Rounding up some ephemera that fell through the cracks of past roundups. Cheese, caves, mold, chicken mines, zippers, and dolphin movies…
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1. The zipper first amazed onlookers at the 1893 World’s Fair, which also featured the debuts of Cream of Wheat, Juicy Fruit, squashed pennies, spray paint, and moving walkers. Called a “clasp locker,” it was invented by Whitcomb Judson, who’d spent a decade working on improvements to pneumatic transit systems, none of which were adopted. Shifting focus to clothes fasteners—thankfully non-pneumatic—he invented the zipper.
The clasp locker was intended for shoes, freeing Americans from the tyranny of laces: bureau of labor estimates $3.2 trillion annual lost productivity due to shoe tying, putting it just behind “adding cream to coffee” as a drain on the economy. “It must be obvious,” Judson claimed in his patent application, “that a shoe equipped with my device has all the advantages peculiar to a lace-shoe, while at the same time it is free from the annoyances hitherto incidental to lace-shoes on account of the lacing and unlacing required every time the shoes were put on or taken off the feet and on account of the lacing-strings coming untied.” The word “lace” has lost all meaning.
The zipper did not immediately catch on. Two decades later, Gideon Sundback made improvements on the design, but it wasn’t until about 1923 that the zipper took off. That year, BF Goodrich used a clasp locker on their galoshes and called the “Zippers.” The name stuck, even though it technically referred to the entire galosh, not just the fastener.
Judson’s zipper-producing company started as the Universal Fastener Company, then became the Automatic Hook and Eye Company, then Hookless Fastener Company (after incorporating Sundback’s design), and finally—with a titular right turn—Talon. Talon is still around and still shilling zippers. But next time you’re eye level with someone’s crotch, take a good long look at their zipper. It will probably say YKK—that’s a Japanese zipper concern that controls roughly 50% of the world zipper market. In 2007, they were fined 150 million Euros as penalty for a zipper price-fixing scheme undertaken in cahoots with European zipper makers. Appeals are ongoing; the zipper market is high-stakes. Velcro, by the way, dates to 1948.
Side note: Evidently BF Goodrich made galoshes? The company was founded in 1869 by Benjamin Franklin Goodrich. A year later, the city of Akron paid the small rubber concern to move there—which is why the University of Akron athletic teams are called the Zips; it also means they are technically named for galoshes!
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2. Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, a commune of fewer than 1000 people in the Pyrenees, is famous for producing Roquefort cheese. If you think Roquefort is just a generic moldy cheese, you are badly mistaken. Unlike cheese-come-latelies like Danish Blue (1900s), Stilton (1700s), or Gorgonzola (1000s), Roquefort was mentioned by Pliny the Elder all the way back in 79 AD.
What makes Roquefort special? The Cambalou caves, and the indigenous mold found therein: penicillum roqueforti. Yes, that’s the same family of molds as penicillin proper—and shares enough antibacterial properties that shepherds used to use the cheese a topical treatment to prevent gangrene. The mold is said to have been discovered by a shepherd who left his sandwiches in a cave whilst bewitched by a beautiful woman, only to later discover them covered in mold. For centuries the mold was mass-produced by doing pretty much the same thing: leave bread loaves in the cave until moldered, then grind into a powder and put it in the cheese.
True “Roquefort” cheese must be produced with mold from these caves, and that rule is not the creation of a modern bureaucracy: it was laid down by Charles VI in 1411. 1411! Such geographic rules regarding food naming are common and unflinching. Roquefort must be produced in Roquefort; Gorgonzola in Gorgonzola and a few other nearby locales. Though first sold in Stilton, Stilton cheese now may only be made in Derbyshire, Leicestershire, or Nottinghamshire. When the Newcastle brewery moved across the river, it was no longer in the city of Newcastle upon Tyne—had a special dispensation not been issued, they would have been prevented from calling their beer Newcastle Brown Ale.
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3. In a cold war plan referred to either as Blue Peacock or Brown Bunny, the British intended to bury nuclear mines in Germany, to be detonated in the event of a Soviet invasion from the east. The plan was never implemented, but was declassified in 2004. One part of those declassified documents describes a method for preventing the electronics from freezing in winter: sealing a chicken inside with a supply of food and water. The body heat would keep the electronics up and running. You will never convince me that this wasn’t an on-the-spot creation of a low-level military functionary who forgot his assignment and had to make it up on the spot. “That’s just crazy enough to work, Jenkins. What other ideas do you have?” “Uhhh…a blanket with armholes?”
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4. From the writer and director of The Graduate and starring Oscar winner George C. Scott comes 1973’s box office bomb: The Day of the Dolphin. “Oh, so the dolphin is like a metaphor for—” No. The dolphin is very real. The tagline: “Unwittingly, he trained a dolphin to kill the president of the United States.” Everything you need to know about the movie is right there. Scott and his real-life wife play a husband-and-wife team of dolphinologists whose life mission is training dolphins to speak. But when a shadowy cabal kidnaps the super-smart marine mammals, planning for them to place a mine on the president’s yacht, the scientists race to save the day.
Depending on which review you read, the book it’s based on is a subtle Cold War satire, or mass-market pablum. But the movie appears entirely earnest, and possibly prophetic: the military uses dolphins to locate mines, but not, so far as anyone knows, to assassinate foreign or domestic leaders.
Scott’s character is based on John C. Lilly (1915-2001) a physician / psychoanalyst / dolphin researcher / guy who was really into metaphysics. He palled around with Tim Leary, was way into psychoactives, and invented the sensory deprivation tank. He also spent years working with dolphins and trying to teach them a computer synthesized language.