effects with an analgesic pain reliever, salicylate of methyl, in a base of

lanolin. Touted in Europe and America as a remedy for gout, rheumatoid

arthritis, and neuralgia, Bengue's balm was also reported to clear the sinuses

during a head cold.

Richardson listened to testimonials for Ben-Gay from his own customers.

In 1905, he blended menthol with other ingredients from the drugstore

shelf into a base of petroleum jelly, producing Richardson's Croup and

Pneumonia Cure Salve, a forehead and chest rub. Vaporized by body heat,

the chemicals opened blocked air passages at the same time they stimulated

blood circulation through skin contact. That year, Richardson could not

work fast enough to fill orders from cold sufferers and other druggists.

Searching for a catchier name for his already popular product, Richardson

turned to his brother-in-law, a physician named Joshua Vick. It was in

Vick's drugstore that Richardson had begun his career in pharmacology,

and it was in Vick's backroom laboratory that Richardson concocted his

vapor rub. He named the product in honor of his relative and mentor.

Richardson advertised in newspapers, with coupons that could be redeemed

for a trial jar ofVick's VapoRub. And he persuaded the U.S. Post

Office to allow him to institute a new mailing practice, one that has since

kept home mailboxes full, if not overflowing: Advertisements for Vick's

VapoRub were addressed merely to "Boxholder," the equivalent oftoday's

"Occupant." Before then, all mail had to bear the receiver's name.

Sales were strong. Then a tragic twist of fate caused them to skyrocket.

In the spring of 1918, a flu epidemic erupted in U.S. military bases. It

was carried by troops to France, then to Spain, where the virus became

more virulent, earning it the name Spanish Flu. It spread to China. By the

fall of that year, an even deadlier strain broke out in Russia.

The death toll was enormous. The flu killed one half of one percent of

the entire population of the United States and England, 60 percent of the

Eskimos in Nome, Alaska. Injust six weeks, 3.1 percent ofthe U.S. recruits

at Camp Sherman died. Ocean liners docked with up to 7 percent fewer

passengers than had embarked. The epidemic was characterized aptly by


Through the Medicine Chest

what fourteenth-century Italian author Giovanni Boccaccio said of an earlier

scourge: "How many valiant men, how many fair ladies, breakfasted with

their kinsfolk and that same night supped with their ancestors in the other


World War I had taken four years to claim the lives of nine million

military personnel. The 1918 pandemic, in one year, killed twenty-five million

people worldwide, making it history's worst plague.

Not surprisingly, the influenza drove up the sales of all kinds of cold

medications. Aspirin, cough syrups and drops, and decongestants were, of

course, ineffective against the flu bug, which mysteriously vanished in 1919,

perhaps having mutated and passed into swine. But these drug sales, as

well as those ofVick's VapoRub, set new industry records. Vick's, in 1918,

broke the million-dollar mark.

Deodorants: 3500 B.C., Near East

The problem of body odor is ancient, as are man's attempts to solve it.

From the dawn of written history, 5,500 years ago in Sumer, every major

civilization has left a record of its efforts to produce deodorants.

The early Egyptians recommended following a scented bath with an underarm

application of perfumed oils. They developed special citrus and

cinnamon preparations that would not turn rancid in the semitropical climate

and thus be themselves offensive. Through experimentation, the

Egyptians discovered that the removal of underarm hair significantly diminished

body odor. Centuries later, scientists would understand why: hair

greatly increases the surface area on which bacteria, odorless themselves,

can live, populate, die, and decompose to offend.

Both the Greeks and the Romans derived their perfumed deodorants

from Egyptian formulas. In fact, throughout most of recorded history, the

only effective deodorant-aside from regular washing-was perfume. And

it merely masked one scent with another. For a time.

The link between sweat and odor was to be more clearly understood once

the sweat glands were discovered in the nineteenth century.

Scientists learned that human perspiration is produced by two kinds of

sweat glands, the apocrine and the eccrine. The first structures exist over

the entire body's surface at birth, giving babies their distinctive scent.

Most of these glands gradually disappear, except for those concentrated

in the armpit, around the anus, and circling the breast nipples. The glands

are relatively inactive during childhood, but begin to function in puberty,

switched on by the sex hormones. In old age, they may wither and atrophy.

Most of the body's sweat, though, is produced by the eccrine glands,

abundant over the body's surface. Eccrine sweat is copious-and cooling.

In extreme heat, and with high water intake, human subjects have been

measured to secrete up to three gallons of sweat in twenty-four hours.

The eccrine glands also function in response to nervousness, fever, stress,

and the eating of spicy foods. And sweat caused by emotional stress is


From Egyptian scented oils to

Mum, the first modern

antiperspirant, the search for an

effective deodorant spanned five


particularly perfusive in the armpits, on the palms of the hands, and on

the soles of the feet. But most perspiration evaporates or is absorbed effectively

by clothing.

It is because the armpits remain warm and moist that they create a hospitable

environment for bacteria. Convincing scientific evidence shows that

armpit odor arises mainly, though not exclusively, from bacteria that thrive

in secretions of the apocrine glands. One study collected fresh human apocrine

sweat and showed that it was odorless. Kept for six hours at room

temperature (with bacteria multiplying and dying), it acquired its characteristic

odor. When sweat from the same source was refrigerated, no odor


Thus, ancient to modern perfumed deodorizers never tackled the source

of the problem: persistent underarm moisture. Deprived of moisture, by

an "antiperspirant," bacteria cannot multiply.

Antiperspirants: 1888, United States

The first product marketed specifically to stem underarm moisture, and

thus odor, was Mum, introduced in 1888. The formulation used a compound

of zinc in a cream base. No scientist then, and none now, really understands

how certain chemicals such as zinc thwart the production of sweat. None-


Through the Medicine Chest

theless, Mum worked, and its popularity in America convinced drug companies

that a vast market existed for antiperspirants.

In 1902, Everdry debuted, followed in 1908 by Hush. These were the

first antiperspirants to use another drying compound, aluminum chloride,

which is found in most modem formulations.

For many years, Americans remained so sensitive to the issue of antiperspirants

that they asked for them in drugstores with the same hushed

confidentiality with which they requested prophylactics. The first antiperspirant

to boldly speak its name with national magazine advertising, in 1914,

bore the echoic name Odo-Ro-No. It claimed to remedy excessive perspiration,

keeping women "clean and dainty." Deodorant advertisements that

followed also emphasized dryness, though none mentioned what dryness

actually prevented.

Then, in 1919, the pioneering Odo-Ro-No again led the way. For the

first time, a deodorant ad asserted that "B.O." existed, and that it was

socially shocking and offensive.

Amazingly, during these early days, antiperspirants were advertised exclusively

to and used mainly by women, who considered them as essential

as soap. It was not until the 1930s that companies began to target the male


After nearly a hundred years of studying the action of antiperspirants,

how do scientists suspect they work?

One popular theory holds that "drying" elements such as aluminum and

zinc penetrate a short distance into the sweat ducts. There they act as corks,

blocking the release of water. Pressure mounts in the ducts, and through

a biofeedback mechanism, the pressure itself stops further sweating.

Unfortunately, antiperspirants act only on the eccrine glands, not on the

apocrine glands, the principal culprits in causing body odor. This is why

no antiperspirant is effective for extended periods of time. The best routine

for combating underarm odor combines the timeless custom of washing,

with the ancient Egyptian practice of shaving underarm hair, and the application

of a modem antiperspirant: something old, something borrowed,

and something new.

Antacids: 3500 B.C., Sumer

Considering his largely uncooked diet, early man may have suffered more

severe indigestion than people do today. We know that from the time people

began to record their thoughts on clay tablets, they consulted physicians

for comfort from stomach upset. The earliest remedies, found among the

Sumerians, included milk, peppermint leaves, and carbonates.

What Sumerian physicians had discovered by trial and error was that

alkaline substances neutralize the stomach's natural acid. Today's antacids

work by offering the positively charged ions in the stomach's hydrochloric

acid negative, neutralizing ions. This, in tum, inhibits the release of pepsin,


Alka-Seltzer: 1931, United States

another potent component of the digestive juice, which can be highly irritating

to the stomach's lining.

The Sumerians' most effective antacid was baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate

(also known as bicarbonate of soda). For centuries, it served as

a major ingredient in a host of homemade stomach remedies. The only

thing that has somewhat diminished its use in commercial antacids today

is the link between sodium intake and hypertension.

Pure baking soda's first significant brand-name competitor appeared in

1873: Phillips' Milk of Magnesia. Created by a former candlemaker turned

chemist, Charles Phillips of Glenbrook, Connecticut, it combined a powdered

antacid with the laxative magnesia. The product, taken in small doses,

won immediate acceptance as a soothing remedy for stomach discomfort.

Alka-Seltzer: 1931, United States

The Alka-Seltzer story began in the winter of 1928, when Hub Beardsley,

president of the Dr. Miles Laboratories, visited the offices of a local newspaper

in Elkhart, Indiana. There was a severe flu epidemic that year. Many

of Beardsley's own employees were out sick. But Beardsley learned that no

one on the newspaper's staff had missed a day of work as the result of

influenza. The paper's editor explained that at the first hint of a cold symptom,

he dosed staff members with a combination of aspirin and baking


Beardsley was impressed. Both medications were ancient, but their combination

was novel. Since his laboratories specialized in home-medicinechest

remedies, he decided to test the formula. He asked his chief chemist,

Maurice Treneer, to devise an attractive new tablet. Of course, what Treneer

created-the pill that went "plop, plop, fizz, fizz" -was more novel than

the combination of aspirin and baking soda, and the gimmick was instrumental

in popularizing the product.

Beardsley took a supply of the experimental tablets with him on a

Mediterranean cruise. His wife reported that they cured her headaches.

Beardsley himself found they soothed the ravages of excessive shipboard

dining and drinking. And fellow passengers who tried the tablets claimed

they cured seasickness.

The fizzing tablet, which prompted a hung-over W. C. Fields to joke,

"Can't anyone do something about that racket!" bowed in 1931, during

the Depression. Radio promotion was heavy. But Alka-Seltzer's sales really

skyrocketed in 1933, when Americans emerged parched from the dry spell

of Prohibition.

Ironically, one of Alka-Seltzer's original two ingredients, aspirin, is a

strong stomach irritant for many people. This awareness caused Miles Laboratories

to introduce an aspirin-free tablet called Alka-2 Antacid in the


Today a wide variety of non-sodium, non-aspirin antacids neutralize


Through the Medicine Chest

stomach acid. A glance at the medicine chest shelf will reveal that the modem

components are aluminum, calcium, bismuth, magnesium, and phosphates,

and the one ancient ingredient is dried milk solids.

Cough Drops: 1000 B.C., Egypt

A cough's main purpose is to clear the air passage of inhaled foreign matter,

chemical irritants, or, during a head cold, excessive bodily secretions. The

coughing reflex is part voluntary, part involuntary, and drugs that reduce

the frequency and intensity of coughs are called cough suppressors or,

technically, antitussives.

Many of these modem suppressor chemicals-like the narcotic codeineact

in the brain to depress the activity of its cough center, reducing the

urge to cough. Another group, of older suppressors, acts to soothe and

relax the coughing muscles in the throat. This is basically the action of the

oldest known cough drops, produced for Egyptian physicians by confectioners

three thousand years ago.

It was in Egypt's New Kingdom, during the Twentieth Dynasty, that confectioners

produced the first hard candies. Lacking sugar-which would

not arrive in the region for many centuries-Egyptian candymakers began

with honey, altering its flavor with herbs, spices, and citrus fruits. Sucking

on the candies was found to relieve coughing. The Egyptian ingredients

were not all that different from those found in today's sugary lozenges;

nor was the principle by which they operated: moistening an irritated dry


The throat-soothing candy underwent numerous minor variations in different

cultures. Ingredients became the distinguishing factor. Elm bark,

eucalyptus oil, peppermint oil, and horehound are but a few of the ancient

additives. But not until the nineteenth century did physicians develop drugs

that addressed the source of coughing: the brain. And these first compounds

that depressed the brain's cough reflex were opiates.

Morphine, an alkaloid of opium, which is the dried latex of unripe poppy

blossoms, was identified in Germany in 1805. Toward the close of the century,

in 1898, chemists first produced heroin (diacetylmorphine), a simple

morphine derivative. Both agents became popular and, for a time, easily

available cough suppressants. A 1903 advertisement touted "Glyco-Heroin"

as medical science's latest "Respiratory Sedative."

But doctors' increasing awareness of the dangers of dependency caused

them to prescribe the drugs less and less. Today a weaker morphine derivative,

codeine (methylmorphine), continues to be used in suppressing serious

coughs. Since high doses of morphine compounds cause death by arresting

respiration, it is not hard to understand how they suppress coughing.

Morphine compounds opened up an entirely new area of cough research.

And pharmacologists have successfully altered opiate molecules to produce


Turn of the century

remedies: Throat atomizer

(top), nasal model;

various lozenges for

coughs, hoarseness, halitosis,

and constipation;

syringe, for when tablets


synthetic compounds that suppress a cough with less risk of inducing a

drug euphoria or dependency.

But these sophisticated remedies are reserved for treating serious, lifethreatening

coughs and are available only by prescription. Millions of cold

sufferers every winter rely on the ancient remedy of the cough drop. In

America, two of the earliest commercial products, still popular today, appeared

during the heyday of prescribing opiate suppressors.

Smith Brothers. Aside from Abraham Lincoln, the two hirsute brothers

who grace the box of Smith Brothers Cough Drops are reputed to be the

most reproduced bearded faces in America. The men did in fact exist, and

they were brothers. Andrew (on the right of the box, with the longer beard)

was a good-natured, free-spending bachelor; William was a philanthropist

and an ardent prohibitionist who forbade ginger ale in his home because

of its suggestive alcoholic name.

In 1847, their father, James Smith, a candymaker, moved the family from

St. Armand, Quebec, to Poughkeepsie, New York, and opened a restaurant.

It was a bitter winter, and coughs and colds were commonplace. One day,

a restaurant customer in need of cash offered James Smith the formula for

what he claimed was a highly effective cough remedy. Smith paid five dollars

for the recipe, and at home, employing his candymaking skills, he produced

a sweet hard medicinal candy.

As Smith's family and friends caught colds, he dispensed his cough lozenges.

By the end of the winter, word of the new remedy had spread to

towns along the wind-swept Hudson River. In 1852, a Poughkeepsie newspaper

carried the Smiths' first advertisement: "All afflicted with hoarseness,

coughs, or colds should test [the drops'] virtues, which can be done without

the least risk."

Success spawned a wave of imitators: the "Schmitt Brothers"; the "Smythe

Sisters"; and even another "Smith Brothers," in violation of the family's

copyright. In 1866, brothers William and Andrew, realizing the family


Through the Medicine Chest

needed a distinctive, easily recognizable trademark, decided to use their

own stern visages-not on the now-familiar box but on the large glass bowls

kept on drugstore counters, from which the drops were dispensed. At that

time, most candies were sold from counter jars.

In 1872, the Smith brothers designed the box that bore-and bearstheir

pictures. The first factory-filled candy package ever developed in

America, it launched a trend in merchandising candies and cough drops.

A confectioner from Reading, Pennsylvania, William Luden, improved on

that packaging a few years later when he introduced his own amber-colored,

menthol-flavored Luden's Cough Drops. Luden's innovation was to line

the box with waxed paper to preserve the lozenges' freshness and flavor.

As cold sufferers today open the medicine chest for Tylenol, NyQuil, or

Contac, in the 1880s millions of Americans with sore throats and coughs

reached for drops by the Smith brothers or Luden. William and Andrew

Smith acquired the lifelong nicknames "Trade" and "Mark," for on the

cough drop package "trademark" was divided, each half appearing under

a brother's picture. The Smiths lived to see production of their cough

drops soar from five pounds to five tons a day.

Suntan Lotion: 1940s, United States

Suntan and sunscreen lotions are modern inventions. The suntanning industry

did not really begin until World War II, when the government needed

a skin cream to protect GIs stationed in the Pacific from severe sunburns.

And, too, the practice of basking in the sun until the body is a golden

bronze color is largely a modern phenomenon.

Throughout history, people of many cultures took great pains to avoid

skin darkening from sun exposure. Opaque creams and ointments, similar

to modern zinc oxide, were used in many Western societies; as was the sunshielding

parasol. Only common field workers acquired suntans; white skin

was a sign of high station.

In America, two factors contributed to bringing about the birth of tanning.

Until the 1920s, most people, living inland, did not have access to

beaches. It was only when railroads began carrying Americans in large

numbers to coastal resorts that ocean bathing became a popular pastime.

In those days, bathing wear covered so much flesh that suntan preparations

would have been pointless. (See "Bathing Suit," page 321.) Throughout

the '30s, as bathing suits began to reveal increasingly more skin, it became

fashionable to bronze that skin, which, in turn, introduced the real risk of


At first, manufacturers did not fully appreciate the potential market for

sunning products, especially for sunscreens. The prevailing attitude was

that a bather, after acquiring sufficient sun exposure, would move under

an umbrella or cover up with clothing. But American soldiers, fighting in

the scorching sun of the Philippines, working on aircraft carrier decks, or


Eye Drops: 3000 B.C., China

stranded on a raft in the Pacific, could not duck into the shade. Thus, in

the early 1940s, the government began to experiment with sun-protecting


One of the most effective early agents turned out to be re<;l petrolatum.

It is an inert petroleum by-product, the residue that remains after gasoline

and home heating oil are extracted from crude oil. Its natural red color,

caused by an intrinsic pigment, is what blocks the sun's burning ultraviolet

rays. The Army Air Corps issued red petrolatum to wartime fliers in case

they should be downed in the tropics.

One physician who assisted the military in developing the sunscreen was

Dr. Benjamin Green. Green believed there was a vast, untapped commercial

market for sunning products. After the war, he parlayed the sunscreen

technology he had helped develop into a creamy, pure-white suntan lotion

scented with the essence of jasmine. The product enabled the user to achieve

a copper-colored skin tone, which to Green suggested a name for his line

of products. Making its debut on beaches in the 1940s, Coppertone helped

to kick off the bronzing of America.

Eye Drops: 3000 B.C., China

Because of the eye's extreme sensitivity, eye solutions have always been

formulated with the greatest care. One of the earliest recorded eye drops,

made from an extract of the mahuang plant, was prepared in China five

thousand years ago. Today ophthalmologists know that the active ingredient

was ephedrine hydrochloride, which is still used to treat minor eye irritations,

especially eyes swollen by allergic reactions.

Early physicians were quick to discover that the only acceptable solvent

for eye solutions and compounds was boiled and cooled sterile water. And

an added pinch of boric acid powder, a mild antibacterial agent, made the

basis of many early remedies for a host of eye infections.

The field of ophthalmology, and the pharmacology of sterile eye solutions,

experienced a boom in the mid-1800s. In Germany, Hermann von Helmholtz

published a landmark volume, Handbook of Physiological Optics, which

debunked many antiquated theories on how the eye functioned. His investigations

on eye physiology led him to invent the ophthalmoscope, for examining

the eye's interior, and the ophthalmometer, for measuring the

eye's ability to accommodate to varying distances. By the 1890s, eye care

had never been better.

In America at that time, a new addition to the home medicine chest was

about to be born. In 1890, Otis Hall, a Spokane, Washington, banker,

developed a problem with his vision. He was examining a horse's broken

shoe when the animal's tail struck him in the right eye, lacerating the cornea.

In a matter of days, a painful ulcer developed, and Hall sought treatment

from two ophthalmologists, doctors James and George McFatrich, brothers.

Part of Otis Hall's therapy involved regular use of an eye solution, con-


Through the Medicine Chest

taining muriate of berberine, formulated by the brothers. His recovery was

so rapid and complete that he felt other people suffering eye ailments

should be able to benefit from the preparation. Hall and the McFatriches

formed a company to mass-produce one of the first safe and effective commercial

eye drop solutions. They brand-named their muriate of berberine

by combining the first and last syllables of the chemical name: Murine.

Since then, numerous eye products have entered the medicine chest to

combat "tired eyes," "dryness," and "redness." They all contain buffering agents to keep them close to the natural acidity and salinity of human tears.

Indeed, some over-the-counter contact lens solutions are labeled "artificial

tears." The saltiness of tears was apparent to even early physicians, who

realized that the human eye required, and benefited from, low concentrations

of salt. Ophthalmologists like to point out that perhaps the most

straightforward evidence for the marine origin of the human species is

reflected in this need for the surface of the eye to be continually bathed

in salt water.

Dr. Scholl's Foot Products: 1904, Chicago

It seems fitting that one of America's premier inventors of corn, callus,

and bunion pads began his career as a shoemaker. Even as a teenager on

his parents' Midwestern dairy farm, William Scholl exhibited a fascination

with shoes and foot care.

Born in 1882, one of thirteen children, young William spent hours stitching

shoes for his large family, employing a sturdy waxed thread of his own

design. He demonstrated such skill and ingenuity as the family's personal

cobbler that at age sixteen his parents apprenticed him to a local shoemaker.

A year later, he moved to Chicago to work at his trade. It was there, fitting

and selling shoes, that William Scholl first realized the extent of the bunions,

corns, and fallen arches that plagued his customers. Feet were neglected

by their owners, he concluded, and neither physicians nor shoemakers were

doing anything about it.

Scholl undertook the task himself.

Employed as a shoe salesman during the day, he worked his way through

the Chicago Medical School's night course. The year he received his medical

degree, 1904, the twenty-two-year-old physician patented his first arch support,

"Foot-Eazer." The shoe insert's popularity would eventually launch

an industry in foot care products.

Convinced that a knowledge of proper foot care was essential to selling

his support pads, Scholl established a podiatric correspondence course

for shoe store clerks. Then he assembled a staff of consultants, who crisscrossed

the country delivering medical and public lectures on proper foot


Scholl preached that bad feet were common across the country because

only one American in fifty walked properly. He recommended walking two


Laxatives: 2500 B.C., Near East

miles a day, with' 'head up, chest out, toes straight forward," and he advised

wearing two pairs of shoes a day, so each pair could dry out. To further

promote foot consciousness, he published the physician-oriented The Human

Foot: Anatomy, Deformities, and Treatment (1915) and a more general guide,

Dictionary of the Foot (1916).

Scholl's personal credo-"Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and

advertise"-certainly paid off handsomely for him in the long run. But in

the early days, his advertising, featuring naked feet, prompted many complaints

about the indecency of displaying publicly feet clad only in bunion

pads or perched atop arch supports.

Scholl created a national surge in foot consciousness in 1916 by sponsoring

the Cinderella Foot Contest. The search for the most perfect female

feet in America sent tens of thousands of women to their local shoe stores.

Competing feet were scrutinized, measured, and footprinted by a device

designed by Scholl. A panel of foot specialists selected Cinderella, and her

prize-winning footprint was published in many of the country's leading

newspapers and magazines. As Scholl had hoped, thousands of American

women compared their own imperfect feet with the national ideal and

rushed out to buy his products. Across the country, in pharmacies, department

stores, and five-and-ten-cent stores, the yellow-and-blue Dr.

Scholl's packages became part of the American scene.

William Scholl died in 1968, at age eighty-six. He maintained till the end,

as he had throughout his life, that while other people boasted of never

forgetting a face, he never forgot a foot.

Laxatives: 2500 B.C., Near East

"Preoccupation with the bowel," a medical panel recently reported, "seems

to be the concern of a significant proportion of our population." The

physicians based their assessment on the number of prescription and overthe-

counter laxatives consumed by Americans each year, generating profits

of a half billion dollars annually.

But concern for proper bowel function is not new. The history of pharmacology

shows that ancient peoples were equally concerned with daily

and regular bowel behavior. And early physicians concocted a variety of

medications to release what nature would not.

The earliest recorded cathartic, popular throughout Mesopotamia and

along the Nile, was the yellowish oil extracted from the castor bean. Castor

oil served not only as a laxative, but also as a skin-softening lotion and as

a construction lubricant for sliding giant stone blocks over wooden rollers.

By 1500 B.C., the Assyrians' knowledge of laxatives was extensive. They

were familiar with "bulk-forming" laxatives such as bran; "saline" laxatives, which contain sodium and draw water into the bowel; and "stimulant"

laxatives, which act on the intestinal wall to promote the peristaltic waves

of muscular contraction that result in defecation. These are the three major


Through the Medicine Chest

forms of modern laxative preparations.

Archaeologists believe that there is good reason why people throughout

history have displayed somewhat of an obsession with bowel functioning.

Prior to 7000 B.C., man was nomadic, a hunter-gatherer, existing primarily

on a diet of fibrous roots, grains, and berries. A high-fiber diet. This had

been his ancestors' menu for tens of thousands of years. It was the only

diet the human stomach experienced, and that the stomach and intestines

were experienced in handling.

Then man settled down to farming. Living off the meat of his cattle and

their milk, he shocked the human bowel with a high-fat, lower-fiber diet.

Ever since, people have been troubled by irregular bowel function and

sought remedying cathartics. Perhaps only today, with the emphasis on

high-fiber foods, is the human bowel beginning to relax.

In the intervening millennia, physicians worked hard to find a variety of

laxatives, and to mix them with honey, sugar, and citrus rinds to make them

more palatable. One druggist, in 1905, hit upon the idea of combining a

laxative with chocolate, and he caught the attention of the American market.

In his native Hungary, Max Kiss was a practicing pharmacist, familiar

with a chemical, phenolphthalein, that local wine merchants were adding

to their products. The practice was at first thought to be innocuous. But

soon the merchants, and the wine-drinking public, discovered that a night's

overindulgence in wine created more than a hangover in the morning.

The chemical additive turned out to be an effective laxative. And when

Max Kiss emigrated to New York in 1905, he began combining phenolphthalein

with chocolate as a commercial laxative. He initially named the

product Bo-Bo, a name inadvisably close to the slang expression for the

laxative's target. Kiss reconsidered and came up with Ex-Lax, his contraction

for "Excellent Laxative."

The chocolate-tasting product was a welcomed improvement over such

standard cathartics as castor oil. Especially with children. Production of

the laxative candy eventually rose to 530 million doses a year, making the

preparation an integral part of the early-twentieth-century American medicine


Eyeglasses: 13th Century, Italy

Ancient peoples must have needed eyeglasses to aid their vision at some

point in life, but the invention did not appear until the close of the thirteenth

century. Until that time, those unfortunate people born with defective eyesight,

and the aged, had no hope of being able to read or to conduct work

that demanded clear visi~n.

The inventor of spectacles most likely resided in the Italian town of Pisa

during the 1280s. He is believed to have been a glass craftsman. Although

his exact identity has never been conclusively established, two men, Alessandro

Spina and Salvino Armato, coevals and gaffers-glass blowers-are


Eyeglasses: 13th Century, Italy

the most likely candidates for the honor.

The evidence slightly favors Salvino Armato. An optical physicist originally

from Florence, the thirty-five-year-old Armato is known to have impaired

his vision around 1280 while performing light-refraction experiments. He

turned to glassmaking in an effort to improve his sight, and he is thought

to have devised thick, curved correcting lenses.

History records two early references to eyeglasses in Armato's day. In

1289, an Italian writer, Sandro di Popozo, published Treatise on the Conduct

of the Family. In it, he states that eyeglasses "have recently been invented

for the benefit of poor aged people whose sight has become weak." Then

he makes it clear that he had the good fortune to be an early eyeglass

wearer: "I am so debilitated by age that without them I would no longer

be able to read or write." Popozo never mentions the inventor by name.

The second reference was made by an Italian friar, Giordano di Rivalto.

He preached a sermon in Florence on a Wednesday morning in February

1306, which was recorded and preserved: "It is not yet twenty years since

there was found the art of making eye-glasses, one of the best arts and most

necessary that the world has." The friar then discussed the inventor, but

without mentioning his name, concluding only with the remark, "I have

seen the man who first invented and created it, and I have talked to him."

Concave and Convex Lenses. Whoever the inventor of eyeglasses was, the

evidence is unequivocal that the innovation caught on quickly. By the time

Friar Giordano mentioned spectacles in his sermon, craftsmen in Venice,

the center of Europe's glass industry, were busily turning out the new

"disks for the eyes." The lenses in these early glasses were convex, aiding

only farsighted individuals; amazingly, more than a hundred years would

pass before concave lenses would be ground to improve vision for the


Eyeglass technology traveled to England. By 1326, spectacles were available

for scholars, nobility, and the clergy. Glasses were not ground individually;

rather, a person peered through the various lenses stocked in a

craftsman's shop, selecting those that best improved vision. Physidans had

not yet endorsed glasses, and there were still no calibrating procedures

such as eye charts and eye testing.

In the mid-fourteenth century, Italians began to call glass eye disks "lentils."

This was because of their resemblance in shape to the popular Italian

legume the lentil, which is circular, with biconvex surfaces. The Italian for

"lentils" is lenticchie, and for more than two hundred years eyeglasses were

known as "glass lentils." Not surprisingly, "lentil" is the origin of our word

"lens. "

One early problem with eyeglasses was how to keep them on, for rigid

arms looping over the ears were not invented until the eighteenth century.

Many people resorted to leather straps tied behind the head; others devised

small circles of cord that fitted over each ear; still others simply allowed


Leonardo da Vinci,

designer of the first

contact lens; metalframed

spectacles for

reading; the lentil

bush, whose small

biconvex seeds inspired

the word "lens."

the spectacles to slide down the nose until they came to rest at the most

bulbous embankment.

Spectacles with concave lenses to correct for myopia were first made in

the fifteenth century. Because they corrected for poor distance vision, in

an era when most eyeglasses were used for reading, they were deemed less

essential for pursuits of the mind and consequently were rarer and more

costly than convex lenses.

