Feb 052018
 

Time for another omnibus post because so many anniversaries associated with movie history collide today. On this date in 1861 Samuel Goodale of Cincinnati patented his moving picture peep show machine. On this date in 1870 Henry Renno Heyl used his phasmatrope to project moving images for an audience, which some historians credit as being the first movie show. On this date in 1919 Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and DW Griffith launched United Artists, and on this date in 1937 Modern Times, starring Charlie Chaplin, was released. Let’s see if I can make sense of all of this in a single post.

Samuel Goodale patented a kind of peep show he called a stereoscope which was later called a mutoscope. The term “stereoscope” is misleading because it was more commonly used to describe a viewer of twin images taken by a special camera that showed the image in 3-D. Goodale’s peep show worked on the same principle as the flip book. The individual image frames were conventional black-and-white, silver-based photographic prints on tough, flexible opaque cards. Rather than being bound into a booklet, the cards were attached to a circular core, rather like a huge Rolodex.

Goodale’s and later peep shows were coin-operated. The patron viewed the cards through a single lens enclosed by a hood. The cards were lit by candles and the reel was driven by means of a geared-down hand crank. Each machine held only a single reel and was dedicated to the presentation of a single short subject, described by a poster affixed to the machine.  Because one machine contained only one subject, it made sense to have them transported by circus or carnival side shows from one location to another, rather than fixed in one place where audiences would soon tire of the same show being repeated.

Henry Renno Heyl’s Phasmatrope which was first publicly exhibited on this date in 1870 to a theater audience in Philadelphia was similar in operation to Goodale’s peep show in that it employed sequenced photographs on a reel, like a flip book. The difference was that Heyl’s machine allowed projection of the moving images, so that an entire audience could experience the show, not just one viewer at a time. Some historians have given Heyl the honor of being the first person to project photographic motion pictures, and an early promotional poster makes the same claim. In Popular Science Monthly of July 1898 Heyl wrote:

 Among the earliest public exhibitions of photographs taken from living subjects in motion projected by the lantern upon a screen was that given at an entertainment held in the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, on the evening of February 5, 1870, and a repetition of the exhibition was made before the Franklin Institute at its next following monthly meeting, on March 16th, by [Heyl]. The printed programme of this event contains the following allusion to this feature of the entertainment:

“This is a recent invention, designed to give various objects and figures upon the screen the most graceful and lifelike movements. The effects are similar to those produced in the familiar toy called the Zoetrope, where men are seen walking, running, and performing various feats in most perfect imitation of real life. This instrument is destined to become a most valuable auxiliary to the appliances for illustration, and we have the pleasure of having the first opportunity of presenting its merits to an audience.”

The subjects exhibited embraced waltzing figures and acrobats, shown upon the screen in life size, while the photographic images were easily three fourths of an inch in height. At that day flexible films were not known in photography, nor had the art of rapid succession picture-making been developed; therefore, it was necessary to limit the views of subjects to those that could be taken by time exposure upon wet plates, which photos were afterward reproduced as positives on very thin glass plates, in order that they might be light in weight. The waltzing figures, taken in six positions, corresponding to the six steps to complete a turn, were duplicated as often as necessary to fill the eighteen picture spaces of the instrument which was used in connection with the lantern to project the images upon the screen.     

The piece of mechanism, then named the ‘phasmatrope,’ consisted of a skeleton wheel having nine radial divisions, into which could be inserted the picture, in such relative position that, as the wheel was intermittently revolved, each picture would register exactly with the position just left by the preceding one. The intermittent movement of the wheel was controlled by a ratchet and pawl mechanism operated by a reciprocating bar moved up and down by the hand. It will be apparent that the figures could be moved in rapid succession or quite slowly, or the wheel could be stopped at any point to complete the evolution.            

