Mechanised writing systems were first developed as writing aids to those who were blind or had impaired vision. These systems included the ‘typographer,’ designed by William Burt in 1829, whereby the user turned a dial to select keys and the ‘chirographer’ designed by William Thurber in 1845. The need for an automated system was more widespread, however, with stenographers and telegraphers in popular demand for their efficiency in communication. In 1865 the first marketable version of the typewriter was patented by Rev. Rasmus Malling in Denmark and became known as the ‘Hansen Writing Ball.’
Two years later in Wisconsin, Christopher Soles, Carlos Glidden and Samuel W. Soule put their design for the ‘QWERTY’ typewriter into production with Remington (a company then famous for its manufacture of sewing machines). By 1910, this design had become the standard throughout the industry. Early designs often featured floral patterns in order to appeal to the vast number of female secretaries and typists who used them. The typewriter soon broke through this stereotype and became popular with journalists, novelists and in the home. In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mina famously records her tale using a typewriter; she transcribes every letter and document in order to standardise and make legible the disparate elements of her story.
The electrification of the typewriter was investigated as early as 1870, as Edison experimented with relaying typed information down a telegraph line. It was not until nearly a century later that this idea was popularised. Indeed, electrification was the death knell of the mechanical typewriter, with electronic keyboards taking their place. Today the romantic notion of ‘typecasting’ keeps the typewriter alive (a process where bloggers type their posts and scan the results onto a computer), as do collectors (who famously count Tom Hanks among their number.
The use of perfume can be traced back to ancient civilisations in Mesopotamia, Egypt and India, where incense-based perfumes were widespread. The first known chemist was a maker of perfumes in about 2000 BC. Perfumes, as precious commodities that were often bound up in the rituals of religious practices (especially those involving death) were often held in elaborate containers. These might be ceramic or more frequently stone, a porous material. The Romans would use hollowed-out precious stones, a common practise until the invention of glass. Glass perfume containers found in Palestine date back to around 500 BC.
Perfumes needed to be stored in containers that ideally shielded them from heat, light and oxygen, all elements that would speed up the process of decay. Perfume bottles could remove these elements and the development of the atomizer allowed the perfume to be stored in an oxygen and dust free container.
The history of perfume and its champions is one of decadence and excess. The use of perfume was popularised in Europe in the fourteenth century, when Queen Elizabeth of Hungary became interested in its use. In sixteenth century Italy, Catherine de’Medici hired a perfumer to live on site and guard the materials and mixtures he made from outsiders. Perfume bottles reflect this ostentation and display of wealth through the nineteenth century up to the 1910s, when designers like Lalique were called upon to create one-off pieces. Typically at this time perfumes would be sold in simple containers and decanted into exquisite bottles at home. This activity seems to have died off around the 1960s, when perfume makers democratised their target market and began to sell perfumes in bottles made to standardised designs. As each brand now makes sure to have its own eye-catching package, the need for the individual to store and display their perfume has become largely redundant.
The sewing machine became a popular tool during the industrial revolution, as the automated process of stitching saved time and ultimately money. The first patent taken out on a sewing machine was in 1790, by the Englishman Thomas Saint. His design, which enabled the user to stitch canvas or leather, was never put in to production. Barthélemy Thimonnier advanced Saint’s original design in the nineteenth century: by 1841 he had eighty machines in a factory producing uniforms for the French army.
The domestication of the sewing machine took place around the 1850s, as the ‘Sewing Machine War’ took place over patents in the United States. In 1856 The Sewing Machine Combination was instigated and companies (namely Singer) began to produce machines that were affordable to keep in the home. Sewing machines were further developed by electronic technology in the early 1900s and in 1987 Orisol produced the first computerised machine. Despite the utilisation of digital technologies, the sewing machine became redundant in most contemporary homes thanks to the availability of cheap ready-made clothing. There are, however, indications that the fate of the sewing machine is not yet sealed, for sales figures have grown over the past year. Analysts suggest this is may be a response to financial decline and a growing ethical awareness about the manufacture of clothes.
The answering machine has existed since 1898. Vlademar Poulsen patented the Telegraphone, a device which records sound on steel wire. Since then, many different forms of the answering machine have been created, but it was only in the 1980s that it became commercially available to everyone. The device automatically answers the phone, after a few ring tones, and the message is recorded on tape. The answering machine, as a separate object, ceased to exist with the introduction of voicemail--a system permitting the answering machine to be a part of the telephone itself.
The Scopitone was created in the year 1960 by the factory CAMECA (Compagnie d’Applications Mécaniques à l’Electronique au Cinéma et à l’Automistique). It was a machine designed to have the same function as a jukebox, the only difference being that it has a television screen showing a film created specifically to accompany one song. The Scopitone is the ancestor of MTV. Consisting of 36 films in colour and in black and white, the music films could be played continually, as one film would rewind while the next one was playing. The Scopitone was exclusively designed for cafés in France. The 16mm films made for the Scopitone were not shown on television. The production of Scopitone films came to an end in 1974.
Video below shows Serge Gainsbourg clicking along to a Scopitone in 1965
The incandescent light bulb is gradually being banned across Europe and being replaced with energy-efficient alternatives. The traditional lightbulb has been dealt a mortal blow and will soon die. The demise of the traditional lightbulb has, however, encountered a surprising amount of resistence. Newspaper letters pages have been filled with arguments in the incandescent light bulb's defense and complaints about the deficiencies of their energy-efficient replacements. The incandescent bulb is, I would argue, a thing of simplicity and beauty. Switching on a lightbulb makes us visualise the electrical energy that flows around our homes. The film camera has long been atttracted to the lightbulb that symbolises the electrical dreams of modernity. This still from Alfred Hitchcock's Sabotage
(1936) is one of many in a film which starts with a power cut caused by a saboteur.
For the film look here: http://www.archive.org/details/Sabotage1936
Changes in hairstyles mean changes in equipment. The days of the 'style and set' are long gone. The overhead salon dryer of old, vital for 'setting', is now often only found in local neighbourhood salons that cater to the clientele who used them in their heyday in the fifties and sixties. The overhead salon dryer can be more easily found on film setting Doris Day's perfectly coiffed hair, in period pieces such as the TV series Mad Men, or in the ultimate kitsch film, Grease. In the latter, the song "Beauty School Drop Out" recreates the Fifties' version of the beauty salon.
Although the carts and cabins that littered street scenes for centuries, supplying anything from food to music, have by no means passed away completely, their presence is now largely confined to tourist hot spots in our capital cities. The barrel organ, in particular, is emblematic of a London street culture that has long since passed. Italian immigrants in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century were associated with the barrel organs and ice-cream carts that they would push around the centre of the capital. These days, ice-cream carts have been replaced by ice-cream vans (still largely in the hands of Italian families), and the barrel organs have disappeared completely. This photograph of a barrel organ was taken in Warsaw, the first time I had actually seen a barrel organ being played in the street.