Cost, though, was no concern of the recklessly extravagant Cardinal

Giovanni de' Medici, second son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, who in 1513

became Pope Leo X. Though at times the severely nearsighted cardinal was

so desperate for money that he pawned palace furniture and silver, he

purchased several pairs of concave-lens eyeglasses to improve his marksmanship

in hunting game and fowl. Four years after he became pope, he

sat for a portrait by Raphael that became the first depiction in art of concave

correcting lenses.

Despite the many drawbacks of early eyeglasses, they had a profound

effect on people from seamstresses to scholars, extending working life into

old age. And with the arrival of the printing press, and the wealth of books

and newspapers it spawned, eyeglasses began the transition from one of

life's luxuries to one of its necessities.

Modern Frames and Bifocals. The first "temple" spectacles with rigid sides

were manufactured by a London optician, Edward Scarlett, in 1727. They

were hailed by one French publication as "lorgnettes that let one breathe,"

since the anchoring side arms made breathing and moving about possible

without fear of the glasses falling off the nose.

Starting in the 1760s, Benjamin Franklin experimented with designing

bifocal lenses, so that on trips he could glance up from reading to enjoy




~ r

Sunglasses: Pre-15th Century, China

the scenery. But bifocals would not come into common use until the 1820s,

freeing people who needed both reading and distance lenses from alternating

two pairs of glasses.

Whereas eyeglasses were something of a status symbol in the centuries

in which they were rare and costly, by the nineteenth century, when glasses

were relatively inexpensive and commonplace, wearing them became decidedly

unfashionable. Particularly for women. Glasses were w,o rn in private,

and only when absolutely necessary were they used in public.

Today we take for granted that eyeglasses are lightweight, but one of

their early drawbacks was their heaviness. Temple spectacles sculpted of

bone, real tortoiseshell, or ivory rested so firmly on the ears and the bridge

of the nose that corrected vision could be impaired by headaches. And the

burden was significantly increased by the pure glass lenses the frames supported.

Even temple spectacles of lightweight wire frames contained heavy

glass lenses. It was only with the advent of plastic lenses and frames in this

century that eyeglasses could be worn throughout the day without periodic

removal to rest the ears and nose.

Sunglasses: Pre-15th Century, China

Smoke tinting was the first means of darkening eyeglasses, and the technology

was developed in China prior to 1430. These darkened lenses were

not vision-corrected, nor were they initially intended to reduce solar glare.

They served another purpose.

For centuries, Chinese judges had routinely worn smoke-colored quartz

lenses to conceal their eye expressions in court. A judge's evaluation of

evidence as credible or mendacious was to remain secret until a trial's conclusion.

Smoke-tinted lenses came to serve also as sunglasses, but that was

never their primary function. And around 1430, when vision-correcting

eyeglasses were introduced into China from Italy, they, too, were darkened,

though mainly for judicial use.

The popularity of sunglasses is really a twentieth-century phenomenon.

And in America, the military, which played a role in the development of

sunscreens, also was at the forefront of sunglass technology.

In the 1930s, the Army Air Corps commissioned the optical firm of

Bausch & Lomb to produce a highly effective spectacle that would protect

pilots from the dangers of high-altitude glare. Company physicists and opticians

perfected a special dark-green tint that absorbed light in the yellow

band of the spectrum. They also designed a slightly drooping frame perimeter

to maximally shield an aviator's eyes, which repeatedly glanced downward

toward a plane's instrument panel. Fliers were issued the glasses at

no charge, and the public soon was able to purchase the model that banned

the sun's rays as Ray-Ban aviator sunglasses.

What helped make sunglasses chic was a clever 1960s' advertising campaign

by the comb and glass firm of Foster Grant.


Woodcut of a sixteenth-century book collector in corrective spectacles; smoked

lenses, the earliest sunglasses.

Bent on increasing its share of the sunglass market, the company decided

to emphasize glamour. It introduced the "Sunglasses of the Stars" campaign,

featuring the sunglassed faces of such Hollywood celebrities as Peter Sellers,

Elke Sommer, and Anita Ekberg. Magazine advertisements and television

commercials teased: "Isn't that ... behind those Foster Grants?" Soon any

star in sunglasses, whatever the actual brand, was assumed to be wearing

Foster Grants.

Well-known fashion designers, as well as Hollywood stars, escalated the

sunglass craze in the '70s with their brand-name lines. A giant industry

developed where only a few decades earlier none existed. As women since

ancient times had hidden seductively behind an expanded fan or a dipped

parasol, modern women-and men-discovered an allure in wearing sunglasses,

irrespective of solar glare.

Contact Lenses: 1877, Switzerland

The first person to propose a contact lens system was the Italian painter,

sculptor, architect, and engineer Leonardo da Vinci. In his sixteenth-century

Code on the Eye, da Vinci described an optical method for correcting poor

vision by placing the eye against a short, water-filled tube sealed at the end

with a flat lens. The water came in contact with the eyeball and refracted

light rays much the way a curved lens does. Da Vinci's use of water as the

best surface to touch the eye is mirrored today in the high water content

of soft contact lenses.

The acute sensitivity of the human eye means that only an extremely


Stimulants: Pre-2737 B.C., China

smooth foreign surface can come in contact with it. For centuries, this

eliminated contact lenses of glass, which even after polishing remained

fairly coarse.

In the 1680s, French opticians attempted a novel approach to the problem.

They placed a protective layer of smooth gelatin over the eyeball, then

covered it with a small fitted glass lens. The gelatin represented an attempt

to use a medium with high water content. The French lens possessed a

major flaw, for it frequently fell out of the wearer's eye. It remained


The first practical contact lenses were developed in 1877 by a Swiss physician,

Dr. A. E. Fick. They were hard lenses. Thick, actually. And not

particularly comfortable. The glass was either blown or molded to the appropriate

curvature, polished smooth, then cut into a lens that covered not

only the cornea but the entire eyeball. Wearing them took a serious commitment

to vanity. Fick's lenses, however, demonstrated that vision, in most

cases, could be corrected perfectly when refracting surfaces were placed

directly on the eye. And they proved that the eye could learn to tolerate,

without irreparable damage, a foreign object of glass.

Glass remained the standard material of hard lenses until 1936. That

year, the German firm I. G. Farben introduced the first Plexiglas, or hard

plastic, lens, which quickly became the new standard of the industry. It was

not until the mid-1940s that American opticians produced the first successful

corneal lens, covering only the eye's central portion. The breakthrough

ushered in the era of modern contact lens design. Since that time,

scientists have ingeniously altered the physical and chemical composition

of lenses, often in an attempt to achieve a surface that duplicates, as closely

as possible, the composition of the human eye.

Today factors other than high water content are regarded as essential in

a good lens (such as permeability to oxygen so that living eye cells may

breathe). Still, though, with an instinctive belief in the comfort of water

against the eye, many wearers seek out lenses that are up to 80 percent

liquid-even though a lens of less water content might provide better vision

correction. Da Vinci, with his 100 percent liquid lens, perhaps realized the

psychological appeal of having only water touch the delicate surface of the


Stimulants: Pre-2737 B.C., China

To achieve altered states of consciousness in religious rites, ancient man

used naturally occurring plant stimulants. One of the earliest, and mildest,

of recorded stimulants was strongly brewed tea. Although the origins of

the beverage are shrouded in Oriental folklore, the legendary Chinese emperor

Shen Nung is said to have discovered the kick of tea. An entry in

Shen's medical diary, dated 2737 B.C., declares that tea not only "quenches

thirst" but "lessens the desire to sleep."


Through the Medicine Chest

Tea's stimulant, of course, is caffeine. And the' drug, in the form of

coffee, became one of the most widely used, and abused, early pick-meups.

After the discovery of the effects of chewing coffee beans in Ethiopia

in A.D. 850, the drug became an addiction in the Near and Middle East.

And as coffee spread throughout Europe and Asia, its stimulant effect merited

more social and medical comment than its taste .

. Caffeine's use today continues stronger than ever. Aside from occurring

naturally in coffee, tea, and chocolate, caffeine is added to cola drinks and

a wide range of over-the-counter drugs. If your medicine chest contains

Anacin-3, Dexatrim, Dristan Decongestant, Excedrin, NoDoz, or Slim (to

mention a few), you have a caffeine-spiked analgesic or diet aid on the shelf.

Why is caffeine added?

In decongestants, it counters the soporific effects of the preparations'

active compounds. In analgesics, caffeine actually enhances (through a

mechanism yet unknown) the action of painkillers. And in diet aids, the

stimulant is the active ingredient that diminishes appetite. Safe in moderate

doses, caffeine can kill. The lethal dose for humans is ten grams, or about

one hundred cups of coffee consumed in four hours.

In this century, a new and considerably more potent class of synthetic

stimulants entered the medicine chest.

Amphetamines. These drugs were first produced in Germany in the 1930s.

Their chemical structure was designed to resemble adrenaline, the body's

own fast-acting and powerful stimulant. Today, under such brand names

as Benzedrine, Dexedrine, and Preludin (to list a few), they represent a

multimillion-dollar pharmaceutical market.

Commonly known as "speed" or "uppers," amphetamines were discovered

to give more than an adrenaline rush. They produce a degree of

euphoria, the ability to remain awake for extended periods, and the

suppression of appetite by slowing muscles of the digestive system. For

many years, they replaced caffeine as the primary ingredient in popular

dieting aids. While their role in weight loss has greatly diminished, they

remain a medically accepted mode of treatment for hyperactivity in children

and such sleep disorders as narcolepsy.

In the 1930s, amphetamines existed only in liquid form and were used

medically as inhalants to relieve bronchial spasms and nasal congestion.

Because of their easy availability, they were greatly abused for their stimulant

effects. And when they were produced in tablets, the drugs' uses and abuses

skyrocketed. During World War II, the pills were issued freely to servicemen

and widely prescribed to civilians in a cavalier way that would be regarded

today as irresponsibility bordering on malpractice.

By the 1960s, physicians recognized that amphetamines carried addictive

risks. The condition known as amphetamine psychosis, which mimics classic

paranoid schizophrenia, was identified, and by the end of the decade, legislation

curtailed the use of the drugs. Any amphetamine on a medicine

chest shelf today is either a prescription drug or an illegal one.


Sedatives: 1860s, Germany

Sedatives: 1860s, Germany

Apples and human urine were the main and unlikely ingredients that composed

the first barbiturate sedatives, developed in Germany in the 1860s.

And the drugs derived their classification title "barbiturate" from a Munich

waitress named Barbara, who provided the urine for their experimental


This bizarre marriage of ingredients was compounded in 1865 by German

chemist Adolph Baeyer. Unfortunately, the specific reasoning, or series of

events, that led him to suspect that the malic acid of apples combines with

the urea of urine to induce drowsiness and sleep has been lost to history.

What is well documented, however, is the rapid public acceptance of sedatives-

to calm anxiety, cure insomnia, and achieve a placid euphoria.

The period from Baeyer's discovery to the commercial production of

barbiturates spans almost four decades of laboratory research. But once

the chemical secrets were unlocked and the ingredients purified, the drugs

began to appear rapidly. The first barbiturate sleeping drug, barbital, bowed

in 1903, followed by phenobarbital, then scores of similarly suffixed drugs

with varying degrees of sedation. Drugs like Nembutal and Seconal acquired

street names of "yellow jackets" and "nebbies" and spawned a large illicit

drug trade.

All the barbiturates worked by interfering with nerve impulses within the

brain, which, in turn, "calmed the nerves." Insomniacs alone, in America

estimated to number over fifty million, created a huge market. But while

sedatives provided a needed respite from wakefulness for many people,

they often became addictive.

Of the many prescription sedatives found in American medicine chests

today, one in particular merits mention for its outstanding use and abuse.

Valium. In 1933, drug researchers discovered a new class of nonbarbiturate

sedatives. Known as benzodiazepines, they would soon acquire commercial

brand names such as Librium and Valium, and Valium would go

on to top the federal government's list of the twenty most abused drugs in

America, surpassing both heroin and cocaine.

During the first decade following their discovery, benzodiazepines did

not attract much attention from drug companies. The belief was that barbiturates

were safe, effective, and not terribly addictive, and thus there was

no need for an entirely new class of sedating drugs.

Then medical opinion changed. In the mid-1950s, experiments revealed

that benzodiazepines, in substantially smaller doses than barbiturate sedatives,

were capable of inducing sleep in monkeys. In addition, the drugs

not only sedated; they also diminished aggressive tendencies. Drug companies,

learning of the surprising laboratory results with monkeys, began

conducting human tests, and in 1960 the world was introduced to the first

nonbarbiturate sedative, Librium. Three years later, Valium debuted.


Through the Medicine Chest

Known as "minor tranquilizers" (compared with the more potent Thorazine,

a "major" tranquilizer), Librium and Valium began to be prescribed

in record quantities. The reputation of barbiturates by that time had been

grimly besmirched, and the new drugs seemed safer, less addictive. They

were liberally dispensed as antianxiety agents, muscle relaxants, anticonvulsants,

sleeping pills, and as a harmless treatment for the symptoms of

alcohol withdrawal. Valium became an industry in itself.

In time, of course, medical opinion again changed. The benzodiazepines

are extremely important and useful drugs, but they, too, possess a great

potential for abuse. Today chemists are attempting to tailor-make a new

classification of nonaddictive sedatives and painkillers with only a singlepurpose

function. In the meantime, Americans continue to consume more

than five billion sedatives a year, making Valium and its sister drugs almost

as familiar a medicine chest item as aspirin.

Aspirin: 1853, France

For a fever, physicians in the ancient world recommended a powder made

from the bark of the willow tree. Today we know that the bark contains a

salicylic compound, related to aspirin, though not as effective, and causing

greater gastrointestinal irritation and possible bleeding.

Aspirin, acetylsalicylic acid, is a man-made variation of the older remedy.

It is the world's most widely used painkiller and anti-inflammatory drug,

and it was prepared in France in 1853, then forgotten for the next forty

years-rediscovered only when a German chemist began searching for a

cure for his father's crippling arthritis.

Alsatian chemist Charles Frederick von Gerhardt first synthesized acetylsalicylic

acid in 1853, at his laboratory at the University of Montpellier.

But from his own limited testing, he did not believe the drug to be a significant

improvement over the then-popular salicin, an extract from the

bark of the willow tree and the meadowsweet plant, a botanical rehttive of

the rose. Aspirin was ignored, and sufferers of fevers, inflammations, and

arthritis continued to take salicin.

In 1893, a young German chemist, Felix Hoffman, at the Farbenfabriken

Bayer drug firm, had exhausted all the known drugs in attempting to ease

his father's rheumatoid arthritis. Hoffman knew of the synthetic type of

salicin, and in desperation prepared a batch and tested it on his father. To

his astonishment, the man-made derivative palliated the disease's crippling

symptoms and almost completely ameliorated its pain.

Chemists at Bayer, in Diisseldorf, realized Hoffman had hit on an important

new drug. Deciding to produce the compound from the meadowsweet

plant, Spiraea ulmaria, the company arrived at the brand name Aspirin

by taking the "a" from acetyl, "spir" from the Latin Spiraea, and "in"

because it was a popular suffix for medications.

First marketed in 1899 as a loose powder, Aspirin quickly became the


Aspirin: 1853, France

world's most prescribed drug. In 1915, Bayer introduced Aspirin tablets.

The German-based firm owned the brand name Aspirin at the start of

World War I, but following Germany's defeat, the trademark became part

of the country's war reparations demanded by the Allies. At the Treaty of

Versailles in June 1919, Germany surrendered the brand name to France,

England, the United States, and Russia.

For the next two years, drug companies battled over their own use of

the name. Then, in a famous court decision of 1921, Judge Learned Hand

ruled that since the drug was universally known as aspirin, no manufacturer

owned the name or could collect royalties for its use. Aspirin with a capital

A became plain aspirin. And today, after almost a century of aspirin use

and experimentation, scientists still have not entirely discovered how

the drug achieves its myriad effects as painkiller, fever reducer, and

anti-inflammatory agent.


Chapter 11

Under the Flag

Uncle Sam: 1810s, Massachusetts

There was a real-life Uncle Sam. This symbol of the United States government

and of the national character, in striped pants and top hat, was a

meat packer and politician from upstate New York who came to be known

as Uncle Sam as the result of a coincidence and ajoke.

The proof of Uncle Sam's existence was unearthed only a quarter of a

century ago, in the yellowing pages of a newspaper published May 12,

1830. Had the evidence not surfaced, doubt about a real-life prototype

would still exist, and the character would today be considered a myth, as

he was for decades.

Uncle Sam was Samuel Wilson. He was born in Arlington, Massachusetts,

on September 13, 1766, a time when the town was known as Menotomy.

At age eight, Sam Wilson served as drummer boy on the village green, on

duty the April morning of 1775 when Paul Revere made his historic ride.

Though the "shot heard round the world" was fired from nearby Lexington,

young Sam, banging his drum at the sight of redcoats, alerted local patriots,

who prevented the British from advancing on Menotomy.

As a boy, Sam played with another youthful patriot, John Chapman, who

would later command his own chapter in American history as the real-life

Johnny Appleseed. At age fourteen, Sam joined the army and fought in

the American Revolution. With independence from Britain won, Sam moved

in 1789 to Troy, New York, and opened a meat-packing company. Because


Uncle Sam: 1810s, Massachusetts

of his jovial manner and fair business practices, he was affectionately known

to townsfolk as Uncle Sam.

It was another war, also fought against Britain on home soil, that caused

Sam Wilson's avuncular moniker to be heard around the world.

During the War of 1812, government troops were quartered near Troy.

Sam Wilson's fair-dealing reputation won him a military contract to provide

beef and pork to soldiers. To indicate that certain crates of meat produced

at his warehouse were destined for military use, Sam stamped them with a

large "U.S."-for "United States," though the abbreviation was not yet in

the vernacular.

On October 1, 1812, government inspectors made a routine tour of the

plant. They asked a meat packer what the ubiquitously stamped "U.S."

stood for. The worker, himself uncertain, joked that the letters must represent

the initials of his employer, Uncle Sam. The error was perpetuated.

Soon soldiers began referring to all military rations as bounty from Uncle

Sam. Before long, they were calling all government-issued supplies property

of Uncle Sam. They even saw themselves as Uncle Sam's men.

The first Uncle Sam illustrations appeared in New England newspapers

in 1820. At that time, the avuncular figure was clean-shaven and wore a

solid black top hat and black tailcoat. The more familiar and colorful image

of Uncle Sam we know today arose piecemeal, almost one item at a time,

each the contribution of an illustrator.

Solid red pants were introduced during Andrew Jackson's presidency.

The flowing beard first appeared during Abraham Lincoln's term, inspired

by the President's own beard, which set a trend at that time. By the late

nineteenth century, Uncle Sam was such a popular national figure that

cartoonists decided he should appear more patriotically attired. They

adorned his red pants with white stripes and his top hat with both stars

and stripes. His costume became an embodiment of the country's flag.

Uncle Sam at this point was flamboyantly dressed, but by today's standards

of height and weight he was on the short side and somewhat portly.

It was Thomas Nast, the famous German-born cartoonist ·of the Civil

War and Reconstruction period, who made Uncle Sam tall, thin, and hollowcheeked.

Coincidentally, Nast's Uncle Sam strongly resembles drawings of

the real-life Sam Wilson. But Nast's model was actually Abraham Lincoln.

The most famous portrayal of Uncle Sam-the one most frequently reproduced

and widely recognized-was painted in this century by American

artist James Montgomery Flagg. The stern-faced, stiff-armed, finger-pointing

figure appeared on World War I posters captioned: "I Want You for U.S.

Army." The poster, with Uncle Sam dressed in his full flag apparel, sold

four million copies during the war years, and more than half a million in

World War II. Flagg's Uncle Sam, though, is not an Abe Lincoln likeness,

but a self-portrait of the artist as legend.


A nineteenth-century meat-packing plant in upstate New York; birthplace

of the Uncle Sam legend.

During these years of the poster's peak popularity, the character of Uncle

Sam was still only a myth. The identity of his prototype first came to light

in early 1961. A historian, Thomas Gerson, discovered a May 12, 1830,

issue of the New York Gazette newspaper in the archives of the New-York

Historical Society. In it, a detailed firsthand account explained how Pheodorus

Bailey, postmaster of New York City, had witnessed the Uncle Sam

legend take root in Troy, New York. Bailey, a soldier in 1812, had accompanied

government inspectors on the October day they visited Sam Wilson's

meat-packing plant. He was present, he said, when a worker surmised that

the stamped initials "U.S." stood for "Uncle Sam."

Sam Wilson eventually became active in politics and died on July 31,


Johnny Appleseed: 1810s, Massachusetts

1854, at age eighty-eight. A tombstone erected in 1931 at Oakwood Cemetery

in Troy reads: "In loving memory of 'Uncle Sam,' the name originating

with Samuel Wilson." That association was first officially recognized during

the administration of President John F. Kennedy, by an act of the Eightyseventh

Congress, which states that "the Congress salutes 'Uncle Sam' Wilson

of Troy, New York, as the progenitor of America's National symbol of

'Uncle Sam.' "

Though it may be stretching coincidence thin, John Kennedy and Sam

Wilson spoke phrases that are strikingly similar. On the eve of the War of

1812, Wilson delivered a speech, and a plan, on what Americans must do

to ensure the country's greatness: "It starts with every one of us giving a

little more, instead of only taking and getting all the time." That plea was

more eloquently stated in John Kennedy's inaugural address: "ask not what

America will do for you-ask what you can do for your country."

Johnny Appleseed: 1810s, Massachusetts

Sam Wilson's boyhood playmate John Chapman was born on September

26, 1774, in Leominster, Massachusetts. Chapman displayed an early love

for flowering plants and trees-particularly apple trees. His interest progressed

from a hobby, to a passion, to a full-fledged obsession, one that

would transform him into a true American folk character.

Though much lore surrounds Chapman, it is known that he was a devoted

horticulturist, establishing apple orchards throughout the Midwest. He

walked barefoot, inspecting fields his sapling trees had spawned. He also

sold apple seeds and saplings to pioneers heading farther west, to areas he

could not readily cover by foot.

A disciple of the eighteenth-century Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg,

John Chapman was as zealous in preaching Scripture as he was in planting

apple orchards. The dual pursuits took him, barefooted, over 100,000

square miles of American terrain. The trek, as well as his demeanor, attire,

and horticultural interests, made him as much a recognizable part of the

American landscape as his orchards were. He is supposed to have worn on

his head a tin mush pan, which served both as a protection from the elements

and as a cooking pot at his impromptu ca,mpsites.

Frontier settlers came to humorously, and sometimes derisively, refer to

the religious fanatic and apple planter as Johnny Appleseed. American

Indians, though, revered Chapman as a medicine man. The herbs catnip,

rattlesnake weed, horehound, and pennyroyal were dried by the itinerant

horticulturist and administered as curatives to tribes he encountered, and

attempted to convert.

Both Sam Wilson and John Chapman played a part in the War of 1812.

While Wilson, as Uncle Sam, packaged rations for government troops,

Chapman, as Johnny Appleseed, traversed wide areas of northern Ohio

barefoot, alerting settlers to the British advance near Detroit. He also


Under the Flag

warned them of the inevitable Indian raids and plundering that would follow

in the wake of any British destruction. Later, the town of Mansfield, Ohio,

erected a monument to John Chapman.

Chapman died in March of 1845, having contracted pneumonia from a

barefoot midwinter journey to a damaged apple orchard that needed tending.

He is buried in what is known today as Johnny Appleseed Park, near

the War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the state in which he


Although Johnny Appleseed never achieved the fame of his boyhood

playmate Uncle Sam, Chapman's likeness has appeared on commemorative

U.S. stamps. And in 1974, the New York and New England Apple Institute

designated the year as the Johnny Appleseed Bicentennial. Chapman's most

enduring monuments, however, are the apple orchards he planted, which

are still providing fruit throughout areas of the country.

American Flag: Post-I777, New England

So much patriotism and sacrifice are symbolized by the American flag

that it is hard for us today to realize that the star-spangled banner did not

have a single dramatic moment of birth. Rather, the flag's origin, as that

of the nation itself, evolved slowly from humble beginnings, and it was

shaped by many hands-though probably not those of Betsy Ross. The

latest historical sleuthing indicates that her involvement, despite history

book accounts, may well have been fictive. And no authority today can

claim with certainty who first proposed the now-familiar design, or even

when and where the Stars and Stripes was first unfurled.

What, then, can we say about the origin of a flag that the military salutes,

millions of schoolchildren pledge allegiance to, and many home owners

hang from a front porch pole every Fourth of July?

It is well documented that General George Washington, on New Year's

Day of 1776, displayed over his camp outside Boston an improvised "Grand

Union Flag." It combined both British and American symbols. One upper

comer bore the two familiar crosses-St. George's for England, and St.

Andrew's for Scotland-which had long been part of the British emblem.

But the background field had thirteen red and white stripes to represent

the American colonies. Since the fighting colonists, including Washington,

still claimed to be subjects ofthe British crown, it's not surprising that their

homemade flag should carry evidence of that loyalty.

The earliest historical mention of an entirely American "Stars and Stripes"

flag-composed of thirteen alternating red and white stripes, and thirteen

stars on a blue field-is in a resolution of the Continental Congress dated

June 14, 1777. Since Congress, and the country, had more urgent matters

to resolve than a finalized, artistic flag design, the government stipulated

no specific rules about the flag's size or arrangement of details. It even


Francis Scott Key, composer of

"The Star-Spangled Banner. "

failed to supply Washington's army with official flags until 1783, after all

the major war battles had ended.

During the Revolutionary War, the American army and navy fought under

a confused array of local, state, and homemade flags. They were adorned

variously with pine and palmetto trees, rattlesnakes, eagles, stripes of red,

blue, and yellow, and stars of gold-to mention a few.

In fact, it was not until 1814, nearly forty years after its authorization

by Congress, that the flag began to be widely discussed by Americans as a

symbol of the country. In that year, an American flag bearing fifteen stars

flew over Fort Henry at Baltimore, inspiring Francis Scott Key to write

"The Star-Spangled Banner."

Where in the gradual, piecemeal evolution of the American flag does the

figure of the Philadelphia seamstress born Elizabeth Griscom belong?

Betsy Ross. When John Ross, an upholsterer, was killed in a munitions

explosion in 1776, his wife, Betsy, took over operation of their tailoring

business. The Ross store was on Philadelphia's Arch Street, not far from

the State House, on Chestnut Street, where history was being made almost


According to legend, Betsy Ross was visited at her shop by General George

Washington in June of 1776. They were supposed to have discussed various

flag designs. And Washington allegedly settled for one composed of seven

red and six white stripes, and thirteen five-pointed white stars arranged in

a circle-though he had requested six-pointed stars. Betsy Ross is said to

have convinced him that it would be easier for her to cut out five-pointed


Under the Flag

stars. When the general departed, legend has it, the seamstress commenced

stitching the official American flag.

Historians find it significant that not a single one of the numerous flags

that flew at different times and places during the Revolutionary War is of

the design alleged to be the handiwork of Betsy Ross.

Further, the tale recounted in history books was told by Betsy Ross herself-

on her deathbed in 1836, and to her eleven-year-old grandson, William

J. Canby. Betsy Ross at the time was eighty-four years old. Canby, in tum,

did not publicly relate the tale until 1870, when he presented it at a meeting

of the Pennsylvania Historical Society. That was thirty-four years after he

had heard it as a boy, and almost a hundred years after the incident was

alleged to have occurred.

Historical records verify that George Washington was in Philadelphia in

June of 1776. But in his written itinerary there is no mention of a meeting

with a local seamstress. Nor in Washington's diary is there any evidence of

his concern with the design of an official American flag. In fact, Congress

had not yet convened a committee to tackle any flag design, nor at the time

was there congressional talk of replacing the Grand Union Flag. Washington

had made personal modifications in that flag, combining American with

British features, but he had not expressed a desire to abandon it entirely.

The consensus among historians who have investigated the Betsy Ross legend

is that it's no more than that-a legend: a nonverifiable story handed down

from generation to generation. And one begun by the lady herself.

History and legend, though, have a way of blending in the crucible of

time. Betsy Ross's deathbed tale has inextricably rooted itself in the heart

of American folklore. And whether in time it is unequivocally proved or

disproved, it almost assuredly will be told and retold.

Pledge of Allegiance: 1892, Rome, New York

. The pledge of allegiance to the American flag is neither an old verse nor

one composed by the Republic's founding fathers. It was written especially

for children in the summer of 1892, to commemorate that year's celebration

of Columbus Day in public schools throughout the country.

The pledge's first appearance in print was on September 8, 1892, in The

Youth's Companion, an educational publication. It is estimated that more

than ten million American schoolchildren recited it that Columbus Day. In

its original form, it read: "I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic

for which it stands-one nation indivisible-with liberty and justice for

all. "

Its author was an editor of The Youth's Companion, Francis Bellamy of

Rome, New York. Bellamy intended his verse to be a one-time recitation.

But its immediate popularity among the nation's schoolchildren and teachers

transformed it first into an annual Columbus Day tradition, then into a


Washington, D.C.: 1790

daily classroom ritual. It became one of the earliest verses memorized by


Since its debut, Bellamy's pledge has undergone two alterations. In 1923,

the United States Flag Association replaced the somewhat ambiguously

personal "my flag" wording with the more explicitly patriotic "the Flag of

the United States of America." And in 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower

signed a bill that introduced a religious note to the pledge, with the

addition of the words "under God."