In the exhibition at the Academy of Music above alluded to, the movement of the figures was made to correspond to the time of the waltz played by an orchestra, and when the acrobat performers were shown, a more rapid motion was given, and a full stop made when a somersault was completed. A shutter was then a necessary part of the apparatus to cut off the light rays during the time the pictures were changing places. This was accomplished by a vibrating shutter placed back of the picture wheel, that was operated by the same draw-bar that moved the wheel, only the shutter movement was so timed that it moved first and covered the picture before the latter moved, and completed the movement after the next picture was in place. This movement reduced to great extent the flickering, and gave very natural and lifelike representations of the moving figures.

 

Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and DW Griffith incorporated United Artists as a joint venture on this date in 1919. Each held a 25 percent stake in the preferred shares and a 20 percent stake in the common shares of the joint venture, with the remaining 20 percent of common shares held by lawyer and advisor William Gibbs McAdoo. The idea for the venture originated with Fairbanks, Chaplin, Pickford and cowboy star William S. Hart a year earlier. As Hollywood veterans the four talked of forming their own company to better control their own work. They were spurred on by established Hollywood producers and distributors who were tightening their control over actor salaries and creative decisions, a process that evolved into the studio system. With the addition of Griffith, planning began, but Hart bowed out before anything was formalized.

When he heard about their scheme, Richard A. Rowland, head of Metro Pictures, apparently said, “The inmates are taking over the asylum”. The four partners, with advice from McAdoo (son-in-law and former Treasury Secretary of then-President Woodrow Wilson), formed their distribution company. Hiram Abrams was its first managing director, and the company established its headquarters at 729 Seventh Avenue in New York City. The original terms called for each of the stars to produce five pictures a year. By the time the company was operational in 1921, feature films were becoming more expensive and polished, and running times had settled at around 90 minutes (eight reels). The original goal was thus abandoned.

UA’s first film, His Majesty, the American, written by and starring Fairbanks, was a success. Funding for movies was limited. Without selling stock to the public, following the other studios, all United had for finance was weekly prepayment installments from theater owners for upcoming movies. As a result, production was slow, and the company distributed an average of only five films a year in its first five years. By 1924, Griffith had dropped out, and the company was facing a crisis; the alternatives were to either bring in others to help support a costly distribution system or concede defeat. Veteran producer Joseph Schenck was hired as president. He had been producing pictures for a decade, and he brought commitments for films starring his wife, Norma Talmadge, his sister-in-law, Constance Talmadge, and his brother-in-law, Buster Keaton. Contracts were signed with independent producers, most notably Samuel Goldwyn, and Howard Hughes. In 1933, Schenck organized a new company with Darryl F. Zanuck, called Twentieth Century Pictures, which soon provided four pictures a year, forming half of UA’s schedule. Schenck formed a separate partnership with Pickford and Chaplin to buy and build theaters under the United Artists name. They began international operations, first in Canada, and then in Mexico. By the end of the 1930s, United Artists was represented in over 40 countries.

Modern Times, starring Chaplin, premiered on this date in 1936. Technically it is a talkie because it has a sound track, but Chaplin’s character is silent. It was written and directed by Chaplin; his iconic Little Tramp character struggles to survive in the modern, industrialized world. The film is a comment on the desperate employment and financial conditions many people faced during the Great Depression, conditions created, in Chaplin’s view, by the efficiencies of modern industrialization. The movie stars Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Henry Bergman, Tiny Sandford and Chester Conklin.

During a European tour promoting City Lights, Chaplin got the inspiration for Modern Times from both the lamentable conditions of the continent through the Great Depression, along with a conversation with Mahatma Gandhi in which they discussed modern technology. Chaplin did not understand why Gandhi generally opposed it, though he granted that “machinery with only consideration of profit” had put people out of work and ruined lives.

Chaplin began preparing the film in 1934 as his first “talkie”, and went as far as writing a dialogue script and experimenting with some sound scenes. However, he soon abandoned these attempts and reverted to a silent format with synchronized sound effects and sparse dialogue. The dialogue experiments confirmed his long-standing conviction that the universal appeal of his “Little Tramp” character would be lost if the character ever spoke on screen. Most of the film was shot at “silent speed”, 18 frames per second, which when projected at “sound speed”, 24 frames per second, made the slapstick action appear even more frenetic. Available prints of the film now correct this. The duration of filming was long for the time, beginning on October 11, 1934 and ending on August 30, 1935.

