Monthly Archives: June 2013

Bunyanesque games for the family.

In popular folklore, few legends loom as large as those of Paul Bunyan. Befitting someone of his stature, June 28 marks his annual day, one of the longest days of the year.

Historians debate the origins of the Bunyan tales, but it’s generally agreed that the legends began in the 1880s among lumberjacks who entertained themselves by telling stories, competing to determine who could outdo the others. Shortly after the turn of the century, the oral yarns evolved to printed stories with a unifying character. In 1914, an ad campaign for Red River Lumber Company depicted the giant lumberjack and solidified Paul Bunyan’s place in American folklore.

Paul Bunyan stories have been told around campfires for generations. Some say he created the Great Lakes so his huge blue ox, Babe, would have water to drink, and that Babe’s tracks created Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes. One of the most popular legends holds that he taught ants – carpenter ants, of course – to carry felled trees in Maine’s logging country.

Even as a baby, Paul was enormous. They say it took five storks to deliver the infant to his parents. To have fun as a child, he played with The Giant Monopoly Game and kicked around The Giant 40 Inch Soccer Ball.

Why not celebrate Paul Bunyan Day by reading one of these larger-than-life tales to the wee ones in your family? You can even track his travels on The World’s Largest Write On Map Mural. May he live on for decades as a symbol of strength, hard work and ingenuity!

How The Ziegfeld Follies Changed Broadway Forever

The Little ShowThe Roaring 20s marked a time of social and political change in the U.S. As with most cultural transformations, the entertainment industry reflected these ground-breaking shifts in American society.

When the Ziegfeld Follies premiered its annual program at Manhattan’s New Amsterdam Theatre on this date in 1924, the production helped pave the way for a more modern era in Broadway entertainment. Creator Florenz Ziegfeld envisioned a show featuring light, yet sophisticated, entertainment for the summer season. A smashing success, the annual Ziegfeld Follies productions became the main event of the theater season and changed the Broadway musical forever.

Combining jazz, vaudeville-style acts and beautiful women wearing elaborate costumes, the Follies launched the careers of many big-name stars, including Barbara Stanwyck, Paulette Goddard, Gypsy Rose Lee, Josephine Baker and Marilyn Miller.

Another musical production of that era called The Little Show further satisfied theater-goers’ appetites for stylish entertainment. Debuting in 1929 at the Music Box Theater, the musical revue featured the songs of Arthur Schwartz and lyrics of Howard Dietz.

Dietz, who is often credited with creating MGM’s Leo the Lion mascot, may have had a penchant for unique gadgets. We have the distinction of inspiring a song in the show. A particularly witty ditty was titled Hammacher Schlemmer, I Love You, sung by none other than Fred Allen. This tribute enjoyed nationwide popularity.

Since its place in The Little Show in 1929, Hammacher Schlemmer has evolved from New York’s favorite, high-quality hardware store to purveyors worldwide of innovative, problem-solving products that meet the special needs of our customers…which really isn’t different at all from our hardware store beginnings back in Broadway’s younger days.

Kewpie Doll’s Charm Transcends Childhood

Kewpie DollThe Kewpie Doll holds a place in America’s hearts and a place on the shelves of collectors of kitsch.

Rose O’Neill, the creator of these iconic dolls, was an acclaimed artist and author whose works went far beyond her cherub-like characters. Born 139 years ago today in Wilkes-Barre, PA, and raised on the plains of Nebraska, O’Neill began developing her talents at a tender age.

Young Rose’s parents were highly supportive. Her father left art supplies and pencils around the home so she could sketch whenever the mood struck. At one point, he even considered withdrawing her from school to focus her time and energy on art.

His efforts paid off. At the age of 13, Rose won first prize in a children’s drawing contest sponsored by the Omaha World Herald. Within a few years, she fully launched her career, illustrating for several periodicals. The payments she earned helped supplement her father’s meager income.

Soon after, O’Neill moved to New York, where she obtained a number of high-profile clients including Kellogg’s and Jell-O and publications such Harper’s Weekly, Bazaar, Ladies Home Journal. At the same time, she was exposed to sculpture and modern art, further broadening her horizons.

The Kewpies were born in a dream O’Neill had and she began including them in the backgrounds of her illustrations. At the request of Ladies Home Journal, she created a series of drawings featuring the characters. They became popular with both children and adults and spawned a series of cartoons and books.

Popular demand led to the manufacture of the dolls, which O’Neill created in 1912 while attending art school in Paris. They were an instant hit on the international marketplace, making O’Neill a wealthy woman.

O’Neill was a female working in a field which, in the era, was dominated by men. This may have inspired her dedication to the suffrage movement. She created several posters to support women’s rights. She also backed many charities and gave money away to friends, family and other aspiring artists.

In her later years, O’Neill moved to the family estate of Bonniebrook near Branson, MO. Having exhausted the fortune she made from the Kewpie line, O’Neill passed away impoverished in 1944.

To this day, the International Rose O’Neill Club Foundation holds an annual convention in Branson to celebrate the woman and her Kewpies.

