Saturday, November 5, 2016

A Crowning Glory of a Technical Appendix: Sanford-Humoller, Hand Looms and Min Chueh Chang

Since Halloween has been held over an extra week-and-a-half this year, how about something scary? 

Boo! It's a strong woman! (I don't think I can defend the semiotics except to say that the Bride of Frankenstein was too on the nose.)

So, three things, only related insofar as they're, well, girlie things. First, perms.

 And, this week, out of the blue, and, as far as I can tell, right back into  it, comes reference to "[the] Sanford-Humoller permanent wave." Reading Candace L. Peters' letter, printed in the 30 September 1946 Newsweek, I got the impression that Sanford (D.,) and Humoller (FL.,) had invented the permanent wave.  

This is, of course, ludicrously wrong. 

Second, a clueless young, libertarian scholar was quoted at Brad Delong's joint to the effect that invention was invented in about 1727, because some guy named John Kay invented the "flying shuttle," which was the first innovation in handloom design in, like, thousands of years; and that proves that you had to have whatever was in the waters in 1720s England to invent the idea of inventing stuff.

Third, Jason Leu and Colin Teulings have a bit on VoxEu about "Secular Stagnation, Bubbles, Fiscal Policy, and the Introduction of the Contraceptive Pill." That's something about now, but also about the "post-WWII baby boom."

Just to be clear here, since I am going to be very, very mean to Anton Howes below, whenever I think of a clueless, young, libertarian scholar, I am filled with a deep desire to invent a time machine, travel back in time twenty-five years, and run over my younger self repeatedly with a cargo skid. To the extent that I do mistreat young Anton Howes below, it is all displaced masochism. I should probably apologise to him. and the guys I made fun of for getting perms in high school. Ron, Mike, you looked great.

 First, Perms.

Internet experts wave vaguely at "WWII" as the period in which the so-called "cold," or "home" permanent wave first became practical[pdf]. Deep in the article, pioneering American electrical engineer, Arnold F. Willatt, is credited with inventing the cold wave in 1938, and this is certainly when he started selling "solutions and equipment for permanent waves," on the back of his existing San Francisco business in salon equipment, but, as we'll be seeing, the transition from the salon, "hot" perm to the home, "cold" perm is gradual, and what with the curling iron and all, the scare quotes are more justified than they sometimes are. In practice, we know that Willatt "invented" the home, cold perm because he launched a series of successful patent infringement lawsuits in the 1960s. His patents are secure; I'm more skeptical about his priority of invention, especially considering hair straightening, as see below.

  If Candace Peters (another San Franciscan) had never heard of the cold wave process before reading about Sanford-Humoller in Newsweek, she may well have good reason. The transition from home "hot wave" to "cold" is a complicated one. As far as I can tell, at least without going to the Herculean lengths of actually going to the library and looking up the previous month's run of Newsweek, this is a reference to an obscure paper about the permanent wave, formally published in Annals of Chemistry, 19:404 (1947). And by obscure I mean that the first Google search return to give a bibliographic cite is right above the entry for my last blog article, and far below this awesome and personal history of the home perm, which, being British, isn't impelled to pretend that Arnold F. Willatt invented it. (Although it does lean in the direction of the RAF. Maybe it had something to do with fabric doping?) So I wouldn't be holding my breath for Sanford, D., and Humoller, FL.'s Nobel, if I were you. 

Scientifically speaking, the invention of the permanent wave is complicated by the fact that human hair is only different from wool to varying extents across phenotypes, and textile science has a long and honourable history of chemically and physically torturing wool in the service of the cruellest of the gods and goddesses of fashion. These techniques were naturally shared with wig makers, who were free to use scorching heat and caustic chemicals on their raw material, free of any concern for the health of nearby scalps. The Wiki article says that Karl Nessler, the German pioneer of the salon permanent wave, prepared his wife's hair for his initial public demonstration with a solution of cow's urine and water, which only sounds bizarre until you've done a bit in the history of textile treatments and learned about the general, early industrial use  naturally available, organic acids and alkalis. (That's sour milk and urine, translated into non-euphemism.) 

