Author Archives: carljohnson

How Dr. Steinmetz Writes

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steinmetz-introductionCharles Ripley’s “Romance of a Great Factory” is a 1919 love letter to the Schenectady General Electric works, printed by the Gazette Press, and with an introduction by none other than Dr. Charles P. Steinmetz, the electrical wizard. In an afterword section titled “Fragments,” Ripley presented a short explanation of “How Dr. Steinmetz Writes,” detailing his self-created shorthand.

“Dr. Steinmetz, one of the greatest authorities on matters electrical, and an author of many volumes useful to the scientific world, possesses no ‘neck in the bottle,’ when it comes to jotting down the results of his researches in his wonderful laboratory at Schenectady. All of his writing is done in shorthand; that is, this shorthand is the medium between his mind and the typewriter and printing press.”

He goes on to quote Steinmetz as saying:

“With this shorthand I can write as fast as I can think. The only other way in which I could put down my thoughts as fast as I could think, would be to dictate to a phonograph but I have not always a phonograph with me. I learned this shorthand while I was in high school in Europe, and while in college took all of my notes in shorthand. All of these notes I have preserved and had bound, and I can read them as well after thirty-five years as I could after thirty-five minutes.”

Here please allow Hoxsie to admit that his own handwriting is often indecipherable after 35 seconds.

Ripley said that Steinmetz’s system, evolved as the best adapted for writing on electrical subjects, was based on the Arends stenography system taught in Europe, under which words were written phonetically, such that “height” would be written as h, long i, t.

steinmetz-shorthand“With a view of affording every reader some knowledge of Dr. Steinmetz’ system, a reproduction is given of the alphabet, written out by the famous electrical wizard himself. A second illustration is given [shown above] which shows the start and finish of Dr. Steinmetz’ introduction at the beginning of this book and how it looked when written originally by him in his shorthand. The space required for the shorthand is but approximately one-third of the introduction when typed with double spaced lines.”

Delavan House Menu: Maybe Just The Toast

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Delavan House Menu ca 1875

From the collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia, an 1875ish breakfast menu from Albany’s leading temperance hotel, the Delavan House, in the era when Charles Leland was running it (which puts this between 1867 and 1882).

Founder Edward Delavan was a rabid temperance advocate who brought prohibition to the state of New York long before that other prohibition everyone is so familiar with, but only for a very short time.

The hotel ended in tragic fire in 1894.

As for the menu, maybe we’ll just have a salad. No salad? Toast, then. The toast looks safe.

History Links! Get Yer History Links Here!

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It’s been a while since we did a Phoenixville Phriday. So, a couple of cool bits of local history news came out of our new hometown region this week.

The first was the amazing news that little Phoenixville was, for 17 years, hiding a secret treasure trove. Revolutionary War muskets, cannons, paintings, sculptures, uniforms, and George Washington’s frickin’ portmanteau were stored just a couple of blocks from our home. Now they’ve been transferred to the new Museum of the American Revolution, which will open next spring. You can read all about it here.

The second was that south of Philadelphia, the Lazaretto, the oldest surviving quarantine center and intake center for tens of thousands of immigrants who came in through Philadelphia, is going to be saved and repurposed. Read all about it!

The third isn’t exactly news. But, it is a good little list of facts about the encampment at Valley Forge, published at the Journal of the American Revolution. Since Hoxsie now spends more time in Valley Forge than you could imagine, it’s useful to remember why we preserved this rolling landscape along the Schuylkill. Check it out.

But we haven’t forgotten our origins. Fan of Washington Irving and headless Hessians? Check out this story on the Revolutionary Beginnings of the Headless Horseman.

 

Albany, And Two Women Holding Grain

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Albany With Two Women Holding GrainAgain from Ben Franklin’s Library Company of Philadelphia, we have this interesting envelope  featuring a bird’s-eye view of Albany, along with two women holding grain over the legend “Empire State.” Did they represent the plenty provided by the state’s farms? Not clear.

