Category Archives: Science & Industry

Seadromes

‘Tout Là-bas’ by Allan Gray & Bernard Zimmer, published by Salabert (Paris, 1932) and illustrated by Ch. Roussel.

The sci-fi cover for the song Tout Là-bas – Chanson de Matelots  shows air planes taking off from an artificial floating island. The song comes from the 1932 film I.F. 1 ne réponds plus. This was the French version of a German UFA production F.P.1 antwortet nicht, by Erich Pommer the producer of Metropolis and Der blaue Engel.

During the early talkie period, before dubbing and subtitling became popular, films were produced in several languages for international markets, the so-called multiple-language version films. For F.P.1 antwortet nicht, the same plot, sets, crew and costumes were used to also make the French-spoken version and an English one, F.P.1 Doesn’t answer. Only the cast was changed.

The three lead actors with the same role, aviator Elissen. Left: the German Hans Albers, middle: the English-speaking Conrad Veidt and right: the Frenchman Charles Boyer. Source: http://www.virtual-history.com.

The film F.P.1 antwortet nicht was based on a novel written by science fiction writer Kurt Siodmak published the previous year. The F.P.1 from the title stands for Floating Platform Number One.

Edward R. Armstrong with a scale model of his seadrome. Source: Pinterest.

Siodmak got his idea of a floating platform from the ‘seadromes’ invented by Edward R. Armstrong. This DuPont engineer had worked for years on a scheme for building a string of floating airports across the Atlantic. Air planes would then make stops at the various points where the seadromes were anchored.

The Atlantic seadrome chain as shown in Popular Science, february 1934

In Popular Science from 1934 we find a clear description: it was Edward R. Armstrong’s plan to bridge the Atlantic with a string of artificial islands. Five of the seadromes would become anchored between America and Spain by way of the Azores. These would serve as refuelling stations each three hours of flight apart. Planes using these islands as steppingstones could thus transport heavier loads at greater speed since they carried less fuel. The platforms would have stabilizer legs to prevent the flight deck from pitching and rolling. Each seadrome would accommodate 100 travellers in addition to quarters for it’s own crew and hangars for 50 large planes. The seadrome would be run like a ship with a captain, officers, sailors, a physician and two meteorologists.

The design and construction of the Armstrong seadrome, illustrated in Popular Science, february 1934

Edward R. Armstrong had already been designing and experimenting with sea bases for more than a decade, when in 1927 Charles Lindbergh succeeded to fly non-stop from New York to Paris. Within days songs were composed, and sheet music published, in order to pay tribute to Lindbergh’s Transatlantic Flight.

Left: ‘I fly to Paris!‘ by Helge Lindberg published by Reuter & Reuter (Stockholm, 1927). Right: ‘Aero-Marsch’ by Charles Nestor, published in Sweden (1927).

The most beautiful cover without doubt, was drawn by the Belgian illustrator Peter de Greef for the song De New York à Paris.

Sheet music illustration for Lindbergh's flight of the century
‘De New York à Paris’ by Langlois & Tutelier, published by L’Art Belge (Brussels, 1927) and illustrated by Peter De Greef.

Lindbergh’s flight of the century encouraged Armstrong to further develop his idea to use the seadromes as floating airport platforms for refuelling during transatlantic flights. However the Great Depression crossed the plans to effectively install the seadromes. After World War II the ambitious project became obsolete altogether because of the use of long-range aircraft that did not need such refuelling points. Later though, the idea of an anchored deep-sea platform would be set to use for floating oil rigs.

But back to the film… Not a great plot: the classical love triangle and some sabotage aboard the F.P.1. It has Peter Lorre in a supporting role. If your secret pleasure is to listen to deep male voices singing in choir to the tune of a melancholic far-way-from-home accordion, then the Song of the Sailors from the sheet music cover at the top is worth your attention: fast forward to 48:45.

Bumper Cars: You’re Driving Me Crazy!

You’re Driving Me Crazy (What Did I Do?)‘ by Walter Donaldson, published by Francis-Day (Paris, 1930) and illustrated by Florent Margaritis.

The cover for the Parisian Francis-Day sheet music doesn’t sparkle with happiness and joy. It rather illustrates the miserable yearning in the song’s lyrics.

You left me sad and lonely
Why did you leave me lonely?
For here’s a heart that’s only
For nobody but you!

Walter Donaldson probably didn’t have exquisite poetry in mind when he wrote these verses. But happily he transformed the persistent melody in his brain into the song You’re Driving Me Crazy that became an instant hit in 1930. Later, any jazz singer or crooner —from Billie Holiday to Frank Sinatra— had to have that song in their repertoire.

I’m burning like a flame, dear
Oh, I’ll never be the same, dear
I’ll always place the blame, dear
On nobody but you.

Not familiar with the tune? As a reminder, here is the delicious, sexy version by Betty Boop in the cartoon Silly Scandals:

Another copy of the sheet music in our collection, is most likely the original American one. Frederick Manning designed a large passionate hart, blazing in a fire of love. Somewhat pompous in my opinion.

‘You’re Driving Me Crazy (What Did I Do?)’ by Walter Donaldson, published by Walter Donaldson (New York, 1930) and illustrated by Frederick Manning.

Yes, you,
You’re driving me crazy!
What did I do? What did I do?
My tears for you
Make everything hazy,
Clouding the skies of blue.

For the Francis-Day cover at the top, illustrator Florent Margaritis chose another approach. He took the title and lyrics quite literally and drew a couple: she regretful but displaying resolve, he apparently thinking What did I do?  They share their romantic agony on a cloudy bumper ride in a weird electric car of the type that I’ve never seen before. My perfect excuse to start digging into the history of the bumper cars or dodgems.

