Today’s statue is not just an object of beauty, though often praised and imitated.
Butterbrot was a hero of course, a visionary and one of those eminent Victorians of brains, pluck, and intestinal fortitude.
But the statue also conveys a concept, or ideal, or dream – – toward which humanity still strives – – having great meals, without needing to cook, or go to a restaurant, or having pizza delivered.
Like many visionaries, he looked at problems that had bedeviled humanity for years, but had the gift of seeing them in a different light.
Some of his detractors would say, in retrospect, that the lights were on, but no one was home.
But the fact that his venture was a spectacular failure, and caused a financial catastrophe that bankrupted most of the county, and accidentally killed most of the fish in the Seneca River, in no way detracts from the beauty of his vision.
It was during a stay at Dr. Kellogg’s Battle Creek Sanitarium, that a casual remark changed his entire life, and inspired his quest for Progress.
Yet it proved to be a profoundly depressing experience for Butterbrot. His fire engines couldn’t cope with buildings that soared to seven or ten stories. And like many of the new “skyscrapers,” the hotel was constructed of brick, steel, and terra cotta tile, and advertised itself as “The World’s Only Fire Proof Hotel.” He foresaw a future of such fireproof structures, and financial ruin for his fire engine business.
Worried and dejected, he checked himself into Dr. Kellogg’s spa for treatment. (He would’ve been cheered to know that it would burn down, in 1902).
In the course of a consultation, while enumerating the virtues of “Nuttose” (a meat substitute made from peanuts), and discussing other vegetarian and anaphrodisiac delights he was cooking up, Kellogg indulged in a bit of modern slang, saying “More inventions and patents are ‘in the pipeline‘ every day.”
“Upon hearing the word ‘pipeline,’ as Butterbrot often related, “a Flash of Inspiration nearly prostrated me.”
He leapt up, pumped Kellogg’s hand vigorously, and left for home on the next train.
His Idea, in brief, was to create “food preparatories,” industrial-sized kitchens that would transmit food by pipeline to workers’ homes, saving them the need for stoves, larders, iceboxes, pots & pans, etc. as well as the time wasted on going to the market, chasing & plucking fowl, et cetera & cooking.
Butterbrot described himself as a Techno-Progressive, and having grown up in Seneca Falls, where the first Womens’ Rights Convention was held, he wished to liberate members of the gentle sex from the burden of preparing meals. “Equipping each & every household with its own kitchen is inefficient, individualistic, and immensely wasteful of time.”
By freeing women from household drudgery, he could expand the pool of labor for his factory, and remove one of the incentives for getting married, believing that single workers, if well-fed, would be more reliable and productive. Demands for time off for weddings, unionization and a 55-hour work week would dissipate.
By the time he arrived at the factory in Seneca Falls, he’d filled pad after pad with sketches and diagrams, and immediately chartered a new company, “The Providential Provender Pipeline and Pabulum Pump Co.” or PPPPPCo. for short.
He began raising funds with circulars & flyers:
“Provisions Piped To You Piping Hot,”
“Pumping Iron…and Vitamins!” and
“Why a Duct? (It’s Not Quackery!)”
Seneca County responded with alacrity, as practically every resident invested in his venture, and with funding assured, he assembled his most accomplished mechanics, engineers, and several boardinghouse cooks of local renown.
“What was needed,” he’d explain in his telegraphic terseness, “was a single device that ground up, cooked, and then propelled the foodstuffs.”
Conical burr grinders, sausage-makers, cider presses, and corn-stalk-breakers were studied and quickly discarded. Rotating drums filled with cobblestones and heated with coal gas seemed promising, but lacked sufficient propulsive energy.
A mechanized mortar, pestle & piston machine proved unpredictable, and after a field worker on a neighboring farm was nearly decapitated by a cast-iron tureen of turnip soup, which somehow came loose and was flung two miles by the contraption, this was also abandoned.
“Finally,” as he later wrote, “the solution presented itself as I soaked in an effervescent hydrotherapy tub, studying Kellogg’s ‘The Uses of Water.’ The bath pump, one of my design, which produced the health-giving bubbles, gave a tremendous sort of hiccup, and the water slopped over the rim. I experienced another Flash of Inspiration. Like Archimedes, I leapt from the tub, shouting ‘Eureka!'”
However…this was Upstate New York, not heathen Greece, and folks don’t run down the streets naked & shouting. He toweled off, shaved, combed & pomaded his hair, oiled his mustache, drew on his trousers, buttoned on the braces, fastened the stud in his celluloid collar, tied his cravat, shined & tied his shoes, attached his watchchain & stowed the timepiece in a vest pocket, and arranged a handkerchief in the pocket of his frock coat.
He had by then, completely forgotten the brainstorm.
“Then, by some Benevolent Influence, heedless in my anxiety and distraction, I slipped on the wet flagstones, and cracked my head upon the basin. As I regained my footing, the whole Idea in its entirety again presented itself.”
It was Archimedes’ screw, one of the earliest pump designs in history. Slightly modified, and hooked to a steam engine, it became a “High-Shear Extruder,” whose compression and friction produced enough heat to cook the food, without requiring an external source of heat.
“We could now produce hot slush on a truly Industrial Scale, and Pump the Mash to the Masses!”
This is the End of Chapter One.
Chapter Two, “Persuading the Unleavened Masses to Accept the New Scheme of Efficient Cookery”
Chapter Three, “Early Success & The Later Backlash; Advertising Campaign to Address Malicious & Scurrilous Rumours RE the Currants In the Christmas Pudding”
Chapter Four, “The Hyperion Loop Pipeline Disaster, and Resultant Dying of Fish, Governmental Inquiry, Disgrace & Bankruptcy”
I’ll have to type all this up later, it’s kind of a tragic story.
It goes without saying, that Dr. Kellogg and The Palmer House were real, the rest of this is nonsense. The nice old photos are from the Library of Congress and the Wellcome Library. The statue is made from machine parts, from Goulds Pumps, a very real company, which has been manufacturing in Seneca Falls since the 1840’s.
In the 19th c. they made iron well pumps, corn grinders, fire engines, and now produce state-of-the-art pumps for industrial use.
When I was a kid, my irresponsible parents told me that this object (rusting away in the weeds, a short distance from the statue), was an early Soyuz capsule, from a Soviet space launch that went astray, and splashed down in the canal. You can see why I am the way I am today.