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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1975 Follow Me on Pinterest

The idea of creating an economy from a previously dead clientelle–the very after-market dead person–is relatively new. Once a middle class or lower working class with disposable income was created, celebrating the care of the dead was a paying option opened to the millions of families who were not the fastidious and celebratory wealthy. Once the notion of having other people take care of the dearly departed became a part of the popular ritual of dealing with the dead, an entire new industry was born–spawning other related and associated industries for supplying the dead-care-givers with amenities and notions and necessities of a previously unthunk and unthinkable nature. For example, the idea of needing to shave a corpse became an issue after it became fashionable to allow several days or more to pass between death and burial. Beards and hair grow in death, so the people caring for the body and its display now were ordained an issue of economy in nultiple shavings of a corpse. Now that may or may not have been an issue, but it was certainly presented as a possibility by the incredibly-named "Razorless Post- Mortem Shave Co."

Deadpunk shave

{Many thanks to reader Max W for providing the information for the correct information for the citation of the above image–the magazine is Casket & Sunnyside for January 1912, and there are ample references to it in Charles Addams and Jessica Mitford.] The worry for the consideration of the cost of a shave (15 cents) for a dead person seems quite an inescapable weirdness and luxury. The weirdness of the name of the company nearly obscures it common nature–it isn't exactly the Acme Corpse Company, but it is close to it, and it addresses just one small bit of minuatiae of deadness in the vast sea of Dead, Inc.

The sellers of the razorless post-mortem shave equipment didn't receive a patent for their process–nor did anyone else, for that matter, at least so far as I can determine.

Here are some further examples of Dead, Inc/DeadPunk patented death appliances:

Post-mortem skull examination facilitator:

Postmortem Underwear for the prevention of dead leakage and deodorization:

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1973 Follow Me on Pinterest

This ad appeared only 59 years ago–that's four generations in dog years, two human generations (or one for the more later-in-life crew, which is appealing as I knew a man whose grandfather was born in the 18th century), and 15 generations in managing data and communications. Perhaps more. It is difficult to imagine the intense surprise that attended this ad showing a practical and popular adaptation of a communications breakthrough.

Telephone future064

The electromagnetic telegraph, which is arguably the first electrically-powered iteration of the internet, was in the works from the 1820's until it was nailed by Samuel Morse in 1837. It was 40 years to the development of the Bell telephone (another dramatic example of an invention/technological idea/breakthrough that was "in the wind", a popular undiagnosed monumental meme, some decades in the making in the hands of Bell anbd Reiss and Meucci and Gray and even Edison). Two more decades (just past the turn of the century) until more-widespread wireless telegraphy, another two decades after that (1920's) for poular radio, and another two decades after that (post WWII/1950's) for popular television broadcating. 120 years between the patented invention of the Morse telegraph to 50 million Americans with televisions in 1955.

The "telephone" of 2013 is as removed as the telephone of 1955 as the telephone of 1955 was removed from the electromagnetic telegraph–we're not meeting half-way in the meeting of improbable impossible worlds, of worlds of the future unimagined in the past. That is what comes to mind when I see this add for the speaking telephone in 1954–the astounding, astonishing, speaking telephone, the phone that allowed you to not have the receiver to the ear, tht allowed you to do free-hand work and communicate at the same time. It was an ambitious improvement, and as soon as the phone appeared, it became a standard of necessity if that necessity was within budget.

It is the weight of surprise that is so abundant looking at pictures like this, giving us the opportunity to imagine the surprise elements of another time. It may well be that the new 1954 user of the speakerphone would have looked at the first telephone systems of 1894 as we look on that 1954 telephone today. Probably not so, though, probably it was much more imaginable to have forseen the 1954 possibilities in 1894 than for 1954 to have seen in the same amount of time to 2013: the technological pieces necessary for part of that imagination had not yet been invented, the science ahead of the scifi.

The other part of this surprise element is that 1954 is well within living memory, and that this combinaiton of technology and physics and mathematics has grown so incredibly from the speakerphone to the massive changes in 2013–it is as surprising to imagine this as to imagine the same scenario for what ahppened a year before in biology: it is difficult to grasp the sweeping changes in that field from the identification of DNA in 1953 and how far those fields have come since.

