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Inventions of the Ragtime Era
THE BATHROOM AND TOILET PAPER
In the 21st century we
An advertisement for plumbing products offered by Thomas Crapper.
See Caption Below.
are seemingly pretty far removed from the knowledge of those who had to go before us, to the potty that is, and yet it is amazing to realize that most of the advancements made in bathroom history happened mostly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, culminating with a crowning achievement in the ragtime era. There are still outhouses, essentially a little room over a deep pit, lurking in rural areas of the United States, and certainly more common in less-developed areas of the world. But realize that indoor plumbing came to the home around the same time as electricity. As late as the 1930s, it was common on the farm to have a pump at the kitchen sink for water, and the bathroom was just that, a room for baths, with no toilet. They used either the outhouse or a chamber pot. The earliest systems for flushing waste away go back 3700 years to ancient Greece, but common people did not have the pressurized water supply or sewer/septic repository to handle such devices. It was more the public need for waste disposal than any other factor that drove the development of indoor toilets. In the late 19th century buildings were starting to expand to 10 or more stories in height, and a walk or slow elevator ride down to a row of outhouses behind the building was simply not an option anymore. So the gravity feed flush toilet, first heavily promoted but not invented by Thomas Crapper (an urban legend that let to its nickname) was refined in the late 1800s to where it could function reliably on the top floor of a building, and municipal waste systems or sewers became a necessity.

However, there is one aspect of bathroom advancements that has long been overlooked by many, but was regarded as nearly miraculous in 1902. When one looks back through history at the methods used to complete the bathroom visit, there was a large variety of materials used to accomplish that task, not always too successfully.

A month's supply of reading material, and...
See Caption Below.
The earliest and most obvious accessory would have been leaves, and if they weren't fairly fresh, or in some cases if they were poisoned, the results could be quite discomforting. The sponge-on-a-stick method was used during the height of the Roman Empire, but only for those who could afford it. Commoners used rougher cloths or even raw wool. Linen was also an alternative when available, but did not always clean well. Corncobs eventually gave way to newspapers. It was not until the late 19th century that paper came into play with some regularity, thanks to the Scott company, which was too embarrassed to put their name on the unmentionable product that eventually made Kimberly-Clark a giant in the industry. But even early rolled paper was fraught with hazards. The process of refining smooth paper from wood pulp was still rudimentary in some regards, so the chances were very good that paper manufactured for use in the toilet would contain...    Splinters! Ouch!! As if there wasn't enough to worry about on a daily basis. In fact, some regard the Sears Catalog and Old Farmer's Almanac as a viable alternative, which the Almanac recognized since they put a hole through one corner to promote hanging it near the toilet. So while some people were trying to figure out how to fly using a motor, a diligent few were on a roll trying to improve toilet paper quality. The paper people won by over a year. In April of 1902, Northern Mills introduced one of the great inventions of the Ragtime Era, if not the 20th century; Splinter-Free Toilet Paper. Actually the earliest incarnation of their product was almost free of ouchies, was not on a roll, and had the consistency of crepe (not misspelled) paper. They were able to proudly advertise that final refinement of splinterless wipes right through the 1930s. The biggest advancement in toilets since 1902 was introduced nearly a century later in 1999. That was the Japanese paperless toilet that washes, rinses and blow-dries the "users" behind. I prefer the old-fashioned way myself...    without splinters, that is!

