Wednesday, March 30, 2011


The other day I saw a glitch in book review which reminded me of a recent post on the diminishing role of editors newsrooms and publishing houses. Every day we see evidence of the mistakes made by editors too rushed to give full attention to their work and, more rarely, we see — when they've time enough — how much they're able to contribute to the success of a piece of writing.

The glitch was either a typo or the result of some other bit of inattention. It appears in Geoffrey Nunberg's review of The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick. The review appeared in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago. It's James Gleick’s History of Information and in it Nunberg summarizes a section of the book on a kind of shorthand used by people sending telegrams: "frugal customers hit on the expedient of using economical abbreviations for common messages, like 'gmlet' for 'give my love to' — texting avant la lettre." The mistake is the use of gmlet where gmlt is intended. Gleick is talking about the compressed style that came to be called telegraphese. He quotes Alfred Vail, Morse's partner in inventing the telegraph. Vail said telegraph users could make their communications private as well as compressed by using a simple system:

{The American electro magnetic telegraph, with the reports of Congress, and a description of all telegraphs known, employing electricity or galvanism by Alfred Vail (Lea & Blanchard, 1845)}

Vail's method of compression reminded me of a long-ago friend who worked at the home office of an international conglomerate. Her job was to key messages into a Teletype machine for overseas transmission. The TT machine, or Telex, is a mechanical device for converting keyboarded text into a variation of Morse code. Because this code is limited to 64 characters or codes, the Telex has a very simplistic keyboard — 32 keys, giving UPPER CASE LETTERS, numbers 0-9, some symbols, a spacebar, and the switch (two shift keys) from letters to numbers/symbols and back.

Teletype operators would communicate with each other as well as preparing and sending their business messages. They'd do this using a compressed lingo like Vail's gmlt. The only one I remember is BIBI, used to say goodbye to the receiving operator. (As I said, TTs output only upper case letters.) A brief web scan turns up a few more: TX = thanks and TKSVM = thanks very much; CUL = see you later (this could be rendered as BCNU. In Britspeak LO = hullo, GA OM = go ahead old man, and TTFN = ta ta for now. I got these from a discussion on the origins of internet shorthand.

When punching the keys, the operator simultaneously generates both typed output on a roll of paper 8.5 inches wide and hole-punched output on a roll of 1.5-inch paper tape. It's the holes in the paper tape that get translated into the signal which is then transmitted to another TT machine, possibly one half way around the globe. The TT operator had to be both quick and accurate: quick because telex transmissions were high priority, expensive communications, and accurate because, although it might be possible in theory, in practice you didn't correct a hole-punched tape.

This is the Model 28 TT used in newspapers, large businesses, and government offices from the end of World War II up to the mid-1960s.

{Model 28-ASR; source:}

You can hear what a Model 28 sounds like in this mp3 from sounddogs:

This is the Model 35 which replaced it. You can see the tape output in this photo.

{Model 35-ASR; source:}

This is the Model 33 of about the same vintage as the 35-ASR. Though less robust, it was cheaper and more compact than the 35 and was thus found in smaller businesses and government agencies. When it came out in the mid-1960s mainframe operators noted that its paper tape output could be used to prepare computer code. Thereafter you'd often see versions of this machine in the computer operation centers. This is the TT model that's most familiar to people my age.


This shows the keys on the Model 33. By counting the keys you can tell there's a new larger character set in use. The larger set became possible in 1963 when the code was upgraded from the International Telegraphy Alphabet developed in the 1930s to a new set called the American Standard Code for Information Interchange — encoding was expanded from the 5-bit format that had been used since the 19th century to a new 7-bit one. (Since the tape was wide enough to accommodate an 8th bit,provision was made for use of an optional check digit. Hence ASCII is usually thought of as 8-bit code.) The ASCII set included control characters for use by computer operators as well as ones useful in TT transmissions. If you look at the key caps you can see these special codes. The "rubout" key was the TT's "delete" key; it instructed the TT to ignore the previous line of tape punches. Though it might have allowed for use of lowercase letters, the TT version of ASCII remained all caps.


Some sources:


SMS language




Baudot code


Teletype ASR-28


The electric telegraph

The New Shorthand - OMG! DYKWIM?