I think that if one could quantify this sort of "surprise" that the greatest amount of "Surprise Integers" (or whatever) ever recorded would have taken place within these past 50 or 60 years. Which makes me wonder–will people 59 years hence see the pictures of our fabulous accomplishments in 2013 as quaint reminders of how much things changed between 2013 and 2072? Will those "Surprise Integers" be as great for that period of time as the ("our") preceding period with concomitant revolutions in thought? My guess is "yes"–its just hard to imagine.

JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

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This thinking stick comes to us via the courtesy of the Scientific American Supplement (19 August 1876, page 542), and shows a lovely Victorian non-SteamPunk answer to on-the-run calculation. It is an almost-elegant device, and seems as though it should work just fine. Its utility as a writing instrument seems a bit limited, as seems the calculator part, but the whole of it seems to be full of possibility–and a very nice piece of dedicated thinking.

[Text describing the invention below.]

Other nice examples of adding/writing found in the U.S. Patent Office via GooglePatents are seen below:

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1959

The name of Flavius Vegetius is not so much popularly known today, though his influence is felt through the hands of other, more famous, writers and thinkers. He was seen as the most adept writer on the Roman mind in warfare, and his De re militari libri quator… was his masterpiece. It was reprinted in 1532 by Christian Wechel from sources reaching back to the original, which was written around 390 ACE, and found a wide readership not only for its authority on all things military/Roman but also for his iconic insights and aphorisms on warfare in general. It was Machiavelli who came under his spell and who adopted some of Vegetius, who became further disseminated through the military followers of Machiavelli, and so on.

I came to this work much more simply than all of this – I liked this image of the underwater warrior, who was somehow able to breathe while submerged. I get the importance of this sort of undercover, guerrilla maneuver, but what I really like was the rarity of seeing a Renaissance illustration of human submarine life, which is pretty uncommon. Also, the use of the lines to represent the underwater quality of the image—giving the woodcut an overall grey tone—is also very scarce in the history of illustration, at least before 1600. And very neat! One of the hallmarks of this printing of Vegetius was the liberal use of white space in many of the (119) woodcut illustrations, though it is clearly not on display in the woodcut that I’m sharing here.

00-blog-Oct 28 vegetius939

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1911

“Nothing is falser than people's preconceptions and ready-made opinions; nothing is sillier than their sham morality…”
(atribued to) Petronius,

The Satyricon

Bayard, Hippolyte(Image source, Gerry Badger blog, who also has some interesting things to say about the work as
momento mori .)

The road in determining who was the first person to what discovery is sometime a bit rocky–so with the invention of the computer (ask Mr. Atanatsoff), and the telephone (ditto Mr. Gray) and the television (and so to with Dr. Korn). This is also the case with photography, the rights for the discovery of the process contested in the first year following the announcement of the process.

The response to rejected claims for priority in discovery are almost (?) never recorded visually, but in he case of photography the rejected party did make a visual response, which I think was a prosimentrum of sorts, a photographic novella, and the appearance of the first use of satire in photography.

Louis Daguerre's epochal publication in the Comptes Rendus in 1839 would bring about the general recognition of the birth of photography–his process was described in that article and was immediately set to use by hundreds of adventurers people even in the first few weeks after publication. IT may well be that there are legitimate claimants working on the "photogenic" science before this time but it is Mr. Daguerre who published his findings first.

Among the many "firsts" in the first year of photography (reckoned as PD or post Daguerre

[Source here.]

Generally though the first photographic portrait has been recognized as being the work of Robert Cornelius, who was among the earliest practioners of the new science of the Daguerreotype. This is his work, dated 1839, made in his father's gas light importing business on Chestnut Street, Philadelphia:

The First Portrait Photograph Ever Made firstportrait

(Both subjects have interesting hair issues.)

is is fine and remarkable, though the images simply record the bodies of the humans that are pictured. The first human portrait with an edge, with a political or social axe too grind and point to make, an image bent on a decisive end, belongs to a man who mildly and then hotly contested Daguerere's claim to the birth of photography–Hippolyte Bayard.

