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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post
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Fat and prison
The title of this quick post seems both irresistibly attractive and horribly repelling in an oh-g_d-is-this-what-we're-down-to dissertation for a moderately-good university. But really all this post is is a title–I stumbled upon this table looking for emigration figures to illustrate a dot-matrix map from the United States Industrial Commission (printed in 1900), volume 3, which concentrated on the statics and sociology of prison labor. So what this table shows is the effect of prisoners' labor on the price of pork and pork fat in the Chicago market for a ten year period at the end of the 19th century, and what we see is that the "free" labor in prison in this area produced cheaper prices in the fat market. There you have it. [Source: Internet Archive, here.]

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1761

The "working poor" of England may have been half of that–working, that is, and hard at work, though not being paid even enough to be considered poor. Their story has been told in many ways, of course, the backbone of the Industrial Revolution succeeding on their bones, observed and recorded and shared by Charles Dickens and others, and on and on, told elsewhere in brevity and quick detail better than I can do so here.

I did want to make a quick comment about a very small detail in the state of those poor people, found in Charles Kingsley's Cheap Clothes and Nasty, printed in 1850. It is quite a documentarian's tour of the plight of the poor, written by a very able observer. (Kingsley is a very interesting person–an historian, priest in the Church of England, social commentator, and novelist. As a matter of fact he was exceptionally prolific, producing during his lifetime (1819-1875) a fine long list of accomplishment, three of which have survived to this day as sorts of minor classics. But what he did with great regularity was publish books–34 of them in 25 years between 1850 and 1875, including 15 during the decade of the 1850's, 11 in the 1860's, and 8 in the 1870's to his death in 1875. Perhaps as important as all of that was the role he played in the arrival of C. Darwin's On the Origin of Species…, as Kingsley wrote one of the earliest reviews of the book and defended it strongly.)

But getting back to the poor, Kingsley made a very strong case for the poor being less so than that, as we see here:

"Folks are getting somewhat tired of the old rodomontade that a slave is free the moment he sets foot on British soil! Stuff! – are these tailors free? Put any conceivable sense you will on the word, and then say – are they free? We have, thank God, emancipated the black slaves; it would seem a not inconsistent sequel to that act to set about emancipating these white ones.Oh! we forgot; there is an infinite difference between the two cases – the black slaves worked for our colonies; the white slaves work for us. But, indeed, if, as some preach, self interest is the mainspring of all human action, it is difficult to see who will step forward to emancipate the said white slaves; for all classes seem to consider it equally their interest to keep them as they are; all classes, though by their own confession they are ashamed, are yet not afraid to profit by the system which keeps them down…"–Charles Kingsley, Clothes, Cheap and Nasty, 1850

Kingsley continues on with the stuff of research, uncommonly sharing the lot of what a vast section of English society experienced daily though mostly in silence.

Another excruciating and interesting report was made by George Godwin in his London Shadows , a glance at the "homes" of the thousands of 1854 (the whole work found on the wonderful Victorian London blog, here and about which I posted about here).

Godwin–an influential architect and editor of the very influential The Builder as well as a social reformer, who lived from 1813-1888) wrote an expose of how so many Londoners lived at the middle of the century. It is also illustrated with woodcuts of the places in which people lives–artwork in wood and ink that have a very definite quality of the unforgiving cameras of Life magazine a century later. The images are awakening and abrupt–all the bitter observation of George Orwell, only told much more quickly, like a person trying to describe a raging house fire before the thing burned itself out. Its a powerful work, and I can't help but think that those reading it in 1854 must have been appalled not only by the deep visualization of the state of the working poor, but also by its scope, and the possible revelation of England's basic bedrock.

Here is an example of Godwin's work, which includes observations on not only housing the poor, but clothing them as well, and published in the editorial pages of journal The Builder. He presents one aspect of their lot by discussing their clothing and its purchasing, bought for what the polite reading circles who would find The Builder to be almost for no money at all, though the few pennies spent on a pair of shoes or shirt were a major factor in the weekly ration of the working poor., particularly if they were making 5 or 10 pounds per year. It was an interesting way for Godwin to present to the non-poor what the other-half really had to live like, and perhaps by reaching out to the population that did the building-of-London he probably hoped to affect some sort of reform in the way in which the poor had to live and work. An example of the Godwin work:

