Celluloid Bosoms

These advertising cards date from the 1880s.

(Waterproof Linen)

celluloid_professorThe following will commend the use of these goods to all who study convenience, neatness and economy. The interior is fine linen – The exterior is Celluloid – the union of which combines the strength of Linen with the Waterproof qualities of Celluloid. The trouble and expense of washing is saved.

When soiled simply rub with soap and water (hot or cold) used freely with a stiff brush. They are persperation proof and are invaluable to travellers, saving all care of laundrying.

In wearing the turn-down Collar, always slip the Necktie under the roll. Do not attempt to straighten the fold.
The goods will give better satisfaction if the Seperable Sleeve Button and Collar Button is used.
Twist a small rubber elastic or chamois washer around the post of Sleeve Button to prevent possible rattling of Button.
To remove Yellow Stains, which may come from long wearing, use Sapolio, Soap or Saleratus water or Celluline, which latter is a new preparation for cleansing Celluloid.

Don’t you love it when advertisers tell you how marvellous the product is and then give “advice” on how to make it better? Neat and convenient (but you should pop a washer on the button unless you want to rattle like a skeleton at Halloween). “Simply rub with soap and water” (but for those not so simple yellow stains use Celluline) – which, by the way, is now a trade name for a cellulite treatment.

Celluloid was originally a trade name, too, for a pioneering product in the plastics industry but it soon became a generic term as new variations came on the market.

celluloid_chineseThe Victorian advertising industry often relied on cute children to sell their wares. This little chap seems quite innocent but why the Oriental look? Believe it or not, this could be an oblique and subtle reference to the number of Chinese laundries this amazing new American invention would drive out of business. Some of these celluloid trade cards were neither oblique nor subtle. A strong anti-Chinese prejudice was common in the late Victorian period, not just in America, but wherever cheap labourers from that country were found. They were believed to be undercutting wages and taking jobs from locals (usually white). Sound familiar? It seems that some aspects of human nature haven’t changed much in 130 years.

Eventually the chemists found something more useful for their invention than uncomfortable clothing when they made it thin enough to be rolled. The movie industry and photographers were forever grateful. Now early examples of Celluloid products are collectors’ items. Just keep them away from naked flame and beware of the dreaded celluloid disease.


Health and Sunny Hours

An advertising card for Ayer's Sarsaparilla from late 19th century.FOR SCROFULA and all scrofulous, mercurial, and blood disorders, the best remedy is AYER’S COMPOUND CONCENTRATED EXTRACT OF SARSAPARILLA – called, for convenience, AYER’S SARSAPARILLA. It is composed of the Sarsaparilla-root of the tropics, Stillingia, Yellow Dock, Mandrake, and other roots held in high repute for their alternative, diuretic, tonic, and curative properties. The active medicinal principles of these roots, extracted by a process peculiarly our own, are chemically united in AYER’S SARSAPARILLA with the Iodide of Potassium and Iron, forming by far the most economical and reliable blood-purifying medicine that can be used.

If there is a lurking taint of Scrofula about you, AYER’S SARSAPARILLA will dislodge it, and expel it from your system. For the cure of the disorders, lassitude and debility peculiar to the Spring, it has proved to be the best remedy ever devised. If your blood is vitiated, cleanse it without delay by the use of AYER’S SARSAPARILLA.
Prepared by
Dr. J. C. Ayer & Co., Lowell, Mass.

There are some pretty outrageous claims being made here. Scrofula is tuberculosis of the lymph nodes in the neck so equating it with blood impurity and suggesting it can be “dislodged” and expelled from the system with, essentially, a detox treatment is clearly ridiculous. Incidentally, the inclusion of Mandrake, a dangerous narcotic, in the ingredients should raise a red flag as well.

So was this a deliberate fraud? It’s hard to tell given the level of medical knowledge in the late 19th century. It certainly isn’t the worst example of overly enthusiastic claims. The patent medicine industry at the time thrived on a gullible public and a big advertising budget. The Ayer company had one of the biggest, and it shows in the printing quality of cards like this one.

A pimple poem

If you think that title is a misprint – read on.

Advertising card c. 1878 for Dr. J. C. Ayer's Sarsaparilla.