The envelope was created by Charles Magnus of Frankfort St., New York City, who, it turns out, made a lot of this sort of thing. The Library Company says this is Civil War era, but doesn’t ascribe a specific date; it says this was cited in a collection of Union Civil War patriotic covers.

According to the Winterthur Library, Charles Magnus, [1826-1900], “was a print publisher, map dealer, bookseller and stationer working in New York City from 1850 to 1899 who issued over a thousand different letter sheets, maps, song sheets, envelopes, and separate prints. His best known works were city views and Civil War-related material. Much of his work was copied from other printmakers. During the Civil War, Magnus produced around 700 patriotic envelopes and over 300 illustrated song sheets. He used images of allegorical figures, battle scenes, political cartoons, portraits and state emblems, frequently using the same images in different combinations.”

The People’s Line

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People's Line token side 2 People's Line token side 1

There are so many reasons to love the Smithsonian Institute – and not just that its first secretary was Albany’s Joseph Henry. It’s a treasure trove of wonderful objects like this one: a token from the People’s Line. The Smithsonian has no opinion on the date of this token, but does know that it was made by the Scovill Manufacturing Company of Waterbury, Connecticut – the button people.

The front says “New York and Albany / People’s Line of Steam Boats.” The back, charmingly, provides the schedule: “Time Table / Leave N.Y. 6 P.M. / Leave Albany 7 ½ P.M.”

Howell’s “Bi-Centennial History of Albany” holds that the People’s Line was established in 1834 as a day line, in opposition to the Hudson River Association Line, a consolidation of several lines that ran both day and night boats and involved “Commodore” Vanderbilt. With his typical lack of explanation, Howell reports that the People’s Line was sold to the Hudson River Association Line in 1835, but that in 1836 it was “revived” as a night line by Daniel Drew, with the ships West Chester and Emerald. The line grew quickly, and eventually Daniel Drew controlled most of the passenger liners on the river. In 1863 the Hudson River Day Line began with the acquisition of the Daniel Drew.

These tokens can be found on eBay; they generally claim to be from the Civil War era, but I haven’t found particular backing for that. It’s entirely possible there was another token for day runs, but all the tokens we’ve found are from the night line.

This Is Not A Collar, But Still

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Cluett, Peabody display card

Did you know Benjamin Franklin founded a free library? Okay, you probably did. Did you know that library still exists, as The Library Company of Philadelphia? And did you further know that the online collections of The Library Company of Philadelphia include some items of interest to Capital District history nerds? Well, now you do.

This, for instance, which is a trade card and point-of-sale cutout from about 1900, promoting the legendary Cluett, Peabody & Co., one of the several makers of collars who made Troy the Collar City. That they chose to advertise collars with a display of a cuff might be a little confusing, but yes, cuffs were made of detachable cellulloid in those days as well. Want to advertise collars? Show a little cuff.

Cluett, Peabody was the largest, and the longest-lasting of all the collar companies. As with many Troy companies, they went through many forms and names. They started as Maullin & Blanchard, in 1851, at 310 River Street. According to Anderson’s “Landmarks of Rensselaer County,” George B. Cluett had been in charge of the manufacturing department when he was admitted to partnership in 1861, and the company became Maullin & Cluett in 1862. Joseph Maullin died the following year, and George Cluett, J.W.A. Cluett and Charles J. Saxe formed George B. Cluett, Bro. & Co., with a factory at 390 River Street.  Saxe left in 1866 and another Cluett, Robert, rose to partner. In 1874 R.S. Norton’s name was added to the firm, and they moved to 74 and 76 Federal Street, where they would remain until destroyed by fire on March 20, 1880. “Before the fire was extinguished a new location was found at 556 Fulton street.” In 1891, Geo. B. Cluett, Bros., & Co merged with Coon & Co., another prominent collar maker, to form Cluett, Coon & Co., which brought along Frederick F. Peabody. In 1899, the company became Cluett, Peabody & Co., and after 48 years of pretty much perpetual name changes, decided to settle down and focus on collars and cuffs.

By the way, the detachable collar was invented by a Troy woman, Hannah Montague.

