Our collections don’t include much in the way of building remnants, other than some smallish pieces of hardware and the occasional decorative element. However, we do have this fine artifact, donated in 1980 by Mr. A.B. Chisholm of Silver Spring: the keystone or date-stone from the Silver Spring County Office Building, constructed in 1927-28.

x1487This is a trapezoidal block of concrete, measuring eleven inches high and eight inches square at the top. The front face is painted white, with metal numbers nailed on. The top, back and sides still have some cement residue. According to the donor – and, to a lesser extent, photographic evidence – this was the keystone used over the main door to the County Office Building at 8528 Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring. I’ve not found any close-up images of the door, but this early 1930s photograph (published in Montgomery County, Maryland: Home Community of the Nation’s Capital) of the Silver Spring Northern Suburban District Montgomery County Building shows the Georgia Avenue facade (at left), with its arched center door; there’s the faintest hint of a diagonal stripe (=our numbers?) visible across the keystone.

SS County Bldg from 1930s bookletAlthough the building was constructed in 1927, and appears to have been operational by late that year, the keystone is marked “1928” – perhaps an official opening was held in 1928, when its companion building in Bethesda was completed.

It’s easy to assume that Montgomery County’s suburban boom is a recent phenomenon, or that it didn’t really start until the 1930s and 1940s. But the government workers who arrived along with the New Deal were joining a suburbanization movement in progress. By 1927, the down-county area had grown so rapidly that the State Legislature created a new Suburban District, to provide a more local form of government to unincorporated areas. For practical purposes the Suburban District was split into east and west sections, with Rock Creek as the dividing line. In other words, rather than giving the population centers of Bethesda and Silver Spring their own municipal governments, we gave them each a county government outpost.

Shortly after the Bethesda building was completed, an article in the January 27, 1928 edition of the Montgomery County Sentinel proclaimed that these new county offices marked the “passage of the metropolitan area of Montgomery County from a rural to an urban community.” The article also helpfully explained the Silver Spring building’s contents:

Sentinel, Jan 27, 1928The building in the Silver Spring district is of attractive appearance, being of brick construction, with stone finish, and is one story in height. It was occupied six weeks ago and at the same time there was established in it a police station, where police are on duty for 24 hours to answer any emergency calls. Offices also have been provided in the structure for the clerk to the county commissioners, the Maryland-National [Capital] Park and Planning Commission, justice of the peace and the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission. There is a hearing room which will accommodate about 100 persons, where the various agencies dealing with the district affairs may hold public hearings. It cost $25,000.

This useful building was in the heart of the burgeoning downtown Silver Spring area, on Georgia Avenue just south of the intersection of Colesville Road. The aerial photo below, taken circa 1940, shows your County Office Building (circled) across Georgia Avenue from the brand-new Silver Spring Shopping Center, opened in 1938. (The shopping center, embracing its parking lot at the corner of Georgia and Colesville, is still there today, but basically everything else shown here is gone. Click the photo to enlarge.)

MCHS Library, donated by the Lee family.

MCHS Library, donated by the Lee family.

By 1931 the Silver Spring building was already too small, as the area continued to grow;  on April 4th of that year the Washington Post noted, “The building is too cramped for efficient work at present, and an enlargement of space must be provided in some manner.” Plans at that time were to either add on a second story, or sell the building and start over somewhere else. However it doesn’t appear that either action was taken for some time, if at all; the building continued to serve its various governmental functions into the 1950s. A new county office/police station was built on Sligo Avenue in 1962, and shortly after that the old building was torn down.

Our unassuming (though weighty) little keystone sent me on a delightful suburbia-research adventure this week. But there’s more to learn!  When, exactly, was the building demolished? (A 1964 aerial photo appears to show another building on that spot.) Who is/was Mr. A.B. Chisholm, and why did he acquire the keystone?  Much as I enjoy reading 1920s-50s surveys of county government and development (and no, that’s not sarcasm), those sources have not yet answered my lingering questions.  Do our readers have any insight to share?

Bonus images!

From our postcard collections, here’s a color view of the Silver Spring building, from B.S. Reynolds’ “Scenic Art Series” of the 1940s:

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…And here’s the same early 1930s image as shown earlier, this time with the $30,000 Bethesda building for comparison.  (Like its friend in Silver Spring, the Bethesda building was demolished in the 1960s.)

both county bldgs

Today we have some music – specifically, some late 1960s pop – to brighten your Wednesday morning.  Last year, we received a donation of 24 vinyl singles, enjoyed by the donor and his sister when they were growing up in Bethesda.  The collection includes songs released between 1955 (Sons of the Pioneers, “The Ballad of Davy Crockett”) and 1970 (several, including “Give Me Just a Little More Time” by Chairmen of the Board), and a variety of artists are represented – although there are two versions of “Purple People Eater,” and The Mamas and the Papas win the imaginary competition with five singles.  (Spanky and Our Gang come in second, with two.)

Most are in plain white sleeves, but a few still include the picture cover:

DSC05750Spanky and Our Gang, “Sunday Mornin’/Echoes of My Mind,” 1968

Several are in their studio-specific sleeves, and I particularly liked this psychedelic example:

DSC05753Ohio Express, “Yummy Yummy Yummy/Zig Zag,” 1968, released by Buddah Records

And here’s the impetus for today’s post: I typed “Beatles” into our database to see what it would come up with.  Along with a few misspelled references to insects, the database returned the 1966 double A-side single “Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out.”  (Our collections are indeed vast and all-encompassing.)

DSC05745No picture sleeve, alas – you can admire the original here – but the donor did write his initials on the corner of the studio sleeve, to ensure its safe return.

This is a great little donation (though I wish we had a complementary 45 rpm record player with County provenance . . . hint hint).  Our collections include lots of school-related artifacts to help us relate the lives of Montgomery County teens over the years, but there’s more to life than school.

We base many of our memories on food; not just what we ate (and how it tasted), but also where, and with whom.   Restaurants are often an important part of our memory banks, and when an old favorite closes its doors, it can trigger reminscences both good and bad.  We recently had a call from a woman who just could not remember the name of “the restaurant on Rockville Pike with the giant salad bar,” and it was driving her and her friends crazy.  (Staff memories, rather than our collections, solved that one: it was Phineas.)  Online, there are many forums and blogs dedicated to “do you remember” this restaurant, or that neighborhood cafe.  Next time you need to start a  conversation with a long-time county resident, ask if he or she remembers, say, Farrell’s, or Rickshaw, or the Anchor Inn.

How do museums reflect those memories?  Thankfully, restaurants contain more than just food.  (Although we do have a few once-edible items in our collections.)  Here are some of the material remnants that we use to help preserve, and bring back, memories of restaurants past.
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Photographs.  Late 1960s interior and exterior views of Mr. T’s On the Pike, located on N. Washington Street in Rockville.  George W. Johnson (seated) opened his general store in 1918; over the years it evolved into a well-known tavern and restaurant, which he operated until his death in 1971.  The office building at right, in the street view, is still standing, but Mr. T’s was eventually torn down and is now the site of Hickman’s Exxon (another long-time Rockville establishment, but we’re talking about restaurants today, not service stations).  Photo of Mr. T’s donated by Charles Brewer.

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Postcards and advertisements.  This circa 1940 postcard advertises Sunnyside View, a roadside all-in-one convenience stop on Route 240 (now Route 355) near Clarksburg.  The illustration includes a helpful sign, “LUNCH,” on the cheerful yellow building, and the text on the back informs us that Sunnyside offered travelers “Rooms – Cabins – Chicken Dinners – Steak – Ham – Lunch – Home Cooking.”  Postcard donated by Tim Parker.

064280aHere’s a more recent postcard, circa 1980, advertising Emperor Ming Cuisine & Cocktails in Rockville.  The images on the front show the interior and exterior of the restaurant; the text on the reverse does not provide details on the menu, but it does tell us that it opened in 1972, and was owned and managed by Irene K.Y. Wong.  Postcard donated by Carol Cummings.

