Monday, March 30, 2015

The Philo National Poultry Institute and the Business of Birds

by Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator

As early as 1887, Edgar Woodruffe Philo attracted attention for his innovations in poultry keeping. That year the Troy Daily Times of Troy, NY reported that Philo perfected an apparatus in which alcohol is used to regulate temperature in incubators.  Philo's work was part of a larger climate of agricultural innovation.  By the late 19th century, scientists and amateurs undertook the challenge of improving and industrializing egg production. While much of this work took place at agricultural experiment stations or agricultural colleges, backyard farmers and other non-professionals were making an impact as well.  Philo was a part of this growing trend of men who made agricultural improvement their business through publishing, teaching, manufacturing equipment, or breeding poultry.

Philo moved from Salem, NY to Elmira, NY in 1906. He relocated his Cycle Hatcher Company to Elmira citing the city’s favorable business climate.  In fact, Philo and other businessmen were actively recruited by the Elmira Chamber of Commerce, which was trying to build the city's industrial standing.  Philo ran the business with his son E.R. Philo.
Cycle Hatcher produced brooding and hatching equipment. Philo claimed that the company was routinely filling orders as far away as Buenos Aires, Argentina and Johannesburg, South Africa. As an offshoot of the company, Philo also published his own poultry magazine, The Poultry Review. The Review featured articles and advice about best practices in poultry raising, many distilled from Philo’s own experimentation. By 1911, Philo claimed that the Review had a readership of over 100,000 people in each state and over thirty countries.
Poultry Review, March 1908
But Philo’s real crowning achievement was the creation of his Philo System and, later, the establishment of his Philo National Poultry Institute. Philo explained his system first in his book The Philo System of Progressive Poultry Keeping, first published in 1907.  His program was designed for small-scale production, like on a city lot, not for large farms.  His advertisements promised that followers of his system could make $1,500 a year from a small backyard flock.  Philo's system represented a radical departure from the work of many of his contemporaries. In the book, Philo contests that the theories of many poultry writers are “without foundation,” a claim he based on his thirty years of poultry experimentation and experience.
A Philo System farm in Ohio
One of his major contentions was that artificial heat was unnecessary to raise birds. Philo argued, “When they come into the world they are supplied with an abundance of heat and all we have to do is retain it.  In addition to being useless, Philo claimed that artificial heat could actually be dangerous for poultry. He also contended that heated brooders were simply too expensive and complicated to provide any benefit to one’s flock.

A Cycle Hatcher "metal mother"
Philo’s objection to artificial heat was not only practical, it was also philosophical. He wrote that Americans have “endeavored to devise appliances whereby the chickens may be turned out like the output of great factories. Although the output may be unlimited, nature has something to say when its laws are violated to any great extent.”
An Elmira couple's Philo system backyard poultry business
The other unique component of Philo's system was his belief in the close confinement of hens. According to the system, two pound broilers were best raised when confined to a space of one square foot each. Pullets received one and one half square feet, while laying hens needed three square feet.
Philo system houses
Philo's system was wildly successful and he made a small fortune selling his books, brooders, and teaching classes.  Eventually he built a 30,000 square foot building on Lake Street to house both the Poultry Institute and the Cycle Hatcher Company.  One floor of the building was dedicated to education, both for on-site and correspondence courses.  Another floor was exclusively for printing the Review and other promotional and educational materials. 
Philo National Poultry Institute
Poultry stationary printing- another service offered by Philo

The system and the Institute were not without controversy, however.  Most critics said that the system was simply too labor intensive to be worth it.  With it's strict feeding and cleaning schedules, the Philo System could be a full-time job.  However, one of Philo's harshest critics was John F. Graham of the Amherst Agricultural Colleges, who in 1912, accused Philo and others of lying about their profits.  He said of Philo, "he fishes for suckers and he gets them."

Ultimately, however, it wasn't his critics that drove him out of his business; it was his own family.  In 1917 he was ousted from the business by his two children after a bitter family fight.  Philo moved to Florida where he continued his work.  For years, Philo had been purchasing land in Florida to create a large model farm.  From there, he marketed his "New-Philo-Way," which doesn't seem to have deviated much from the original system.   Philo died in 1937.  

