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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Origin of the Doughnut, Among Other Things.

As our new books ordered in May get cataloged and processed, our shelves get filled with fantastic new treasures! Three that I plucked off the shelf this morning are Bubble Gum and Hula Hoops: The Origins of Objects in our Everyday Lives, Literary Hoaxes: An Eye-Opening History of Famous Frauds, and Reflections/Refractions: Self-Portraiture in the Twentieth Century.

Bubble Gum and Hula Hoops has not only an adorable cover, but is filled with tidbits about how things came about. While the author, Harry Oliver, lists no sources (I hate that!), there are still some interesting facts that could be verified with a little additional research.

• Because I love doughnuts—and it is a personal belief that you shouldn’t trust people who don’t like doughnuts—I was delighted to read about the doughnut’s origin. While fried dough is in most cultures (see also: beignets, sopapillas, etc), the hole in the middle allegedly came about in this manner:

“The claim is that, in 1846, Captain Hanson Gregory, the son of a baker, set sail with a hearty supply of his mother’s treats. Halfway through the journey the crew came up against an aggressive storm....In order to have both hands free to control the vessel, he impaled a doughnut on to a spoke of the ship’s wheel, piercing it with a large hold through the center” (89). Gregory later told his mother what happened, and she started punching holes in the center before cooking, which led to uniform cooking and an easy way to hold the doughnuts while eating.

• Leo Gertstenzang invented the cotton swab in 1925 after “he observed his wife cleaning their baby’s ear with a toothpick with cotton wrapped around one end of it” (110). This gave me the heebies, especially because now, cotton swabs are not even recommended for ear cleaning. Go ahead: visit the Q-tip website and find the place where it mentions sticking them in your ear. Good thing Leo changed the name to Q-tips; they were originally called Baby Gays.

• Ancient lipstick ingredients included finely crushed semiprecious stones, algae plant matter, crushed beetles, and silvery fish scales (113). Ew.

• Josephine Cochrane invented the dishwasher and filed a patent for her invention, but her husband didn’t want to help her financially with the necessary changes and upgrades her invention needed. So Josephine waited until he died (and became a wealthy widow) and then produced the beloved appliance (28).

• Chemist T.L. Williams mixed coal dust and Vaseline to apply to his sister Mabel’s eyelashes. Allegedly, this improved look allowed Mabel to win her man over (see, this is where I’d like a source) and Williams called his creation Maybelline (get it? Mabel + Vaseline!) (114).

Sources or no, this is a cute book made for browsing, but not recommended for answering reference questions.

Oliver, Harry. Bubble Gum and Hula Hoops: The Origins of Objects in our Everyday Lives. Penguin, 2007.

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