Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Potato Mashers

Happy Thanksgiving!  The highlight of the day for many is the dinner of roast turkey with dressing and various side dishes such as mashed potatoes. 

Potatoes originated in Peru and were introduced to Europe in the 16th century by Spanish explorers. At first, people viewed them with suspicion and were afraid to eat them, concerned that they were poisonous or would cause leprosy. Rulers in Prussia Russia had to order people to eat them.  The potato then traveled to America with European immigrants.

In 1747, a recipe for mashed potatoes appeared in a popular cookbook, The Art of Cookery by Hannah Glasse. Her recipe called for people to “Boil your potatoes, peel them, and put them into a saucepan, mash them well; to two pounds of potatoes put a pint of milk, a little salt, stir them well together, take care they don’t stick to the bottom, then take a quarter of a pound of better, stir it in and serve it up.”

To mash the potatoes, people then would have used a flat-bottom wood object with a handle.  These early wood potato mashers were hand-made, such as this one from the Benton County Historical Museum’s collection.
19th Century oak potato masher
Pioneer A. J. Gilliam made it from the limb of an oak tree he’d cut down in 1847 while clearing the land for the family’s first home in Oregon.

Later, machines turned the wood into mashers in a variety of styles and shapes for the handle and mallet portions.
Both my grandmother and great-grandmother used wooden mashers like these which are now part of my personal collection.

Wooden potato mashers were eventually replace by ones which had a metal mashing surface which produced lighter, fluffier mashed potatoes.
These too come in many designs and are sought by collectors.  A 1984 news story told of a California collector with 389 of them.

The shape of the typical wooden potato mashers also led British soldiers in World War I to nickname their grenades “potato mashers.”
WWI "potato masher" from Argonne battlefield

By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Bellfountain Recollections

In addition to the accounts of military service during World War I featured in earlier posts, the archives of the Benton County Historical Museum also contains Dorothy Mack's recollections of life in Bellfountain from 1905 to 1921.

Mack tells how 33 people pledged a total of $92.50 to purchase the Bellfountain Camp Ground “to be held forever as a public park.”  Mack continues: “In my childhood I went to many community picnics there, as did my Mother before me.... There was a stage in the park with rows of benches on the sloping ground beyond, and this is where our programs were held and where graduation exercises took place.”

Mack also recollects attending pie or box socials. “The pie socials were all right, but it was the auctioning off of the beautiful boxes I loved.  Once there was one made like an airplane—a thing I’d never seen.  Even more vividly do I remember one my Father bought.  It must have been close to two feet long and was really pretty, gray with some stacks of crepe paper. He paid nine dollars for it! The proceeds went to finance some community need, but even so – nine dollars was a lot of money to pay for a box lunch.  The men shared the evening with the lady who’d made the box and packed the lunch.  Once a big handsome logger from Glenbrook was stuck with me because he thought the box for which he’d paid five dollars belonged to a pretty young teacher.  I was only about nine, but I sensed his terrible disappointment and was glad there were chess pies and chicken sandwiches in our lunch.  He ate more than his share but stayed very glum.”

Near the park was a prune orchard.
Willamette Valley prune orchard
Mack notes that “when the time came to harvest that crop, my Mother was right there.  We children went with her until school started in September.  Even then my Father would take us and join our Mother for an hour or two of work after school was over for the day, before going home to the chores and supper. There were ‘tree shakers’ who shook the fruit to the ground and ‘box boys’ who brot [sic] bushel boxes to be filled.  We kids always managed to get our knees covered with mashed prunes and dirt; bees often stung us, and it was hot and sticky and dirty work.  Our mother didn’t even have the comfort of working in pants, but wore her long wash dresses, and a sunbonnet for shade. Alton Seits carefully filled one of his boxes with clods, covering it with a layer of prunes, and thought this a great joke on the management.  My Mother brot [sic] him up short when she pointed out that he’d wasted time and energy on a box for which he’d be paid nothing—and I thought she was being  very hard on Alton.  Years later she told me that she spent all her prune picking money one year on a pair of high-topped gray kid shoes; that they cost her twelve dollars.  I can hardly believe she worked so hard and so long for so little! But she said the shoes were beautiful, and I hope so--- she earned them.”

The Bellfountain Park, the oldest of all Benton County Parks, still is the site of many gatherings at the 85-foot picnic table made of one continuous slab of wood.

By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Featured artifacts: X-ray Tubes

I walked into the Benton County Historical Museum's collection workroom and saw this 5-foot item sitting on a cart.  The Horner collection contains many pieces of scientific equipment.  Most of the time I don't have a clue what they do but the tags on this one said it was an x-ray tube.

GE Coolidge X-Ray tube
Wilhelm Roentgen discovered x-rays in 1895 and won the Nobel Prize for his work. The first clinical medicine use of x-rays soon followed (1896).  Scientists then worked at improving x-ray tubes to improve their power and reliability and to increase the sharpness of the image they produced. The modern x-ray tube was developed by General Electric Company researcher William Coolidge and patented in 1916.   GE became a leading producer of x-ray devices including early portable x-ray machines used in military hospitals in World War I.

Zed J. Atlee graduated from Oregon State University in 1929 with a BS degree in electrical engineering and was hired by General Electric's Tube Division.  He “improved instrumentation for crystal analysis and a rotating tube for medical therapy.”  He also helped develop the one-million-volt x-ray tube for industrial uses.

One of the first GE 1 Million Volt X-Ray Tubes
Atlee was awarded a honorary Doctorate of Engineering from OSU in 1943 and is included in the university's Engineering Hall of Fame for his role in “establishing a leadership position for the USA in x-ray techniques.”  He sent these tubes to long-time OSU engineering professor Samuel Graf, who 
donated them to the Horner Museum.

By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon