Category Archives: Domestic appliances

First Time Out…second time around

Katie Maggs, Curator of Medicine at the Science Museum, writes about the collaborative museums project, First Time Out

A while ago the Science Museum took part in a project called First Time Out – where museums put on display a ‘treasure’ from their stored collections that had never before been seen in public. Well we’re giving it a go again – but this time the project is larger than ever. Ten museums, from all over England, have paired up to swap objects from their collections, with the Science Museum partnering with the Discovery Museum in Newcastle (a great day out – go visit!).

We’ve chosen a rather splendid set of ten ivory mathematical puzzles that was made in China and exported to Britain in the mid-late 1800s.

Amongst the puzzles the set contains is a tangram. A sensation when introduced to Europe in 1817 - tangrams are made up of several pieces known as ‘tans’ that can be assembled to make different shapes – according to problems posed by a picture book.
Amongst the puzzles the set contains is a tangram. A sensation when introduced to Europe in 1817 – tangrams are made up of several pieces known as ‘tans’ that can be assembled to make different shapes.

 In July, all the museums are swapping objects with their partners. We’re very excited about the early light-bulb and light switch that will be heading down from the Discovery Museum.

Newcastle was a hotbed of activity during the development of electric lighting, with pioneers such as Joseph Swan based there. (Image courtesy of Discovery Museum, Newcastle-upon-Tyne).

It’s strange to think on the 4th July all ten objects will be hitting the road, crossing paths up and down the country, until they reach their temporary new home. And there’s some seriously amazing objects that have been uncovered. The bone model guillotine from Peterborough Museum, and the Natural History Museum’s tattooed dolphin skull are pretty remarkable.

Previously lurking in Peterborough Museum’s store is this model guillotine made from animal bone by prisoners of the Napoleanic Wars. (Credit: Photo John Moore, Vivacity Culture and Leisure)

I think it’s useful for museums to draw attention to material in store – both to explore the strangeness and explain the significance of holding material in storage for perpetuity, as well as to highlight the particular riches to be found behind the scenes.  Objects of course convey multiple meanings. Museums as well aren’t homogenous, so perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the project are the different perspectives each partner brings to the same object.

From a personal point of view, it’s been great working on First Time Out. Part of the fun was in selecting potential object candidates to be displayed, it was a great opportunity to look beyond the usual artefacts I work with (medical stuff) and explore collections I don’t usually get my hands on such as maths or astronomy colletions pictured here within Blythe House. (Credit: Laura Porter)

First Time Out opens with home objects on display from 6th June. You can see the Discovery Museum’s objects on display in the Museum from 5th July – until the beginning of August.

The greatest inventions since (manufactured) bread?

After learning about the manufacturing process of bread during a bread baking course Pippa Murray got to thinking about what other mass produced products used in our day to day lives have evolved in order to save us time…

Traditionally bread making is a lengthy process. Hours of kneading, proving and baking produce just one meagre loaf. It’s no wonder that so many of us choose to buy a loaf from the shops instead of making it ourselves! The invention of the Chorleywood bread process in 1961 transformed bread  into a product that could be manufactured on mass and distributed to stores nationwide.

This got me thinking what other inventions that have had a similar time saving affect on our lives. Below are a just a smattering of these, often overlooked, household products that can be found in the Making Modern World gallery at the Science Museum.

Microwave oven, 1968 ( Science Museum, London )

The microwave oven was invented by accident after the Second World War when a self-taught engineer named Percy Spencer was building radar equipment in a lab for Raytheon. While he had been building magnetrons,  he noticed that a chocolate bar in his pocket started to melt. He realised that microwaves can be directed at food to heat it up rapidly. The conventional microwave oven hit the market in 1967 quickly followed a succession of tantalising microwavable meals.

Sunbeam Ironmaster Model X21 electric dry iron, 1955 ( Science Museum, London )

The humble electric steam iron is not the most exciting of objects (or chores) but arguably one of the most important, popular and widely used domestic electric appliances. The electric iron was invented in 1882 by Henry W. Seeley but it was only until 1938, when the Steam-O-Matic electric steam iron was released did the object become popular, leading the way to more widespread use of the electric steam iron during the 1940s and 1950s.

This model above is one of the earlier Goblin "Teasmade", Model D.25B, 1966, first model made at Leatherhead Works ( Science Museum, London )

And my personal favourite the Teasmade, a multi faceted alarm clock come tea/coffee maker. Designed in 1902 by Albert E Richardson who decided to combine an alarm clock with a small kettle so that the user awoke to a freshly poured cup of tea. Several years later Teasmade trademarked it and developed the product seen above. A great invention but how many of us have them on our bedside tables?