Sep 232018

Today is the birthday (1861) of Robert Bosch, a German industrialist, engineer and inventor, founder of Robert Bosch GmbH, whose most famous invention, the spark plug, revolutionized the internal combustion engine. He was also a vocal advocate for humane industrial working conditions, and social conditions in general.

Bosch was born in Albeck, a village to the northeast of Ulm in southern Germany. He was the 11th of 12 children. His parents came from a class of well-to-do farmers from the region. His father, well-educated man, placed special importance on a good education for his children. As a child, Robert liked to try to invent. He tinkered with little electric or mechanical toys hoping to improve them or make something different out of them.

From 1869 to 1876, Bosch attended the Realschule (secondary-technical school) in Ulm, and then took an apprenticeship as a precision mechanic. After his school and practical education, Bosch spent a further 7 years working at diverse companies in Germany, the United States (for Thomas Edison in New York), and the UK (for the German firm Siemens). On 15th November 1886, he opened his own “Workshop for Precision Mechanics and Electrical Engineering” in Stuttgart. A year later, he made a decisive improvement to an unpatented magneto ignition device made by the engine manufacturer Deutz, providing his first business success. The purpose of the device was to generate an electric spark to ignite the air–fuel mixture in a stationary engine. In 1897, Bosch was the first to adapt a magneto to a vehicle engine. In doing so, he solved one of the greatest technical problems faced by the nascent automotive industry. The invention of the first commercially viable high-voltage spark plug as part of a magneto-based ignition system by Robert Bosch’s engineer Gottlob Honold in 1902 was a key stage in the development of the internal combustion engine.

Before the 19th century ended, Bosch expanded his operations beyond Germany. The company established a sales office in the UK in 1898, and other European countries soon after. The first sales office and the first factory in the U.S. were opened in 1906 and 1910 respectively. By 1913, the company had branch operations in North America, Asia, Africa, and Australia, and was generating 88% of its sales outside Germany. In rapid succession in the years following the First World War, Bosch launched innovations for the motor vehicle, including diesel fuel injection in 1927. In the 1920s the global economic crisis caused Bosch to begin a rigorous program of modernization and diversification in his company. In only a few years’ time, he succeeded in turning his company from a small automotive supplier into a multinational electronics group.

From the beginning, Bosch was greatly concerned about promoting occupational training. Prompted by his awareness of social responsibility, he was one of the first industrialists in Germany to introduce the eight-hour work day, followed by other social benefits for his associates. Bosch did not wish to profit from the armaments contracts awarded to his company during WWI. Instead, he donated several million German marks to charitable causes. A hospital that he gave to the city of Stuttgart opened in 1940.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Robert Bosch was politically active. As a liberal businessman, he sat on a number of economic committees. He devoted a great deal of energy and money to the cause of bringing about reconciliation between Germany and France. He hoped this reconciliation would bring about lasting peace in Europe and lead to the creation of a European economic area.

The Nazi regime in Germany brought Bosch’s peacemaking efforts to an abrupt end. The company accepted armaments contracts and employed forced laborers during the war. At the same time, Bosch supported the resistance against Adolf Hitler and together with his closest associates saved victims of Nazi persecution from deportation.

In 1937, Bosch had restructured his company as a private limited company (close corporation). He had established his last will and testament, in which he stipulated that the earnings of the company should be allocated to charitable causes. At the same time, his will sketched the outlines of the corporate constitution, which was formulated by his successors in 1964 and is still valid today.

Bosch was granted a state funeral by the Third Reich when he died in 1942. He was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 1984.

Bosch came from an area of Germany where Swabian cuisine dominates, and tripe is popular in a region where meat was expensive. So, once again, I get to indulge my tripe fetish – this time with veal tripe, which you might find hard to get. Ox tripe will also work. If you are faint hearted, you can substitute chicken. The key to the dish is Trollinger, a red wine from the region.

Schwäbische Kalbskutteln (Swabian Veal Tripe):


1 kg cooked veal tripe, cut in strips
300 ml meat stock
60 ml sherry vinegar
50 gm flour
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 bottle Trollinger wine
1 onion, peeled and diced small
chopped fresh parsley
cooking oil


Sauté the onion in a little oil until transparent, add the sliced tripe and fry for a few minutes without letting it brown. Add the tomato paste, dust with flour and brown to make a dark roux. Stir in the Trolling and the meat stock. Simmer for around 30 minutes and season to taste with the sherry vinegar, salt and pepper.

Sprinkle with parsley and serve with fried potatoes.

May 232017

On this date in 1829 Cyrill Demian (1772–1849) received an official patent from the Vienna patent office for a new instrument he called an accordion. Thus, he is generally credited with the invention. A few give credit to Christian Friedrich Ludwig Buschmann (who also claims to have invented the harmonica) but there is no evidence for either claim apart from a few jottings that Buschmann himself made. His claim to have invented the harmonica is clearly false because they were on sale in Austria 3 years before he says he invented the instrument. Demian is our man.

Cyrill Demian was an Armenian from the Romanian city of Gherla (ancient Armenopolis) who moved to Vienna and worked as an organ and piano maker, with his two sons Karl and Guido, in Mariahilfer Straße No. 43 in Vienna. His new instrument was a modification of the Handäoline, comprising a small manual bellows and five keys. As noted in his own description and patent application, the instrument was what we now call a push-pull accordion, that is it produced a different note on each key depending on whether the bellows were pushed or pulled. Five keys would give a few notes more than an octave in a diatonic scale and major chords would be easy to produce.

His description is translated here from the original German:

Its appearance essentially consists of a little box with feathers of metal plates and bellows fixed to it, in such a way that it can easily be carried, and therefore traveling visitors to the country will appreciate the instrument.

It is possible to perform marches, arias, melodies, even by an amateur of music with little practice, and to play the loveliest and most pleasant chords of 3, 4, 5 etc. voices after instruction.

1st – In a box 7 to 9 inches long, 3½ inches wide and 2 inches high, feathers of metal plates are fixed, which were known for more than 200 years as Regale, Zungen, Schnarrwerk, in organs.

2nd – With bellows fixed to the above box and its 5 claves fixed below, even an amateur of music can play the loveliest and most moving chords of 3, 4 and 5 voices with very little practice.

3rd – Each claves or key of this instrument allows two different chords to be heard, as many keys are fixed to it, double as many chords can be heard, pulling the bellows a key gives one chord, while pushing the bellows gives the same key a second chord.

4th – As this instrument can be made with 4, 5 and 6 or even more claves, with chords arranged in alphabetical order, many well known arias, melodies and marches, etc. may be performed similar to the harmony of 3, 4 and 5 voices, with satisfaction of all anticipations of delicacy and vastly amazing comfort in increasing and decreasing sound volume.

