Ask a Librarian

Outfitting a hospital, 1925

Alethea Drexler, archives assistant

Why, oh, why, didn’t I think to save last week’s post on Piltdown Man for April Fool’s Day?  Oh, well.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Moving on from poor blog timing . . . this week takes us back into the bowels of the Hermann Hospital Estate papers.  They brought us Pigeon Hole Parking a few weeks ago, and we’re coming back for more.

Box #3 of the Estate papers holds material from 1925, which was the year that Hermann Hospital opened.  At the time, it looked like this[1].

Half of the box contains letters between the Estate and Alfred C. Finn[2], the architect.  The other half of the box contains a lot of things that usually get thrown away . . . unless they don’t get thrown away and are unearthed eighty-five years later by archive geeks like me.

What did it take to outfit a new hospital in 1925?  Lots of things, some of them interesting but most of them very mundane.  Some of them came with flashy letterheads and beautifully-illustrated informational brochures, a few of which I’ve scanned for you today.

There are long lists of the kinds of things you would expect in a hospital inventory: Test tubes, microscopes, pipettes, glass slides, dyes and reagents, sterilizers:

American Sterilizer

According to the sales information, some of the sterilizers offered by American could be powered by electricity, gas, steam, or kerosene, a reminder that electricity wasn’t ubiquitous in 1925.

Nursery name necklaces – J.A. Deknatel & Son, Brooklyn.  Is it just me, or do these look like a choking hazard? According to this antiques page[3], Deknatel made costume jewelry and buttons, although a Google search suggests they may later have branched out into surgical suture.

J.A. Deknatel nursery necklaces

Fire extinguishers – Foamite-Childs Corporation of Utica, New York, dressed their lettering in–what else?–foam. You can also see some Foamite-Childs fire trucks from the 1920’s here[4].

Foamite-Childs letterhead

Brushes of all descriptions – Hygienic Brush Company, New York.  “Hygienic” was one of the buzzwords of the early 20th century, like “organic” or “smart” today.  The brushes ordered included the usual toothbrushes by the gross, whisk brooms, mop handles, and combs, but also ventured into “dustless dusters”, which seem to have been a loose-weave dust-cloth[5] that picked up soil instead of flicking it away, and “radiation brushes”.  I can’t find any information on “radiation brushes”; the term now applies to some kind of Photoshop effect.  Possibly it was a brush with bristles all the way around, like a bottle brush or test-tube brush?

Hygienic Brush Company

Sun-lamps and diathermy equipment for the “physio-therapy” department – Johnson-North X-Ray Company.  This order totaled almost $1,800 and included a Standard Junior High Frequency diathermy[6] apparatus.  Diathermy is the therapeutic generation of heat in muscles by the use of electromagnetic radiation.  Basically, it’s microwaving your aches and pains.

Standard Junior High-Frequency diathermy apparatus

A beautiful booklet for Hanovia[7] Quartz Lamps, with a slightly racy cover.  Hanovia made (makes, actually; they’re still in business) sun-lamps that claimed to treat everything from tuberculosis to hay fever to pyorrhea [gum disease] to keloids[8].

Phil described this photo as “very Fritz Lang[9].”

Hanovia Quartz Lamps

File cabinets – Most of them came from the Kardex Company[10], whose new factory was front-page news:

Kardex is front-page news! Hey, wait . . .

OK, it was the front page of the company newsletter, but still.

Many of the letters in the Estate collection are written on decorated letterhead, and many of those letterheads include proud depictions of the company’s factory.  It seems to me that letterheads were also quick to add cars to the streets in front of the factories; I’ve always wondered if this was meant to imply that they were cutting-edge and forward-thinking.

Mattresses – Lots and lots of mattresses, purchased right here in Houston from Usatex (“Use-A-Tex”), who had exuberant letterhead and apparently left no font by the wayside when it designed its logo.


Food-service equipment – Specifically, my old favorite, the Lyons milk dispenser.  This is the page of the booklet with the cut-away illustration that shows the special tube and float that ensure that the right amount of cream is skimmed off with each glass of milk.  Lyons advertised its urns as “The urn that earns” because it “Eliminates the dirty, unsanitary, sloppy, and wasteful dipper method” and saved money on wasted milk.   A dipper for milk in a high-use area?  I’m officially grossed out . . . and converted to the idea of enclosed milk coolers with “sanitary” stop-cocks.

“The urn that earns”

Works consulted:

[1] John P. McGovern Historical Collections and Research Center, institutional collection #90 – Texas hospital postcards.

[2] Handbook of Texas OnlineAlfred Charles Finn (1883-1964)

[3] Morning Glory Antiques.

[4] Foamite-Childs page at

[5] Howard Dustless Duster advertisement on LiveAuctioneers.

[6] Diathermy at Encyclopedia Brittanica Online.

[7] Hanovia UV Lamps

[8] Keloids at National Library of Medicine, Medline Plus.

[9] Fritz Lang on Wikipedia.

[10] Kardex.