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Servingware.  The Cabin John Bridge Hotel, on what’s now MacArthur Boulevard in Cabin John, was Montgomery County’s ‘destination dining’ experience at the turn of the last century.  Started in the late 19th century by German immigrants Joseph and Rosa Bobinger, and eventually taken over by their sons, the Hotel boasted well-appointed dining rooms, and had its own china pattern featuring an image of the namesake Bridge.  (In fact there were two similar patterns; pieces marked simply “Cabin John Bridge Hotel” are earlier, and pieces featuring an entwined “BB” are later.)  Patrons came from far (thanks to the trolley) and near to enjoy fine dining in Cabin John. All things come to an end, however; the Hotel closed in 1926, and burned to the ground in the early 1930s.  Many surviving examples of the Hotel’s china, including the broken serving dish above, have been found in the yards of homes built in the area after the Hotel’s demise.  We have several different pieces – some whole, some not – in our collections, but as an almost-archaeologist I rather enjoy the broken dishes dug up while gardening, and chose this option for today’s post.  Serving dish donated by Carolyn Bryant.

 

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Souvenirs and promotional items.  Here’s a small ceramic coffee mug, given to Boy Scout leaders from the National Capital Area Council who attended the 1974 Round-Up.  The front features the BSA logo and the motto “Prepare for Life ’74;” the back includes the sponsor’s logo: Gino’s, a restaurant chain started in Baltimore in the late 1950s.  This particular mug belonged to Jim Douglas, Cubmaster for Cub Scout Pack 782 in Wheaton Woods.  I’ve seen references to a Gino’s restaurant on Georgia Avenue in Wheaton, near present-day Glenmont Metro Station; can any blog readers confirm or deny that this was the same chain?  Mug donated by Patricia Douglas.

 

Menus.  All the items above are well and good, but what about the food that was served at these restaurants?  Menus are one of the clearest ways to get at the actual dining experiences of the past, short of cranking up your time machine.  We have a few menus in the artifact and archival collections; for example, here’s the “Junior Dinner” (“for children under 12 years”) on offer at Hot Shoppes* on Sunday, September 26, 1943:

Hot Shoppes childrens menu 1943Chicken Noodle Soup or Chilled Papaya Juice.  ~  Chopped Sirloin Steak, Hot Shoppes Style, 55 cents. Old Fashioned Chicken Pot Pie, Toast Cube Crust, 55 cents. Baked Swordfish Steak, Mushroom Sauce, 55 cents. ~  Yellow Squash; Celery Cabbage with Russian Dressing; Tomato and Eggplant; Garden Salad Bowl; Potatoes Hashed in Cream; Green Snap Beans. Rolls and Butter. ~ DESSERTS: Orange Layer Cake; Fresh Fruit Sherbet; Hot Fudge Cake Square with Whipped Cream; Fresh Apple Sauce with Whipped Cream and Cake Fingers.  ~  A&W Root Beer, Milk or Lemonade.

*Unfortunately the menu does not indicate a specific Hot Shoppes restaurant, but it may have come from the Bethesda restaurant.  Menu donor unknown.

…And now it’s your turn, blog readers.  I’ve no doubt left out your favorite local restaurant (not on purpose, I promise!) and the memories therein. So, help out the Historical Society and fill our comment section with restaurant reminiscences!

P.S. Fans of menus and historic meals – don’t miss the New York Public Library’s crowdsourced menu transcription project.

 

In honor of today’s date, 12/12/12, here’s an assortment of ‘twelves’ – some deliberate, some accidental – from our collections. (And no, there aren’t twelve of them; that seemed excessive.)

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First up: two twelve-candle molds, tin, late 18th or 19th century. The one on the left, in original (if well-used) condition, was donated by Mary Kingdon, and probably used by her family in Rockville. The one on the right - the handle has broken off, and it was painted black sometime in the late 20th century – came from the Tschiffely family of Gaithersburg, donated by Jean Seeback. Both of these make 10½” tapers, twelve at a time (we also have molds for 4 at a time and 6 at a time, but of course, today is 12 day).  In the interest of saving space, I refer you to either your favorite life-in-olden-times novel or YouTube to learn how to make candles with one of these.