It also says that the demonstration was only a partial sucecss, due to Nessler burning his wife's hair off and inflicting scalp burns. 

Truly is it said that one must be prepared to suffer third degree burns and electrocution for beauty.
Nothing daunted, Nessler patented his "Hair Curler" in the United Kingdom in 1909, 1912 and 1914, toured the world, sold to royalty; and finally moved to the United States in 1919. In America, he balanced his time between opening a chain of five, apparently fairly massive salons (since he had a total of 500 employees) spread across the United States, and conducting lawsuits against rival salons using "his" equipment. (The argument being that they had imitated the machines he originally used in London. Notably, however, he never sued in Britain under his British patents.) 

Meanwhile, back in London, a hairdresser and an electrical --handyman, I guess?) combined to develop two lines of salon equipment. That's the Calvete, in the illustration above. Calvete and Suter were able to draw on WWI experience with the generalisation of electrical motors and heating equipment in industry to produce a self-contained unit that only needed to be plugged in. Later refinements included niceties like circuit breakers, but certainly not the aggressive defence of highly generalised patents, since multiple independent lines of equipment appeared that used a combination of wetting (or oiling) and heating to "partially break down" the keratin molecules that form the sheath of the hair fibre and cause them to bend. 

The use of heat (and water) to produce a chemical change obviously invited direct chemical application, as Nessler had intuited from his first experiments. Calvette, as a man who had heard of electrical engineering, naturally turned to science, hiring a chemist named J. Bari-Woolls. The author of the Wikipedia article that is the source of all the information here really, really likes the second (1938) edition of Bari-Woolls' Manual of the Permanent Waver, although you'd think that the literature had developed a bit in the last eighty years.  Letters, Notes and Answers describes Mr. Bari-Woolls as an "expert hairdresser" in 1939, and he appears as the editor of at least one collection of cosmetological papers published in 1936. He is also described in 1939 as an expert on the older, even more obscure history of hair dyes. 

Speaking of obscure, the Wiki starts out with a throwaway reference to chemical hair straightening (as opposed to ironing the naps out at home in some kind of particularly heavy-handed cosmetological analogy for internalised racism.)

The problem is the trying too hard.

Chemical hair straightening was invented by Renaud Whittington. There. Now you know as much as the Internet. The line might be lifted from a cosmetological textbook?   

The house that the Madam C. J. Walker Patent Straightening Brush built. By Jim.henderson - Own work, CC BY 4.0,
The reason for mystery here is obvious enough. The intersection of the set of potential customers for home hair-straightening treatments, and the set of attention-seeking people contains --very few people. Astonishingly enough, the hair-straightening industry in the New York area is dominated by "Japanese" and "Brazilian" methods, so-called because they were imported from those countries. Japanese customers developed a curious enthusiasm for flattening out natural waves and curls in their hair sometime in, oh, I want to say, the late 1950s? Early 1960s? It was a thing that happened, anyway. 

So who invented chemical hair straightening, and the home, "cold" permanent wave? Some people, including Renaud Whittington. When? At some point. In the, you know, those days. Or in 1938, by one electrical engineer in San Francisco, who never heard of Renaud Whittington. Or, possibly, disguised himself as "Renaud Whittington" when he went out at night to fight crime. 

 I don't know, and no-one's telling.  The ladies, you know, won't even come clean about whether that's their natural hair colour. Those girls. They're just so vain. Or, to stop being arch and silly, the key point here is that hair straightening is a crucial cosmetological resource of would be racial passers. Sociology has a weak grasp of how many Black Americans pass as White, both because people are reticent to admit to passing, and because research into this subject is heavilly taboo in the United States. 

As far as I know, there is no research into the question of Native Americans passing as White in Canada, something that would also be simplified by a good permanent wave. And this, again, would immediately give away the client's ethnic identity to a skilled salon operator, albeit that it would be impossible to determine whether the client were Native American or East Asian from hair texture alone. 

