Category Archives: 1930s

George Orwell writes from Marrakesh about chickens and hens

Wednesday 12th October 1938: George Orwell writes to Jack Common who was looking after his cottage:

‘I hope the hens have begun laying. Some of them have by this time, I expect, at any rate they ought to.

We’ve bought the hens for our house, which we’re moving into on Saturday. The hens in this country are miserable little things like the Indian ones, about the size of bantams, and what is regarded as a good laying hen, i.e. it lays once a fortnight, costs less than a shilling. They ought to cost about 6 pence, but at this time of year the price goes up because after Yom Kippur every Jew, of whom there are 13,000 in this town, eats the whole fowl to recompense him for the strain of fasting 12 hours.’ 

I think I would be very happy to be offered a British chicken!

In writing this I have discovered something new (to me) about George Orwell – he was actually named Eric Arthur Blair!

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Arresting the first drunk driver and the result

It was on Friday 10th September 1897 that a London cabdriver named George Smith drove his taxi into a building and became the first person in Britain to be arrested for drunk driving. He pleaded guilty and was fined 25 shillings. The checking police officers said they ‘knew that Smith was drunk because he acted drunk’ – he had driven that cab into a wall, after all and ‘because he said he was!’

What they lacked, though, was a scientific way to prove someone was too intoxicated to drive, even if he or she wouldn’t admit it.  It wasn’t long before blood tests were introduced – but those were messy and needed to be performed by a doctor.  Then there were urine tests – but those were even messier, not to mention unreliable and expensive.

It was in 1931 that Rolla Neil Harger, a toxicologist at Indiana University in the USA, came up with a solution – a breathalyzer device he called the ‘Drunkometer’. It was simple – all the suspected drinker had to do was blow into a balloon!  The tester would then attached the balloon to a tube filled with a purple fluid – a mix of Potassium Permanganate and Sulphuric Acid – and release the air into the tube.  Any alcohol on a person’s breath would change the colour of the fluid from purple to yellow – and the quicker the change, the drunker the person!

In 1938 Rolla Harger was one of the five people chosen to be on the subcommittee of the National Safety Council that drafted the model legislation that set the blood alcohol content for driving under the influence.  He was awarded the patent in 1936.

What’s the point of this new stuff?

How many times have we asked this question of ourselves? 

It may well have been said many times in a mining venture that began life in 1902 as a mining company.  The five founders had a very simple plan – they wanted to harvest a mineral known as corundum from a mine called Crystal Bay.   Their company was named ‘The Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company.’  They became successful and moved on to other projects and products – and their name became easier to recall  – it was 3M and it was on this day – Monday 8th September 1930 – that they launched a new product to the world.  It was a transparent tape that was sticky on one side and smooth on the other.  They called the product Scotch Tape and its job was to seal Cellophane.

In 1937 UK manufacturers started to make a similar product and they called it Sellotape.  Just how did we cope without it?

New books at sensible prices

It was on Tuesday 30th July 1935 that book publishers Bodley Head published their first ten paperback books.  They called the publication Penguin and each book cost six pence (6d) – hardcover books were priced at seven (7/-) or eight (8/-) shillings each,

These 10 books revolutionized publishing – and the buying of books. Within a year, Penguin had sold 3 million paperbacks and the sceptics – and there were many – had been proved wrong.  The success was not totally based on price but also design. Edward Young was responsible for the first 10 covers and those thick bands of colour, and the use of the Gill Sans-Serif Bold font have become part of design history. The 10 books included several writers who are still well known today and others like of Beverley Nichols, Mary Webb, E H Young and Susan Ertz receive little attention today.

In 1985, Penguin reprinted its 10 original trendsetting books as a set to mark their 50th anniversary – these were/are:

William by E H Young   /   Ariel by Andre Maurois   /   Poet’s Pub by Eric Linklater

Gone to Earth by Mary Webb   /   Madame Claire by Susan Ertz

Carnival by Compton Mackenzie   /   Twenty-Five by Beverley Nichols

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy L Sayers

The ‘Speaking Clock’ speaks!

It was on this day – Friday 24th July 1936 – that a speaking clock service was first introduced in Britain.  The voice was that of London telephonist Ethel Jane Cain, who had won a prize of 10 guineas in a competition to find the right voice. Her voice was recorded optically onto  glass disks in a similar way to a film soundtrack. You made use of the service by dialing the letters TIM (846) on a dial telephone.

As a result the service was often colloquially – and continuously referred to as “Tim”.