Category Archives: Culture

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.

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.

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 Immersive Indianapolis 500

Driving simulators have come a long way from the days of the monolithic metal fuselages encountered in high school driver’s ed class. Modern simulators can provide a driving experience that is so realistic, many of the compeIndy 500 Checkered Flagtitors lining up for today’s Indianapolis 500 race use devices such as The Full Immersion Professional Racer’s Simulator to hone their skills in a realistic, yet low-risk environment. After all, if one is going to crash, better that it happens in the virtual world, especially if it helps prevent real-life accidents. Here’s wishing you safe driving this Memorial Day Weekend, whether it be racing around the oval or cruising down a side street.

At 33 years and chomping, Pac-Mania persists.

As most celebrities can attest, it’s difficult to maintain one’s popularity for a single year, let alone for more than three decades. (Take it from us, we know a thingor two about longevity.) That’s why Pac-Man’s staying power—especially in the fickle world of video games—merits special recognition.Pac-Man Arcade

Released on May 22, 1980 by Japanese video game developer Namco, Pac-Man quickly scarfed his way to international stardom. More than threedecades and several billion quarters later, the globular yellow gobbler shows no signs of slowing down. Perhaps it’s his diet of fruit, power pills, and the occasional ghost.

Consider these facts culled from the official Pac-Man web site:

  • The first perfect score of 3,333,360 points was achieved on July 3, 1999 by Billy Mitchell of Hollywood Florida who successfully chomped his way through 256 screens without losing a single life.
  • To commemorate Pac-Man’s 30th anniversary in 2010, Google famously transformed its home page into a Google Doodle of the arcade game. Though not a single quarter was spent, its estimated the game cost employers lost nearly 5 million manhours from distracted workers.
  • Pac-Man inspired students at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications graduate program to create a real life version of the game played on New York City’s streets—Pac-Manhattan.

Today, players can indulge their appetite for pac-dots anywhere via a free app (first level only) for the iPhone/iPad. For the video game purists, we offer The 30th Anniversary Authentic Pac-Man Arcade Game, a full-size console that plays just like the original.

Wocka wocka wocka indeed.

A Christmas our Earth can celebrate too

Ever since Bing Crosby crooned the phrase into our hearts back in 1954, people having been dreaming of enjoying a White Christmas each year. And while fantasy is rarely able to trump reality for many climatic regions of our planet, geography can’t impact the decision process towards another holiday hue: ntalist to care about how consumer decisions affect the earth. Nor does it take excruciating inconvenience to change the impact we have on her this Christmas season. Simply by doing one or two things differently, we all have the ability to decrease the potential damage to the world around us, for our future, and for our childrens’ futures.

Real or Artificial? The Christmas tree itself might be the most controversial symbol in the fight for eco-friendly celebration. But regardless of which side of the tree aisle you stand, there are positive ecological benefits to both choices. If you choose to decorate an artificial tree, select one of quality, one that will last for years and years to come. Store it safely during the off-season. A damaged tree will lose its appeal,  leading to replacement purchases, sending the old trees to the dreaded landfill.

For those who’d never dream of anything but a live Christmas tree for their home, opt for a source you know is planting a new seedling for every tree it harvests. Or, consider renting your tree. That’s right, some Christmas tree farms are now offering tree rental, where they’ll remove a tree from the ground roots and all, pot it, and deliver it to your door. You simply decorate it, keep it watered, and at the end of the season, it is picked up and returned to the farm. Some even allow the option of adopting your tree, so you’ll enjoy watching the same tree grow year after year while giving it a warm, inviting home (or yard, for those decorating outside) throughout the holidays.

Light the way to a Greener Christmas. It is widely agreed that those who’ve yet to make the switch from traditional bulbs to LED light strings are well behind the curve. Not only are LEDs up to 90% more efficient than those old incandescent bulbs you have to test every December, but they also last from 15 to 25 times longer! That’s a significant savings on your electric bill, while spending far less over time on replacements lights.

Saving Paper. Some presents are made by the wrapping. But do we need to cover every gift we give in wrapping paper? When gift wrap is necessary, consider simplifying the process by using paper goods you may already have, rather than buying roll after roll of fancy paper. The Sunday comics from the newspaper are long-time favorites; even the news sections themselves can be a nice touch for the right gift or gift recipient. Save the cardboard boxes you’ve received with other items; presents can be just as dramatic when opening a box as they are when tearing off gift wrap. Many gifts have no need for being wrapped. Concert tickets, gift cards, anything small can be stashed in Christmas stockings, which we’ll bet have hung on your chimney for decades, making them perhaps the most efficiently recycled wrapping material ever!

When giving Christmas cards, choose those made from recycled paper. Better yet, nothing compares to the touch of a card you make yourself. Use images cut from those catalogs and magazines before they’re recycled. All these options can save the planet from tons of extra paper waste each season.

Our Earth continues to provide us with everything needed for sustaining our quality of life. Let’s have a joyous Christmas season, while doing more for her in return.