A Travellerspoint blog

Day 81 (11.21.07) - Dover Museums (Photo's Added)

We visited the Biggs, Victrola and Small Town museums in Dover, drove back to the coast (the long way), and enjoyed more beaches.

sunny 67 °F

Logistics:

Miles Driven - 76 (Not in a circle for a change!)
Weather - Spectacular (Sunny, Warm, 70 F)
Camped at Rehoboth State Park along the Delaware Seashore

Narrative:

It's remarkable what a beautiful day or two can do for morale! The sky was blue, sunshine abounds, warm & pleasant, just spectacular. We probably should have just spent the day in a park just sitting in the grass and enjoying the sun, but are both feeling the need to move on so decided to finish visiting the museums in Dover and head to Virginia. We did at least see a rose in bloom, might seem odd to post a picture of a rose on a travel blog - but to see one this nice near the end of November is kind of cheery:

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First, we went to the Visitor's Center in downtown Dover. This is in the same building as the Biggs Museum of American Art. In fact there are several museums in downtown Dover, some were closed because it was the day before Thanksgiving. Still, we managed to find enough open to kill most of the day. If you're interested, you can check them out online at Dover Museums.

The Biggs Museum had a special exhibit on Christmas Cards for the holiday season. This is widely recognized as the first commercially printed Christmas Card. It was printed in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole, designed by John Horsley. When it was first published, it was criticized for showing a family drinking. I guess some things never change, we're lucky it didn't scare people away from printing more Christmas Cards (for me at least, I still like them).

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The Biggs Museum also has some pretty good exhibits of early American furniture and silver. I especially liked these two items, both made in Philadelphia in the early 1800's. The first is a folding card table with brass inlay (very nice), the second a Pianoforte by Loud & Bro's. I am still amazed at the high quality products made by American shops only 200 years after the first colonists landed, and still only with hand tools!

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The museum also had this lovely iron staircase, which you could use even though it was part of their exhibits.

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We did really miss an opportunity here however. As it was the day before Thanksgiving, most people were preparing for the holiday and we pretty much had the museum to ourselves. A very nice staff lady offered to show us around the art exhibits and we declined. Neither Mom nor I are great art connoisseurs and were both feeling a little pressed to finish up in Delaware and head south again, but we probably could have learned some interesting things about art and learned to appreciate it a little more. If I should be so lucky as to get another offer to tour a museum with an expert, I'll try to be a little more receptive.

However we didn't take advantage of her offer and moved on to the Johnson Victrola Museum. This was a few blocks from the visitors center, but they had given us a map and directions so it wasn't hard to find. This had been our initial target for today since we'd seen it in one of the tourist brochures and thought it looked interesting.

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Dottie met us at the door and was our guide for the first floor of the Museum. She explained the history of the Victrola company and demonstrated some of the technology. Thomas Edison invented the 'talking machine' in 1878. He envisioned it as a business tool and left the development and manufacture primarily to other people so his group could focus on the light bulb. When he created the first phonograph, it was all acoustic and mechanical - there were no electrical components at all, no motor, no microphone, no loudspeakers. His earliest model used a tinfoil coated cylinder to record a variable wave (based on acoustic sound waves). The cylinder was turned by a hand crank, so it was not possible to play back the 'record' at exactly the same speed it was recorded.

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Emile Berliner was an inventor who started tinkering with Edison's 'talking machine'. He developed the first flat record and formed the Berliner Gramophone Company in Philadelphia in 1895. Eldridge R. Johnson had grown up near Dover and became a machinist after his parents were told he wasn't smart enough to go to college. By 1894 he was an experienced mechanic and owned his own company. The Berliner Gramophone Company came to him for parts for their machines and he began to tinker with the problem of turning the disks at a constant rate. E.R. Johnson developed the spring wound motor and governor, which kept the record & playback speeds at a constant rate. This improved the quality of sound recording so much, that in 1985 E. R. Johnson was awarded a "Grammy" (get it? Gramophone => Grammy?) for transforming the gramophone "... from a scientific toy to a commercial article of great value".

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Johnson also became a partner in the Berliner Gramophone Company and in 1901 reformed it as the Victrola Talking Machine Company, of which he was the president. Edison's company continued to manufacture phonograph's with the cylinder, but it was the flat disks invented by Berliner and the spring wound motor by Johnson that created a practical music player for common homes everywhere.

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In order to translate a wavy groove on a record to sound waves, the needle pressed against a device called a 'reproducer'. At first, these were made out of mica, but later they used aluminum. Here are some examples of reproducer parts.