5th – The instrument is of the same size as the attached illustration, with 5 claves and 10 chords, not heavier than 32 to 36 Loth [1 Loth = approx. 16 gm], only if there are more chords will it become longer and some Loths heavier, so it is easy and comfortable to carry and should be a welcome invention for travelers, country and parties visiting individuals of both sexes, especially as it can be played without the help of anybody.[1]

With the cover of the bellows, the entire instrument may be doubled, in order to play more chords or more single tones, in this case, keyboard, the bellows remain in the middle, while each hand controls in turn, either the claves or the bellows.

The above-mentioned duplication of the instrument or adding more chords, would not make anything better to anybody, or give something new, as only the parts would increase, and the instrument more expensive and heavier. The instrument costs 12 to 16 Marks the difference in price results in a more elegant or worse-looking appearance.

From humble beginnings a welter of different kinds of accordions came forth. Many more right hand (treble) keys were added, as were left hand (bass) keys. More reeds (what are called “feathers” here) made richer sounds which could be added or subtracted via stops (equivalent of organ stops), and so forth.

In the 19th century the accordion eventually supplanted the fiddle as the staple instrument for dance music in northern Europe, because of the relative ease of playing in comparison with the fiddle.  Accordion reeds are permanently tuned, so it is hard/impossible to play out of tune, and the arrangement of the keys makes production of major chords very simple. If it is tuned in C major, for example, the first 3 keys played together by pushing the bellows produce the notes C E G (the tonic major chord).

Here’s a video of John Spiers trying out a new push-pull accordion, called a melodeon in England. John is the son of a very old friend of mine, and is quite well known in the English folk scene. I played this kind of instrument for many years, but have retired and do not own one any more – otherwise I would give you a sample of my own playing.

Because Demian was Armenian I’ll choose an Armenian recipe to celebrate him even though the accordion was born in Vienna.  I’ve given plenty of Viennese recipes and precious few Armenian ones. Lamb and bulgar are classic Armenian ingredients, so here’s a lamb meatball dish that involves both. You can think of the meatballs as lamb stuffed with lamb. The influence of Indian cuisine should be obvious to those who know kofta.




1 lb ground lamb
2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
½ cup green bell pepper, finely chopped
3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted and chopped
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp mint leaves finely chopped
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp dried basil
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Outer layer

1½ lb lamb, finely ground
¾ cup fine bulgur, soaked 20 minutes in water and drained
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 tbsp chopped parsley
salt and freshly ground black pepper

To cook

4 pints chicken stock
olive oil


For the filling, sauté the lamb in a skillet over medium-high heat with a trace of olive oil. When thoroughly browned add the onions, green pepper and parsley and cook for about 10 to 15 minutes, until the vegetables have softened. Add the spices and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook for 10 more minutes, then place in a bowl and chill thoroughly.

Chill completely.

To finish and cook, mix the outer layer ingredients together in a food processor. You want this outer layer to be light and fluffy, so mix well so that air is incorporated.

Shape the filling into balls the size of walnuts.

Shape the outer layer into round patties that are large enough to wrap around the filling. Place one ball of filling inside the outer layer, and then wrap the outer layer around the filling so that it is completely and evenly covered. Sorry, this takes practice.

Bring the stock to a simmer in a large stock pot. Add the meatballs a few at a time, cover and simmer for about 8 to 10 minutes. When they are cooked the meatballs will rise to the surface.

You can serve the kufta in some broth, or with plain boiled rice and yoghurt.

Jan 052017


Today is the birthday (1855) of King Camp Gillette, a US businessman who invented a best selling version of the safety razor. Several models were in existence before Gillette’s design; Gillette’s innovation was the thin, inexpensive, disposable blade of stamped steel. Gillette is widely credited with inventing the so-called razor and blades business model, where razors are sold cheaply to increase the market for blades, but in fact he adopted this model only after his competitors did.

Gillette’s ancestors came from England to Massachusetts in 1630. He was born in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin and raised in Chicago, Illinois. While working as a salesman for the Crown Cork and Seal Company in the 1890s, Gillette noticed that the bottle caps, with the cork seal he sold, was thrown away after the bottle was opened. This made him realize the value in basing a business on a product that was used a few times, then discarded. Men shaved with straight razors that needed sharpening every day using a leather strop. Thus a razor whose blade was relatively cheap and could be thrown away when it dulled would meet a real need and likely be profitable.


Safety razors had been developed in the mid-19th century, but still used a forged blade. In the 1870s, the Kampfe Brothers introduced a type of razor along these lines. Gillette improved these earlier safety-razor designs, and introduced the high-profit-margin stamped razor blade steel blade. Gillette’s razor retailed for a substantial $5 — half the average working man’s weekly pay — yet sold by the millions.

The most difficult part of development was engineering the blades, as thin, cheap steel was difficult to work and sharpen. This accounts for the delay between the initial idea and the product’s introduction. Steven Porter, a machinist working with Gillette, used Gillette’s drawings to create the first disposable razor that worked. William Emery Nickerson, an expert machinist and partner of Gillette, changed the original model, improving the handle and frame so that it could better support the thin steel blade. Nickerson designed the machinery to mass-produce the blades.


To sell the product, Gillette founded the American Safety Razor Company on September 28, 1901 (changing the company’s name to Gillette Safety Razor Company in July 1902). Gillette obtained a trademark registration (0056921) for his portrait and signature on the packaging. Production began in 1903, when he sold a total of 51 razors and 168 blades.

The second year, he sold 90,884 razors and 123,648 blades, thanks in part to Gillette’s low prices, automated manufacturing techniques and good advertising. Sales and distribution were handled by a separate company, Townsend and Hunt, which was absorbed by the parent company for $300,000 in 1906. By 1908, the corporation had established manufacturing facilities in the United States, Canada, Britain, France and Germany. Razor sales reached 450,000 units and blade sales exceeded 70 million units in 1915. In 1917, when the U.S. entered World War I, the company provided all American soldiers with a field razor set, paid for by the government. Gillette vetoed a plan to sell the patent rights in Europe, believing correctly that Europe would eventually provide a very large market. Gillette and a fellow director John Joyce, battled for control of the company. Gillette eventually sold out to Joyce, but his name remained on the brand. In the 1920s, as the patent expired, the Gillette Safety Razor Company emphasized research to design ever improved models, realizing that even a slight improvement would induce men to adopt it.


Gillette was also a Utopian Socialist. He published The Human Drift (1894) which advocated that all industry should be taken over by a single corporation owned by the public, and that everyone in the US should live in a giant city called Metropolis powered by Niagara Falls. A later book, World Corporation (1910) was a prospectus for a company set up to create this vision. He offered Theodore Roosevelt the presidency of the company, with a fee of one million dollars. (Roosevelt declined the offer.) Gillette’s last book, The People’s Corporation (1924), was written with Upton Sinclair and later inspired Glen H. Taylor (1948 Progressive Party VP candidate).


