Gutta Percha: From Underwater Cables to Golf Balls to Dental Work

Chemistry, History
[caption id="attachment_24465" align="alignright" width="340"] From the 1851 book: Gutta Percha, Its Discovery, History, and Manifold Uses[/caption] Gutta percha thermoplastic¹ is a tough and leathery resinous produced from the milky fluid tapped from certain trees. Isoprene is an extremely important building block widespread in nature. The main component of gutta percha is, in fact, the trans-1,4-isomer of polyisoprene. The cis-1,4,-isomer is, interestingly enough, the primary constituent of natural rubber. It is produced from the milky fluid tapped from "other" trees. The reason for the considerable difference in physical characteristics between rubber and gutta percha (or, rather the trans and cis isomers of polypropylene) is the greater crystalline character of the trans isomer. Notice the difference between the trans and cis isomers in Image 2. How do these isomers differ? Synthesis from…
Read More

Prussian Blue – The Traditional Blue of Blueprints: Its Chemistry?

Chemistry, History
[caption id="attachment_24391" align="alignright" width="480"] A Canadian architectural blueprint. Image by Chris Gonzaga.[/caption] The image you see at right is a traditional architectural blueprint. In fact, this style of blue-inked drawing is how the word blueprint originated. Now the chemistry of this blue colored “ink” is of interest, both historically, and from the science perspective. Let’s see how. Identifying the Blueprint Ink The blue ink has a number of names including Paris Blue and Berlin Blue. But the name it is best known by historically is Prussian Blue. Perhaps you will note Prussian Blue is similar to another name, Prussic Acid. Prussic Acid is another name for the deadly poisonous hydrogen cyanide, HCN. And in fact, the ink is closely connected to this acid. But which was first to be called…
Read More

Dimethylsulfoxide, DMSO: Snake Oil? Why or Why Not?

Chemistry, History
[caption id="attachment_24310" align="alignright" width="480"] Dimethylsulfoxide[/caption]An exciting discovery received the public’s attention during the 1960s. Researchers discovered an unlikely organic compound, dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO) might be useful in delivering medications safely through the skin. The general public, in their enthusiasm, sometimes lay hold of a concept and run with it. Then, if there is negative publicity, the fickle public may – just as quickly – drop the idea. This is well-illustrated in an article produced for the (former) Decoded Science website by author John A. Jaksich, entitled Potassium Bromate: Food Additive and Carcinogen? Yet, was the rise and fall of DMSO popularity due to a fickle public, or was it due to an organizational structure of rigid rules that holds back advances, despite advantages the public might receive? For example, drug approval…
Read More

FBI “Sheiks” Visit a Virginia Superfund Cleanup Site

Chemistry, History
[caption id="attachment_24210" align="alignright" width="480"] Former Office Building at the Superfund Site[/caption] The best known superfund¹ cleanup site has to be the Love Canal, named for William T. Love. It is located in northwestern New York State. Originally envisioned as a community, this 70-acre tract later became a dumpsite for the Hooker Chemical Company. At the end of its use in the early 1950s, the waste site was sold for the sum of $1 to the Niagara Falls School Board, for the purpose of constructing a new school. Built into the sale was a far-reaching disclaimer to avoid legal action against Hooker. The end result was the conceiving of a community riddled with miscarriages, chromosomal damage, birth defects, and leukemia. Media-driven notoriety peaked during the late 1970s. American Cyanamid Superfund Site…
Read More

The Peculiar Origin of the Graham Cracker

Food, History
[caption id="attachment_23324" align="alignright" width="480"] Available circa 1915[/caption] Crackers come in every shape and size. One of the most famous cracker varieties is not served with fish or olives. Rather, it is a sweet treat, often eaten stand-alone, or with butter, peanut butter, honey, or perhaps jam. It can be crumbled to make pie crust. We know it as the Graham cracker. The Flour behind the Cracker The Graham cracker is generally dark tan and has a somewhat gritty texture. This is because it is made from unsifted coarse-grind whole wheat flour. This namesake cracker was inspired by the preaching of the somewhat eccentric Sylvester Graham (1794-1851).¹ As a young man, Sylvester tried many occupations, eventually deciding to be a clergyman. However, the message he preached was swayed by personal belief,…
Read More

