April 16, 2014

Do you know what this is?

The Oskaloosa Herald



This past week's artifact from the Nelson Pioneer Farm is a Wabash Cautery Battery.

Dan Kalbach took a guess at the identity of the artifact. He wrote via email: “This is a "S.W.A.G"; Systematic Wild-Assed Guess, but it looks a lot like a blasting generator.  These were used to detonate the primers to ignite dynamite in mining operations.  The two posts towards the front would be hooked to wires running to the primer, and the larger post would have been pushed down to generate the voltage needed to set the primers off.  Again, just a 'SWAG'.”

Nelson Pioneer Farm Curator Kelly Halbert did some research on the artifact. She wrote: “Wabash Cautery Battery

Nickel plated knobs set in an oak case with an intricately molded brass handle is hardly what anyone envisions as a battery today, but that is what this artifact is. Manufactured by Truax, Greene and Co. of Chicago, a medical supply company, it is a wet cell battery designed for use by doctors when treating patients.

This Wabash Cautery Battery contains two plates which when immersed in acid emit an electric current. The directions for mixing the acid are printed inside the lid of the container. The recipe is sufficient to create one charge or current for one treatment – the instructions suggest that several bottles are mixed so that the physician can have them on hand when needed.

Considering the era that this battery was made, it is not surprising that a doctor making house calls might want a source of electricity. This battery was not listed among the 120 pages of batteries in the 1893 catalog for Charles Truax’s company. A similar battery, of different manufacture but listed in the catalog as a Cautery Battery was to be used for electro therapy, cauterizing wounds and could also power a 4 watt light.

Charles Truax started his medical company in Iowa in 1878. In 1884 he moved to Wabash Street in Chicago where the medical opportunities were increasing as the city grew and 5 hospitals opened there. He partnered with Greene sometime in the 1890s and was a leader in the business for several years. The company closed in 1920.”

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.

Herald Editor Duane Nollen can be reached by email at oskynews@oskyherald.com