SOFT DRINKS
Until the late nineteenth century, "effervescent beverages" were used for the relief of intestinal woes, rather than for the recreational quenching of thirst. Until the 1770s, carbonated water only occurred naturally, but a process was created to inject carbon dioxide into plain water in England. The first flavored carbonated drink was ginger ale,
Early soda fountain in Waco, Texas, where Dr. Pepper was formulated.
see caption below
which was available in bottles in the 1850s. But it was in Virginia that modern soda pop was born. Wade Morrison worked at the soda and elixir fountain in a drugstore in mid-Virginia owned by Charles Pepper, M.D. in the 1870s. He had a penchant for liquid experimentation and a serious crush on the doctor's daughter. According to one story, the latter reportedly did not sit well with the owner, so Morrison was dismissed with a broken heart. He surfaced in Waco, Texas as the owner of Morrison's Old Corner Drug Store in the 1880s. Morrison's adventurous English pharmacist, Charles Alderton, had been experimenting with fruit flavorings in an effort to create a drink that was not as heavy as some of the better known mixtures were. One particular elixir combination of his, when mixed with carbonated water, went over well with the customers. Contrary to popular belief, there is no prune juice in the syrup formula. Alderton offered it to his boss, and Morrison decided to market the drink, naming it Doctor Pepper in honor of his first employer, and possibly the beloved daughter. A beverage chemist and patron of the Waco store, Robert S. Lazenby of the Circle "A" Ginger Ale Company, obtained the formula and sold a refined version of it at local soda fountains starting in 1885. Lazenby soon bottled the creation as Dr. Pepper, with the period after Dr. remaining until the 1950s. It was introduced to the population at large during the 1904 Exposition in St. Louis, and it has remained successful over the last century. It also is "Perfessor" Bill's favorite soft drink!

Some Coca Cola girls of the 1910s and 1920s.
see caption below
It was in 1886, a year after Dr. Pepper debuted, that an Atlanta, Georgia pharmaceutical chemist named John Pemberton made unlikely history. He had a favorite syrup formula he had concocted while running an apothecary shop in Columbus, Ohio in the 1860s. He brought some into Jacob's Drug Store in Atlanta and asked the fountain man to mix some with water. Once all present had tasted the pleasant combination, the store agreed to dispense it on a trial basis. His bookkeeper, Frank Robinson, came up with the name for this "brain tonic" elixir, Coca Cola, in part (as unconfirmed legend has it) because of the small amount of cocaine allegedly included in the original formula. It is more likely the visual appearance of the two C's in script, and the lyrical nature of the words that contributed to the name. It wasn't until later that year, after the fountain clerk accidentally mixed the syrup with carbonated water instead of the "flat" stuff, that customers started asking for it. Pemberton's health failed quickly the following year, and he sold the formula and his company to wholesale druggist Asa Candler and his business partners in 1887. By 1891, Candler had acquired control of the entire company, and put his money into advertising its medicinal benefits, rather than its refreshing nature. In 1894, Joseh A. Biedenham, a candy salesman in Mississippi, started bottling the drink for distribution at picnic events. Sales went over so well that the product was picked up by bottlers throughout the country during the rest of the decade, although not all in the same style of bottles. By the ragtime era, the familiar Coca Cola script label was omnipresent, and the company produced some of the most memorable and colorful advertising of that time. It wasn't until 1915 that the familiar classic bottle shape appeared, created by a professional designer, in response to the many cola imitators that had sprung up. The beverage became a very hot trading commodity during wartime for both World Wars. It was also through the employment of gifted artist Haddon Sundblom starting in the early 1930s that the familiar modern vision of Santa Claus was embedded in our culture through their advertising. So pause, and refresh yourself. That's the real thing!

Tremont Street in Boston circa 1895.
See Caption Below
THE SUBWAY
Population growth in the United States during the last three decades of the nineteenth century created challenges for at least two east coast trade centers, New York City and Boston. It was one thing to start constructing tenements of between three and six stories high, but another altogether to manage the traffic volume generated by the people who live there. Even in the days of horse drawn conveyances there were many traffic jams and instances of gridlock. Trolleys had become commonplace after the advent of electricity generation and distribution. Cable cars were also used in some metropolitan areas. But both of those were subject to the same traffic hazards as common carriages and the occasional horseless carriage, and all needed to occupy the same space. Elevated railways were tried in Boston and New York, but the engineering difficulties of building long elevated stretches that could support the considerable weight of a steam locomotive were daunting and expensive. The answer was to go underground.