New Online Shorthand

Teletype Corporation - Teletype Model 28 Page Printer


The telegraph instructor by George M. Dodge, 1901

92 Code

Over to you: Telex messaging, Geiger counters and statistics

The origins of 'Net shorthand

ASR 33 (Automatic Send/Receive)

Torrey Pines Software museum on the TP software site

Monday, March 28, 2011


Four of my great-grandfather's friends participated in the Revolutions of 1848 before emigrating to America. Like him, they contributed to the well-being of New York and their adopted country during the second half of the nineteenth century. Unlike him, they married women who became prominent citizens themselves. I've written about these things in three previous blog posts.[1]

My great-grandmother, in contrast to the other four wives, was not a well-known personage. Her obituary in the Brooklyn Eagle says she was quiet and retiring, a home-maker and helpmeet. Her name appeared in newspaper reports when she sailed with her husband on trips to Germany, visited the White House, participated in the wedding of a child, or celebrated a significant anniversary. Otherwise she was quite invisible. Her husband mentioned her only once in his extensive writings.[2] The obit speaks of the support she gave her husband and the small family she raised with him, but its main focus of the is the evolution of the area in which the family's home was located from rural countryside to a tangle of apartment buildings and railroad yards.

{Obituary, Hannah Eliza Windmuller, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 3, 1929}

Hannah Eliza Lefman Windmuller was called Annie. The first child born to Henry Lefman and his wife Sarah, she was raised in the German-American community of Hoboken, New Jersey, just a ferry ride from downtown Manhattan. Although her siblings, including a sister, were given excellent educational opportunities, there's no record that she went to school at all.[3]

Her ancestors, who had settled in New York when it was still New Amsterdam, included one man famed for his robust defense of religious freedom and another notorious for antagonizing his neighbors and breaking the law.[4] If her mother Sarah leaned one way or the other — the defense of a moral principal or self-indulgent flouting of social convention — it seems to have been toward the latter. Family records and a bit of research have provided me with very little information about Sarah Lefman but what is known is not flattering. In 1840 her husband put a public notice in the New York Sun disowning her debts and 18 years later Annie's husband Louis wrote a letter to Sarah's mother warning her against a generous impulse to give Sarah some financial support.

Some aspects of the life of Sarah's granddaughter, Clara, may slightly suggest that she was an indifferent mother. Clara was my grandmother. My father remembered her as being inattentive to him and his siblings. She smothered love on her pet dogs but was apparently not a warm and caring mother. She also had a contentious relationship with her husband, my grandfather, and, though they did not divorce or even live separately, she never forgave him for an affair he had with another woman during a summer in which she took her children to Germany to meet his extended family there. Though living in the same apartment, my father said that for many years — in fact decades — they rarely spoke to one another. Other family members have said that no man could live up to her image of the perfect man, who was personified in her own father. Apparently she did not believe her mother to be so free of flaws. According to a cousin, she felt her to be cold and unloving.

This is the public announcement by Henry Lefman disowning his wife's debts. It's the item on left beginning with the word "Caution."

{New York Sun, 1840; Henry Lefman announces that he will not honor debts incurred by his wife, Sarah}

A few months later, in what may be a related event, Lefman announced that he was bankrupt.

{Henry Lefman declares bankruptcy: Evening Post, Thursday, Feb. 3, 1841}

I thought perhaps Henry and Sarah were living apart in 1840 when he disowned her debts, but if so they surely reconciled thereafter because the couple had four more children after that year, the last one born in 1860 when he was 56 and she 44. It doesn't seem likely that Sarah's spending habits improved, however, because I have this letter my great-grandfather wrote her mother in 1868 advising her not to help Sarah reduce her indebtedness by settling a mortgage that Sarah held.

Here's a transcription of the letter:
New York, November 13 /68

Mrs. Abby Wolf Present

Dear Madame!

I understand that you intend to buy the mortgage, which your daughter Sarah gave upon your property in Rahway NJ and that you will agree to pay the full value for it.

I have asked my lawyer today and he is of the opinion, that said mortgage is of no value, while you live, and will never be of any value, should your daughter Sarah not survive you.

Under such circumstances I would strongly advise you against the purchase of said mortgage, unless you ... buy it for a trifling amount.

If you were very rich and you could afford to pay all your daughter's debts, it would be well to pay this one as well, but you should certainly not embarrass yourselves, because somebody has made a foolish mistake.

My wife and son are well in Boston -- My best regards to your family.

Louis Windmuller
This is a photo of Sarah Lenington Thorne Lefman taken in 1850.