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These miniature metal soldiers were made by the Barclay Manufacturing Company of New Jersey; they’re “podfoots,” a style created in 1951 by Barclay to conserve metal (instead of standing on a flat base, they simply have flattened “pod” feet). They saw action in Bethesda, and only these twelve comrades survived. Owned, and donated, by Bill Allman.

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A box of H.B. Marking & Embroidery Cotton, still containing its original twelve spools, circa 1890. Until the 1880s, red was a notoriously unstable dye; the introduction of “turkey red” floss (developed in Turkey), colorfast and cheaper than silk, started a fad for redwork embroidery on everyday household linens.  These embroidered pictures were generally outline-stitch pictures of flowers, fruit, children, animals, humorous sayings, etc.; designs were published in magazines, pre-printed fabric squares were available for a penny, or you could of course draw your own.  Redwork stayed popular through the 1920s and ‘30s – examples can be found in antique stores everywhere – and is experiencing something of a resurgence in today’s retro-crafty communities. Purchased by MCHS.

x20031201alTwelve hand-wrought iron nails removed from “Pleasant Hills,” a house in Darnestown, during gutter work in 2003. The center block of the house was built in the 1760s for Charles Gassaway; the wings were constructed in the 1870s and 1910s. Someone could probably tell us more precisely when these nails were made and used, but we haven’t yet made that attempt. Donated by Mary Wolfe.

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And last but not least, a tin suppository mold, mid 19th century, with twelve holes.  The box is 5.5″ long and 3.5″ deep, with the ‘thimbles’ making suppositories a little less than 2″ long.  Yes, it makes exactly what you think it does; 19th century doctors and pharmacists made their own recipes using  these handy tools.  According to “The Art of Dispensing,” 1915, by Peter MacEwan, “an American style [of suppository mold] consists of a circular metal box pierced with holes into which thimbles fit. The box can be filled with iced water or a freezing-mixture. The thimbles are filled with the suppository-mixture, dropped into the box, and owing to the chill the contents of the mold contract, and are easily tapped out when solid.” This piece was donated to MCHS by John Bentley of Sandy Spring. Mr. Bentley served as the MCHS curator in the late 1940s-early 1950s, and many of the items credited to Bentley were in fact collected by him from other county residents; thus, unfortunately, the specific history of this item is unknown.

I hope you all enjoy your Last Consecutive Date Day (especially if today is your birthday) until 01/01/2101. Go forth, and do something twelve times!

Here’s another peculiar curling iron, designed to achieve a specific style: A Marcel waver from the late 1920s.

In 1987, Alice Harmon donated a set of hairstyling objects used by her mother: an electric curling iron (patented 1927), a large box of metal hair or “bobby” pins, a small paper packet of same, and this Marcel waver, complete with box and instructions. (She also donated a photograph, to illustrate the end result of all these tools, but more on that in a moment.) Mrs. Harmon’s mother, Edith D. Stultz Anderson Smith, was born around 1898, and moved to Bethesda from Frederick County in 1927. She first married a Mr. Anderson, and had two daughters; her second husband (married 1924), L. Emory Smith, was an assistant lineman for the Capitol Traction streetcar company. We don’t know very much else about her – except that she was, at least for a time, interested in fashionable hairstyles.

The Marcel wave, theoretically named for its French inventor, showed up occasionally in the late 19th century but really hit its stride in the 1920s and 1930s, along with short, bobbed hairstyles for women. If you’ve ever glanced through a fashion magazine from the 1925-1935 era – or watched a Busby Berkeley musical – you’ve seen a Marcel wave. It resembles a finger wave, but purists (okay, the Wikipedia page authors) claim that a true Marcel wave is achieved only with a curling iron, not your fingers. Though you could use a plain, straight single-barreled iron, a curved double-barrel like this one was more effective, especially if you wanted multiple waves.

