The Smead System of Warming

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smeadsystem.pngNot precisely Albany, but we couldn't help but notice this advertisement in the 1894 guide to Albany schools for the Smead System of Warming, Ventilation and Sanitation for School Buildings. They were very concerned about the physical state of teachers. "For teachers and children to breathe over and over air loaded with foul gases and organic impurities thrown off by lungs and skin, is just as filthy as if they should drink the water in which they have bathed, and is much more injurious to health."

Luckily, there was a solution. The Smead System, in fact. It was no experiment, but precisely what it was is not explained here. It is explained in a voluminous 1889 tome by Isaac Smead of Toledo, Ohio, with the fittingly voluminous title of "Ventilation and Warming of Buildings, Upon the Principles as Designed and Patented by Isaac D. Smead." (Yeah, it's on Google Books.)

The book is more of a hoot than this ad, beginning with a fictional interview question from an unnamed Dr. ____:

"Good morning, Mr. Smead; I am glad to find you in your office and alone. [Creeper alert] I am told that you are the largest manufacturer of warming and ventilating apparatus in America; and, being very much interested in the subject, I have called to get such information as you may feel disposed to give."

Mr. Smead, you'll be surprised to learn, was more than disposed to answer his fictional doctoral alter ego:

"I am glad to see you, Doctor, and if you are disposed to be influenced by facts rather than by theories, and will devote the necessary time to a full investigation, and then state your conclusions in a positive, definite manner, I will devote an hour or two a day to the subject, and when we are through I have no fear concerning the opinion you will hold."

Oy. It does go on. Albany already had 5 buildings using the Smead system. We can assume the teachers working in those buildings maintained the rose in their cheeks.

Lurie's: No More Stamps for 1925

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LuriesadsSchenectadyGazette1-3-1925.pngLurie's was a little remembered Schenectady department store at the corner of State and Ferry, which would have put it right in the vicinity of Barney's. (It's possible it was related to the M. Lurie Company of Amsterdam, and it's possible it wasn't.) They sold all kinds of clothing and fabrics, and gave away their own trading stamps. At least, until 1925. On January 3, they put the public on notice -- they would redeem all Lurie stamps, but there would be no more stamps for 1925.

Entertainment, 1891

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1891amusementsAlbanyTimes.pngSo, what were the entertainment options for the family of leisure in Albany, back in January of 1891? You couldn't complain there was nothing to do.

At Proctor's Theatre (oh yes, Albany had one of those, too), 45 South Pearl St., Henry E. Dixey was performing "The Seven Ages." Sounds very tame and refined, no? Turns out Mr. Dixey was something of a sensation, not least for performing in tights.

The Encyclopedia of The Musical Theater says of Henry Dixey:

"He was one of the 'hottest' male stars in operetta history, he made ladies in the audience swoon with his flesh coloured tights in the production of Adonis, a boylesque retelling of the famous Galatea saga that Franz von Suppé had used for his legendary one-act show in Vienna. Broadway offered Mr. Dixey as an emancipated male alternative."

If you want to learn more about "boylesque," you're on your own. Whatever was on display, 1600 people could have fit into that theater to see it.

He was to be followed by Lydia Thompson, who brought us Victorian burlesque, and for that I'm gonna let you go ahead and Google it yourself.

Over at H.R. Jacobs' Opera House, a slightly smaller 1300-seater, Whalen & Martell were putting on some kind of extravaganza under the name of "Great London & American Combination." Probably best known for another extravaganza called "The South Before the War," depicting the happy lives of slaves and they joy they took in entertaining us through song, perhaps it's just as well that the content of this particular show doesn't yield to an easy search. Following that, the well-known Rose Coghlan would be performing in three different pieces over the course of a weekend, a common approach to entertainment then that would seem simply absolutely impossible today.

