“Today’s greatest labor-saving device is tomorrow”*…
Kitchen work was time-consuming labor in the home of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, in the late 15th century. Anxious to cut costs, Sforza allowed Leonardo da Vinci to employ some of his new inventions. The results were a culinary catastrophe of epic proportion…
Master Leonardo da Vinci’s kitchen is a bedlam. Lord Ludovico Sforza has told me that the effort of the last months had been to economize upon human labor, but now, instead of the twenty cooks the kitchens did once employ, there are closer to two hundred persons milling in the area, and none that I could see cooking but all attending to the great devices that crowded up the floors and walls—and none of which seemed behaving in any manner useful or for which it was created.
At one end of the premise, a great waterwheel, driven by a raging waterfall over it, spewed and spattered forth its waters over all who passed beneath and made the floor a lake. Giant bellows, each twelve feet long, were suspended from the ceilings, hissing and roaring with intent to clear the fire smoke, but all they did accomplish was to fan the flames to the detriment of all who needed to negotiate by the fires—so fierce the wandering flames that a constant stream of men with buckets was employed in trying to quell them, even though other waters spouted forth on all from every corner of the ceilings.
And throughout this stricken area wandered horses and oxen, the function of which seemed to be no more than to go around and round, the others dragging Master Leonardo’s floor-cleaning devices—performing their tasks valiantly, but also followed by another great army of men to clean the horses’ messes. Elsewhere I saw the great cow grinder broken down with half a cow still stuck out of it, and men with levers essaying to move it out.
– Sabba da Castiglione [Via Lapham’s Quarterly]
* Woodrow Wilson
As we turn on the coffee maker, we might wish a fresh-and-clean-smelling Happy Birthday to Frederick Louis Maytag; he was born on this date in 1857. In 1893, Maytag, his two brothers-in-law, and George W. Parsons founded Parsons Band-Cutter & Self Feeder Company, a farm implements manufacturer that produced threshing machines, band-cutters, and self-feeder attachments invented by Parsons. But in 1909, Maytag took control, renamed the company (eponymously), and concentrated on washing machines (which were not as seasonal as farm equipment). By 1927, Maytag was selling more than twice as many washers as its nearest competitor.
“F..L,” as he was known, was devoted to his employees; he often greeted employees with a question that has entered the vernacular: “is everybody happy?” And his employees returned the affection– an estimated 10,000 factory workers and salesmen attended his 1937 funeral.
Lest we doubt the social importance of Maytag’s accomplishments, readers might consult global health guru (and stat maven) Han Rosling‘s TED Talk, “The Magic Washing Machine.” (Spoiler alert: the washer– and thus Maytag– have done more for reading than Oprah has.)