Washington, D.C.: 1790

Although much has been written about the selection of Washington, D.C.,

as the nation's capital, little has appeared concerning one of the early motivating

factors for locating the center of government in an area that then

was a remote swampland. This part of the story involves the desire of congressmen

for a safe haven where they could peacefully conduct business

without harassment by disgruntled civilians and soldiers.

The idea for a national capital city in a remote, inconvenient area originated

at a June 1 783 meeting of the Congress in the Old City Hall in

Philadelphia. While several factors contributed to the decision, one in particular

galvanized Congress to action.

The War of Independence had recently been concluded. The treasury

was flat broke. The new nation had no credit, still lacked a President, and

was heavily in debt to its soldiers for back pay. On June 20, a large and

angry mob of unpaid soldiers invaded Philadelphia to present their grievances

to Congress. It was not the first such violent confrontation. That day,

though, a number of agitated congressmen-some angry, others frightened-

expressed their weariness \yith such direct public intrusions. They

launched a movement to establish a federal city where lawmakers could

transact the business of state without civilian intimidation.

Several locations were considered. New Englanders, led by Alexander

Hamilton of New York, sought a capital in the north. Southerners, represented

by Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, argued for a location in the

south. In 1790, in an attempt to placate both sides, the recently elected

President, George Washington, chose a site eighteen miles up the Potomac

River from his home in Mount Vernon-a location then midway between

north and south. In addition, the area was between the thriving seaports

of Alexandria, Virginia, and Georgetown, Maryland. No one denied, however,

that the ten-mile-square site was a bog.

Mter several years of planning, in September 1793 President Washington

himselflaid the cornerstone for the first U.S. Capitol. Office buildings were

quickly erected. By 1800, the U.S. government had officially moved headquarters

from Philadelphia to Washington.

No one was pleased with the new city.

Congressmen complained that it was too isolated. A wilderness. They and


Under the Flag

their families resisted constructing homes there;· as did government employees.

Groups of citizens petitioned that the capital city be relocated to

a more desirable, prestigious, and accessible location. What had been conceived

by Washington as a "city of magnificent distances" was now disparagingly

attacked by congressmen as a "capital of miserable huts," "a mudhole."

Abigail Adams, wife of the first President to occupy the presidential

mansion, expressed a desire to move out, lamenting, "We have not the

least convenience."

By the close of Thomas Jefferson's term of office, in 1809, the population

of the nation's new city was scarcely five thousand. To foreign heads of

state, America's capital was a nightmare. With a dearth of cultural institutions

and personal conveniences, and with the Potomac continually muddying

the dirt streets, foreign ambassadors stationed in the capital actually

collected "hardship pay" from their governments.

The advent of the steam engine and the telegraph quelled some of the

complaints. These inventions put the city in touch with the outside world.

But the real change of attitude toward the new capital, in the minds of

both ordinary citizens and government officials, resulted from a national


In August 1814, the British invaded the city. They burned the President's

mansion, the Capitol, and the Navy Arsenal. Americans were incensed. And

they were united, too, against an enemy that had attempted to destroy the

nation's capital-even if that capital was inaccessible, inhospitable, and

undesirable to live in.

All clamor to relocate the city ceased. An immense and patriotic rebuilding

effort began. Jefferson donated his own extensive collection of books to

replace the destroyed contents of the Library of Congress. And the badly

charred wooden planks of the President's mansion were painted a shimmering

white, conferring upon it for all time the title the White House.

In 1874, Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of New York's Central

Park, began landscaping the Capitol grounds with trees from various states

and foreign countries. Contributing to that effort in 1912, the Japanese

government presented the United States with a gift of three thousand cherry

trees, whose blossoming thereafter would signal the city's annual Cherry

Blossom Festival. By then, of course, the site on the Potomac once intended

to keep citizens from lobbying Congress had become the home oflobbyists.

Mount Rushmore: 1923, South Dakota

The faces originally to be carved into Mount Rushmore were not the fatherly

countenances of four famous Presidents but the romanticized visages of

three Western legends: Kit Carson, Jim Bridger, and John Colter. Planned

as a tourist attraction to draw money into South Dakota's economy, the

monument, as originally conceived, might scarcely have achieved its goal.


Mount Rushmore: 1923, South Dakota

The full story of the origin of Mount Rushmore begins sixty million years

ago, when pressures deep within the earth pushed up layers of rock. The

forces created an elongated granite-and-limestone dome towering several

thousand feet above the Dakota prairie lands. The first sculpting of the

mountain was done by nature. The erosive forces of wind and water fashioned

one particularly protuberant peak, which was unnamed until 1885.

That year, a New York attorney, Charles E. Rushmore, was surveying

the mountain range on horseback with a guide. Rushmore inquired about

the impressive peak's name, and the guide, ribbing the city lawyer, answered,

"Hell, it never had a name. But from now on we'll call the damn thing

Rushmore." The label stuck. And later, with a gift of five thousand dollars,

Charles Rushmore became one of the earliest contributors to the presidential


The origin of the sculpture is better documented and more inspiring

than that of the mountain's name.

The idea to transform a gigantic mountaintop into a colossus of human

figures sprang from the mind of a South Dakota historian, Doane Robinson.

In 1923, Robinson presented to the state his plan to simultaneously increase

South Dakota's tourism, strengthen its economy, and immortalize three

"romantic western heroes." A commission then sought the skills of renowned

sculptor John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum, an authority on colossi.

Idaho born, Borglum started as a painter, then switched to sculpture,

and his fame grew in proportion to the size of his works. The year Doane

Robinson conceived the idea for a Mount Rushmore memorial, Borglum

accepted a commission from the United Daughters of the Confederacy to

carve a head of General Robert E. Lee on Stone Mountain in Georgia.

Mount Rushmore, though, beckoned with the greater challenge.

Borglum opposed sculpting Western heroes. The notion was overly provincial,

he argued. A colossus should capture prominent figures. In a letter

dated August 14, 1925, Borglum proposed the faces of four influential

American Presidents.

Construction on the 6,200-foot-high wilderness peak was fraught with

dangers. And the mountain itself was inaccessible except by foot or horseback,

which necessitated countless climbs to lug up drills and scaffolding.

But for Borglum, two features made the remote Rushmore peak ideal. The

rocks faced southeast, ensuring maximum sunlight for construction, and

later for viewing. And the peak's inaccessibility would protect the monument

from vandals.

Bitter winters, compounded by a chronic shortage of funds, continually

threatened to terminate construction. Weathered surface rock had to be

blasted away to expose suitably firm stone for sculpting. The chin of George

Washington, for instance, was begun thirty feet back from the original

mountain surface, and Theodore Roosevelt's forehead was undertaken only

after one hundred twenty feet of surface rock were peeled away.


Under the Flag

Borglum worked from a scale model. Critical "points" were measured

on the model, then transferred to the mountain to indicate the depth of

rock to be removed point by point.

In 1941, fourteen years after construction began-and at a total cost of

$990,000-a new world wonder was unveiled. There stood George Washington,

whom Borglum selected because he was "Father of the Nation";

Abraham Lincoln, "Preserver of the Union"; Thomas Jefferson, "The Expansionist"; and Theodore Roosevelt, "Protector of the Working Man."

The figures measure sixty feet from chin to top of head. Each nose is

twenty feet long, each mouth eighteen feet wide, and the eyes are eleven

feet across. "A monument's dimensions," Borglum believed, "should be

determined by the importance to civilization of the events commemorated."

Gutzon Borglum died on March 6, 1941, aged seventy-four. The monument

was essentially completed. His son, also a sculptor, added the finishing


Boy Scouts of America: 1910, Chicago

A good deed performed by an anonymous boy prompted a wealthy Chicago

businessman to found the scouting movement in America. The boy was

already a scout, a British scout, a member of an organization begun in

England by Colonel Robert Baden-Powell. (The scouts' motto, "Be Prepared,"

is not only a forceful exhortation but also something of a tribute

to Baden-Powell's initials, a coincidence he enjoyed calling attention to,

since practically no one else noticed.)

While serving his country in Africa during the turn-of-the-century Boer

War, Baden-Powell complained that young recruits from England lacked

strength of character and resourcefulness. On returning home, he assembled

twenty-two boys, to imbue them with the attributes ofloyalty, courage,

and leadership. And in 1908, he published Scouting for Boys, a stalking and

survival manual, which formally marked the start of the British Boy Scouts.

The social and political upheaval in Edwardian England provided a climate

for scouting. Britons were anxious about their country's national decline,

the poor physical condition of large segments of the urban population, and

the increasing vulnerability of British colonies abroad. Tp.e idea of training

thousands of young boys to be loyal, resourceful, law-abiding citizens met

with unanimous approval.

A year after the British scouting movement had been launched, William

Boyce, a Chicago publisher visiting London, found himself lost on a dark,

foggy night. The youth who came to Boyce'S aid identified himself only as

a "boy scout." Boyce was impressed with the boy's courtesy and resolve to

be of assistance; and he was astonished by the boy's refusal to accept a tip.

Boyce would later comment that he had never met an American youth

who'd decline an earned gratuity. He was sufficiently intrigued with the

British scouting movement to meet with its master, Baden-Powell.


Girl Scouts of America: 1912, Savannah, Georgia

On February 10, 1910, Boyce established the Boy Scouts of America,

modeled on the British organization. Its immediate acceptance by parents,

educators, and the young men who joined the movement in the tens of

thousands guaranteed scouting's success. Within a year, the scouts had

their "On my honor" oath, a score of merit badges, and the scout's law,

comprising a string of twelve attributes to aspire to. By 1915, there were

a half-million American boy scouts, with troops in every state.

American Presidents were involved with scouting from the start. William

Taft began the tradition that every President automatically becomes an

honorary scout. Theodore Roosevelt went a step further after his presidency

by becoming head scoutmaster of Troup 39, Oyster Bay, New York.

And while all Presidents became scouts, some scouts became Presidents.

The first one to do so had been a member of Troop 2 of Bronxville, New

York, from 1929 to 1931-John F. Kennedy. And the first Eagle Scout to

become President began his scouting career in 1924 as a member of Troup

15, Grand Rapids, Michigan-Gerald R. Ford.

By the late 1920s, scouting was so popular throughout the country that

parents began to inquire if their younger children might not be permitted

to join the movement. To satisfy that request, early in 1930 the Cub Scout

program was formally launched; by year's end, its membership stood at

847,051 and climbing.

Girl Scouts of America: 1912, Savannah, Georgia

Born Juliette Daisy Gordon in Savannah in 1860, the founder of the Girl

Scouts exhibited a flair for organization at an early age. As a teenager, she

formed the Helpful Hands Club, a youth organization that made and repaired

clothes for needy children. At age twenty-six, Juliette married a

wealthy Englishman, William Mackay Low, and the couple took up residence

in England. Undaunted by advancing deafness, Juliette Low established

herself as a popular London party giver.

It was at a party in 1911 that she was introduced to Colonel Robert

Baden-Powell. The colonel's enthusiasm for scouting must have been contagious.

Three years earlier, he had inspired William Boyce to institute the

American Boy Scouts. He had only recently encouraged his sister, Agnes,

to launch an equivalent female movement, the British Girl Guides. At the

party, Baden-Powell, accompanied by Agnes, imbued Juliette Low with the

scouting zeal.

So much so, in fact, that within weeks of the meeting, Juliette Low was

a London Girl Guide leader. The following year, she brought the idea home

to Savannah, Georgia. On March 12, 1912, eighteen young girls from a

local school became America's first Girl Guides. The next year, their name

was formally changed to Girl Scouts.

By the time of Juliette Low's death, on January 17, 1927, there were


',' _ ~~~~;4~:~;c--

.-.. "

The British surrender at Yorktown as Washington's band plays "Yankee

Doodle. "

more than 140,000 Girl Scouts, with troops in every state. And the tradition

had been started that the wives of American Presidents automatically become

honorary Girl Scouts.

"Yankee Doodle": 1750s, England

Yankee Doodle came to town,

Riding on a pony;

He stuck a feather in his cap

And called it macaroni.

Today this song is played as a short, incidental piece of music, and when

sung, it's mostly by a child as a nursery rhyme. But in the eighteenth century,

"Yankee Doodle" was a full-fledged national air of many stanzas, a lively

expression of American patriotism, usually played by a military band. This

despite the fact that the melody and lyrics originated with the British as a

derisive slur to colonists. In London, prior to the American Revolution, a

version of "Yankee Doodle" expressed growing anti-American sentiment.

Musicologists and historians have struggled with the origin and interpretation

of the song. It's known that British Redcoats prided themselves

on always being dapperly and uniformly attired. Colonial soldiers were by

comparison a ragamuffin lot, each dressing in whatever clothes he owned.

An early version of "Yankee Doodle" clearly mocks Americans' shabby


"The Star-Spangled Banner": 1814, Baltimore

dress, and the derision is carried into later versions in the term' 'macaroni."

In eighteenth-century England, "macaroni" ridiculed an English dandy

who affected foreign mannerisms and fashions, particularly ones French

or Italian. A "macaroni" believed he was stylishly attired when by the vogue

of the day his outfit was outlandish. Thus, the archetype Yankee Doodle

character, by sticking a feather in his cap, believes he has become fashionable

when in fact his appearance is comical. In singing the song, the British

poked fun at what they viewed as New England's country bumpkins.

The song's authorship is clouded by at least a dozen vying claims. Many

historians believe the original melody and lyrics were composed by a British

surgeon, Dr. Richard Schuckburg, around 1758. Others maintain it was

an impromptu composition on American soil by British soldiers, who then

carried it home to England.

Whoever the composer, in America the musical insult fell on deaf ears.

The colonists warmly embraced the tune, many times modifying its lyrics,

though never deleting "macaroni." In April 1767, the melody was highlighted

in an American comic opera composed by Andrew Barton and titled

The Disappointment: or, The Force of Credulity. By the close of the Revolutionary

War, George Washington's troops had turned the once defiant

insult into a rousing celebratory salute. At the surrender of the British at

Yorktown, Washington's band struck up a chorus of "Yankee Doodle" to

mortify the defeated British Lord Cornwallis and his men. Out of this sentiment,

somewhat akin to "He who laughs last" or "They'll eat their words,"

the tune "Yankee Doodle" became for several decades a national air.

"The Star-Spangled Banner": 1814, Baltimore

America acquired the song that is its national anthem about thirty-eight

years after the country won its independence from England. It is somewhat

ironic that the melody is British, and came from a song extolling the pleasures

of wine and amours. The American lyrics were of course penned by

lawyer and poet Francis Scott Key. But Key directed that his lines be sung

to the British melody "To Anacreon in Heaven," Anacreon being the sixthcentury

B.C. Greek poet known for his lyric love verse.

Why did the patriotic Francis Scott Key choose a British melody?

During Key's time, "To Anacreon in Heaven" was one of the most popular

songs in England and America. At least eighty-five American poems were

fitted to the tune. And Key himself, in 1805-nine years before he'd write

"The Star-Spangled Banner"-set a poem, "When the Warrior Returns,"

to the British melody. (That poem, interestingly, contained an image that

the poet would soon reshape and immortalize: "By the light of the starspangled

flag.") Thus, Key was well acquainted with the melody, its popularity,

and its musical cadence. .

During the War of 1812, Key was a Washington lawyer in his thirties.

Under a brief truce, he was sent aboard a British vessel in Chesapeake Bay


Under the Flag

to acquire the release of a captured American physician. By the time the

lengthy negotiations were completed, the truce had ceased and British ships

were bombarding Fort McHenry, which guarded the city of Baltimore.

Key witnessed the fiery battle. By morning, the American flag of fifteen

stars and stripes was still flying over the fort. Inspired by the sights and

sounds of that night of September 13, 1814, Key composed a poem, "The

Defense of Fort McHenry," which was published the following week.

Americans almost immediately regarded the poem, sung to Key's suggested

melody, as their national anthem. But, surprisingly, the anthem was

not officially adopted until March 3, 1931, by a presidential proclamation

of Herbert Hoover. Today the Stars and Stripes flag that inspired Francis

Scott Key is preserved in the Smithsonian Institution.

"America the Beautiful": 1895, Colorado

It was a New j~rsey church organist, a New England poet, and the breathtakingly

beautiful vista of Colorado mountain peaks that combined to give

America a song that could have been, and almost was, its national anthem.

The poet, Katherine Lee Bates, was born in 1859 in Falmouth, Massachusetts,

and was a professor of English literature at Wellesley College.

Visiting Colorado in the early 1890s, she was inspired by the majestic view

from the summit of Pikes Peak to compose a poem opening with the line

"0 beautiful for spacious skies." The completed work was printed in Boston

on july 4, 1895.

Popular poems wt;re frequently set to existing melodies. Katherine Bates's

composition was fitted to a religious song, "Materna," at the time already

thirteen years old. It had been written by an organist, choirmaster, and

Newark, New jersey, music dealer, Samuel A. Ward. He composed the song

in 1882 to be sung in his parish church. Its opening line was "0 Mother

dear,jerusalem," metrically identical to Katherine Bates's "0 beautiful for

spacious skies."

Both Katherine Bates and Samuel Ward lived to see their creation achieve

nationwide popularity. Throughout the 1920s, when the country still had

no official national anthem, there were numerous attempts to persuade

Congress to elevate" America the Beautiful" to that status. Not until 1931,

when "The Star-Spangled Banner" was adopted, did the debate quiet down,

and it still has not been totally silenced. The issue then and now is not with

lyrics but with the higher tessitura of Francis Scott Key's song. "America

the Beautiful" is simply easier for most people to sing.

"The Marines' Hymn": Pre-1920, Mexico and France

There is some humorous incongruity in the fact that the hearty, forceful

"Marines' Hymn," belted out vigorously by generations of America's

toughest fighters, derives from a frivolous, lighthearted comic opera by

French composer jacques Offenbach.


"Dixie": 1859, New England

How did opera bouffe come to represent American military might?

During the Mexican-American War, an anonymous member of the Marine

Corps stationed in Mexico composed a historical poem (most likely in 1847).

It opened with references to the glorious days of the last Aztec emperor,

Montezuma, recounted his people's demise, then proceeded to relate the

Marine's mission in Mexico to fight for "freedom and liberty." The poem,

somewhat altered, was eventually published in the Marines' newspaper, The

Quantico Leatherneck, and for several decades Marines sang the words to an

old Spanish folk tune.

During that period, Jacques Offenbach composed the comic opera

Genevieve de Brabant. The lightweight, sentimental work contained one song,

"Two Men in the Army," which in melody, lyrics, and slapstick staging

thrilled Parisian audiences, as well as American operagoers who heard it

at the Metropolitan Opera House in October 1868. Excerpted from the

opera, the song achieved independent popularity in France and America.

What happened next was a combination of mental forgetting and musical

fitting. In time, people simply forgot that the frequently sung "Two Men

in the Army" had ever been an opera duet (certainly the opera itself was

forgotten). New generations of Marines sang "Two Men," and its robust

marching rhythm was found to fit closely the meter of their popular military

poem. Neither Marine nor music historians have successfully determined

exactly when enlisted men dropped the old Spanish folk melody in favor

of the more driving beat of the Offenbach tune.

What is documented is that the now-familiar words and music were first

published jointly in New York in August 1919. A year later, the United

States Marine Corps copyrighted the song, titled "The Marines' Hymn."

While several opera composers incorporated nationalistic melodies into

their works (as did Donizetti in the overture to Roberto Devereux), Offenbach's

is the first opera melody to become a popular patriotic song.

"Dixie": 1859, New England

It became the national anthem of the Confederacy, but "Dixie" was composed

by a Northerner, Daniel Decatur Emmett, who specialized in writing

songs for blackface minstrel shows. One of his shows, staged in N ew York's

Mechanic's Hall on April 4, 1859, contained a number the playbill listed

as "Mr. Dan Emmett's original Plantation Song and Dance, Dixie's Land."

A group of peripatetic musicians, Bryant's Minstrels, carried the song to

New Orleans in 1860. They introduced it to the South in their musical

Pocahontas, based loosely on the relationship between the American Indian

princess and Captain John Smith. The song's immediate success led them

to include it in all their shows, and it became the minstrels' signature


Eventually, the term "Dixie" became synonymous with the states below

the Mason-Dixon line. When the song's composer, a staunch Union sympathizer,

learned that his tune "Dixie" was played at the inauguration of


Under the Flag

Jefferson Davis as president of the Confederate States of America, he said,

"If I had known to what use they were going to put my song, I'll be damned

if I'd have written it." For a number of years, people whistled "Dixie" only

in the South.

Abraham Lincoln attempted to change that. On April 10, 1865, the day

following Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox, President Lincoln delivered

a speech outside the White House. He jokingly addressed the South's

monopoly of the song, saying, "I had heard that our adversaries over the

way had attempted to appropriate it. I insisted yesterday that we had fairly

captured it." Lincoln then suggested that the entire nation feel free to sing

"Dixie," and he instructed the military band on the White House lawn to

strike up the melody to accompany his exit.

West Point Military Academy: 1802, New York

The origin of West Point Military Academy dates back to the Revolutionary

War, when the colonists perceived the strategic significance of the Hudson

River, particularly of an S-shaped curve along the bank in the region known

as West Point.

To control the Hudson was to command a major artery linking New

England with the other colonies. General George Washington and his forces

gained that control in 1778, occupying the high ground at the S-shaped

bend in the river. Washington fortified the town of West Point that year,

and in 1779 he established his headquarters there.

During the war, Washington realized that a crash effort to train and

outfit civilians every time a conflict arose could never guarantee America's

freedom. The' country needed professional soldiers. At the end of the war,

in 1783, he argued for the creation of an institution devoted exclusively

to the military arts and the science of warfare.

But in the atmosphere of confidence created by victory, no immediate

action was taken. Washington came and went as President (1789-1797),

as did John Adams (1797-1801). It was President Thomas Jefferson who

signed legislation in 1802 establishing the United States Military Academy

at West Point, New York. With a class of only ten cadets, the academy

opened its doors on Independence Day of that year-and none too soon.

War broke out again, faster than anyone had imagined it would. The

War of 1812 refocused attention on the country's desperate need for trained

officers. James Madison, then President, upped the size of the Corps of

Cadets to 250, and he broadened the curriculum to include general scientific

and engineering courses.

The academy was girded for the next conflict, the Civil War of 1861.

Tragically, and with poignant irony, the same officers who had trained diligently

at West Point to defend America found themselves fighting against

each other. During the Civil War, West Point graduates-Grant, Sherman,

Sheridan, Meade, Lee, Jackson, and Jefferson Davis-dominated both sides


Statue of Liberty: 1865, France

of the conflict. In fact, of the war's sixty major battles, West Pointers commanded

both sides in fifty-five. Though the war was a tragedy for the country

as a whole, it was particularly traumatic for the military academy.

In this century, the institution witnessed changes in three principal areas.

Following the school's centennial in 1902, the curriculum was expanded

to include English, foreign languages, history, and the social sciences. And

following World War II, in recognition of the intense physical demands of

modern warfare, the academy focused on physical fitness, with the stated

goal to make "Every cadet an athlete." Perhaps the biggest change in the

academy's history came in 1976, when it admitted females as cadets.

From a Revolutionary War fortress, the site at the S-bend in the Hudson

became a flourishing center for military and academic excellence-all that

General George Washington had intended and more.

Statue of Liberty: 1865, France

The Statue of Liberty, refurbished for her 1986 centennial, is perhaps the

most renowned symbol of American patriotism throughout the world. It is

the colossal embodiment of an idea that grew out of a dinner conversation

between a historian and a sculptor.

In 1865, at a banquet in a town near Versailles, the eminent French

jurist and historian Edouard de Laboulaye discussed Franco-American relations

with a young sculptor, Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi. De Laboulaye,

an ardent admirer of the United States, had published a three-volume history

of the country and was aware of its approaching independence centennial.

When the historian suggested that France present America with an impressive

gift, sculptor Bartholdi immediately envisioned a massive statue.

But at the time, the idea progressed no further than discussion.

A trip later took Bartholdi to Egypt. Strongly influenced by ancient colossi,

he attempted to persuade the ruling authorities for a commission to create

a large statue to grace the entrance of the newly completed Suez Canal.

But before he could secure the assignment, war erupted between France

and Prussia, and Bartholdi was summoned to fight.

The idea of a centennial statue for America was never far from the sculptor's

mind. And in 1871, as he sailed into the bustling mouth of New York

Harbor on his first visit to the country, his artist's eyes immediately zeroed

in on a site for the work: Bedloe's Island, a twelve-acre tract lying southwest

of the tip of Manhattan. Inspired by this perfect pedestal of an island,

Bartholdi completed rough sketches of his colossus before the ship docked.

The Franco-American project was undertaken, with the artist, engineers,

and fund-raisers aware that the unveiling was a mere five years away.

The statue, to be named "Liberty Enlightening the World," would be

152 feet high and weigh 225 tons, and its flowing robes were to consist of

more than three hundred sheets of hand-hammered copper. France offered

to pay for the sculpture; the American public agreed to finance its rock-


Construction of the

Statue of Liberty in


concrete-and-steel pedestal. To supervise the immense engineering feat,

Bartholdi enlisted the skills of French railroad builder Alexandre-Gustave

Eiffel, who later would erect the tower that bears his name. And for a

fittingly noble, wise, and maternal face for the statue; Bartholdi turned to

his mother, who posed for him.

From the start, the French contributed generously. Citizens mailed in

cash and checks, and the government sponsored a special "Liberty" lottery,

with profits going toward construction costs. A total of $400,000 was raised,

and the esteemed French composer Charles Gounod created a cantata to

celebrate the project.

In America, the public was less enthusiastic. The disinterest centered

around one question: Did the country really need-or want-such a monumental

gift from France? Publisher Joseph Pulitzer spearheaded a drive

for funds in his paper the World. In March 1885, Pulitzer editorialized that

it would be "an irrevocable disgrace to New York City and the American

Republic to have France send us this splendid gift without our having provided

so much as a landing place for it." He lambasted New York's millionaires

for lavishing fortunes on personal luxuries while haggling over

the pittances they were asked to contribute to the statue's pedestal. In two

months, Pulitzer's patriotic editorials and harangues netted a total of


The deadline was not met. When the country's 1876 centennial arrived,

only segments of the statue were completed. Thus, as a piecemeal preview,

Liberty'S torch arm was displayed at the Philadelphia Centennial celebrations,

and two years later, at the Paris Fair, the French were treated to a

view of Liberty'S giant head.

Constructing the colossus in France was a herculean challenge, but dis-


Statue of Liberty: 1865, France

mantling it and shipping it to America seemed an almost insurmountable

task. In 1884, the statue's exterior and interior were taken apart piece by

piece and packed into two hundred mammoth wooden crates; the halfmillion-

pound load was hauled by special trucks to a railroad station, where

a train of seventy cars transported it to a shipyard. In May 1885, Liberty

sailed for America aboard the French warship Ise're.

When, on October 28, 1886, President Grover Cleveland presided over

the statue's inauguration ceremonies, Lady Liberty did not yet bear her

now-immortal poem. The verse "Give me your tired, your poor, / Your

huddled masses yearning to breathe free ... " was added in 1903, after the

statue was closely identified with the great flow of immigrants who landed

on nearby Ellis Island.

The moving lines are from a sonnet, "The New Colossus," composed in

1883 by New York City poet Emma Lazarus. A SephardicJew, whose work

was praised by the Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev, Lazarus devoted much

of her life to the cause of Jewish nationalism. She tackled the theme of

persecution in poems such as "Songs of a Semite," and in a drama, The

Dance to Death, based on the accusation leveled against Jews of poisoning

water wells and thus causing Europe's fourteenth-century Black Death.

But her sonnet "The New Colossus" was almost completely ignored by

the critics of the day and the public. She had written it for a literary auction

held at New York's Academy of Design, and it expressed her belief in

America as a refuge for the oppressed peoples of the world. Sixteen years

after her death from cancer in 1887, the sonnet's final five lines were etched

in bronze and in the memory of a nation.


Chapter 12

On the Body

Shoes: Pre-2000 B.C., Near East

Although some clothing originated to shelter the body, most articles of

attire, from earliest times, arose" as statements of status and social rank.

Color, style, and fabric distinguished high priest from layman, lawmaker

from lawbreaker, and military leader from his followers. Costume set off a

culture's legends from its legions. In fact, costume is still the most straightforwardly

visible means of stating social hierarchy. As for the contributions

made to fashion by the dictates of modesty, they had virtually nothing to

do with the origin of clothing and stamped their particular (and often

peculiar) imprint on attire centuries later.

Shoes, as we'll see, though eminently practical, are one early example of

clothes as categorizer.

The oldest shoe in existence is a sandal. It is constructed of woven papyrus

and was discovered in an Egyptian tomb dating from 2000 B.C. The chief

footwear of ancient people in warm climates, sandals exhibited a variety of

designs, perhaps as numerous as styles available today.

Greek leather sandals, krepis, were variously dyed, decorated, and gilded.

The Roman crepida had a thicker sole and leather sides, and it laced across

the instep. The Gauls preferred the high-backed campagus, while a rope

sandal of hemp and esparto grass, the alpargata, footed the Moors. From

tombs, gravesites, and ancient paintings, archaeologists have catalogued

hundreds of sandal designs.

Although sandals were the most common ancient footwear, other shoes


Shoes: Pre-2000 B.C., Near East

were worn. The first recorded nonsandal shoe was a leather wraparound,

shaped like a moccasin; it tightened against the foot with rawhide lacing

and was a favorite in Babylonia around 1600 B.C.

A similar snug-fitting leather shoe was worn by upper-class Greek women

starting around 600 B.C., and the stylish colors were white and red. It was

the Romans, around 200 B.C., who first established shoe guilds; the professional

shoemakers were the first to fashion footwear specifically for the

right and left feet.