At Harmanus Bleecker Hall, we had the spectacular revival of "H.M.S. Pinafore," first performed in 1878. Interestingly, no stars are named, and it might be safe to assume that none were involved. History doesn't tell us what happened in 1891, but a letter from 1879, on State Senate stationery, details the disgusting state of affairs that Albany had been lowered to through the advent of "Pinafore-mania." We're not kidding.

Co-education and Fur

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coeducation.pngAnother ad from 1894, in a publication about the Albany school system, proving that ads could be ridiculous and just a little inane even 120 years ago.

The Walsh family was selling furs and more at 58 State Street at least as early as 1870, and continued on at other locations (North Pearl and upper State) at least into the '40s.

In 1887, the "Fur Trade Review" included this write-up on the Walsh business:
"Messrs. W.E. Walsh and Sons, 58 and 60 State Street, have a very fine, large store with every facility for the display of a choice selection of fur garments in all fashionable shapes, small furs, robes and novelties in furs. They are preparing for a good fall trade, which they will undoubtedly realize, as their goods have an extended reputation for general excellence."

Milton Bradley

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albanyschools.pngThere's no real Albany connection to the Milton Bradley Company, well-known game-makers of Springfield, Mass., but in 1894 they took out an ad in a book celebrating Albany public schools. It was a lovely bit of typography. Obviously, they made more than games, and Milton Bradley himself was a strong advocate of the kindergarten movement, and was himself a kindergarten teacher. Although he left to focus on teaching, the company moved into producing equipment for kindergarten, thus the ad we see here.

accoaspirin.jpgSo we mentioned that during the Albany Chemical Company's reign as the top producer of chloroform in the country, they were embroiled in some patent battles. Well, some decades later, they were to be found in patent court once again, this time trying to enforce a patent they didn't really hold. They were pioneering patent trolls.

By 1920, the Albany Chemical Co. was selling "Acco Genuine Aspirin." In their advertising, they warned that "'ASPIRIN' is the registered trade-mark property of the Albany Chemical Company. The Albany Chemical Company are manufacturers of 'GENUINE (Trade-mark Registered) ASPIRIN' Tablets. Any statement to the contrary made by any other manufacturer is a misrepresentation of truth." Did that sound like they were protesting just a bit much? That's because they were.

Anyone with a passing familiarity with trademark law knows of aspirin as perhaps the most famous case of a brand name losing its trademark protection ("heroin" being another). Aspirin was created by The Bayer Company in Germany, which sought patent and trademark protection wherever it was available in order to differentiate and protect their product from (somewhat ironically named) patent medicines. They brought their product to the United States and began manufacture of aspirin in scenic Rensselaer in 1903. Then there was that pesky war (the first one), and many German-owned assets were seized and sold by the government of the United States, the Bayer Company holdings among them. The Rensselaer plant and Bayer's patents and trademarks were auctioned off, and aspirin landed in the hands of, naturally, a patent medicine company called Sterling Products. (Bayer didn't get their own name and trademarks back until 1994, paying a reported $1 billion for the privilege.)

The patent on aspirin expired in 1917. In that same year, under challenge that the term had become generic (and possibly with a tiny bit of anti-German sentiment), the trademark was cancelled. "Aspirin" became a generic term, and hundreds of brands of aspirin suddenly appeared on the market.

In stepped the Albany Chemical Company, which in 1920 began petitioning various states for registration of the word "aspirin," following which it plastered ads all over the place claiming aspirin was its trademark and that it was the only company from which it was safe to purchase the painkiller. In addition to their advertising, they peppered their competitors with cease and desist letters.

