Hope Springs Eternal on Opening Day

11876_1000x1000Few other annual events are filled with as much fresh hope and promise as the start of a new baseball season. On Opening Day, every team has a clean slate and its fans have heady aspirations that this will be the year their boys go all the way.

Opening Day is a state of mind, and indeed retired shortstop Ozzie Smith this year started an online petition on wethepeople.com to urge the U.S. Government to declare the day a national holiday. If Opening Day does become a holiday, it may create another opportunity to shower friends and family with unique gifts.

For the New York Yankees fan, the ultimate unique gift may be a genuine piece of the House that Ruth Built. The Authentic Yankee Stadium Seats were removed from the stadium before it was razed, the very stadium where fans watched Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson, Derek Jeter and other iconic Bronx Bombers capture six World Series titles. The seats are available as pairs mounted to stand upright or as barstools, including a stool with 39 certified autographs.

The hardcore Yankee fan may also appreciate The Museum Quality 1/8 Scale 1961 Yankee Stadium. Meticulously researched, hand-built and hand-painted by artist Steve Wolf, whose stadium models are displayed in the Los Angeles Sports Museum, this amazing replica took nearly 3,000 hours to complete. This model faithfully replicates the stadium from more than 50 years ago, including period advertisements, six working light banks, and ticket windows.

Many a baseball fan has a bucket-list item to visit all the Major League ballparks. The Personalized Baseball Ballpark Map charts the stadiums you’ve visited and those you plan on seeing. The map lists all 59 ballparks that have hosted Major League Baseball teams since 1912. Color-coded pins and flags mark stadiums you’ve visited, your most recent conquest, your next destination, and your favorite stadium.

As the storied Joe DiMaggio said about the start of the season, “You always get a special kick on Opening Day, no matter how many you go through. You look forward to it like a birthday party when you’re a kid. You think something wonderful is going to happen.” And for those fans who know better, just wait till next year.

The Web at 25: an Invention with World-wide Impact

On this day 25 years ago, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, a British computer scientist, wrote a paper proposing a system of information management that eventually became the concept and architecture of the World Wide Web. Lee’s system was originally designed to help run a particle accelerator at the CERN facility in Switzerland.

Less than two years later, Lee made a unique gift to the world on Christmas Day 1990 by releasing the code to his system for free.

Although Lee’s system was not technically the same as the Internet – which is a series of rules and protocols—the Web as envisioned by Lee today allows ordinary users to access files hosted on other computers around the globe so that all of us can enjoy a virtually infinite amount of data. It is arguably the most important invention of the 20th Century.

A project by Pew Research shows that 87 percent of adults are regular users of the Internet. It has transformed the way we work, how we get our news, how and how frequently we communicate with other people, the way we care for our health, and of course, the way we shop for and purchase goods.

In keeping with our track record for innovation, in 1986 Hammacher Schlemmer became one of the first retailers to sell its products on the Internet, teaming up with CompuServe. The Internet certainly has transformed Hammacher Schlemmer, taking us from our one store in New York City to being at the fingertips of users everywhere. It makes available our selection of unique gifts—the Best, the Only and the Unexpected83791_1000x1000—to computer users at any time and any place.

The recent evolution of the Internet is mobile use, with Pew’s research reporting that 68 percent of American adults say they access the Internet at least occasionally on a cell phone or tablet. As the Internet continues to evolve, many experts think the next step is the “Internet of Things” connecting our appliances, vehicles, data and more, allowing devices to connect to and “talk” to each other.

And the Award Goes To…

82nd Annual Academy Awards - "Meet The Oscars" New YorkWhether you get your movies from a big screen, an Internet stream, or a red box, the Academy Awards remains the premiere event for fans and celebrity watchers alike. Over the years, Hammacher Schlemmer has been delighted to collaborate with a number of Academy Award winners in the making of their films.

For his 1972 movie Frenzy, legendary director Alfred Hitchcock, a stickler for details, required a knife as a prop in a key scene. Naturally, he sent for a set of Hammacher Schlemmer German stainless steel knives, for which we received a personal letter of thanks.