Chaplin’s eating habits are well documented, fortunately. His son wrote:

Besides stewed tripe and onions, he likes lamb stew. Those are two of his three favorite dishes. He dislikes seasoning, never uses sauces or violent condiments and doesn’t care for highly spiced dishes. The one exception is curry, the hotter the better. That’s his third favorite dish. He is utterly inconsistent about eating. Sometimes he will go for twenty-four hours or longer without taking a morsel. Then he’ll eat four or five meals within the next day. He goes on diets but never keeps them up. He went rabidly on a raw vegetable diet for several days. “Look at animals,” he said, “they eat raw vegetables and are healthy. The elephant is the biggest and strongest animal; he eats only vegetables.” That night, Charlie ate two beefsteaks, rare.

Very well, I am partial to tripe too, although the English tripe and onions was the bane of my existence as a boy. If you don’t like tripe, make lamb stew or a curry with rice.  Here’s Mrs Beeton on tripe followed with her onion sauce recipe. If my mother had cooked it this way I might have liked tripe – but I doubt it.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—Tripe, onion sauce, No. 484, milk and water.

Mode.—Ascertain that the tripe is quite fresh, and have it cleaned and dressed. Cut away the coarsest fat, and boil it in equal proportions of milk and water for 3/4 hour. Should the tripe be entirely undressed, more than double that time should be allowed for it. Have ready some onion sauce made by recipe No. 4S4, dish the tripe, smother it with the sauce, and the remainder send to table in a tureen.

Time.—1 hour: for undressed tripe, from 2-1/2 to 3 hours.

Average cost, 7d. per lb.

Seasonable at any time.

Note.—Tripe may be dressed in a variety of ways: it may be cut in pieces and fried in batter, stewed in gravy with mushrooms, or cut into collops, sprinkled with minced onion and savoury herbs, and fried a nice brown in clarified butter.

WHITE ONION SAUCE, for Boiled Rabbits, Roast Shoulder of Mutton, &c.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—9 large onions, or 12 middling-sized ones, 1 pint of melted butter made with milk (No. 380), 1/2 teaspoonful of salt, or rather more.

Mode.—Peel the onions and put them into water to which a little salt has been added, to preserve their whiteness, and let them remain for 1/4 hour. Then put them in a stewpan, cover them with water, and let them boil until tender, and, if the onions should be very strong, change the water after they have been boiling for 1/4 hour. Drain them thoroughly, chop them, and rub them through a tammy or sieve. Make 1 pint of melted butter, by recipe No. 380, and when that boils, put in the onions, with a seasoning of salt; stir it till it simmers, when it will be ready to serve. If these directions are carefully attended to, this onion sauce will be delicious.

Time.—From 3/4 to 1 hour, to boil the onions.

Average cost, 9d. per pint.

Sufficient to serve with a roast shoulder of mutton, or boiled rabbit.

Seasonable from August to March.

Note.—To make this sauce very mild and delicate, use Spanish onions, which can be procured from the beginning of September to Christmas. 2 or 3 tablespoonfuls of cream added just before serving, will be found to improve its appearance very much. Small onions, when very young, may be cooked whole, and served in melted butter. A sieve or tammy should be kept expressly for onions: an old one answers the purpose, as it is liable to retain the flavour and smell, which of course would be excessively disagreeable in delicate preparations.

 

Nov 052016
 

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Today is the birthday (1911) of Leonard Franklin Slye, better known by his stage name — Roy Rogers. He was a U.S. singer and cowboy actor who was one of the most popular Western stars of his era. I was certainly a fan as a boy.  He was known as the “King of the Cowboys” and appeared in over 100 films and numerous radio and television episodes of The Roy Rogers Show. In many of his films and television episodes, he appeared with his wife Dale Evans, his golden palomino Trigger, and his German Shepherd dog Bullet. His show ran on radio for nine years before moving to television from 1951 through 1957. His productions usually featured a sidekick, often Pat Brady, Andy Devine, or George “Gabby” Hayes.