In his later life he traveled extensively, and was universally recognized from his picture on the packets of razor blades. People were surprised that he was a real person rather than just a marketing image. A Gillette company history stated that in non-English speaking countries people would often ask for “the kind with the Man’s Face” blades. In the late 1920s, Gillette was known as a frequent guest of Nellie Coffman, proprietor of the Desert Inn in Palm Springs, California. He was often seen wandering about the grounds and lobby in a tattered old bathrobe. When Coffman was asked why she allowed such a low life to hang out at her establishment, she responded, “Why that is King C. Gillette. He has practically kept this place in the black the last few years.”

Gillette died bankrupt and penniless (due to the Wall Street Crash) on July 9, 1932 in Los Angeles, California. He was interred in the lower levels of the Begonia Corridor in the Great Mausoleum located at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.


The term “razor thin” can be attributed to Gillette’s disposable razors, and carpaccio fits the bill for today’s celebration, because it is a dish of raw meat or fish that is very thinly sliced (or pounded thin).  It was invented in 1950 by Giuseppe Cipriani from Harry’s Bar in Venice and popularized during the second half of the 20th century. It was named after Venetian painter Vittore Carpaccio. The beef was served with lemon, olive oil, and white truffle or Parmesan cheese. Later, the term was extended to dishes containing other raw meats or fish, thinly sliced and served with lemon or vinegar, olive oil, salt and ground pepper. Cipriani originally prepared the dish for the countess Amalia Nani Mocenigo when he learned that the doctors had recommended that she eat raw meat and named it carpaccio after Vittore Carpaccio because of his characteristic red and white tones.


The typical Piedmont carpaccio is made with very thin slices of beef placed on a dish with lemon, olive oil, and shavings of white truffle or Parmesan cheese, and can be topped with arugula. The meat typically used for carpaccio is beef sirloin. Since this dish is served raw, the meat must be very fresh. Less commonly, reflecting Piedmont tradition, carpaccio can also be made with minced meat and garlic, called “carne cruda”.

Today the term carpaccio is sometimes used for any preparation made with thinly sliced raw meat, fish or vegetables (usually seasoned with lemon, or vinegar, olive oil, salt and ground pepper) or fruit. Carpaccio is also a popular appetizer in neighboring Friuli and Slovenia, where it is usually served on rucola with a slice of lemon, Parmesan cheese, and toasted French bread.

I usually buy beef or smoked fish for a carpaccio already sliced because my knives are not sharp enough to do a good job. To get beef razor thin your knife must be razor sharp.  The lack of sharp knives in my friends’ kitchens is the bane of my existence when I go to help them cook. I have two Chinese knives that are sharp enough for most purposes, and I have a sharpening stone. But they are not made of high enough quality steel to get an edge adequate for carpaccio.

Mar 102016


On this date in 1876 Alexander Graham Bell made the first successful telephone call by saying over his new invention to his assistant, the famous words, “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.” Could there be a better name for the inventor of the telephone than Bell?

Bell was born in Edinburgh in Scotland, on March 3, 1847. His father was Professor Alexander Melville Bell, a phonetician, and his mother was Eliza Grace (née Symonds). Born as just Alexander Bell, at age 10 he made a plea to his father to have a middle name like his two brothers. For his 11th birthday, his father acquiesced and allowed him to adopt the name “Graham”, chosen out of respect for Alexander Graham, a Canadian being treated by his father who had become a family friend. To close relatives and friends he remained “Alec.”

As a child, young Bell displayed a natural curiosity about his world, resulting in gathering botanical specimens as well as experimenting even at an early age. His best friend was Ben Herdman, a neighbor whose family operated a flour mill, the scene of many adventures. Young Bell asked what needed to be done at the mill. He was told wheat had to be dehusked through a laborious process and at the age of 12, Bell built a homemade device that combined rotating paddles with sets of nail brushes, creating a simple dehusking machine that was put into operation and used steadily for a number of years. In return, John Herdman gave both boys the run of a small workshop in which to “invent”.

From his early years, Bell showed a sensitive nature and a talent for art, poetry, and music that was encouraged by his mother. With no formal training, he mastered the piano and became the family’s pianist. Despite being normally quiet and introspective, he reveled in mimicry and “voice tricks” akin to ventriloquism that continually entertained family guests during their occasional visits.[20] Bell was also deeply affected by his mother’s gradual deafness, (she began to lose her hearing when he was 12) and learned a manual finger language so he could sit at her side and tap out silently the conversations swirling around the family parlor. He also developed a technique of speaking in clear, modulated tones directly into his mother’s forehead wherein she would hear him with reasonable clarity. Bell’s preoccupation with his mother’s deafness led him to study acoustics.

His family was long associated with the teaching of elocution: his grandfather, Alexander Bell, in London, his uncle in Dublin, and his father, in Edinburgh, were all elocutionists. His father published a variety of works on the subject, several of which are still well known, especially his The Standard Elocutionist (1860), which was published in Edinburgh in 1868. The Standard Elocutionist went through 168 British editions and sold over a quarter of a million copies in the United States alone. In this treatise, his father explains his methods of how to instruct deaf-mutes (as they were then known) to articulate words and read other people’s lip movements to decipher meaning. Bell’s father taught him and his brothers not only to write Visible Speech but to identify any symbol and its accompanying sound. Bell became so proficient that he became a part of his father’s public demonstrations and astounded audiences with his abilities. He could decipher Visible Speech representing virtually every language, including Latin, Scots Gaelic, and even Sanskrit, accurately reciting written tracts without any prior knowledge of their pronunciation.


His father encouraged Bell’s interest in speech and, in 1863, took his sons to see a unique automaton, developed by Sir Charles Wheatstone ( ) based on the earlier work of Baron Wolfgang von Kempelen. The rudimentary “mechanical man” simulated a human voice. Bell was fascinated by the machine and after he obtained a copy of von Kempelen’s book, published in German, and had laboriously translated it, he and his older brother Melville built their own automaton head. Their father, highly interested in their project, offered to pay for any supplies and spurred the boys on with the enticement of a “big prize” if they were successful. While his brother constructed the throat and larynx, Bell tackled the more difficult task of recreating a realistic skull. His efforts resulted in a remarkably lifelike head that could “speak”, albeit only a few words. The boys would carefully adjust the “lips” and when a bellows forced air through the windpipe, a very recognizable “Mama” ensued, to the delight of neighbors who came to see the Bell invention.

Intrigued by the results of the automaton, Bell continued to experiment with a live subject, the family’s Skye Terrier, “Trouve”. After he taught it to growl continuously, Bell would reach into its mouth and manipulate the dog’s lips and vocal cords to produce a crude-sounding “Ow ah oo ga ma ma”. With little convincing, visitors believed his dog could articulate “How are you grandma?” More indicative of his playful nature, his experiments convinced onlookers that they saw a “talking dog”. However, these initial forays into experimentation with sound led Bell to undertake his first serious work on the transmission of sound, using tuning forks to explore resonance.