The Beach Pneumatic Subway literally blows into one of its two stations.
see caption below
The first attempt at demonstrating the feasibility of a subway system was made by Alfred Ely Beach, the owner/editor of [The] Scientific American, in 1870. He had envisioned underground railways as early as 1849, using horse-drawn cars. Inspired by the opening of the London subway (using locomotives) in 1863, Beach completed a system that was less dangerous than that in England, on which people were dying from smoke inhalation. His was not unlike the pneumatic tubes used to send envelopes and such through office buildings or bank drive-throughs. Using a fan at one end and a pneumatic shield at the other, the lavishly decorated round car was either blown or sucked through the tunnel on its 312 foot trip (about one city block). Because of resistance from City Hall and the notorious Boss Bill Tweed who had invested in elevated lines, Beach had to disguise the project as a series of mailing tubes in order to obtain financing, and did the work primarily at night. Once opened, hundreds of thousands of visitors paid a quarter for the short ride, and many advocated extensions throughout the city. The idea was not entirely practical for longer distances, and Tweed and City Hall stood in the way as well, since they weren't cut in on the deal. After three years, even after Tweed's well-deserved ouster, the first attempt at below ground mass transit succumbed to politics and a national financial panic.

An open car enters the Boston Subway's Park Street Station in 1897.
see caption below
Although independent railway companies started working on subway lines as early as 1874, none of them were completed and put into service until 1904 after four years of earnest construction. The credit for the first practical interconnected subway line in the United States goes to the city of Boston. With a well-established network of electric trolleys using overhead wires for power, it was a logical decision to continue this system underground in an effort to unclog busy downtown streets and increase train speed. Construction on the initial tunnels began in 1894 using the "cut and cover" method, which was essentially the digging of a trench in the street, laying track and building the walls, then covering it and restoring the street. As a result, the earliest subway lines in both Boston and New York had many tight curves in them as they necessarily had to follow city streets, until better boring equipment was developed in the early 1900s. On September 1, 1897, the first subway line in the United States opened in Boston with a total of three stations, then expanded to seven within a year. There were inclined entrances for connections with trolleys leading away from downtown. The success of the Boston subway was transcended by the one in New York in 1904, which boasted the two largest power-generating plants in the world, and grew at an incredible rate. Subway commutes in those two cities became quite common during the Ragtime Era, followed later by Chicago's subway system.

An early Berliner Gramophone with external horn, granddaddy to the Victrola.
See Caption Below
THE VICTROLA
While the inventor credited with refining the process of recording and playback using a flat disc is Emile Berliner in 1893, the person who brought the newly christened Gramophone into the home was Eldridge Johnson, a New Jersey machine shop operator. There were many obvious advantages that the disc format had over Edison's cylinders, such as quicker duplication techniques and two songs per disc. In an effort to further enhance the consumer's view of flat records, Berliner set out to record the world's best artists performing the world's best music. His greatest coup was the recording of Enrico Caruso on disc. Caruso's involvement in recording helped to encourage many other artists to make discs as well. But Berliner's presence in the United States was short-lived. This was in part due to patent violations attributed to the inventor himself, making it impossible for him to sell his machines in the U.S. for a number of years.

A 1915 Internal horn Victrola Model VV-X.
see caption below
Eldridge Johnson had been hired by Berliner's European company to produce parts for his Gramophones in the United States. When Berliner fell victim to the patent infringement lawsuits, Johnson bought out some of the patents the famous Francis Barraud painting of His Masters Voice, then founded the Victor Talking Machine Company in 1901. The first machines were disc based phonographs for table tops, similar to the Berliner players. However, Johnson first experimented successfully in 1905 with the notion of hiding the playback horn, necessary for sound reproduction, in a cabinet below the phonograph. The end result was the Victrola, a device that not only looked better (albeit at a lower volume), but with the lid shut, could be viewed as an attractive piece of furniture. Outsourcing the beautiful cabinets kept the price high at first, making the Victrola only available to those with a money to burn. So Johnson built an impressive factory complex and created an assembly line for his phonographs that rivaled that of Henry Ford's Model T plant. Once the Victor company started producing their own cabinets and improved on the overall sound design, mass manufacturing brought the prices down to under $100 for many internal horn models, most later extended to full-sized pieces with internal record storage. It was Johnson's dedication to making the phonograph accessible to the masses that changed the face of music education and enjoyment in the U.S. and the world. In 1925 Victor introduced the Orthophonic system, which utilized improved design and advanced horn resonance creating a much more full-bodied sound. However, radio technology was taking over, and with the means to produce sound electronically rather than acoustically, the wind-up Victrolas were quickly relegated to the attics and the junk yards. RCA took the company over in 1929, again changing the face of the record industry all over the world.

