World’s Fair Inspired Today’s Technology

On this date 50 years ago, the 1964/1965 New York World’s Fair opened in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens.

The burgeoning Space Age was thworlds-fair-new-york-1964e focus of many of the fair’s exhibits. Attendees were greeted by the Unisphere, a 12-story stainless steel representation of Earth that still stands in Flushing Meadows to this day. In addition to celebrating the beginning of the Space Age, the Unisphere also represented the fair’s theme of global interdependence.

The fair was a showcase of mid-20th Century American culture and technology. There was strong participation by most major American corporations, with the first wide-scale public display of new-fangled inventions like mainframe computers, CRT displays, the Teletype machine, punch cards, and telephone modems. In many ways, the fair became a grand consumer goods show at a time when the middle class was expanding and looking for products to add convenience and entertainment to their lives, enjoying the new and unique gift of increased amounts of leisure time.

World’s Fairs are known for introducing new goods to the public, and so many of the Space Age products from New York’s expo have evolved to become commonplace in our lives today. Those mainframe computers have been replaced by now-ubiquitous smartphones and tablets, with a host of new products designed to enhance your enjoyment of your iPhone or iPad.

With Mother’s Day and Father’s Day approaching, accessories for phones and tablets give us great ideas for unique gifts for her or him.

Our iPhone accessories include items that will help mom or dad get the most from their mobile device, including printers, innovative cases, charging stations, and our exclusive Steering Wheel Bluetooth Speakerphone, a fantastic and unique gift idea, especially now that so many states have enacted legislation requiring only hands-free phone use while driving.

For the iPad user, our collection of gifts for him or her features items such as speakers, portable keyboards, and another Hammacher Schlemmer exclusive, The iPad Charging Floor Stand that will hold your tablet at a comfortable angle for viewing while relaxing, exercising, or cooking.

If the mother or father in your life remains nostalgic for the lively atmosphere of a fair, the unique gift that’s sure to please is The Musical Illuminated Ferris Wheel. The wheel’s girders are lined with 175 LED lights that cast a golden hue while the wheel rotates at five revolutions per minute. Integrated speakers play 15 instrumental versions of classic tunes like Give My Regards to BroadwayLet Me Call You Sweetheart, and The Band Played On.

Wishing the “Old Gentleman” a Happy Birthday

William Schlemmer, who, more than any individual, is responsible for the longevity and success of our company, was born on this day in 1841. Described as “sober, thrifty, and hard-working” in a 1939 New Yorker profile, for 64 years Mr. Schlemmer dedicated his life to building the largest, most complete hardware store in the country.William Schlemmer 1841

According to published accounts, in 1853 William Schlemmer arrived in New York from Germany aboard a crowded, dingy packet ship. The 11-year-old had few possessions and wore a tag tied around his neck bearing the address of his uncle, Charles Tollner, who owned a successful hardware store in the lower Bowery. The young lad went to work for his uncle hawking tools and hardware from tables in front of the store at a salary of $2 a week—half of which he sent back to his family in the old country.

In the early years, it was not uncommon for Mr. Schlemmer to arrive at work by five in the morning, seldom leaving before midnight. In 1857, he convinced a wealthy acquaintance, Albert Hammacher, to invest $5,000 in the enterprise. As the years went by, Mr. Schlemmer gradually gained ownership of the company, first buying out his uncle’s shares, then in 1885, most of Mr. Hammacher’s. However, perhaps in a nod to his humble roots, he never held a position higher than treasurer.

Even in his later years, Mr. Schlemmer always arrived at the store by 8 a.m, wearing his trademark silver spectacles and neat bow tie. Affectionately known as “The Old Gentleman” among veteran employees, Mr. Schlemmer was famous for wandering through the store, asking questions and making sure every aspect of the business was operating smoothly. In 1914, Mr. Schlemmer passed the torch to his son, William F. Schlemmer, and in 1916 he passed away at the age of 74.

And while the “Old Gentleman” may no longer patrol our offices, his spirit lives on through the lofty, uncompromising standards of quality and service he set. These are the same principles on which we conduct business today.

Vernal Equinox Brings Promise of Rainy Days Ahead

At last, Spring is here! Well, so says the calendar. The Vernal Equinox occurs today at 12:57 p.m. Eastern Time. With more chilly temperatures and even some snow in the forecast for several areas of the country, it seems Spring may not have gotten the memo.1955_Catalog

Despite Mother Nature’s stubbornness, it’s a certainty that soon we will get true Spring weather, including our share of April showers. We’ll obligingly help you prepare with a selection of umbrellas that make a unique gift for yourself or for anyone you want to see kept warm and dry.