"One of the London missionaries (a body whose valuable services can only be properly appreciated by those who understand the nature and extent of the evil to which we are directing attention) says:-
"Persons who are accustomed to run up heavy bills at fashionable tailors' and milliners', will scarcely believe the sums for which the classes we are describing are able to purchase the same articles for their own rank in life."
A missionary who recently explored Rag-fair, reported that a man and his wife might be clothed from head to foot for from 10s. to 15s . Another missionary stated that 8s. would buy every article of clothing required by either a man or a woman, singly. In Pennant's time it was less. He says (speaking of the other Rag-fair), that the dealer pointed out a man to him, and said: "Look at him. I have clothed him for fourteen-pence. A third missionary reported : "There is as great a variety of articles in pattern, and shape, and size, as I think could be found in any draper's shop in London." The mother may go to "Rag-fair" with the whole of her family, both boys and girls,- yes, and her husband, too, and for a very few shillings deck them out from top to toe. I have no doubt that for a man and his wife, and five or six children, £1 at their disposal, judiciously laid out, would purchase them all an entire change. This may appear to some an exaggeration: but I actually overheard a conversation in which two women were trying to bargain for a child's frock; the sum asked for it was 1½ d. and the sum offered was a penny, and they parted on the difference…"

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1721

0 ebay 13 graphs268

[Click image to enlarge]

It isn't often that you see money represented by dry measure, but that's what happened here in these two examples from the fantastic Walker Statistical Atlas ( Statistical Atlas of the United States based on the results of the tenth census 1880 with contributions from many eminent men of science and several departments of the government Comp. under the authority of Congress by Francis A. Walker, M. A., superintendent of the tenth census … and published in 1884). What we see here is a history of American federal indebtedness from 1791 (when the public debt stood at 75.1 million dollars) to 1881 (about 2 billion). Using the CPI (consumer price index) as a factor to translate that number in 2008 dollars (or so), the 2 bil grows to about $40 billion (a nickel then is about a dollar now). The interesting part of the legend–and what drew me to this graphic even before its somewhat unique shape–state "1"–370 millions", that is one inch of pink horizontal bar stands for about $370,000,000, and the last bar on this graph is about 6 inches long, which, adjusted for inflation, would now be about 10 feet long. .That said, the really interesting part comes next–if we use this measure to graph a horizontal bar for the American debt as it stands in 2008, it would pink a pink bar that was about a HALF MILE long to express our 10(+) trillion dollars of debt. OR, somehow, the old debt of 1881 would be about 1 story of a house, while the 2008 version would be up one side of the Empire State Building and down the other (and yes that includes the aerials). I don't know how to put this comparison in context, the differences are so staggering.

0 ebay 13 graphs269
After having popped a neuron or two trying to get my head around that one, we'll further confuse the situation with the second chart, which shows the total net indebtedness of the U.S. in 1881 in terms of square inches; or, at the bottom of it all, a 7×7 inch square represented the entirety of the $3 billion owed out. 49 square inches. Working backwards this time, our $10 trillion (or $10,000,000,000,000.00 writ large) adjusted back to a CPI value in 1881 would have covered about 88 PAGES of the atlas or 9,000 square inches. Again, the numbers are just almost too big to mean anything.

We, as a country, owe one hell of a lot of money.

And yes there are many different ways of trying to figure out what one 1881 dollar "means" in terms of 2008 dollars, but the CPI is the most simple to use and least argumentative and at least gives a pretty good idea of scale. It would be more useful to try and establish the degree of difficulty of turning the corner on the debt in 1881 compared to doing that today, but this is just a late-night post at the end of the week, and I don't have a good clue about how to try and measure that bit simply.

JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post 986

A year and two weeks after the end of WWI, the Illustrated London News published this compelling graphical display comparing
the British naval losses at Jutland to three other great sea battles (Camperdown, the Nile and Trafalgar).
The battle near Jutland (Denmark)
was the largest naval engagement of WWI, involving the German Navy’s High Seas
Fleet and the Royal Navy Grand Fleet, and took place May 31-June 1, 1915 (“The
Day”). It was an absolutely enormous
engagement, with 250 vessels involved (151 for the Royal Navy, 99 for the

Mar 24 jutland

The end result of the battle was mixed and still debated
today; neither side could convincingly claim a conclusive victory from the

The Royal Navy losses at Jutland
were staggering: 6,094 killed and 570 wounded, with German losses at 2,551
killed and 507 wounded.