Guy Mannering: Good Dog

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Dudley Olcott was a member of the Olcott family that owned the Ten Broeck mansion, Arbor Hill. Born in 1838, he attended the Albany Academy and took a course in civil engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and then joined the family business (well, one of them) as an assistant cashier at the Mechanics’ and Farmers’ Bank, and then became cashier before ascending to succeed his father Thomas as president of the Mechanics’ and Farmers’ Bank in 1879. During the Civil War he was a captain in the Twenty-fifth New York Volunteers, made a brevet major and then a lieutenant colonel. He was a member of the board of governors of the Albany Hospital, president of the Albany Cemetery Association, and a trustee of the Home for Aged Men, the Albany Orphan Asylum, and the Albany academy for Girls. He was president of the Park Commission of Albany, enlarging and improving Washington Park. He vacationed every year by going salmon fishing on the Ristigouche River in Canada.

Yes, yes, that’s all fascinating. But the reason we’re talking about Dudley Olcott today is because of a dog. In the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, Olcott received an award for showing a Native English Setter Dog. The dogs were shown September 4-8. According to “The Illustrated History of the Centennial Exhibition,” setters were “more largely represented than any other variety of the dog race, and there are many fine, highly-bred animals here. . . Many English setters are exhibited, and some of them not only show the points of good dogs, but have pedigrees of remarkable extent.” In the “Reports on Awards,” Olcott was noted for his American-bred setter dog Guy Mannering, over one and under two years old, which won the Scott special prize for best native English setter at the Centennial Bench Show.

An article in Scribner’s Monthly magazine in November 1876, “Some American Sporting Dogs,” In discussing a variety of breeds, the author specifically described Dudley Olcott’s dog:

As a specimen of the high-bred dog from imported stock, I have chosen “Guy Mannering,” bred by Charles H. Raymond, Esq., of Morris Plains, N.J. This dog is the produce of “Pride of the Border” and “Fairy,” – a pair of celebrated Laveracks, imported by Mr. Raymond from the kennels of the gentleman whose name is given to the strain and who has bred them in purity for more than fifty years.

The setters known as the native English (a misnomer, as native American would be more proper) are generally in color, orange and white, lemon and white, black and white, red and white, liver-colored and white, or all black; although they are to be found of a liver and tan, or in fact of almost any known combinations of the colors mentioned except those of orange and lemon and black.

The writer then went into extreme detail on how such setters are judged in this country, which you can peruse yourself if you care to. Thanks to the Google, we can pretend that we knew that “Guy Mannering (or, The Astrologer)” was a novel by Sir Walter Scott, so the name was less random than it may have seemed. The article only identified the breeder, but the cutline for the illustration of Guy Mannering clearly identified him as Olcott’s dog.

Dudley Olcott's English Setter, Guy Mannering

As you can see, he was a good dog, Brent.

The Incredible Embroidery of Catherine Hewitt Pfordt

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Yesterday we noted that one of the awardees in Philadelphia’s Centennial Exhibition in 1876 was Mrs. C. Hewitt Pfordt of Albany. For embroidery she submitted, she was commended “for great taste in design and workmanship, displaying extraordinary skill.”

A supplement to Scientific American described her submission: “A white silk flag is elegantly worked with the national emblems, by Mrs. C. Hewitt Pfordt, Albany, N.Y.”
That’s all we find in the record of awards about her embroidery work, other than that it hung in Section D of the Women’s Pavilion. It would appear that “C.” stood for “Catherine,” also known as Mrs. Joseph Pfordt. The banner she made was apparently originally created for the St. Jean Baptiste Society. The Albany Daily Evening Times of July 13, 1875, described “A Splendid Embroidered Banner”:

