Iowa State University Library #TBT @ISU_Library

Today a group of library staff, including University Archivist, Brad Kuennen, and myself, took a tour for library staff given by library staff member Mark Forbis (pictured below).

Mark Forbis at the beginning of our library tour

Mark Forbis at the beginning of our library tour

The tour focused on the original library building and the purposes for which rooms were originally designed, as well as their subsequent uses. Some interesting spaces that no longer exist or are used for different purposes include: a janitor’s apartment in the basement of the library, currently used for storage; a basement-level loading dock in what is now the front of the library; and Bookends Cafe occupies space that used to be a ladies’ lounge!

Mark also talked about where the different library additions met the original building. Photographs, floor plans, and information culled from The Library at Iowa State helped tell the story. Mark and some other library staff attending the tour were also able to fill in some blanks.

The photographs below show the different views of the library from 1925 through 1999. These photographs can be found online in the University Library’s Digital Collections in University Photographs. You can also drop by the reading room to see more photographs of the library and other historical ISU pictures. We’re open from 10-4!

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In 1913, students had designs on the Campanile’s chimes @isucarillon

Today let’s look at an old (1913) bachelor’s thesis housed in the University Archives. Cataloging them is one of my duties, and some of them are quite interesting. I doubt many ISU undergraduates write theses these days, but they used to write quite a few. The theses are unpublished hardbound typescripts. Most are little more than essays: our subject today consists of 13 leaves, of which seven leaves are photos and blueprints. Others are substantial volumes with multiple authors (students were allowed to collaborate, and often did). Blueprints of technical drawings, etc. are typically bound in after the text. The blueprints are often much larger than the theses, so they’re folded as many times as necessary to fit between the covers.

Ample abbreviations were fashionable.

Ample abbreviations were fashionable.

You can read about the “Margaret Chimes” and their namesake, Margaret MacDonald Stanton, here and read about Iowa State’s Campanile here. (If you’re interested in learning more, contact us at Special Collections.) For our purposes today, it’s enough to know that the Margaret Chimes are a set of ten bells and that the 110′ tower was constructed to house them. The Campanile’s carillon and other renovations came later.

Flash back to 1913. Electrical engineering students Don H. Kilby and Joseph J. Shoemaker have become aware that ringing the ten chimes by means of ropes is problematic. They write that the operator must pull with a force of between 20 and 50 pounds (depending on the size of the bell). “This makes it practically impossible to maintain musical cadence. At present the system is in very bad order and on average one bell rope is broken each day.” Kilby and Shoemaker conclude that an electric remote control system would be relatively simple. It would cost an estimated $657.40 including labor ($15,952.64 adjusted for inflation). Their system’s “keyboard” and bell-clapper system would require far less maintenance. Perhaps more importantly, it would make better music: the operator could choose a “light, medium, or hard stroke” with predictable delay-times between striking keys and the sounding of chimes. I’m not an electrical engineer, but I am a musician, and their system looks good to me!

ApparatusKilby and Shoemaker did not get to install their system in the Campanile, but they did test it. At left see the counter-balanced clapper, acted upon by a magnet, to which is sent either no current (key off) or one of three voltages (light, medium, or hard stroke). Adjustable spring tension allows for fine calibration.

I applaud these students’ ingenuity. If you want to see their 1913 thesis in person, please visit us here in Special Collections at your earliest convenience.

Magnets: how do they work?

Magnets: how do they work?


Unlike the earlier images, this blueprint involves all ten chimes.

Unlike the earlier images, this blueprint involves all ten chimes.

All quotes herein are excerpted from, and images scanned from:

Electric Remote Control System for the Margaret Chimes by D. H. Kilby and J. J. Shoemaker (1913).

The Dinkey’s 4th of July debut #Flashback Friday @IowaStateU

The Ames & College Railway, better known as “the Dinkey,” made its first run between Ames and the ISU campus on July 4, 1891.

Ames & College Railway Dinkey circa 1900s

Undated photograph of the Dinkey (University Photographs box 233)

To learn more about the history of the Dinkey drop by the archives! We’re open Monday-Friday from 10-4. Except for this upcoming Monday — we’ll be closed for the 4th of July!

