Tools never die?

| 2/2/2011 11:44:00 AM

Tags: mystery tools,

The talk around our office the past few days is a story that was featured February 1 on NPR’s Morning Edition. The story, titled “Tools Never Die. Waddaya Mean, Never?”, featured Kevin Kelly (founding editor of Wired Magazine, the brains behind Cool Tools and the author of a new book What Technology Wants) stating that “there is no species of technology that have ever gone globally extinct on this planet.” When asked for clarification, he said:

"I can't find any [invention, tool, technology] that has disappeared completely from Earth."

Associate editor Christian Williams and I delved into the 1895 Montgomery Ward & Co. Catalogue, the 1897 Sears Roebuck & Co. Catalogue and the Farm Collector Field Guide to Mystery Farm Tools to prove this statement false. While the catalogs proved futile, our Field Guide, which is made up of tools sent in by readers who were not sure on their use, provided some results. Here are four tools we think are extinct.

Stump Splitter (click for larger image)  Stump Splitter (found on pg. 14):
“Pound it into the end of the log with a sledge. Insert 6 inches of fuse. Light it and get out of the way,” a reader says. “It really works. I still have one and use it on the Fourth of July to make a loud noise.”
(click the image to see it larger)
Clinker Catcher (click for larger image)    Clinker Catcher (found on pg. 32)
“After you burn coal you end up with ‘clinkers’ in the bottom of the furnace,” one reader explains. “A clinker is coagulated slag or metal impurities that ‘melt’ from the coal as it becomes coke. Most clinkers consist of pyrites that are naturally included in coal. Periodically one has to reach into the bottom of the furnace with the grapple and remove the hot clinkers. In a home you might get enough to fill a metal 5-gallon bucket. On the farm in the winter, it was my chore when I got home from school to go to the basement and fill up the ‘stoker’ (a box with an auger to the furnace) with coal and remove the ash and clinkers from the furnace.” Another reader notes that a piece is missing from the one pictured. “There should be an opposing finger or hook at the end with the double hook. There were many variations of this tool: Some had five fingers, other had three. Some worked by rotating the handle. In the picture, the handle is what you called the single hook end. Others worked with a spring-loaded lever that you squeezed or pulled.”
(click the image to see it larger)
 Three ceramic boxes: large, 18-by-24-1/2-by-17 inches; medium, 11-34-by-19-by-16-1/2 inches; small, 11-7/8-by-17-3/4-by-16-7/8 inches. (click for larger image)  Icebox Porcelains (found on pg. 38)
These were used in early iceboxes. When one reader acquired a large estate icebox, he found the top section (where the ice would be placed) lined with galvanized metal. The lower sections contained the porcelain boxes. “They were arranged so that the cold air from above ‘fell’ down below, passing through the holes in the stacked porcelain boxes. The cool air fell to the bottom of the top porcelain, typically falling out another vent on the bottom to the next porcelain below on its way through the stack. In that way, the cool air circulated down, and the mass of the porcelains helped keep the food colder for a given mass of ice. Of course, the porcelains were also easier to keep clean than metal shelving.”
(click the image to see it larger)
 /uploadedImages/FCM/Blogs/The_Cultivator/lubricatingdevice.jpg  Lubricating Device (found on pg. 73)
Lubricating device for automobile leaf springs.
Patent 1,084,181
(click the image to see it larger)

Can you think of any modern variations of these tools? Do you have other examples of tools that have gone extinct? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

For more mystery tools, visit the What Is It Mystery Farm Tools blog.

Heather Martin
3/15/2011 1:17:01 PM

Shall we pause for just a moment to examine the logic of the statement, "I have never found a tool which has completely disappeared from the Earth,"? How would we know? It's the old fossil record problem...

Jan Steinman
3/10/2011 7:22:27 PM

I guess a lot depends on the definition of "extinct." Certainly, twenty-year-old personal computers are in short supply, if one actually needed one. It can cost you many hundreds of dollars to recover data off an 8" floppy! I'm also thinking about vacuum tubes. Now that flat-panel displays are ubiquitous, you don't even see CRTs any longer! But I've got some vacuum tubes in a box somewhere, and I could make a simple regenerative radio receiver with one if I had to, so again, it depends on the definition of "extinct." Personally, I think we've developed an "extinction gap" in middle-tech. One can more easily construct the "A" frame surveying device used to build the Great Pyramids than one can construct an 8008 microprocessor -- not to mention associated peripherals, like magnetic tape and even punch cards.

Mark Ward
3/9/2011 5:20:19 PM

Coal tool, I have a Complete one with apossing "thumb" lol I thought it was more for Moving aound the wood and coal, I still use mine at camp fires and wise I had bought the other one they had, But was out bike riding when I stopped at the sale. MANY people seeing me use it in campgrounds BEG me to sell it. One of My hobbies is finding what I call UNIQITIES. Unique Antiques,