Roman footwear, in style and color, clearly designated social class. Women

of high station wore closed shoes of white or red, and for special occasions,

green or yellow. Women of lower rank wore natural-colored open leather

sandals. Senators officially wore brown shoes with four black leather straps

wound around the leg up to midcalf, and tied in double knots. Consuls

wore white shoes. There were as yet no brand names, but there were certain

guild cobblers whose products were sought for their exceptional craftsmanship

and comfortable fit. Their shoes were, not surprisingly, more cost~y.

The word "shoe" changed almost as frequently over the ages as shoe

styles. In the English-speaking world, "shoe" evolved through seventeen

different spellings, with at least thirty-six variations for the plural. The

earliest Anglo-Saxon term was sceo, "to cover," which eventually became

in the plural schewis, then shooys, and finally "shoes."

Standard Shoe Size. Until the first decade of the fourteenth century, people

in the most civilized European societies, including royalty, could not acquire

shoes in standard sizes. And even the most expensive custom-made shoes

could vary in size from pair to pair, depending on the measuring and crafting

skills of particular cobblers.

That began to change in 1305. Britain's King Edward I decreed that for

a standard of accuracy in certain trades, an inch be taken as the length of

three contiguous dried barleycorns. British cobblers adopted the measure

and began manufacturing the first footwear in standard sizes. A child's shoe

measuring thirteen barleycorns became commonly known as, and requested

by, size 13. And though shoes cut for the right and left foot had gone out

of existence after the fall of the Roman Empire, they reemerged in

fourteenth-century England.

A new style surfaced in the fourteenth century: shoes with extr"e mely

long spiked toes. The vogue was carried to such lengths that Edward III

enacted a law prohibiting spikes' extending two inches beyond the human

toe. For a while, people observed the edict. But by the early 1400s, the socalled

crakows had attained tips of eighteen inches or more, with wearers

routinely tripping themselves.

The crakows, arriving in the creative atmosphere that nurtured the Renaissance,

ushered in a new shoe-style trendiness, as one fashion extreme

replaced another. The absurdly long, pointed toe, for example, was usurped


On the Body

by a painfully short, comically broad-boxed toe that in width could accommodate

an extra set of digits.

In the seventeenth century, the oxford, a low calf-leather shoe laced up

the front through three or more eyelets, originated with cobblers in the

academic town of Oxford, England.

In America at the time, shoe design took a step backward. The first

colonial cobblers owned only "straight lasts," that is, single-shape cutting

blocks, so right and left footwear was unavailable. The wealthy resorted to

British imports. Shoe selection, price, and comfort improved in the mideighteenth

century when the first American shoe factory opened in Massachusetts.

These mass-produced shoes were still cut and stitched by hand,

with leather sewn at home by women and children for a shameful pittance,

then assembled at the factory.

Complete mechanization of shoemaking, and thus true mass production,

was slow in coming. In 1892, the Manfield Shoe Company of Northampton,

England, operated the first machines capable of producing quality shoes

in standard sizes and in large quantities.

Boots: 1100 B.C., Assyria

Boots originated as footwear for battle. The Sumerians and the Egyptians

sent soldiers into combat barefoot, but the Assyrians, around 1100 B.C.,

developed a calf-high, laced leather boot with a sole reinforced by metal.

There is evidence that the Assyrians, as well as the Hittites, both renowned

as shoemakers, had right- and left-footed military boots. One translation

of a Hittite text tells of Telipinu, god of agriculture, in a foul temper

because he inadvertently put "his right boot on his left foot and his left

boot on his right foot."

The Assyrian infantry boot was not readily adopted by Greek or Roman

soldiers. From fighting barefoot, they progressed to sandals with hobnail

soles for additional grip and wear. It was primarily for extended journeys

on foot that Greek and Roman men outfitted themselves in sturdy boots.

In cold weather, they were often lined with fur and adorned at the top by

a dangling animal paw or tail.

Boots also became the customary footwear for nomadic horse-riding

communities in cold mountainous regions and on the open steppes. Their

sturdiness, and the slight heel that held the foot in the stirrup, guaranteed

boots a role as combat gear. In the 1800s, cobblers in Hesse, Germany,

introduced knee-high military boots called Hessians, of polished black

leather with a tassel, similar to the Romans' animal tail, hanging from the

top. And during the same period, British shoemakers, capitalizing on a

military victory, popularized Wellingtons, high boots named for Arthur

Wellesley, the "Iron Duke" of Wellington, who presided over Napoleon's

defeat at Waterloo.


French high heels c. 1850 and a gentleman's boots, the earliest shoes to sport

elevated heels.

Boots have been in and out of fashion over the centuries. But one aspect

of the boot, its pronounced heel, gave birth to the fashion phenomenon

of high-heeled shoes.

High Heels: 16th Century, France

High heels did not appear overnight. They grew inch by inch over decades,

with the upward trend beginning in sixteenth-century France. And though

the term "high heels" would later become a rubric for women's elevated

footwear, the shoes were first worn by men. In the sixteenth century, there

was comparatively little development in women's shoes because they were

hidden under long gowns.

The advantage of an elevated heel on a shoe was first appreciated in

horseback riding; a heel secured the foot in the stirrup. Thus, riding boots

were the first shoes routinely heeled. And during the Middle Ages, when

overcrowding and poor sanitation made human and animal waste street

obstacles, boots with thick soles and elevated heels offered a few inches of

practical protection as well as a psychological lift.

It was for the purpose of rising above public filth, in fact, that clogs were

developed during the Middle Ages. They originated in Northern Europe

as an overshoe, made partly or wholly of wood, with a thick base to protect

the wearer's good leather shoes from street debris. In warmer months, they

were often worn in place of a snug-fitting leather shoe.

A German shoe called a pump became popular throughout Europe in

the mid-1500s. The loose slipper, plain or jeweled, had a low heel, and

historians believe its name is onomatopoeic for the "plump, plump" sound


On the Body

its heel made in flapping against a wood floor. A later woman's slipper, the

scuff, would be thus named.

In the mid-1600s, male boots with high heels were de rigueur in France.

The fad was started, and escalated, by the Sun King, Louis XIV. In his

reign of seventy-three years, the longest in European history, France attained

the zenith of its military power and the French court reached an

unprecedented level of culture and refinement. None of Louis's towering

achievements, though, could compensate psychologically for his short

height. The monarch at one point had inches added to the heels of his

shoes. In a rush to emulate their king, noble men and women at court

instructed bootmakers to heighten their own heels. The homage forced

Louis into higher heels. When, in time, Frenchmen descended to their

anatomical heights, women courtiers did not, thus launching a historic disparity

in the heel heights of the sexes.

By the eighteenth century, women at the French court wore brocaded

high-heeled shoes with elevations up to three inches. American women,

taking the fashion lead from Paris, adopted what was known as the "French

heel." It helped launch a heel polarization in the United States. As women's

heels climbed higher and grew narrower, men's heels (though not on boots)

correspondingly descended. By the 1920s, "high heel" no longer denoted

a shoe's actual heel height but connoted an enticing feminine fashion in


Loafers. The laceless, slip-on loafer is believed to have evolved from the

Norwegian clog, an early overshoe. It is known with greater certainty that

the Weejun loafer was named by a cobbler from Wilton, Maine, Henry

Bass, after the final two syllables of "Norwegian."

Bass began making sturdy, over-the-ankle shoes in 1876 for New England

farmers. He eventually expanded his line to include a lumberjack shoe and

specialty footwear on request. He constructed insulated hiking boots for

both of Admiral Byrd's successful expeditions to the South Pole, and lightweight

flying boots for Charles Lindbergh's historic transatlantic flight. In

1936, Henry Bass was shown a Norwegian slipper moccasin that was fashionable

at the time in Europe. He secured permission from the Norwegian

manufacturer to redesign the shoe for the American market, and the finished

loafer launched his Bass Weejun line of footwear. By the late 1950s,

the Bass Weejun was the most popular hand-sewn moccasin ever made, a

collegiate status symbol in the ancient tradition of the shoe as statement

of social position.

Sneakers: 1910s, United States

The rubber-bottomed athletic shoe whose silent footsteps earned it the

name "sneaker" had to await a technological breakthrough: the vulcanization

of rubber by Charles Goodyear in the 1860s. Goodyear proved that

the natural gum from the rubber plant did not have to be sticky when warm


Pants: Post-15th Century, Italy

and brittle when cold. Mixed with sulfur, rubber became a dry, smooth,

pliant substance, perfect for footwear such as rain galoshes, one of its first

successful uses in apparel in the late 1800s.

Before the turn of the century rubber was on the soles of leather shoes.

And vulcanized rubber soles were being glued to canvas tops to produce

what manufacturers advertised as a revolution in athletic footwear. In 191 7,

u.s. Rubber introduced Keds, the first popularly marketed sneaker, with

a name that suggested "kids" and rhymed with ped, the Latin root for

"foot." Those first sneakers were neither all white, nor white soles with

black canvas; rather, the soles were black and the canvas was a conservative

chestnut brown, because that was the popular color for men's leather shoes.

The substantive design of sneakers varied little until the early 1960s.

Then a former college runner and his coach made a serendipitous observation

that ushered in the era of the modern, waffle-soled sneaker. As a

miler at the University of Oregon, Phil Knight had preferred to run in

European sneakers, lighter in weight than American models. Believing that

other track and field athletes would opt to better their performances with

high-quality footwear, Knight and coach Bill Bowerman went into the

sneaker business in 1962, importing top-notch Japanese models.

The shoes' reduced weight was an undeniable plus, but Bowerman felt

further improvement was possible, especially in the area of traction, a major

concern of athletes. Yet he was uncertain what constituted an optimum

sole topography. Many manufacturers relied on the shallow peak-and-trough

patterns developed for automobile traction. One morning, operating the

waffle iron in his home kitchen, Bowerman was inspired to experiment.

Stuffing a piece of rubber into the iron, he heated it, producing a deeply

waffle-shaped sole pattern that soon would become a world standard for

sneakers. In addition to the sole, the new sneakers featured three other

innovations: a wedged heel, a cushioned mid-sole as protection against

shock, and nylon tops that were lighter and more breathable than the older


To promote the waffle-soled nylon shoes, named Nikes after the winged

Greek goddess of victory, Knight turned to runners in the Olympic trials

held in Eugene, Oregon, in 1972. Several marathoners raced in the customdesigned

shoes, and advertising copy hailed the sneakers as having been

on the feet of "four of the top seven finishers," omitting to mention that

the runners who placed first, second, and third were wearing West Germany's

Adidas sneakers. Nonetheless, waffle-soled sneakers, in a variety of

brands, sold so well that by the end of the decade the flatter-soled canvas

shoes had been left in the dust.

Pants: Post-15th Century, Italy

St. Pantaleone was a fourth-century Christian physician and martyr known

as the "all-merciful." Beheaded under orders of Roman emperor Diodetian,

he became the patron saint of Venice, and a reliquary containing his blood


On the Body

(allegedly still liquid) is housed in the Italian town of Ravello. Pantaleone

is probably the only saint to be dubiously honored by having an article of

clothing named after him-though how the attribution came about involves

folklore more than fact. His name literally means "all lion" (pan, "all"; leone, "lion"), and though he was a clever and pious physician, he passed

inexplicably into Italian folklore as a lovable but simpleminded buffoon,

decidedly unsaintly in character.

It is the comic Pantaleone of folklore, through behavior and attire, who

eventually gave his name to pants. An abject slave to money, he starved

servants until their skeletons cast no shadow, and though he valued a gentlemanly

reputation, he flirted with women, who publicly mocked him. These

traits are embodied in a gaunt, swarthy, goateed Pantaleone of the sixteenthcentury

Italian commedia dell'arte. The character wore a pair of trousers,

tight from ankle to knee, then flaring out like a petticoat.

The comedy genre was carried by bands of traveling actors to England

and France. And the Pantalone character always appeared in exaggerated

trousers. In France, the character and his pants came to be called Pantalon;

in England, Pantaloon. Shakespeare helped popularize the British term in

As You Like It.

In the eighteenth century, when pantaloons-by then a stylized form of

knee breeches-reached the shores of America, their name was shortened

to "pants." And in this century, the fashion industry, when referring to

stylish women's trousers, has further abbreviated the word to "pant."

Whereas St. Pantaleone circuitously lent his name to pants, the ancient

Celts donated their word for men's leg coverings, trews, to "trousers," while the Romans contributed their word for a baggy type of breeches, laxus,

meaning "loose," to "slacks." The one convenience all these ancient leg

coverings lacked was pockets.

Pockets. Simple and indispensable as pockets are, it is hard to imagine

that they did not exist before the late 1500s. Money, keys, and personal

articles were wrapped in a piece of cloth, an impromptu purse, and tucked

into any convenient part of a person's costume.

One popular place for a man in the 1500s to carry his personal effects

was his codpiece. These frontal protrusions, which fell from fashion when

their exaggerated size became ludicrous and cumbersome, originated as a

convenient opening, or fly, to trousers. Fashion of the day dictated that

the fastened flap be stuffed with cloth, and it became an ideal place to carry

the special cloth containing a man's valuables. When the codpiece went

out of fashion, the cloth did not move far: it became a small bag, drawn

up at the top with a string, that hung from a man's waist. The cloth was on

its way to becoming the lining that is a pocket.

The first pockets in trousers appeared near the close of the 1500s. They

evolved in two steps. At first, an opening was made as a side seam in a

man's tight-fitting trousers. Into the opening a man inserted the cloth pouch


From drawstring bag to waist

purse, the evolution of pants


containing his belongings. The independent pouch soon became a permanent,

sewn-in feature of trousers.

Once introduced, pockets proved their convenience and utility. In the

next century, they became a design feature of men's and women's capes

and coats. At first, they were located down at the hem of an overcoat; only

later did they move up to the hip.

Suspenders. Before suspenders were used to hold up pants\ they were

worn around the calf to support socks, not yet elasticized to stay up on

their own. Trouser suspenders were introduced in England in the eighteenth

century. First called "gallowses," then "braces," the straps, worn over the

shoulders, buttoned to trousers. They were given their graphic name "suspenders"

by eighteenth-century New Englanders who adopted the British


Knickers. Like early breeches, knickers were a form ofloose-fitting trousers

gathered just below the knee. Their name originated as an abbreviation of

Knickerbocker, a Dutch surname prevalent among the early settlers of New

Amsterdam. The loose trousers were worn by early immigrants. But they

did not achieve their nickname until nineteenth-century writer Washington

Irving created the fictitious author Diedrich Knickerbocker.

In his humorous two-volume 1809 work, A History of New York from the

Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, Knickerbocker, a


On the Body

phlegmatic Dutch burgher, wrote about Dutchmen clad in breeches that

buckled just below the knee. Many examples were illustrated throughout

the text. Americans copied the costume, especially as pants for young boys.

Leotard. Similar to the centuries-old tight-fitting hose worn by men

throughout Europe, leotards were named for nineteenth-century French

trapeze artist Jules Leotard. In the clinging costume that became his trademark,

Leotard astonished audiences with his aerial somersault, as well as

his risque outfit. He enjoyed a large female following. And he advised men

that if they also wished "to be adored by the ladies," they should "put on

a more natural garb, which does not hide your best features."

Bloomers. A pair of baggy trousers gathered at the ankles and worn with

a short belted tunic was sported by Amelia Jenks Bloomer of Homer, New

York, in 1851. She had copied the pants costume from a friend, Elizabeth

Smith Miller. But it was Mrs. Bloomer, an early feminist and staunch supporter

of reformer Susan B. Anthony, who became so strongly associated

with the masculine-type outfit that it acquired her name.

Pants, then men's wear, appealed to Amelia Bloomer. She advocated

female dress reform on the grounds that the large hoop skirts of her day

(essentially seventeenth-century farthingales, in which the hoop had dropped

from the hips to the hem) were immodest, drafty, and cumbersome-not

only to maneuver in but also to manage when attending to bodily functions.

Matters were made worse by the stiff linen and horsehair crinoline in vogue

in the 1840s, worn to further exaggerate the femininity of a dress.

Amelia Bloomer refused to wear the popular fashion. Starting in 1851,

she began to appear in public in baggy pants and short tunic. And as more

womenjoined the campaign for the right to vote, Mrs. Bloomer turned the

trousers into a uniform of rebellion. The pants trend received additional

impetus from the bicycle craze of the '80s and '90s. Skirts frequently caught

in a bike's cogs and chains, resulting in minor or serious accidents. Bloomers

became ideal riding attire, challenging the long tradition of who in the

family wore the pants.

Blue Jeans: 1860s, San Francisco

Before jeans were blue, even before they were pants, jeans was a twilled

cotton cloth, similar to denim, used for making sturdy work clothes. The

textile was milled in the Italian town of Genoa, which French weavers called

Genes, the origin of our word "jeans."

The origin of blue jeans, though, is the biography of a seventeen-yearold

immigrant tailor named Levi Strauss. When Strauss arrived in San

Francisco during the gold rush of the 1850s, he sold much-needed canvas

for tents and covered wagons. An astute observer, he realized that miners


Shirt: Post-16th Century, Europe

went through trousers, literally and quickly, so Strauss stitched some of his

heavy-duty canvas into overalls.

Though coarse and stiff, the pants held up so well that Strauss was in

demand as a tailor.

In the early 1860s, he replaced canvas with denim, a softer fabric milled

in Nimes, France. Known in Europe as serge de Nimes, in America the textile's

name was pronounced "denim." And Strauss discovered that dying neutralcolored

denim pants indigo blue to minimize soil stains greatly increased

their popularity. Cowboys, to achieve a snug fit, put on a pair of Strauss's

pants, soaked in a horse-watering trough, then lay in the sun to shrink-dry

the material.

While denim pants resisted tearing, miners complained that the weight

of tools often caused pockets to split at the seams. Strauss solved that

problem by borrowing an idea from a Russian-Jewish tailor, Jacob Davis.

In 1873, copper rivets appeared at each pocket seam, as well as one rivet

at the base of the fly to prevent the crotch seam from opening when a

miner squatted panning for gold.

That crotch rivet, though, generated a different kind of complaint. Miners,

unencumbered by the etiquette of underwear, found that squatting too

near a campfire heated the rivet to give a painful burn. The crotch rivet

was abandoned.

Pocket rivets remained in place until 1937, when complaints of still a

different nature were voiced. Children in many parts of the country routinely

wore jeans to school. And principals reported that back-pocket rivets were

scratching and gouging wooden desks and benches beyond repair. Pocket

rivets were abandoned.

Blue jeans, strictly utilitarian, first became a fashion item in 1935. That

year, an advertisement appeared in Vogue. It featured two society women

in snug-fitting jeans, and it kicked off a trend named "western chic." The

fad was minor compared to the one that erupted out of the designer-jeans

competition of the 1970s. The pants once intended for work became the

costume of play, creating a multimillion-dollar industry. At the height of

the designer-jeans war, Calvin Kieinjeans, for instance, despite their high

price of fifty dollars (or because of it), were selling at the rate of 250,000

pairs a week.

Shirt: Post-16th Century, Europe

Fashion historians point out that the modern waist-length, tuck-in shirt

originated in response to pants, as the blouse came into being to complement

the skirt. Previously, a man's or woman's "shirt" was an inclusive body

covering, reaching to below the knees or longer and belted at the waist.

Pants, and, later, skirts, made below-the-waist shirt material redundant,

thus, in effect, creating the need for new garments.

The male shirt came first, in the 1500s in Western Europe. It was worn


On the Body

directly over the flesh, for the undershirt would not appear as a standard

article of attire until the 1800s. The blouse, on the other hand, emerged

much later, in the second half of the nineteenth century. It was loose, with

high collar, full sleeves, and fitted cuffs.

As women were beginning to hang blouses in their closets, a new garment

appeared which complemented the shirt, and later the blouse: the cardigan


A collarless wool sweater that buttoned down the front, it was named

for James Thomas Brudenell, seventh earl of Cardigan. On October 25,

1854, as a major in the British Army during the Crimean War, Brudenell

led his men in the famous charge of the Light Brigade. The earl was one

of the few survivors. Although the event was immortalized in a poem by

Tennyson, the seventh earl of Cardigan is remembered today only for the

knitted woolen sweater he wore and popularized.

Button-down Collar. In the 1890s, the standard attire of a British polo

player was white flannel trousers, white wool sweater, and long-sleeved

white shirt. The shirt had a full, straight collar. Untethered, the collar tended

to flap in response to a breeze or the up-and-down jouncing of a horse.

Players routinely asked seamstresses to batten down their collars, and two

buttons became the most popular solution to the problem.

In 1900, John Brooks, son ofthe founder of the Brooks Brothers clothing

concern, observed the button-down collars. He dubbed the look the "Polo

collar," and a new shirt was added to the Brooks Brothers line.

The style became a classic. And the word "button-down" found its way

into the language: in a literal sense, as in Mary McCarthy's short story "The

Man in the Button-Down Shirt"; and figuratively, as in the title of a comedy

album, The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart. Although it was traditionally

popular to name collars after the people who popularized them-the Lord

Byron collar, the Peter Pan collar, the Nehru collar, the Windsor collarthe

Polo collar became best known by its function: button-down.

Lacoste Shirt. Whereas a polo match inspired John Brooks to create the

button-down collar, an alligator-skin suitcase in the window of a Boston

store inspired French tennis star Rene Lacoste to produce a line of shirts

bearing a crocodile trademark.

In 1923, on an American tour with the French Davis Cup tennis team,

the nineteen-year-old Lacoste spotted the alligator luggage in a store window.

He boasted to teammates that he'd treat himself to the expensive bag

if he won his upcoming matches. Lacoste lost. And he did not buy the

alligator-skin bag. In jest, his teammates took to calling him Ie crocodile.

Rene Lacoste retired from tennis in 1929. Four years later, when he

began designing tennis shirts, he patented his former nickname as a trademark.

And although the garments today are popularly called "alligator

shirts," the name's a misnomer. Lacoste had researched his reptiles. The


Neckties originated in

France as a fashion

affectation and quickly

spawned a variety of

styles, knots, and names

(clockwise): Puff,

Windsor, Four-inHand,

and the Bowtie.

long-snouted animal on the shirt is technically a crocodile, of the zoological

family Crocodylidae. An alligator is a reptile with a shorter, blunter snout,

a subspecies of the crocodiles.

Necktie: 17th Century, France

This functionless, decorative, least comfortable of mens attire is of military


The first recorded neckwear appeared in the first century B.C. In the

heat of day, Roman soldiers wore focale-scarves soaked in water and

wrapped around the neck to cool down the body. This completely utilitarian

garment, however, never caught on sufficiently-in either a practical or a

decorative sense-to become a standard article of menswear.

The origin of the modern necktie is traceable to another military custom.

In 1668, a regiment of Croatian mercenaries in the service of Austria

appeared in France wearing linen and muslin scarves about their necks.

Whether the scarves were once functional, as were focale, or merely a decorative

accent to an otherwise bland military uniform, has never been established.

History does record that fashion-conscious French men and

women were greatly taken with the idea. They began to appear in public

wearing neckwear of linen and lace, knotted in the center, with long flowing

ends. The French called the ties cravates, their name for the "Croats" who

inspired the sartorial flair.

The fashion spread quickly to England. But the fad might have died out


On the Body

if the extravagant, pleasuring-loving British monarch Charles II had not

by his own example made neckwear a court must. And had the times not

been ripe for a lighthearted fashion diversion. Londoners had recently

suffered through the plague of 1665 and the devastating citywide fire of

1666. The neckwear fad swept the city almost as fast as the flames of the

great conflagration.

The trend was reinforced in the next century by Beau Brummel, who

became famous for his massive neckties and innovative ways of tying them.

In fact, the proper way to tie neckwear became a male obsession, discussed,

debated, and hotly argued in conversation and the press. A fashion publication

of the day listed thirty-two different knots. Knots and ties were

named for famous people and fashionable places, such as the racecourse

at Ascot. Since that time, neckwear in some form-belt-long or bowtieshort,

plain or fancy, rope-narrow or chest-broad-has been continually


The bow tie, popularized in America in the 1920s, may also have originated

among Croatian men.

For many years, fashion historians believed the small, detachable bow tie

developed as one of many variations on longer neckwear. But that was

opened to debate by the discovery that, for centuries, part of the costume

of men in areas of Croatia consisted of bow ties. They were made from a

square handkerchief, folded along the diagonal, pulled into a bow knot,

then attached with a cord around the neck.

Suit: 18th Century, France

Today a man may wear a sport jacket and slacks of different fabric and

color, but the outfit is never called a suit. By modern definition, a suit

consists of matching jacket and trousers, occasionally with a vest. But this

was not the suit's original definition. Nor was a suit worn as business attire.

The tradition of a man's suit originated in France, in the eighteenth

century, with the fashion of wearing a coat, waistcoat, vest, and trousers

of different fabrics, patterns, and colors. The cut was loose, bordering on

baggy, and the suit was intended as informal country wear and known as a

"lounge suit." In the 1860s, it became fashionable to have all components

of a suit made in matching fabric.

Because country lounge suits were also worn for horseback riding, tailors

were often requested to slit the jacket up the back-the origin of the back

slit in modern suits. Another suit feature originated for utilitarian purposes:

the lapel hole, truly a buttonhole and not intended for a flower, since on

cold days a man turned up the collar of his lounge suit and buttoned it


Gentlemen found lounge suits so comfortable, they began wearing them

in the city as well. Tailors improved the cut, and by the 1890s, the leisure

lounge suit had become respectable business attire.


Tuxedo: 1886, Tuxedo Park, New York

Tuxedo: 1886, Tuxedo Park, New York

On the night the tuxedo made its debut, slightly more than a hundred years

ago, it should have been pronounced scandalous attire, inappropriate for

a formal occasion. The tailless coat was after all an affront to the customary

black tie and tails of the day, formal wear that originated among English

dandies in the early 1800s. However, the coat was designed and worn by

a family whose name and position tempered the social reaction.

The tuxedo story begins in the summer of 1886, in Tuxedo Park, New

York, a hamlet about forty miles north of Manhattan. Pierre Lorillard IV,

a blueblood New Yorker of French extraction, heir to the Lorillard tobacco

fortune, sought something less formal than tails to wear to the annual

Autumn Ball. He commissioned a tailor to prepare several tailless jackets

in black, modeled after the scarlet ridingjackets then popular with British

fox hunters. There is some evidence that Lorillard was inspired by the

fashionable Edward VII, who as Prince of Wales had ordered the tails cut

off his coat during a visit to India because of oppressive heat.

On the night of the ball, Pierre Lorillard suddenly experienced a lack of

daring and declined to wear the jacket of his design. Instead, his son, Griswold,

and several of Griswold's friends, donned the tailless black dinner

jackets, and with a nod to the British riding coat that had inspired the

creation, they wore scarlet vests.

In the 1880s' highly restrictive code of proper attire, the splash of scarlet

and the affront of tailless ness should probably have done more than just

raise eyebrows. The ad hoc costume might well have passed quickly into

oblivion, had it not been designed by a Lorillard and worn by a Lorillard,

in a town built on land owned largely by the Lorillard family. Under the

circumstances, the informal wear was copied and eventually became standard

evening attire.

The American Formalwear Association claim.s that the Lorillards' act of

rebellion launched a multimillion-dollar industry. In 1985, for instance,

the sale and rental of tuxedos and their accessories grossed $500 million.

Eighty percent of all rentals were for weddings, the next-largest rental

category being high school proms.

For weddings and proms, one standard tuxedo accessory has become the

cummerbund, a wide sash worn around the waist. It originated in India as

part of a man's formal dress. The Hindu name for the garment was

kamarband, meaning "loin band," since it was once worn lower down on

the abdomen as a token of modesty. In time, the garment moved up the

body to the waist, and it was appropriated by the British, who Anglicized

the name to cummerbund.

The tuxedo took its name, of course, from the town in which it bowed.

And today the word "tuxedo" has formal and glamorous connotations. But

the term has a frontier origin, going back to the Algonquian Indians who


On the Body

once inhabited the area that is now Tuxedo Park. The regional Algonquian

sachem, or chief, was named P'tauk-Seet (with a silent P), meaning "wolf."

In homage, the Indians referred to the area as P'tauk-Seet. Colonists,

though, often phoneticized Indian words, and a 1765 land survey of the

region reveals that they recorded P'tauk-Seet as "Tucksito." By the year

1800, when Pierre Lorillard's grandfather began acquiring land in the area,

the name had already become Tuxedo. Thus, "tuxedo" derives from the

Indian for "wolf," which mayor may not say something about a man who

wears one.

Hats: Antiquity, Europe and Asia

The similarities in sound and spelling between the words "hat," a head

covering, and "hut," a primitive home, are not coincidental.

Long before Western man designed clothes for the body, he constructed

thatched shelters. A haet, or hutt, offered protection from the elements and

from the darkness of night. And when he protected his head-from heat,

rain, or falling debris-the covering, whatever its composition, was also

labeled haet or hutt, both of which etymologists translate as "shelter" and

"protection. "

The association between a head covering and a primitive home goes further

than hat equals hut. The earliest inhabitants of the British Isles wore

a conical hat made of bound rush, called a cappan. They lived in a shelter,

also constructed of rush, known as a cahoon. The two terms are, respectively,

the origins of our words "cap" and "cabin." The evolution of language is

replete with examples of peoples borrowing words for existing objects to

christen new creations.

The first recorded use of a hat with a brim was in Greece in the fifth

century B.C. Worn by huntsmen and travelers for protection from sun and

rain, the felt petasos was wide-brimmed, and when not on the head it hung

down the back on a cord. The petasos was copied by the Etruscans and the

Romans, and was popular well into the Middle Ages.