On another occasion, Hammacher Schlemmer’s New York store played a supporting role in the film of an Oscar-winning actor, albeit early in his career. In a scene from the 1990 movie Joe Versus the Volcano, the title character played by Tom Hanks is outfitted at our landmark Manhattan store before embarking on an exotic, life-altering trip. Despite a big budget and a star-laden cast, Joe was a box-office dud that received mixed reviews and not a single Academy Award nomination. Such are the vagaries of show business.

Beatles U.S. Invasion Like Nothing Before

1962_Extraordinary2On this day in 1964, Pan Am flight 101 from London, whose passengers included an up-and-coming band from Liverpool, touched down at New York’s JFK Airport at 1:20 p.m.  The Beatles arrival in the U.S. 50 years ago created pandemonium the likes of which had never been seen and ignited a musical revolution that came to be known as “The British Invasion”. Though we cannot say for certain whether John, George, Paul, or Ringo paid a visit to our Manhattan store during this trip, somehow the Boys learned of our “Nothing Box”—a small box with two rows of lights on its side that did nothing but flash in a random sequence until its battery ran out. (It was subsequently rechristened “The Something Box” to avoid confusion with a similarly named product.) This must have appealed to the Fab Four’s well-known dry sense of humor, because they purchased hundreds of Hammacher Schlemmer’s Nothing Boxes as gifts.

One generation removed, the 60’s-era Nothing Box bears scant resemblance to its modern descendent The Illumicube. IllumicubeThis clear acrylic cube has an array of 64 multi-colored LEDs that systematically flash in millions of different combinations, producing a mesmerizing light show. Many of our customers tell us they also use it as a nightlight. For those who prefer a multi-media experience, we recommend The Musical iPhone Illumisphere. Paired wirelessly to a smartphone, this geodesic dome plays music through its integrated speakers while multi-colored LEDs create a psychedelic light show in synch with your audio tracks. Sgt. Pepper’s anyone?

Beer Drinkers, Raise Your Mugs

ReinheitsgebotToday is “National Drink a Beer Day”, complementing Oktoberfest and many Harvest Fests held in towns and villages nationwide.

In the 1800s and until 1920, virtually every community in many areas of the country had at least one small brewery. Then came Prohibition and when that dark era ended in 1933, large, mass-market breweries dominated the industry. Today, there is an explosion in the craft beer market, with 2,347 microbreweries operating in the U.S. in 2012. The industry continues to grow at an estimated 15% annually.

In the northern regions of the U.S., roughly 35° north latitude and above, are found all the ingredients one needs to brew that secret homebrew recipe: barley and grain malts blessed by summer sun, choice backyard hops a group of friends may grow together as a collective effort, yeast cultured from a neighbor’s online college knowledge of amateur biochemistry, and coveted spring water from a local homestead well. These are the basic elements of a tasty brew, as dictated by Reinheitsgebot.

Until now, these small-scale efforts were mostly hit or miss. Now you can quell a thirsty crowd of friends and neighbors with gallons of freshly brewed gemütlichkeit from The Professional Microbrewery. Available exclusively from Hammacher Schlemmer, this automatic brewing system is the perfect scale for the home brewmeister or the beginning craft microbrewery. Used as a pilot brewery for professionals, restaurants and taverns, our system takes the guesswork out of brewing, decocting, sparging, pitching and aging beer.  Any brew is possible: from hearty ambers ales to light pilsners, porters and stouts.  Now you have a chance to make beers that win competitions and bring smiles to lovers of craft beer.

So raise your glass with a hearty “Prost!” and enjoy a craft-brew favorite for “National Drink a Beer Day”.

New York’s Gray Lady Celebrates Her Birthday

For 162 years, The New York Times has delivered the news to more people than any other local metropolitan newspaper.

new-york-times-birthdayThe paper was founded on this day in 1851 (three years after our business was established) as The New-York Daily Times by George Jones, a former banker, and Henry Jarvis Raymond. Raymond was both a journalist and a politician, a dual career that surely would be considered a conflict of interests today.

The very first front page ever published of this iconic paper exemplifies why its nickname is the Old Gray Lady. The vast majority of front pages from the life of the paper have been preserved for posterity. You can even get a copy of The New York Times’ front page from the day you were born, or any other date from 1934 to 2012. Your framed reproduction will be mounted in a wood frame and protected behind plexiglass. This beautiful memento also contains a circulated penny, nickel, dime and quarter from the year.

