By Reyner Banham
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T h e ripe decoration w h i c h characterised s u c h objects m a y or m a y not have b e e n there primarily at the behest o f ripe V i c t o r i a n tastes in decorative art, b u t the depth o f its relief, its undercuttings and 56 convolutions, also appear to have d o n e m u c h to trap sooty waste within the confines o f the ornamentation, and discourage it from spreading right across the ceiling. H o w e v e r , the worst o f the p r o b l e m was s u d d e n l y avoided b y a major breakthrough in gas-lighting t e c h n o l o g y at the b e g i n n i n g o f the 1880's, w h e n the egregious A u s t r i a n inventor, B a r o n A u e r v o n W e l s b a c h p r o d u c e d a commercially viable gas mantle—that is, a b u l b o f fireproof fabric impregnated w i t h oxides o f rare earths w h i c h w o u l d incandesce in the heat o f a gas flame.
20. This document, found among the vast deposit of technical pamphlets that have come to rest in the N e w York Public Library (Bound Pamphlets, V E W , p v i 2 , N o . 1) appears from its format and content to have been some sort of annual address to the N e w York Branch of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. c any demons he m a y have overlooked ( m a n y other factors'). T h i s was h o w he had observed the situation according to the evidence o f his o w n nose. T h e pre-occupation w i t h b o d y odours m a y strike m o d e r n readers as a trifle obsessive and neurotic, b u t so general and emphatic was the apparent nasal evidence on this subject that the belief in an organic poison, mentioned b y K i m b a l l (above), is understandable—what else could have caused the unmistakable and ever-present 'stuffy s m e l l ' in o c c u p i e d interiors, especially at a time w h e n the k n o w l e d g e o f air-borne bacteria was b e g i n n i n g to diffuse a m o n g the general p u b l i c ?
You don't lift waterpipes and gas-pipes up on stilts. 12 12 insisted on saddling h i m s e l f w i t h the task o f inventing satisfactory and properly insulated u n d e r g r o u n d conductors for his p o w e r , cited in Thirty Years of New York, a promotional history published by the Edison C o . , New York, 1913. instead o f imitating the overhead cables o f telephone practice, w h i c h used the surrounding air as a cheap insulator. Nevertheless, telephone practice, in various w a y s , p l a y e d a large part in Edison's t r i u m p h .