{Our very limited file of family memorabilia includes a portrait of Sarah taken this year. The family appear to have been traveling in Germany because, as you can see, the studio, A.H. Heckmann, is located in Osanbrück at Johannesstrasse 68. Osnabrück is not far from Henry's home town of Telgte. My great-grandfather, Louis Windmuller, went to high school in Osnabrück at the Gymnasium Carolinum and so did another relative who migrated to New York: Bernard Roelker. In fact the Roelker family were centered in Osnabrück and it tempting to hypothesize that there was some link between them and the Lefmans, though what it might be I cannot say. Sarah was 34 when she sat for this portrait.}

Annie's father wrote this to her when she was 18. I have no information about its context.
For my Daughter Annie E. Lefman

The performance of Duty insures the protection of God. ... Read useful books, practice your piano forte, your German, your French, your History of your own Country as well as of Europe in which you have to extend your little store as also your other Studies, try to become efficient in all Household affairs, in cooking, washing, ironing, baking, cleaning, and useful economy.

Read over the above Rules and maxims very often at least once a week -- Recollect they are written by your best Friend at Home No. 15 Union Place, Hoboken, NJ, the 22 Day of February 1854 (the Birthday of the Father of your glorious Country George Washington.)

Keep a Journal in which you write every Evening the Passages you meet during the Day.

Be Virtuous and clever my dear Daughter and let your Deeds, actions and everything be such that they bring Honour to Yourself and Family, this is the sincere with of your affectionate Father

Henry Lefman


[1] Here are the three blog posts on the "Forty-Eighters." [2] This is an extract from a letter to the editor of the New York Sun that Louis Windmuller wrote on February 1, 1893:
Some years previously [to 1857 - so this would be very soon after his arrival in New York] I lived in the boarding house of Mrs. F., 54 Barclay street, and my best girl was in Bloomfield street, Hoboken. She was sitting in her father's parlor on a fine winter evening waiting for me to take her to the firemen's ball, where I had been rash enough to invite her. Not minding the warning of my friends, I started in my "swallow tail" on regulation time, by the Chancellor Livingston [a ferry across the Hudson], but did not get far before we were stuck fast in masses of ice. The wheels [of the steamboat] absolutely refused to turn: with our assistance some of the deck hands finally allowed themselves to be lowered by ropes, with lanterns in one hand and shovels in the other, to remove the obstruction from the blades of our paddles. By heroic efforts they finally succeeded so as to be able to move. We effected a landing at Hoboken about midnight, and I met a reception from my lady as cold as the ice was in the river. We arrived at the ball in time for supper and the champagne soon revived our spirits; but I will never forget the worry of that long evening.
[3] There is information about the education that Henry and Sarah Lefman gave their education in these two blog posts: [4] The first was William Thorne. About him see love, peace and liberty condemn hatred, war and bondage. The second was Henry Lenington. About him see evil practices unto the disturbance of Christian order and peace.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

more of Herald Square

I've done a couple of recent posts showing photos of New York's Herald Square (here and here). This is a third.

1. Herald Square, 1903. This and most of the following photos come from large 8" x 10" glass plate negatives. They were taken by photographers working for the Detroit Publishing Company, a business that made a lot of money selling the public both photographs and postcards. In all the photos I'm showing here there was enough light so that the exposure time need not have been very long. As a result even people and horses in motion are reasonably unblurred. This photo was taken in the morning. As you can see by the clocks, it was 9:55am when the shutter closed. The day is pretty warm and sunny and a light breeze comes from the west. There's only one motorcar, an electric hansom cab.

{Herald Square, New York, N.Y., Detroit Publishing Co.; source: Library of Congress}

In this detail a policeman gives directions to two young women. He's pointing them uptown, but toward what I couldn't say.

For the men, bowler hats are the rule, though we can also see a top hatted guy who seems to be a doorman and a gent with a light-colored sport coat and fedora to match. The one lady in view lifts her long skirts so's to walk more easily. The only young person is a newsboy whose business doesn't seem to be brisk. I wonder what job the workman with bucket has.

2. Herald Square, 1904. It's 10:30am, a bit later in the day than it was in 1903. It seems to be a bit hazy and, though people don't have on their summer duds, the short shadows suggest that it's June or July. We've only one motorcar in sight.

{Herald Square, New York, N.Y., Detroit Publishing Co.; source: Library of Congress}

In this detail, you see large rolls of paper for the presses. Horace Greeley presides over his bit of real estate. A few blocks north on 42nd Street the Times Building is nearing completion.