A Hammacher Schlemmer exclusive is The World’s Smallest Automatic Umbrella. This little umbrella was designed in Portland, Oregon, where they know rain. Carried inconspicuously in a purse or trouser pocket, this is the smallest umbrella available with a canopy that opens and closes with the push of a button. Only 8″ long when closed, the umbrella instantly deploys its generous 40″ diameter canopy when a button on its handle is pressed.

Spring weather also brings the promise of gusty winds. The Wind Defying Packable Umbrella—another Hammacher Schlemmer exclusive—resists gusts up to 35 mph that turn traditional umbrellas inside-out. Its patented overlapping vent system disperses wind through eight reinforced slits in the canopy to eliminate inversion while shielding you from precipitation.

Looking for a unique gift for a pet owner? The Canine’s Raincoat protects dogs like an umbrella from head to tail. Made with a water-repellant nylon exterior and lined with soft fleece for snuggly, warm comfort, the raincoat has a removable transparent hood that keeps a dog’s head dry without obstructing its ears.

Yes, that rainy Spring weather will soon be upon us, but it won’t be long before we’re telling you about unique gifts for gardeners and unusual gifts for enjoying the great outdoors!

Happy 175th, Mr. Hammacher.

1839_HS_HistoryTomorrow marks the 175th birthday of the man who lent his name to our company almost 150 years ago. On February 16, 1839 Albert Hammacher was born in Leichlingen, a farming community in the North Rhine-Westphalia region of Germany. As the story goes, in 1859 Mr. Hammacher was introduced to Charles Tollner, owner of a thriving New York City hardware store, by one of its employees and a fellow countryman, William Schlemmer. Mr. Hammacher was prevailed upon to invest $5,000 in the business, which was apparently enough to warrant the company to rename itself C. Tollner and A. Hammacher. (How the 20-year-old came into such a large sum—almost $150,000 in today’s money—remains a mystery.)

Two years later, Mr. Tollner left the business, prompting another name change, to A. Hammacher, and it remained so until 1867. That year Mr. Schlemmer and several others were admitted as partners, resulting in the addition of “& Co.” By 1883, Mr. Schlemmer had acquired a majority of the business and the company’s name became the familiar-and-fun-to-pronounce moniker we are known by today, Hammacher Schlemmer & Co. From all indications, although he was listed as a vice president, Mr. Hammacher, who also owned a hardware business in Germany, did not take an active role in the company’s day-to-day operations. In 1899, he left the business and was replaced by William Schlemmer’s son, William F. Schlemmer. Mr. Hammacher eventually returned to Germany where he lived his final days, passing away on January 12, 1912. But his name, like the company, endures.

A Token of History

If you bought or received a gift card last Christmas, you’re in good company. While the appeal of gift cards shows no sign of abating—they’ve been the most popular gift for seven years running—it brings to mind a troubled time in U.S. history when retailers experimented with another alternate currency.Hammacher-Money-Front Hammacher-Money-Back

At the height of the Civil War, the hoarding of gold and silver made coins so scarce that most merchants were unable to provide change to their customers. In response, in 1862 private businesses began to mint their own coins that patrons could exchange for store credit, much like gift cards are used today. Millions of these coins, known as “rebellion tokens”, were minted in hundreds of different designs, often featuring a patriotic message or an image of the proprietor.

Typical of Hammacher Schlemmer’s understated philosophy, our copper tokens were stamped with only our name and address and the word “Hardware” on the obverse; the reverse featured the words “not one cent” and the die striker’s name, Louis Roloff, within a closed circle of laurel branches.

Production of tokens ceased in June of 1864 when Congress passed the law that made the minting of non-government issued coins a federal crime. However, it is not illegal to own the tokens. It is estimated that about a million tokens survived of the 25 million produced, and a rare example in good condition can easily fetch hundreds of dollars from an avid exonumist.

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).

The Transcontinental Railroad : When Rails Linked The Nation

Transcontinental Railroad Gold Spike

Mega-engineering projects have always united our nation and brightened our future. The Erie and Panama Canals, the transatlantic cable, the interstate highway system, and the space program are just a few examples of these visionary endeavors.

In 1862, President Lincoln believed the creation of the Transcontinental Railroad would bind our nation after the Civil War and create economic prosperity. This great project was completed seven years later, on this day in 1869.

The Transcontinental project is just one facet of our nation’s growth on rails. The History of American Trains is the 24-documentary set of DVDs that explores the power and importance of American trains, from the golden age of locomotives to modern-day superliners.