The Greeks also wore a brimless hat shaped like a truncated cone. They

copied the design from the Egyptians and named it pi los, for "felt," the

material of its construction. It appeared with variations throughout European

cultur~s, and with the rise of universities in the late Middle Ages,

the pileus quadratus, or four-sided felt hat, became the professional head

covering for scholars-and later, as the mortarboard, was worn by high

school and college students at graduation ceremonies.

Hats today are more popular with women than with men, but this was

not always the case. In classical times, women rarely wore them, while men

kept them on indoors and in churches and cathedrals. The customs continued

into the sixteenth century, when the popularity of false hair and the

mushrooming size of wigs made wearing hats inconvenient if not impossible.


Top Hat: 1797, England

As the fad of wigs died out, men resumed the practice of wearing hats,

though never again with the devotion of the past. And three customs underwent

complete reversals: a man never worn a hat indoors, in church,

or in the presence of a lady.

It was at this time, the late 1700s, that women in large numbers began

to wear hats-festooned with ribbons, feathers, and flowers, and trimmed

in lace. Previously, if a European woman wore a hat at all, it was a plain

cap indoors, a hood outside.

Women's hats that tied under the chin became bonnets. The word "bonnet"

already existed, but throughout the late Middle Ages it denoted any

small, soft hat; only in the eighteenth century did it come to signify a particular

kind of feminine headwear. Milan became the bonnet capital of

Europe, with Milanese hats in great demand. So much so that all women's

headwear fell under the British rubric "millinery," and a Milaner craftsman

became a milliner.

Top Hat: 1797, England

John Etherington, a London haberdasher with a fashionable shop on the

Strand, emerged from his store in the twilight hours of January 15, 1797,

wearing a new hat of his own design. The London Times reported that

Etherington's black stovepipe hat drew a crowd so large that a shoving

match erupted; one man was pushed through a storefront window.

Etherington was arrested for disturbing the peace. Within a month, though,

he had more orders for top hats than he could fill.

British costume historians contend that Etherington's was the world's

first top hat. Their French counterparts claim that the design originated a

year earlier in Paris and that John Etherington pilfered it. The only evidence

supporting the Parisian origin, however, is a painting by French artist

Charles Vernet, Un Incroyahle de 1796, which depicts a dandy in an

Etherington-like stovepipe hat. Though artists traditionally have presaged

trends, the British believe the painting may be more an example of an

artist's antedating a work.

Fedora. A soft felt crown with a center crease and a flexible brim mark

the fedora, whose name is derived from a hat worn by a character in an

1882 French play. Written by playwright Victorien Sardou, whose dramas

were the rage of Paris in the nineteenth century, Fedora was composed for

its star, Sarah Bernhardt, and it established a new trend in hats. A fedora,

with a veil and feather, became a favorite woman's bicycling hat.

Panama. Though it would seem logical that the Panama hat originated in

the Central American capital it is named for, it did not. The lightweight

straw hat, made of finely plaited jipajapa leaves, originated in Peru. Panama

became a major distribution center. North American engineers first en-


On the Body

countered the hats in Panama, during the 1914 construction of the Panama

Canal, and considered them a local product.

Derby. In 1780, Edward Smith Stanley, the twelfth earl of Derby, instituted

an annual race for three-year-old horses, the Derby, to be held at Epsom

Downs, near London. Popular at that time among men were stiff felt hats

with dome-shaped crowns and narrow brims. Regularly worn to the Derby,

the hats eventually acquired the race's name.

Stetson. In the 1860s, Philadelphia haberdasher John B. Stetson was

searching for a way to earn a profit from his hat business. Recalling a

vacation to the Midwest and the number of wealthy cattle ranchers he'd

met there, Stetson decided to produce an oversized hat fit for "cattle kings."

The "ten-gallon" Western cowboy hat, named "The Boss of the Plains,"

transformed Stetson's business into a success and became a classic symbol

of the Wild West and of the men-and women-who tamed it. Buffalo

Bill, General Custer, and Tom Mix wore Stetsons, as did Annie Oakley and

Calamity Jane.

Gloves: 10,000 Years Ago, Northern Europe

Gloves evolved from the desire to protect the hands from cold and from

heavy manual labor. Among the numerous examples discovered in parts of

Northern Europe are "bag gloves," sheaths of animal skin that reach to

the elbow. These mittens are at least ten thousand years old.

The earliest peoples to inhabit the warm lands bordering the Mediterranean

used gloves for construction and farming. Among these southerners,

the Egyptians, around 1500 B.C., were the first to make gloves a decorative

accessory. In the tomb of King Tutankhamen, archaeologists retrieved a

pair of soft linen gloves wrapped in layers of cloth, as well as a single

tapestry glove woven with colored threads. Strings around the tops of the

gloves indicate they were tied to the wrist. And the separate fingers and

thumb leave no doubt that hand-shaped gloves were used at least 3,500

years ago.

Regardless of the warmth of the climate, every major civilization eventually

developed both costume and work gloves. In the fourth century B.C.,

the Greek historian Xenophon commented on the Persian production of

exquisitely crafted fur costume gloves; and in Homer's Odyssey, Ulysses,

returning home, finds his father, Laertes, laboring in the garden, where

"gloves secured his hands to shield them from the thorns."

It was the Anglo-Saxons, calling their heavy leather hand covering glof,

meaning "palm of hand," who gave us the word "glove."


Handkerchief: Post-15th Century, France

Purse: Pre-8th Century B.C., Southern Europe

If you purse your lips, you are contracting them into wrinkles and folds,

similar in appearance to the mouth of a drawstring bag, ancient people's

earliest purse. But it was the material from which those early bags were

made, hide, or byrsa in Greek, that is the origin of the word "purse."

The Romans adopted the Greek drawstring byrsa unaltered, Latinizing

its name to bursa. The early French made it bourse, which also came to mean

the money in the purse, and then became the name of the stock exchange

in Paris, the Bourse.

Until pockets appeared in clothing in the sixteenth century, men, women,

and children carried purses-sometimes no more than a piece of cloth that

held keys and other personal effects, or at the other extreme, elaborately

embroidered and jeweled bags.

Handkerchief: Post-15th Century, France

During the fifteenth century, French sailors returned from the Orient with

large, lightweight linen cloths that they had seen Chinese field-workers use

as protective head covers in the sun. Fashion-minded French women, impressed

with the quality of the linen, adopted the article and the practice,

naming the headdress a couvrechef, meaning "covering for the head." The

British took up the custom and Anglicized the word to "kerchief." Since

these coverings were carried in the hand until needed in sunlight, they were

referred to as "hand kerchiefs."

Since upper-class European women, unlike Chinese in the rice paddies,

already carried sun-shielding parasols, the hand kerchief was from the start

a fashion affectation. This is evident in numerous illustrations and paintings

of the period, in which elaborately decorated hand kerchiefs are seldom

worn but prominently carried, waved, and demurely dropped. Hand kerchiefs

of silk, some with silver or gold thread, became so costly in the 1500s

that they often were mentioned in wills as valuables.

It was during the reign of Elizabeth I that the first lace hand kerchiefs

appeared in England. Monogrammed with the name of a loved one, the

articles measured four inches square, and had a tassel dangling from one

corner. For a time, they were called "true love knots." A gentleman wore

one bearing his lady's initials tucked into his hatband; and she carried his

love knot between her breasts.

When, then, did the Chinese head cover, which became the European

hand kerchief, become a handkerchief, held to the nose? Perhaps not long

after the hand kerchief was introduced into European society. However,

the ilOse-blowing procedure was quite different then than today.

Throughout the Middle Ages, people cleared their noses by forcefully

exhaling into the air, then wiped their noses on whatever was handy, most


On the Body

often a sleeve. Early etiquette books explicitly legitimize the practice. The

ancient Romans had carried a cloth called a sudarium, meaning "sweat

cloth," which was used both to wipe the brow on hot days and to blow the

nose. But the civility of the sudarium fell with the Roman Empire.

The first recorded admonitions against wiping the nose on the sleeve

(though not against blowing the nose into the air) appear in sixteenthcentury

etiquette books-during the ascendancy of the hand kerchief. In

1530, Erasmus of Rotterdam, a chronicler of customs, advised: "To wipe

your nose with your sleeve is boorish. The hand kerchief is correct, I assure


From that century onward, hand kerchiefs made contact, albeit tentatively

at first, with the nose. The nineteenth-century discovery of airborne germs

did much to popularize the custom, as did the machine age mass production

of inexpensive cotton cloths. The delicate hand kerchief became the dependable


Fan: 3000 B.C., China and Egypt

Peacock-feather fans, and fans of papyrus and palm fronds: these decorative

and utilitarian breeze-stirrers developed simultaneously and independently

about five thousand years ago in two disparate cultures. The Chinese turned

fans into an art; the Egyptians, into a symbol of class distinction.

Numerous Egyptian texts and paintings attest to the existence of a wealthy

man's "fan servant" and a pharaoh's "royal fan bearer." Slaves, both whiteskinned and black-skinned, continually swayed huge fans of fronds or woven

papyrus to cool masters. And the shade cast on the ground by opaque fans

was turf forbidden to commoners. In semitropical Egypt, the intangibles

of shade and breeze were desiderata that, owing to the vigilance of slaves,

adorned the wealthy as prestigiously as attire.

In China, fans cooled more democratically. And the fans themselves were

considerably more varied in design and embellishment. In addition to the

iridescent peacock-feather fan, the Chinese developed the "screen" fan:

silk fabric stretched over a bamboo frame and mounted on a lacquered

handle. In the sixth century A.D., they introduced the screen fan to the

Japanese, who, in turn, conceived an ingenious modification: the folding


The Japanese folding fan consisted of a solid silk cloth attached to a

series of sticks that could collapse in on each other. Folding fans, depending

on their fabric, color, and design, had different names and prescribed uses.

Women, for instance, had "dance" fans, "court" fans, and "tea" fans, while men carried "riding" fans and even "battle" fans.

The Japanese introduced the folding fan to China in the tenth century.

At that point, it was the Chinese who made a clever modification of the

Japanese design. Dispensing with the solid silk cloth stretched over separate

sticks, the Chinese substituted a series of "blades" in bamboo or ivory.


Safety Pin: 1000 B.C., Central Europe

These thin blades alone, threaded together at their tops by a ribbon, constituted

the fan, which was also collapsible. Starting in the fifteenth century,

European merchants trading in the Orient returned with a wide variety of

decorative Chinese and Japanese fans. By far the most popular model was

the blade fan, or brise, with blades of intricately carved ivory strung together

with a ribbon of white or red silk.

Safety Pin: 1000 B.C., Central Europe

In the modern safety pin, the pinpoint is completely and harmlessly concealed

in a metal sheath. Its ancestor had its point cradled away, though

somewhat exposed, in a curved wire. This bent, U-shaped device originated

in Central Europe about three thousand years ago and marked the first

significant improvement in design over the straight pin. Several such pins

in bronze have been unearthed.

Straight pins, of iron and bone, had been fashioned by the Sumerians

around 3000 B.C. Sumerian writings also reveal the use of eye needles for

sewing. Archaeologists, examining ancient cave drawings and artifacts, conclude

that even earlier peoples, some ten thousand years ago, used needles,

of fish spines pierced in the top or middle to receive the thread.

By the sixth century B.C., Greek and Roman women fastened their robes

on the shoulder and upper arm with a fibula. This was an innovative pin in

which the middle was coiled, producing tension and providing the fastener

with a spring-like opening action. The fibula was a step closer to the modern

safety pin.

In Greece, straight stick pins were used as ornamental jewelry. "Stilettos,"

in ivory and bronze, measuring six to eight inches, adorned hair and clothes.

Aside from belts, pins remained the predominant way to fasten garments.

And the more complex wraparound and slip-on clothing became, the more

numerous were the fastening pins required. A palace inventory of 1347

records the delivery of twelve thousand pins for the wardrobe of a French


Not surprisingly, the handmade pins were often in short supply. The

scarcity could drive up prices, and there are instances in history of serfs

taxed to provide feudal lords with money for pins. In the late Middle Ages,

to remedy a pin shortage and stem the overindulgence in and hoarding of

pins, the British government passed a law allowing pinmakers to market

their wares only on certain days of the year. On the specified days, upperand

lower-class women, many of whom had assiduously saved' 'pin money,"

flocked to shops to purchase the relatively expensive items. Once the price

of pins plummeted as a result of mass machine production, the phrase' 'pin

money" was equally devalued, coming to mean "a wife's pocket money,"

a pittance sufficient to purchase only pins.

The esteemed role of pins in the history of garments was seriously undermined

by the ascendancy of the functional button.



Button: 2000 B.C., Southern Asia

Garment pins from the

Bronze Age (toP); three

Roman safety pins, c.

500 B.C. (middle);

modem version. Pinned

garments gave way to

clothes that buttoned

from neck to hem.

Buttons did not originate as clothes fasteners. They were decorative,jewelrylike

disks sewn on men's and women's clothing. And for almost 3,500 years,

buttons remained purely ornamental; pins and belts were viewed as sufficient

to secure garments.

The earliest decorative buttons date from about 2000 B.C. and were

unearthed at archaeological digs in the Indus Valley. They are seashells, of

various mollusks, carved into circular and triangular shapes, and pierced

with two holes for sewing them to a garment.

The early Greeks and Romans used shell buttons to decorate tunics,

togas, and mantles, and they even attached wooden buttons to pins that

fastened to clothing as a broach. Elaborately carved ivory and bone buttons,

many leafed with gold and studded with jewels, were retrieved from European

ruins. But nowhere, in illustration, text, or garment fragment, is

there the slightest indication that an ancient tailor conceived the idea of

opposing a button with a buttonhole.

When did the noun "button" become a verb? Surprisingly, not until the

thirteenth century.

Buttonhole. The practice of buttoning a garment originated in Western

Europe, and for two reasons.

In the 1200s, baggy, free-flowing attire was beginning to be replaced


Button: 2000 B.C., Southern Asia

with tighter, form-fitting clothing. A belt alone could not achieve the look,

and while pins could (and often did), they were required in quantity; and

pins were easily misplaced or lost. With sewn-on buttons, there was no daily

concern over finding fasteners when dressing.

The second reason for the introduction of buttons with buttonholes involved

fabric. Also in the 1200s, finer, more delicate materials were being

used for garments, and the repeated piercing of fabrics with straight pins

and safety pins damaged the cloth.

Thus, the modern, functional button finally arrived. But it seemed to

make up for lost time with excesses. Buttons and buttonholes appeared on

every garment. Clothes were slit from neck to ankle simply so that a parade

of buttons could be used to close them.· Slits were made in impractical

places-along sleeves and down legs-just so the wearer could display buttons

that actually buttoned. And buttons were contiguous, as many as two

hundred closing a woman's dress-enough to discourage undressing. If

searching for misplaced safety pins was time-consuming, buttoning garments

could not have been viewed as a time-saver.

Statues, illustrations, and paintings of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries

attest to button mania. The mode peaked in the next century, when

buttons, in gold and silver and studded with jewels, were sewn on clothing

merely as decorative features-as before the creation of the buttonhole.

In 1520, French king Francis I, builder of Fontainebleau castle, ordered

from his jeweler 13,400 gold buttons, which were fastened to a single black

velvet suit. The occasion was a meeting with England's Henry VII, held

with great pomp and pageantry on the Field of Cloth of Gold near Calais,

where Francis vainly sought an alliance with Henry.

Henry himself was proud of his jeweled buttons, which were patterned

after his rings. The buttoned outfit and matching rings were captured on

canvas by the German portrait painter Hans Holbein.

The button craze was somewhat paralleled in this century, in the 1980s,

though with zippers. Temporarily popular were pants and shirts with zipped

pockets, zipped openings up the arms and legs, zipped flaps to flesh, and

myriad other zippers to nowhere.

Right and Left Buttoning. Men button clothes from right to left, women

from left to right. Studying portraits and drawings of buttoned garments,

fashion historians have traced the practice back to the fifteenth century.

And they believe they understand its origin.

Men, at court, on travels, and on the battlefield, generally dressed themselves.

And since most humans are right-handed, the majority of men found

it expeditious to have garments button from right to left.

Women who could afford the expensive buttons of the day had female

dressing servants. Maids, also being predominantly right-handed, and facing

buttons head-on, found it easier to fasten their mistresses' garments if the

buttons and buttonholes were sewn on in a mirror-image reversal. Tailors

complied, and the convention has never been altered or challenged.


Zipper: 1893, Chicago

judson's original hook-and-eye

zipper; created to replace shoelaces.

The zipper had no ancient counterpart, nor did it originate in a sudden

blaze of ingenuity. It emerged out of a long and patient technological struggle,

requiring twenty years to transform the idea into a marketplace reality,

and an additional ten years to persuade people to use it. And the zipper

was not conceived as a clothes fastener to compete with buttons, but as a

slide to close high boots, replacing the long, buttonhooked shoelaces of

the 1890s.

On August 29, 1893, a mechanical engineer living in Chicago, Whitcomb

Judson, was awarded a patent for a "clasp-locker." At the time, there was

nothing in the patent office files that even remotely resembled Judson's

prototype zipper. Two clasp-lockers were already in use: one on judson's

own boots, the other on the boots of his business partner, Lewis Walker.

Although Judson, who held a dozen patents for motors and railroad

brakes, had an established reputation as a practical inventor, he found no

one interested in the clasp-locker. The formidable-looking device consisted

of a linear sequence of hook-and-eye locks, resembling a medieval implement

of torture more than it did a modern time-saver.

To drum up interest, Judson put the clasp-locker on display at the 1893

Chicago World's Fair. But the twenty-one million viewers who poured into

the fairgrounds flocked to the world's first electric Ferris wheel and the

titillating "Coochee-Coochee" sideshow, featuring the belly dancer Little

Egypt. The world's first zipper was ignored.

Judson and Walker's company, Universal Fastener, did receive an order

from the United States Postal Service for twenty zipper mail bags. But the

zippers jammed so frequently that the bags were discarded. Although Whit-


Velcro: 1948, Switzerland

comb Judson continued making improvements on his clasp fastener, perfection

of the device fell to another inventor: Swedish-American engineer

Gideon Sundback. Abandoning Judson's hook-and-eye design, Sundback,

in 1913, produced a smaller, lighter, more reliable fastener, which was the

modern zipper. And the first orders for Sundback's zippers came from the

U.S. Army, for use on clothing and equipment during World War I.

At home, zippers appeared on boots, money belts, and tobacco pouches.

Not until around 1920 did they begin to appear on civilian clothing.

The early zippers were not particularly popular. A metal zipper rusted

easily, so it had to be unstitched before a garment was washed and sewed

back in after the garment had dried. Another problem involved public

education: Unlike the more evident insertion of a button into a buttonhole,

something even a child quickly mastered, the fastening of a zipper was not

obvious to the uninitiated. Zippered garments came with small instruction

manuals on the operation and maintenance of the device.

In 1923, the B. F. Goodrich Company introduced rubber galoshes with

the new "hookless fasteners." Mr. Goodrich himself is credited with coining

the echoic name "zipper," basing it on the "z-z-z-zip" sound his own boots

made when closing. Goodrich renamed his new product "Zipper Boots,"

and he ordered 150,000 zippers from the Hookless Fastener Company,

which would later change its name to Talon. The unusual name "zipper,"

as well as increased reliability and rustproofing, greatly helped popularize


Concealed under a flap, the zipper was a common fastener on clothing

by the late '20s. It became a fashion accessory in its own right in 1935,

when renowned designer Elsa Schiaparelli introduced a spring clothing

collection which The New Yorker described as "dripping with zippers."

Schiaparelli was the first fashion designer to produce colored zippers, oversized

zippers, and zippers that were decorative and nonfunctional.

After a slow birth and years of rejection, the zipper found its way into

everything from plastic pencil cases to sophisticated space suits. Unfortunately,

Whitcomb Judson, who conceived a truly original idea, died in 1909,

believing that his invention might never find a practical application.

Velcro: 1948, Switzerland

For several decades, it appeared that no invention could ever threaten the

zipper's secure position in the garment industry. Then along came Velcro,

one man's attempt to create synthetic burs like the small prickly thistle balls

produced as seedpods on cocklebur bushes.

During an Alpine hike in 1948, Swiss mountaineer George de Mestral

became frustrated by the burs that clung annoyingly to his pants and socks.

While picking them off, he realized that it might be possible to produce a

fastener based on the burs to compete with, if not obsolete, the zipper.

Today a Velcro fastener consists of two nylon strips, one containing


On the Body

thousands of tiny hooks, the other, tiny eyes. Pressing the strips together

locks the hooks into the eyes. To perfect that straightforward idea required

ten years of effort.

Textile experts de Mestral consulted scoffed at the idea of man-made

burs. Only one, a weaver at a textile plant in Lyon, France, believed the

idea was feasible. Working by hand on a special undersized loom, he managed

to produce two strips of cotton fabric, one with tiny hooks, the other

with smaller eyes. Pressed together, the strips stuck adequately and remained

united until they were pulled apart. De Mestral christened the sample

"locking tape."

Developing equipment to duplicate the delicate handwork of the weaver

required technological advances. Cotton was replaced by the more durable

nylon, for repeated opening and'closing of the original strips damaged the

soft hooks and eyes. One significant breakthrough came when de Mestral

discovered that pliant nylon thread, woven under infrared light, hardened

to form almost indestructible hooks and eyes. By the mid-1950s, the first

nylon locking tape was a reality. For a trademark name, de Mestral choose

vel from "velvet," simply because he liked the sound of the word, and cro from the French crochet, the diminutive for "hook."

By the late '50s, textile looms were turning out sixty million yards of

Velcro a year. And although the nylon fastener did not replace the zipper,

as de Mestral hoped it would, it found diverse zipper-like applicationssealing

chambers of artificial hearts, securing gear in the gravity-free environment

of space, and of course zipping dresses, bathing suits, and diapers.

The list is endless, though not yet as endless as George de Mestral had once


Umbrella: 1400 B.C., Mesopotamia

An emblem of rank and distinction, the umbrella originated in Mesopotamia

3,400 years ago as an extension of the fan. For these early umbrellas did

not protect Mesopotamians from rain, a rarity in their desert land, but

from harsh sun. And umbrellas continued to serve primarily as sunshades

for centuries, a fact evident in the word' 'umbrella," derived from the Latin

umbra, "shade." In many African societies today, an umbrella bearer walks

behind the tribal chief to shield his head from sun-reflecting the ancient

Egyptian and Mesopotamian tradition.

By 1200 B.C., the Egyptian umbrella had acquired religious significance.

The entire canopy of the sky was believed to be formed by the body of the

celestial goddess Nut. Spanning the earth as a vast umbrella, she touched

the ground only with her toes and fingertips. Her star-studded belly created

the night sky. Man-made umbrellas became earthly embodiments of Nut,

held only above heads of nobility. An invitation to stand in the penumbra

of the royal umbrella was a high honor, the shade symbolizing the king's


Umbrella: 1400 B.C., Mesopotamia

protection. Palm fronds, feathers, and stretched papyrus were the materials

for umbrellas, as they were for fans.

The Greeks and the Romans borrowed liberally from Egyptian culture,

but they regarded the umbrella as effeminate. It was rarely used by men.

There are numerous derisive references by sixth-century B.C. Greek writers

concerning men who carry sunshields "as women do." For many centuries,

the only occasion when a Greek man might excusably be seen holding an

umbrella in public was to protect the head of a female companion.

The situation was entirely opposite for women. Greek women of high

rank carried white parasols. And once a year they engaged in the Feast of

Parasols, a fertility procession staged at the Acropolis.

But it was Roman women, with their own parasol celebration, who began

the practice of oiling paper sunshades to waterproof them. Roman historians

record that a drizzle at an outdoor amphitheater could result in hundreds

of women lifting view-obstructing umbrellas, to the annoyance of male

spectators. Debate arose over the use of rain umbrellas at public events,

and in the first century A.D., the issue was put before Emperor Domitian,

who ruled in favor of women's protecting themselves with oiled parasols.

Sun parasols and rain umbrellas remained predominantly female accessories

of dress well into the eighteenth century in Europe-and beyond

that time in America. Men wore hats and got soaked. More than a casual

attempt to escape the elements was seen as unmanly. The sixteenth-century

French author Henri Estienne summed up the European sentiment toward

men with umbrellas: "If French women saw men carrying them, they would

consider them effeminate."

It was a British gentleman, Jonas Hanway, who made umbrellas respectable

raingear for men. He accomplished that transformation only through

dogged perseverance, humiliation, and public ridicule.

Hanway acquired a fortune in trading with Russia and the Far East, then

retired at age thirty-eight, devoting himself to founding hospitals and orphanages.

And to popularizing the umbrella, a passion of his.

Beginning in 1750, Hanway seldom ventured outdoors, rain or shine,

without an umbrella. He always caused a sensation. Former business associates

suddenly viewed him as epicene; street hooligans jeered as he passed;

and coachmen, envisioning their livelihood threatened by the umbrella as

a legitimate means of shelter from the rain, steered through puddles to

splash him with gutter mud.

Undaunted, Hanway carried an umbrella for the final thirty years of his

life. Gradually, men realized that a one-time investment in an umbrella was

cheaper than hailing a coach every time it rained-in London, a considerable

savings. Perhaps it was the economics of the situation, or a case of

familiarity breeding indifference, but the stigma of effeminacy long associated

with the umbrella lifted. Before Jonas Hanway's death in 1786, umbrellas

were toted on rainy days by British gentlemen and, in fact, referred

to as "Hanways."


On the Body

Modern Rainwear: 1830, Scotland

The history of rain wear is as old as the history of clothing itself. Early man,

to protect himself from rain, fashioned water-repellent cloaks and head

coverings by weaving waxy leaves and grass and stitching together strips of

greased animal hide. The water-repellent coatings applied to materials varied

from culture to culture.

The ancient Egyptians, for instance, waxed linen and oiled papyrus, while

the Chinese varnished and lacquered paper and silk. But it was the South

American Indians who paved the way for convenient, lightweight, truly

effective rubberized raingear.

In the sixteenth century, Spanish explorers to the New World observed

natives coating their capes and moccasins with a milky white resin from a

local tree, Hevea brasiliensis. The pure white sap coagulated and dried, leaving

the coated garment stiff but pliant. The Spaniards named the substance

"tree milk," and copying the Indians' method of bleeding trees, they brushed

the liquid on their coats, capes, hats, pants, and the soles of their boots.

The garments effectively repelled rain, but in the heat of day the repellent

became gummy, accumulating dried grass, dirt, and dead leaves which, by

the cool of evening, were encrusted in the coating.

The sap was taken back to Europe. Noted scientists of the day experimented

to improve its properties. In 1748, French astronomer Frant;ois

Fresneau developed a chemical method that rendered the tree sap, when

painted on fabric, more pliant and less gummy, but the chemical additives

themselves had an intolerably unpleasant odor.

Another failed experiment at least gave the sap a name. In 1770, Joseph

Priestley, the great British chemist and the discoverer of oxygen, was working

to improve the milky latex. Coincidentally, he observed that a piece of

congealed sap would rub out graphite marks, which suggested a practical

name. It was not until 1823 that a fifty-seven-year-old Scottish chemist,

Charles Macintosh, made a monumental discovery that ushered in the era

of modern rubberized rainwear.

Experimenting at his Glasgow laboratory, Macintosh found that natural

rubber readily dissolved in coal-tar naphtha, a volatile, oily liquid produced

by the "fractional" distillation of petroleum (the fraction that boils off

between gasoline and kerosene). By cementing naphtha-treated thicknesses

of rubber to cloth, Macintosh created rainproof coats that smelled only of

rubber; the public referred to them as macintoshes.

Footwear made of naphtha-treated rubber acquired the name "galoshes,"

a term already in use for high boots. The word derived from the Roman

expression for the heavy thonged sandals of the Gauls. The shoes, which

tied with crisscrossed wrappings that reached to midcalf, were called gallica

solea, which translated as "Gaulish shoes," or, eventually, "galoshes."


Bathing Suit: Mid-19th Century, Europe

Bathing Suit: Mid-19th Century, Europe

The origin of the bathing suit as a distinct piece of attire began in the mid-

1800s. Prior to that time, recreational bathing was not a popular pastime;

if a man or woman took a dip, it was in an undergarment or in the nude.

One major development helped change bathing practices and create a

need for the bathing suit. European physicians in the 1800s began to advocate

recreational bathing as a tonic for "nerves"-a term that encompassed

something as temporary as lovesickness or as terminal as tubercular

meningitis. The cure was the "waters" -mineral, spring, or ocean. By the

tens of thousands, Europeans, who for centuries had equated full-body

bathing with death, waded, soaked, and paddled in lakes, streams, and surf.

The bathing suits that emerged to fill this need followed the design of

street dress. Women, for example, wore a costume of flannel, alpaca, or

serge, with a fitted bodice, high neck, elbow-length sleeves, and a kneelength

skirt, beneath which were bloomers, black stockings, and low canvas

shoes. Wet, the bathing suit could weigh as much as the bather. Fatalities

recorded in England and America attest to the number of waterlogged

bathers caught in an undertow. The male outfit was only somewhat less

cumbersome and dangerous.

These garments were strictly bathing suits, as opposed to the later, lighter

swimming suits.

From about the 1880s, women could take a safer ocean dip in a "bathing

machine." The contraption, with a ramp and a dressing chamber, was

wheeled from the sand into shallow water. A lady undressed in the machine,

donned a shapeless full-length flannel gown fastened at the neck by a

drawstring, and descended the ramp into the ocean. An awning, known as

a "modesty hood," hid her from males on the beach. Bathing machines

were vigilantly guarded by female attendants, called "dippers," whose job

was to hasten the pace of male lingerers.

