Last Thursday, I posted a series of doors found on the building that houses the Connecticut Historical Society Museum and several of the artifacts on display in the museum. Several comments on that post were from people with memories of cast iron stoves, both wood-fired and electric. History comes alive when we have a personal connection. Personal connections abound in this museum, since it features an exhibit “Making Connecticut” that includes historic and modern references to companies and entire industries that began in Connecticut. The manufacture of bicycles, typewriters, handguns, machine tools, and metal toys; all have roots in my adopted state. The museum itself has roots in my old hometown.
The museum is housed in the former home of Curtis Veeder. The first room that I toured included a history of the Veeder home, and a little about Curtis. Curtis Veeder grew up in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. You won’t find that on a map, Allegheny was annexed by Pittsburgh in the early 1900s. The area is where the Mexican War Streets I featured in Thursday Doors back in 2018 are located. You’ve seen many photos from this area. Sitting across the Allegheny River from Pittsburgh, it’s known simply as The North Side and it’s home to The North Shore (where the Pirates and Steelers have their stadiums).
Curtis Veeder was an imaginative child, a mechanical engineer and an inventor. He is most famous for the Bicycle Cyclometer, the first distance-measuring device for bicycles. Veeder went on to invent other precision measuring devices and eventually merged with Root Manufacturing of Bristol, CT. Veeder-Root is still in business, supplying measuring devices to the petroleum industry.
Of the items on display in the various exhibits, three resonated with me quilts, woodworking tools and metal toys.
Connecticut Quilts is a current exhibit at the museum and the connection to me is second-hand. My wife would enjoy it, and I think a couple of blog friends would as well. I’m talking about you Judy and you Stephanie, and a few others I can’t find a link to. I have to admit, I was walking through this exhibit to get to the “Making Connecticut” exhibit, but I was intrigued by a couple of fine points, as well as several beautiful quilts and items of clothing. Clothing? You ask. Yes. Apparently, the term ‘quilt’ in early New England referred to quilted petticoats. If you were referring to the quilt you used for warmth at night, you used the term ‘Bed Quilt’ – who knew? Also, the fact that many quilts and items of clothing were made from scraps of cloth left over from other projects or taken from worn items, reminded me of my paternal grandmother. She had numerous piles of fabric that had been gathered or saved and she often made things from that fabric.
That I enjoyed the woodworking display won’t surprise anyone visiting this page. The photo of the toolbox is interesting because the company referenced is the company that made those tools. A lot of Connecticut’s history is wrapped around companies that made tools other companies used to make things. The planes in the photo that sold, by the dozen, for between 75¢ and $2.58 in 1839, sell at antique woodworking shows today for upwards of $100, even though we have easier ways of cutting those profiles.
Similar to the way many Connecticut companies made tools that let other people make things, two CT companies made toys that let children make things. The one featured in the gallery was the “Stanlo Construction Set.” A construction toy designed to keep the Stanley Works (now Stanley Black & Decker) operating during the Great Depression. Children could build buildings and bridges and add lights and moving parts due to the inclusion of electricity and electric motors. Eventually, children could build bridges and trestles for their electric train sets – does it seem like one little boy was born too late?
While the Stanlo Construction Set never gained strong popularity, 30 miles south of New Britain, in New Haven, Connecticut, the Erector Set was born. The Erector Set had a much more diverse selection of parts, including motors and gears (in even the most basic sets) that let kids like me build things that moved and lifted and spun and, well, yes, caused some damage, but all while learning valuable skills. By the time I was 8 years old, I was building cranes to lift bundles of steel girders for the bridges I was building for my slot car track.
It’s February, and I’m getting anxious to be building something in my shop – I guess it shows.
Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy some of the pictures in today’s gallery.