The Keys To Self Expression – The Manual Typewriter

Manual TypewriterA lot has changed in how we put words on paper since Christopher Latham Sholes patented the typewriter 145 years ago today. But in a world dominated by e-mail, multi-function printers, and Siri, manual typewriters remain surprisingly popular among collectors and users alike.

Dedicated manual typists maintain that their favorite typewriters, unlike computers, have unique personalities: different sounds, different feels. Stroking the keys of a typewriter takes a little bit more work, but is arguably more engaging than lightly tapping away at the PC.

Using a typewriter may not eliminate writer’s block, but it certainly can reduce distractions. There’s no e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter to tempt you away from your work.

Even Sholes might be surprised by the number of websites, not to mention a magazine and a virtual museum, dedicated to collecting vintage typewriters. Collectors can even call actor Tom Hanks one of their own. He has admitted to having over 200 manual typewriters in his collection.

Do you long to feel the rhythm of the keys as the words flow from your fingers? The Wordsmith’s Manual Typewriter recalls the thoughtful, well-written correspondence of yesteryear. Devoid of technological crutches such as spell-check and deletion, each of its 44 keys requires a firm, purposeful stroke for a steady click-clacking cadence that encourages the patient, considered sentiment of a wordsmith who thinks before writing.

Our typewriter even comes with a handy built-in carrying case. You’ll be the hit of your local coffee shop…and you won’t have to search for a plug.

At age 65, LPs not yet retiring.

It’s not unusual to hear a person about to play some music say they’re putting on a record, even if the format is a CD or an MP3 streamed from a music weLP Logob site.

If you’re stuck in this groove, you have Dr. Peter Goldmark to thank. On this day in 1948, Goldmark, an employee of Columbia Records, introduced the long-playing microgroove 33-1/3 phonograph disc. His invention allowed multiple and lengthy works to be recorded on a single disc, revolutionizing the recording industry.

Very few remember one of Goldmark’s later inventions. In 1955, he developed the Highway Hi-Fi, and persuaded Chrysler to install his record players in their cars. Although Goldmark’s Hi-Fi was balanced properly to account for bumps and curves on the road, the device did not work well in the Dodge and Plymouth models Chrysler put the players into. Adjustments were made, but long-term commercial success was not to be had.

Fast forward a few decades later, and the 6-CD changer became a common fixture in virtually every make of auto. We can’t imagine that anyone is still trying to play a hi-fi in their car, but nearly everyone has old LPs or tape cassettes that deserve to be heard again. Listen to those sweet, old sounds with The LP And Cassette To CD/Digital Converter. Available only from Hammacher Schlemmer, this is the combination recorder and stereo system that preserves classic vinyl records and cassette tapes by recording them to audio CDs or converting the songs to MP3s.

We can help preserve your video memories, too. The VHS To DVD Converter easily transfers your VHS tapes to standard DVDs. Also a player, this device is ideal for those who have a library of both formats.

What’s next for the audio/video industry? Who knows, but we’ve sure come a long way from the days of Goldmark’s LP.

Your Urge To Splurge Is About To Surge

Go ahead, indulge yourself…today is National Splurge Day. Consider it time for a little laid-back pampering or your opportunity for something totally outrageous.

Your splurge can be spontaneous or something you’ve planned for years:  a new pair of shoes, that shiny red sports car, a trip to an exotic location, or maybe just an extra 20 minutes on your lunch break. The best part is you decide how to indulge and then go for it.

One example of a splurge-worthy item is the world’s largest chocolate bar. Once you recover from the world’s largest sugar rush, we have some other suggestions for treating yourself extravagantly and unexpectedly.

Few things in life are as satisfying as a nice, long snooze. You know you deserve it! But if sleep eludes you, The Productivity Nap Pod provides a rejuvenating space for those 20-minute power naps.

Feeling reinvigorated, next you might want to work off some calories (see chocolate bar above). A long walk provides countless benefits for the body and the mind alike. No time for a good hike? The Elliptical Machine Office Desk is the adjustable-height desk that pairs with a semi-recumbent elliptical trainer to let users exercise while on the job.

After work, it’s time to splurge on quality time with friends. Fete your crew to waterborne cookouts on The Barbeque Dining Boat, a circular ship with a built-in barbecue grill, umbrella, and trolling motor that entertains up to 10 adults. An even more informal option is The Hot Tub Boat, a watercraft with a relaxing hot tub for six built into its handcrafted teak deck.

If nothing else today, give yourself the freedom to fantasize about those things that you’d normally dismiss as frivolous or unattainable, whether they exist in material form or otherwise. For more ideas to satisfy your urge to splurge, check out our extraordinary selection of the unexpected.