At the age of 19, he wrote a report on his work and sent it to philologist Alexander Ellis, a colleague of his father (who would later be portrayed as Professor Henry Higgins in Pygmalion). Ellis immediately wrote back indicating that the experiments were similar to existing work in Germany, and also lent Bell a copy of Hermann von Helmholtz’s work, The Sensations of Tone as a Physiological Basis for the Theory of Music.

Dismayed to find that groundbreaking work had already been undertaken by Helmholtz who had conveyed vowel sounds by means of a similar tuning fork “contraption”, he pored over the German scientist’s book. Working from his own erroneous mistranslation of a French edition, Bell fortuitously then made a deduction that would be the underpinning of all his future work on transmitting sound, reporting: “Without knowing much about the subject, it seemed to me that if vowel sounds could be produced by electrical means, so could consonants, so could articulate speech.” He also later remarked: “I thought that Helmholtz had done it … and that my failure was due only to my ignorance of electricity. It was a valuable blunder … If I had been able to read German in those days, I might never have commenced my experiments!”


In 1865, when the Bell family moved to London, Bell returned to Weston House as an assistant master and, in his spare hours, continued experiments on sound using a minimum of laboratory equipment. Bell concentrated on experimenting with electricity to convey sound and later installed a telegraph wire from his room in Somerset College to that of a friend. Throughout late 1867, his health faltered mainly through exhaustion. His younger brother, Edward “Ted,” was similarly bed-ridden, suffering from tuberculosis. While Bell recovered (by then referring to himself in correspondence as “A.G. Bell”) and served the next year as an instructor at Somerset College, Bath, England, his brother’s condition deteriorated. Edward would never recover. Upon his brother’s death, Bell returned home in 1867. His older brother Melville had married and moved out. With aspirations to obtain a degree at University College London, Bell considered his next years as preparation for the degree examinations, devoting his spare time at his family’s residence to studying.

Helping his father in Visible Speech demonstrations and lectures brought Bell to Susanna E. Hull’s private school for the deaf in South Kensington, London. His first two pupils were “deaf mute” girls who made remarkable progress under his tutelage. While his older brother seemed to achieve success on many fronts including opening his own elocution school, applying for a patent on an invention, and starting a family, Bell continued as a teacher. However, in May 1870, Melville died from complications due to tuberculosis, causing a family crisis. His father had also suffered a debilitating illness earlier in life and had been restored to health by a convalescence in Newfoundland. Bell’s parents embarked upon a long-planned move when they realized that their remaining son was also sickly. Acting decisively, Alexander Melville Bell asked Bell to arrange for the sale of all the family property, conclude all of his brother’s affairs (Bell took over his last student, curing a pronounced lisp), and join his father and mother in setting out for the New World. Reluctantly, Bell also had to conclude a relationship with Marie Eccleston, who, as he had surmised, was not prepared to leave England with him.

In 1870, at age 23, Bell, his brother’s widow, Caroline (Margaret Ottaway), and his parents travelled on the SS Nestorian to Canada, settling in a farmhouse at Tutelo Heights (now called Tutela Heights), near Brantford, Ontario. The property consisted of an orchard, large farm house, stable, pigsty, hen-house, and a carriage house, which bordered the Grand River. At the homestead, Bell set up his own workshop in the converted carriage house near to what he called his “dreaming place”, a large hollow nestled in trees at the back of the property above the river. Despite his frail condition upon arriving in Canada, Bell found the climate and environs to his liking, and rapidly improved.

After setting up his workshop, Bell continued experiments based on Helmholtz’s work with electricity and sound. He also modified a melodeon (a type of pump organ) so that it could transmit its music electrically over a distance. Once the family was settled in, both Bell and his father made plans to establish a teaching practice and in 1871, he accompanied his father to Montreal, where Melville was offered a position to teach his System of Visible Speech.

Bell’s father was invited by Sarah Fuller, principal of the Boston School for Deaf Mutes (which continues today as the public Horace Mann School for the Deaf), in Boston, Massachusetts, to introduce the Visible Speech System by providing training for Fuller’s instructors, but he declined the post in favor of his son. Traveling to Boston in April 1871, Bell proved successful in training the school’s instructors. He was subsequently asked to repeat the program at the American Asylum for Deaf-mutes in Hartford, Connecticut, and the Clarke School for the Deaf in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Returning home to Brantford after six months abroad, Bell continued his experiments with his “harmonic telegraph”. The basic concept behind his device was that messages could be sent through a single wire if each message was transmitted at a different pitch, but work on both the transmitter and receiver was needed.


Unsure of his future, he first contemplated returning to London to complete his studies, but decided to return to Boston as a teacher. His father helped him set up his private practice by contacting Gardiner Greene Hubbard, the president of the Clarke School for the Deaf for a recommendation. Teaching his father’s system, in October 1872, Alexander Bell opened his “School of Vocal Physiology and Mechanics of Speech” in Boston, which attracted a large number of deaf pupils, with his first class numbering 30 students. While he was working as a private tutor, one of his most famous pupils was Helen Keller, who came to him as a young child unable to see, hear, or speak. She was later to say that Bell dedicated his life to the penetration of that “inhuman silence which separates and estranges.” In 1893, Keller performed the sod-breaking ceremony for the construction of the new Bell’s new Volta Bureau, dedicated to “the increase and diffusion of knowledge relating to the deaf”.

Several influential people of the time, including Bell, viewed deafness as something that should be eradicated, and also believed that with resources and effort they could teach the deaf to speak and avoid the use of sign language, thus enabling their integration within the wider society from which many were often being excluded. In several schools, children were mistreated, for example by having their hands tied behind their backs so they could not communicate by signing—the only language they knew—in an attempt to force them to attempt oral communication. Owing to his efforts to suppress the teaching of sign language, Bell is often viewed negatively by those embracing Deaf culture.

In the following year, Bell became professor of Vocal Physiology and Elocution at the Boston University School of Oratory. During this period, he alternated between Boston and Brantford, spending summers in his Canadian home. At Boston University, Bell was “swept up” by the excitement engendered by the many scientists and inventors residing in the city. He continued his research in sound and endeavored to find a way to transmit musical notes and articulate speech, but although absorbed by his experiments, he found it difficult to devote enough time to experimentation. While days and evenings were occupied by his teaching and private classes, Bell began to stay awake late into the night, running experiment after experiment in rented facilities at his boarding house. Keeping “night owl” hours, he worried that his work would be discovered and took great pains to lock up his notebooks and laboratory equipment. Bell had a specially made table where he could place his notes and equipment inside a locking cover.[66] Worse still, his health deteriorated as he suffered severe headaches. Returning to Boston in fall 1873, Bell made a fateful decision to concentrate on his experiments in sound.

