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When the Mundane was Novel–Sears Sells a Flashlight

Most of the household items we use are so familiar that we cannot imagine instructions were ever needed to understand them. But all things were new and strange once. Consider the entry below from the 1908 Sears catalog—but first, a word about Sears.

Sears Roebuck and Company was a mail-order business in 1908. There […]

Early Electrical Lighting in Homes

I WROTE THIS BACK IN 1997. AT FIRST I THOUGHT I MIGHT WRITE AN ARTICLE FOR “AMERICAN HERITAGE OF INVENTION AND TECHNOLOGY.” AS IT PROGRESSED, I DECIDED IT MAY WORK BETTER AS A RETROSPECTIVE IN AN ELECTRICAL ENGINEERING JOURNAL. I THEN DECIDED THAT THE ARTICLE I WANTED TO WRITE REALLY DIDN’T FIT IN ANYWHERE, SO […]

Preventing Light Bulb Theft! Locking Light Sockets

The value of things changes over the years. There was a time light bulbs were valuable enough that people would steal them from hotels, public buildings, and the workplace. Below is a little artifact of that time, a 1920’s light socket with a lock. Once a bulb is screwed in, it will not come out […]

When Technologies Collide! Radio Interference from Light Bulbs

No, I’m not going where you think I am—this blog is not about compact fluorescent lamps. It’s actually about a much older technology and how it caused problems twenty five years after it became obsolete!

My interest started with a story. My friend, Dan worked for decades as a two-way radio system design […]

An Electrical Book from the Beginning of Time–Well Almost

Recently I bought a book I have been eyeing for two years. The price finally dropped to an acceptable level. The book is THE AGE OF ELECTRICITY, FROM AMBER-SOUL TO TELEPHONE. It’s an up-to-date summary of electrical applications written in 1887. 1887 is officially way-old for electricity.

We have a chapter on […]

Always Look for the Rusty Stuff in Antique Shops—An Antique Magneto

Here is another electrical wonder from days gone by. I happened upon an antique dealer who had several early magnetos of the type that were used with early hit-and-miss engines. Below is a picture of such an engine.

These very heavy stationary engines were used by farmers about 90 to 100 years ago to […]

Why Don’t Electric Lights Work As Well As My Gas Light?–The DIM-A-LITE

Here is another electrical item from days gone by. It’s an early electric light dimmer. There is a chain on each side. The chain rotates the outer body of the dimmer, sliding an internal contact against a resistive material. It is called the DIM-A-LITE and was patented in 1908.

The two predominant […]

Small Things Still Tell Stories

Sometimes small items have a lot to reveal. Take this simple light socket. It is officially known as a keyed socket (meaning that it has a switch). The old-style shape of this switch clarifies the old term “keyed” socket since the turn-switches were once shaped like a key.

This piece was made around 1903 […]

Another Electrical Mystery Item–The Gas Adapter

Just what is the item pictured below? It is not technologically advanced, but it represents a major shift in lighting technology. This adapter provided a cheap way of electrifying existing gas lights.

Here is a typical gas light.

We unscrew the jet from the valve, insert our little adapter, and screw the jet back […]

Shocking Yourself Back to Health–Medical Electricity

When electricity was new and strange (and before we had federal oversight of medical devices) many medical practitioners proclaimed electric current as the healer of all our ills. Scores of different machines were marketed on both sides of the Atlantic that shocked patients for medicinal purposes. These machines could give a gentle tingle to a […]