Our waver was sold by Sears, Roebuck & Co. and is probably an electric “Challenge Waver,” now missing its electrical cord (they were detachable). The instructions, shown above, explain how to use different irons and wavers to create variations on the Marcel wave. I should have just gone ahead and dated this post to 1927, since that is the year Mrs. Smith moved to Bethesda, the year her other curling iron was patented, and, conveniently, the year of my Sears catalog which features all these irons and wavers and more. Oh, so many hairstyling tools! Here’s a close-up of the Challenge Waver (only 98 cents); I’ve included the full catalog pages of its friends at the bottom of the post.

As for the photograph of Mrs. Smith: At some point the photo went missing, but I discovered this unidentified image in a box of miscellaneous “style reference” photos collected by previous textile volunteers. This fashionable young woman is certainly rocking the Marcel look, and I want to think it is Edith herself; unfortunately, Mrs. Harmon (the donor and Edith’s daughter) has since died, so I haven’t been able to confirm or deny. Do any of my readers remember Edith D. Smith of Arlington Road, Bethesda?

This cotton robe or yukata, and the history shared by the donor, are examples of how a single artifact can be used to tell multiple stories, including unexpected ones. Taken by itself, it is a simple cotton yukata (summer kimono) or robe, with a small tag reading “Japan” inside the neck. It has a narrow belt made of the same material, and wide, straight sleeves. Without knowing its provenance, it looks like a piece made for American (or otherwise non-Japanese) audiences, as a simple version of a traditional garment. That in itself provides avenues for exploration of fashion history, cultural exchange, and the like.

The piece was donated to MCHS in 1990 by Alice A. Harmon, who informed us that it was a gift received by her sister, Helen Anderson, upon graduating from Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1938. Now we have a place, a time, and an occasion, and a way to talk about the importance of high school graduations in American culture, the kinds of presents people give, and the kinds of presents teenage girls actually want to receive, as well as some insight into the personality of the owner (who, presumably, enjoyed the gift enough to keep both the garment and the story behind it).

The information from the donor goes further, however, to tell us more about the neighbor who gave the yukata. Minnie Robinson Usuda (1888-1974) was the daughter of a British Army officer and his Spanish wife, and grew up in Korea. She moved to the United States, and married Yoshisada Karlo Usuda (1884-1962), who worked at the Japanese Embassy in D.C. During the 1930s, Mrs. Usuda “sent away” to friends in Korea for “house goods and clothing” to sell, and help support her family. This yukata given to Helen Anderson – who was a neighbor, and possibly also a friend of one of the same-age Usuda children – was probably one of the pieces sent from overseas.

According to the donor, Mrs. Usuda became a naturalized U.S. citizen, and her four children were also citizens. Mr. Usuda, a Japanese citizen, spent World War II in an American interment camp. So far, I have found little in our library to corroborate this part of the donor’s story – which, to my mind, makes this artifact all the more interesting. Although it has little to do with the Usuda family’s experience during the war, the yukata was the catalyst that prompted the donor to share her knowledge with us; otherwise, we might have nothing about the family at all. I’ve found a few references to the children at B-CC High School, in newspapers and yearbooks. Mr. and Mrs. Usuda, and their son Charles (1919-1940), are buried at Rockville Cemetery. Mr. Usuda’s brief obituary in the Washington Post makes no reference to his wartime experiences, and his name does not otherwise appear in that paper; perhaps there is something on the family in the more-local Sentinel, but that is a research avenue for the future. For now, our library yields only the 1944 Bethesda phone book, which lists the family under Mrs. Minnie R. Usuda; presumably she was regarded as the ‘head of household,’ in the absence of her husband.

Today’s post might seem a little bit random, but there’s method to the madness. Mostly, this is a very busy week here at MCHS as we get ready for the Strathmore Museum Shop Around (feel free to visit us there!), so a brief post on shopping bags seemed appropriate. Here we have three small paper shopping bags from Garfinckel’s, circa 1983-85.