Deciding to give up his lucrative private Boston practice, Bell retained only two students, six-year-old “Georgie” Sanders, deaf from birth, and 15-year-old Mabel Hubbard. Each pupil would play an important role in the next developments. George’s father, Thomas Sanders, a wealthy businessman, offered Bell a place to stay in nearby Salem with Georgie’s grandmother, complete with a room to “experiment”. Although the offer was made by George’s mother and followed the year-long arrangement in 1872 where her son and his nurse had moved to quarters next to Bell’s boarding house, it was clear that Mr. Sanders was backing the proposal. The arrangement was for teacher and student to continue their work together, with free room and board thrown in. Mabel was a bright, attractive girl who was ten years Bell’s junior, but became the object of his affection. Having lost her hearing after a near-fatal bout of scarlet fever close to her fifth birthday, she had learned to read lips but her father, Gardiner Greene Hubbard, Bell’s benefactor and personal friend, wanted her to work directly with her teacher.


By 1874, Bell’s initial work on the harmonic telegraph had entered a formative stage, with progress made both at his new Boston “laboratory” (a rented facility) and at his family home in Canada. While working that summer in Brantford, Bell experimented with a “phonautograph”, a pen-like machine that could draw shapes of sound waves on smoked glass by tracing their vibrations. Bell thought it might be possible to generate undulating electrical currents that corresponded to sound waves. Bell also thought that multiple metal reeds tuned to different frequencies like a harp would be able to convert the undulating currents back into sound. But he had no working model to demonstrate the feasibility of these ideas. In 1874, telegraph message traffic was rapidly expanding and in the words of Western Union President William Orton, had become “the nervous system of commerce”. Orton had contracted with inventors Thomas Edison and Elisha Gray to find a way to send multiple telegraph messages on each telegraph line to avoid the great cost of constructing new lines. When Bell mentioned to Gardiner Hubbard and Thomas Sanders that he was working on a method of sending multiple tones on a telegraph wire using a multi-reed device, the two wealthy patrons began to support Bell’s experiments financially. Anthony Pollok, their attorney, handled patents.

In March 1875, Bell and Pollok visited the famous scientist Joseph Henry, who was then director of the Smithsonian Institution, and asked Henry’s advice on the electrical multi-reed apparatus that Bell hoped would transmit the human voice by telegraph. Henry replied that Bell had “the germ of a great invention”. When Bell said that he did not have the necessary knowledge, Henry replied, “Get it!” That declaration greatly encouraged Bell to keep trying, even though he did not have the equipment needed to continue his experiments, nor the ability to create a working model of his ideas. However, a chance meeting in 1874 between Bell and Thomas A. Watson, an experienced electrical designer and mechanic at the electrical machine shop of Charles Williams, changed all that.

With financial support from Sanders and Hubbard, Bell hired Thomas Watson as his assistant, and the two of them experimented with acoustic telegraphy. On June 2, 1875, Watson accidentally plucked one of the reeds and Bell, at the receiving end of the wire, heard the overtones of the reed; overtones that would be necessary for transmitting speech. That demonstrated to Bell that only one reed or armature was necessary, not multiple reeds. This led to the “gallows” sound-powered telephone, which could transmit indistinct, voice-like sounds, but not clear speech.


In 1875, Bell developed an acoustic telegraph and drew up a patent application for it. Since he had agreed to share U.S. profits with his investors Gardiner Hubbard and Thomas Sanders, Bell requested that an associate in Ontario, George Brown, attempt to patent it in Britain, instructing his lawyers to apply for a patent in the U.S. only after they received word from Britain (Britain would issue patents only for discoveries not previously patented elsewhere).

Meanwhile, Elisha Gray was also experimenting with acoustic telegraphy and thought of a way to transmit speech using a water transmitter. On February 14, 1876, Gray filed a caveat with the U.S. Patent Office for a telephone design that used a water transmitter. That same morning, Bell’s lawyer filed Bell’s application with the patent office. There is considerable debate about who arrived first and Gray later challenged the primacy of Bell’s patent. Bell was in Boston on February 14 and did not arrive in Washington until February 26.

Bell’s patent 174,465, was issued to Bell on March 7, 1876, by the U.S. Patent Office. Bell’s patent covered “the method of, and apparatus for, transmitting vocal or other sounds telegraphically … by causing electrical undulations, similar in form to the vibrations of the air accompanying the said vocal or other sound” Bell returned to Boston the same day and the next day resumed work, drawing in his notebook a diagram similar to that in Gray’s patent caveat.

On March 10, 1876, three days after his patent was issued, Bell succeeded in getting his telephone to work, using a liquid transmitter similar to Gray’s design. Vibration of the diaphragm caused a needle to vibrate in the water, varying the electrical resistance in the circuit. When Bell spoke the famous sentence “Mr. Watson—Come here—I want to see you” into the liquid transmitter, Watson, listening at the receiving end in an adjoining room, heard the words clearly.


Although Bell was, and still is, accused of stealing the telephone from Gray, Bell used Gray’s water transmitter design only after Bell’s patent had been granted, and only as a proof of concept scientific experiment,[84] to prove to his own satisfaction that intelligible “articulate speech” (Bell’s words) could be electrically transmitted. After March 1876, Bell focused on improving the electromagnetic telephone and never used Gray’s liquid transmitter in public demonstrations or commercial use.


Such is history. To conclude I would like to note the following amazingly prescient quotes from Bell:

The day will come when the man at the telephone will be able to see the distant person to whom he is speaking (c.1906)

[It will not be long until] a man can take dinner in New York and breakfast the next morning in Liverpool (1907). The nation that secures control of the air will ultimately rule the world. (1908).

Every town or city has a vast expanse of roof exposed to the sun. There is no reason why we should not use the roofs of our houses to install solar apparatus to catch and store the heat received from the sun. Solar heat [can be used]…. to heat a liquid and store the liquid in an insulated tank… applying even the Thermos bottle principle of a partial vacuum around the tank.” (1914)

Coal and oil are……strictly limited in quantity. We can take coal out of a mine but we can never put it back. What shall we do when we have no more coal or oil? (1917)

[The unchecked burning of fossil fuels] would have a sort of greenhouse effect. The net result is the greenhouse becomes a sort of hot-house.”(1917).

Although a Canadian by transplantation, Bell was a Scotsman by birth. I thought that a Canadian Scots recipe would answer my usual need only to discover that there really is no such thing. Scots transplants display their heritage through classic Scots cooking along with highland games, bagpipe bands, and the like, much as they do in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. Time, therefore, for another Scots dish. This time my favorite cake, Dundee cake. The cake is often made with currants, sultanas and almonds; sometimes, fruit peel may be added to it. The cake originated in 19th-century Scotland, and was originally made as a mass-produced cake by the marmalade company called Keiller’s. Keiller’s marmalade company first produced the cake commercially and have been claimed to be the originators of the term “Dundee cake”. However, similar fruit cakes were produced across Scotland. The top of the cake is typically decorated with concentric circles of almonds.