The New York Times was not the city’s first newspaper, but many of the others published up to that time were considered “class journals,” made up for particular classes of readers. Today, we might call that niche marketing. But the founders of the Times endeavored to present all the news of the day from all parts of the world, for everyone. The motto of the paper became “All the news that’s fit to print”. As readership has shifted to online content, the Times’ website uses the motto “All the news that’s fit to click.”

Even with the industry trend to online, the Times remains the third-largest circulation newspaper in the U.S. (behind The Wall Street Journal and USA Today).

Still Following the Yellow Brick Road, 74 Years Later

Few movies conjure so many memories in so many people as The Wizard of Oz. This film has truly stood the test of time, remaining a favorite since its national release on this date in 1939.Wizard of OZ Books

Beginning less than two decades later, The Wizard of Oz has been shown annually on television, making it one of the most-viewed motion pictures in history. But fewer people know much about The Wizard of OZ books on which the film was based.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was first written by L. Frank Baum in 1900. Like most screenplay adaptations, the novel and the book have several differences. Perhaps the most significant departure is the prominence of the Wicked Witch of the West in the movie. The role was increased in the film to add dramatic tension and unify the plot.

Baum’s book was just one in a complete series of novels he authored about the Land of Oz. And now, Hammacher Schlemmer has made available to you The Exact Reproduction of the Wizard of Oz Library. Reuniting readers with Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow, this is the exact replica edition of Baum’s complete Wizard of Oz series. Originally published between 1900 and 1920, the 14-volume library assembles all the Baum titles in one collection, reissued for the first time in their inaugural form. The books meticulously recreate every detail of the first editions, including the typeface, endpapers, and even typographical errors that were later corrected. The original artwork by William Wallace Denslow and John R. Neill is intricately reproduced, complete with the brilliant full color and metallic inks that were hallmarks of the initial printings.

Classic films like The Wizard of Oz usually don’t become classics based on the screenplay alone; the soundtrack also serves to make a movie memorable. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” earned an Academy Award for Best Song for Yip Harburg, who wrote the musical numbers in the movie. In his lifetime, Harburg also wrote the lyrics for such notable songs as “Stormy Weather”, “April in Paris” and “It’s Only a Paper Moon”.

Lesser known than these tunes, but no less indelible, is a humorous poem Harburg wrote during the Cold War era about a fictitious Hammacher Schlemmer shelter “worthy of Kubla Khan’s Xanadu dome”.

Today, we sell real shelters that help you enjoy much more benign activities in the great outdoors, such as The Scandinavian Backyard Gazebo that will turn your yard into an all-weather retreat.

The Soaring Spirit of Amelia Earhart

Bomber JacketWhen Amelia Earhart was born in Kansas on this day in 1897, no one dreamed that someday trans-Atlantic flight would be not just possible, but a commonplace activity. During Amelia’s childhood, the Wright Brothers made their historic powered flight at Kitty Hawk, NC, and soon after, aviation grew through the use of planes in World War I.

The young Amelia, with a tomboy’s heart, was no stranger to challenging conventions on how a lady ought to behave. She was known for climbing trees, “belly-slamming” her sled on a snowy hill and hunting vermin with a .22 rifle. She even kept a scrapbook of newspaper stories about successful women in male-oriented fields, including engineering, law and management.

Nevertheless, she initially chose a traditional woman’s career of the day, working as a nurse’s aide in a military hospital in Toronto. During the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic she contracted a severe case of pneumonia and chronic sinusitis, spending nearly a year recovering. It was during this time that she attended a flying exhibition. When a WWI flying ace put his plane in a dive from the sky toward Earhart and her friend, Amelia stood her ground. “I did not understand it at the time,” she said, “but I believe that little red airplane said something to me as it swished by.”

Two years later, Earhart took her first flight and it changed her life forever. Almost immediately, she started taking flying lessons and within six months saved enough money to buy her first plane.

Knowing that as a female, other aviators would be judging her, she also purchased a leather bomber jacket so that her appearance would suit the role. Feeling the new jacket needed to look well-worn, she slept in it a number of nights to more quickly break it in.