Except for the white hat at bottom, it just doesn't seem that these New Yorkers indulge in summer clothing. It's pleasant to see how pedestrians feel no compulsion to keep to the sidewalks and not just cross as they please but seem to wander about, uptown and down.

3. Herald Square, 1905. The clocks aren't telling us the time, but the shadows are the same as in the 1904 photo. Once again clothing seems to indicate a coolish day though the month must be June or July.

{Herald Square, New York, N.Y., Detroit Publishing Co.; source: Library of Congress}

We see a lady in the open window with the sun illuminating the work in her lap.

The clock hands and faces have been temporarily removed.

Men carry advertising signboards on sticks.

Here again are big rolls of press paper. The sacks may contain rags for wiping ink off the big steam-driven rotary presses.

4. Herald Square, 1907. Macy's, the largest department store in the world, is prominent in this photo. The corner building is famous, the owners having sold to one of Macy's competitors (whose motives remain murky).

{Macy's Bldg. & Herald Square, Irving Underhill, photographer; source: Library of Congress}

The broad intersection of 34th, Broadway, and 6th Ave. invited big advertising, including a sign for the Herald Square Theatre.

And also a sign for a competing theater, the Hippodrome. You have to look a bit closely to see the two men changing the old ketchup sign to one for a self-stropping safety razor.

Two men on the 6th Ave. El converse and watch the passing scene.

5. Herald Square, 1908. You can tell by the Herald Building clocks that it's just 1:00pm though it seems by the shadows to be noon on a day late in June. The weather seems to be a bit hazy, warm, and still. Although in previous photos the clothing seems inappropriate to the season, it appears just right in this one. Maybe fashions have changed. There are women with parasols and light colored hats. The men wear light colored hats themselves, some of them boaters. This photo is the left side of a pair which, when stitched together, were used to make the postcard shown in my recent blog post.

{Herald Square, New York, N.Y., Detroit Publishing Co.; source: Library of Congress}

In this detail we see two helmeted police officers chatting. As before, pedestrians walk every which way over the broad intersection. A boy in a cap — maybe a paperboy from the Herald — seems to be hitching a free ride on a street car.

This detail shows some interesting motorcars, including an electric hansom cab, a chauffeur driven open car, and an owner driven closed one. There's a street sweeper and horse-drawn goods wagons. It's apparent that none of the vehicles is moving quickly. Again we see sacks along side the Herald Building.

Here's another big theater sign, this one for the Savoy Theatre. The area was a theater district before the Herald made it also a newspaper district, and Macy's made it a shopping destination.

The photos of Manhattan at this time rarely show privately owned and driven carriages. This one looks like a racer and it may be returning from an outing on the Harlem River Speedway. The carter under the umbrella is guiding a team of three horses though his load seems light.

Here, a lady in white seems to be watching her reflection in store window and a doorman in top hat seems amused. It's tempting to think the doorman is the same one we saw in 1903. There's no way to tell.

And here another young woman is pretty clearly examining her reflection while a nearby gent in a boater does some window shopping. A lady with a purposeful stride seems to be observing the cameraman at work.

This wider detail shows the lady in white and grinning cabman again and also a bored passenger in a hansom, two carters with a load of barrels (one of whom seems to be missing a leg). There's lots of variety in the attire of the easygoing midday crowd.

A motorist may be checking traffic behind but I think it's more likely he's appreciating a view of a lady who's standing on Broadway observing traffic. You can see the somewhat unusual team of three just in front of said lady.

6. Herald Square, 1909. This shows more of the square than we've seen in the other photos.

{Source: a page called New York in Black and White on a web site called Wired New York}

7. This 1912 illustration is entirely different from the photos and in fact a photo of this scene would not have been successful using the technology available at the time.

{Herald Square by William Robinson Leigh, 1912; source: NYPL Digital Gallery}


Some sources:

Herald Square postcards - Google image search

NYC Postcards - Herald Square on flickr

Herald Square, NY City

vintage New York postcards on ephemeralnewyork

I'd rather be on old Broadway with you from the NYPL Digital Gallery — "I’d rather be on old Broadway with you, dear where life is gay and no one seems to care; This shady lane and summer sky so blue, dear Does not appear to me like Herald Square."