The New Yorker, James Adair, was the first to receive a patent for an electrically propelled vehicle in 1890. His patent drawing shows a tricycle connected to the ceiling by a trolley pole. This idea, which was never built, became the basic concept to build the first bumper cars thirty years later: a conductive (metal) floor and ceiling, each with a separate power polarity. Contacts under the vehicle touch the floor while a pole-mounted contact touches the ceiling, forming a complete circuit. I remember my childhood fairs, looking fascinated and thrilled at the sparks produced by the car’s poles grating the ceiling’s wire mesh. Electricity was literally in the air.

Drawing for the patent filed by James Adair for an electrically propelled vehicle, 1890.

The first patent for an electrically powered bumper car was issued in 1921 to father and son Stoehrer from Massachusetts. They had invented a novel amusement car that “in the hands of an unskilled operator will follow a promiscuous, irregular path to not only produce various sensations but to collide with other cars as well as with portions of the platform provided for that purpose. It requires the utmost skill of the driver to cause the car or vehicle to dodge other vehicles.” Hence the name of the company that the brothers created: Dodgem. Dodgem is also the generic name for what they call in the US a bumper car, in France auto-tamponneuse and in Belgium auto-scooter.

Similar to the bumper car illustrated by Margaritis on our cover, the first Dodgem cars were round and seated two people. Between and in front of them a horizontal steering wheel was mounted on a vertical post.

Dodgem cars, source: Lusse Auto Scooters website.

These cars equipped with large bumpers indeed drove crazy because they were rear-steered. According to a test in 1921 by Scientific American these first bumper cars were highly unmanageable and only allowed erratic steering.

Bumper cars in the Bumper Car Pavilion – Glen Echo Park, Maryland – 1924

Lusse Brothers from Philadelphia spent nine years solving the unsteady steering problems that plagued Dodgem cars. By the 1930s, new front-wheel drive bumper cars were introduced: the Lusse Auto Skooter. They could easily reverse backward and the drivers could now target who they wanted to collide with.

The Skooter Bumper Car Pavilion in Glen Echo Park, Maryland

In France electrically powered bumper cars were not produced before the 1930s. But I found two pictures from primitive precursors. Both show auto-tamponeuses that look like a wicked or wooden seat attached to a thick board on wheels. In front there is a crude steering wheel. I imagine that the fair attraction’s track was slanted so that the cars glided or rolled down from their own. The first photograph was taken around 1900 at the Neuilly Fair near Paris. The second one shows us Battling Siki, a French-Senegalese boxer sitting in a bumper car at a Parisian Lunapark in 1922.

La Fete a Neuilly, ca. 1900.
Training of boxer Battling Siki, sitting (left) in a bumper car at the luna park, Avenue de la Grande Armée 1922 – Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Gallica

Another forerunner of the bumper cars was one of the most popular attractions at the 1924 British Empire Exhibition in London. I confess that I haven’t the faintest idea how this entertainment device works…

Dodge’em cars at the British Empire Exhibition – 1924

What a coincidence. The fun fair is in town. Really, they are. I went to the autoscooter stand, to check some of the above facts. And guess what, they are still playing our tune ❤️

Yes, you!
You’re driving me crazy!
What did I do to you?

Cutie Kewpie

joujou
‘Ne brisez pas vos joujoux’ by Laurent Hallet & Telly, published by Telly et Halet (Paris, 1921) and illustrated by Gaston Girbal.

‘Do not break your toys!’ cries the cute one-armed doll. A warning to children. Or is it a moral advice to adults, as in the 1944 Mills Brothers’ hit ‘You Always Hurt the One You Love’ ?
In fact I have been chasing this particular cover in our dolls collection of sheet music. I was intrigued, and wanted to know if the doll’s peculiar hairstyle would match that of Radja Nainggolan. He is a Belgian football international currently playing for AS Roma. Let me set his portrait side by side to a photograph of such a doll.

Nainggolan and Kewpie doll
Left: portrait of Radja Nainggolan. Right: a kewpie doll (© picture: The Mel Birnkrant Collection).

These dolls typically have big eyes, a tuft of blonde hair, a pot belly and splayed hands. They are called Kewpies and are inspired on the 1909 creations of writer and illustrator Rose O’Neill. She brought into being the little comic characters for her cartoons. The tiny creatures were always helping people out of trouble, battling injustice and making the readers laugh.

loves doll
‘Love’s Doll’ by William Romsberg, published by Edouard Andrieu (Paris, 1922) and illustrated by Georges Desains.

The dolls were uber cute and resembled cupids, hence their phonetic name ‘Kewpie’. A few years later a German company manufactured them in porcelain, which made them very fragile as toys. Dressed in a wide satin ribbon with a large bow in the back, the dolls became very successful in America. Soon the popularity of the Kewpie Doll also spread over Europe.

my kewpie
‘My “Kewpie” Doll’ by Nat Goldstein & M.J. Gunsky, published by Nat Goldstein (San Francisco, 1914) and illustrated by Morgan. (not in our collection)

From the mid 1920’s on they were mass produced in celluloid and chalk. The small playthings were often given as a cheap present at fairs. This use continued even until 1958, as can be seen in the ‘Kewpie Doll’ song by the American crooning baritone, Perry Como.

The dolls also featured in advertising and were in 1925 the inspiration for a –still existing– brand of Japanese mayonnaise.

jello kewpies EN MAYONAISE

Rose O’Neill made a fortune from these first mass-produced dolls. She nearly sacrificed all of it in order to help out her family and friends. She was also an activist for women’s suffrage.

oneill_votes copy

To end our little post, and since you have been humming that tune from the beginning, here they are: The Mills Brothers !