Bayard (1807-1887) experimented in the photographic science before the publication of Daguerre's paper and had shared some of his successes at this early date with members of the French Academy of Sciences (the publishers of the esteemed Comptes Rendus, the vehicle for Daguerre's paper). He was even in communication with Francois Arago, who as it turns out was the champion of Daguerre, and who introduced the paper to the world. After the appearance of Daguerre's paper Bayard–no doubt somewhat envious of the attention and money/funding that Daguerre was receiving) petitioned for help from Arago to establish his own claim and a chance for the experimenter's lament (funding). He was told in no uncertain terms by Arago to cease the attention, as it would hurt the chances of Daguerre to establish his priority and have the honor of the invention of photography to stay in France. It is a longer story than this, obviously, but suffice to say, Bayard's interests were mostly ignored, his priority claims relinquished. (He was later able to collect a few thousand francs for his scientific work, but the larger prizes eluded him.

And so in 1840, full of his own defeat and thoroughly impressed by Daguerre's success, Bayard composed the (above) portrait of himself as a drowned and dead man. On the reverse he wote:

"The corpse which you see here is that of M. Bayard, inventor of the
process that has just been shown to you. As far as I know this
indefatigable experimenter has been occupied for about three years with
his discovery. The Government which has been only too generous to
Monsieur Daguerre, has said it can do nothing for Monsieur Bayard, and
the poor wretch has drowned himself. Oh the vagaries of human life….!
… He has been at the morgue for several days, and no-one has
recognized or claimed him. Ladies and gentlemen, you'd better pass along
for fear of offending your sense of smell, for as you can observe, the
face and hands of the gentleman are beginning to decay."
(From Helmut Gernsheim, A Concise History of Photography, with Alison Gernsheim, London: Thames & Hudson, 1965)

It seems that the use of satire in photography was not common in the first few decades following 1839, which makes Bayard's first use of he genre in 1840 even more remarkable. Satire in general has been aroudn for thousands of years, mostly in the form of drama and literature, and then in (Western, at least) painting in the Renaissance), right up through the Brueghels and Hogarth and Chaplin's Great Dictator and Dr. Strangelove. But it seems to me that the first photographic use of the genre came with the overtaken Bayard, who at least deserves this honor of "firstness".


I just wanted to remark on the hands and head of Bayard in his self-portrait–I believe that the man is just sunburned. It si common to see in 19th century photographs of working people that–when their hat is removed and so on–we see a big sun/tan line ont heir forehead. This is particularly the case in the work of Solomon Butcher, who recorded the lives of families on the SOdbuster Fronter in the 1880's and 1890's in Nebraska.

Harve Andrews and family by the grave of "Willie," photographed by Solomon Butcher, Victoria Creek Canyon, Custer County, 1887. NSHS RG2608-2360

(Source, Nebraska State Historical Society.)

JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

Barbed wire was one of the most successful and horrifying defensive weapons of World War I. In 1915 it was made more effective yet by adding high-voltage electricity to the emplacements. In general the electrical barbed wire fence was employed as only a tiny fraction of all wire fences during the war–as the non-electrified fence was already extremely effective, very cheap to produce and very easily installed–but the possibility of finding an electrified wire somewhere along the lengthy rat's nests of miles and miles of this thing must've had some sort of very major weight in most soldiers' minds.

The following image (and details) from The Illustrated London News for 9 October 1915:

WWI--e---electric fenc dete extra647

WWI--e---electric fenc dete646

WWI--e---electric fence645

And the places where the barbed wire was made and packaged, again from The Illustrated London News for 16 October 1915.

WWI--e--barbed wire making648

It looks as though the wire was stretched across 3.5 foot poles, with the barbed wire added diagonally, and then rolled up in long sections for easy transport and deployment.

WWI--e--barbed wire making649

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1853

Diving bell horizontal656

Well, not really. It is however an early diving suit (and perhaps the earliest apparatus worn on the person and submerged) the creative and comparatively lightweight effort of Karl Heinrich Klingert, who produced it at the very end of the 18th century, in 1797 or thereabouts. The suit was made of a metal helmet and wide metal girdle, with the vest and pants made of a waterproof leather, and with leather (?) leg straps. The air would be pumped down to the diver from a turret above (see below, just) and would arrive in the diver's helmet via weighted air tubes.

Here's a side and occupied view:

Diving bell horizontal654

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