December 31, 2014: Bright Idea Day, anniversary of the Day the Lights Went On

December 31, 2014

Between Christmas and New Year’s Day, here at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub we celebrate a variety of historically holy days.  December 31, by tradition, is Bright Idea Day, the anniversary of the day Thomas Edison demonstrated for the public a working light bulb, in 1879.

100,000 people gather in Times Square, New York City, tonight, and millions more around the world, in festivities for the new year made possible by the work of Thomas Alva Edison.

Here it is, the invention that stole sleep from our grasp, made clubbing possible, and launched 50,000 cartoons about ideas:

The light bulb Thomas Edison demonstrated on December 31, 1879, at Menlo Park, New Jersey - Wikimedia image

The light bulb Thomas Edison demonstrated on December 31, 1879, at Menlo Park, New Jersey – Wikimedia image (GFDL)

The light bulb. It’s an incandescent bulb.

It wasn’t the first bulb. Edison a few months earlier devised a bulb that worked with a platinum filament. Platinum was too expensive for mass production, though — and Edison wanted mass production. So, with the cadre of great assistants at his Menlo Park laboratories, he struggled to find a good, inexpensive filament that would provide adequate life for the bulb. By late December 1879 they had settled on carbon filament.

Edison invited investors and the public to see the bulb demonstrated, on December 31, 1879.

Thomas Edison in 1878, the year before he demonstrated a workable electric light bulb.  Library of Congress image

Thomas Edison in 1878, the year before he demonstrated a workable electric light bulb. CREDIT: Thomas Edison, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing left, 1880. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction number LC-USZ62-98067

Edison’s successful bulb indicated changes in science, technology, invention, intellectual property and finance well beyond its use of electricity. For example:

  • Edison’s Menlo Park, New Jersey, offices and laboratory were financed with earlier successful inventions. It was a hive of inventive activity aimed to make practical inventions from advances in science. Edison was all about selling inventions and rights to manufacture devices. He always had an eye on the profit potential. His improvements on the telegraph would found his laboratory he thought, and he expected to sell the device to Western Union for $5,000 to $7,000. Instead of offering it to them at a price, however, he asked Western Union to bid on it. They bid $10,000, which Edison gratefully accepted, along with the lesson that he might do better letting the marketplace establish the price for his inventions. Other inventive labs followed Edison’s example, such as the famous Bell Labs, but few equalled his success, or had as much fun doing it.  (Economics teachers:  Need an example of the marketplace in action?)
  • While Edison had some financial weight to invest in the quest for a workable electric light, he also got financial support, $30,000 worth, from some of the finance giants of the day, including J. P. Morgan and the Vanderbilts who established the Edison Light Company.
  • Edison didn’t invent the light bulb — but his improvements on it made it commercial. “In addressing the question ‘Who invented the incandescent lamp?’ historians Robert Friedel and Paul Israel list 22 inventors of incandescent lamps prior to Joseph Wilson Swan and Thomas Edison. They conclude that Edison’s version was able to outstrip the others because of a combination of three factors: an effective incandescent material, a higher vacuum than others were able to achieve (by use of the Sprengel pump) and a high resistance lamp that made power distribution from a centralized source economically viable.”
  • Edison’s financial and business leadership acumen is partly attested to by the continuance of his organizations, today — General Electric, one of the world’s most successful companies over the past 40 years, traces its origins to Edison.

Look around yourself this evening, and you can find a score of ways that Edison’s invention and its descendants affect your life. One of the more musing effects is in cartooning, however. Today a glowing lightbulb is universally accepted as a nonverbal symbol for ideas and inventions. (See Mark Parisi’s series of lightbulb cartoons, “Off the Mark.”)

Even with modern, electricity-saving bulbs, the cartoon shorthand hangs on, as in this Mitra Farmand cartoon.

Fusilli has an idea, Mitra Farmand, Fuffernutter

Brilliant cartoon from Mitra Farmand, Fuffernutter

Or see this wonderful animation, a video advertisement for United Airlines, by Joanna Quinn for Fallon — almost every frame has the symbolic lightbulb in it.

Other resources:

Patent drawing for Thomas Edison's successful electric lamp.  Library of Congress

Thomas Edison’s electric lamp patent drawing and claim for the incandescent light bulb CREDIT: “New Jersey–The Wizard of Electricity–Thomas A. Edison’s System of Electric Illumination,” 1880. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction Number LC-USZ62-97960.

Yeah, this is mostly an encore post. ‘Tis the season for tradition, especially good, wise tradition.

Even More, in 2012 and 2013:


Oh, yes! T. Rex showerhead

December 5, 2014

3-D printing just got my interest big time:

From University of Utah's Twitter feed (@UUtah): RT @MarriottLibrary: 3D printed T-Rex showerhead? Yes, please!

From University of Utah’s Twitter feed (@UUtah): RT @MarriottLibrary: 3D printed T-Rex showerhead? Yes, please!