The sweat and muscle for the Transcontinental Railroad was provided by 20,000 laborers: blasters, drillers, gandy gangs, spikers, and shakers plowed through dizzying mountain passes and deep swamps to open inaccessible lands on the prairie for plows and cattlemen. The mountains were now open to mine gold and silver, making railroad barons rich men. Carpenters, draftsmen and engineers laid down gravel bed, sleepers, and rails to the sing and ping of 9-lb. sledges. The famous spike maul of John Henry fame later competed with steam drills and air hammers. Each mile of track used about 40,000 spikes!

The rail companies Central Pacific from the west and the Union Pacific from the east were forced by Congress to link up at Promontory Point, Utah, partially to get the lucrative Salt Lake City mining business. With raucous celebration, there was a great preponderance of champagne and libation.  One gold spike from California, one of silver from Nevada and Arizona iron were spiked to a tie of California laurel wood. In spite of the magnitude of the ceremony, the railroad’s actual completion didn’t occur until a few months later in Comanche, Colorado. At last, the railroad reduced the journey across the continent from about six months to four days.

Dignitaries from the Central Pacific railway were transported to the ceremony in a Jupiter wood-burning locomotive. We’ve captured the essence of this iron horse with The Holiday Tradition Train. This working locomotive provides a festive holiday display of motion, sound, light, and color. Made by Bachmann, known for its high-quality model trains for over 40 years, this G-scale train has a working headlight, puffs smoke, and makes a “chuffing” sound. The 20-piece track creates an oval that surrounds even the fullest of Christmas trees. Your family will appreciate the beauty and nostalgia of America’s early railroads for years to come.

The Smithsonian Institution: The Nation’s Attic

Hammacher Schlemmer SmithsonianMany artifacts of American memorabilia are found in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC: Archie Bunker’s chair, Dorothy’s ruby slippers…and a hard-bound copy of the 1912 edition of the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog. At 1,112 pages, this is the catalog that established us as the most complete source for hardware on the East Coast.

Founded on this day in 1846, the Institution has been nicknamed “the nation’s attic” for its eclectic collection of 137 million items. Overall, the Smithsonian is a group of museums, research centers and a zoo administered entirely by the U.S. government.

Some of the earliest items amassed for the collections of the Institution, which was known as the United States National Museum at the time, were scientific apparatus for demonstration purposes. A few years later, the Institution made a major purchase of fine arts prints, along with the addition of plant and animal specimens collected during the United States Exploring Expedition of 1838-1842. The historical items in the museum expanded quickly, with one of the most notable acquisitions Abe Lincoln’s famous top hat, worn to the Ford Theater the night of his assassination.

Among the most famous items found in the Smithsonian is the Hope Diamond. The Institution also holds in its collection many items whose value is sentimental, including both the first teddy bear, made in 1903 in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt, and Sesame Street’s Kermit the Frog. A more recent item to join the Smithsonian, acquired this June, is professional skateboarder Tony Hawk’s first skateboard.

Hammacher Schlemmer is extremely honored to be housed in the Institution that was established “for the increase and diffusion of knowledge” and to have our place in American history.

Channeling The Champion Swimmers Of Yore

Athletic training has come a long way since the early 20th century. Considering advances in conditioning, nutrition and psychological strategies, the feats of athletes nearly 100 years ago are all that more amazing.

When gertrude-ederleGertrude Ederle became the first woman to swim the English Channel on this day in 1926, she completed an extraordinary achievement many “experts” claimed no female could do. What’s more, she did it faster than any male swimmer of the time.

Ederle, known to her friends and family as Trudy, stepped ashore on the English coast 14 hours, 31 minutes after beginning her swim from Cape Gris-Nez, France, smashing the previous record of 16 hours, 33 minutes. More than 2 million people lined the streets of New York City to greet Trudy with a ticker-tape parade when she returned to the U.S. In 1924, Trudy went on to medal in three events at the Olympic Games in Paris.

As amazing as her record time was in its day, in 2006 her time was sliced nearly in half by the current women’s world record holder. Yvetta Hlavacova of the Czech Republic who swam the Channel in 7 hours, 25 minutes.

Needless to say, consistent and frequent training is a key factor in athletic performance. While we can’t promise Olympic medals, The Swimmer’s Treadmill is the swimming pool that allows you to practice laps in a space no larger than an SUV. The pool sets up in garages, backyards, basements, or rec rooms. It uses a harness that wraps around a swimmer’s waist and a flexible elastic tether that suspends swimmers in the water, providing varying resistance–stronger strokes and kicks yield more resistance.