And while this graphical display places Jutland in a weak
context with these other battles, and as pleasing as the thing is visually, the
larger mark, the great lurking statistical and human beast lurking there in the
mix of silhouettes and data, occurs about halfway down the far right column.

Mar 24 jutland det

Here we see the losses for five ships: the Queen Mary, the Invincible, the
the Defence, and
the Black Prince. Together, some 5066 men served aboard these
vessels; at the end June 1, 1915, 5,059 of them would be dead. Everyone aboard the Indefatigable, Defence
and Black Prince would be killed; 1
would survive on the Invincible, and
6 would survive the killing of the Queen
. Astonishing, really. And there
are no other numbers like this on this chart.

As certain and as clear as this representation seems, and as
straightforward and seemingly elementary as it looks, I was shocked to see the
numbers for those five Royal Navy ships, a “hidden” history within a broad
comparative analysis.


1. England: 28 battleships,
9 battlecruisers,
8 armoured cruisers, 26 light cruisers,
78 destroyers,
1 minelayer,1
seaplane carrier.
16 battleships,
5 battlecruisers,
6 pre-dreadnoughts,
11 light cruisers,
61 torpedo

[The Queen Mary going down.]

Mar 24 queen mary

JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post 913

a long, developing thread on the graphical display of quantitative data–and
especially that which uses man-made objects for comparison—is this interesting
bit from a Romanian mining publication from 1933.

huge mound next to the Eiffel Tower shows the consumption of wood in Romania over a
ten year period, a stack of wood 700 metres long and 1500 metres high. Evidently this wall has only the most rudimentary depth of a metre, as the legend reads that the volume of the woodpile is 1,050,000 metres cubed, which is the same as its square area. So somebody missed something, here, though the artist did supply some nice shadowing.

Blog jan 17 wood

above it appeared this comparison for the amount of oil consumed over the same
ten year period

Blog jan 17 oil

not sure why this comparison was being made.
This does come in the interwar period which saw a great expansion in
Romanian territory and a vast modernization effort following the country’s devastating
experience in WWI. Maybe it was illustrating modernization from wood-burning power/heating sources to oil-based. I really don't know–I just liked the Eiffel Tower being dwarfed by a massively tall and impossibly skinny woodpile.

JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post 889

I like bumping circles as modes of graphically conveying
quantitative data—it is more unusual than most ways of portraying statistics
and belongs mostly in the 19th century.

Blog dec 27 graphic circle

The first example is relatively early, in the first class of
this sort of information display, published in Thomas Bradford’s (1802-1887)
superior Comprehensive Atlas
Geographical, Historical and Commercial
in Boston in 1835. Circles are the entire métier
of this chart, showing the sizes of the continents and oceans, concentric circles
nested inside each other, then branching out into three columns of
progressively smaller circles showing the comparative sizes of islands, seas
and lakes, all (interestingly) presented onBlog dec 27 graphic bubble pop the same scale. It is a virtual one-stop, single-image display
showing the graphical sizes of 59 geographical entities in relation to one
another, making the understanding of their comparative sizes a simple,
understandable, matter.

Prettier but (initially) more difficult to use are the next
two charts, the first showing the areas and populations of countries compared
to that of the United States
(in 1890), and the second showing the public debts of those same
countries. At first the display looks a
little confusing. But once you settle in and get your eyes accustomed to the
manner of presentation, the charts are actually very easy to use and very

Moving over from circles to dots is this population map by
Frère de Montizon Armand Joseph, Carte
philosophique figurant la population de la France,
published in 1830 (as
the first of its kind).

Blog dec 27 graphic bubble debt

The ubiquitous pie-chart only made its first appearance in
1801, the work of he gifted and possibly polymathic William Playfair. He was an engineer (serving as apprentice to
the inventor of the threshing machine, Andrew
, and personal assistant to James Watt)
and economist, and occasional mathematician, who also invented the line graph
(1786), bar chart (1801)and
circlegraph(1801). But for this and all of his other work, he
died in poverty and not comfortable1.


1.Works by William Playfair include:

  • 1786. The Com mercial and
    cal Atlas: Representing, by Means of Stained Copper-Plate Charts,
    the Progress of the Commerce, Revenues, Expenditure and Debts of England
    during the Whole of the Eighteenth Century
  • 1801. Statistical
    Breviary; Shewing, on a Principle Entirely New, the Resources of Every
    State and Kingdom in Europe
    . London: Wallis.
  • 1805. A Statistical
    Account of the United
    States of America
    by D. F. Donnant
    London: J.
    Whiting. William Playfair, Trans.
  • 1807. An Inquiry into the
    Permanent Causes of the Decline and Fall of Powerful and Wealthy Nations:
    Designed To Shew How The Prosperity Of The British
    May Be Prolonged
  1. In general, the website by Michael Friendly "Milestones
    in the history of thematic cartography, statistical graphics, and data
    is invaluable (and also located Blog dec 27 montizon_dotMap_1830here).