Rare Book Highlights: Mapping the terra incognita of plants

By which Your Majesty will find, That there are Terrae Incognitae in Philosophy, as well as Geography. And for so much, as lies here, it comes to pass, I know not how, even in this Inquisitive Age, That I am the first, who have given a Map of the Country.

From the Nehemiah Grew’s dedication to King Charles II in The Anatomy of Plants.

“…there are Terrae Incognitae in Philosophy, as well as Geography. And for so much, as lies here, it comes to pass, I know not how, even in this Inquisitive Age, That I am the first, who have given a Map of the Country.”

So wrote Nehemiah Grew in The Anatomy of Plants, published in 1682, in his dedication “To His Most Sacred Majesty Charles II, King of Great Britain, &c.” Looking at the beautiful and abstract plates illustrating the inner structure of plants, I sometimes feel I am peeking into a whole separate world, which is why Grew’s Anatomy of Plants (call number QK41 G869ap) is one of my favorite books in our collections.

Plate from Grew’s Anatomy of Plants illustrating a sumach branch under magnification.

Nehemiah Grew (1641-1712) was an English physician, son of the English nonconformist minister Obadiah Grew, whose oppositional religious and political views (he was a Parliamentarian during the English Civil War) frequently brought him into conflict with the authorities. Nehemiah, unlike his father, was not politically active, and, in fact, he was a member of the Royal Society, a scientific society that had been granted a royal charter by King Charles II in 1662.

Illustrations of the roots of the primrose, wood-sorrel, devil's bitt, tuberous iris, dandelion, dragon plant, and spring crocus.

Illustrations of various roots in Grew’s Anatomy of Plants.

Grew is famous for being among the first naturalists to use the microscope to study plant morphology. He was also believed that plants resembled animals in having organs that each had an internal function, and throughout the book he devotes chapters to the use of each of the parts of the plants that he identifies. This correspondence between animals and plants can be seen in his noted observations of the flower parts that he suggested correspond to male and female sexual organs.

Plate of St. Johns wort flower under magnification from Grew’s Anatomy of Plants.

Stop by Special Collections and University Archives to explore more of Grew’s “mappings” of the inner world of plants.

In honor of #NationalPollinatorWeek @ReimanGardensIA @ISUExtension

It is National Pollinator Week, and several groups at ISU are partnering with Reiman Gardens to celebrate Pollinator Fest tomorrow, June 25.

hummingbird and feeder

Hummingbirds are pollinators too! This ruby-throated hummingbird picture is from the Iowa Ornithologists Union Records (MS 166), box 12, folder 23.

More than a hundred years ago, Iowa State College Agricultural Extension recognized the importance of bees as pollinators. If more Iowans kept bees, they suggested, “the presence of such large numbers of bees would result in the better cross pollenization [sic] and fertilization of blossoms, which would indirectly add very much more in the production of fruits and seeds of various kinds” (Bee Keeping in Iowa, Extension Bulletin no. 11, March 1913, Bee Keeping Extension Publications, RS 16/3/0/17).

"Bee Keeping in Iowa," Extension Bulletin no. 11, March 1913. From Bee Keeping Extension Publications, RS 16/3/0/17.

“Bee Keeping in Iowa,” Extension Bulletin no. 11, March 1913. From Bee Keeping Extension Publications, RS 16/3/0/17.

Tulip Gardening #TBT

It’s officially summer, and gardens are in full bloom. With the heat that we’ve had lately, aren’t you glad that dresses like the one below are no longer in fashion? Tulips typically bloom around May in Iowa – in fact, there are festivals devoted to the flower in Pella and Orange City during that month every year. Hopefully it was an unusually cool late spring/early summer day in this photo, otherwise that dress had to be stifling.

Woman in a tulip garden, undated. [collection/box #]

Woman in a tulip garden, undated. University Photographs, RS 16/3

While it’s far too late to plant tulips for this year and too early for next year, the sight of tulips in bloom over the last month or so might have you considering them as an addition to your own garden. If that’s the case, ISU Extension has some tulip planting tips. Happy gardening!