The swimmer’s comfort is also important to getting the most out of a training session. The Photochromatic Swimphotochromic-swim-goggles Goggles have tinted lenses that automatically brighten or darken in response to changing lighting conditions. The photochromatic lenses, common in sunglasses but unique in swim goggles, quickly darken in bright sunlight or harsh fluorescents but lighten in dimmer conditions or when the sun hides behind a cloud.

Some of us may prefer to be on the water than in the water. The English Channel Pedal Boat is the water craft that set a Guinness World Record for the fastest pedal-powered crossing of the English Channel. Possessing superior nautical qualities that enabled navigation through the Channel’s notoriously inhospitable waters, its ballasted keel provides superior stability in windy conditions for up to three passengers.

Or perhaps you’re one to sit poolside with a good book. For you, we have The Turkish Cotton Chaise Lounge Cover. This is the lounge cover made of the same superior cotton as the renowned Hammacher Schlemmer Turkish robe. Imported from Turkey’s Denizli region, a global textile center renowned for producing cotton with exceptionally long-staple fibers, the terry fabric is uncommonly soft, plush, and readily absorbs moisture. The cover provides a sumptuous resting place, while you watch the would-be record-breakers wear themselves out in the pool.

Motoring the Globe in a New-fangled Way

It may come as no surprise that Hammacher Schlemmer was an early supporter of the drive toward the car culture. In 1902, when there were fewer than 600 cars in New York City and no gas stations, we introduced the first Auto Parts Department, selling parts and tools for the “horseless carriage” including a Motorist Touring Kit, which allowed drivers to fix a flat or blown gasket.

This was the age of the polished brass automobile—works of the machinist’s art and craft—years before “King Henry” punched out black tin Lizzies. These speed machines gleamed seductively with seats padded and sprung by coach builders, and looked much like The Stirling Engine 1900 Mercedes. In these bold, crazy days there were no helmets, no roll bar, and no air bags. Seatbelts? Paah! But now people had the speed to move and explore the planet.

To promote the future of the automobile, The New York Times challenged the French newspaper Le Matin to the most daunting race of the day: New York to Paris. Many thought this an impossible act of lunacy. Was the technology up to the ordeal? Were men brave and adventurous enough to stand up to the journey? It was the space program of the day.

It was winter, February 12th and a gold pistol shot marked the start of The Great 1908 New York to Paris automobile race. Six teams left New York. In the rural countryside, there were no snow plows and most roads were mud, gravel or dirt; asphalt wasn’t invented until 1910. Drivers had no benefit of The Stuck in Snow Extrication Kit.

The race promoters had the novel idea that the Bering Strait would be frozen and the cars could drive over it with tire chains like a land bridge. Melting ice made the whole notion impossible and was abandoned. The machines were shipped by sea first to Alaska and later back to Seattle and on to Japan.

The American auto in the race, piloted by George Schuster, was the sturdy and dashing Thomas Flyer, of the Thomas Motor Company, in Buffalo, NY. The Flyer had no enclosed cockpit, only overstuffed front and rear tonneau seats. There wasn’t even a windshield. All supplies and provisions had to be tied to the running boards or stored in foot wells. Planks were lashed to the sides to be used as traction boards on muddy permafrost roads. The cars were powered by 40-60 horsepower low compression 4-cylinder engines. Top speeds ranged from 40 to 70 mph.

Food was scarce along the way. No maps existed for many remote sections of the globe. A homemade sextant and brass compass were used to navigate through Siberia and Mongolia.

Three teams finished the race: the French, the Germans, and Schuster’s American Thomas Flyer, with Schuster the only competitor to complete the entire 22,000-mile journey. Even though the German team made it to Paris first, they took shortcuts along the way and didn’t follow the route. The French judges penalized them and declared Schuster’s American team the winner on this day, 105 years ago.

More than a century later, Schuster’s feat has never been equaled. The famous race heralded the start of a new era in transportation, but perhaps it’s time to recreate the race with today’s electric cars. The 120 MPH electric car would be our favored entrant. It can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 4.0 seconds to a top speed of 120 mph in one gear with no shifting thanks to its two electric motors.

If you prefer to travel solo, look at The Electric One Person Car. This electric, highway-legal, three-wheeled, single passenger vehicle combines the functionality of an electric car with the maneuverability and scale of a motorcycle. With a range of 30 miles per charge, it operates with zero emissions and uses less than half the energy of even today’s most efficient hybrid vehicles.