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Leonard Slye typifies for me the U.S. cowboy singer/actor. That is, he was not born in the West, nor worked as a real cowboy. The cowboy of movies and television bears little resemblance to real cowboys of the Old West. Slye was born to Mattie (née Womack) and Andrew “Andy” Slye in Cincinnati, Ohio. The family lived in a tenement building on 2nd Street, where Riverfront Stadium would later be constructed (he would later joke that he was born at second base). Dissatisfied with his job and city life, Andy and his brother Will built a 12-by-50-foot (3.7 m × 15.2 m) houseboat from salvage lumber, and in July 1912 the Slye family traveled up the Ohio River towards Portsmouth, Ohio.[1] Desiring a more stable existence in Portsmouth, they purchased land on which to build a house, but the Great Flood of 1913 allowed them to move the houseboat to their property and continue living in it on dry land.

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In 1919 the Slye family purchased a farm in Duck Run, near Lucasville, Ohio, about 12 miles (19 km) north of Portsmouth, and built a six-room house. Andy Slye soon realized that the farm alone would provide insufficient income for his family, so he took a job at a Portsmouth shoe factory, living in Portsmouth during the week and returning home on weekends bearing gifts following paydays. A notable gift was a horse on which young Len Slye learned the basics of horsemanship. Living on the farm with no radio, the family made their own entertainment. On Saturday nights, the family often invited neighbors over for square dances, during which Len would sing, play mandolin, and call the square dances. He also learned to yodel during this time.

After completing the eighth grade, Len attended high school in McDermott, Ohio. After his second year in high school, his family returned to Cincinnati, where his father began work at another shoe factory. Realizing that his family needed his financial help, Len quit school and joined his father at the shoe factory. He tried to attend night school, but after repeatedly falling asleep in class, he quit and never returned.

By 1929, after Len’s older sister Mary and her husband moved to Lawndale, California, he and his father quit their factory jobs, packed up their 1923 Dodge, and drove the family to California to visit Mary. They stayed for four months before returning to Ohio. Soon after returning, young Len had the opportunity to travel again to California with Mary’s father-in-law, and the rest of the family followed in the spring of 1930. The Slye family rented a small house near Mary, and Len and his father found work driving gravel trucks for a highway-construction project. In the spring of 1931, after the construction company went bankrupt, Len traveled to Tulare, California where he found work picking peaches for Del Monte. During this time he lived in a labor camp similar to the ones depicted in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes Of Wrath.

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After 19 year old Len Slye’s second arrival in Lawndale, his sister Mary suggested that he audition for the Midnight Frolic radio program, which broadcast over KMCS in Inglewood. A few nights later, wearing a Western shirt that Mary had made for him, Leonard overcame his shyness and appeared on the program playing guitar, singing, and yodeling. A few days later, he was asked to join a local country music group called The Rocky Mountaineers. Len accepted the group’s offer and became a member in August 1931.

By September 1931, Slye hired Canadian-born Bob Nolan who answered the group’s classified ad in the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner that read, “Yodeler for old-time act, to travel. Tenor preferred.” Although Nolan stayed with the group only a short time, he and Len stayed in touch. Nolan was replaced by Tim Spencer. In the spring of 1932, Len Slye, Spencer, and another singer, Slumber Nichols, left the Rocky Mountaineers to form a trio, which soon failed. Throughout that year, Len and Tim Spencer moved through a series of short-lived groups, including the International Cowboys and the O-Bar-O Cowboys. When Spencer left the O-Bar-O Cowboys to take a break from music, Len joined Jack LeFevre and His Texas Outlaws, who were a popular act on a local Los Angeles radio station.