Summer Fashions @ISUExtension @tcmuseum_isu

Happy summer solstice! Today’s post will highlight different collections available online that show off some historical summer fashions.

Here are some summery fashion plates from the Fashion Plates Digital Collection. This collection contains plates of general fashion dating back to the 18th century. This digital collection stems from the Mary Barton Fashion Illustration Collection located in Special Collections and University Archives. Mary Barton (1917-2003), an alumna (Class of 1942) from Ames, was a quilt historian who had gained a national reputation for being able to judge a quilt’s age and origin by careful examination.


Summer Walking Dress, showing influences from the eastern Mediterranean; underskirt covered by a lace lined overjacket and lace-lined turban with parasol (published by John Bell) from the Mary Barton Fashion Illustration Collection.

Summer Walking Dress, 1809

Morning Promenade Dress and Summer Walking Costume, illustrating elaborate ruffled collars and leg-of-mutton sleeves with widening shoulders overall, a highly decorated bodice with lace cutouts, the waist emphasized by ribbons tied in bows or belt, geometric decoration towards the hem (also tightly fitted), wrists, gloves, parasol, and hats decorated with plaid ribbons, feathers, and lace

Morning Promenade Dress and Summer Walking Costume, 1828

The New Spring and Summer Cloaks and Mantles, demonstrating 5 varieties of loose capes and tent-shaped mantles or paletots that all provided modest warmth and coverage for the large hoop skirts. They have various trims including lace, tassels, braid, and rickrack. Four of the five have sleeves that are fairly loose, and the headwear is a bit more elaborate. The dresses illustrate the changing shape of the skirts shifting more toward the back

New Spring and Summer Cloaks and Mantles, 1864

The videos are from the Special Collections and University Archives YouTube channel. They don’t solely deal with summer fashions but do include dresses I think are pretty summery.  These videos were part of the series “Couture Close-Ups with Charles Kleibacker” produced by the Iowa State University Extension Service. In the series, New York fashion designer Charles Kleibacker demonstrates how he designs women’s clothing using various fabrics and construction techniques.




Check out other fun online collections from the University Library Digital Collections and the Special Collections and University Archives YouTube channel.

Or drop by the reading room to look at our collections in person. We’re open Monday-Friday from 10-4.

If you are interested in researching clothing and textiles, you should check out the ISU Textiles and Clothing Museum.

Out milking the cows #TBT #DairyMonth @iastate_cals

Dairy science students at ISU have been getting practical experience working with dairy cattle throughout the history of the program.

Here is a picture of students at the Iowa State Dairy around 1905-6:

Nine male students and 3 men in period clothing standing or sitting holding rakes, brooms, or milking pails.

Iowa State Dairy students, circa 1905-6. University Photograph Collection, box 639.

Students were involved in everything from herd development, to milking, to feeding trials.

Student milking a cow at Iowa State Dairy Farm, undated.

Student milking a cow at Iowa State Dairy Farm, undated. University Photograph Collection box 620.

The image below shows two students, George Gast of Osage and John Cavitt of Des Moines, that started a herd for the Iowa State College dairy farm in the 1940s.

Two men stand next to 4 cows inside dairy barn.

University Photograph Collection, box 639. Circa 1940s.

According to the caption on the back of the photograph, “The men, taking part in the class in Farm Operations, had to do the planning, investigation and buying of the herd to the satisfaction of the rest of the class. The actual operation of the dairy herd, soon to get underway will provide a project for still other members of the class.”

Stop by to check out more photos of Dairy Science students at Special Collections and University Archives!

Staff Pick!

Today’s blog post highlights both a member of the Special Collections and University Archives staff, Becky Jordan, and some items from the Marie Hall Papers (RS 21/7/51).

Becky Jordan is the Reference Specialist here. She has worked in the department the longest and has graciously answered a few questions about herself.

Becky Jordan giving tour of collection storage area for History class April 2016

Becky Jordan giving a tour of the collection storage area for HIST 195 class, April 2016.