It might also be observed that this is scarcely a North American situation alone. The quintessential fictional representation of the propertied class in Nineteenth Century England is Jane Austen's novels, and the West Indian connections of both Austen's characters and the Austen family itself are now a common subject of the critical literature. As far as I know, that literature focusses on the role of colonialism rather than the louche question of whether any elite British marriages made in the West Indies might have involved persons "jumping the fence," in Warren Harding's immortal phrase. But, come on: we're talking about centuries of contact here!

Second, Inventing invention: The Loom in 1727

Human hair is a fibre. Sometimes it is even woven on a handloom. Explanations are perhaps in order. This is a loom. It is for weaving.

  Specifically, it is a frame loom, already strung. Its function should be immediately obvious, and it probably seems pretty crude in comparison with

this, which is a "handloom" being operated with a "flying shuttle." Not that you can tell anything about that from the demonstration. Step away a bit and you'll bet a better view of what a handloom is. Here's a handloom from an Indian factory.


This is what is described on Amazon as a "table loom," suitable for a single hobbyist. ($550USD.) 
I'm no expert on loom design, but it doesn't look like it's built to support "150 picks a minute," which is what the loom in the video is supposed to be doing. It's just not robust enough, and, more to the point, it isn't designed to produce woven cloth in quantity. There are a lot of considerations going into designing a loom, and operating speed is only one of them. One of the biggest sectors of the hand loom hobby seems to be kimono making, which seems awfully specialised to me, but the Japanese are a funny people, so what can I say? 

Buy here. 238,000 yen. shipping not included, I think.
Inagaki Koryu Japanese Manual Weaving Supplies describes this as a Small, Frame-style Kimono Bench Handloom. IK particularly emphasises the compactness of this design and its ease of dissembly, perfect for those who lack workshop space.The full ad, linked to above, features five aspects of the design that IK thinks might lead you to buy this loom, but I am not going to go through all five in any more detail than to tell you that the shuttle storage box is built right in, for example. 

I am going to show you this, however:

 This is the "warp beam [which] can be placed on the floor using wooden pegs to take in the completed warp. The pegs can be removed if necessary. The square warp beam can be changed to an octagonal one for a Yen 3,150 increase in price."

If you know what that means, or can visualise where the warp beam goes in the assembled loom above, you know far more about looms than Anton Howes or me. All I want to bring out  is that the octagonal warp beam costs about one percent more than the square beam that comes with the loom at list price. Assuming that markets are efficient, the price accurately signals the fact that a Small, Frame-style Kimono Bench Handloom with an octagonal warp beam is about one percent better than a Small, Frame-style Kimono Bench Handloom with a square warp beam.

An octagonal warp beam, is, compared with a square warp beam, an innovation, as I understand this word to be used in the English language.

Why does this matter? I'm not going to press the quality of the research of this post very far, but we are talking history of technology here, so we want to get our facts right, and it is very, very easy to find out more about  a fellow who invented the flying shuttle in 1727 or 1733 or thereabouts, and thereby so changed the handloom that everything afterwards is post-John Kay, and everything before is pre-John Kay, and, since the loom had been around for thousands of years by that point, shows that human nature had changed in the 1720s or thereabouts to make inventing possible.

By that, I mean, we can look at Mr. Kay's Wikipedia page!

So let's look: "John Kay was born [in] 1704 in . . . Lancashire. His yeoman farmer father, Robert, owned [an] estate in Walmersley . . . . Robert died before John was born, leaving Park House to his eldest son. As Robert's fifth son (out of ten), John was bequeathed £40 (at age 21) and an education until the age of 14. . . " So, right away, we know that Mr. Kay was born into a very successful family. Given the very large family, it is likely that the Kays informally adopted the children of clients, and this is where I link to that scene from The Godfather that explains how  patron-client relationships with "godfathers" work. Or, I don't. You know what I'm talking about. Mr/ Kay was rich, and the house was named, opening up easy avenues for online research. John Kay had an impressive statue in Bury, erected by subscription a century after his times, and this has been the focus for antiquarians who have written about the Kay family with a focus on John. (Also, a grandson became a soldier of fortune/troublemaker/irresponsible scribbler, so there are a lot of family stories of dubious accuracy from his pen. Perhaps more importantly, the Lancashire Weavers' Riot of 1826 focussed the attention of the worthies of Manchester on the industrial troubles and framebreaking episodes of earlier times, of which, again, more below.