Shortly before America's entry into World War I, the clinging one-piece

suit became popular-though it had sleeves and reached to the knees; the

women's model also sported a skirt. The suit revolution was made possible

in large measure by the textile know-how of a Danish-American named

Carl Jantzen.

Born in Aarhus, Denmark, in 1883, Jantzen immigrated to America and

in 1913 became a partner in Oregon's Portland Knitting Mills. The firm

produced a line of woolen sweaters, socks, caps, and mittens. Jantzen was

experimenting with a knitting machine in 1915, attempting to produce a

tighter, lighter-weight woolen sweater with exceptional stretch, when he

developed an elasticized rib-knit stitch.

The wool knit was suppose to go into the production of sweaters. But a

friend on the Portland Rowing Team asked Jantzen for an athletic outfit


A bikini, as depicted

in a fourth-century

Roman mosaic. A


bathing outfit; dangerous

when wet.

with more "give." Jantzen's skin-tight, rib-knit stretch suits were soon worn

by every member of the team.

The Portland company changed its name to Jantzen Knitting Mills and

adopted the slogan: "The suit that changed bathing to swimming."

Bikini. Swimsuits became more revealing in the 1930s. From backless designs

with narrow shoulder straps, women's attire quickly progressed to the

two-piece halter-neck top and panties. The bikini was the next step. And

through its name, the fashion is forever linked with the start of the nuclear


On July 1, 1946, the United States began peacetime nuclear testing by

dropping an atom bomb on the chain of Marshall Islands in the Pacific

Ocean known as Bikini Atoll. The bomb, similar to the type that a year

earlier devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, commanded worldwide media


In Paris, designer Louis Reard was preparing to introduce a daringly

skimpy two-piece swimsuit, still unnamed. Newspapers were filled with details

of the bomb blast. Reard, wishing his suit to command media attention,

and believing the design was itself explosive, selected a name then on the

public's lips.

On July 5, four days after the bomb was dropped, Reard's top model,

Micheline Bernardi, paraded down a Paris runway in history's first bikini.

In 1946, the swimsuit seemed to stir more debate, concern, and condemnation

than the bomb.


Off-the-Rack Clothes: 18th Century, Europe

OfI-the-Rack Clothes: 18th Century, Europe

Given today's wide selection of men's and women's attire in department

stores and boutiques, it is hard to imagine a time when ready-made, readyto-

wear clothing did not exist. But off-the-rack garments have been a reality

and a convenience for less than two hundred years. And high-quality readymade

clothes appeared only a hundred years ago. Previously, clothes were

made when needed, by a professional tailor or a female member of the


The first ready-to-wear clothes were men's suits. Loose, shapeless, and

cheap, the garments sold in London in the early 1700s. Eschewed by men

of style, and derided by professional tailors, who feared a loss of business,

the ill-fitting suits were purchased by laborers and the lower classes, who

were pleased to own a suit for special occasions, however ill-fitting.

With London's lower classes significantly outnumbering the city's gentlemen,

and with many of the former aspiring to emulate the latter, it is

not surprising that ready-made suits sold at a brisk pace. Within a decade,

they were being produced in Liverpool and Dublin.

Tailors' guilds attempted to thwart the trend. They expelled guild members

who made the suits, while petitioning Parliament to outlaw ready-towear

apparel. Parliament declined to enter into the imbroglio. And as more

people purchased ready-made clothes, more tailors abandoned the guilds

to satisfy the growing demand.

In the 1770s, the men's ready-to-wear phenomenon hit Paris, Europe's

fashion center. Tailors competed for business among themselves by bettering

the fit and quality of suits. And superior garments attracted a higher-class

clientele. By the end of the decade, a half-dozen French firms featured

suits as well as coats, the second ready-made item manufactured. The clothes

were a particular favorite of sailors, whose brief time in port precluded

multiple fittings for custom-made garments.

Women for many years continued to make their own clothes. They even

resisted the concept of clothes produced by strangers, who possessed no

knowledge of their personal style preferences and private body dimensions.

But the many conveniences of clothes ready-made over homemadefrom

a wider selection of styles, colors, and fabrics to the immense savings

in time spent sewing-eventually won women over. The first large firm

manufacturing ready-made clothes for women and children opened in Paris

in 1824 and was called La Belle Jardiniere because of its proximity to a

flower market. In America around this time, 1830, Brooks Brothers of New

Bedford, Massachusetts, began making ready-to-wear men's clothing.

Two inventions of the day helped turn the manufacture of off-the-rack

clothes into the multibillion-dollar industry it is today. The sewing machine

(see page 147) permitted rapid mass production of garments; for the first

time in history, clothes were not hand sewn. The second breakthrough


On the Body

involved the adoption of a scale of standardized clothing sizes for men,

women, and children.

Until around 1860, clothes were cut to size in one of two ways. A new

garment was made by copying an existing one, which usually entailed unstitching

and opening up fabric. Or a rough shape of the garment was cut

out of muslin, basted on the wearer, and recut and reshaped in this manner

until it fit satisfactorily. Then the perfected muslin pattern was copied in

the garment's actual and more expensive fabric. The tedious process is still

employed for many couture creations, but it was unsuitable for mass


Standardized sizes, in the form of "graded paper patterns," became an

industry reality in the 1860s. No longer was it necessary for a customer to

hold up three or four rack garments and guess which one would give the

best fit.

Home seamstresses also turned to paper patterns, which were featured

in magazines and store catalogues and sold through the mail. By 1875,

paper patterns were selling at the rate of ten million a year. It became chic

to wear a pattern-cut garment. Queen Victoria, who could well afford

custom-tailored clothes for the royal family, ordered for her sons suits

fashioned from Butterick patterns, the most popular name of the day.

There was a certain democracy .to ready-to-wear clothes. They did not

exactly prove that all people were created equal, but they did reassure that

most people, rich and poor, came in a limited number of sizes. More important,

for the first time in history, fashion was no longer the prerogative

of the wealthy few but available to everyone.

Designer Labels: 19th Century, France

Dior. Blass. Klein. Givenchy. De la Renta. Von Furstenberg. Cassini. Cardin.

Lauren. Gucci.

History records the names of today's fashion designers, but nowhere in

its pages are the names of the tailors, dressmakers, and seamstresses who

clothed royalty and nobility throughout the ages. They must have existed.

Fashion certainly did. France and Milan were recorded as two of Europe's

earliest fashion centers. But what was important prior to the late eighteenth

century was the garment itself-the style, detailing, color, fabric, and, too,

the person who paraded! it; everything except the designer.

Who originated designer clothes and paved the way for the phenomenon

of the name label?

Her name was Rose Bertin, the first fashion designer to achieve fame,

recognition, and a page in the history books. Born Marie-Jeanne in Abbeville,

France, in the mid-1700s, she might not have became famous, despite

talent, had it not been for a series of fortunate encounters.

Rose Bertin began her career as a milliner in Paris in the early 1770s.

, Her stylish hats caught the attention of the duchess of Chartres, who became


Designer Labels: 19th Century, France

her patron and presented her to Empress Maria Theresa. The Hungarian

queen was displeased with the style of dress worn by her daughter, Marie

Antoinette, and Rose Bertin was commissioned to make over the woman

who would become perhaps France's most extravagant and famous queen.

Rose's lavish costumes for the dauphine dazzled the French court, though

they distressed the empress, who complained that her daughter now dressed

with the excesses of a stage actress.

As queen, Marie Antoinette devoted increasingly more time and money

to fashion. And as her extravagances rose to the level of a national scandal,

Rose Bertin's salon became the fashion center of Paris. She dressed not

only Marie Antoinette, meeting with the queen twice weekly to create new

gowns, but most of the French aristocracy, as well as the queens of Sweden

and Spain, the duchess of Devonshire, and the czarina of Russia.

Rose Bertin's prices were exorbitant. Even the fermenting revolution

did nothing to lower the prices, the demand for gowns, and the queen's

commitment to fashion-which may have led to the arrest that resulted in

her beheading.

Early in June 1791, prior to the planned escape of Marie Antoinette and

her husband, set for the twentieth of the month, the queen ordered from

Rose Bertin a large number of traveling outfits to be completed as quickly

as possible. The discovery of the order is believed to have confirmed suspicions

that the royal couple was about to flee the country.

The queen, of course, was caught, imprisoned, and guillotined in 1793.

Rose Bertin fled to Frankfurt, then moved to London, where she continued

to design clothes for European and Asian nobility. She died in 1812, during

the reign of Napoleon.

Her worldwide fame helped draw attention to the people who design

clothes. In Paris, salons and individual designers began to attach their own

names to the fashions they created. And one Parisian designer, Charles

Worth, introduced in 1846 the concept of using live mod~ls to display

name-brand clothes-which were now protected by copyright from reproduction.

Those events marked the birth of haute couture. And it was that

nineteenth-century phenomenon, coupled with the concurrent rise of offthe-

rack ready-wear, that made designer labels a possibility, then a profitable



Chapter 13

Into the Bedroom

Bedroom: 3500 B.C., Sumer

One third of the history of humankind has never been written, for it occurred

in the eight nightly hours kings, queens, and commoners spent in

bed over their lifetime. It's as if between saying good night and sitting down

for breakfast, humankind ceased to exist. But in those ignored-and seemingly

lost-hours, man was conceived and born, sired future generations,

and died. To venture into the bedroom is to enter a realm rich in its own

lore, language, trivia, and erotica.

A special room in a house set aside for a bed first appeared in the royal

palaces at Sumer about 3500 B.C. One significant fact about ancient Sumerian

bedrooms is that there was usually only one to a home, regardless

of the immensity of the residence and the number of its inhabitants. The

head of the household occupied the bedroom and its bed, while his wife,

children, servants, and guests slept around the house on couches, on

lounges, or on the floor. Pillows existed for everyone, but they were hard,

curved headrests of wood, ivory, or alabaster, intended primarily to protect

a styled coiffure overnight.

The Egyptians were better bedded-though their pillows were no softer.

Palaces in the fourth millennium B.C. allowed for a "master bedroom,"

usually fitted with a draped, four-poster bed, and surrounding narrow

"apartments" for a wife and children, each with smaller beds.

The best Egyptian bedrooms had double-thick walls and a raised platform

for the bed, to insulate the sleeper from midnight cold, midday heat, and


Bedroom: 3500 B.C., Sumer

low drafts. Throughout most of the ancient world, beds were for sleeping

at night, reclining by day, and stretching out while eating.

Most Egyptian beds had canopies and draped curtains to protect from

a nightly nuisance: mosquitoes. Along the Nile, the insects proved such a

persistent annoyance that even commoners slept beneath (or wrapped

cocoon-like in) mosquito netting. Herodotus, regarded as the "father of

history," traveled throughout the ancient world recording the peoples and

behaviors he encountered. He paints a picture of a mosquito-infested Egypt

that can elicit sympathy from any person today who struggles for a good

night's sleep in summer:

In parts of Egypt above the marshes the inhabitants pass the night upon

lofty towers, as the mosquitoes are unable to fly to any height on account

of the winds. In the marshy country, where there are no towers, each man

possesses a net. By day it serves him to catch fish, while at night he spreads

it over the bed, and creeping in, goes to sleep underneath. The mosquitoes,

which, if he rolls himself up in his dress or in a piece of muslin, are sure

to bite through the covering, do not so much as attempt to pass the net.

Etymologists find a strong association between the words "mosquito"

and "canopy." Today "canopy" suggests a splendid drape, but to the ancient

Greeks, konops referred to the mosquito. The Romans adopted the Greeks'

mosquito netting and Latinized konops to conopeum, which the early inhabitants of Britain changed to canape. In time, the name came to stand for

not the mosquito itself but the bed draping that protected from the insect.

Whereas the Egyptians had large bedrooms and beds, the Greeks, around

600 B.C., led a more austere home life, which was reflected in the simplicity

of their bedrooms. The typical sleeping chamber of a wealthy Greek man

housed a plain bed of wood or wicker, a coffer for valuables, and a simple

chair. Many Spartan homes had no actual bedroom because husbands,

through military duty, were separated from wives for a decade or longer.

A Spartan youth at age twenty joined a military camp, where he was required

to sleep. If married, he could visit his wife briefly after supper, but he could

not sleep at home until age thirty, when he was considered a full citizen of


Roman bedrooms were only slightly less austere than those of the Greeks.

Called cubicula (giving us the word "cubicle"), the bedroom was more a

closet than a room, closed by a curtain or door. These cubicles surrounded

a home's or palace's central court and contained a chair, chamber pot, and

simple wooden bed, often of oak, maple, or cedar. Mattresses were stuffed

with either straw, reeds, wool, feathers, or swansdown, depending on a

person's finances. Mosquito netting was commonplace.

Though some Roman beds were ornately carved and outfitted with expensive

linens and silk, most were sparsely utilitarian, reflecting a Roman

work ethic. On arising, men and women did not bathe (that took place


Canopy derives from the Greek word for mosquito, and canopied beds protected

ancient peoples from the nightly nuisance.

midday at public facilities; see page 200), nor did breakfast consist of anything

more than a glass of water. And dressing involved merely draping a

toga over undergarments that served as nightclothes. For Romans prided

themselves on being ready to commence a day's work immediately upon

arising. The emperor Vespasian, for instance, who oversaw the conquest

of Britain and the construction of the Colosseum, boasted that he could

prepare himself for imperial duties, unaided by servants, within thirty seconds

of waking.

Making a Bed. The decline of the bed and the bedroom after the fall of

the Roman Empire is aptly captured in the phrase "make the bed." This

simple expression, which today means no more than smoothing out sheets

and blankets and fluffing a pillow or two, was a literal statement throughout

the Dark Ages.

From about A.D. 500 onward, it was thought no hardship to lie on the

floor at night, or on a hard bench above low drafts, damp earth, and rats.

To be indoors was luxury enough. Nor was it distasteful to sleep huddled

closely together in company, for warmth was valued above privacy. And,

too, in those lawless times, safety was to be found in numbers.


Spring Mattress: Late 18th Century, England

Straw stuffed into a coarse cloth sack could be spread on a table or bench

by a guest in a home or an inn, to "make a bed." And since straw was

routinely removed to dry out, or to serve a daytime function, beds were

made and remade.

The downward slide of beds and bedroom comfort is reflected in another

term from the Middle Ages: bedstead. Today the word describes a bed's

framework for supporting a mattress. But to the austere-living Angles, Saxons,

and Jutes, a bedstead was merely the location on the floor where a

person bedded down for the night.

Hardship can be subtly incorporated into custom. And throughout the

British Isles, the absence of comfortable beds was eventually viewed as a

plus, a nightly means of strengthening character and body through travail.

Soft beds were thought to make soft soldiers. That belief was expressed by

Edgar, king of the Scots, at the start of the 1100s. He forbade noblemen,

who could afford comfortable down mattresses, to sleep on any soft surface

that would pamper them to effeminacy and weakness of character. Even

undressing for bed (except for the removal of a suit of mail armor) was

viewed as a coddling affectation. So harshly austere was Anglo-Saxon life

that the conquering Normans regarded their captives as only slightly more

civilized than animals.

Spring Mattress: Late 18th Century, England

Mattresses once were more nightmarish, in the bugs and molds they harbored,

than a sleeper's worst dreams. Straw, leaves, pine needles, and

reeds-all organic stuffings-mildewed and rotted and nurtured bedbugs.

Numerous medieval accounts tell of mice and rats, with the prey they captured,

nesting in mattresses not regularly dried out and restuffed. Leonardo

da Vinci, in the fifteenth century, complained of having to spend the night

"upon the spoils of dead creatures" in a friend's home. Physicians recommended

adding such animal repellents as garlic to mattress stuffing.

Until the use of springs and inorganic stuffings, the quest for a comfortable,

critter-free mattress was unending. Indeed, as we've seen, one

reason to "make a bed" anew each day was to air and dry out the mattress


Between da Vinci's time and the birth of the spring mattress in the eighteenth

century, numerous attempts were made to get a comfortable, itchfree

night's repose. Most notable perhaps was the 1500s French air mattress.

Known as a "wind bed," the mattress was constructed of heavily

waxed canvas and equipped with air valves for inflation by mouth or mechanical

pump. The brainchild of upholsterer William Dujardin, history's

first air mattress enjoyed a brief popularity among the French nobility of

the period, but cracking from repeated or robust use severely shortened

its lifetime. A number of air beds made from more flexible oilcloth were

available in London in the seventeenth century, and in Ben Jonson's 1610


Adjustable sick bed, incorporating a chamber pot.

play The Alchemist, a character states his preference for air over straw,

declaring, "I will have all my beds blown up, not stuffed."

British patents for springs-in furniture and carriage seats-began to

appear in the early eighteenth century. They were decidedly uncomfortable

at first. Being perfectly cylindrical (as opposed to conical), springs when

sat upon snaked to one side rather than compressing vertically; or they

turned completely on their sides. And given the poor metallurgical standards

of the day, springs might snap, poking hazardously through a cushion.

Spring mattresses were attempted. But they presented complex technological

problems since a reclining body offers different compressions

along its length. Springs sturdy enough to support the hips, for instance,

were unyielding to the head, while a spring made sensitive for the head was

crushed under the weight of the hips.

By the mid-1850s, the conical innerspring began to appear in furniture

seats. The larger circumference of its base ensured a more stable vertical

compression. An early mention of sleeping on conical innersprings appeared

in an 1870s London newspaper: "Strange as it may seem, springs can be

used as an excellent sleeping arrangement with only a folded blanket above

the wires." The newspaper account emphasized spring comfort: "The surface

is as sensitive as water, yielding to every pressure and resuming its

shape as soon as the body is removed."

Early innerspring mattresses were handcrafted and expensive. One of

the first patented in America, by an inventor from Poughkeepsie, New

York, was too costly to arouse interest from any United States bedding

manufacturer. For many years, innerspring-mattress beds were found chiefly

in luxury hotels and in ocean liners such as the Mauretania, Lusitania, and

Titanic. As late as 1925, when U.S. manufacturer Zalmon Simmons conceived

of his "Beautyrest" innerspring mattress, its $39.50 price tag was


Birth Control: 6 Million Years Ago, Africa and Asia

more than twice what Americans paid for the best hair-stuffed mattress of

the day.

Simmons, however, cleverly decided not to sell just a mattress but to sell

sleep-"scientific sleep," at that. Beautyrest advertisements featured such

creative geniuses of the era as Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, H. G. Wells,

and Guglielmo Marconi. The company promoted "scientific sleep" by informing

the public of the latest findings in the relatively new field of sleep

research: "People do not sleep like logs; they move and turn from twentytwo

to forty-five times a night to rest one set of muscles and then another."

With several of the most creative minds of the day stressing how they

benefited from a good night's sleep, it is not surprising that by 1929,

Beautyrest, the country's first popular innerspring mattress, had annual

sales of nine million dollars. Stuffed mattresses were being discarded faster

than trashmen could collect them.

Electric Blank~t: 1930s, United States

Man's earliest blankets were animal skins, or "choice fleeces," as they are

referred to in the Odyssey. But our word "blanket" derives from a later

date and a different kind of bed covering. French bed linens (and bedclothes)

during the Middle Ages consisted largely of undyed woolen cloth, white in

color and called blanquette, from blanc, meaning "white." In time, the word evolved to "blanket" and it was used solely for the uppermost bed covering.

The first substantive advance in blankets from choice fleeces occurred

in this century and as a spinoff from a medical application of electricity.

In 1912, while large areas of the country were still being wired for electric

power, American inventor S. I. Russell patented an electric heating pad to

warm the chests of tubercular sanitarium patients reclining outdoors. It

was a relatively small square of fabric with insulated heating coils wired

throughout, and it cost a staggering $150.

Almost immediately, the possibility for larger, bed-sized electric blankets

was appreciated; and not only for the ailing. But cost, technology, and

safety were obstacles until the mid-1930s. The safety of electric blankets

remained an issue for many years. In fact, most refinements to date involved

generating consistent heat without risking fire. One early advance involved

surrounding heating elements with nonflammable plastics, a spin-off of

World War II research into perfecting electrically heated flying suits for


Birth Control: 6 Million Years Ago, Africa and Asia

The term' 'birth control" was coined in 1914 by Irish-American nurse Margaret

Sanger, one of eleven children herself, who is regarded as the "mother

of planned parenthood." But the concept is ancient, practiced in early


Into the Bedroom

societies, and it arose out of an astonishing biological change that occurred

in the female reproductive cycle some six million years ago.

The change involved estrus, or heat. At that time, females, in the lineage

that would become Homo sapiens, began to switch from being sexually receptive

to males only during limited periods of estrus to continuous arousal

and receptivity. Thus, from conceiving young only during a brief season

(nature's own birth control), the female evolved to bearing young year


Anthropologists theorize this development went hand in hand with the

emerging trait of walking erect. To achieve balance for upright posture,

the pelvic canal narrowed; this meant difficult and often fatal pregnancies.

Natural selection began to favor females with a proclivity for giving premature

birth-that is, for having babies small enough to negotiate the

narrowed canal. These premature babies required longer postnatal care

and consequently kept their mothers busier. Thus, the female became increasingly

dependent on the male for food and protection. And she guaranteed

herself and her offspring these necessities by offering the male in

return sexual favors for longer and longer periods of time. Those females

with only limited periods of estrus gradually died off. Soon entire generations

carried the gene for continuous sexual arousal and receptivity. And

with this development came the notion of controlling unwanted conception.

For tens of thousands of years, the only contraceptive method was coitus

interruptus, in which the man withdraws to ejaculate outside the woman's

body: the biblical sin of Onan. With the emergence of writing about 5,500

years ago, a record of birth control methods-from the bizarre to the

practical-entered history.

Every culture sought its own foolproof method to prevent conception.

In ancient China, women were advised to swallow quicksilver (mercury)

heated in oil. It may well have worked, since mercury is highly toxic and

probably poisoned the fetus-and to a lesser extent, the mother.

A less harmful procedure was practiced by Egyptian women. Before intercourse,

a woman was advised to insert a mixture of crocodile dung and

honey into her vagina. While the viscous honey might have served as a

temporary obstacle to impede sperm from colliding with an egg, it is more

likely that the salient ingredient was dung: its sharp acidity could alter the

pH environment necessary for conception to occur, killing the sperm. In

effect, it was history's first spermicide.

Egyptian birth control methods are the oldest on record. The Petri Papyrus,

written about 1850 B.C., and the Eber Papyrus, composed three

hundred years later, describe numerous methods to avert pregnancy. For

the man, in addition to coitus interruptus there was coitus obstructus, which

is full intercourse, with the ejaculate forced into the bladder through the

depression of the base of the urethra. (The papryi also contain an early

mention of how women handled menstruation: Egyptian women used a

homemade tampon-shaped device composed of shredded linen and crushed


Birth Control: 6 Million Years Ago, Africa and Asia

acacia branch powder, later known as gum arabic, an emulsion stabilizer

used in paints, candy, and medicine.)

Contraceptive methods assumed additional importance in the freespirited

Rome of the second and third centuries A.D. Soranus of Ephesus,

a Greek gynecologist practicing in Rome, clearly understood the difference

between contraceptives, which prevent conception from occurring, and

abortifacients, which eject the egg after it's fertilized. And he taught (correctly,

though dangerously) that permanent female sterility could be

achieved through repeated abortions. He also advised (incorrectly) that

immediately following intercourse, women cough,jump, and sneeze to expel

sperm; and he hypothesized infertile or "safe" days in the menstrual cycle.

Spermicides were a popular birth control method in the Near and Middle

East. In ancient Persia, women soaked natural sea sponges in a variety of

liquids believed to kill sperm-alcohol, iodine, quinine, and carbolic acidand

inserted them into the vagina before intercourse. Syrian sponges, from

local waters, were highly prized for their absorptivity, and perfumed vinegar

water, highly acidic, was a preferred spermicide.

In the ancient world, physical, as opposed to chemical, means of birth

control were also available:

Ceroical Cap. From about the sixth century B.C., physicians, invariably

males, conceived of countless cap-like devices for the female to insert over

the opening of the cervix. Greek doctors advised women to scoop out the

seeds of a pomegranate half to obtain a sperm-blocking cap. Centuries

later, Casanova-the Italian gambler, celebrated lover, and director of the

French state lotteries, who told all in his twelve-volume memoirs-presented

his mistresses with partially squeezed lemon halves. The lemon shell acted

as a physical barrier, and its juice as an acidic spermicide.

A highly effective cervical cap appeared in Germany in 1870. Designed

by the anatomist and physician Wilhelm Mensinga, the cap was a hollow

rubber hemisphere with a watch spring around the head to secure it in

place. Known as the "occlusive pessary," or popularly as the "Dutch cap,"

it was supposed to be 98 percent effective-as good as today's diaphragms.

IUD. The scant documentation of the origin of intrauterine devices is

attributable to their mysterious function in preventing conception. It is

known that during the Middle Ages, Arabs used IUDs to thwart conception

in camels during extended desert journeys. Using a hollow tube, an Arab

herder slid a small stone into a camel's uterus. Astonishingly, not until the

late 1970s did doctors begin to understand how an IUD works. The foreign

object, metal or plastic today, is treated as an invader in the uterus and

attacked by the body's white blood cells. Part of the white cells' arsenal of

weapons is the antiviral compound interferon. It's believed that interferon

kills sperm, preventing conception.

The Arab practice with camels led to a wide variety of foreign objects


Into the Bedroom

being inserted into animal and human uteruses: beads of glass and ebony,

metals, buttons, horsehair, and spools of silver threads, to mention a few.

However, the first truly effective metal-coil IUD was the "silver loop,"

designed in 1928 by the German physician Ernst Frafenberg. Measuring

about three fifths of an inch in diameter, the loop had adequate elasticity,

though as with many later IUDs, some women developed pelvic


Throughout history, there were physicians in all cultures who advised

women to douche immediately after intercourse, believing this alone was

an effective contraceptive measure. But modern research has shown that

within ten seconds after the male ejaculates, some sperm may already have

swum from the vaginal canal into the cervix, where douching is ineffective.

From crocodile dung to douching, all ancient contraceptive methods

were largely hit or miss, with the onus of preventing conception falling

upon the female. Then, in the sixteenth century, an effective means of male

contraception arose: the condom.

Condom: 16th and 17th Centuries, Italy and England

Prior to the sixteenth century, did no physician think of simply placing a

sheath over the penis during intercourse?

It must be stated that sheaths in earlier times were thick. They interfered

with a man's pleasure. And most doctors were men. Thus, sheaths were

seldom recommended or used. That may be overstating the case, but only

slightly. Penile sheaths did exist. There is evidence that the Romans, and

possibly the Egyptians, used oiled animal bladders and lengths of intestine

as sheaths. However, their purpose was not primarily to prevent the woman

from becoming pregnant but to protect the man against catching venereal

disease. When it came to birth control, men preferred to let women take

the lead.

Italian anatomist Gabriel Fallopius, the sixteenth-century physician who

first described the two slender tubes that carry ova from the ovaries to the

uterus, is generally regarded as the "father of the condom" -an anachronistic

title since Dr. Condom would not make his contribution to the

device for another hundred years.

In the mid-1500s, Fallopius, a professor of anatomy at the University of

Padua, designed a medicated linen sheath that fit over the glans, or tip of

the penis, and was secured by the foreskin. It represents the first clearly

documented prophylactic for the male member. Soon sheaths appeared

for circumcised men. They were a standard eight inches long and tied securely

at the base with a pink ribbon, presumably to appeal to the female.

Fallopius's invention was tested on over one thousand men, "with complete

success," as the doctor himself reported. The euphemism of the day labeled

them "overcoats."

Fallopius initially conceived of the sheath not as a contraceptive device


Condom: 16th and 17th Centuries, Italy and England

but as a means of combating venereal disease, which then was on an epidemic

rise. It is from this sixteenth-century European outbreak that sailors to the

New World are believed to have introduced the Treponema pallidum bacterium

of syphilis to native Indians.

Penile sheaths in the sixteenth century were dullingly thick, made from

animal gut and fish membranes in addition to linen. Since they interfered

with the pleasure of intercourse and only occasionally prevented diseasebeing

improperly used, and reused unwashed-they were unpopular with

men and regarded with derision. A French marquis sarcastically summed

up the situation when he called a cattle-intestine sheath he'd tried "armor

against love, gossamer against infection."

How did Fallopius's overcoats get to be named condoms?

Legend has it that the word derives from the earl of Condom, the knighted

personal physician to England's King Charles II in the mid-1600s. Charles's

pleasure-loving nature was notorious. He had countless mistresses, including

the most renowned actress of the period, Nell Gwyn, and though he sired

no legitimate heirs, he produced innumerable bastards throughout the


Dr. Condom was requested to produce, not a foolproof method of contraception,

but a means of protecting the king from syphilis. His solution

was a sheath of stretched and oiled intestine of sheep. (It is not known if

he was aware of Fallopius's invention of a hundred years earlier. It is part

of condom lore that throughout the doctor's life, he discouraged the use

of his name to describe the invention.) Condom's sheath caught the attention

of noblemen at court, who adopted the prophylactics, also against venereal


The fact that sexually transmitted disease was feared far more than siring

illegitimate children can be seen in several dictionary definitions of condoms

in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. A Classical Dictionary of the

Vulgar Tongue, for instance, published in London in 1785, defines a condom

as "the dried gut of a sheep, worn by men in the act of coition, to prevent

venereal infection." The entry runs for several additional sentences, with

no mention of contraception.

Only in this century, when penicillin laid to rest men's dread of syphilis,

did the condom come to be viewed as protection primarily against


A condom made of vulcanized rubber appeared in the 1870s and from

the start acquired the popular name rubber. It was not yet film thin, sterile,

and disposable. A man was instructed to wash his rubber before and after

intercourse, and he reused one until it cracked or tore. Effective and relatively

convenient, it was still disliked for its dulling of sensation during

intercourse. Thinner modern latex rubber would not be introduced until

the 1930s.