Friday, March 20, 2015

Keep the Home Fires Burning

by Rachel Dworkin, archivist

            One day in November 1915, Lena Gilbert Brown Ford received a phone call from the young composer Ivor Novello at her London home.  World War I was raging across Europe and Novello wanted to write an inspirational, patriotic tune before joining the Royal Flying Corps.  Working together, with Ford on lyrics and Novello on music, the two wrote “Keep the Home Fires Burning,” one of the most popular songs of the war, in a half-an-hour.  By 1918, the song had sold over 2 million copies and been translated into seven languages including French, Russian, Italian, Welsh and, bizarrely enough, German.    

'Keep the Home Fires Burning' sheet music

            Lena Gilbert Brown was born in Elmira in 1870, the daughter of James L. Brown, a prosperous tobacco dealer and his wife, Antoinette.  From a young age, Lena enjoyed giving poetry readings and even once swooned after an especially epic reading of the chariot scene from Ben Hur.  She graduated Elmira College with a B.A in 1887 and an M.A. in 1892.  Shortly after graduating she married local physician Harry Hale Ford and the couple had a son, Walter.  Unfortunately, it turned out that, to quote her obituary, “Mrs. Ford’s temperament was not suited for married life” and she ended up taking Walter and going to Europe.  There, she tooled around France and Italy for a while before settling in London. 

Lena Gilbert Brown Ford

            While living in London, Ford became friends with George W. James, the editor of The Anglo-American, who encouraged her to get into journalism.  For the next 22 years, she wrote columns for his paper as well as The Irish Independent.  She also was an editor for Madame, Pears Cyclopedia and The Lady of Fashion.  In addition to her work in journalism, she was also a well know poet. 

            At the outbreak of World War I, Ford was living in London with her widowed mother, Antoinette Brown, and her son Walter.  She helped to organize a series of concerts to benefit soldiers’ hospitals and even opened her house as a convalescent home.  On March 7, 1918, Ford and her son were killed when her house was leveled by a German air raid.  They were the first American civilian casualties of the war.  Her mother was seriously wounded, but pulled to safety by a brave housemaid.  The Fords were both buried in London but Elmira College built a memorial fireplace in her honor in Hamilton Hall. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

In the Spotlight: Theatrical Makeup from the 1930s

by Erin Doane, curator

Every once in a while, I come across a box tucked away in storage that I haven’t opened in my almost four years here. Sometimes, such a box contains unexpected treasure. Recently, I found one that contained a collection of theatrical makeup used at a local theater in the early 1930s. There were greasepaint sticks and powders and even little boxes of hair. I don’t know much at all about early 20th century theater makeup so I did a little digging.

Various colors of hair for creating theatrical mustaches, beards, and sideburns
There were quite a few pieces made by E.M. Stein Cosmetic Company in the box. The narrow cardboard tubes contain sticks of greasepaint in a variety of colors from skin tones to blues, greens, and pinks. Greasepaint became widely used by stage actors once gaslights became standard in theaters in the late 19th century. The powder makeup that had been used up until that point did not look good under the new brighter lights. If actors went without makeup at all, they looked washed-out and unexpressive. Applied correctly, greasepaint made actors look more natural under gaslight and under newer electric lights.

Collection of Stein’s greasepaint sticks, early 1930s
Stick greasepaint is made of dry pigments, such as zinc oxide, ochre, and lampblack, mixed with a waxy base, like lard, tallow, beeswax, or paraffin. To apply greasepaint, actors first covered their faces with an oily base like Vaseline so that the makeup would come off more easily later. A flesh-tone base color was applied first followed by darker and lighter shades for shadows and highlights. Then color was added to the eyes and lips. Finally, loose powder was dusted all over the face to set the makeup.

Face powder was needed to set the greasepaint and keep it from smearing.
Commercial greasepaint first became available in the 1890s. The makeup moved from stage to screen in the early days of motion pictures. Traditional greasepaint, however, proved to be too heavy and did not look good on film. In 1914, Max Factor developed a lighter cream greasepaint for use in movies. His new formulation was sold commercially as Supreme Greasepaint. Max Factor is also credited with coining the term “makeup.” Before the 1930s, proper women did not wear cosmetics but as Hollywood starlets began wearing makeup in public, regular women followed suit.

Max Factor makeup, including Supreme Greasepaint, early 1930s

Color chart and instructions for applying Max Factor greasepaint, 1930s
This collection of theatrical makeup was a wonderful find. I can just imagine actors at a local theater putting on their costumes and makeup so they could step out on stage and entertain a packed house.