Mr. Kay himself passed so-little remarked in his own time that his date of death is not know, although, to be fair, he'd long since taken up residence in Paris, and news percoalted home slowly. If you want to know more about what turns out to be Baldingstone House on the Parke Estate in the town of Bury near (make of this what you will) Shuttleworth, you end up following the life of Richard Kay, a controversialist more suited to the taste of the times, him being a radical leftist Anglican clergyman and all. (Republics, militias, down with papists and Arminians [for Arminians? It's so confusing] etc.)

Source: The Kays seem to have done very well out of the confiscation of Royalist estates during the Civil War, but we don't talk about that now that the Troubles are over and the King is back and gone again. 

This was a new house in John's time, probably built less than twenty years before his birth. I'm not going to speculate on what this particular house might have needed all that space for, but I am going to point out that Lancashire weavers often lived in houses not significantly less McMansion-y, as they needed the space (and windows) for loom workshops. I point this out mainly to underline the fact that weaving families of the locale and era were upper-middle-class. The Kays, however, were uppper class, earning from rents, and so did not have to ply the weaving trade.

At least, the first three or four sons. John, we are told, was apprenticed, pro forma, to a reed maker. (A reed is part of a handloom). I say pro forma because the family history says that he returned home after a month, saying that he had mastered the trade, which is hard to take seriously; but the master-apprentice relationship does not appear to have broken down, since John promptly took up selling metal reeds. He continued to fiddle with weaving innovations until, in 1733, he patented a "wheeled shuttle." This patent would be retrospectively fitted to a revised patent of 1735 describing the flying shuttle.  "This was to be one of his difficulties in the coming patent disputes." In 1738, Kay, and partners, began to launch patent infringement lawsuits. Rather than pay, other "manufacturers" formed "Shuttle Clubs." Since the "manufacturers" of the day would have been home businesses, I am going to guess that they were pooling their funds to fight lawsuits. Finally, in 1747, after being involved in at least one riot, Kay went to France, where the government had a policy of "supporting inventors." In practice, this meant that he received a lump payment and pension in return for granting the state the right to license the invention in Normandy --No arrangement could be made in the South, where everyone was free to use the flying shuttle as they willed. He continued to press for recognition of his patent in the United Kingdom, and in 1756 the Royal Society of Arts and Inventions specifically rejected his claimed patent, indicating that it could find no expert who could explain what made the flying shuttle unique and so patentable.

I am not going to say that John Kay was a patent troll, although I think the facts point in that direction. Instead, I am going to make a narrower point. The little-documented riots of the early 1740s seem to have risen out of the "Shuttle Clubs." The claim later made is that the advantage of the flying shuttle is that the master weaver can quickly return his shuttle. Before that, broadloom weavers needed to have someone standing off to the side to throw the shuttle back. So the flying shuttle doubles productivity (some sources find doubling to be inadequate, and say "quadrupling," instead, presumably on the grounds that the flying shuttle also speeds up the weaver's work.) So then all the weavers rioted because they couldn't wait any longer to be Luddites. 

Of course, all of this is pretty trivial when we look at the actual design of looms through the ages and notice that variation in design has to do with i) Type of fibre used; ii) physical space available; iii) quality of building materials; iv) type of output product required. As the Wikipedia article notes, faster weaving put more strain on spinning. It could be added that it would require the production of more fibre, too. And then there is the market. More people or institutions have to buy the product. Finally, there is the nature of the product. Bolts of cloth sized to five feet width are a specialised product. The most obvious market for them is canvas for sailcloth and other industrial purposes, and while sailcloth and canvas has to be strong and consistent, it does not have to be embroidered in complex patterns.