Dundee Cake


175g softened butter (extra for greasing)
175g soft light brown sugar
3 tbsp orange marmalade
3 eggs, beaten
225g self-raising flour
25g ground almonds
2 tsp ground mixed spice
400g mixed currants, raisins, and sultanas
2 tbsp whisky
40g blanched almonds to decorate
1 tsp granulated or caster sugar, to decorate (optional)


Preheat the oven to 150°C/300F.

Grease and double-line a 20cm/8in loose-based deep cake tin with greaseproof paper.

Cream the butter and sugar in a food mixer until very light and fluffy.

Add the marmalade and mix for a few seconds more. Slowly add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Add the flour, almonds and spices to the batter. Mix slowly until well combined, then stir in the mixed dried fruit. Add the whisky and combine well.

Spoon the mixture into the cake tin, smooth the surface and carefully arrange the blanched almonds in circles on top.

Bake for 1½-2 hours, or until well risen, firm and golden-brown. Make sure it is cooked by inserting a toothpick and look to see that it comes out clean. Check regularly, to be sure the cake does not dry out.

Leave the cake to cool for 10 minutes then remove from the tin, peel off the lining paper and set aside to cool on a wire rack. Sprinkle with granulated sugar. Store in an airtight cake tin. It is best after a day’s rest but will not keep longer than 4 or 5 days.

Jan 092015


On this date in 1839 the French Academy of Sciences (Académie des sciences) announced the invention of the Daguerrotype, the first reliable form of photography and the first to come into widespread use during the early 1840s. By the early 1860s, later processes which were less expensive and produced more easily viewed images had almost entirely replaced it. A small-scale revival of daguerreotype among photographers interested in historical processes was increasingly apparent during the 1980’s and 1990’s and has persisted.

The distinguishing visual characteristics of a daguerreotype are that the image is on a bright (ignoring any areas of tarnish) mirror-like surface of metallic silver and it will appear either positive or negative depending on the lighting conditions and whether a light or dark background is being reflected in the metal. From certain angles the image cannot be seen at all.

Several types of antique images, particularly ambrotypes and tintypes but sometimes even old prints on paper, are commonly misidentified as daguerreotypes, especially if they are in the small, ornamented cases in which daguerreotypes were usually housed. The name “daguerreotype” refers correctly to only one very distinctive image type and medium, produced by a specific photographic process that was in wide use only from the early 1840s to the late 1850s.


Since the late Renaissance, artists and inventors had searched for a mechanical method of capturing visual scenes. Previously, using the camera obscura, artists would manually trace what they saw, or use the optical image in the camera as a basis for solving the problems of perspective and parallax, and deciding color values.

In the early seventeenth century, the Italian physician and chemist Angelo Sala wrote that powdered silver nitrate was blackened by the sun, but did not find any practical application of the phenomenon. previous discoveries of photosensitive methods and substances—including silver nitrate by Albertus Magnus in the 13th century, a silver and chalk mixture by Johann Heinrich Schulze in 1724,and Joseph Niépce’s bitumen-based heliography in 1822—contributed to development of the daguerreotype.

The first reliably documented attempt to capture the image formed in a camera obscura was made by Thomas Wedgwood as early as the 1790s, but according to an 1802 account of his work by Sir Humphry Davy:

The images formed by means of a camera obscura have been found too faint to produce, in any moderate time, an effect upon the nitrate of silver. To copy these images was the first object of Mr. Wedgwood in his researches on the subject, and for this purpose he first used the nitrate of silver, which was mentioned to him by a friend, as a substance very sensible to the influence of light; but all his numerous experiments as to their primary end proved unsuccessful.

In 1829 French artist and chemist Louis Jacques-Mandé Daguerre (photo above), contributing a cutting edge camera design, partnered with Niépce, a leader in photochemistry, to further develop their technologies. The two men came into contact through their optician, Chevalier, who supplied lenses for their camerae obscurae.

Niépce’s aim originally had been to find a method to reproduce prints and drawings for lithography. He had started out experimenting with light sensitive materials and had made a contact print from a drawing and then went on to successfully make the first photomechanical record of an image in a camera obscura—the world’s first photograph. Niépce’s method was to coat a pewter plate with bitumen of Judea (asphalt) and the action of the light differentially hardened the bitumen. The plate was washed with a mixture of oil of lavender and turpentine leaving a relief image. Niépce called his process heliography and the exposure for the first successful photograph was eight hours.

After Niépce’s 1833 death, Daguerre continued to research the chemistry and mechanics of recording images by coating copper plates with iodized silver. Early experiments required hours of exposure in the camera to produce visible results. There is a story of a fortunate accident, related by Louis Figuier of a silver spoon lying on an iodized silver plate which left its design on the plate by light perfectly. Noticing this, Daguerre wrote to Niépce on 21 May 1831 suggesting the use of iodized silver plates as a means of obtaining light images in the camera. Letters from Niépce to Daguerre dated 24 June and 8 November 1831, show that Niépce was unsuccessful in obtaining satisfactory results following Daguerre’s suggestion, although he had produced a negative on an iodized silver plate in the camera. Niépce’s letters to Daguerre dated 29 January and 3 March 1832, according to Eder, show that the use of iodized silver plates was due to Daguerre and not Niépce.


Jean-Baptiste Dumas, who was president of the National Society for the Encouragement of Science and a chemist, put his laboratory at Daguerre’s disposal, which was fortunate, according to Eder, who says Daguerre was not versed in chemistry; and it was Dumas who suggested Daguerre use sodim hyposulfite, discovered by Herschel in 1819, as a fixer to dissolve the unexposed silver salts. Much of Daguerre’s early work was destroyed in a fire: “Until 1839 Daguerre resided in Paris, living at 15 Rue de Marais, the premises of the Diorama from which he derived his income. On 8 March 1839 the house was burned to the ground, and with it the bulk of his early experimental works including the experimental picture which Daguerre made with Arago in order to instruct him in the method and importance of his invention.” Malcom Daniel points out that “fewer than twenty-five securely attributed photographs by Daguerre survive—a mere handful of still lifes, Parisian views, and portraits from the dawn of photography.”


François Arago announced the daguerreotype process at a joint meeting of the French Academy of Sciences and the Académie des beaux arts on January 9, 1839. Later that year William Fox Talbot announced his silver chloride “sensitive paper” process. Together, these announcements mark 1839 as the year photography was born, although Daguerre’s view of the street outside his window was produced the year previously, 1838. Other, earlier practitioners of photography include Hippolyte Bayard and Hércules Florence who produced photographs in 1833—earlier than Daguerre, although later than Niépce’s bitumen heliography. Also, Hércules Florence called his invention photographie whereas in the early days of photography it was called daguerreotypy and the daguerreotype. No one mentioned the word “photography”.


