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Mystery Gadgets Galore!

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Attention all who are curious about gadgets, inventions, science, technology, and a good old-fashioned mystery!

This week will offer two opportunities to explore mysterious thingamabobs and whatchamacallits and perhaps give them their real names. Within the Harris & Ewing Photograph Collection, we have a number of uncaptioned photographs that feature “gadgets” of unknown purpose – gadgets being a catchall term here for sometimes rather large and elaborate mechanical, electrical, and scientific devices. As we have before, we are calling on you to crack the code and share what you know about these machines.

On Thursday, May 5th at 7pm EST (today!), join Reference Librarian Jonathan Eaker of the Prints & Photographs Division for a virtual webinar: Object Lesson: Gadgets in the Harris & Ewing Collection. He will share many interesting – identified and unidentified – images of technology related to radio, television, scientific standards, and more from the first half of the 20th century.

And on Friday, May 6th, we will upload a new set of mystery gadget photos to our Flickr photostream for you to puzzle over.

I asked Jon for a few mystery photos that aren’t in the set, but are equally unidentified and somewhat puzzling. While many have readily identified elements, we hope you can speculate or share their exact function or purpose so we can improve our descriptions in the online catalog. If you have any ideas about these particular doodads (not a technical term!), please comment below! Click on the photos to gain access to larger high resolution TIFF files, which will give you a better look at the finer details.

NO CAPTION. Photo by Harris & Ewing, [1936] March 19.
NO CAPTION. Photo by Harris & Ewing, [1936 March].

NO CAPTION. Photo by Harris & Ewing, between 1923 and 1929.

NO CAPTION. Photo by Harris & Ewing, [1927].
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  1. Photo 40307 is Tide-predicting Machine No. 2, also known as “Old Brass Brains,” an analog computer that sums the harmonic components that affect the tide. It It was designed by the US Coast and Geodetic Survey and can be
    seen at NOAA headquarters in Silver Spring, MD.

    A more in-depth explanation can be found on Wikipedia,
    under “Tide-Predicting Machine No. 2”
    NOAA’s website also has more information and pictures.

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