A village-made loom. The weaver is pulling the shuttle out with her right hand. Copyright asserted for Joan Koster, 1979. It's a pit loom because the community can't afford furniture, and doesn't need it because the water table is low enough that you can sit in a hole in the ground. Details, details, details!

As it happens, broad looms were a pretty uncommon machine in the early 1700s because of the specialised product they produced, but there were narrower looms that required two operators. The second operator (traditionally the "drawboy") physically manipulated the threads using a gizmo that, like most of the gizmos I mention here, is probably not as complicated as it seems to be when people try to describe it., Also, with even more specialisation, you get broad drawlooms, for making things like drapes.

This is probably one of those looms. I found the image by searching for "hand looms," although I think it might actually be a "table loom" than a "handloom." It's suitable for making broad cloth, it has two operators, and they have to do something with the shuttle, even if I have no idea what. If this is a draw loom, her main job is to "lift threads" connecting to the second set of "harnesses" on the second "shaft" to form "weaving sheds," which results in repeat patterns. (Hey, that part I actually understand!) 

What should at least be clear from this image that there are, indeed, two operators, but those operators do different jobs, at least insofar as one of those jobs is gendered female. Leaving everything else petaining to skillsets and upper body strength aside, that alone means that putting her in place of the guy to her left on another handloom is not (socially) "doubling productivity," because she will only be paid 70% as much as the man she replaces. At best. You want to start a riot in a weaving town? Be a putting out agent, who brings thread to the weaver's door and then pays the agreed added-value when the weaver returns it at the door as finished cloth. Explain that you want the household to invest in a second loom so that they can take twice as much thread as before at the same price. Explain that you will be happy to pay 170% more, because with the new flying shuttle, that's all the work will be worth. 

Conclusions? That Kay may well have been a patent troll; that the story about how the flying shuttle doubled productivity is dubious; and, perhaps most importantly, that there were any number of design variations in looms in 1733 that qualify as "innovations." That is, they made a particular loom more efficient at some aspect of the task that was limiting the weavers. If I had to guess, the flying shuttle came into use in the United Kingdom in the middle of the Eighteenth Century because of demand for sailcloth --but that's just me riding my hobbyhorse, so take it with a grain of salt. 

III. Secular Stagnation and the Pill

Speaking of hobby horses, do you know why the world is facing low inflation and low economic growth right now? It's the Pill, dummy! You see, as we all know, natural population growth has staggered to a stop in the developing world. In some places, like Japan, it is already negative. Other countries have more robust immigration and perhaps also more room for gains in average life expectancy, and so still have weak population growth --but since this is concentrated in older cohorts, it is also not very productive. (And has stubbornly weak demand, I would add, but what do I know, I only work in a grocery store under an old folks home.) 

And why? Because in 1967 or so, we got the Pill, and ever since we've been having consequence-free, babyless sex! 

So, uhm, yeah. This post leads off with the name of Min Chueh Chang (Pinyin: Zhang Mingjue), the chemist who, of all the names in the  history of the combined oral contraceptive, probably has the best claim to be its "inventor." In reality, Andriy Stynhach first published in the late 1930s on the ovulation-depressing effects of sex hormones, a mechanism that might have already been suspected on the grounds of that this is what the human body already does during pregnancy.  Russell Marker, of Pennsylvania State, developed a route to mass synthesis from "inedible Mexican yams [weird]" in 1939, and Planned Parenthood threw in in 1951. Frankly, I think that the science takes a back seat (at best) to Margaret Sanger's social advocacy. 

Thanks to these efforts, the contraceptive pill reached the world. At one extreme, it was made available in British family health clinics to treat menstrual disorders in married women in 1957. At the other, Japanese women were finally granted access in the Nineties. But I think that it is fair to take the Brothers-in-Law's chronology at face value. The Pill "happened" in the Sixties. And, indeed, the British birth rate did begin to decline to 1964 --and not just in Britain, either. [pdf of Excel spreadsheet.]  

On the other hand. . .Here's a graphic illustrating a BBC news article arguing that Britain's "real baby boom" was a one-year event in 1920.  