Is it for sale?  To alumni, maybe?


Typewriters of the moment: Billy Wilder’s

November 27, 2014

At A Certain Cinema: Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond at work on the screenplay for Irma la Douce

At A Certain Cinema: Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond at work on the screenplay for Irma la Douce

Billy Wilder’s reputation as a great film director would not be possible, but for the typewriter. It is fate, perhaps, that we find several photographs of Mr. Wilder with various typewriters.  In the photo above, he’s pictured working with I. A. L. Diamond, “Izzy.”  The pair collaborated on at least 17 different screenplays.

Hollywood Legacy's Pinterest site: BILLY WILDER and frequent screenwriter partner, I.A.L. DIAMOND.

This one is clearly a Royal; Hollywood Legacy’s Pinterest site: “BILLY WILDER and frequent screenwriter partner, I.A.L. DIAMOND. “Izzy” is seated at the typewriter, with Wilder standing, as usual. Wilder liked to “think on his feet” and was a notorious pacer. Wilder & Diamond wrote 17 films together, including: SOME LIKE IT HOT, THE APARTMENT, LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON, IRMA LA DOUCE”

Wilder’s scripts often featured writers and others who used typewriters.  He had almost a fetish for featuring typewriters in his movies.  How could we not like a guy who loved typewriters like that?

From the great Oz Typewriters site:

From the great Oz Typewriters site: “Wilder died in Beverly Hills on March 27, 2002. Here is what is on his tombstone”


Typewriter of the moment: Sports broadcaster Red Barber; first televised games, August 26, 1939

August 26, 2014

August 26 is the anniversary of the first television broadcast of professional baseball, in 1939; the future-legendary Red Barber called a doubleheader between his Brooklyn Dodgers and the Cincinnati Reds from Ebbets field.

Both games were carried on experimental television station W2XBS, which evolved into New York’s NBC affiliate Channel 2, WNBC.  Two stationary cameras were used, in contrast to the several used in modern broadcasts — and it was in black and white.  About 3,000 people are estimated to have watched.

The Reds won the opener, 5-2, but the Dodgers roared back in game 2, 6-1.

In 1939, the broadcast was inspired by the New York World’s Fair, which showcased television, though there were perhaps only 400 television sets in the New York area.  Baseball on television didn’t really take off until after World War II, with many games scheduled in 1946.  Today, all 30 major league teams are scheduled to play on TV.

Ebbets field is gone.  The Dodgers absconded to Los Angeles in the 1950s.  Baseball games are in color.

Red Barber is gone, too.  We have great play-by-play guys, and wonderful color commentators.  There will never be another Red Barber though.  Below is an old post noting Barber’s ways with typewriters.

Sportswriter Red Barber at his typewriter - Florida State Archives photo

Sportswriter Red Barber at his typewriter – State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/10011

The great Red Barber, when his hair was still red, working at his typewriter, with a volume of Roget’s Thesaurus close by.

Many of us knew Red chiefly through his weekly chats with Bob Edwards at NPR’s Morning Edition.  The biographies say Red died in 1992.  That was 19 years ago — it seems more recent than that.  (Edwards left Morning Edition in 2004.)

It may be ironic to show Barber at his typewriter.  He would be more accurately portrayed, perhaps, behind a microphone at a baseball park.

From 1939 through 1953 Barber served as the voice of the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was working for the New York Yankees when he retired in 1966. Barber had the distinction of broadcasting baseball’s first night game on May 24, 1935 in Cincinnati and the sport’s first televised contest on August 26, 1939 in Brooklyn.

During his 33-year career Barber became the recognized master of baseball play-by-play, impressing listeners as a down-to-earth man who not only informed but also entertained with folksy colloquialisms such as “in the catbird seat,” “pea patch,” and “rhubarb” which gave his broadcasts a distinctive flavor. (Radio Hall of Fame)

More:

This is an encore post.

Some of this post, probably the best stuff on Red Barber, is an encore presentation.


Typewriter of the moment: Ho Chi Minh

August 21, 2014

Ho Chi Minh at his typewriter.  Photo from EarthStation 1

Ho Chi Minh at his typewriter. Photo from EarthStation 1

The image looks to me to have been lifted off of a film or video; by the non-white color of his beard, this must have been taken sometime before 1955.  I’ve found no other details on the photo, especially nothing on the typewriter.  Anybody know the date of the photo, the occasion, the location, or the typewriter?

But there you go:  Ho Chi Minh, the leader of the Vietnam freedom fighters against the Japanese in World War II, then against the French colonialists (his forces then called Viet Minh, and later Viet Cong), and then of North Vietnam against South Vietnam and the United States after 1954, until his death in 1969.

Ha!  A second photo of Ho and a typewriter, from Greg Hocfell:

Ho Chi Minh at his typewriter.  Photo via Greg Hocfell

Ho Chi Minh at his typewriter. Photo via Greg Hocfell

Might those photos be from the same session?  Ho looks about the same age, his hair and beard are about the same color, and he’s wearing a dark shirt with white buttons in each.