Rubbers were denounced by religious groups. In New York in the 1880s,

the postal service confiscated more than sixty-five thousand warehouse


Into the Bedroom

condoms about to sold through the mail, labeling them "articles for immoral

purposes," and police arrested and fined more than seven hundred people

who manufactured and promoted the goods.

Vasectomy; Sperm and Egg: 1600s, England and


In the century when Dr. Condom supposedly introduced sheaths to England,

fellow British physicians performed the first vasectomy. Although the means

of cutting and cauterizing the male tubes was crude, the surgery was supposed

to be effective-though never reversible, as a vasectomy usually is


It was also in the seventeenth century that a major human reproductive

principle was confirmed-the union of sperm and egg.

Early physicians did not realize that conception required a sperm to

collide with a female's egg. For centuries, no one even suspected that an

egg existed. Men, and only men, were responsible for the continuation of

the species. Physicians assumed that the male ejaculate contained homunculi,

or "tiny people," who grew into human beings after being deposited in a

woman's uterus. Contraceptive methods were a means of halting the march

of homunculi to the nurturing uterus. In the sixteenth century, Gabriel

Fallopius described the tubes connecting the ovaries to the uterus, and in

1677 a Dutch haberdasher constructed the first quality microscope and

identified sperm cells, half the reproductive story.

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek was born in 1632 in Delft, the Netherlands.

He plied the haberdashery trade and in his spare time experimented with

grinding glass to make lenses. In producing microscopes of high resolution

and clarity, Leeuwenhoek almost single-handedly established the field of


Continually sliding new specimens under his superior lenses, Leeuwenhoek

made numerous important discoveries. He observed that aphids reproduced

by parthenogenesis or "virgin birth," in which female eggs hatch

without male fertilization. Using his own blood, he gave the first accurate

description of red blood cells; and using his own saliva, he recorded the

myriad bacteria that inhabit the human mouth. Using his own ejaculate

(which drew public cries of immorality), he discovered sperm. Clearly, semen

was not composed of homunculi; sperm had to unite with an egg, and

women did make half the contribution to the production of offspring, a

role that in the past had often been denied them.

The Pill: 1950s, Shrewsbury, Massachusetts

No event in the history of contraception has had a more profound effect

on birth control than the introduction of an oral contraceptive. "The pill,"

as it quickly became known, contains hormone-like substances that enter


The Pill: 1950s, Shrewsbury, Massachusetts

the bloodstream and disrupt the production of ova and ovulation. Although

birth control pills were predicted in the mid-nineteenth century, they did

not become a reality until the 1950s, the result of pioneering medical research

and the encouragement of Margaret Sanger, organizer of the planned

parenthood movement in the United States.

The pill originated in an unexpected discovery made in the tropical jungles

of Mexico in the 1930s. There, chemistry professor Russell Marker, on

leave from Pennsylvania State College, was experimenting with a group of

plant steroids known as sapogenins, which produce a soaplike foam in water.

He discovered a chemical process that transformed the sapogenin diosgenin

into the human female sex hormone progesterone. The wild Mexican yam,

cabeza de negro, proved to be a rich source of the hormone precursor.

At that time, progesterone was used to treat menstrual disorders and

prevent miscarriages. But the drug was available only from European pharmaceutical

companies, and methods of preparing it were laborious and

costly. Still, Marker was unable to acquire financial backing from an American

pharmaceutical company to pursue synthetic progesterone research.

He rented a laboratory in Mexico City, collected ten tons of yams, and

at his own expense isolated pure diosgenin. Back in the United States, he

synthesized more than 2,000 grams of progesterone, which at the time was

worth $160,000. The synthesis was far simpler than the traditional methods,

and in time it would bring down the price of sex steroids from eighty dollars

to one dollar a gram.

Researchers in the late 1940s began to reevaluate the possibility of an

inexpensive oral contraceptive. Chemist Gregory Pincus at the Worchester

Foundation for Experimental Biology in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, tested

a yam-derived ovulation inhibitor, norethynodrel, on 1,308 volunteers in

Puerto Rico in 1958. It established menstrual regularity and was an effective

contraceptive. Searle Pharmaceuticals applied for FDA approval to market

norethynodrel. Despite intense opposition from religious groups opposed

to birth control, research and marketing efforts continued, and in 1960,

women across America were introduced to Enovid, history'S first oral


Although there was considerable social condemnation of the pill, sales

figures revealed that in the privacy of their homes across the country, women

were not reluctant to take it regularly. By the end of 1961, a half-million

American women were on the pill, and that number more than doubled

the following year.

Since that time, drug companies have worked to develop a variety of

safer versions of oral contraceptives, with fewer side effects. None of today's

oral contraceptives, taken by approximately seventy million women worldwide,

contains the original yam derivative norethynodrel. Researchers believe

that oral contraceptives will remain women's major birth control aid

until the introduction, projected for the 1990s, of an antipregnancy vaccine

that will offer several years' immunization against conception.


Into the Bedroom

Planned Parenthood. A woman who encouraged chemist Gregory Pincus

to perfect the pill was Margaret Sanger. Born in 1883, Sanger had ten

brothers and sisters and witnessed the difficult life of her Irish mother,

characterized by continual pregnancy and childbirth, chronic poverty, and

an early death. As a maternity nurse on Manhattan's Lower East Side at

the turn of the century, she was equally dismayed by the high rate of unwanted

pregnancies and self-induced abortions. She believed that fewer

children, spaced further apart, could help many families attain a better

standard of living. But when Sanger attempted to learn more about family

planning, she discovered that sound information simply did not exist.

There was a straightforward reason. The Comstock Act of 1873, named

after Anthony Comstock, a postal inspector and leader of the New York

Society for the Suppression of Vice, had labeled all contraceptive information

"obscene." As a result, it ceased being published. Physicians Sanger

interviewed were reluctant even to discuss artificial birth control for fear

of being quoted and later prosecuted under the Comstock Act.

To acquire what information existed, she traveled throughout Europe

in 1913, returning home the following year armed with literature and

methodology. She published contraceptive information in her own monthly

magazine, Woman Rebel, which earned her nine counts of defiance against

the Comstock law and resulted in her journal's being barred from the U.S.

mails. In 1916, she opened the world's first birth control clinic, in the

Brownsville section of Brooklyn, offering women accurate and practical

advice on avoiding pregnancy and planning the size of a family.

New York City police soon closed the clinic as a "public nuisance." Diaphragms,

condoms, and literature were confiscated. And Margaret Sanger

went to prison. The U.S. Court of Appeals eventually ruled that doctors

could provide prophylactic devices to women strictly for the "cure and

prevention of disease," not for contraception. In 1927, Margaret Sanger

organized the first World Population Conference, and twenty years later

she launched the International Planned Parenthood Federation.

In the early 1950s, she visited the Massachusetts laboratory of Dr. Gregory

Pincus. She convinced him of the need for a simple oral contraceptive, and

she championed his invention up until her death in 1966. By then, the pill

was six years old and four million American women were consuming 2,600

tons of birth control pills annually.

Nightgown and Pajamas: Post-16th Century, France and


Late in the sixteenth century, when tight-corseted, multilayered clothes

and powdered wigs reigned as vogue, it became a luxury for both men and

women at day's end to slip into something more comfortable. In that era,

the term "nightgown" originated in Europe to describe a full-length unisex


Underwear: Mid-1800s, Europe

frock, fastened in front, with long sleeves. Intended also for warmth before

there was central heating, a nightgown was often of velvet or wool, lined

and trimmed in fur. For the next hundred fifty years, men and women

wore the same basic garment to bed, with differences existing only in feminine

embellishments of lace, ribbon, or embroidery.

A substantive divergence in styles began in the eighteenth century with

the emergence of the negligee for women. The term arose as differences

in styles and fabrics of men's and women's nightgowns grew more pronounced.

A woman's negligee-a tighter garment in silk or brocade with

ruffles or lace, often belted at the waist-not only was for sleeping but also

was informal wear for lounging in the privacy of the home. The notion of

relaxing in a negligee-that is, of performing no household work-is inherent

in the word's origin: neglegere, Latin for "to neglect," compounded

from neg and legere, meaning "not to pick up."

The man's plainer, baggier nightgown grew shorter in the same century,

to become a "night shirt." It was not uncommon for a man to relax at

home in trousers and a night shirt, and even to wear the shirt during the

day as an undergarment. One popular pair of lounging trousers was imported

from Persia. Loose-fitting and modeled after the harem pants worn

by Eastern women, they were named pajamas, derived from pae, Persian

for "leg garment," andjama, "clothing." The night shirt and Persian trousers, originally uncoordinated in color, fabric, and print, evolved into the

more stylized pajama ensemble we know today.

Underwear: Mid-1800s, Europe

Unmentionables. Indescribables. Unwhisperables. These are among the

many euphemisms men's and women's underwear acquired during its relatively

brief history. In the ancient world, beneath loose robes and togas,

underwear was not recognized as a standard article of attire.

Prior to the nineteenth century, underwear (if worn at all) was simple: a

loose chemise and some type of drawers. In some cases, an undergarment

was designed as an integral part of a particular outfit. Intended to be seen

by no one except the wearer, an undergarment, in style and fit, was of

minor concern. A notable exception, during the periods when a woman's

waist and bust were, respectively, artificially cinched and distended, was

the corset, which was literally engineered to achieve its effect.

Fashion historians record a major change in underwear and the public's

attitude toward it beginning arounQ the 1830s. Undergarments became

heavier, longer, and a routine part of dress. For the first time in history,

not to wear underclothing implied uncleanliness, coarseness, lower-class

disregard for civility, or licentious moral character. This transformation is

believed to have resulted from a confluence oJ three factors: the blossoming

of Victorian prudishness and its corresponding dictates of modesty in attire;

the introduction of finer, lighter dress fabrics, which in themselves called


Advertisement for

1880s woolen underwear,

believed to

possess miraculous

health benefits.

for underclothing; and the medical professions' awareness of germs, which,

combined with a body chill, led to illness.

This last factor was of particular significance. Physicians advised against

catching "a chill" as ifit were as tangible an entity as a virus, and the public

developed an almost pathological fear of exposing any body part except

the face to the reportedly germ-laden air. Pasteur had recently proved the

germ theory of disease and Lister was campaigning for antiseptics in medicine.

The climate, so to speak, called for underwear.

Underclothing then was white, usually starched, often scratchy, and made

chiefly from cambric batiste, coarse calico, or flannel. From about the 1860s,

women's undergarments were designed with an emphasis on attractiveness,

and silk first became a popular underwear fabric in the 1880s.

Woolen underwear, invariably scratchy, swept Europe and America in

the same decade, ushered in by the medical profession.

What came to be called the Wool Movement began in Britain under Dr.

Gustav Jaeger, a former professor of physiology at Stuttgart University and

founder of Jaeger Company, manufacturers of wool clothing. Dr. Jaeger

advocated the health benefits of wearing coarse, porous wool in contact

with the skin, since it allowed the body to "breathe." The wool could never

be dyed. In England, a "wool health culture" sprung up, with distinguished

followers such as Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw (the latter for a

time wore only wool next to his skin). Wool underwear, corsets, and petticoats

became popular, and in America, so-called knickers, similar to the

newly introduced bloomers, were also of wool. For more than two decades,

the Wool Movement caused underwear discomfort on both sides of the


In 1910, American men welcomed a minor underwear innovation: the

X-shaped overlapping frontal fly. And in 1934, men's underwear was revolutionized

with the introduction of the Jockey Brief. The Wisconsin firm

of Cooper and Sons copied the design from a men's swimsuit popular the


Brassiere: 2500 B.C., Greece

previous year on the French Riviera. The first Jockey style, named No.

1001, proved to be so popular that it soon was replaced by the more

streamlined No. 1007, which became known as the Classic Jockey Brief,

with the word "Jockey" stitched around the elastic waistband.

Brassiere: 2500 B.C., Greece

Throughout history, as the female bust has gone in and out of clothing

fashion, so, too, have the breasts themselves gone in and out of public view.

Around 2500 B.C., Minoan women on the Greek isle of Crete, for instance,

wore bras that lifted their bare breasts entirely out of their garments.

On the other hand, in the male-oriented ancient classical world, Greek

and Roman women strapped on a breast band to minimize bust size, a

fashion reintroduced centuries later by church fathers. In fact, from its

birth in Greece 4,500 years ago, the bra, or the corset, has been the principal

garment by which men have attempted to reshape women to their liking.

In certain periods, devices were designed to enlarge breasts considered

inadequate by the standard of the day. The first public advertisements for

what would become known as "falsies" appeared in nineteenth-century

Paris. The "bust improver" consisted of wool pads which were inserted

into a boned bodice. Later in the same century, French women could purchase

the first rubber breast pads, called "lemon bosoms" because of their

shape and size. Throughout these decades, brassieres were extensions of


The first modern brassiere debuted in 1913. It was the needlework of

New York socialite Mary Phelps Jacobs, the woman responsible for the

demise of the corset.

Fashionable women of that day wore a boxlike corset of whalebone and

cordage that was uncomfortable and impeded movement. Mary Jacobs's

concern, though, was not comfort but appearance. In 1913, she purchased

an expensive sheer evening gown for a society affair. The gown clearly

revealed the contour of her corset, so Mrs. Jacobs, with the assistance of

her French maid, Marie, devised a brief, backless bra from two white handkerchiefs,

a strand of ribbon, and cord. Female friends who admired the

lightweight, impromptu fashion received one as a gift. But a letter from a

stranger, containing a dollar and a request for "your contraption,"

prompted the socialite to submit sketches of her design to the U.S. Patent


In November 1914, a patent was awarded for the Backless Brassiere.

Aided by a group of friends, Mary Jacobs produced several hundred handmade

garments; but without proper marketing, the venture soon collapsed.

By chance, she was introduced socially to a designer for the Warner Brothers

Corset Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut. Mary Jacobs mentioned her

invention, and when the firm offered $1,500 for patent rights, she accepted.

The patent has since been valued at $15 million.


Before the bra. A nineteenth-century depiction of the harmful skeletal

effects from tight corseting.

Innovations on Mary Jacobs's design followed. Elastic fabric was introduced

in the '20s, and the strapless bra, as well as standard cup sizes, in

the '30s. The woman largely responsible for sized bras was Ida Rosenthal,

a Russian-Jewish immigrant who, with the help of her husband, William,

founded Maidenform.

During the "flapper era" of the '20s, fashion dictated a flat-chested,

boyish look. Ida Rosenthal, a seamstress and dress designer, bucked the

trend, promoting bust-flattering bras. Combining her own design experience

and paper-patterns, she grouped American women into bust-size categories

and produced a line of bras intended to lift the female figure through every

stage from puberty to maturity. Her belief that busts would return to fashion

built a forty-million-dollar Maidenform industry. Asked during the '60s,

when young women were burning bras as a symbol of female liberation, if

the action signaled the demise of the brassiere business, Ida Rosenthal

answered, "We're a democracy. A person has the right to be dressed or

undressed." Then she added, "But after age thirty-five a woman hasn't got

the figure to wear no support. Time's on my side."


Hosiery: 4th Century B.C., Rome

Hosiery: 4th Century B.C., Rome

Sock. Hose. Stocking. However we define these related words today, or

choose to use them interchangeably in a sentence, one thing is certain:

originally they were not the items they are now. The sock, for instance, was

a soft leather slipper worn by Roman women and effeminate men. Hose

covered the leg but not the foot. The word "stocking" does not appear in

the vocabulary of dress until the sixteenth century, and its evolution up

the leg from the foot took hundreds of years.

The history of men's and women's "socks" begins with the birth of garments

that were "put on" rather than merely "wrapped around."

The first "put on" items were worn by Greek women around 600 B.C.:

a low, soft sandal-like shoe that covered mainly the toes and heel. (See page

294.) Called a sykhos, it was considered a shameful article for a man to

wear and became a favorite comic theater gimmick, guaranteed to win a

male actor a laugh.

Roman women copied the Greek sykhos and Latinized its name to soccus.

It, too, was donned by Roman mimes, making it for centuries standard

comedy apparel, as baggy pants would later become the clown's trademark.

The soccus sandal was the forerunner both of the word "sock" and of

the modem midcalf sock. From Rome, the soft leather soccus traveled to

the British Isles, where the Anglo-Saxons shortened its name to soc. And

they discovered that a soft soc worn inside a coarse boot protected the foot

from abrasion. Thus, from its home inside the boot, the soc was on its way

to becoming the modem sock. Interestingly, the Roman soccus also traveled

to Germany, where it was worn inside a boot, its spelling abbreviated to

socc, which until the last century meant both cloth footwear and a lightweight


Hose. In ancient times in warm Mediterranean countries, men wore wraparound

skirts, having no need for the leg protection of pants. In the colder

climates of Northern Europe, though, Germanic tribes wore loose-fitting

trousers reaching from waist to ankle and called heuse. For additional

warmth, the fabric was commonly crisscrossed with rope from ankle to

knee, to shield out drafts.

This style of pants was not unique to Northern Europeans. When Gaius

Julius Caesar led his Roman legions in the first-century B.C. conquest of

Gaul, his soldiers' legs were protected from cold weather and the thorns

and briers of northwestern forests by hosa-gathered leg coverings of cloth

or leather worn beneath the short military tunic. The word hosa became

"hose," which for many centuries denoted gathered leg coverings that

reached down only to the ankles.

Logically, it might seem that in time, leg hose were stitched to ankle socks


Into the Bedroom

to form a new item, stockings. However, that is not what happened. The

forerunner of modern stockings are neither socks nor hose but, as we're

about to see, undones.

Stockings: 5th Century, Rome

By A.D. 100, the Romans had a cloth foot sock called an udo (plural, udones).

The earliest mention of the garment is found in the works of the poet and

epigrammatist M. Valerius Martialis, who wrote that in udones, the "feet

will be able to take refuge in cloth made of goat's hair."

At that time, the udo fitted over the foot and shinbone. Within a period

of one hundred years, Roman tailors had extended the udo up the leg to

just above the knee, to be worn inside boots. Men who wore the stocking

without boots were considered effeminate; and as these knee-length udones

crept farther up the leg to cover the thigh, the stigma of effeminacy for

men who sported them intensified.

Unfortunately, history does not record when and why the opprobrium

of effeminacy attached to men wearing stockings disappeared. But it went

slowly, over a period of one hundred years, and Catholic clergymen may

well have been the pioneering trendsetters. The Church in the fourth century

adopted above-the-knee stockings of white linen as part of a priest's

liturgical vestments. Fifth-century church mosaics display full-length stockings

as the vogue among the clergy and laity of the Roman Empire.

Stockings had arrived and they were worn by men.

The popularity of form-fitting stockings grew in the eleventh century,

and they became trousers known as "skin tights." When William the Conqueror

crossed the English Channel in 1066 and became the Norman king

of England, he and his men introduced skin tights to the British Isles. And

his son, William Rufus, wore French stocking pants (not much different in

design from today's panty hose) of such exorbitant cost that they were

immortalized in a poem. By the fourteenth century, men's tights so accurately

revealed every contour of the leg, buttocks, and crotch that churchmen

condemned them as immodest.

The rebellious nature of a group of fourteenth-century Venetian youths

made stocking pants even more scandalous, splitting teenagers and parents

into opposing camps.

A fraternity of men calling themselves La Compagna della Calza, or The

Company of the Hose, wore short jackets, plumed hats, and motley skin

tights, with each leg a different color. They presented public entertainments,

masquerades, and concerts, and their brilliant outfits were copied by youths

throughout Italy. "Young men," complained one chronicler ofthe period,

"are in the habit of shaving half their heads, and wearing a close-fitting

cap." And he reported that decent people found the "tight-fitting hose ...

to be positively immodest." Even Geoffrey Chaucer commented critically

on the attire of youth in The Canterbury Tales. Skin-tight, bicolored stock-


From a fourteenth-century British illustration of an attendant handing stocking

to her mistress. It's the first pictorial evidence of a woman wearing stockings.

ings may indeed have been the first rebellious fashion statement made by


The stockings discussed so far were worn by priests, warriors, and young

men. When did women begin to roll on stockings?

Fashion historians are undecided. They believe that women wore stockings

from about A.D. 600. But because long gowns concealed legs, there is scant

evidence in paintings and illustrated manuscripts that, as one eighteenthcentury

writer expressed it, "women had legs."

Among the earliest pictorial evidence of a woman in stockings is an illustrated

1306 British manuscript which depicts a lady in her boudoir,

seated at the edge of the bed, with a servant handing her one of a pair of

stockings. The other stocking is already on her leg. As for one of the earliest

references to the garment in literature, Chaucer, in The Canterbury Tales,

comments that the Wife of Bath wore stockings "of fine skarlet redde."

Still, references to women's stockings are extremely rare up until the

sixteenth century. Female legs, though undoubtedly much admired in private,

were something never to be mentioned in public. In the sixteenth

century, a British gift of silk stockings for the queen of Spain was presented

with full protocol to the Spanish ambassador, who drawing himself haughtily

erect, proclaimed: "Take back thy stockings. And know, foolish sir, that

the Queen of Spain hath no legs."

In Queen Elizabeth's England, women's stockings fully enter history, and


Into the Bedroom

with fashion flair. In extant texts, stockings are described as colored "scarlet

crimson" and "purple," and as "beautified with exquisite embroideries and

rare incisions of the cutters art." In 1561, the third year of her reign,

Elizabeth was presented with her first pair of knitted silk stockings, which

converted her to silk to the exclusion of all other stocking fabrics for the

remainder of her life.

It was also during Elizabeth's reign that the Reverend William Lee, in

1589, invented the "loome" for machine-knitting stockings. The Reverend

Lee wrote that for the first time, stockings were "knit on a machine, from

a single thread, in a series of connected loops." That year, the hosiery

industry began.

Nylon Stockings: May 15, 1940, United States

Because of the public-relations fanfare surrounding the debut of nylon

stockings, there is no ambiguity concerning their origin. Perhaps there

should have been skepticism, though, of the early claim that a pair of stockings

would "last forever."

The story begins on October 27, 1938, when the Du Pont chemical company

announced the development of a new synthetic material, nylon, "passing

in strength and elasticity any previously known textile fibers." On the

one hand, the breakthrough meant that the hosiery industry would no

longer be periodically jeopardized by shortages of raw silk for silk stockings.

But manufacturers also feared that truly indestructible stockings would

quickly bankrupt the industry.

While the "miracle yarn" was displayed at the 1939 World's Fair, women

across America eagerly awaited the new nylon stockings. Test wearers

were quoted as saying the garments endured "unbelievable hours of

performance.' ,

Du Pont had shipped selected hosiery manufacturers spools of nylon

yarn, which they agreed to knit according to company specifications. The

mills then allotted nylon stockings to certain stores, on the promise that

none be sold before "Nylon Day," slated as May 15 of that year, 1940.

The hysteria that had been mounting across the country erupted early

on that mid-May morning. Newspapers reported that no consumer item in

history ever caused such nationwide pandemonium. Women queued up

hours before store doors opened. Hosiery departments were stampeded

for their limited stock of nylon stockings. In many stores, near riots broke

out. By the close of that year, three million dozen pairs of women's nylons

had been sold-and that number could have been significantly higher if

more stockings were available.

At first, the miracle nylons did appear to be virtually indestructible. Certainly

that was true in comparison to delicate silk stockings. And it was also

true because, due to nylons' scarcity, women doubtless treated the one or

two pairs they managed to buy with greater care than they did silk stockings.


Sex-Related Words: Post-11th Century, England and France

In a remarkably short time, silk stockings were virtually obsolete. And

nyJon stockings became simply "nylons." Women after all had legs, and

never before in history were they so publicly displayed and admired.

Sex-Related Words: Post-11th Century, England and


With the conquest of England in 1066 by William of Normandy, the AngloSaxon

language of the British Isles underwent several alterations. As the

French-speaking Normans established themselves as the ruling caste, they

treated the native Saxons and their language as inferior. Many Saxon words

were regarded as crude simply because they were spoken by Saxons. Some

of these words, once inoffensive, survived and passed eventually into English

as coarse, impolite, or foul expressions. Etymologists list numerous examples

of "polite" (Norman) and "impolite" (Saxon) words:















The mother tongue of the twelve kings and queens from William I (who

ruled from 1066 to 1087) to Richard II (from 1377 to 1399) was the Normans'

French, though the Anglo-Saxons' English continued to be spoken.

When the two tongues blended into a new language, Middle English, which

became the official language of the court in 1362 and the language for

teaching in the universities at Oxford and Cambridge in 1380, we inherited

many double expressions. In addition to those listed above, the Norman

"fornicate" came to be the respectable replacement for the Saxon "fuck,"

which itself derived from the Old English word fokken, meaning "to beat

against. "

The Normans, of course, had obtained their word "fornicate" from an

earlier language, and etymologists trace the origin to fornix, Latin for a

small, vaulted-ceiling basement room that could be rented for a night. For

in Roman Christian times, prostitutes practiced their trade secretly in such

underground rooms, much the way a modern prostitute might rent a motel

room. Fornix first became a noun synonymous with "brothel," then a verb

meaning "to frequent a brothel," fornicari, and finally the name of the

activity conducted therein.

The word "prostitute" comes to us from the Latin prostitutus, meaning


Into the Bedroom

"offered for sale." Itnot only reflects that a hooker charges for services,

but as the verb "to prostitute," connotes sacrificing one's integrity for

material gain. "Prostitute" was itself a euphemism for the Old English word

"whore," a term that once merely suggested desire.

"Hooker" is believed to be associated with General Joseph ("Fighting

Joe") Hooker of Civil War fame. To bolster the morale of his men, General

Hooker is supposed to have allowed prostitutes access to his troops in

camp, where they became known as "Hooker's girls." When a section of

Washington was set aside for brothels, it acquired the name Hooker's Division,

and the local harlots became hookers .

. The term "gay," synonymous today with "homosexual," dates back to

thirteenth-century France, when gai referred to the "cult of courtly love"that is, homosexual love-and a "lover" was a gaiol. Troubadour poetry

of that period explicitly discusses this "cult" love. In the following centuries,

the word was appropriated to describe first a prostitute, then any social

undesirable, and lastly, in a homophobic British culture, to describe both

homosexuality and the homosexual himself. Its first public use in the United

States (aside from pornographic fiction) was in a 1939 Hollywood comedy,

Bringing Up Baby, when Cary Grant, sporting a dress, exclaimed that he

had "gone gay."


Chapter 14

From the Magazine Rack

Magazines in America: 1741, New England

Newspapers were developed to appeal to the general public; magazines, on

the other hand, were intended from the start to deliver more narrowly

focused material to special-interest groups, and they experienced a difficult

birth. In America, early magazines failed so quickly and frequently that the

species was continually endangered, several times extinct.

The origin of the magazine, following the development of the printing

press in fifteenth-century Germany, was straightforward: printed singlepage

leaflets expanded into multipage pamphlets that filled the middle

ground between newspapers and books. History's first magazine was the

1633 German periodical Erbauliche Monaths-Unterredungen, or Edifying

Monthly Discussions, started by Johann Rist, a poet and theologian from

Hamburg. Strongly reflecting its publisher's dual vocations, the "monthly"

appeared whenever Rist could spare the time to write and print it, and its

edifying contents strictly embodied the author's own views. It lasted, on

and off, for five years-an eternity for early magazines.

Magazines for light reading, for diversion, and for exclusively female

readership began appearing by the mid-seventeenth century. Two are notable

for having established a format that survives to this day.

A 1672 French publication, Mercure Galant, combined poems, colorful

anecdotes, feature articles, and gossip on the nobles at court. Andin 1693,

a British publisher took the bold step of introducing a magazine devoted

to "the fairer sex." Ladies' Mercury offered advice on etiquette, courtship,


Magazines originated

to jill the middle

ground between

newspapers and books.

and child rearing, plus embroidery patterns and home cosmetic preparations,

along with dollops of light verse and heavy doses of gossip-a potpourri

of how-tos, delights, and inessentials that could not be found in

newspapers or books. The magazine found itself a niche and set forth a

formula for imitators.

While "penny weeklies" thrived in centuries-old Europe, in the nascent

American colonies they encountered indifferent readership, reluctant authorship,

and seemingly insurmountable circulation problems that turned

many a weekly into a semiannual. .

Due to competitive forces, America's first two magazines, both political,

were issued within three days of each other. In February 1741, Benjamin

Franklin's General Magazine, and Historical Chronicle, For all the British Plantations

in America was narrowly beaten to publication by the rival effort of

publisher Andrew Bradford: American Magazine, or A Monthly View of the

Political State of the British Colonies. A fierce quarrel ensued and both Philadelphia

periodicals quickly folded; Bradford's after three months, Franklin's

after six.

Numerous other magazines were started-spanning spectrums from poetry

to prose, fact to fiction, politics to how-to-and most of them failed.

Noah Webster lamented in 1788, "The expectation of failure is connected


Magazines in America: 1741, New England

with the very name of a Magazine." And the New-York Magazine, one of

the longest-lived of the eighteenth-century ventures, went to its inevitable

demise editorializing: "Shall every attempt of this nature desist in these

States? Shall our country be stigmatised, odiously stigmatised, with want of

taste for literature?"

Why such failure?

Three factors are to blame: broadly, the reader, the writer, and the mails.

The American reader: In 1741, the year Benjamin Franklin's magazine

debuted, the population of the colonies was only about one million, whites

and blacks, many of both races illiterate. This sparse population was scattered

over an area measuring more than twelve hundred miles north to

south along the seaboard, and at some points, a thousand miles westward.