Blog dec 27 playfair

JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post 883 Blog Bookstore

I enjoy antiquarian window shopping, browsing photos or
engravings that depict goods for sale– especially if the prices are posted. I
came back to this deep-in-the-Depression-fantastic photo made in 1935 by Berenice
Abbott (Springfield, Ohio, 1898-1991). Blossom
Restaurant, NYC
was part of Abbott’s effort funded by the WPA, this time as
a part of her Changing New York Project, and captures the restaurant and
neighboring barber shop at 103 Bowery.
The two businesses actually occupied the first floors and basement
(respectively) of the Boston Hotel, a standard flop house in a tough and
distressed part of the city that rented beds by the day, with 249 small
door-less cubicles offering a decent place to spend the night for 30 cents1.


30 cents seems to be the going rate for a bunch of things
going on in this picture—30 cents for a
night in the hotel, 30 cents for the better offers of Morris Gordon’s
restaurant. 30 cents for a haircut and shave, 30 cents for a “women’s hair
bob”2 and so on. Which seems about
right—a fancy haircut and a decent better-than-average dinner for two will
probably cost about the same, today.

If you were really on a tight budget, 30 cents would buy you
three vegetarian dinners, or 6 offerings of bread and soup, or three visits to
the table of meatballs and bans, or pigs feet and kraut.

The price of a stick-to-your-ribs meal of sirloin and
potatoes and a pot of coffee also cost about the same as a gallon and a half of
gasoline (which cost about 20 cents).
The same amount of gas today would get you a serving at McDonalds, or
something on that order, and perhaps even a happy take-away for the kids.
Perhaps the two even out.

30 cents might get you a loaf of bread, and wouldn’t quite get
you a dozen eggs. Now this is
remarkable, because if you adjust all of this according to modest CPI measures,
the average cost of a dozen eggs in 1935 was 37 cents, or (according to the US
Census website generating 1935 to 2009 prices adjusting to CPI) $5.84. The bread would cost $4.74 in 2009 dollars,
which means that the staples today—milk, bread, butter, eggs, were more
expensive in 1935 than today. Ditto
gasoline, which cost 19 cents a gallon, or $3 today—actually this would be much
more expensive in 1935 as the mileage the cars were getting then (and the
octane) was much lower, so the cost of running an automobile was considerably
higher. The cost of the car itself,
though, still favors the ‘thirties for modest transportation, which came in at
about 600 dollars, or just over $9000 in 2009 dollars3.

The 3-cent first class postage stamp of 1935 was more
expensive than first class postage in 2009:
47 cents versus 44. When you look
at the increases and bitty spikes of the cost of a first class stamp over time
the whole thing looks pretty flat.

The average salary for a family of four in 1935 was about
1500/year, which oddly enough is about the same for the poverty guideline level
for 2009 established by the Department
of Health and Human Services (about $23,000).
Minimum wage legislation didn’t begin until 1938, but if you take a look
at one of my earlier posts here on the history of this idea
you’ll see that the recent history of legislating a meaningful level of acceptance for a base
living wage is mainly disgraceful, with relatively little accomplished (in
adjusted economic terms) for half a century.
(The new minimum wage brings us to about a mid-way point as the highest
minimum wages paid in the 71-year history of the program.)

And so I thank Ms
Abbott again for her beautiful social commentary, and a happy 75th birthday
to this photograph.


1.A fantastic website and resource for changing aspects of
NYC can be found here, at Frank Levere’s Changing New York site.