We’ve replicated The Amelia Earhart Flight Jacket in every detail. Made by the same company that supplies leather jackets to the U.S. Air Force, this coat is a variation of the classic A-1 jacket made famous by pilots in the era of open-air cockpits. Many A-1s had collars that buttoned around the neck, but Earhart’s version introduced a brass-zippered, full-neck collar with knit trim, and added a side entry pocket to the two traditional button-up patch pockets. The outer shell of supple lambskin leather has been vegetable-tanned to reveal its natural grain, while the wrists and waist are soft knit. This is no ordinary women’s bomber jacket…it celebrates an American heroine, too.

As Earhart became further renown as an accomplished aviator, she set many records and firsts, not the least of which was to be the first woman to pilot a plane across the Atlantic in 1928, and the first woman to do so on a solo flight in 1932.

Tragically, her career and her life came to an end in 1937 near the end of her attempt to be the first woman to fly around the world. On July 2 of that year, she and her navigator were due to land on Howland Island when overcast skies and intermittent rain showers made celestial navigation difficult. It is known that Earhart’s plane was running low on fuel. The U.S. Coast Guard ship supporting her flight was able to hear her radio transmissions, but apparently the pilot could not hear the ship. After one last transmission, Earhart was never heard from again, though it was not until January 5, 1939, that she officially was declared dead.

Recently, photos taken of Nikumaroro, an uninhabited atoll in the mid-Pacific, suggested that Earhart and her navigator may not have crashed into the ocean, but instead made an emergency landing on the flat coral atoll. A group of researchers from The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery continues to search for clues that could reveal Earhart’s final resting place. Was she wearing her beautiful bomber jacket on that final flight? That’s a mystery the world may never know.

Even at 67, the Bikini Is Still Turning Heads

Louis-Réard-bikiniIn a man’s world of the 1940s, scientists engaged in a desperate race to create the biggest blast with the smallest amount of material. Its detonation would shake civilization to its core, challenging notions of morality and humanity. Hydrogen bombs and world mass destruction? No. The goal of these learned men with the precision and singularity of mind of nuclear scientists: create the world’s smallest beachwear, the bikini.

Women would no longer have to roll up their sleeves or their shorts on the beaches of Nice and San Tropez. In the mind of the 1940s engineer, man was doing womankind a serious favor: the elimination of tan lines. In trade, they would create a fine summer view.

French designer Jacques Heim first experimented with a two-piece design based on the French Polynesian “pareo”, a style of beach wrap. His design was the parent of the bikini, named Atome because it used the smallest particles of fabric to cover his models.

But it took the French automotive engineer turned fashion designer Louis Réard to create a media event. Monsieur Réard was no stranger to fashion, helping to run his mother‘s shoe shop Les Folies Bergères in Paris. Like any meticulous engineer of the day, he experimented with many suit designs before minimizing the elegant style to less than 30 square centimeters of spaghetti strap and fabric triangles cut high to show off the derrière and Venus’ best asset, the navel.

Monsieur Réard tested different names.  None satisfied his desire to create an explosive promotion. And then it detonated in his mind. He remembered the American bomb tests in 1946 at Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific. The Bikini name sounded exotic, feminine, and reminiscent of the French Polynesian islands.

The original bikini was made of cotton cloth with a splashy newspaper headline print, part of Réard’s clever promotion. He coupled this with the suit’s debut on this day in 1946 (It would take the more modest U.S. until the 1960s to allow this daring suit on our shores) at a beauty contest at Paris’s famous Piscine Molitar. Only the follies dancer Micheline Bernardini of the Casino de Paris had the daring and experience to smile proudly and model the suit for the event. All other models refused. Réard even had a skywriter advertise at his events, writing, “Plus petit que le maillot de bain le plus petit au monde!“ (Smaller than the world’s smallest bathing suit!)

Monsieur Réard stated that a two-piece bathing suit is not a bikini unless it can be pulled through a wedding ring. His design was so popular that his shop remained profitable in Paris until 1984.

Whether it’s a bikini, a t-back, a v-back, a c-back, a thong, or a nostalgic resurgence of the monokini, this summer sunglass-shielded eyes will gaze appreciatively while self-made models absorb the recommended daily allowance of ultraviolet energy. We can all thank science, thank the men in lab coats, and thank Monsieur Louis Réard for his hard work, his sense of promotion, and his French sensibility to create beauty out of weapons of mass destruction.

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.