Gadgets in Images: Obvious or Mysterious?

Barbara Natanson, Head of the Prints & Photographs Reading Room, recently searched the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog for “gadgets” and shared one of the images that appeared in the results – this photograph by Russell Lee likely taken at the Gonzales County Fair in Texas in 1939.

Untitled photo, possibly related to: Farm couple watching the saleswoman demonstrate the use of a gadget at booth at the Gonzales Country Fair, Texas. Photo by Russell Lee, 1939.

Untitled photo, possibly related to: Farm couple watching the saleswoman demonstrate the use of a gadget at booth at the Gonzales Country Fair, Texas. Photo by Russell Lee, 1939. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8b23249

Lee did not, or perhaps could not, identify the tool being demonstrated and used “gadget” as a generic term to describe it. While some colleagues immediately recognized the tool in use as a pie crimper or pastry wheel, not all of us could immediately identify the object. This provided a reminder of how valuable specialized knowledge can be in identifying the items visible in photographs in our collections.

Some photographs really test the limits of our knowledge, and we consistently benefit from the insights of researchers who provide information we can sometimes add to our catalog records. Several years ago viewers shared their observations about photos in a Flickr album we created entitled “Mystery Photos — What’s the Story?” I don’t know about you, but I would have had no idea what the following object is had a Flickr commenter not identified the object depicted as a “patent model for the Gorrie Ice Machine.”

Man with Gorrie Ice Machine patent model. Photo by Harris & Ewing, 1938 or 1939.

Man with Gorrie Ice Machine patent model. Photo by Harris & Ewing, 1938 or 1939. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.27106

The long caption for the following image provided by the Harris & Ewing photographic studio makes clear that these “women drivers of the District of Columbia” aim to learn more about the mechanics of the automobile, but one wonders which specific gadgets the caption refers to. No doubt many readers, could identify every part if that engine, including the one the woman second from left is gripping (is that a spark plug?), but in this case I’ll have to rely on the expertise of others!

And where does the depreciation hook on? Wash. D.C. Women drivers of the District of Columbia, intent upon finding out why their cars turn right when they signal for a left turn, and vice versa, are attending a driving school sponsored by the D.C. Federation of Women's Clubs. A few of the class is shown here examining a chassis in an effort to find out why certain things happen when certain gadgets are pushed or pulled. Photo by Harris & Ewing, 1935. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.39661

And where does the depreciation hook on? Wash. D.C. Women drivers of the District of Columbia, intent upon finding out why their cars turn right when they signal for a left turn, and vice versa, are attending a driving school sponsored by the D.C. Federation of Women’s Clubs. A few of the class is shown here examining a chassis in an effort to find out why certain things happen when certain gadgets are pushed or pulled. Photo by Harris & Ewing, 1935. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.39661

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