I Remember Mama . . . Bell

More

Many newspapers now run only paid memorial announcements, but the New York Times is one of a few that still publish professionally written obituaries to die for. My most recent favorite is Margalit Fox on the violin maker Carleen Hutchins.


Mrs. Hutchins was known for her pragmatism. In 1957 her friend Virginia Apgar, a doctor and amateur violinmaker, began to covet a shelf made of perfect maple. The shelf was in a phone booth in the medical school of Columbia University, where Dr. Apgar taught.

One night she and Mrs. Hutchins stole into the building with some tools and a replacement shelf, stained to match. As Dr. Apgar stood guard, Mrs. Hutchins set to work.

It gets better, but what really got to me was that the old Bell Telephone System, whatever else you could say about it, had standards that consumers took for granted. To think that before mobile phones, generations of Americans scribbled their notes on slabs of luthier-grade hardwood without knowing it.

And don't miss the Times's link to Dr. Apgar's page at the National Library of Medicine.


Jump to comments
Presented by

Edward Tenner is a historian of technology and culture, and an affiliate of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School. He was a founding advisor of Smithsonian's Lemelson Center.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

This Short Film Skewers Hollywood, Probably Predicts Disney's Next Hit

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Video

What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.

Video

How Will Climate Change Affect Cities?

Urban planners and environmentalists predict the future of city life.

Video

The Inner Life of a Drag Queen

A short documentary about cross-dressing, masculinity, identity, and performance

Video

Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.

Writers

Up
Down

More in Technology

From This Author

Just In