Daguerre did not patent and profit from his invention in the usual way. Instead, it was arranged that the French government would acquire the rights in exchange for a lifetime pension. The government would then present the daguerreotype process “free to the world” as a gift, which it did on August 19, 1839. However, on August 14, 1839, a patent agent acting on Daguerre’s behalf filed for a patent in England, Wales and Scotland. For some reason the patent in Scotland was not enforced, but it was in the other two, making them the only countries in the world in which the purchase of a license was legally required to make and sell daguerreotypes.

dag10 dag9

By the 1860’s the process had been superseded by other processes. But there was a “retro” revival in the 1980’s that continues


Entrecôte Marchand de vin is a classic Parisian dish suitable to celebrate Daguerre. You’ll need a sirloin steak, ½ an onion, and 3 fluid ounces of red wine per person. Heat a little olive oil over medium high heat and sauté the onion in a heavy pan until it is browned at the edges. Remove the onion and turn the heat to high. Allow the pan to get smoking hot. Sear the steak on both sides and cook until reaching the desired doneness – about 2 minutes for rare is my preference. Add back the onion and the wine and let it reduce until it is syrupy. Serve with chunky fried potatoes and a green salad.

Jun 232014


On this date in 1868 Christopher Latham Sholes, Carlos Glidden, and Samuel W. Soule were granted a patent for a prototype of the typewriter which evolved into the form which became widespread, including the QWERTY key layout – named for the first six letters in the upper row – and which became the international standard (the one I am using now). The so-called Sholes-Glidden typewriter was the first typewriter to be commercially viable, and revolutionized office work and business. The patent application marks the first time that the word “typewriter” was used (spelled “type-writer”).

The invention of the typewriter was incremental, ideas being provided by numerous inventors working independently or in competition with each other over a series of decades. As with the automobile, telephone, and telegraph, a number of people contributed insights and inventions that eventually resulted in ever more commercially successful instruments. In fact, historians have estimated that some form of typewriter was invented 52 times as engineers tried to come up with a workable design.

In 1575 an Italian printmaker, Francesco Rampazzetto, invented the ‘scrittura tattile’, a machine to impress letters in papers. In 1714, Henry Mill obtained a patent in Britain for a machine that, from the patent, appears to have been similar to a typewriter. The patent states:

[he] hath by his great study and paines & expence invented and brought to perfection an artificial machine or method for impressing or transcribing of letters, one after another, as in writing, whereby all writing whatsoever may be engrossed in paper or parchment so neat and exact as not to be distinguished from print; that the said machine or method may be of great use in settlements and public records, the impression being deeper and more lasting than any other writing, and not to be erased or counterfeited without manifest discovery.

But it was not until the mid-19th century that serious progress was made in creating a typewriter that was efficient and commercially viable. At that time, the increasing pace of business communication, due to the Industrial Revolution, had created a need for mechanization of the writing process. Stenographers and telegraphers could take down information at rates up to 130 words per minute, whereas a writer with a pen was limited to a maximum of 30 words per minute (the 1853 speed record).

From 1829 to 1870, many printing or typing machines were patented by inventors in Europe and America, but either failed to go into commercial production, or were not successful. Charles Thurber developed multiple patents, of which his first in 1843 was developed as an aid to the blind, such as the 1845 Chirographer. In 1855, the Italian Giuseppe Ravizza created a prototype typewriter called Cembalo scrivano o macchina da scrivere a tasti (“Scribe harpsichord, or machine for writing with keys”). It was an advanced machine that let the user see the writing as it was typed. In 1861, Father Francisco João de Azevedo, a Brazilian priest, made his own typewriter with basic materials and tools, such as wood and knives. In that same year the Brazilian emperor D. Pedro II, presented a gold medal to Father Azevedo for this invention. Many Brazilians as well as the Brazilian federal government recognize Fr. Azevedo as the real inventor of the typewriter, a claim that has been the subject of some controversy. In 1865, John Pratt, of Centre, Alabama, built a machine called the Pterotype which appeared in an 1867 Scientific American article and inspired other inventors, including Sholes.


In 1865, Rev. Rasmus Malling-Hansen of Denmark invented the Hansen Writing Ball, which went into commercial production in 1870 and was the first commercially sold typewriter. It was a success in Europe and was reported as being used in offices in London as late as 1909. Malling-Hansen used a solenoid escapement to return the carriage on some of his models, which makes him a candidate for the title of inventor of the first “electric” typewriter.


According to the book Hvem er skrivekuglens opfinder? (Who is the inventor of the Writing Ball?), written by Malling-Hansen’s daughter, Johanne Agerskov, in 1865, Malling-Hansen made a porcelain model of the keyboard of his writing ball and experimented with different placements of the letters to achieve the fastest writing speed. Malling-Hansen placed the letters on short pistons that went directly through the ball and down to the paper. This, together with the placement of the letters so that the fastest writing fingers struck the most frequently used letters, made the Hansen Writing Ball the first typewriter to produce text substantially faster than a person could write by hand. The Hansen Writing Ball was produced with only upper case characters.



The first typewriter to be fully commercially successful was invented in 1868 by Christopher Latham Sholes, Carlos Glidden and Samuel W. Soule in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, although Sholes soon disowned the machine and refused to use, or even to recommend it. The working prototype was made by the machinist Matthias Schwalbach. The patent (US 79,265) was sold for $12,000 to Densmore and Yost, who made an agreement with E. Remington and Sons (then famous as a manufacturer of sewing machines) to commercialize the machine as the Sholes and Glidden Type-Writer. Remington began production of its first typewriter on March 1, 1873, in Ilion, New York. It had a QWERTY keyboard layout, which because of the machine’s success, was slowly adopted by other typewriter manufacturers. As with most other early typewriters, because the type bars strike upwards, the typist could not see the characters as they were typed.

Sholes had moved to Milwaukee and became the editor of a newspaper. Following a strike by compositors at his printing press, he tried building a machine for typesetting, but this was a failure and he quickly abandoned the idea. He arrived at the typewriter through a different route. His initial goal was to create a machine to number pages of a book, tickets, and so on. He began work on this at Kleinsteuber’s machine shop in Milwaukee, together with a fellow printer Samuel W. Soule, and they patented a numbering machine on November 13, 1866.

Sholes and Soule showed their machine to Carlos Glidden, a lawyer and amateur inventor who spent time at Kleinsteuber’s working on a mechanical plow, and who became interested in developing a typing machine. Further inspiration came in July 1867, when Sholes came across the article in Scientific American describing the Pterotype by John Pratt. From the description, Sholes decided that the Pterotype was too complex and set out to make his own machine, whose name he got from the article, reducing “typewriting machine” to “type-writer.”