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The reproducer created sound waves, but very small ones. The sound was magnified by a horn. This produced only one volumn output - so if you wanted a quieter sound, you could put a sock in the horn - the source of our phrase 'Put a sock in it'. Also before you played the record, of course you needed to wind up the spring that made the record turn, the source of the phrase 'All wound up'.

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It wasn't just playing records that had to be done with acoustics and mechanical methods, recordings were also all mechanical. The Victrola company did not start using microphones to make records until the 1920's. Since sound waves alone were used to drive the needle to make the recording, musicians had to gather closely by a big horn used to capture the sound. This is a picture from a 1910 recording session by the Victor Salon Orchestra.

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There were advances of course. Victor started hiding the horn inside the case. This not only kept dust off, it also allowed the listener to close the doors if they wanted the music a little quieter.

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Later as radio's became more popular, Victor also produced models with the radio inside the same box as the Gramophone. This model shows the vacuum tubes on the surface, since they needed to be frequently replaced.

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The other tour guide at the museum, Wes, was especially proud of this model, similar to the one in the White House Music Room in 1910, when William Taft was President.

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Upstairs there was a nice display of portable gramophones. These wouldn't have produced much volume of course but were quite interesting.

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Finally, the most popular display at the Museum is of Nipper. Nipper was the dog used in the painting Victor used for it's logo for many years and called it "His Masters Voice". It has proven to be one of the most successful marketing logo's ever.

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In 1926, the RCA company bought Victor and E. R. Johnson retired. His son wrote that while he did make technical contributions to the gramophone, his major contribution was running a successful business that manufactured and sold a quality product to people at an affordable price. For a man who was considered not smart enough for college, he retired a very weathly and successful man.

Just across the parking lot from the Johnson Victrola Museum is the Museum of Small Town Life. This has exhibits similar to other museums we've seen, but since we were right there we went ahead and checked it out. The building looks like a church, but has never been one - it was built as an extra building for a church for meetings or whatever they needed, but not for the services.

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Inside, they have set up exhibits to feature the small shops and businesses that were essential to most small towns around 1900. Since many of these are similar to other's we've already posted, I'll just lay out the thumbnails below and you can click and enlarge those you wish.

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One interesting thing to note is that the drugstore window had two round glass bottles of green and red colored water. These were visual symbols for a drugstore, similar to the barbershop pole. In 1900, there were still quite a few people who couldn't read, so visual symbols helped people recognize what shops were where when they came to town.

There was also a print shop in many small towns. Again, this one was similar to others we've seen, but the printing press in this one was much more effecient (e.g. faster) than the one in Mystic Seaport, so thought I'd put this up here also. Kae is demonstrating how it worked for us (they still use this to print fliers for the museum complex).

Here is an example of how they had to print pictures at the turn of the century. This is an etching, it was made in reverse (all letters, numbers, etc. always were laid out in reverse so they'd print correctly). Etchings and carvings were expensive, so printers reused them whenever possible.

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Just visiting these museums took us into the middle afternoon, so after another unplanned route change, we headed back to the coast to head south into Virginia. We did stop by an interesting looking carriage museum in Georgetown but the volunteers were all leaving early for the holiday, so all we could do was walk around and look in the windows. We didn't stay there long at least.

I thought (foolishly) that I could make it from Dover, Delaware to Wilmington, Virginia in a couple of hours. Originally, I'd been planning to take the bridge across to Washington D.C., then head south on the freeways. However, the coastal route looked like it would be more scenic and with Wednesday afternoon being the start of the Thanksgiving traffic, I thought we might as well skip the freeways.

We did make it to the coast along the Delaware Seashore State Park - very lovely if you ever get a chance to visit it. On the east side is the Atlantic Ocean, and miles and miles of sandy beaches. On the west side is Rehoboth Bay, also with plenty of sandy beaches. However, the contrast between the beaches on the two sides of the narrow sand bar is quite remarkable - not surprising, but interesting.

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We crossed a bridge at the center of the bay and found a state park campground just as it was getting dusk. It cost just as much as a private campground, but also had water and electric and water views, so would be hard to beat. For the night before Thanksgiving, there were quite a few RV's and Trailers in the campground. There were also a lot of fishermen using the jetty and in boats in the channel. Did we like it? 'Nuff said:

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Posted by jl98584 19:40 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel

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Comments

Thanks for your calls on T day. I'm glad Mom made it to Chincoteague Island and got to see the wild horses. Again with the good luck, you were there on the one week of the year that back road was open! Enjoy!

by drque

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