The Golf Cart Hovercraft: the Envy of Professional Golfers

Watching the U.SGolf-Cart-Hovercraft. Open can make the casual duffer a little jealous of professional golfers. They play on the best courses. They use the best equipment. Adoring fans cheer their every swing and putt. They earn millions for just playing golf, and even more through sponsorship deals. The only downside: The pros must walk the course—golf carts are forbidden at PGA tournaments. Thankfully, those of us in the amateur ranks have no such restriction. But why limit yourself to common carts that roll on wheels? The Golf Cart Hovercraft lets you one-up the pros while assuring your popularity with your foursome. Inspired by the Thinkmodo-designed prototype driven by 2012 Masters champion Bubba Watson in the “Bubba’s Hover” viral video for Oakley, this golf cart glides over hazards on a cushion of air as easily as it does over fairways and the rough. Powered by a 65-hp twin-cylinder Hirth engine, its nine-blade axial-flow ducted fan propels the craft up to 45 mph and 9″ off the ground without harming grass, allowing immediate crossing of a pond or stream to follow-up a cross-water shot. The fan’s streamlined design minimizes noise while conveying four passengers beneath a lift-up roof and two golf bags in an open rear compartment. Motorcycle-style handlebars steer the craft while a patented fly-by-wire reverse thrust system provides braking and backwards hovering up to 25 mph—the only hovercraft in the world to do so. (An especially useful feature should a wayward drive ricochet off a tree.) The Golf Cart Hovercraft sells for $58,000 and is now available on the Hammacher website.

Helping Dad Find His Stroke this Father’s Day

In many families, Father’s Day is celebrated by granting Dad peace and quiet to watch the final round of the U.S. Open.
US Open
When the 113th Open tees off today at Merion Golf Club’s East Course in Haverford, PA, the venerated tournament marks its return to a location that has not hosted the U.S. Open for more than 30 years. At its original 6,500 yards and course area of 111 acres, many felt the course was too small to host a modern major. Lack of grounds limited gallery size and there was no space for corporate tents. A land acquisition allowed lengthening of the course to 7,000 yards and added spectator areas, addressing many of these concerns. Today, the course’s strong architectural features make it the ideal setting for what many consider the toughest test in golf.

A most unusual feature of the East Course is the pins. Instead of the typical flag, each pin is topped with a wicker basket. Although no one is sure of the exact reason why, legend holds that Hugh Wilson, the course designer, modeled them after the baskets that topped shepherds’ staffs he saw while touring Scotland. With no flags to help determine wind direction, the baskets add an extra challenge for golfers.

Many fathers enjoy the challenge of a tough course, but at the same time, don’t mind a little help, and we are happy to oblige. The Break Revealing Golf Glasses enable a golfer to quickly assess a green before making a putt. The Hook And Slice Reducing Golf Balls have truncated, shallow dimples around their equators and deeper, more concentrated dimples near their poles that arrest the side spin and lower drag, resulting in 50% straighter drives. You can find more items to help Dad improve his golf game here.

And if hitting the links just isn’t Dad’s thing, he still might enjoy a Miniature Golf Arcade Game with you, right in his own home. Because, of course, what matters most is spending time together.

In Heated Competition, The Best Toaster Oven Prevails Again

The Institute was a very popular place last week as the enticing aroma of fresh bakedBest Toaster Oven goods wafted throughout our office. Of course, this was all in the name of science, as they needed to cook a wide variety of foods to accurately assess the performance of different toaster ovens. After much toasting, baking, broiling, and noshing, the Institute determined that The Best Toaster Oven we currently offer still ranks number one in the marketplace. They also observed that it’s far easier to assemble a testing panel for toaster ovens than it is for digital scales.

The Great Stork Derby

Charles Vance Millar fathered no children of his own. But thanks to an unusual clause in his will, this wealthy Toronto lawyer brought 36 lives into the world and was known as the Stork Derby.The Stork Derby

Millar, a bachelor, died in 1926 after running up a flight of stairs. The 73-year-old had been known as a successful attorney and shrewd financier, but the reading of his will underscored his true passion in life: the practical joke.

His entire will was rife with pranks. He left a (previously sold) vacation home to a group of warring lawyers, and (nonexistent) brewery stock to temperance advocates.

And then there was the ninth clause of the document, which stipulated that Millar’s remaining estate — valued at around $500,000 — be left to the Toronto woman who gave birth to the highest number of children in the 10 years following his death.

The jackpot provoked a minor baby boom.

This was the ’30s, and families throughout the country were struggling to make ends meet. For many Toronto women, Millar’s estate seemed a legitimate solution to their Depression-era troubles. They bore child after child.

Meanwhile, the country’s top attorneys — Millar’s former colleagues, whose legs he may have been pulling one last time from six feet under — debated the legality of the will. The matter was even brought before the Supreme Court of Canada. But the document prevailed and the Stork Derby continued on.

In the end, four women split the purse. Alice Timleck, Kathleen Nagle, Annie Smith and Isobel MacLean had each given birth to nine children since 1926, and each received $125,000.

Millar’s intentions with the contest remain a puzzle. As he wrote in his will, “What I do leave is proof of my folly in gathering and retaining more than I required in my lifetime.”

Although he left behind no biological heirs, his legacy lives on through those 36 Stork Derby babies and his amusing story.