Julius Garfinckel & Co was an upscale department store founded in the early 20th century by Julius Garfinckel (1875-1936). In 1929, a two million dollar building was constructed at 14th and F Streets downtown (a block away from the earlier store at 13th and F); this became the flagship store in the 1950s, when the chain expanded into the surrounding region. The first suburban branch was at the Seven Corners Shopping Center in Virginia, opened in 1956; the second one, at Montgomery Mall in Bethesda, opened in 1968. (There was also a second D.C. store, in Spring Valley on Massachusetts Avenue.) In the 1970s and ‘80s several more stores opened, but in 1990 the company filed for bankruptcy, and all the locations quickly closed.

Advertisement for “Julius Garfinkle & Co” [yes, it's spelled wrong] in the 1922 “Greeter’s Guide” to Washington, D.C.

Why does Montgomery County care about a D.C. department store? Before the city stores started moving out to the ‘burbs, many county residents ventured downtown for their consumer needs, especially high-end goods. Making a highly unscientific judgement based on clothing and accessories in our collections, Garfinckel’s and Woodward & Lothrop* were the main stores of choice, with Hecht’s coming in a distant third. (Sorry, fans of Jelleff’s, Lansburgh’s, Kann’s, Palais Royal, etc., which are represented by only one or two items each.) Montgomery County, along with Virginia’s Seven Corners, was the first place these stores moved to when expanding into the suburbs in the mid 20th century: Woodie’s in Chevy Chase, Hecht’s and Jelleff’s in Silver Spring, and Garfinckel’s (rather later than its competitors) in Bethesda.

These bags were part of a larger collection of bags and boxes saved from local stores, brought in by an MCHS volunteer many years ago. They were clearly saved, though whether to reuse** or out of sentiment is unclear. I did an exhibit on local department and specialty stores a few years ago, and I was surprised by the affection many people still hold for these stores. As an example: Garfinckel’s has a fan website, and also-closed Woodward & Lothrop has a Facebook page. I wonder if that will be true of today’s stores: Will there be passionate collectors of H&M ephemera in 50 years? . . . What am I saying? There probably already are. Nonetheless, based on what I heard while planning that exhibit it seems that the experience of shopping at a major department store is different today, despite the best efforts of the advertising departments. In this era of national chains, ubiquitous outlets, and internet shopping, the relationship between store and customer is a little more impersonal.

* To be honest, Woodies wins.

** Perhaps this frugal shopper anticipated the bag tax.

Montgomery County was created on September 6th, 1776, out of the southern portion of Frederick County.  As we have for many years, the Historical Society is celebrating the county’s birthday with a big party (complete with birthday cake!) this coming Sunday, to which all are invited.    Want to help us celebrate Montgomery County’s 235th birthday? Visit the Beall-Dawson Historical Park this Sunday, September 18th 2011, between 2 and 5!

Alas, we have few artifacts in our collections related to birthdays, at least to birthday parties, so today’s post relies on our photo collection to bring home the birthday theme.  Here are a few images of local birthday parties, big and small, to enjoy.  

Billy Hazard’s first birthday party, Garrett Park, August 6 1914.  The birthday boy is seated at left; his guests, according to the record in his baby book, are Miss Elizabeth La Borteaux, Miss Margaret Davis, and Master Robert La Borteaux. Baby book donated by the Barth family. 

 

Raymond M. Riley’s 85th birthday party featured this adorable C&O Canal-themed birthday cake.  Mr. Riley was born in Lockhouse 24 (Riley’s Lock) in 1897, and he drove a canal boat of his own as an adult.  Photo from the Morris Fradin collection. 

 

According to Roger Brooke Farquhar’s book Old Homes and History, these guests at Gilbert Grosvenor’s home “Wild Acres” (outside Bethesda) were attending a birthday party in honor of former First Lady Helen Taft in June, 1929. 