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In early 1933, Len Slye, with Bob Nolan, and Tim Spencer formed a group called the Pioneers Trio, with Slye on guitar, Nolan on string bass, and Spencer on lead vocals. The three rehearsed for weeks refining their vocal harmonies. During this time, Slye continued to work with his radio singing group, while Spencer and Nolan began writing songs for the trio. In early 1934, fiddle player Hugh Farr joined the group, adding a bass voice to the group’s vocal arrangements. Later that year, the Pioneers Trio became the Sons of the Pioneers when a radio station announcer changed their name because he felt they were too young to be “pioneers”. The name was received well and fit the group, who were no longer a trio.

By the summer of 1934, the popularity and fame of the Sons of the Pioneers extended beyond the Los Angeles area and quickly spread across the country through short syndicated radio segments that were later rebroadcast across the United States. After signing a recording contract with the newly founded Decca label, the Sons of the Pioneers made their first commercial recording on August 8, 1934. One of the first songs recorded by the group during that first August session was “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” written by Bob Nolan. Over the next two years the Sons of the Pioneers would record 32 songs for Decca, including the classic “Cool Water”.

From his first film appearance in 1935, he worked steadily in Western films, including a large supporting role as a singing cowboy while still billed as “Leonard Slye” in a Gene Autry movie. In 1938, when Autry was demanding more money for his work, Slye was immediately rechristened “Roy Rogers.” Actually, there was a competition for a new singing cowboy, and many western singers sought the job, including Willie Phelps of the Phelps brothers who appeared in early western movies. Slye ended up winning the contest and became Roy Rogers. Slye’s stage name was suggested by Republic Picture’s staff after Will Rogers and the shortening of Leroy, and he was assigned the lead in Under Western Stars. Rogers became a matinee idol and U.S. cowboy legend. A competitor for Gene Autry as the nation’s favorite singing cowboy was suddenly born. In addition to his own movies, Rogers played a supporting role in the John Wayne classic Dark Command (1940). Rogers became a major box office attraction. Unlike other stars, the vast majority of Rogers’ leading roles allowed him to play a character with his own name in the manner of Gene Autry.

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The Sons of the Pioneers continued their popularity, and they have never stopped performing from the time Rogers started the group, replacing members as they retired or died (all original members are deceased). Although Rogers was no longer an active member, they often appeared as Rogers’ backup group in films, radio, and television, and Rogers would occasionally appear with them in performances up until his death.

When Rogers died of congestive heart failure on July 6, 1998, he was living in Apple Valley, California. He was buried at Sunset Hills Memorial Park in Apple Valley, as was his wife, Dale Evans, three years later.

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The Roy Rogers is a very simple non-alcoholic drink which I won’t spend too much time on. You’ll need a bottle of Coca-Cola, some grenadine syrup, maraschino cherries, and a glass of ice. Add a dash of grenadine to the ice, pour in the Coke, and garnish with a cherry. Done.

Let’s get a little more serious about cowboy cooking. I’ll state point blank, as an historian, that I don’t think there is any such thing as authentic cowboy cooking. It’s as much of a romantic fiction as Roy Rogers is. Sure, cattle drives needed a chuck wagon and a cook. But, did these cooks have special recipes and recipe books that they followed once they were out on the trail? Spare me. What we should remember is that in the 19th century cattle drives had most of the limitations of sea-going vessels when it comes to the basics of the larder, but they did have live meat on the hoof. Chuck wagons would have carried the obvious staples such as dried legumes, rice, and flour which would form the basis for stews and breads. Perishables such as fresh vegetables and eggs would have been in short supply. If an animal died on the drive it would have been eaten – pure and simple. The slow and sick would also have been disposed of in short order.

