Category Archives: Science, Industry & Transport

Miss Plum Pudding

'Miss Plum Pudding' piano intermezzo by Fr. Peters
Miss Plum Pudding‘ by Fr. Peters, published by Richard Kaun (Berlin, s.d.), unknown illustrator

Weird-looking plum pudding! It resembles a giant fuming conker, or a ready-to-explode sea mine carried by a fierce hostess. Perhaps the illustrator never saw a real Christmas pudding in his Belle-Epoque Germany. Anyway, he preferred to stay anonymous…

Thomson’s Plum Pudding Model of the atom 1904.

There is a very remote possibility that the illustrator was inspired by the then newly-proposed Plum Pudding Model of the atom by J. J. Thomson. Thomson discovered the electron in 1897. He initially called these mysterious particles corpuscles. In 1904 Thomson, an Englishman suggested that electrons are components of an atom and proposed his Plum Pudding Model: a collection of negatively charged plums (an old word for raisins) immersed in a positively-charged soup, or pudding. This model was discarded and followed by the Rutherford model (1909) and by the Rutherford-Bohr model (1913).

Torpedo March

'Torpedo-Naben-Marsch' sheet music by Carl Alfredi
Torpedo-Naben-Marsch‘ by Carl Alfredi, published by Musikverlag Metropol (Berlin, s.d.), unknown illustrator

Look at the lady freewheeling elegantly downhill. The speed doesn’t scare her because she can rely on her Torpedo brake. The other cyclists, although well equipped with the right sportswear, don’t trust the gravity and have to walk beside their fixies without brakes.

Carl Alfredy, a specialist in writing music for advertising purposes, composed the Torpedo-Naben-Marsch promoting the famous bicycle hub patented by Ernst Sachs.

Ernst Sachs with his penny-farthing

Ernst Sachs (1867-1932) was an athlete who raced penny-farthings (or high wheel bicycles), tricycles and two-wheelers. He had a keen interest in mechanics and filed his first patent for a bicycle hub in 1894. Together with Karl Fichtel he established the Schweinfurter Präzisions-Kugellagerwerke Fichtel & Sachs, ultimately simplified to Sachs. In 1898 Fichtel & Sachs started to produce coaster brakes (a rear brake on a bicycle that is activated by pedalling backwards). Five years later Ernst Sachs patented the torpedo hub, which combined drive, freewheel and back-pedal brake. Previously, he had sent his entire development department out to camp in the Alps to fine-tune the hub. There, his team tested the brakes at breakneck speed on the Passo dello Stelvio. The local press was fascinated by ‘the column of cyclist flashing down the mountains, almost without moving their legs. And they could miraculously bring the bicycle to a full stop, without apparently doing anything.’

testing de brake
Sachs’ team

Helped by an elaborate publicity campain, the Torpedo turned out to be a huge succes and was produced throughout the twentieth century. One of Torpedo’s most famous faces was the superstar Alfredo Binda, triple worldchampion on the road and five-time winner of the Giro d’Italia.

alfredo binda
Alfredo Binda, world champion in 1927

Monkey Glands: The Secret of Eternal Youth?

'Va te faire greffer!!!' chanson Crayssac - Voronoff
Va te faire greffer!!!’ by Crayssac & Brubach, published by Greyval (Paris, 1923), ill. Georges Desains

Serge Voronoff (1866-1951) a Russian-born French surgeon used sex glands from chimpanzees and baboons to rejuvenate vital energy in ageing persons. He considered the testicles as distributors of energy. This idea came to him while observing eunuchs during his work in Egypt.

Serge Voronoff

After transplanting over 500 testicles from younger animals (sheep and goats) to older ones, and many experiments grafting animal organs into other animals he performed, around 1920, the first transplant of a monkey gland (testicle) on a man. Two pieces of about 2 cm by 0.5 cm and a few millimeters deep of the monkey gland were introduced in the human scrotum, attaching them with stitches. Voronoff was convinced that this would restore lost vigour. Apparently he shared this believe with a myriad of old men who couldn’t wait to get their dried-up nuts grafted. Very soon he got himself a large and rich clientele.  Voronoff even claimed that a small piece of monkey gland could cure homosexuality.

Voronoff received a lot of media attention and travelled all over the world to demonstrate his rejuvenating technique. But he wasn’t welcome in England because of the Cruelty to Animals Act. By the early thirties, more than 500 men had been ‘rejuvenated’ (grafted) in France, followed by thousands of males all over the world. One of them was his own brother, looking a lot more vigorous (?) after his family jewels had been grafted.


Voronoff did consider making grafts from one (younger) man to another (older) man but acknowledged the moral and practical problems…

Voronoff would have liked to graft a lot more testicles but his supply ran dry. In 1922 the New York Times mentions that Voronoff had to go shopping in Rouen in order to purchase two chimpanzees, exhibited there in a street fair, for 9.000 francs.

But Voronoff’s transplants were questioned by the scientific community. Also the lack of results for his quest for longevity and vitality eventually led to ridicule. He inspired a lot of jokes and songs like the one above, illustrated by George Desains. On its cover a young female chimpanzee tells an old sad-looking male: “Va te faire greffer” which means ‘Go and get yourself a graft’.