Henry Ford on his 1896 Quadricycle, one of two built.
See Caption Below
THE MODEL T FORD/ASSEMBLY LINE
In 1896 Henry Ford was the Chief Engineer of Thomas Edison's electrical lighting plant in Detroit, Michigan. He had acquired a fascination with internal combustion engines and set out to create a vehicle propelled by one, which he christened the Quadricycle. By 1901 he had been a supervisor and stockholder in two early automobile companies, but a penchant for wanting to build racecars in combination with a deep distrust of bankers kept him and his investors constantly at odds. Finally in 1902 he started the Ford Motor Company with an initial investment of $28,000. One of his early plans to thwart bankers who sought to invest in his company was to offer dealer franchises, which required the dealers to pay for their automobiles when they were received, rather than when they were sold. This gave him additional capital to expand his manufacturing enterprise and invest in research to improve the product. After producing nine models, including the racing Model B and the luxurious (for its time) Models L and R, in 1908 Ford introduced what was to become a sometimes-dubious yet socially significant icon, the Model T.

Near the end of the moving assembly line circa 1915.
See Caption Below.
Ford's desire was to build a car that everybody could own and drive. Being that most cars to that time had been custom-built or built one at a time in limited quantities, Ford had the vision to implement and successfully demonstrate how he could revolutionalize the assembly process by using identical interchangeable parts. For a crowd of skeptical newspaper reporters he had two Model T's disassembled, the parts mixed up, reassembled (with impressively speed and efficiency), and driven off to prove his point. The next step to enable lowering the cost of the Model T, which had been introduced at $850 for the passenger body styles, was to perfect (as opposed to invent) the moving assembly line. With the help of William Klann he built a mass production facility starting in 1909, which when completed in 1913 was producing at least 1000 vehicles per day. By using moving belts, workers could remain at one location and do one task well, rather than be counted on to cover a multitude of duties. In an attempt to literally put a Ford in every garage, Ford was able to bring the cost of a Model T down to $290 by 1915, a year in which he produced nearly half the world's automobiles. (By 1923 production was 1.8 million per year.)
The final body assembly line outside the Ford Model T plant in Detroit.
See Caption Below.
At the same time, he created further nightmares for jealous bankers through his innovative sales and financing techniques, and was the first to offer blue-collar workers a minimum daily wage of $5.00 in 1914, a princely sum for that time. It also enabled all of his employees to drive their product. In fact, now that the average American had affordable mobility, there were many societal shifts both geographic and economic. The proliferation of the Model T over and including all other cars (fifteen million were ultimately built by 1927) required a network of new roads, petrol stations, traffic control, and a variety of other new or expanded industries, not the least of which was tourism. It also was responsible for the initial growth of suburban areas around major cities. The down sides of his assembly line methodology were that it reduced the necessary skill set of the average worker making each employee less viable, created an environment for repetitive work injuries, and turned employees into robots of sorts, making them effectively indistinguishable from the machines in the plant.

The venerable Tin Lizzie: Individual transportation for the masses.
see caption below
The car itself was both a blessing and an enigma. The engine was started through a magneto crank, which sometimes reversed itself upon starting, causing a familiar shoulder injury known to many doctors. The array of three pedals and two steering column mounted levers required some practice to drive, as the pedals were used in various combinations for specific gears and throttle was on the column. Due to the method of gas feed to the carburetor and the difference in gear ratios (3:1 in first, 4:1 in reverse), drivers often had to back their car up a hill for extra power and to keep the tank higher than the carburetor. They were also noisy, initially produced only in black, and were the brunt of many jokes, songs and cartoons. However, the "Tin Lizzie" as it was affectionately dubbed was also durable and versatile. The basic frame could be used as a touring car, pickup, delivery van, fire engine, paddy wagon, ambulance, taxi, school bus, farm vehicle, and even a camper. They were also basic enough that most owners could also be their own mechanic. While the Model T barely even exists in memory now with the exception of a few working models in museums or at car shows, both the auto and the manufacturing methods that sprang from it will always be the progenitor of today's automobile industry.