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More to the point for me is the nature of the cooking equipment. When you look at old photos of cattle drive makeshift kitchens you see a lot of cast iron pots – skillets and ovens. Cast iron is eminently practical on a cattle drive because it is durable. For over 30 years I had two cast iron skillets which I used just about every day. One I had inherited from my wife’s grandmother, and one I bought new. After 30 years I couldn’t tell the difference. New cast iron pans have to be seasoned so that they do not rust. This is really only the start of a very long process. They take years to season properly. As it is, there is a great deal of false information doing the rounds about cast iron skillets. For a start, well-seasoned skillets are NOT non-stick. Preheated properly, and lightly coated with oil, they will resist sticking. But take it from me – they stick. They are not Teflon. Second, they do not heat evenly. They do, however, retain heat very well. Third, you do not have to worry about cooking acidic sauces in them. The seasoning remains just fine. In fact acidic sauces combine with a tiny bit of the iron to provide you with extra dietary iron.  Fourth, you can clean a cast iron skillet with soap and water just as you do any other cooking pot.

Seasoning is not complicated. The simplest way is to clean the skillet thoroughly with soapy water and a stiff brush. This removes any oil that it was coated with to prevent rust. Dry the skillet thoroughly and then wipe it with fat or oil so that it is completely covered. Place it upside down on the middle rack of an oven heated to 350°F with a pan under it to catch drips. Let it bake for at least an hour, then turn the oven off and let the skillet cook down in the oven. It is now minimally seasoned. Cooking with it for 10 years will finish the job. If you see an old skillet in a yard sale going cheap, snag it.

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I’d say that the simplest “cowboy” recipe is beef and beans, and would have been very common on the trail. No need for a detailed recipe. Soak a pot of dried beans overnight. In the morning drain them and add fresh water to cover. Also add stewing beef (preferably on the bone) and simmer for at least 2 hours. You can add whatever spices come to mind. I’m sure trail cooks had their favorites. Hot paprika is enough for me, but I like cumin as well. The main trick is to simmer very slowly for long hours so that the meat is falling from the bone. The starch from the beans will thicken the sauce as it reduces. This is as about as simple as it gets and I am sure is very close to what cowboys ate a lot of the time.

Jun 122014
 

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Today is the birthday (1806) of John Augustus Roebling, a German-born U.S. civil engineer. He is famous for his wire rope suspension bridge designs, in particular, the design of the Brooklyn Bridge. I have a personal interest in Roebling because I lived for 25 years in the old telegraph office on the Delaware and Hudson Canal adjacent to the remains of an aqueduct over the Neversink River that Roebling designed in 1848.

Roebling was the youngest of four children. He was baptized in the Lutheran church Divi Blasii in Mühlhausen. As a young boy he played the bass clarinet and the French horn. He also exhibited great artistic talent for sketches and paintings. His father owned a small tobacco shop, but the business was insufficient to provide livelihood for all three sons. Roebling’s sister Friederike Amalie married Carl August Meissner, a poor merchant in the town, and his oldest brother Herman Christian Roebling prepared to take over the tobacco shop.

At first Roebling attended the gymnasium in Mühlhausen. Recognizing his intelligence at a young age, Roebling’s mother, Friederike Dorothea Roebling arranged for him to be tutored in mathematics and science at Erfurt by Ephraim Salomon Unger. He went to Erfurt when he was 15. In 1824 he passed his surveyor’s examination and returned home for a year. In 1824 he enrolled for two terms at the Bauakademie in Berlin where he studied architecture and engineering under Martin Friedrich Rabe (1765–1856), bridge construction and foundation construction under Johann Friedrich Dietlein (1782–1837), hydraulics under Johann Albert Eytelwein (1764–1848), and languages. Roebling also attended lectures by the philosopher Hegel. Roebling developed an interest in natural philosophy and many years later he worked on a 1,000 page treatise about his own concepts of the universe.

In 1825 Roebling got a government job at Arnsberg, Westphalia, working on military road building for four years. During this period he made sketches for suspension bridges. In 1829 he returned to his home to work out his final thesis and prepare for his second engineer examination. For unknown reasons, he never took the examination.