The Federal Trade Commission issued this neat little summary of the docket on April 19, 1921:

Where a corporation engaged in the manufacture and sale of drugs, including acetyl salicylic acid, popularly known as "aspirin," registered the word as a general trade-mark in a large number of States, accompanying its applications for registration with affidavits that it alone had the right to use the word, and thereafter -

(a)    Advertised generally that "Acco Aspirin," its product, was the only genuine aspirin;

(b)    Advertised that the word was its general trade-mark; and

(c)    Threatened numerous druggists and dealers with suits for infringement if they used the word on the products of any other concern;

Notwithstanding the fact that long prior to such attempted appropriation thereof, the word had been continuously, openly, and notoriously applied by numerous other manufacturers and dealers to the product acetyl salicylic acid and the exclusive right there to openly asserted and pressed by the successor to another company, the original patentee of the product and registrant of the word.

Readers will be shocked to learn the FTC didn't find in Albany Chemical Company's favor.

Albany: Chloroform Capital

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Albany was once America's leading city for an awful lot of things. We moved the most lumber. We led the country in the manufacture of stoves and pianos. And it turns out that Albany was once the chloroform capital of the country.

The Albany Chemical Company was listed in 1888's "The Empire State: Its Industries and Wealth" as a manufacturer of fluid extracts, elixirs, chemicals, etc., located then at 65 and 67 Green Street.  "No department of commercial enterprise in the city of Albany is  of more direct value and importance to the community than that in which the practical manufacturing chemist brings to bear his professional skill and experience." Or something.

 The business began in 1878 as Albany Pharmaceutical Co., which then occupied a four-story building with laboratories "admirably equipped with all the latest improved apparatus, appliances and machinery known to the trade."

"The company makes a specialty of producing large quantities of mercurial ointment, solution of the chloride of iron, concentrated spirit of nitre, ether, chloroform, etc. They have a patent for the manufacture of chloroform, and turn out annually about half the quantity that is used in the United States." Chloroform was an early anesthetic, which for a time replaced ether.

The company also had a plant somewhere on Van Rensselaer Island (in the current Port of Albany). In 1905 they were listed as occupying 2-24 Broadway. Because of the tangle of highways it's hard to tell where that was.

Twice, the Albany Chemical Company (chemist G. Michaelis, President, and W.T. Mayer, Secretary-Treasurer) was involved in patent issues. First, for chloroform. In 1899, The Albany Chemical Company was involved in a complicated patent infringement case against the Larkin & Scheffer company. Commenting on the case, Dr. E.R. Squibb (yeah, that Squibb) said "This subject of chloroform is so mixed up, it's a pretty bad business. The patent on the process of making it from acetone was one of the most invalid ever granted . . . The patent on chloroform from acetone was granted to Roessler & Hasslacher. Chloroform had been made from acetone before they were born, but they got the patent, in spit of such invalidity . . . They had no more right to one in America than Behring had to the patent he obtained last year on antitoxin. But it has always seemed to be easy enough to patent almost anything in this country, if you only have money enough."

That's from an article in "The Pharmaceutical Era," March 16, 1899, which goes on to quote Dr. Squibb: "The Albany Chemical Co., and Roessler & Hasslacher were litigants for several years over infringements of patent rights in chloroform. Before they got a decision that was satisfactory to either party to the suit they combined and made Pfizer the agent for all the chloroform produced by both concerns. I made chloroform for years, but I had to stop on account of a patent which had no real validity."

Albany Chemical must have won that fight, because a 1905 article (in the "Paint, Oil and Drug Review") speaks of the patents still held by Albany Chemical and another company that were about to expire. At that time there was talk of moving production to Niagara Falls, the source of the bleaching powder needed for the process. "It takes twelve pounds of bleaching powder to one pound of acetone to make about a pound of chloroform . . . Instead of shipping the powder elsewhere to be used in the manufacture of chloroform, the new plan is to manufacture the anaesthetic at Niagara Falls and thereby save considerable in freight charges."

Another patent case tomorrow.



Fred Happel's Contribution

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SocialSecurityCard1935.jpgFranklin D. Roosevelt, who spent a little bit of time in Albany himself, signed the Social Security Act into law on August 14, 1935. Social Security Cards were first issued in November, 1936.

They may not look like much, but think of it: someone had to design the Social Security Card.

