The Hair Dryer, Freedom’s Appliance

For a century, the device has promised more than dry hair.

by Maria Teresa Hart

Though many of Dyson’s changes are more aesthetic than functional, this is a market where looks matter.

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Pictures of Death

When photography was new, it was often used to preserve corpses via their images.

by Nancy West

This slide into sentimentality, even if grotesque, coincides with a profound shift in Western attitudes toward death.

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Why Geologists Think Glacial Mountains Look Like Sheep

Thank the French.

by Marnie Mcinnes

The similarity between glacially scoured rocks and sheep is even more intriguing if one interprets the expression roches moutonnées more broadly, as did the 19th-century French geologist Albert de Lapparent.

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How Wheelchair Accessibility Ramped Up

Ramps evolved from a Greek tool for dragging ships to the front lines of disability activism.

by Emily Nonko

“A lawsuit can take seven years to get one ramp in front of a building, one protest could result in a ramp there next week.”

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The Troubled History of Horse Meat in America

The White House wants to reinstate the sale of horses for slaughter, but eating horse meat has always been politically treacherous.

by Susanna Forrest

In these narratives, horse meat is the food of poverty, war, social breakdown, and revolution.

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Bathing in Controversy

For a century, school showers have anticipated the current debate about bathrooms.

by J. Y. Chua

Mandatory showers became problematic as the concept of “children’s rights” gained currency, eroding the legal and social authority of schools.

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The Device That Democratized the Foot Race

Thanks to starting blocks, races were no longer won by who could dig the best foothold.

by Janelle Peters

As a technology of fairness, the starting blocks helped turn foot racing into an ideal for egalitarian citizenship.

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The Medical Uses of Maggots

Fly larvae help scientists understand and treat diseases.

by Robin Tricoles

Maggots can help—in particular, the creation of a tiny maggot highway.

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Does Electrifying Mosquitoes Protect People From Disease?

Maybe a little, but that’s not why bug zappers are so popular.

by Rebekah Kebede

Given their dubious effectiveness, mosquito zappers might be best understood as a dark form of insect-slaying entertainment.

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The Dangers of Reading in Bed

In 18th-century Europe, the practice was considered a menace to life and property, but mostly to morals.

by Nika Mavrody

Readers were urged not to tempt God by sporting with “the most awful danger and calamity”—the flagrant vice of bringing a book to bed.

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Why Fruit Has a Fake Wax Coating

For centuries, artificial protective coatings have preserved and protected foods—and made them look more appealing. An Object Lesson.

by Julia Phillips

If Eve found the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil “pleasing to the eye,” then the fruit on offer in today’s supermarkets would surely dazzle her.

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Have Leftovers Gone Bad?

As restaurants and meal kits displace home cooking, uneaten food might disappear. An Object Lesson.

by David Rudin

Soon enough, they might represent what home cooking once meant, but no longer does.


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The Handbag’s Tale

Medieval or modern, handbags reveal their bearers’ secrets more than they hide them. An Object Lesson.

by Julie Schulte

From chatelaine to reticule to designer bag, the handbag has always offered both freedom and yoke. It encapsulates a fact about its owner, and reveals that fact as much as, or more than, it conceals her belongings.

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The Seductive Nostalgia of the Picnic

Once seen as an escape from the city, a meal among the trees and meadows is now a journey to the past. An Object Lesson.

by Melissa Holbrook Pierson

Once upon a time, every meal was a picnic. Then people got roofs and things.

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How the Diving Bell Opened the Ocean’s Depths

The simple device ushered in a new age of exploration—and burst many ear drums in the process. An Object Lesson.

by Bryce Emley

Once people realized that trapped air contains breathable oxygen, they took large pots, stuck their heads inside, and jumped into the nearest body of water. In the 2,500 years since, the device has been refined and expanded to allow better access to the ocean’s depths. But that access has not come without human cost.

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Welcome, Please Remove Your Shoes

Around the world, slippers are used to keep the outside out of the home. An Object Lesson.

by Margarita Gokun-Silver

The slippers represent the hero’s indifference to life outside his home. But they also symbolize the domestic space, the feeling of leaving the worries of the world at the door, and the safety and comfort that only one’s abode can offer.

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The Still-Misunderstood Shape of the Clitoris

Can a 3-D printed model of the organ change views on female sexuality? Yes and no. An Object Lesson.

by Naomi Russo

The clitoris really isn’t that confusing. Or it shouldn’t be, anyway. Nonetheless, acknowledging the shape, size, or even existence of this essential body part has not always been par for the course—even in the medical profession.

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How the Chili Dog Transcended America’s Divisions

The national dish is really a fusion of immigrant fare. An Object Lesson.

by Christina Olson

The chili dog became a food laced with regional pride. It is one way that Americans identify themselves, a way to claim local citizenship. It’s ironic that a food descending directly from homogenization—a food that had to change itself to fit in—is now the same food regional fanatics hold up as uniquely local.

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How New Orleans’s Favorite Mardi Gras Cocktail Was Saved From Extinction

No one knows why Ojen became so popular in the city, but it has long been the party liqueur of choice. An Object Lesson.

by Anna C. Griggs

New Orleanians are famous for their boozy traditions: lax open container laws, the Go-Cup, and drive-thru daiquiris shops (to name but a few). They often despair in the disappearance of even the most minor culinary tradition. In Louisiana, to lose a tradition such as Ojen often means losing entire communities and ways of life.

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The Hidden History of the Laundry Chute

Stains, smells, secrets, thieves, dead bodies, and even a radioactive towel have all found their way down one. An Object Lesson.

by Sarah Minor

A laundry chute is a mythic domestic space. It’s an unwatched door to nowhere, the open throat of an old home. Its reputation has as much to do with convenience as with the early recognition that a house is not solid through and through. The laundry chute is a place where stains and embarrassing odors go to be erased, and dropping linen down the chute is a mnemonic for forgetting those embarrassments, for making such accidents invisible. Most of a laundry chute is sealed behind walls, and this covert quality draws people to encounter such items that laundry chutes are built explicitly to contain.

Read this essay at The Atlantic