This is part of a British pushback on the idea that Britain had a  postwar "baby boom," similar to the one in the United States, and, as far as it goes, that pushback is entirely appropriate. American and British birthrates began to rise in synchronisation during the war years, and hit a peak in the year after the war. The similarity to events in the 1920s left British experts of the time sanguine that the trend would not be continued. It was just some kind of transient, wartime phenonemena. Looking back from today, those experts were clearly right. The birthrate did settle back down. Looking forward from 1946 from the standpoint of the social planner, however, they were quite wrong. The British birth rate did not settle back to its 1930s lows. The fall off (which also happened in Canada) is notable, and so is the recovery of the late 1950s, also the peak period for births in the United States.

I'm going to suggest something radical here. "Planned Parenthood" wasn't an aspirational title. Margaret Sanger's operation had a number of practical suggestions for limiting the pregnancy rate. Perhaps they even worked! If only we had some non-fertility rate information about how families experienced this period of British history! 

 Why, how strange. Unemployment seems to influence fertility! It's like people planned their family sizes in accordance with a rational assessment of the way the world was going. It's like, and I hesitate to be quite so radically nuts, they're still doing that, only now with the Pill. 

If that's the case, and, again, I'm just being blue sky and crazy here, maybe the current low birth rate isn't because of an invention. Maybe it's a result of policy.  

Weaving It Together

So maybe I should have started by mocking Anton Howes rather than by talking about the "invention" of the home perm. That being said, it will not be news to any regular reader of this blog that we have to distinguish the patent troll from the authentic inventor. In the early 1920s, there was a demand for a perm, while the consumer electrics and chemical industries were developing rapidly. Once firms in these sectors began to market to the large and diffuse service industry of hair professionals, "the perm" quickly began to emerge, everywhere and nowhere, not least because its most loyal customers had the least to say about their grooming. The 1946 notice in Newsweek of an article in Annals of Chemistry is a very rare example of the Serious World of Man Talk paying any attention to the fripperies of female vanity; even then, Newsweek felt the need to balance a letter noticing the article and praising it with another suggesting that any publicity given to such matters was an unacceptable distraction from important stuff. No wonder we cannot sort out the inventors of perms and hair straightening methods!

Next we have a story about looms. In general, looms are bound up in the world of fashion, an industry so alien to the norms of Progress-Innovation-Free-Exercise-of-Property-Rights that it doesn't even have patents. Today's exception, the "flying shuttle," is, I suggest, just more patent trolling. But even if it weren't, it has to be clear that there are thousands of possible "innovations" in the design of the basic loom, that, historically, they were constantly being made --invented and reinvented, if you will-- depending on whether lumber was expensive or cheap, construction labour abundant or dear, natural light dependable, or not, and to make cloth to varying lengths, varying widths, and of varying materials for numerous purposes. Singling out one invention, and dating the beginning of innovation itself, from that one invention, even if real, just seems --shallow. Like the need to have an opinion on the subject is more important than the obligation to research it.

Finally, we have a story about how the 1960s fertility peak and its calamitous end in 1965ff. I will admit that I have a huge axe to grind, here. I was born in 1964, and entered the history graduate programme at the University of Toronto at the peak of its greatest enrollment ever. To its credit, or shame, the Department admitted everyone who was qualified. After us, however, the steady decline in the number of young people presented the awkward circumstance of too many would-be educators to too few students. 

And the crash was all, mind you, due to an exogenous invention: the Pill. Never mind that the crash was most severe in Japan, where women couldn't even get the Pill. Never mind problems of timing, which we can wave away by reference to market penetration. My axe --my anger, comes from the deepening suspicion that this attribution of responsibility to exogenous technological innovation is a way of ducking responsibility. 

In short: thanks, guys. By abandoning full employment, you ruined my life. And by choosing to do your own history of technology instead of listening to the professionals you trained at great public expense and then threw away, you are leaving yourself open to the greatest generation of patent trolls ever, who will suck the lifeblood of the economy until you wake up and head over to the "Adam Smith Institute" with torches and pitchforks.

Thanks, thanks, I'll be here indefinitely. Try the veal!

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