More:


June 23 is Typewriter Day

July 7, 2014

All these years I didn’t know.

Some wags designated June 23 as Typewriter Day — the anniversary of the date the typewriter was first patented by Christopher Sholes.  (And you know, I did have a post on that event, last year.)

Drawing for a Typewriter, 06/23/1868 (ARC Identifier: 595503); Patented Case Files, 1836 - 1956; Records of the Patent and Trademark Office; Record Group 241; National Archives.

From the U.S. National Archives Administration: Dated June 23, 1868, this is the printed patent drawing for a “Type-Writer” invented by Christopher L. Sholes, Carlos Glidden, and J. W. Soule. Drawing for a Typewriter, 06/23/1868 Drawing for a Typewriter, 06/23/1868 (ARC Identifier: 595503); Patented Case Files, 1836 – 1956; Records of the Patent and Trademark Office; Record Group 241; National Archives.

Will you remind me in 2015, a week or so in advance, so we can get appropriate celebratory posts up here at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub?

Links below can get us into position to commemorate the day adequately, next year.

More:

April 30, 1808, first practical typewriter?

Historical dispute!

 


Typewriter of the moment: Noir novelist David Goodis

July 7, 2014

Somerset Maugham at his typewriter.  Image from Jon Winokur's

David Goodis at his typewriter. Image from Jon Winokur’s “Advice to Writers”

What a writer’s desk!  A manual typewriter (Royal? I think so); a fountain pen and a bottle of ink; a solid cigarette lighter and a half-full ashtray.  Judging by the papers on the desk, I’d say he’s working on a screenplay (from the format), and the buildings outside the window look a lot like the Warner Bros. studio lot.

Jon Winokur’s Tweet with noir novelist David Goodis at his typewriter noted Somerset Maugham’s classic statement about writing novels:

There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.

Did Winokur think the photo was of Maugham? (I found the photo also at an article on Maugham at Oz.Typewriter; I left a comment for Robert Messenger.)

Who is David Goodis? He wrote Dark Passage, which is probably famous mostly for the movie version starring a young Humphrey Bogart.

David Loeb Goodis (March 2, 1917 – January 7, 1967) was an American writer of crime fiction, noted for his prolific output of short stories and novels epitomizing the noir fiction genre. A native of Philadelphia, Goodis alternately resided there and in New York City and Hollywood during his professional years. Yet, throughout his life he maintained a deep identification with the city of his birth, Philadelphia. Goodis cultivated the skid row neighborhoods of his home town, using what he observed to craft his hard-boiled sagas of lives gone wrong, realized in dark portrayals of a blighted urban landscape teeming with criminal life and human despair.

“Despite his [university] education, a combination of ethnicity (Jewish) and temperament allowed him to empathize with outsiders: the working poor, the unjustly accused, fugitives, criminals.” [1]

From 1939 to the middle of the 1940s, Goodis wrote perhaps 5 million words in stories for pulp fiction magazines, an output rivaled by few, if anyone.  Unlike his contemporaries, Dashiell Hamett and Raymond Chandler, Goodis’s work escaped reprinting.

During the 1940s, Goodis scripted for radio adventure serials, including Hop Harrigan, House of Mystery, and Superman. Novels he wrote during the early 1940s were rejected by publishers, but in 1942 he spent some time in Hollywood as one of the screenwriters on Universal’s Destination Unknown. His big break came in 1946 when his novel Dark Passage was serialized in The Saturday Evening Post, published by Julian Messner and filmed for Warner Bros. with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall heading the cast. Delmer Daves directed what is now regarded as a classic film noir, and a first edition of the 1946 hardcover is valued at more than $800.

Arriving in Hollywood, Goodis signed a six-year contract with Warner Brothers, working on story treatments and scripts. In 1947, Goodis wrote the script for The Unfaithful, a remake of Somerset Maugham‘s The Letter. Some of his scripts were never produced, such as Of Missing Persons and an adaptation of Raymond Chandler‘s The Lady in the Lake. Working with director Delmer Daves, he wrote a screen treatment for a film, Up Till Now, which Daves described as “giving people a look at themselves and their [American] heritage”. This film too was never made but Goodis used some of its elements in his 1954 novel, The Blonde on the Street Corner.[3]

Goodis is also credited with writing the screenplay to The Burglar, a 1957 film noir directed by Paul Wendkos that was based on his 1953 novel published by Lion Books. It was the only solely authored screenplay to be produced by him. The film was written and directed by Philadelphians, as well as being shot in Philadelphia. Dan Duryea and Jayne Mansfield were cast in the lead roles, and The Burglar still stands as one of the greatest heist films ever made. It was re-made in 1971 by Henri Verneuil as the French-Italian film Le Casse, starring Omar Sharif.

 


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