Category Archives: Inventions

Toboggan: sliding into happiness

‘Toboggan-Marche’ by Michel Langlois, published by Loret & Freitag (Paris, sd) and illustrated by Georges Morinet.

This cover for the Toboggan Marche depicts a water chute, a still popular amusement park ride. The funfair boat races down the chute tower and hits the water with a mighty splash. Here the imagination of Georges Morinet, an illustrator and photographer of Nantes, runs wild, curiously morphing one of the big waves into a triumphant naked woman. The round front makes the boat skip over the water, bouncing up and down, soaking and thrilling the passengers. What a wet frisson!

A post card of the Water Toboggan at the Nantes World Fair, 1904.

This and other mechanised rides were imported from the United States to European fairs and exhibitions. In this case it was for the 1904 World Fair in Nantes, where the ride was called a Water Toboggan (toboggan is the French word for slide). At that time the Shooting the Chutes as it was known in America was already a decade old.

‘Plan général de l’Exposition universelle d’Anvers’, 1894. Source: Gallica.fr

The map of the 1894 Antwerp World Fair shows us that —already at the end of the 19th century— visitors enjoyed a water attraction in Belgium. It was Captain Paul Boyton’s American company which provided the entire ride, boxed and shipped.

Boyton’s Water Show, Exposition Universelle, Antwerp, 1894. (source: pinterest)

Now this Captain Paul Boyton was a very entertaining person. In 1894 he opened the first permanent mechanised amusement park in Chicago. But prior to that he swam up and down rivers across America and Europe in a rubber immersion suit, that he himself did not invent.

Captain Paul Boyton in his immersion suit.

It was inventor Clarke Merriman who in 1872 had created the first-ever rubber survival suit to rescue passengers should their vessel capsize in cold water.

Merriman’s patent for a survival suit, 1872. Source: google patents.

Captain Boyton took pride in testing the inflatable suit: “I float on my back, and propel my body feet foremost with a double-bladed paddle at the rate of a hundred strokes per minute”.  Wearing only the rubber suit as a form of transportation he embarked on amazing and dangerous expeditions…

Captain Boyton’s trip, from ‘Harpers Weekly’, 1875

He also crossed the Channel from England to France with a canvas sail fixed to his left boot while leisurely smoking a cigar. It took him 23 hours and 30 minutes and three meals of beef sandwiches with a nice cup of strong green tea.

Captain Boyton on the wave‘ by Siragusa, published by Brinkerhof (New York, 1879) and illustrated by R. Teller. source:  Library of Congress
For his long travels along rivers (some of them took him 8 days) he had a line attached to his belt carrying the following items: “a couple of bottles of ginger ale, ten days provisions, cigars, quinine and other emergency medications such as brandy, etc., frying pan, coffee, kettle, spoon, knife and fork. A cup, a spirit stove, pen and ink, notebook, signal rockets, chronometer, barometer, thermometer, revolver, charts, maps, hatchet, ammunition, including a patch cloth and rubber cement.”
The advertising card hereunder lists some of the extraordinary uses for the life-saving immersion suit, promoted by Captain Boyton all over the world.
Captain Paul Boyton on an advertising trade card.

For a while Captain Boyton starred in P. T. Barnum’s Travelling Circus, before starting to manufacture his aquatic attractions. The most successful one was unmistakably the Shooting the Chutes or Water Toboggan as it became known in Europe.

Night  view of the Shooting the Shute, manufactured by The Paul Boyton Co, 1896. New York: Miner H.C. Litho. Co. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress.

And we all know now that the water toboggan became a permanent success, bringing mankind rapturous delight!

Toboggan Whirls‘ by Pietro Paperini, published by Zanibon (Padova, sd) and illustrated by Guaiat.

Jeder einmal in Berlin

‘Jeder Einmal in Berlin!’ by Hugo Hirsch & Alfred Müller-Förster, published by Hugo Hirsch (Charlottenburg, 1927), photo collage by Albert Vennemann.

This photo collage by  Albert Vennemann conveys the buzz of a dynamic, modern city. We recognise the famous light traffic tower from Potzdammer Platz, the Brandenburg Gate, the Rotes Rathaus, the radio tower, the ubiquitous cars and a bus with an advertisement for the Scala, a very successful variety hall internationally reputed during the Golden Twenties.