On May 22, 1831, Roebling left Prussia with his brother Carl and Johann Adolphus Etzler, the technological utopianist. Economic mobility and career advancement were difficult for engineers in Prussian society. This unfortunate state of affairs had been brought about by the Napoleonic Wars, which lasted until 1815. This period in European history left Prussia with political unrest, as authoritarian governments took the places of democratic ones. Etzler had ideas about creating a utopia in the United States, but disputes arose en route, and the group split. Roebling and his brother purchased 1582 acres (6.4 km²) of land on October 28, 1831, in Butler County, Pennsylvania with the intent to establish a German settlement, called Saxonburg. Most of the other settlers remained with Etzler. The John Roebling House at Saxonburg was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

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John Roebling and his brother arrived in the United States at an interesting time. The nation was in the later stages of an economic boom, which ended in the Panic of 1837. Farmers were deeply affected by it. Transportation between eastern industrial hubs and frontier farming markets had become a matter of both national and popular interest. Many transportation projects were underway near the location he chose for his colony, but instead of continuing as an engineer, he took up farming. After five years he married Johanna Herting, a tailor’s daughter. Agrarian work did not appeal to John Roebling, and the colony attracted very few settlers. In 1837, after the death of his brother and the birth of his first child, he returned to engineering as a vocation.

Roebling’s first engineering work in the U.S. was devoted to improving river navigation and canal building. He spent three years surveying for railway lines across the Allegheny Mountains, from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh, for the state of Pennsylvania. In 1840 he wrote to suspension bridge designer Charles Ellet, Jr., offering to help with the design of a bridge near Philadelphia:

The study of suspension bridges formed for the last few years of my residence in Europe my favorite occupation … Let but a single bridge of the kind be put up in Philadelphia, exhibiting all the beautiful forms of the system to full advantage, and it needs no prophecy to foretell the effect which the novel and useful features will produce upon the intelligent minds of the Americans.

Roebling began producing wire rope at Saxonburg in 1841. At that time canal boats from Philadelphia were transported over the Allegheny Mountains on railroad cars to access waterways on the other side of the mountains, so that the boats could continue to Pittsburgh. The system of inclines and levels that moved the boats and conventional railroad cars was a state-owned enterprise, the Allegheny Portage Railroad. The railroad cars were pulled up and down the inclines by a long loop of thick hemp rope, up to 7 cm thick. The hemp ropes were expensive and had to be replaced frequently. Roebling remembered an article he read about wire ropes. Soon after, he started developing a 7-strand wire rope at a ropewalk that he built on his farm.

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In 1844 Roebling won a bid to replace the wooden canal aqueduct across the Allegheny River with the Allegheny Aqueduct. His design encompassed seven spans of 163 feet (50m), each consisting of a wooden trunk to hold the water supported by a continuous cable made of many parallel wires, wrapped tightly together, on each side of the trunk. This was followed in 1845 by building a suspension bridge over the Monongahela River at Pittsburgh.

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In 1848 Roebling undertook the construction of four suspension aqueducts on the Delaware and Hudson Canal.The images above show the aqueducts at Minisink Ford, High Falls, and Cuddebackville.  The sepia tone is across from my house where there is a small beach, and the bottom image shows the abutments as they are today (my house is to the left).  All but the aqueduct at Minisink were taken down in the early 20th century.

During this period, he moved to Trenton, New Jersey. In Trenton, Roebling built a large industrial complex for wire production. This complex inspired the Trenton, New Jersey motto on Trenton’s Lower Trenton Bridge.

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Roebling’s next project, starting in 1851, was a railroad bridge connecting the New York Central and Great Western Railway of Canada over the Niagara River, which would take four years. The bridge, with a clear span of 825 feet (251m), was supported by four, ten-inch (25 cm) wire cables, and had two levels, one for vehicles and one for rail traffic.

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While the Niagara bridge was being built, Roebling undertook another railway suspension bridge, across the Kentucky River which required a clear span of 1,224 feet (373m). The anchorage and stone towers were completed, and the cable wire delivered along with the material for the superstructure, when the railway company became insolvent. The bridge construction was halted, and was later finished as a truss bridge.

