Oskaloosa.com

November 13, 2013

Nelson Pioneer Farm artifact

Do you know what this is?

By DUANE NOLLEN and ANDY GOODELL
The Oskaloosa Herald

OSKALOOSA —

This past week's artifact from the Nelson Pioneer Farm is a vaporizer and lamp.

Virginia Dalbey took a guess at this past week's artifact. In a letter to the Herald, she wrote, “The medicinal lamp pictured in the shopper was used in our home. Ointment was placed in the upper tray. The heat from the lamp warmed the ointment and was used for healthful breathing after inhaling it. I still have one in my home.”

Judy Grade also made a guess as to the identity of this past week's artifact. In an e-mail to the Herald, she wrote, “I've never seen one of these except in a book a long time ago. Luckily, my friend still had the book. It's an  Antique Vapo-Cresolene Vaporizer, possibly made in New York in the late 1800s. It has a Cast iron holder that supports a kerosene lamp with milk glass shade and aluminum tray ontop for warming the contents that vaporize for the sick.”

Nelson Pioneer Farm curator Kelly Halbert has done some research on the artifact: “Vapo-Cresolene Vaporizor and lamp (1881-1950)

The Vapo-Cresolene vaporizer was designed to improve breathing in patients suffering from a wide variety of breathing disorders and illnesses. Especially popular at the turn of the 19th century, this little spirit lamp burned kerosene to heat a small dish filled with the Cresonlene chemical.

The inhalant was supposed to cure “Whooping Cough, Spasmodic Croup, Nasal Catarrh, Colds, Bronchitis, Coughs, Sore Throat, Broncho [sic] Pneumonia, The Paroxysms of asthma and Hay Fever, The bronchial Complications of Scarlet Fever and Measles, and as an aid in the treatment of Diphtheria and certain Inflammatory Throat Diseases.” By heating the Cresolene , a “bedroom of ordinary size” became a vaporizing chamber to help the patient recover. This product was also recommended by its manufacturers to treat distemper, pneumonia and roup in dogs, horses and chickens.

There were several drawbacks to this medicinal “wonder”. First and foremost, Cresolene was mostly made of creosote, a chemical we now know to be carcinogenic. It was advertised as a carbolic acid, but research by the American Medical Association in 1908 found the germicide to be a product of coal-tar, stronger than carbolic acid. Secondly, the pure chemical also was poisonous and caused burns to the skin. However, at the time it was recommended for killing germs by using a diluted solution of the Cresolene – 1 teaspoon full to one quart of water. Finally, a treatment meant leaving a burning flame next to an ailing child overnight, a possible cause of burns and house fires.

The Vaporizer was originally patented in 1885 by James Henry Valentine. He discovered the benefits of these vapors in 1879 when his daughter was ill with whooping cough and he heated some Cresolene in a small cup over a lamp, the fumes gave the girl quick relief. Elias Carpenter then perfected the appliance in 1888, working with Valentine. George S. Page joined the business in the late 1880s, having worked with coal tar products under his father’s tutelage. The product was distributed until the mid 1950s.

Munsey, Cecil, copyright 2010, Wikimedia Foundation & Cecil Munsey.com”

The Oskaloosa Herald and the Nelson Pioneer Farm are teaming up to test your knowledge of historical artifacts.

The Nelson Pioneer Farm has about 15,000 artifacts in its collection spanning in age from the 1840s to the present.

The Herald will take a picture of an artifact and publish it in the Herald section of the Oskaloosa Shopper, The Oskaloosa Herald an the Herald's Web site, www.oskaloosa.com. People can make a guess on what they think the object could be.

People can either email their guess to oskynews@oskyherald.com or mail their guess to The Oskaloosa Herald, P.O. Box 530, Oskaloosa, IA 52577. You can vote from Wednesday through Saturday.

The identity of the artifact and the vote breakdown will be announced in each Wednesday's Herald Shopper along with the week's new artifact.