Beautiful Berlinphotomontage of traffic in Berlin by Albert Vennemann. Source: MutualArt.

Vennemann was a Berlin photographer, who is now almost forgotten. He made pictures of everyday street life, capturing the idyll of the city and the (new) charms of illuminated advertising. He became an expert at photomontages of contemporary architecture and technology. Thus, Vennemann provided the visuals for the first Berlin city marketing campaign Jeder einmal in Berlin, meaning everybody should be at least once in Berlin.

It is also thanks to another artist, Walter Ruthmann, that we can witness the industrial, technical and cultural modernity that emanated from Berlin at that time He created his avant-garde film Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt (Berlin: Symphony of a Great City) in 1927. It is an invaluable time capsule of a Berlin that —fifteen years and 350 air raids later— would be dramatically destroyed.

‘Die erste Nacht’ by Hugo Hirsch & Hans H. Zerlett, published by Rondo Verlag (Berlin, 1922) and illustrated by Ortmann.

The popular march for the Jeder einmal in Berlin campaign was composed by Hugo Hirsch, a composer of well-received operettas. He left Germany in 1933 to escape Nazi anti-Semitism, and was able to survive the war by staying in France.

‘Die tolle Lola’ by Hugo Hirsch, Gustav Kadelburg & Arthur Rebner, published by Drei Masken Verlag (Berlin, 1922) and illustrated by Wolfgang Ortmann.

We wonder if Hirsch’s march could have lured you you to Berlin…

The promotional slogan Jeder einmal in Berlin was picked up by the Residenz-Casino, nicknamed the Resi: Jeder einmal im “Resi“!

The Resi was a vast dance-hall where everything seemed bigger and more luxurious than in any other dance venue. Each table had a connection to a pneumatic table-mail-service post. Using the pneumatic post, a patron could send intimate messages to revellers at other tables along with small presents: cigarettes, cigars, chocolates, pens, perfume, matches or tiny manicure pouches. There was a long list of gift items to choose from. Moreover, each table had its own telephone with a clearly visible table number on top. Above it was a lightbulb that could give one of three signals: dancer wanted, female dancer wanted or do not disturb. This technology must have given plenty of opportunities for romantic thrills and flirts with complete strangers. Everybody —at least once!— at the “Resi“.

Promotion booklet for the Resi.

The Mikiphone – The iPod of the Twenties

‘Miki’

    (La Chanson du Mikiphone) by Fred Pearly, Pierre Chagnon & Jacques-Charles, published by Lucien Brulé (Paris, 1926) and illustrated by Robert Laroche.

The cover for the ‘Miki’ song triggered my curiosity about the Mikiphone. The sheet music tells us that it is a pocket phonograph and that the Moulin Rouge and Mistinguett were contracted to market it in one of their famous revues.

Around 1917 two Hungarian brothers, Nicolas and Etienne Vadasz, began designing a small gramophone. After completing the development in 1924, they patented the appliance. A Swiss company did the mass production and in 1925 the Mikiphone went on sale. With a diameter of 11.5 cm, and only 5 cm thick when closed, the round tin box resembles an oversized pocket watch.

The Mikiphone. Source: Bibliothèque nationale de France, Gallica.bnf.fr
Publicity for the Mikiphone
Publicity for the Mikiphone by Miklos Vadasz (source unknown)

Imagine, in the roaring twenties, arriving at a party with the newest gadget, a Mikiphone, in your trouser pocket…Then you take it out and while all youngsters gather around you in anticipation, you start assembling the parts which all fit in the box. This takes time and quite some skill as you can witness on the video. But at last you put on a 10-inch fox-trot shellac disc, you crank the winding key with your hand and the dancing party can begin.

The Mikiphone. Source: Bibliothèque nationale de France, Gallica.bnf.fr

The sound membrane consisted of a mica sheet coupled to a bakelite sound resonator. Never mind it’s impracticality, it is a marvellous piece of design, praised by Le Corbusier. I love it!

Around 180.000 of these cute mini record players were sold. Alas, three years after the first production the Mikiphone sales stagnated, and its production was discontinued. A few decades later, the mini rage of the sixties had yet to begin…