How did you get started in Special Collections & University Archives at Iowa State University?

I had worked in the Library as a student, and so was somewhat familiar with the University’s Merit System jobs.  Several months before I graduated, I took the test for Secretary I over at Human Resources in Beardshear Hall (I was an English major, so I had excellent typing skills).  It happened that there were two secretarial jobs open in the Library, and I interviewed for both during final week of my last quarter—we were still on the quarter system then.  I graduated on Saturday, March 1, 1975, and was offered the secretarial job in Special Collections the next Monday.  My first day was the following Friday, March 7.  I’ve never left!

What do you do?

I handle reference requests relating to the collections in the department.  Most are from people off-campus and can cover any topic, from aircraft design to the 1895 football team.  I regularly do tours of the department, for classes and other groups.  I also spend at least six hours a week at our public desk in room 403 of the Parks Library.

Why’d you pick this collection/item to highlight?

This is Marie Hall’s college “Memory Book” from the Marie Hall Papers (RS 21/7/51).  Marie entered Iowa State in the Fall of 1916 and graduated in the Spring of 1920. 

Marie Hall as a young woman

Portrait of Marie Hall (RS 21/7/51 box 2)

The scrapbook begins with a letter to the incoming freshman class and the Iowa State College Handbook, and ends with the invitation to the 1920 Commencement.  In between, she saved what looks like everything—dance cards, newsclippings, programs from events, invitations, greeting cards and photographs.  I like to use this for class tours, because it includes “General House Rules for Young Women of Iowa State College.”  I read them off and ask the students if they think they could follow the rules today.  We lose them right away with the 10:30 bedtime.

Close up of General House Rules

General House Rules for Young Women of Iowa State College Close up of General House Rules (RS 21/7/51 box 2)

Page from memory book containing "General House Rules for Young Women of Iowa State College"

Page from memory book containing “General House Rules for Young Women of Iowa State College” (RS 21/7/51 box 2)

Becky’s last comment about working in Special Collections and University Archives: “I’ve always enjoyed working here, because we learn something new every day.”

Drop by the reading room to check out other collections documenting the history Iowa State University!

Television is for Kids! @IowaPublicTV

This month is a great time to celebrate children’s television programming in the State of Iowa. After all, Iowa Public Television is debuting their new IPTV Kids Clubhouse with host, and personal friend of yours truly, Dan Wardell. If you have kids (or you are a kid at heart) I would recommend checking it out.


This undated image shows longtime host of The Magic Window, Betty Lou Varnum, on the set of the show. Photograph from box 4, folder 6 of the Betty Lou Varnum Papers, RS 5/6/53.

Of course, any discussion of children’s programming in Iowa eventually leads to talk of WOI-TV and America’s longest-running children’s program (who am I to argue with Wikipedia?)–The House with the Magic Window. Originally called The Magic Window, this program aired in central Iowa on WOI-TV from 1951 until 1994 and for nearly 40 years was hosted by Betty Lou (McVay) Varnum. Betty Lou became a fixture in most central Iowa households and almost anyone growing up here during this time could tell you who Betty Lou was and name each of her puppet friends that regularly appeared on the show.

However, Betty Lou was not the first host of The Magic Window. Other hosts included Virginia “Ginny” Adams, Joy (Ringham) Munn, and Arjes “Sunny” Sundquist. Each of these women hosted the show for a year or so until Betty Lou took over permanently. Special Collections and University Archives has kinescope (16mm film) recordings of some of the earliest episodes of The Magic Window in our collections, but sadly we only have one recording, dating from 1955, of Betty Lou as host of The Magic Window!

Something most people may not be aware of is that WOI-TV produced a second children’s program in 1954 called Window Watchers (I see a theme here). This program was sponsored by the National Educational Television and Radio Center, later known as the Public Broadcasting Service. Window Watchers was hosted by Arjes Sundquist and featured a  format very similar to that of The Magic Window.

To view some of these early children’s programs, visit our YouTube Channel!

For more information on WOI-TV during the time it was owned and operated by Iowa State University, read through some of the finding aids listed on the Special Collections and University Archives website on this page.