Tag Archives: num:ScienceMuseum=1999-1125

Napoleonic wares

Working in a museum presents all sorts of opportunities you never thought possible. But I imagine few curators have uttered the sentence: “I’m just off to Holland to pick up Napoleon’s toothbrush.” This is exactly my task next week. It’s been on loan to the Boerhaave Museum in Leiden and is normally on display at the Wellcome Collection.

Napoleon's toothbrush, 1790-1821 ( Science Museum, London )

Regular readers of this blog will know we like an anniversary and it just so happens that Napoleon died on 5th May 1821, 190 years ago today. Perhaps a spooky coincidence but it set me on the hunt for more Napoleon memorabilia.

Leave from a wreath sent by Napoleon, 1814-1815 ( Science Museum, London )

It may not look like much but this piece of leaf is reputedly from a wreath Napoleon sent to his supporters to hint at which season he would try and escape Elba – the island off the coast of Italy, he was exiled to in 1814. After successfully escaping Elba, he was exiled to St Helena in the South Atlantic.

Keen to build an empire, Napoleon set about conquering Europe through the Napoleonic Wars (1800-1815). But with the immortal words of Abba, we know how that ended.

Pair of muzzle loading flintlock pistols belonging to Napoleon (© Science Museum / Science & Society )

The official cause of Napoleon’s death while on St Helena is recorded as stomach cancer. But theories about arsenic poisoning have circulated for many years. Tests carried out on samples of his hair showed that Napoleon was exposed to high levels of the toxic element throughout his life. 

Napoleon’s hair taken while on St Helena.

Napoleon’s hair taken while on St Helena, 1815-1821 (Science Museum)

His first resting place was in St Helena, although Napoleon’s remains were later returned to Paris in 1840 and interred at Les Invalides in 1861.

Napoleon's tomb on St Helena ( © Science Museum / Science & Society )

More on Sierra Susie

Last week I showed you one of our family of crash-test dummies, called Sierra Susie. I was never really sure whether that was a type name or a one-off until I found, quite by chance, a 1996 NATO report on crash test dummies. It was stuffed in a filing cabinet I had never previously had the courage to open. My office is full of them.

Anyway, right at the front I found a table of dummy types. The first whole-body test dummy was developed in 1949 by the Sierra Engineering Company for the US Air Force. He was called ‘Sierra Sam’, and the firm went on to develop a series of figures: Sierra Stan (1967), Sophisticated Sam (1968, with General Motors) and finally Sierra Susie (1970). That’s our girl! By then, other companies were developing crash test dummies, with such glorious names as Dynamic Dan, Repeatable Pete and Tuff Kelly.

Here’s the reference: Advisory Group for Aerospace Research & Development, Advisory Report 330, ‘Anthropomorphic Dummies for Crash and Escape Systems Testing’, NATO, July 1996 (ISBN 92-836-1039-3). Just in case you have trouble tracking it down, you might like to know that Mia (who runs this blog) subsequently found a very useful online history by a firm who currently make crash test dummies. Isn’t the web just one giant stuffed filing cabinet we need courage to open?

Having been responsible for acquiring our three dummies back in 1999, I got to spend quite a lot of time looking into their eyes (when moving them around the stores). It always left me rather sad. They looked so… resigned. As if they’d lost hope that the pain would ever end.

Crash test dummy on show in Making the Modern World gallery (credit: Science Museum / Science & Society)

Crash test dummy on show in 'Making the Modern World' gallery (credit: Science Museum / Science & Society)

What would Tufty say?

I saw a report in last week’s Daily Telegraph suggesting that whilst road deaths are on a general downwards slope, drink-driving deaths were up last year. The report then brings up the perennial debate about speed cameras. This is, of course, a complex matter, involving the intersection of people, technology and legislation. Cars and trucks are big, heavy and fast, so road safety – for passengers and pedestrians – has been the subject of life-saving innovation for decades.

On display in the museum we’ve got plenty about road safety. Here’s the first Gatso speed camera to be installed in Britain (on Twickenham Bridge, if I remember correctly):

Gatso speed trap camera in Science Museum display (credit: David Rooney)

Gatso speed trap camera in Science Museum display (credit: David Rooney)

Also on show is a selection of breathalysers, including a self-test kit bought at a garage:

BreathScan alcohol detector (credit: Science Museum / Science & Society)

BreathScan alcohol detector (credit: Science Museum / Science & Society)

We also have a small family of crash-test dummies used at the Motor Industry Research Association to model the effects of collisions on car occupants, including this one:

Crash test dummy (credit: Science Museum / Science & Society)

Crash test dummy (credit: Science Museum / Science & Society)

As far as I recall, this particular model is called ‘Sierra Susie’. I’ll tell you a little more about her and her friends in a later post.

I was brought up on all the road safety campaigns of the 1970s and 1980s and I can still recite my Green Cross Code (see a cool Green Cross safety film at the National Archives website here). I tried to find my old Tufty Club badge just now but I seem to have lost it.

I’d be really keen to collect road safety campaign paraphernalia for the Science Museum’s road transport collection, so if you’ve got a treasured archive of that stuff and you’re looking for a home for it, I’d love to hear from you!