Assistant Archivist’s Desk #0: Introduction

Hello! My name is Nathan Brunner, and over the course of this summer I will be serving as the assistant archivist for the society. I’ve created this page to document interesting findings or intriguing facts I come across during my research as a part of efforts to perform an inventory of the Miller House Museum. I intend to post biweekly, so check back often!

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Assistant Archivist’s Desk #5: Motorola TV

This week, I bring you another appliance of note from the Miller House Museum. This Motorola brand television dates to 1949, when it was purchased new on October 4th of that year by Ruth McDonald Doer and her Husband Harold Doer. The original price: $210.55 , about $2,400 in today’s money. It’s display is black and white, is mounted on top of an integrated stereo speaker, and the antenna on top was a later addition. The screen is tiny, a large man could span it with a single hand. While today this seems tiny, it actually represents quite a bit of progress from the earliest days of television.

The groundwork for the electronic Television began in 1897 with the invention of the Cathode Ray Tube (CRT). While this device was origianally just a novelty, forward thinkers began to envision the use of CRTs for visual signaling at a distance. It was with the invention of camera tubes in the mid 1920s to early 1930s that broadcasting television became a reality. By the mid 1930s, limited television broadcasting began, and as early as 1941 America was enjoying the first consumer grade televisions for home use. These were mainly toys for the wealthy though, and it wasn’t until the late 1940s and early 1950s, in the economic prosperity following WW2 that it saw wider adoption by the public. Around this time, color TV was first created, though the general public would have to wait until the mid 1960s before it became practical and affordable.

Thus, black and white Televisions such as these were top of the line appliances in their day and age, and many a family experienced the very beginnings of American TV culture.

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Assistant Archivist’s Desk #4: Vintage GE Refrigerator

In my continued ventures documenting the collection of the Miller House Museum, my most recent work has seen my diving into the history of GE appliances. The refrigerator which sits in the kitchen of the Miller House is a General Electric Monitor Top refrigerator. First introduced in 1927, these models were the first affordable consumer grade electric refrigerators. Costing just $300.00 (roughly $4,700 dollars in today’s money), families could even have a monthly payment plan implemented directly into their utilities bill. The design remained relatively constant throughout the years, with the most popular configuration being a single door chest upon 4 legs. The main changes came in the condenser unit at the top. Originally they were cylindrical, until the 1930’s, when a brief but intriguing spherical unit referred to as a “Globe Top” began being offered. Allegedly this allowed for easier cleaning around the edges of the unit. This was eventually overtaken in 1937 by the flat top models, which returned to the original cylindrical shape, though now in a more compact form factor.

Perhaps most puzzling though are the “Square Top” designs. Little information about them can be found online, though its generally thought that they were produced in the mid 1930’s. The one on display at the Miller House is of this configuration. The next time you come visit, be sure to have a look!

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Assistant Archivist’s Desk #3: The Case of the Confusing Portrait

This week, I bring a new interesting story. For many years, the identity of the man depicted in the 1876 oil portrait which hangs in the dining room at the Miller House has been somewhat unknown. According to some Madeira Historical Society documents, the man was Captain Jim DeMar, a veteran of the Civil War whose saber and patches hang in the hall. Other materials suggested that it was Samuel Druce, Madeira’s first mayor. I myself was of the later opinion. His beard is similar, and most pictures of Druce were quite similar. Finally, however, the mystery was cleared up. In reviewing old newsletters, we were able to determine that the portrait was originally donated by a distant DeMar cousin living on the west coast. That settles it: the portrait is officially Captain James “Jim” DeMar, veteran of the 83rd Ohio Voluntary Infantry Regiment. He was sent to Covington to defend Cincinnati from a potential attack, and eventually was ordered forward, serving in several battles throughout the south.

“Captain Jim” will be receiving a new placard for his portrait soon, so please, come visit him!

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Assistant Archivist’s Desk #2: Singer Sewing Machine

As a part of our Threads of History seasonal display, we’ve recently brought out a number of items for exhibition in the young woman’s room at the second floor of the Miller House. Among these items is a beautiful 19th century Singer Manufacturing Company Model 66 sewing machine. The Model 66 was produced from around 1902 up until 1956.

Now known as the Singer Corporation, the company has continuously produced sewing machines since it’s founding in 1851. This particular unit, reckoning by the serial number, was produced in March 1923. Electricity in homes was becoming more and more common at this point, however over half of the homes in America still lacked power at this time, and as such this device is operated via a foot pump. This particular arrangement is known as a treadle machine. The machine itself is set into a wooden cabinet which contains both the inner workings of the foot pump as well as myriad drawers and compartments for storing various accessories and sewing supplies. The machine itself is painted glossy black and decorated with a beautiful red and gold pattern known among enthusiasts as the “Red Eye Pattern”, a far cry from the often sleek and minimalist home appliances of today.

To see this and many other items related to the history of home sewing, be sure to visit the Miller House Museum for a tour!

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Assistant Archivist’s Desk #1: The Japanese Fan

Recently in our efforts to update documentation for the various items and artifacts on display within the Miller House, we uncovered the surprising and exciting history behind one of our more intriguing items. Stored in a glass case on the southern wall of the master bedroom is a painted Japanese paper fan. Intriguingly, it appears to be constructed from peacock feathers, or at least mock peacock feathers, a common style from the late Victorian era and into the turn of the century. The feathers themselves are wrapped in paper and painted with a scene of a man and a woman on a walk, possibly a date. Floral patterns fill the rest of the fan.

While the fan itself is a fascinating work of art, the story behind it is possibly even more interesting. In 2007, a woman named Ruth Phillips donated a large number of items to the society, and this fan was among them. As per her story, the fan was brought back to America as a souvenir by her Uncle. This souvenir, however, wasn’t the product of any mere vacation. Ruth’s Uncle was a part of the historic 1905 Taft mission to Japan, in which President Theodore Roosevelt sent then Secretary of War William Howard Taft on a peacekeeping mission to help facilitate a peaceful end to the Russo-Japanese war. Notably, on this trip was Roosevelt’s daughter, Alice. 21 at the time, she frequently stirred excitement wherever she went, smoking openly in public, participating in parties, and attending cultural events. She played in familiarizing Japanese society with the Roosevelts, which was important, as while she was seeing the sites, Taft was busy behind the scenes. While on the surface the delegation was intended to broker peace between Japan and Russia, which it indeed did, there was a second, more secretive initiative as well: Secretary Taft and Prime Minister Katsura, behind closed doors, worked out a deal by which the United States would allow Japan’s dominance over Korea in exchange for recognition of US sovereignty in the Philippines. This agreement, which remained a secret for decades, would do much to shape the power dynamics of the region for decades to come.

What an interesting story to go alongside such an interesting item!

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