History

A Rebus From 135 Years Ago

by Don Friedman on September 26, 2017


The engineering magazine ENR used to be called the Engineering News-Record. It was created in 1917 by the merger of two long-time rivals, the Engineering News and the Engineering Record. The Engineering Record went through a series of names early in its history, as it absorbed some other small magazines and searched for an audience. The earliest version of the Engineering Record, starting in 1878, had the words “Sanitary Engineer” in its title because it focused not on the structural sub-field of civil engineering, but on the water supply and sewerage subfield of civil engineering.

The image above is the masthead of the magazine as printed in volume 5, in 1882. (Click on it to enlarge.) All of the letters in “SANITARY ENGINEER” except for the S are represented as flanged pipe; the S is a stylized trap and cleanout, representing the invention that made interior toilets safe by protecting buildings from an inflow of “sewer gas,” which is largely methane.

I cannot describe how great this is. In an era before digital publishing and image manipulation, it took a real artist to do something as goofy as making words out of plumbing fixtures in such a way that both the language and the plumbing are legible. We think of the victorians as being straight-laced and we think of engineering journals as being straight-laced. Yet somehow, in 1882, an artist, an editor, and a publisher thought this was a good idea. Maybe people don’t always live up to our stereotypes; maybe the past is more complicated than we tend to think.

Architectural Nostalgia

September 22, 2017

  Michael alerted me to the existence of 80s.NYC, a website that gives street views of buildings as photographed by the city government some 35 years ago. It’s fantastic if you want a sense of what the city was like then and how different it is from today. I am a bit disappointed that the […]

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Cartesian Boxes

September 15, 2017

One of the oddities of researching early skyscrapers is trying to account for the occupancies. Why would someone build a high-rise* factory in the 1890s? Why would someone build a high-rise tenement? One of the oddest of the oddities is the way that insurance companies dominate the early skyscraper office buildings. New York Life, Metropolitan […]

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Overdue Recognition

September 9, 2017

The Firth of Forth rail bridge now has a plaque regarding its recent elevation to World Heritage status. To revive an old joke, it’s the first forth bridge.

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The Persistence of Stubborn Buildings

September 8, 2017

One more group of old photos, this time a Brooklyn-centric exhibit at BRIC.┬áIt so happens that one of the buildings pictured, and one of the two featured in the Brownstoner article, is the headquarters of the New York and Long Island Coignet Stone Company. We were part of the team that worked on the recent […]

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The Persistence of Happier Memories

September 7, 2017

Old old and new old on Barclay Street: More comparisons of before-and-after photographs: here. They’re far less depressing than yesterday’s set for the simple reason that the current-day photographs show, mostly, buildings that are in still in use a hundred years or more since they were built. The exception is the last pair of photos: […]

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The Persistence of Memory

September 6, 2017

Imagine what the missing building looked like… Depending on my mood, this set of now-and-then photos is either horrifying or depressing. The Catskills resorts may have been cheesy, but a lot of people spent time at those places, as guests and as employees, and the resorts therefore hang on as a large body of people’s […]

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All Gone But Remembered

September 5, 2017

A good and needed piece at The Conversation on demolished buildings. The amount I know about the buildings mentioned varies; I’m by far the most familiar with the old Waldorf Astoria, even though it was torn down before my mother was born. My research into the structure of early tall buildings led me to that […]

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Labor Day Weekend 3

September 4, 2017

Workers building the SS George Washington Carver, a Liberty Ship constructed in California in 1943.

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Labor Day Weekend 2

September 3, 2017

Workers (with a supervisor) building the marble walls of the New York Public Library, 1906.

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