Curator's Corner Blog

Monthly Archives: February 2013

HMFM at Museum Advocacy Day!

HMFM director Dr. Bob Brown and his wife Claudia were in Washington D.C. this week for Museum Advocacy Day! Check out all the exciting things they were part of:

Claudia and I arrived in DC late Saturday, Feb. 23 to get ready for AAM’s Museum Advocacy Day.  Sunday we had a day off and managed to walk about 87 miles from our hotel to the Lincoln Memorial – awesome; Korean War Memorial – one of the most moving memorials I’ve ever seen, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial – a perfect setting, a perfectly wonderful monument to one of the great Americans of the late 20th century, and the WW II monument – a truly fitting and monumental tribute to the Greatest Generation.  We walked past the White House, Washington Monument (closed), and Sackler Gallery.
Monday was an incredible day of training for lobbying with our Congressional delegation and made me feel much more confident, rather than like a fish out of water.  Perfecting the Museum’s “elevator” speech, and learning the basics of Washington, DC-isms.
Today I truly had the honor of participating in the most American tradition of them all – meeting with our elected officials and petitioning them for a cause close to my heart – the future and the health of the museum community.  While Representative Daines and Senators Baucus and Tester were understandably busy given the current situation of sequestration, I,John Barsness (of Bozeman) and Olga Dmitryuk (a student from Moscow) had a great meeting with staff members from all three Congressmen.  They were all friendly, open, and helpful – in other words, Montanans.  We urged then to sign a letter supporting “robust” funding for IMLS (Senator Baucus has already signed – thank you!), encouraged them to preserve the Charitable Deductions for nonprofits, and remember that museums are an integral part of the educational system as Congress looks at acting on a new Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  All were very supportive and I hope that each will take advantage of my invitation to visit the Museum.  
Senator Baucus has been a big friend of the entire country’s museum community and of the Historical Museum in our efforts to obtain and restore the ADC Headquarters.  
Senator Tester is closely connected to us through his efforts for healthy forests and a healthy forestry industry; not to mention Trolley #50 that was restored in Big Sandy.  We hope that Representative Daines will become a friend and I look forward to giving him and his staff a behind-the-scenes tour of the Museum the next time they are in town.
Being in Washington, the center of the universe, is an exciting and moving experience.  I felt truly humble and blessed as I wandered around the Rayburn House Office and Hart Senate Office Buildings.  Fantastic!
  – Dr.Bob


The Modern Miracle of the Electric Toaster

Downton Abbey fans might remember a humorous moment early in this season, when Mrs. Hughes, the head housekeeper, brings home an electric toaster. She plugs the contraption into a socket in her room and proceeds to happily burn her first piece of bread in the pursuit of toast.

Mrs. Hughes Toaster gif


Carson, the head butler, distrusts this electric toaster as much as he distrusted the telephone when it first came to Downton, but the electric toaster provided a convenience that was part of the modern era. A pamphlet in the collection of the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula describes how one could make toast right at the breakfast table instead of standing over the stove — “Crisp hot toast made before your eyes. On the dining room table — or where there is an electric light outlet — just as you like it.”

This advertisement for the GE Radiant Toaster was printed sometime between 1908 and 1917, just as the first successful electric toasters were coming onto the market. Missoulians may have been as excited as Mrs. Hughes about trying these new contraptions, and after 1908, they had ready access to the electricity necessary to power the devices, too.

While electricity had been in Missoula since the late 19th century, it took the construction of the Milltown (formerly Clark) Dam in 1905-08 to provide the city with reliable power for its street cars, street lights and, of course, toasters.

The toasters in the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula’s collection date from the 1920s and 30s, when most urban homes had reliable power and many different companies were manufacturing toasters for home use.

Though the design has changed, the mechanism for toasting bread has remained remarkably consistent over the years. Electric current heats coils of metal wire, which turn your bread a toasty brown (while “not drying it hard as a bone,” as the Radiant Toaster ad boasted).

For most of the ‘teens and ’20s, electric toasters looked like this:

Place the bread in the little door, close, then toast until done. This is the Marion Giant Flipflop, called such because you “flipflopped” the bread once one side was toasted to get the other side done. These models don’t appear to have an on/off switch – you had to unplug the machine to turn it off – which must have made life more interesting!

Will You Be Our Valentine?

Are you sharing today with someone special? Did you buy a box of paper Valentines for your little one to pass out to all her classmates? Commercially printed Valentines have been around since at least the 1840s, and the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula has many from different eras in its collection.

As with most things, the graphic style of Valentines changed over time, and these cards are a charming throwback to the early 20th century.

Courtesy of the Gail Owen Collection (1977.051)

Courtesy of the Gail Owen Collection (1977.051)

Courtesy of the Gail Owen Collection (1977.051)

The practice of sending humorous cards on Valentine’s Day dates to the mid-19th century. This young man is “stuck” — on his Valentine and also on some fly paper.

Courtesy of the Gail Owen Collection (1977.051)

Some Valentines in the collection wear their hearts on their sleeves, though. Poetry never hurts when trying to win the love of a lady!

Courtesy of the University of Montana Mansfield Library Collection (1995.061)

The poem reads, “Please have me for a partner, do, Oh, Kitty, dear, I love but you!”

Many of the museum’s cards were donated by a teacher who kept the Valentines sent to her by her students. They offer a sweet look at how children celebrated Valentine’s Day in years past.

Courtesy of the Norma Green Collection (1996.020)

Happy Valentine’s Day!

HMFM Burma Shave!

Anyone driven down Guardsman Lane lately? Curious to know about the new bright red signs adorning the edges of the road on your way to the museum?

Nothing like some Burma Shave Signs to celebrate the new Signs of the Times exhibit!

Why Burma-Shave?

Burma-Shave was first introduced in 1925 as a liniment made from ingredients found on the Malay Peninsula and inBurma. However sales were slow and the company wanted a product with greater appeal hence “Burma-Shave brushless shaving cream” was born. Burma-Shave became the second-highest selling brushless shaving cream in theUnited Statesat its peak.

The Burma-Shave signs were an early example of popular highway advertising that lasted into the 1960’s.  Generally a series of six sequential signs were placed at the edge of a road for passing motorists to read, the last sign in the series almost always had the name of the product. As motor vehicle travel expanded and speeds increased it became more and more difficult to attract the attention of drivers and the signs were eventually discontinued for safety’s sake. Interestingly, today several state highway departments use signs in the same style to dispense travel safety messages to motorists.

The signs were creative and used humorous puns and rhymes to sell their product. 1963 was the last year of the official advertising campaign. The final slogan, repeated from 1953 was,

“Our fortune / Is your / Shaven face / It’s our best / Advertising space /Burma-Shave”.