(Roughly) Daily

“Simplicity is the final achievement”*…


Most innovations evolve over time, but when it comes to the index card, there has been little room for improvement. The idea of using “little paper slips of a standard size” has been around since Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus formally adopted it in 1767, but the index card has remained virtually unchanged for the past 250 years.

Linnaeus was inundated with information in his herculean task of classifying plants under the system of binomial nomenclature. While inspecting the Queen of Sweden’s butterfly collection in 1752, he had the idea to use small, uniform cards to catalog his findings.

By the time he started using the system on a regular basis, his method had evolved to very much resemble index cards of today: 3×5 inches on card stock only slightly more substantial than everyday paper, with notes written across the card horizontally. Linnaeus’ innovation would eventually give birth to the Dewey Decimal System and other ambitious attempts to systematically categorize human knowledge—but it also had a dark side.

As Daniela Blei writes in the Atlantic, “From nature’s variety came an abiding preoccupation with the differences between people. As soon as anthropologists applied Linnaeus’s taxonomical system to humans, the category of race, together with the ideology of racism, was born.”…

From Vladimir Nabokov’s use of index cards to write his novels (and to do his interviews) to less expected uses, explore the lore at “Index Cards.”

See also “How the Humble Index Card Foresaw the Internet.”

* Frederic Chopin


As we file ’em away, we might recall that it was on this date in 1795 that the French government announced a prize of 12,000 francs for a method of preserving food and transporting it to its armies.  Napoleon, who famously understood that an army travels on its stomach, had offered the award.

Nicolas Appert, who worked 14 years to perfect a method of storing food in sterilized glass containers, won the prize in 1810.  Interestingly, that same year (1810), Appert’s friend and agent, Peter Durand, took the invention to the other side.  He switched the medium from glass to metal and presented it to Napoleon’s enemies, the British– scoring  a patent (No. 3372) from King George for the preservation of food in metal (and glass and pottery) containers… the tin can.

One of Appert’s/Durand’s first cans



Written by (Roughly) Daily

February 2, 2018 at 1:01 am

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