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In 1859 Roebling completed another suspension bridge at Pittsburgh. Its total length was 1,030 feet (314m), consisting of two main spans of 344 feet (105m) each, and two side spans of 171 feet (52m) each.

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The American Civil War brought a temporary halt to Roebling’s work. However, in 1863 building resumed on a bridge over the Ohio River at Cincinnati which he had started in 1856 and halted due to financing; the bridge was finished in 1867. The Cincinnati-Covington Bridge, later named the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge, was the world’s longest suspension bridge at the time it was finished.

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In 1867 Roebling started design work on what is now called the Brooklyn Bridge, spanning the East River in New York. Roebling devised “an equilibrium strength approach, in which equilibrium is always satisfied but compatibility of deformations is not enforced.” This was essentially an approximation method similar to the force method: First, Roebling computed the dead and live loads, then divided the load between the cables and the stays. Roebling added a large safety factor to the divided loads and then solved for the forces. This approach gave a sufficiently accurate analysis of the structure given the assumption that the structure was sufficiently ductile to handle the resulting deformation.

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While surveying the site of the Brooklyn tower for the Brooklyn Bridge, the tip of Roebling’s right foot was crushed by a docking boat. After his toes were amputated, Roebling was diagnosed with tetanus and developed lockjaw. He suffered severe seizures and periodically lapsed into a coma before dying in the early morning hours of July 22, 1869 in Brooklyn Heights, New York. Roebling is buried in the Riverview Cemetery in Trenton, New Jersey.

roebling brooklyn

Roebling’s son Washington Roebling and his daughter-in-law Emily Warren Roebling continued his work on the Brooklyn Bridge. His son Ferdinand expanded his wire rope business. His son Charles Roebling designed and invented a huge 80 ton wire rope machine and founded the town of Roebling, New Jersey where the John A. Roebling’s Sons company steel mill was built. His grandson Washington A. Roebling II perished on the RMS Titanic. His great-grandson Donald Roebling was a noted philanthropist and inventor who devised the amphtrack (amphibious landing craft).

Roebling’s home town of Mühlhausen is in Thuringia now in central Germany. Its cuisine is very much what is thought of as prototypically German cooking – wursts, braised beef, pig knuckles, dumplings, and sauerkraut. In a number of places where Roebling designed bridges, such as Cincinnati, there were large populations of German immigrants who brought with them the basics of German-American cooking. Among the most popular dishes, well loved in Thuringia, is sauerbraten – beef marinated in vinegar for days and then slow cooked in the marinade.

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Sauerbraten

Ingredients

2 cups water
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup red wine vinegar
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 tbsp plus 1 tsp kosher salt, additional for seasoning meat
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 bay leaves
6 whole cloves
12 juniper berries
1 tsp mustard seeds
3 ½ to 4lb bottom round, whole
1 tbsp vegetable oil
? cup sugar
18 dark old-fashioned gingersnaps (about 5 ounces), crushed

Instructions

In a large saucepan over high heat combine the water, cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, onion, carrot, salt, pepper, bay leaves, cloves, juniper, and mustard seeds. Cover and bring this to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Pat the bottom round dry and rub with vegetable oil and salt on all sides. Heat a large saute pan over high heat; add the meat and brown on all sides, approximately 2 to 3 minutes per side.

When the marinade has cooled to a point where you can stick your finger in it and not be burned, place the meat in a non-reactive vessel and pour over the marinade. Place into the refrigerator for 3 days. If the meat is not completely submerged in the liquid, turn it over once a day.

After 3 days of marinating, preheat the oven to 325°F/160°C.

Add the sugar to the meat and marinade, cover and place on the middle rack of the oven and cook until tender, approximately 4 hours.

Remove the meat from the vessel and keep warm. Strain the liquid to remove the solids. Return the liquid to the pan and place over medium-high heat. Whisk in the gingersnaps and cook until thickened, stirring occasionally. Strain the sauce through a fine mesh sieve to remove any lumps. Add the raisins if desired. Slice the meat and serve with the sauce and boiled potatoes or dumplings.