Double Tragedy for the Japanese-American Iba Family of California

History, People
I am a chemist. So why do I write about the tragedy befalling a family? It stems from an article I wrote entitled The Tragic Case of the Los Angeles Wannabe Chemist. In that article, I describe a chemical explosion in 1947 that killed 17 and injured more than 150 persons. Alice was not simply killed. Her body was blown to bits. She was assisting the Ohio-born wannabe chemist, Robert M. Magee. Magee not only lied about his higher education credentials, he hadn't even finished high school, according to his mother. Introducing the Iba Family Alice had been hired just one month-and-a-half before the incident, and was given a change of assignment to work alongside Magee. Her education appears to have been limited to high school. How old was she?…
Read More

Wilson H. Fitzgerald – “Rags to Riches” in Camden NJ

Genealogy, History
Probably the name Wilson Fitzgerald doesn't ring a bell for you. He was an imposing fellow, but it is the time and events in which he was involved that make him interesting. Wilson H. Fitzgerald... 1. Was a member of the Philadelphia Resolution Hose Company. 2. He built dozens of homes in Camden, New Jersey. 3. Pioneered special business practices in Camden, New Jersey. 4. Once traveled the rails West on one of Raymond's Vacation Excursions. 5. Was guilty of assault and battery against a fellow City Council member.¹ 6. Found a large chunk of human flesh on his property 5 miles from an explosion. 7. Found twenty-five or thirty Revolutionary War cannonballs on his property. 8. Helped his son-in-law escape charges for embezzling from the Postal Service. 9. Had…
Read More

Some Prospered from the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression

History, People
[caption id="attachment_19683" align="alignright" width="440"] Soup kitchen opened in Chicago by Al Capone.[/caption] The Great Depression is the term applied to a serious and long-lasting financial depression that began in the United States in 1929 and lasted through approximately 1941. Naturally, it affected the world in general. Curiously, but when you think about it, not too surprisingly, not all U.S. citizens suffered from the Great Depression. In fact, some even prospered as a result of it. Who? How? The Masses Probably contrary to what you might suppose, life expectancy actually rose. It's natural to think suicide would have lowered life expectancy; yet suicide represents only a tiny fraction of total deaths. Even though suicides increased, longevity improved. The CNN reference offers some suggestions why. Individual Success Charles Darrow: Some prospered not…
Read More

Dangerous Medicine Including Foot Fluoroscope (X-ray) Machines

History, Medicine
[caption id="attachment_19620" align="alignright" width="440"] Operator / observer side Adrian Special fluoroscope[/caption] Medicine has always sought to cure sufferers of what ails them. In the physician's valiant efforts, sometimes, not only success failed to be achieved, but the sufferer was worse off. In the Bible book bearing his name, Mark relates one well-known ancient example: "Now there was a woman subject to a flow of blood twelve years, and she had been put to many pains by many physicians and had spent all her resources and had not been benefited but, rather, had got worse." -Mark 5:25, 26. Again, mercury and other hazardous substances were sometimes used in the formulation of medications. In fact, the body of one famous individual with a violent disposition was exhumed to determine if there was…
Read More

Edward Villeroy Stockham: Lost in the Masquerade

History, People
[caption id="attachment_19594" align="alignright" width="480"] Edward purchased Seneca Cannery c. 1900.[/caption] It's almost certain you've never heard of him. Edward Villeroy Stockham was given what most would call a good upbringing. He was to interact with Society in some very interesting ways, eventually marrying into a most historic family. Edward was to become a leading citizen, then get "lost in the masquerade", as the popular lyricist and singer Leon Russell croons. Auspicious Beginnings Edward V. Stockham was born 17 Oct 1863 in Camden, New Jersey to Charles Edward and Mary Humes Tomb Stockham. Charles was eminently successful in the lumber business. Edward had an auspicious beginning. After all, an English surname, Stockham means "at the tree stocks". During his earliest working years, Edward Stockham was closely associated with his father's lumber…
Read More