Alternate History, Finger Lakes, FLX, Removing Statues, statue, Uncategorized, Upstate New York

Learning All About History By Looking At Statues ~ ~ Chapter VIII ~ ~ E. M. Butterbrot & The Pabulum Pump Co.

 

 

 

Today’s statue is not just an object of beauty, though often praised and imitated.

 

And it commemorates more than a single person, Egon Muskie Butterbrot, to whom it’s dedicated.

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.

 

One of the few surviving relics of Food Preparatory #1 – – a boiler used for steaming parsnips.

 

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 all of the fish in the Seneca River, in no way detracts from the beauty of his vision.

 

 

 

Butterbrot’s pipeline aqueduct over the river. It’s collapse, and the resulting mass die-off of perch and catfish, killed by the hot soup, proved to be the coup de grâce for his project.

 

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.

 

Kellogg’s Battle Creek Sanitarium

 

An inventor and manufacturer of fire engines, Butterbrot had headed to Chicago, where the Great Fire of 1871 was still burning in the residents’ memory, expecting ready sales of his pumpers.  He checked into the famous Palmer House hotel. The original hotel had burned down in the Fire, only thirteen days after it opened, but with typical Chicago flair, had been immediately rebuilt.  It was glorious – the first hotel in town to have an elevator, electric lights, and telephones in every room.  Tiffany glass, chandeliers sparking with garnets, and an immense fresco on the ceiling over the lobby.  Seven stories of luxurious accommodations and wonderful food, always full of famous visitors like Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, and any number of Presidents.

 

The Palmer House barber shop had silver dollars embedded in the floor. Library of Congress

 

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.

 

“The Impediment to Progress” in one of Butterbrot’s pamphlets.

 

 

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.”

 

One of centralized “food preparatories”

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.

 

Food Preparatory Factory #1, no longer extant.

 

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.

 

Youth were employed in the dough-rolling plant.  As well as providing bodily sustentation – a daily ration of hearty parsnip soup – Butterbrot provided a harpsichordist and potted palms, to nurture the young souls, and render the workplace a pleasant and uplifting environs. Children under the age of thirteen were limited to a 48-hour work-week, so they could continue their schooling.

 

His workshops blazed with electric lighting all through the wee hours, exciting a good deal of talk and some apprehension in the community, as he frantically experimented with new pumps.

“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.

 

An early attempt to transmit sauerkraut required a complete disassembly of the test pipeline.

 

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!”

 

The system was complex and costly to maintain, requiring constant inspection.

 

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.

 

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41 thoughts on “Learning All About History By Looking At Statues ~ ~ Chapter VIII ~ ~ E. M. Butterbrot & The Pabulum Pump Co.

  1. Another tour de force from a perpetually perfervid imagination. Your readers funderstood every word. And speaking of words, shouldn’t coup de grâce have been soup de grâce, ungracious though it was toward the fish in the river? Many Americans mispronounce the last word in coup de grâce as grah, which is actually the French pronunciation of the gras that English has borrowed as grease. Perhaps it was an excess of grease in Butterbrot’s soup that killed all the fish. Perhaps he didn’t know what side his bread was buttered on. I hope my conjectures don’t sound fishy, or at least no more fishy than your essay.

    • No way! That must’ve been quite a change in lifestyle. I didn’t even know they had a branch in Texas. I remember being told it was a big deal when ITT (a huge corporation) bought Goulds, in the ’90’s, but I’m just glad they keep the plant in S.F. going, it employs 100’s and I’m guessing it’s the largest employer in the county.

  2. Sure, Robert, it’s your parents’ fault. But at some point a mature person like yourself has to make their own decisions and choices. Yours are clearly questionable. It’s just irresponsible to say you’re gonna type up the rest later. Those kids worked 48hrs/wk and went to school. Come on!! 🙂

    • Thank you, Lynn, but I think only 48 hrs/week has spoiled those kids, and I want nothing more to do with them. I’d invented a whole backstory for E.M. – raised by an elderly aunt, who always burned the dinner, and tended to set the kitchen on fire – to explain his fascination with both food and fire engines. But I think maybe this gag went on long enough already. 🙂

  3. What a wild imagination. I was half way through it when I thought, “er… ?” That said, a certain Mr Kellogg (of cereal fame) had some curious and unpleasant activities, so fact (possibly) could be stranger than fiction.

    I love the idea of a sauerkraut pipeline (as long as its contents launched themselves at someone else!)

  4. George says:

    A delightful work of prodigious imagination, not to mention intestinal fortitude.

    What is truly inspired about your writing is not just your capacity for absurd invention, but that so much of it so closely mirrors reality. It’s disingenuous to call it nonsense, it’s a cleverly skewed, refraction of life, and a wonderfully entertaining read.

  5. “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.” That alone had me rolling in the aisle. I am glad that you had fun writing this because a lot of us had fun reading it.
    I really liked the food pipeline idea. Maybe we’d just have pressurized levers that would let a steady stream of mushed meat and potatoes land with a loud plop on a plate. Therein lies the true failure of Mr. Butterbrot’s doom…what to do with the utensils and plates.Plastic was still a few years off. If only plastic was available the whole plan might have succeeded like applesauce and raisins.
    I have to admit my apparent naiveté at first thinking this was real. The more I read the more I was reminded of Kurt Vonnegut.

    • Thank you very much, Steve, I’m really happy you got a kick out of the story. I’d been reading about pneumatic mail systems, like the ones they still use for drive-up bank tellers, etc., and they just seemed pretty neat, and somebody using them for food delivery didn’t seem completely crazy. And the story just wrote itself from there. 🙂

  6. You just never know. If I were you I’d copyright/trademark the whole idea as with the direction food is going for the masses this just could happen. I don’t know if nutrition being delivered entirely in a pill will come about, but mush on demand just might.

  7. Another very entertaining and fun post, Robert, even if it was admittedly hard to tell what was real until you spelled it out at the end. The pipeline reminded me of an early prototype for the Jetsons food serving machine. I wanted one of those so bad, even though I was a kid and didn’t have to cook yet.

    • Thanks Kristen. A lot of it was real, I kept seeing mentions of pneumatic mail tubes etc., and my grandfather told me that system was still around when he was young. The Jetsons really made a big impact, I wouldn’t mind a robot maid. Jetsons always remind me of looking at photo albums from NY’s world’s fairs, the “World of Tomorrow”. I was more of a Flintstones guy, the Stone Age seemed more like my world in Waterloo.

  8. I giggled all the way through this gem. Every time I read the full name of Herr Butterbrot, I couldn’t help thinking of that just slightly squishy politician, Edmund Muskie, who was in the pipeline himself until circumstances took a turn. Then, I wondered: is it possible that Butterbrot might have been more successful if he’d envisioned turning the muskies swimming in the Seneca river into fertilizer, and pumping that out to the farmers? After all, he was in the middle of a hotbed ofmuskie fishing, so he had the raw materials at hand. And think of the marketing opportunities: slogans like “Muskie’s Muskies — Better Than Manure!”

    It would have been a shame to lose the opportunity to fire up the parsnip boiler, but progress demands sacrifice!

  9. YES, I immediately thought of the “bleu pnues” of France when I chuckled my way through this wonderful post.
    When I read of the courage of the Fields and Palmers and others in the early days of Chicago, I couldn’t help but be impressed. I confess I feel proud knowing the families still have their country estates not far from where I live, and their names turn up on the guest list of the Adler Art Center where some of my paintings currently are. My brush with fame 🙂

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