 

This giant birthday cake was made in honor of the City of Gaithersburg’s 100th anniversary, in 1978.  Gaithersburg Mayor Bruce Goldsohn and Willie Max Fullerton are pictured making the ceremonial first cut.  Photo donated by E. Russell Gloyd.

Good afternoon, blog fans!  No new artifact this week, as I am officially on vacation – but thanks to the marvels of the internet, WordPress has followed me home and I thought I should publish something.  Here are two photos for you, a little taste of the blog post I have been working on and theoretically was going to finish yesterday (but I went to the National Gallery instead).  I’ve been reading a lot of census records lately, and I am enamored of the job titles and professions noted over the years.  Below, some Montgomery County residents hard at work.

Workmen constructing Bradley Boulevard, Bethesda, 1911- 1912. Donated to MCHS by Horace E. Hampton, Sr.  The caption in the lower right corner reads “Building Boulevard on Bradly [sic] Hills, Thos. Hampton General Contractor.  Kaye Photo.”

An unidentified woman in the offices of the Enterprise Telephone Company, Sandy Spring, circa 1900-1910.  Donated by the Mutual Insurance Company.  This photo is also occasioned by the recent donation of a telephone switchboard to the Historical Society of Frederick County, of which I am highly envious.

It has occurred to me that I should have posted historic vacation photos instead.  Oh well, there’s always next summer!  If you’re at work, you can use these to think about what you would have been doing 100 years ago.  If you’re on vacation, use them to feel even better about your vacation.

February is, among other things, National Pet Dental Health Month. As the postcard from my veterinarian reminds me, dogs have 42 permanent teeth and cats have 30; like human teeth, those pearly whites need care and attention. Today’s artifact, then, comes from our veterinary collection (a subset of our medical collections): an anesthesia face mask, used on cats and small dogs in the mid 20th century.

The mask is made of a light, flexible metal, wrapped into a cone shape, with mesh across the smaller opening and surgical tape around the larger end (2.25″ diameter), to protect the animal’s face. A cloth soaked in the chosen anesthetic agent was put inside, and then the cone was placed over the patient’s nose and mouth until the animal breathed enough and fell asleep. (No doubt a veterinary textbook would explain that better, but that’s the gist.) It’s very similar in shape and function to the masks used for modern face-mask induction anesthesia, although those masks are rubber or plastic.

This instrument was used, and donated, by Dr. Bill Gay, a veterinarian who worked at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda. The photo below shows Dr. Gay and an assistant working at NIH in the 1950s. (In the interest of full disclosure I should point out that the image shows Dr. Gay removing a foreign body from the cat’s throat, not actually cleaning his or her teeth, but it’s such a great photo that I’m using it anyway.) According to Mrs. Gay, her husband “always got along well with cats” – and the assistant shown here was “very good at holding the cats” – so Dr. Gay did not always use anesthesia when doing a basic dental cleaning, although it was necessary when performing extractions and other surgeries. With the advent of sharper tools like ultrasonic scalers, most vets today use anesthesia for cleanings, for the safety of both the patient and the doctor.

Dr. Gay at NIH, circa 1950s. Photo owned by, and courtesy of, Bill and Millicent Gay.

There are at least two animal hospitals in Montgomery County that have been around since the 1950s, but they were not the first in the county. Specialization in small animal (i.e., domestic pet) medicine became more common in America in the 1930s, and we followed that trend; many local vets found themselves focusing on small animals by default, as the county became more suburban and there were fewer large farm animals that needed their care. The 1949 Montgomery County telephone directory included five animal hospitals, ten single-doctor practices and one veterinary supply store, and the numbers have only been increasing since then. Next time you bring your cat, dog or guinea pig in for a dental check-up, take a moment to think of all the many veterinarians who have done the same for county pets over the decades.

Horses can be pets, too. This equine dental float, also used and donated by Dr. Gay, was used to file down horses' overgrown molars. The instrument is 17 inches long - a little more hardcore than what you need for a cat.

Thanks to Bill and Millicent Gay for the additional information, and the use of the fabulous photograph.

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