“How fair she grows from day to day,”
Her life an ever-smiling May!
And yet not always thus she grew,
Nor health and beauty always knew;
For once her cheeks were covered o’er
With “horrid pimples” by the score,
Which marred her face and made her sad;
And all because her blood was bad.
The means of cure she sought with care,-
At last, of Doctor J. C. Ayer,
Of Lowell, heard, a chemist skilled,
He who from healing roots distilled
An EXTRACT, potent to replace
The bloom of youth upon her face,
And make her blood as pure again
As when a merry child of ten.
“I’ll see!” she said, and off she hied,
A bottle bought, and quickly tried,
SARSAPARILLA was the name
By which this Extract gained its fame.
“Oh happy day,” she cried; for, lo!
The pimples soon began to go;
And now, the fairest of the fair,
She lives to bless the name of AYER!
Dr J. C. Ayer & Co., Lowell, Mass., U. S. A.
Price $1. Six bottles, $5. Worth $5 a bottle.

This card and its poetic advertisement on the back dates from around 1890. They don’t make copywriters like that anymore!

I’ll have more from the doctor later in the week.

National profiling

In this last of three posts about the Panama Canal, Frederic J. Haskin makes some observations on human nature.

A vintage postcard of Panama Canal.

It’s an odd thing – this transplanting a man from the temperate to the torrid zone. It affects men of different nations in different ways. It is disastrous in inverse ratio to the adaptability of the man transplanted. A German or a Dutchman goes to the Tropics and almost without a struggle yields to the demands of the new climate all his orderly daily habits. Your Dutchman in Java will, except on state occasions, wear the native dress (or undress); eat the native food; live in the native house; and, like as not, take a native woman to wife. One thing only – he will retain his schnapps. The German is only a little less adaptable, clings only a little longer to the routine of the Fatherland, but he, too, keeps his beer.


Your Englishman, on the contrary, defies the tropical sun and scorns to make any changes in his daily habit that he had not fixed upon as necessary and proper before he left his right little, tight little, island. He does, it is true, wear a pith helmet. That is due partly, perhaps, to his fear of the sun, but it is much more due to the fact that he associates it with lands where faces are not white; therefore he wears it in Egypt in the winter when it is shivery cold with the same religious devotion that he wears it in India when the mercury is running out of the top of the thermometer. Your Englishman, it is true, wears white duck clothes in the Tropics, but not the fiercest heat that old Sol ever produced could induce him for one moment to exchange his flannel underwear for cotton or to leave off his woolen hose. It is a pretty theory and not without much support, that it is this British defiance of tropical customs that has given him the mastery over Tropic peoples. And wherever goes the Briton there goes Scotch-and-soda.


The Americans steer a middle course. They dress for the heat and make themselves comfortable as possible. They consume even greater quantities of ice than they do at home, and the average American eats every day in summer enough ice to kill a score of Englishmen. At least, that’s what the Englishmen would think.

But the American in the Tropics tenaciously clings to many of his home habits, despite the changed conditions of his place of sojourn. He must have his bath, even though he talks less about it than the Englishman. He must have his three square meals a day, and breakfast must be a real breakfast. He demands screens to protect him from pestiferous insects, no less for comfort’s sake than health’s. And then he demands two other things – a soda fountain and a baseball team.

It is true that he often will indulge in a British peg of Scotch-and-soda, or in a German stein of beer, but the native drink that he takes with him to the Tropics, and one that he alone consumes, and the one that he, in season and out of season, demands, is the sweet, innocent, and non-alcoholic product of the soda fountain. How incomprehensible is this to the sons of other nations no American may ever understand.
‘The Panama Canal’, Frederick J. Haskin, Doubleday, Page & Company. 1914.


Gatun Dam

From ‘The Panama Canal’, Frederic J. Haskin, Doubleday, Page & Company. 1914.

Gatun Dam proved the happiest surprise of the whole waterway. In every particular it more than fulfilled the most optimistic prophecies of the engineers. They said that what little seepage there would be would not hurt anything; the dam answered by showing no seepage at all. They said that the hydraulic core would be practically impervious; it proved absolutely so. Where it was once believed that Gatun Dam would be the hardest task on the Isthmus it proved to be the easiest. Culebra Cut exchanged places with it in that regard.

A vintage postcard of Gatun spillway, Panama Canal.

The spillway through which the surplus waters of Gatun Lake will be let down to the sea level, is a large semicircular concrete dam structure with the outside curve upstream and the inside curve downstream. Projecting above the dam are 13 piers and 2 abutments, which divide it into 14 openings, each of them 45 feet wide. These openings are closed by huge steel gates, 45 feet wide, 20 feet high, and weighing 42 tons each. They are mounted on roller bearings, suspended from above, and are operated by electricity. They work in huge frames just as a window slides up and down in its frame. Each gate is independent of the others, and the amount of water permitted to go over the spillway dam thus can be regulated at will.

A vintage postcard of Gatun spillway, Panama Canal.

The spillway is so constructed that when the water flowing over it becomes more than 6 feet deep it adheres to the downstream face of the dam as it glides down, instead of rushing out and falling perpendicularly.

A Stupendous Task

The Panama Canal opened for business just over 100 years ago, so nobody reading this can remember the world without it. We think of it as a convenient way to move between two oceans and, while we can’t fail to be impressed by the scale of the engineering involved, we forget the commercial and political upheaval it caused at the time – until we read this passage in an old school book, looking forward to its completion.

A lock canal of 40 feet deep, with a width of four or five hundred feet, estimated to cost £75,000,000, and to be ready by 1915, is now being made. The task is stupendous. The length, 49 miles, is not the great difficulty. The tropical river Chagres, whose waters rise nearly 40 feet in a day, has to be crossed many times. A vast lake for the control of this body of water has had to be made. Then the Culebra ridge at its lowest is 300 feet above sea level, standing as it does between hills 3000 feet high. This ridge for more than 5 miles has to be cut down to canal level.



There are three pairs of locks, one pair near Colon, the Atlantic port, and the other two pairs near Panama, the Pacific end. These locks will lift vessels 85 feet, and the whole passage is expected to take no more than 12 hours.


A vintage postcard of Pedro Miguel locks, Panama Canal, under construction.

So successful has the work of the Americans been since they began their task, that it is expected to be complete before the date fixed for opening.

A vintage postcard of Miraflores locks, Panama Canal, under construction.

There is little doubt that the opening of the canal will create a new centre that must largely modify the existing sea routes of commerce, as well as bring others into existence. All ships that use the canal must pass through the Caribbean Sea, and such a focus of trade will centralise large commercial and political interests. To protect and develop its own interests, each nation will regard its possessions in the West Indies as of prime importance. The opening of the Canal will open up the eastern coasts of the Pacific to Europe as well as to the United States, and provide an alternative route to China, Japan, and Australia. The sea journey from New York to San Francisco will be shortened by two-thirds, and to Valparaiso and South American ports by a half. The chief political result will be to make the eastern and western coasts of the United States practically one coast line, and perhaps to necessitate, in the opinion of the government of the United States, the further, as well as the nearer approaches to the canal being fortified and placed under their control. This control is regarded, if not as a necessity of existence, at least as one of full development and national security.


Text from ‘The World’ – a school text book by McDougall’s Educational Co., Ltd., c. 1913.
Images from a contemporary fold-out souvenir letter card by Underwood and Underwood, New York.

Back to the future


Northrop’s Flying Wing

In 1949 the aircraft designer and engineer, John Northrop, gave a lecture on aviation history at the Library of Congress and finished by looking forward to developments in the next decade. After predicting that guided missiles would come into military use within two years and “form the backbone of the Air Force’s offence and defence by 1960”, he went on to say this –

If our development of atomic power plants for aircraft is vigorously pursued, we can probably have large aircraft driven by nuclear energy in service well before 1960. They will have unlimited range and very high speeds, but will be enormously expensive and therefore comparitively few in number. Except for specialised service they will be inferior to the guided missile in their ability to deliver a warhead to enemy territory at the lowest cost to our country’s economy.

Source: ‘New Zealand Flying’ magazine May 14, 1949.

doc-brownIt could have worked, with the right development team, but Doc Brown wasn’t available.

“You want to put a nuclear reactor in a flying wing? Great Scott, Jack! Do you realize what this means?!”