From my grandfather:
The difference between old-fashioned city dry-goods and modern department stores is striking enough to make the transformation appear difficult. Yet the change was accomplished in a simple way. R. H. Macy opened a haberdashery on Sixth Avenue, near Fourteenth Street, in 1858. A shrewd Yankee, he extended this business to other dry-goods, and he absorbed, one after another, adjoining stores. Amongst the additions to space, one made in 1888 gave the firm more room than they could utilize for dry goods. It occurred to Mr. Isidor Straus, a junior partner, that arrangements for the sale of the crockery of L. Straus and Sons, in which Mr. Straus was likewise interested, might result in advantage to both firms. When the partners of Mr. Straus consented, they were agreeably surprised to find how well their underwear harmonized with toilet sets from Warren Street. The sales of dry goods and china increased simultaneously. The success led to additions of other departments—books and stationery, shoes, hats, wines, and groceries. Macy's example was followed. More than thirty human beehives, called department stores, exist here now, the most successful being within a mile of Greeley Square, the shopping center of Manhattan. Mr. Straus, elected to Congress in 1893, assisted William L. Wilson in framing the tariff which bears his name. He was an able financier and great philanthropist, but he disclaimed credit for the creation of department stores, an achievement which should make his name famous in the annals of commercial history. -- The Commercial Progress of Gotham by Louis Windmuller in The Progress of the Empire State: New York State and City edited by Charles Arthur Conant (The Progress of the Empire State Company, 1913)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

lunch wagon

A few days ago I showed some images of Herald Square in 1908. In most of them, to one side of the New York Herald building, you can see a lunch wagon. Here's the wagon in a detail from one of the photos.

{Detail from a photograph called "Herald Square, New York, N.Y.," by the Detroit Publishing Co., from a glass negative, 10 x 8 in.; source: Library of Congress}

Here's a larger detail showing some context.

This is the full photo. It's the right half of two that were merged to make a post card.

You can tell by the clocks on the New York Herald building that it's early afternoon. Most of the buildings workers and many who are out and about will probably have already had their mid-day meal.

This is the post card. The lunch wagon is an insignificant detail in it.

Herald Square, ca. 1908, a Photochrom postcard by the Detroit Publishing Co.; source: NYPL Digital Gallery}

Herald Square lies at the junction of Broadway, 6th Avenue, and 34th St. (6th Ave. has since been renamed Avenue of the Americas). First as the home of popular theaters, then — in addition — as a major shopping center (anchored by Macy's, the largest department store in the world), it has long drawn hoards of New Yorkers and out-of-town visitors. The photos show that it's well served by public transportation, but, at least in the early 20th century, it was also nicely open and congenial to pedestrians. It was, further, quite photogenic, offering viewpoints for long, wide shots.

Given all this, it's not surprising that one can find many photographs of the intersection. What surprises me, however, is the number of these photos that show the lunch wagon parked on 6th Ave. on the east side of the Herald building.

You can see it in this other post card, taken about the same time as the first one I showed above.

{Photochrom postcard by the Detroit Publishing Co.; source: NYPL Digital Gallery}

And you can see it, as well, in this photo, taken more than a decade before when the Herald Building was still new and there was as yet no Times Building on distant 42nd St.

{Herald Square, N.Y. by J.S. Johnston; source: Library of Congress}

Here are some further photos showing the wagon.

1. Another from 1895.

{Junction of 6th Avenue & Broadway, N.Y. by A. Loeffler; source: Library of Congress}

2. One taken ca. 1901.

{Herald Square, New York, Detroit Publishing Co.; source: Library of Congress}

3. A detail from this photo.

4. One taken ca. 1903.

{Herald Square, New York City, Detroit Publishing Co.; source: Library of Congress}

5. A detail from this photo with the lunch wagon hardly visible.

6. A photo taken ca. 1904 with the Times Building under construction.

{ Herald Square, New York, Detroit Publishing Co.; source: Library of Congress}

7. A detail from this photo.

8. One taken ca. 1905 with the Times Building completed.

{Herald Square, New York City, Detroit Publishing Co.; source: Library of Congress}

9. A detail from this photo.

10. A composite photo taken ca. 1907. While the others images were scanned from glass-plate negatives, this one was scanned from a huge paper print (11.5 x 39.5 in.).

{Herald Square, New York, Geo. P. Hall & Son; source: Library of Congress}

11. Detail from this photo with the Lunch Wagon only seen as a shadowing blur.