2. I wrote a little bit about the appearance of women-only
hair salons in my post “The Staggering Beauty of Barber Shops”

3. Other bits of what stuff
cost in 1935:

Flour (5 lbs) 25.3 cents

Bread (lb) 8.3

Round steak (lb) 36.0

Bacon (lb) 41.3

Butter (lb) 36.0

Eggs (doz.) 37.6

Milk (1/2 gal.) 23.4

Oranges (doz.) 22.0

Potatoes (10 lbs) 19.1

Coffee (lb) 25.7

Sugar (5 lbs) 28.2

Car: $580

Gasoline: 19 cents/gal

House: $6,300

Bread: 8 cents/loaf

Milk: 47 cents/gal

Postage Stamp: 3 cents

JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post 815

Even though masses of people had been used in panoramic photography for some years (thousands of people, usually soldiers, gathered to form a living liberty bell, or portrait of George Washington, or some such thing) , I cannot recall the use of humans as a direct statistical aid as in this bio-bar graph, found in the pages of The Illustrated London News for 1912 (page 357). 000-ebay--Nov 7 air death005

The article asks the question of whether air travel (and flight in general) was "safe", and responded by graphing its "yes" response with this image. The larger groups in the top half of the image represent the number of flyers flying for that particular country; the small groups below show the number of aviators killed. (There is no date of reference in particular but it seems to me that these are total deaths since flying began in Europe in earnest in 1905.) The photomontage below shows a selection of some of the most famous dead aviators. The number of deaths as a percentage of those flying seemed quite acceptable in the year of publication (1912) ; however if these figures were iterated forward to 2009 the death rate would be staggering, sending many thousands of aviators (and crew and passengers) to their deaths each year. In the United States we save that safety failure for deaths in automobile accidents, which still kill about the same number of Americans each year as were U.S. soldiers lost for the entire war in Vietnam. In spite of this the odds for survival looked pretty good in 1912.

000-ebay--Nov 7 air death portrait006

JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post 814 Blog Bookstore

I initially chose this pamphlet to be part of a larger series on terrific/unusual/bizarre cover designs–unfortunately its contents got in the way, a little. The cover still borders safely on the unique, and so does most of its contents, except for the graphical analysis of the depreciation of worldwide currencies that appears on its back cover. Here the information is actually pretty useful and unusual. It would've been more useful had the author included an end date for his comparisons–all we know is that he is looking at 1929 and the beginning of the Depression as a jump-off point, and we can assume that the end date is before the date of publication of the pamphlet (which actually isn't stated). Still, the graph is almost very useful. It is for this reason that Money and its Uses Winds Up in the "Blank and Empty Department" for its diligent but ultimately useless graphical display of data.



JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post 760 Blog Bookstore

++00++ 9.19 10,000 cvr

An income of $10,000 dollars a year, in the Depression year
of 1936, was a huge, fabulous fortune, controlling a major buying power for
food and cars and housing. (A fine brick
home for the solid middle class family of five would’ve cost well less than the 10K
per year—which means that this 1936 income would correlate somewhat to a 300,000/year income in 2009 dollars so far as buying power goes.) Unfortunately the author of
this pamphlet directed it at doctors who could supplement or insure their
income by selling their patients the pamphlet’s products: “Anabolic Food Products”, a quacky vitamin
supplement that evidently had really little use except to expand the

This reminded me of another pamphlet from a slightly earlier
period on the over-worked working poor. Report
to the Louisiana State Commission to Study the Conditions
of Working Women and Children…
(published in 1914), chronicled the averages incomes
more so than the conditions of their work—and the statistical package was
simply not a pretty story. Reading through the
numbers hammered home how far away and mountainous $10,000 a year meant.

++00++ 9.19 10,000 cvr 1914

That big bump in the bar graph for factory wages shows that
the most frequent average weekly wage for women and children was about $3.75, with about a quarter of all of those
polled workers making less than that, and about half making 5.00 a week or so.
Multiply those figures by 52 and they don’t come out to much—specifically, they
don’t really approach the average income for a worker in the U.S. in 1914,
which was about $650 a year. It looks
like only 10% or so of all of these workers met this standard of $12.50 per
week. And this was for factory workers—things
get worse for most all other types of jobs—except for workers at a telephone
exchange (and that wouldn’t last for very long).

++00++ 9.19 10,000 cvr 1914 stats

The conclusions the pamphlet reached are inescapable: “we can arrive at but one conclusion, namely:
that no matter what are the causes determining wages, the earnings of women in
industry are exceedingly low in a great many cases, and scarcely enough for
subsistence……the striking facts is that nearly three-fourths of all women in
industry are between 18 to 35 years of age, meaning that they are spending the
best years of their lives …at the lowest rate of wages…”

In 2009 women are still paid less than men–about 77-cents on the dollar less. Generally speaking the U.S. now imports most of its child labor produced goods–out of sight, out of mind.