An early autochrome of an American family circa 1910.
See Caption Below
COLOR PHOTOGRAPHY
It is widely known that most animals, including man's best friend - the dog, are color blind or see in monochrome (black and white). It is also widely argued that most people dream in monochrome, although a few claim to have dreams in vivid color. In fact, many people's memories of the first 70 years of the 20th century are in monochrome, and have long been preserved that way. But the fact is that most people see in color. The notoriety of such skilled photographers as the venerable Matthew Brady, a visual chronicler of the American Civil War, helped to establish photography not only as a viable means of archiving history but as a legitimate art form as well. But for all the contrast provided in a sepia-tone image on glass (startlingly lifelike even a century later), there is a certain depth available primarily in color photography that surpasses that of monochrome. The question was how to achieve it, and it turns out there were several possible answers.

A Ragtime Era couple out for an afternoon of posing in the wilderness.
See Caption Below
The first color photography was attempted in the 1850s by Niépce de St. Victor but never properly refined enough for accuracy. Most photography of the time involved glass plates, and they were often difficult to work with when applying multiple layers of chroma information. Gabriel Lippmann came closer to perfection in the 1890s, but his film process required lengthy exposures, impractical for a variety of purposes such as candid shots or children's portraits. James Maxwell of Great Britain applied the theory of multiple overlaid plates to create color views, but the process was again too lugubrious for practical purposes. Ducos du Hauron took Maxwell's work a little further, creating a camera that was able to direct different light spectrums at three different negatives mounted in the camera. While this produced spectacular results, issues with alignment of the filtered exposures along with the bulk and reload difficulties of the camera soon rendered it impractical. Finally, two decades before the vivid processes of Kodachrome® and Technicolor® were developed in the 1920s, there was the diligent photography experimentation of Auguste and Louis Lumiére of France. The result of their years of work yielded the autochrome photography plate and process.

An artistically backlit child at play circa 1912.
See Caption Below
The simple explanation of the process is that each plate was coated with microscopic grains of potato starch dyed in RED, GREEN and BLUE, the three primary additive colors used for photography and video display. These particles acted as filters for each of those light spectrums, blocking a specific portion of the spectrum from reaching the negative. When the blank areas were filled in with Lampblack, the color filters combined with the monochrome layer for a color plate that approached natural hues. While the early autochromes of 1906 to 1915 appear washed out in copies, a close inspection of an original will show that they have lost very little of their initial shading or tint. This "screen process" is a direct ancestor of the Polaroid® color films of today. One of the continuing handicaps of all color processes through the 1910s was the amount of exposure time required to apply all of the filters to the plate, making it impractical for motion picture use. Commonly inadequate lighting only added to these difficulties. A filter process for multi-strip film was soon developed, and the Agfa company produced viable motion picture stock by the early 1920s. One of the first films to take advantage of this was MGM's epic Ben Hur of 1925, with selected scenes that included the Christ figure in two-strip color. Many of the earliest color photographs, however, are of European tableaus, since the majority of initial color film development took place in Western Europe. Most early color autochromes are also of still lifes or posed portraits, rather than historical events or shots involving movement.

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Ragtime Webring-Dedicated To Scott Joplin

The Ragtime Webring-Dedicated to Scott Joplin and the music of the Ragtime Era, this ring is an invaluable resource for jazz music lovers, musicians and historians. Sheet music, midi files, afro-american history, record collectors...

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There are lots of great ragtime recordings by top artists available from
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Including some of my recommended favorites:

Max Morath Dick Hyman Dick Zimmerman
Paul Lingle Wally Rose Lu Watters
James P. Johnson Tony Caramia Squirrel Nut Zippers
Marcus Roberts Butch Thompson Jelly Roll Morton
Glenn Jenks Sue Keller Fats Waller
The Good Time Jazz Catalog and Bill's personal favorites, The Firehouse Five+2!

And don't miss these movies which include some ragtime music:

The Jazz Singer The Sting
Alexander's Ragtime Band Scott Joplin
The Legend of 1900 Ragtime
For Me and My Gal Meet Me In St. Louis
In the Good Old Summertime Take Me Out to the Ball Game
The Jolson Story Jolson Sings Again
Cheaper by the Dozen San Francisco
Somewhere in Time Titanic (1953)
The Other Pretty Baby
42nd Street Reds
The Son of Kong Story of Vernon and Irene Castle
Cheyenne Social Club The Shootist
How To Dance Through Time - Dances of the Ragtime Era

Or just search their site using the search engine below!

     

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