For this project, Soule was again enlisted, and Glidden joined them as a third partner who provided the funds. The Scientific American article (unillustrated) had figuratively used the phrase “literary piano,” and the first model that the trio built had a keyboard literally resembling a piano. It had black keys and white keys, laid out in two rows. It did not contain keys for the numerals 0 or 1 because the letters O and I were deemed sufficient (a shortcut still found on typewriters well into the 20th century).  This was the original layout:

3 5 7 9 N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

2 4 6 8 . A B C D E F G H I J K L M

The first row was made of ivory and the second of ebony, the rest of the framework was wooden. It was in this form that Sholes, Glidden and Soule were granted patents for their invention on June 23 and July 14, 1868. The first document to be produced on a typewriter was a contract that Sholes had written, in his capacity as the Comptroller for the city of Milwaukee. Machines similar to Sholes’s had been previously used by the blind for embossing, but by Sholes’s time the inked ribbon had been invented, which made typewriting in its current form possible.[10]

At this stage, the Sholes-Glidden-Soule typewriter was only one among dozens of similar inventions. They wrote hundreds of letters on their machine to various people, one of whom was James Densmore of Meadville, Pennsylvania. Densmore foresaw that the typewriter would be highly profitable, and offered to buy a share of the patent, without even having laid eyes on the machine. The trio immediately sold him one-fourth of the patent in return for his paying all their expenses so far. When Densmore eventually examined the machine, he declared that it was good for nothing in its current form, and urged them to start improving it. Discouraged, Soule and Glidden left the project, leaving Sholes and Densmore in sole possession of the patent.

Realizing that stenographers would be among the first and most important users of the machine, and therefore best in a position to judge its suitability, they sent experimental versions to a few stenographers. The most important of them was James O. Clephane, of Washington D.C., who tried the instruments, subjecting them to such unsparing tests that he destroyed them, one after another, as fast as they could be made and sent to him. His judgments were endlessly caustic, causing Sholes to lose his patience and temper. But Densmore insisted that this was exactly what they needed:

This candid fault-finding is just what we need. We had better have it now than after we begin manufacturing. Where Clephane points out a weak lever or rod let us make it strong. Where a spacer or an inker works stiffly, let us make it work smoothly. Then, depend upon Clephane for all the praise we deserve.

Sholes took this advice and set to improve the machine at every iteration, until they were satisfied that Clephane had taught them everything he could. By this time, they had manufactured 50 machines or so, at an average cost of $250. They decided to have the machine examined by an expert mechanic, who directed them to E. Remington and Sons (which later became the Remington Arms Company), manufacturers of firearms, sewing machines, and farm tools. In early 1873 they approached Remington, who decided to buy the patent from them. Sholes sold his half for $12,000, while Densmore, still a stronger believer in the machine, insisted on a royalty, which would eventually fetch him $1.5 million.


Sholes returned to Milwaukee and continued to work on new improvements for the typewriter throughout the 1870s, which included the QWERTY keyboard (1873). James Densmore had suggested splitting up commonly used letter combinations in order to solve a jamming problem caused by the slow method of recovering from a keystroke: weights, not springs, returned all parts to the “rest” position. This concept was later refined by Sholes, and the resulting QWERTY layout is still used today on both typewriters and English language computer keyboards, although the jamming problem no longer exists. Various other layouts have been suggested over the years to try to improve upon the QWERTY layout, most notably the Dvorak system (pictured). But the oddly quirky QWERTY system is undoubtedly here to stay, at least for English language keyboards. One day I will regale you with tales of typing on public computers in Argentina, Russia, Croatia, and Japan. The results were not pretty.

Some days I have a real challenge to come up with a recipe to match the day’s tale, today being one of them. I could be lame and find a classic recipe from Milwaukee, birthplace of the Sholes-Gidden typewriter. But I don’t get really excited by beer and bratwurst. Inspiration struck when I remembered a novel use for the typewriter. In 1916, newspaper writer Don Marquis introduced Archy, a fictional cockroach, into his daily newspaper column at The New York Evening Sun. Archy (whose name was always written in lower case in the book titles, but was upper case when Marquis would write about him in narrative form) was a cockroach who had been a free verse poet in a previous life, and took to writing stories and poems on an old typewriter at the newspaper office when everyone in the building had left. Archy would climb up on to the typewriter and hurl himself at the keys, laboriously typing out stories of the daily challenges and travails of a cockroach one letter at a time. Archy’s best friend was Mehitabel, an alley cat. The two of them shared a series of day-to-day adventures that made satiric commentary on daily life in the city during the 1910’s and 1920’s, eventually anthologized as The Lives and Times of Archy and Mehitabel.


Because he was a cockroach, Archy was unable to operate the shift key on the typewriter (he jumped on each key to type; since using shift requires two keys to be pressed simultaneously, he physically could not use capitals), and so all of his verse was written without capitalization or punctuation. (Writing in his own persona, though, Marquis always used correct capitalization and punctuation). There was one momentous day too, when Archy hit the shift-lock key by accident, and the subsequent story was all in upper case (“CAPITALS AT LAST”).

In my researches I found this poem (“wotthehell” was one of Archy’s common interjections).

i have had my ups and downs
but wotthehell wotthehell
yesterday sceptres and crowns
fried oysters and velvet gowns
and today i herd with bums
but wotthehell wotthehell
i wake the world from sleep
as i caper and sing and leap
when i sing my wild free tune
wotthehell wotthehell
under the blear eyed moon
i am pelted with cast off shoon
but wotthehell wotthehell

So . . . fried oysters it is, in honor of Archy and his typewriter. I must say that I infinitely prefer oysters on the half shell, but I am not averse to serving them in other ways. I sometimes make oyster stew and oyster fritters, but breaded and deep fried is my favorite way to cook them. The key things you need to know are that Japanese panko makes the best breading, you must fry the oysters in small batches quickly at 375°F/190°C to ensure that the oysters are crispy on the outside and still juicy on the inside, and you must use the wet hand/dry hand method for breading (otherwise you will make a mess and the breading will get soggy). Here’s my heuristic recipe from memory.


For an appetizer I use 6 oysters per person, and for a main course, one dozen. Lay out in a row shallow bowls of plain flour, beaten egg, and panko. Pat the oysters as dry as possible with paper towels. Choose a wet hand and a dry hand.  With your dry hand, roll an oyster in the flour to coat, then drop it in the egg without getting your hand wet. Use your wet hand to roll the oyster in the egg, and then transfer it to the panko without touching it. Use your dry hand to completely coat the oyster with panko and place it on a wire rack. Repeat for all the oysters, cover them with wrap, and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Heat oil in a deep fryer to 375°F/190°C. Fry the oysters in small batches, turning them once so that they are golden on both sides, about 2 minutes per side. Drain on wire racks and serve. I normally make them to order so that they are crisp and hot – this is not a recipe for a big dinner party.

A dipping sauce is a nice addition. I usually use the classic mix of tomato ketchup and horseradish, which diners mix at the table to suit their own tastes. But you can use whatever tickles your fancy, such as herbed mayonnaise, soy sauce and fresh ginger, or whatever. Serve them on a bed of lettuce as an appetizer, or with French fries and a salad for a main course.