And in most regions the roads were, as one publication stated, "wretched,

not to say shameful." Stagecoach travel between the major cities of Boston

and New York took eight to ten days. Thus, it's not surprising that during

the eighteenth century, no American magazine achieved a readership higher

than fifteen hundred; the average number of subscribers was about eight


The American writer: Only less discouraging than a small and scattered

readership was the unwillingness of eighteenth-century writers to contribute

to magazines, which they viewed as inferior to books and newspapers. Consequently,

most of the early American magazines reprinted material from

books, newspapers, and European magazines. As the editor of the moribund

New-York Magazine bemoaned, "In the present state ofthis Western World,

voluntary contributions are not to be depended on."

The American mails: Horse-carried mail was of course faster than mail

delivered by stagecoach, but magazines (and newspapers) in the eighteenth

century were admitted to the mails only at the discretion oflocal postmasters.

In fact, many of America's early magazine publishers were postmasters,

who readily franked their own products and banned those of competitors.

This gave postmasters immense power over the press, and it led to corruption

in political campaigns, forcing politicians to pay regional postmasters

in order to appear in print. Even the honorable Benjamin Franklin, appointed

postmaster of Philadelphia in 1737, discriminated in what publication's

his post riders could carry.

Furthermore, the cost of a magazine was compounded by a commonplace

postal practice: For more than fifty years, many American periodicals arrived

by mail only if a subscriber paid a fee to both the local post rider and the

regional postmaster. This practice was actually legalized in the Postal Ordinance

Act of 1782. Publishers advertised that subscribers would receive

issues "by the first opportunity," meaning whenever and however a magazine

could be delivered.

One further problem bedeviled early American magazine publishers, one

that has since been palliated but not solved: the delinquent customer. Today

it is common practice to pay in advance or in installments, or to charge a


From the Magazine Rack

magazine subscription. But in the eighteenth century, a subscriber paid

weeks or months after receiving issues-which, given the vagaries of the

mail, never arrived, or arrived late or damaged. Poor incentives for paying

debts. And there were no such intimidations as a collection agency or a

credit rating.

The dilemma led publishers to strange practices. Desperate for payment,

they often stated in their magazines that in lieu of cash they would accept

wood, cheese, pork, corn, and other products. Isaiah Thomas, editor of

the 1780s Worcester Magazine, wrote in an issue that his family was short

on butter and suggested how delinquent subscribers could quickly clear

their arrears: "The editor requests all those who are indebted to him for

Newspapers and Magazines, to make payment-butter will be recieved in

small sums, if brought within a few days."

In the face of so many fatal odds, why did American publishers continue

to issue new magazines? Because they looked toward Europe and were

reminded of the lucrative and prestigious possibilities of periodicals-if

only the problems of readership, authorship, and the mails could be solved.

Ladies' HomeJournal: 1883, Pennsylvania

In the year of America's centennial, a twenty-six-year-old Philadelphia

newspaperman, Cyrus Curtis, conceived a family-oriented horticulture

magazine, Tribune and Farmer, to sell for fifty cents for a year's subscription.

Mrs. Curtis persuaded her husband to allot her space for a short regular

column, which she proposed to title "Woman and the Home." He reluctantly

consented. Mr. Curtis's magazine folded; his wife's contribution split

off to become the Ladies' Home Journal, still in strong circulation today.

Issues ill the early 1880s contained comparatively few pages-of recipes,

household hints, needlepoint patterns, gardening advice, poems, and occasionally

a short story. Unpretentious, inexpensively printed, the thin

magazine offered great variety, and Mrs. Curtis, editing under her maiden

name, Louise Knapp, clearly recognized her audience as America's middleclass

homemakers. At the conclusion of its first year, the Journal had a

circulation of 2,500, an impressive number for that day.

Cyrus Curtis, having abandoned his own publishing venture, concentrated

on increasing the circulation of his wife's magazine. The older problems

of limited readership and unreliable mail distribution no longer plagued

publishers, but snagging the best writers of the day was a continuing challenge.

Especially for a magazine whose hallmark was household hints. Curtis

soon discovered that many established authors-Louisa May Alcott, for

one-reserved their work for prestigious journals, even if the pay was slightly


For Cyrus Curtis, a breakthrough came when he learned that an offer

to contribute to an author's favorite charity often was enough to win an

article for his wife's magazine. Thus, Louisa May Alcott came to head the


Good Housekeeping: 1885, Massachusetts

journal's "List of Famous Contributors," which Curtis publicized. This,

and an aggressive advertising campaign, capped by a contest with cash

prizes, caused circulation in 1887 to shoot up to 400,000; correspondingly,

the magazine's size expanded to a handsome thirty-two pages per monthly


In the 1890s, the magazine's appeal to American women was due in part

to its newfound tone of intimacy. Editor Edward Bok, a bachelor, had

instituted a chatty, candid personal-advice column, "Side Talks with Girls,"

which he himself initially wrote under the pseudonym Ruth Ashmore. Its

phenomenal success-the first column drew seven hundred letters from

women seeking counsel on matters from courtship to health-spawned

"Side Talks with Boys" and "Heart to Heart Talks," and established "advice"

and "self-improvement" features as magazine staples. And while other

magazines of the day featured identical cover illustrations issue after issue,

the Journal daringly changed its cover images monthly, setting another

modern trend.

Not all the magazine's features were lighthearted and chatty. TheJournal

uncovered a major advertising hoax.

At the turn of the century, there was no national agency to screen the

miracle claims made for scores of over-the-counter syrups and sarsaparillas.

The federal government and the medical profession were continually battling

companies nostrum by nostrum, claim by outrageous claim. Considerable

controversy surrounded the top-selling Lydia E. Pinkham Vegetable

Compound, a panacea for a spectrum of female woes. Advertisements for

the product claimed that Miss Lydia herself was toiling away-"in her laboratory

at Lynn, Massachusetts"-improving the compound. The Ladies'

Home Journal proved that Lydia was actually in Pine Grove Cemetery near

Lynn, where she had been resting for twenty years. To prove it, the magazine

published a picture of the dated tombstone. No Watergate coup, to be

sure, but the article heightened public awareness of falsehood in advertising,

and the following year, 1906, Congress passed the long-awaited Federal

Food and Drug Act.

The Ladies' Home Journal could rightfully boast that it became the first

magazine in America to attain a circulation of one million readers.

Good Housekeeping: 1885, Massachusetts

The hallmark of the 1880s Good Housekeeping: A Family Journal Conducted

in the Interests of the Higher Life of the Household was that it invited readers'

contributions and sponsored contests. One of the earliest requests for contributions

offered $250 for the best article on "How to Eat, Drink and

Sleep as Christians Should." And initial contests awarded cash prizes for

the most effective "Bug Extinguisher," the best "Bed Bug Finisher," and

the most potent "Moth Eradicator," highlighting an entomological concern

that apparently was of pressing significance to readers.


From the Magazine Rack

The thirty-two-page biweekly, which sold for $2.50 a year, was the brainchild

of Massachusetts political writer and poet Clark Bryan. Scrapbookish

in design, the magazine featured word puzzles and quizzes in addition to

advice on home decorating, cooking, and dressmaking. Bryan's reliance on

reader-written articles precluded an elite roster of contributors, but it helped

immensely to popularize the homey periodical, offering a subscriber the

opportunity to see his or her name and views in print. Each issue led with

one of Bryan's own poems, but in 1898, after battling a serious illness, the

magazine's founder committed suicide.

The magazine survived and thrived. And it continued to feature poemsby

such writers as Amy Lowell, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Alfred Noyes, and

Ogden Nash. By 1908, Good Housekeeping boasted a readership of 200,000

and was still printing articles like "Inexpensive Christmas Gifts," the kind

Bryan had favored.

Clark Bryan did not live to see the words "Good Housekeeping" adapted

as the country's first national badge of consumerism. Yet the Good Housekeeping

Seal of Approval arose out of Bryan's founding philosophy. To

test the numerous recipes, spot-removing practices, salves, and labor-saving

gadgets that subscribers recommended to other readers, the magazine set

up its own Experimental Station in 1900. The station's home economists

and scientists also tested products of the magazine's advertisers and published

ads only for products that won approval. The concept was novel,

innovative, much needed, and it rapidly gained the respect of readers. By

1909, the magazine had instituted its official Seal of Approval, an elliptical

graphic enclosing the words "Tested and Approved by the Good Housekeeping

Institute Conducted by Good Housekeeping Magazine." A guarantee

of a product's quality and availability, the phrase passed into the American

vernacular, where it was applied not only to consumer merchandise but

colloquially to any person, place, or thing that met with approval.

Cosmopolitan: 1886, New York

Bearing the motto "The world is my country and all mankind are my countrymen,"

Cosmopolitan was born in Rochester, New York, in 1886, the idea

of writer and publisher Paul J. Schlicht. The handsome magazine, with its

high yearly subscription price of four dollars, was not at all successful. In

accordance with its motto, the periodical featured articles on such disparate

subjects as how ancient people lived, climbing Mount Vesuvius, the life of

Mozart, plus European travel sketches and African wild animal adventures.

After a financial struggle, Schlicht sold the magazine to a former West

Point cadet and diplomat to China, forty-year-old John Walker, a New

Yorker. Although Walker was both praised and criticized for introducing

"the newspaper ideas of timeliness and dignified sensationalism into periodicalliterature,"

under his leadership Cosmopolitan prospered. He raised

the prestige of the magazine in 1892 by hiring the respected literary figure


Vogue: 1892, New York

William Dean Howells as a coeditor. And the first issue under Howells's

stewardship was impressive: it carried a poem by James Russell Lowell; an

article by Henry James; an essay by Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Emily

Dickinson's mentor; and a feature by Theodore Roosevelt.

To further increase the magazine's circulation, Walker undertook a railroad

tour of New England cities. New subscribers received as gifts the

memoirs of either Grant or Sherman, and successful student salesmen of

Cosmopolitan subscriptions won college scholarships. By 1896, the magazine

held a secure place among the country's leading illustrated periodicals.

Walker's "dignified sensationalism" was not quite dignified enough for

the subtler literary tastes of coeditor Howells, who resigned. But Walker's

philosophy was appreciated by the public and by the Hearst Corporation,

which acquired the magazine in 1905. Compared to its competitors, Cosmopolitan

was expensive: thirty-five cents an issue during the '20s. But people

did not seem to mind spending the money for dignified sensationalism, as

well as for features by Theodore Dreiser and Stephen Crane. President

Coolidge remarked when he selected the magazine to publish his newly

completed autobiography, "When you pay thirty-five cents for a magazine,

that magazine takes on in your eyes the nature of a book and you treat it

accordingly. "

Vogue: 1892, New York

To the American woman in the 1890s, Vogue depicted a sophisticated new

world. George Orwell, the British literary critic and satirist, wrote that few

of the magazine's pages were devoted to politics and literature, the bulk

featured '~pictures of ball dresses, mink coats, panties, brassieres, silk stockings,

slippers, perfumes, lipsticks, nail polish-and, of course, of the women,

unrelievedly beautiful, who wear them or make use of them."

In fact, it was for those women who "make use of them" that the magazine

was designed.

Vogue began in 1892 as a society weekly for wealthy New Yorkers. The

names of most of the two hundred fifty stockholders of its publishing company

were in the Social Register, including a Vanderbilt, a Morgan, and a

Whitney. According to its philosophy, the weekly was to be "a dignified,

authentic journal of society, fashion, and the ceremonial side of life," with

its pages uncluttered by fiction, unsullied by news.

The first issues were largely social schedules on soirees and coming-out

parties. For the cover price of ten cents, average folk could ogle the galas,

betrothals, marriages, travel itineraries, and gossip of New York's elite. The

magazine mentioned Delmonico's with respect, and reported from the

theater, concert hall, and art gallery with approval or disdain. Its avid coverage

of golf suggested the sport was already a national craze.

Vogue was not for everyone. Its unique brand of humor-as when it

printed: "Now that the masses take baths every week, how can one ever


From the Magazine Rack

distinguish the gentleman?" -often confounded or infuriated its more

thoughtful readers. And the early magazine was edited by the brilliant but

eccentric Josephine Redding, described as "a violent little woman, square

and dark, who, in an era when everyone wore corsets, didn't." Renowned

for her hats, which she was never seen to remove, she once, when confined

to bed by illness, received her staff in a nightgown and a hat.

Vogue scored a coup in 1895, publishing detailed drawings of the threethousand-

dollar trousseau of Consuelo Vanderbilt, whose impending marriage

to the duke of Marlborough was the Charles-and-Diana event of the

day. No lesser magazine of that era would ever have been given access to

the material.

In 1909, Vogue was purchased by publisher Conde Nast. Under his leadership,

the magazine became primarily a fashion journal, still for the elite.

An editorial that year proclaimed as the purpose of the magazine to "hold

the mirror up to the mode, but to hold it at such an angle that only people

of distinction are reflected therein." In the 1930s, Nast introduced

Mademoiselle, geared for women aged seventeen to thirty, then Glamour,

edited for the young career woman. But Vogue remained the company's

proud centerpiece, America's preeminent chronicler of fashion and the

fashionable, labeled by Time as "No.1" in its field.

House Beautiful: 1896, Illinois

Its name was taken from a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson, "The House

Beautiful," and that was the exact title of the original 1896 magazine. The

was dropped in 1925.

Begun as a journal of "Simplicity and Economy" by Eugene Klapp, a

Chicago engineer who had a flair for architecture and literature, the magazine

cost a then-reasonable ten cents. It contained short, readable articles

on home building and decorating, and the magazine'S first page announced

its philosophy: "A little money spent with careful thought by people of

keen artistic perception will achieve a result which is astonishing." In other

words, beauty and elegance were affordable to the average home owner.

When Eugene Klapp joined the military in 1899, the magazine came into

the capable hands of Harvard-educated Herbert Stone.

Possessing an abhorrence of pretension, Stone was perfectly suited to

the magazine'S homey philosophy. He oversaw a series of critical articles

under the rubric "The Poor Taste of the Rich." The intent of the series

was to assure readers "That Wealth Is Not Essential to the Decoration of

a House," and to enlighten them to the fact "That the Homes of Many of

Our Richest Citizens Are Furnished in Execrable Taste." The critical articles

came amply illustrated with photographs of the offending mansions, and

the names of the affluent residents were not withheld. The series generated

considerable publicity but, interestingly, no lawsuits.

In 1898, House Beautiful instituted an annual competition for the best


National Geographic: 1888, Washington, D.C.

design of a three-thousand-dollar home, regularly upping the limit to keep

pace with inflation and prosperity. And when apartment house living gained

ascendancy in the 1910s, the magazine offered the first articles on the

special requirements in furnishing and decorating this new type of space.

In reflecting such trends, the magazine's articles became a social barometer

of middle-class American living; for example, the single title "ThreeBedroom

House with Two-Car Garage for $8,650" (April 194 7) could conjure

up an era and its people's expectations.

Herbert Stone served as editor for sixteen years, but in 1915, returning

home from a European holiday on the Lusitania, he drowned when the

ship was sunk by a German submarine.

National Geographic: 1888, Washington, D.C.

With its yellow-boarded cover and timeless photographic essays, The National

Geographic Magazine became an American institution soon after its introduction

in October 1888. From the start, subscribers saved back issues, for

quality nature photography (in black and white) was something of a new

phenomenon, elevating the magazine to the nondisposable status of a book.

The landmark publication originated with the National Geographic Society

as a means of disseminating "geographic knowledge." From the premier

issue, the magazine specialized in maps of exotic rivers, charts of rain

forest precipitation, r~ports on volcanology and archaeology, and adventurous

forays by eminent scientists and explorers into foreign lands. In the

era before air travel, National Geographic transported thousands of readers

to regions they would never visit and most likely had never imagined existed.

The adventure was to be had for a five-dollar membership in the society,

with a year's subscription to the magazine.

An early president of the society was inventor Alexander Graham Bell.

With the magazine's membership static at about thirteen hundred in 1897,

Bell undertook the challenge of creating a new audience. Solicitation now

took the form of a personal invitation to membership in the National Geographic

Society, beginning, "I have the honor to inform you that you have

been recommended for membership." A subscriber was assured that his

or her money funded scientific exploration in new parts of the globe.

Bell also encouraged his contributing authors to humanize their adventure

stories, enabling the reader to participate vicariously in the hardships and

exhilarations of exploration. Peary, Cook, Amundsen, Byrd, and Shackleton

were just a few of the renowned explorers who wrote firsthand accounts

of their harrowing adventures. The society contributed to many expeditions,

and a grateful Byrd once wrote, "Other than the flag of my country, I know

of no greater privilege than to carry the emblem of the National Geographic

Society." By 1908, pictures occupied more than half of the magazine'S

eighty pages.

But what significantly transformed National Geographic and boosted its


From the Magazine Rack

popularity was the advent of color photographs and illustrations.

The first color pictures appeared in the November 1910 issue: thirtynine

bright and exotic images of Korea and China, most of them full-page.

Reader response was so great that following issues featured color photo

spreads of Japan and Russia, and colored drawings of birds, which became

a staple of the magazine. It claimed many photographic innovations: the

first flashlight photographs of wild animals in their natural habitats, the

first pictures taken from the stratosphere, and the first natural-color photographs

of undersea life. One of the most popular single issues appeared

in March 1919. Titled "Mankind's Best Friend," it contained magnificent

color illustrations of seventy-three breeds of dogs.

From readers' admiring letters, the editors learned that while subscribers

enjoyed -studying the colorful dress of foreign peoples, they preferred even

more the undress of bare-breasted natives in obscure parts of the globe.

By 1950, National Geographic held a firm position among the top ten monthly

periodicals in the world.

Scientific American: 1845, New York

A shoemaker at age fifteen and an amateur fiddler, Rufus Porter was also

a tireless inventor-of cameras, clocks, and clothes-washing machines.

Somewhere between his experiments with an engine lathe and electroplating

in the summer of 1845, the native New Yorker launched a slender weekly

newspaper, Scientific American, devoted to new inventions, including many

of his own. A year later, bored with his latest endeavor, Porter sold his

paper for a few hundred dollars.

The purchasers, Orson Munn and Alfred Beach, immediately increased

the weekly from four to eight pages and broadened its scope to include

short articles on mechanical and technical subjects. In those early years,

Scientific American virtually ignored the fields of biology, medicine, astronomy,

and physics.

Many of its technical articles were futuristic, some solid, others fanciful.

In 1849, for instance, the magazine prematurely heralded the advent of

subway transportation. In "An Underground Railroad in Broadway," the

editors outlined plans for a subterranean tunnel to run the length of New

York City'S Broadway, with "openings in stairways at every corner." Since

electric power was not yet a reality, the subway envisioned by the editors

was quite different from today's: "The cars, which are to be drawn by

horses, will stop ten seconds at every corner, thus performing the trip up

and down, including stoppages, in about an hour."

When New York newspapers ridiculed the idea, editor Beach secured

legislative approval to build instead an underground pneumatic tube system.

In February 1870, workmen actually began digging a tunnel in lower Manhattan

from Warren to Murray streets. As conceived, a car accommodating


Life: 1936, New York

eighteen passengers would fit snugly into the pneumatic tube. A compressedair

engine would blow it downtown, then, with the engine reversed, the car

would be sucked uptown. Construction was still proceeding when the city's

government, convinced that some sort of subway was feasible and essential,

announced plans for a five-million-dollar elevated steam train.

The magazine's early contributors were among the greatest inventors of

the period. Samuel Morse wrote about his dot-and-dash code, and Thomas

Edison, who walked three miles to get his monthly copy of the journal,

composed a feature in 1877 about his new "Talking Machine," the phonograph.

The magazine's stated goal was "to impress the fact that science is

not inherently dull, but essentially fascinating, understandable, and full of

undeniable charm"-a goal that it achieved early in its history.

Life: 1936, New York

In November 1936, after months of experimentation and promotion, Henry

Luce's Life magazine appeared on newsstands throughout the country. For

a dime, a reader was entertained and enlightened by ninety-six pages of

text and photographs: the first picture was of an obstetrician slapping a

baby to consciousness and was captioned" Life Begins." The issue sold out

within hours, and customers clamored to add their names to dealers' waiting

lists for the next installment.

Although Life was the most successful picture magazine in history, it was

not the first picture magazine, nor was it the first Life. Luce's product took

its name from a picture periodical that debuted in 1883, the creation of

an illustrator named John Mitchell.

Mitchell graduated from Harvard College with a degree in science and

studied architecture in Paris. In 1882, he settled in New York City and

decided to start a "picture weekly" that would make use of a new zinc

etching method of reproducing line drawings directly instead of having

them first engraved on wood blocks. Mitchell's Life was a magazine of humor

and satire, and a showcase for many of his own comic illustrations. In its

pages in 1877, Charles Dana Gibson, not yet twenty-one, introduced Americans

to the serenely beautiful, self-reliant "Gibson Girl." Until the Depression,

Mitchell's Life was one of America's most successful ten-cent weeklies.

Enter Henry Luce.

In 1936, Luce was searching for a catchy title for his soon-to-be-Iaunched

photographic picture magazine-which at the time was tentatively named

Look. Luce purchased the name Life from Mitchell's illustrated humor magazine

for $92,000.

Luce's Life, relating the news in photographs, found an eager audience

in the millions of Americans enthralled with motion pictures. Images, rather

than text, were a new and graphic way to convey a story, and Life'S gutsy

and artful pictures read like text. The magazine's "picture essays" brought


Charles Dana Gibson's

"Gibson Girl" in Life.

to maturity the field of photojournalism. Within only a few weeks of its

October 1936 debut, Life was selling a million copies an issue, making it

one of the most successful periodicals in history.

Look: 1937, New York

Around the time Henry Luce was changing the proposed name of his picture

magazine from Look to Life, newspaperman Gardner Cowles, Jr., was hard

at work independently developing a similar periodical, to be called Look.

Look, though, was no imitator of Life, nor were the magazines competitorsat

first. In fact, Gardner Cowles and Henry Luce traded ideas on their

projects. For a time, Luce was even an investor in Look.

Look actually evolved from the Sunday picture section of the Des Moines,

Iowa, Register and Tribune, a newspaper owned by the Cowles family since

early in the century. In 1925, the paper surveyed its readers and discovered

that they preferred pictures to text. Thus, the newspaper began running

series of photographs that told a story instead of a single picture with text.

These "picture stories" were so successful that in 1933 the Register and

Tribune began syndicating them to twenty-six other newspapers. It was then

that Cowles formulated plans for a picture magazine.

Although Gardner Cowles and Henry Luce agreed on the power of visual

images, their early magazines were fundamentally different. Life, an "information"

weekly, was printed on slick stock and emphasized news, the

arts, and the sciences, with an occasional seasoning of sex. Look, first a

monthly, then a biweekly, was printed on cheaper paper and focused on

personalities, pets, foods, fashions, and photo quizzes. As Look matured, it


Esquire: 1933, New York

grew closer in concept to Life and the two magazines competed for readerswith

each magazine finding enough loyal followers to keep it thriving and

competing for many years.

Ebony: 1945, Illinois

While Look and Life were top sellers, a new and significantly different American magazine appeared, capturing the readership of more than a quarter

of the black adults in the country.

John Johnson, head of the Johnson Publishing Company, founded Ebony

in 1945 specifically for black World War II veterans, who were returning

home in large numbers. Johnson felt that these men, ready to marry and

father children, needed wider knowledge of the world and could benefit

from reading stories about successful blacks.

Johnson had already displayed a talent for persuading powerful whites

to take him and his projects seriously. His first publishing venture had been

a magazine called Negro Digest. He had raised the capital to launch that

periodical, and when white magazine distributors refused to believe that a

magazine for blacks could succeed, Johnson coaxed hundreds of his acquaintances

to ask for the magazine at newsstands. And after several places

agreed to stock Negro Digest on a trial basis, Johnson's friends then purchased

all the copies. Chicago's white distributors, concluding that readership

for a black magazine existed, welcomed Johnson's digest. Within

months, circulation of Negro Digest rose to fifty thousand, and in 1943,

when the magazine was a year old, Johnson persuaded Eleanor Roosevelt

to write an article titled "If I Were a Negro." It generated so much publicity

nationwide that before year's end, the circulation of Negro Digest trebled.

With Ebony, the black readership was strong but white advertisers shied

away from the magazine. johnson's breakthrough came with the Zenith

Corporation. The electronics company's president, Commander Eugene

McDonald, had journeyed to the North Pole with Admiral Peary and a

black explorer, Matthew Henson. When Johnson approached Commander

McDonald, he displayed an issue of Ebony featuring a story about Henson

and the Peary expedition. The commander's nostalgia induced him to honor

Johnson'S request, and Zenith's advertisements in Ebony undermined the

white wall of resistance. With Ebony, Negro Digest, and another publication,

jet, John Johnson captured a combined readership of twelve million, nearly

half the black adults in America.

Esquire: 1933, New York

The immediate inspiration for Esquire was a publication that debuted in

October 1931, Apparel Arts, a handsome quarterly for the men's clothing

trade edited by Arnold Gingrich. Apparel Arts was popular but expensive;


From the Magazine Rack.

Gingrich figured that American men might flock in large numbers to a

version of the fashion magazine that could sell for a dime. He considered

calling the spin-off Trend, Stag, or Beau. Then one day he glanced at an

abbreviation in his attorney's letterhead, "Esq.," and had his title.

Gingrich felt certain that a market existed for Esquire because of reports

from clothing stores that customers stole counter copies of Apparel Arts. It

was customary for stores to display the thick quarterly, allowing customers

to order from among its merchandise. Several East Coast stores had already

asked Gingrich if he could produce an inexpensive, giveaway fashion brochure

that customers could take home and browse through at leisure. Instead

of a handout, Gingrich conceived of the ten-cent Esquire, and he

prepared a dummy copy by cutting and pasting pictures and articles from

back issues of its parent, Apparel Arts.

The first issue of Esquire, in October 1933, was an attractive, glossy quarterly

of 116 pages, one third of them in color, but costing fifty cents. Although

industry experts had predicted that a men's fashion magazine could

sell no more than 25,000 copies, clothing stores alone ordered 100,000

copies of the initial issue; Gingrich immediately decided to make the magazine

a monthly.

In addition to fashion, the premier issue included articles, short stories,

and sports pieces bearing impressive bylines: Ernest Hemingway, John Dos

Passos, Dashiell Hammett, and Gene Tunney. And Esquire continued as a

magazine of fashion and literary distinction, featuring writings by Thomas

Mann, D. H. Lawrence, Andre Maurois, and Thomas Wolfe. Hemingway

first published "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" in its pages, F. Scott Fitzgerald

contributed original stories, Arthur Miller wrote "The Misfits" for the magazine,

which also introduced new plays by William Inge and Tennessee

Williams. By 1960, the magazine that had been conceived as a free clothing

store handout was generating yearly advertising revenue in excess of seven

million dollars and had a circulation of almost a million. One can only

speculate on its success had Arnold Gingrich called it Stag.

Reader's Digest: 1922, New York

The son of a Presbyterian minister from St. Paul, Minnesota, De Witt Wallace

had an idea for a small family digest that might at best earn him five thousand

dollars a year. He believed that people wished to be well informed, but

that no reader in 1920 had the time or money to read the scores of magazines

issued weekly. Wallace proposed to sift out the most noteworthy articles,

condense them for easy reading, and gather them into a handy periodical

the size of a novella.

From back issues of other magazines, Wallace prepared his dummy. Two

hundred copies of the prototype, already named Reader's Digest, were mailed

to New York publishers and other potential backers. No one expressed the

least interest. So Wallace and his fiancee, Lila Bell Acheson, the daughter


TV Guide: 1953, Pennsylvania

of another Presbyterian minister, rented an office in New York's Greenwich

Village and formed the Reader's Digest Association. They condensed magazine

articles, and prepared a mimeographed circular soliciting subscriptions,

which they mailed to several thousand people on their wedding day,

October 15, 1921. When they returned from their honeymoon two weeks

later, the Wallaces found they had fifteen hundred charter subscribers at

three dollars each. They then set to work on issue number one of Reader's

Digest, dated February 1922.

With success came an unanticipated problem.

At first, other magazines readily granted the Digest permission to reprint

articles without fees. It was publicity. But as circulation increased, the Digest

was suddenly viewed as a competitor, cannibalizing copy and cutting into

advertising revenue and readership. Soon many of the country's major

magazines refused the Wallaces reprint rights.

In 1933, to maintain the appearance of a digest, DeWitt Wallace instituted

a controversial practice. He commissioned and paid for original articles to

be written for other magazines, with the proviso that he be permitted to

publish excerpts. Critics lambasted them as "planted articles," while Wallace

more benignly called them "cooperatively planned." Magazines with small

budgets welcomed the articles, but larger publications accused Wallace of

threatening the free flow of ideas and determining the content of too many

publications. The practice was discontinued in the 1950s. By that time, the

wholesome family digest that praised a life of neighborliness and good

works was earning thirty million dollars a year, and had recently launched

a new venture, the Reader's Digest Condensed Book Club. In the next

decade, its circulation would climb to fifteen million readers.

TV Guide: 1953, Pennsylvania

The magazine that would achieve a weekly circulation of seventeen million

readers and change the way Americans watched television was born out of

a telephone conversation.

In November 1952, Merrill Panitt, a television columnist for the Philadelphia

Inquirer and an administrative assistant at Triangle Publications,

received a phone call from his employer at Triangle, Walter H. Annenberg.

The influential businessman had spotted a newspaper advertisement for a

new weekly magazine, TV Digest. Annenberg instructed Panitt to learn more

about the proposed publication and discover if there were any others like

it aro