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Reminiscences of Montclair
Chapter 12

In a broader outlook of memory during the years of my time it is interesting to note the advance in every sphere of life, domestic, industrial, intellectual, scientific and religious. The changes in domestic life, to which some reference has already been made, are specially marked in light and fuel. Coal had been discovered as an article of fuel in the early part of the last century, but wood was the only material in use in my early memory. It was burned in the great fireplace with a big back-log and wood piled in front, making a warm and bright home-room for the household during the long winter evenings as the family gathered about the hearthstone. Well I remember this family association in the old grandfather home. In the kitchen was the great crane stretched across the fire-place. On this was hung the family dinner pot from which was served the savory meals. Every family had its wood-pile with a bountiful supply cut for the long winter use. Fire wood was very much a matter of merchandise and was carted in large quantities to and through the town on its way to Newark. Many of these loads of hickory and oak wood have I measured and computed the value of in early business life, for the accommodation of the farmers. All this gradually changed with the advent of coal, which in the early time came to us in the natural lump as it was taken from the mine. It was my office, as the small boy of the family, to break it into suitable size for the stove. A few tons at first were enough to supplement the wood fires. Just to note the change in its extensive and growing use, the reported output of bituminous coal for 1906 was 342,874,867 tons.

In the primitive time of wood fires it was very important with every family that live coals should be well covered with ashes over night and so be kept alive to start the new fire in the morning. It was not an uncommon event to send to the neighbors for a few live coals with which to start the family fire. This care to perpetuate the live coals of course antedates the present convenience of friction matches, instead of which the family were generally supplied with tinder box, steel and flint. The spark from the flint, produced by a sudden strike on the steel, falling on the tinder would ignite it, then a brimstone match would be lighted from the burning tinder. The first advance from these little shaving brimstone matches was the new invention of a box, with small stick matches at one end and a bottle of acid in the other end. These matches had a preparation on one end which, when dipped into the acid, would ignite. This was soon followed by a match that would ignite by scratching it on any hard substance and was called the Lucifer match. When the price was reduced to two cents a box, an eccentric fellow in the old store punning on its name said, "Oh Lucifer! How though hast fallen; only two cents a box."

The almost universal article for light was the tallow candle, or tallow dip. Often have I helped my mother dip the wicks into the pot of melted tallow till they were sufficiently increased in size to fit the candlestick. After all our puns on the days of candle light, they still have their place in domestic use. Following and in general use for street lights in New York in my earliest memory of the city. Then came camphine, used mainly for a permanent light requiring a glass chimney for draft. At the same time a composition of camphine and alcohol, called burning fluid, was in general use as a portable light. It furnished a clean and pleasant material for the purpose, but was so inflammable that its use was attended with many serious disasters. Then came the kerosene oil which almost spontaneously sprang from great underground reservoirs in apparently inexhaustible supply. Notwithstanding that much has been said and written of dark deeds in its production, it certainly has given more artificial light to the world at a low cost than any article preceding it, and supplementing it we now have the full blaze of gas and electricity.

Almost as marked is the advance in the water supply of New York. In my memory, excepting a small downtown district supplied through wooden pipes from a reservoir located between Prince and White Streets (New York History), the water for family use was from pumps located on the streets, and in some cases, it had to be carried a block or more. The great fire of 1835 was the event that awoke New York to its need, resulting in the great Croton Water plant, which was so far completed in 1842 that the water was turned on July 4th, attended with an immense civic and military parade in which President John Tyler was a conspicuous figure, to me particularly interesting as my first sight of a real live President of the United States.

Another development within my memory is photography, originating in Paris. Pictures were first taken on a highly polished metal plate and called daguerreo-types, framed in a closed case of handsome design at a cost of about five dollars, and in my early experience, furnished a pleasant article of exchange for lovers. It has now become a great industry throughout the world and so common in use that we are liable to be snapped at any time and place, and our homes are flooded with fine and accurate pictures of friends and scenery at very little cost.

A recent and more valuable advance in the art is its aid in the study of astronomy. So minute are the calculations in the movements of the heavenly bodies and so accurate the advanced art of mechanism, that an authoritative astronomer recently told us that the machinery attached to the large telescope would accurately guide the glass in following any particular part of the stellar world on which the glass was fixed throughout the night, and thus give a continuous and accurate exposure, enabling the astronomer to secure pictures of worlds in infinite space that the strongest glass had failed to show.

Reminiscences of Montclair (NJ) was written in 1908 by Philip Doremus
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