That someone was Fred Happel. Fred lived in Albany.

According to the Social Security Administration, Fred Happel was commissioned to submit three designs, for which he was paid $60. (That'd be about $1000 today, so not too shoddy. Plus also, there was still that pesky Great Depression going on.) Happel is also credited with designing the Flying Tigers logo used by General Chennault's forces during World War II (though which version of the logo he designed is way less than clear).

So how did an Albanian come to design one of the iconic documents of the modern state? Fred Happel was a partner in Empire Engraving Company, 39-41 Columbia Street, Albany. This building, which now houses the Albany Center Gallery, was also home to Weed, Parsons & Co., a hugely important publishing house of the 19th century. Whether there was a connection between the companies or they just shared a building, I don't know. It appears that the company had a number of important contracts; for example, they created the plates for the United States Liberty Loan Campaign. So they had that going on.

In 1900, Fred was listed as an artist working at 82 State St., and boarding at 138 Clinton St. He was the son of a German furrier, born around 1878. In 1905, at the age of 27, he was living with his parents on Benjamin Street, and listed as an engraver. Interestingly, and ironically, I don't find him listed in the Social Security Master Death Index.

Crisis in the Armory!

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SpringfieldArmoryneedstoiletpaperholders.pngSpeaking, as we were, of the Albany Perforated Wrapping Paper Company (which veered off into paper more of the toilet variety), Hoxsie has previously guessed that not only did old A.P.W. invent roll toilet paper, but probably, and of necessity, the roll toilet paper holder. This 1899 letter to the A.P.W. company, written by the commanding officer of the Springfield, Mass., Armory reminds of the dangers of the toilet paper trust, of a time when he who controlled the distribution of toilet paper holders could influence our national security. Maybe.


"I have to inform you that your toilet paper is in use at this Armory, and we are in need of eleven more brackets, to be used to support the same in place.

"If these brackets are not furnished or loaned with the toilet paper, please inform us what your charge will be for the above number.


Frank [Phipps?]

Lieut. Colonel, Ord. Dept., U.S.A., Commanding."

Sadly, history does not record their answer. Thanks for creating a mystery, National Archives!

From Toilet Paper to Terminal Warehouse

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Albany Terminal Warehouse CompanyI've spent some time trying to sort out the history of this ancient looking remnant of the lumber district, and finally sorted it out in the oddest way. On the "Albany: The Way It Was" Facebook group yesterday, we were discussing the various locations of the Albany Perforated Wrapping Paper Company. You know, the place that invented toilet paper. And, probably, the toilet paper roll holder.

Apparently, the A.P.W. company was located all over the place. In a 1907 ad, they were at 38 Colonie Street, at the corner of Montgomery on the northwest.  Then they apparently moved up to 1279 Broadway, on the grounds now occupied by the only recently former Matthew Bender/Lexis building, where they were located as late as 1919. But apparently they soon moved again to another new, and rather large, complex, in a building that still stands today as Huck Finn's Warehouse on Erie Boulevard. (All credit to the FB folks for figuring that one out; Hoxsie had no idea.) There were other buildings as well. Apparently the toilet paper factory left a lot of things behind.

What happened to their original building at Colonie and Montgomery? That building later was owned by the Albany Terminal Warehouse Company, formed by William Van Rensselaer in 1893, and still stands. Not sure if any operating business is there now, but the old "Bargain City" sign is still on the side from only slightly better times. And that confused me, because that building was clearly not this building.

Turns out the company already had a warehouse, built the year the company was founded, further up in the lumber district, which still stands. The warehouse, pictured here, was built oddly close to the Van Rensselaer Manor house. Even modern entrepreneurs rarely locate their self-storage empires right next to their mini-mansion subdivisions, but apparently one of the last of the Van Rensselaers thought what the family estate needed was a giant warehouse. Well, the warehouse still stands, but the manor house does not. Plenty more on that courtesy of Albany Bagel.

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