Since the seventh of May last Mrs. Joseph Pfordt has been incessantly at work embroidering a handsome silk banner for the St. Jean Baptiste society, originally intended to be carried by them at the celebration of St. John’s day on the 24th of June, but which, owing to some alterations ordered by the society, could not be finished in time and will be unfurled to the public gaze for the first time on the occasion of the picnic of the St. Jean Baptiste societies of Troy, Cohoes and Albany, at the fair grounds, on the 27th inst. The banner has now reached so near completion that a just and accurate description of it can be given, and having, through the kindness of Mrs. Pfordt been allowed to give it a critical inspection we unhesitatingly say that without doubt it is one of the finest, if not the finest, of embroidered banners in the state. It is seven feet in height and five feet in breadth, the body being composed of heavy white corded silk. Upon the front side is a medallion, one yard by three-quarters of a yard, within which stands a figure of St. John as he is supposed to have appeared in early manhood. In one hand is a staff, from the top of which hangs a scroll containing the words “Ecce Agnus Dei,” while the other is extended gracefully forward as if its owner were proclaiming the coming of Our Lord. In front is a lamb, emblematical of our Savior, and two palm trees, while in the background looms up a range of mountains at a great distance. The design of this medallion, as was also that of the one on the opposite side, was prepared by Mr. E. Prentice Treadwell of this city, and is decidedly complimentary to the taste and skill of that artist. The work of Mrs. Pfordt in reproducing upon the banner Mr. Treadwell’s design was almost equal in difficulty to the preparation of the design itself, since in addition to the necessity of making it life-like and natural the colors had to be selected by the embroiderer, which required the exercise of great care and taste. That Mrs. Pfordt has succeeded in her attempt the results of her labors are a sufficient testimonial. Over the medallion is a scroll bearing the inscription “Society St. Jean Baptist D’Albany, N.Y.,” and underneath it a similar one with “Fondee Le 1er Janvier, 1868.” The upper and lower corners of this side of the banner contain remarkably accurate representations of the famous passion flower and leaves copied from nature.
Upon the opposite side of the banner is a medallion, similar in size to the other, bearing the coat of arms of Canada — a beaver knawing [sic] the roots of a maple tree. Over this is the inscription “Aidons Nous Les Un Les Autres,” and beneath, “L’Union Fait La Force.” On each corner are maple leaves.
The banner, which is worked throughout in silk and chenille, will be trimmed with heavy bullion fringe and braid, while from the bottom points will be suspended heavy bullion tassels. Altogether it is a perfect model of embroidery skill. It was the original intention of the society to send to France to have a banner made, but upon reflection it was determined to encourage home talent, and so the difficult task was awarded to Mrs. Pfordt. That their conclusion was a wise one is evinced by the result, and the work is sufficiently praiseworthy to find a place in Philadelphia at the centennial as an exhibition of Albany talent, taste and skill.

Well, that certainly made it sound like the intent was to present the St. Jean Baptiste Society banner at the Centennial Exhibition, but what little description of what was presented makes it seem like that was not the case. The Chicago Tribune, in its coverage of the Exposition on May 16, 1876, gushed about her work:

There are two remarkable works on exhibition in the Woman’s Pavilion. They both represent in different ways such a vast amount of labor and long-acquiring skill as to produce a feeling of real pain in the mind of the beholder. In the presence of these works, one is overcome rather with awe than with admiration. They are located close together, near the south entrance, on the left. One is a banner nearly 6 feet square. The material is white satin, and upon this ground is wrought the most delicate and ingenious embroidery that I ever saw. There is a fringe around the whole piece, of golden-tinted silk, tastefully and elaborately designed. In the centre is a representation of the Great Seal of the United States, so faithfully worked out as to convey the perfect impression of a fine painting. Of course it is in many colors, yet all rich and harmonious. One side of the banner shows the coat-of-arms, the double eagle, and the shield, with the eternally grand motto, “E Pluribus Unum”; while underneath are twin sprigs of oak, leaved and acorned, forming a graceful half-wreath. The opposite side shows the Pyramid rising out of the desert. Nothing could be more perfect, as a work of art. It was made by C.H. Pfordt, of Albany.

Catherine Pfordt was born about 1840 and was married to Joseph B. Pfordt, a florist (Pfordt’s Florist continued at least through 1922, when it was run by Marcella Pfordt, on Broadway between North Ferry and Thacher) . It appears Catherine died in 1887 and is buried in St. Agnes Cemetery in Menands.