11 Museums Devoted to Everyday Objects

Who says you can't celebrate the mundane? These 11 museums are dedicated to items you use but probably never think about.

1. Sulabh International Museum of Toilets

The porcelain throne has come a long way from its humble beginnings, and thanks to a socially-conscious sanitation consultant in New Delhi, India, you can learn about the evolution of the toilet and its impact on public health around the globe. Though it is unquestionably strange, the Sulabh Toilet Museum isn't so much a useless oddity as it is a hygiene technology warehouse; the founder, Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, says one of the museum's objectives is to "help sanitation experts learn from the past and solve problems in the sanitation sector."

2. The Pencil Museum

Photo: Kaptain Kobold on Flickr

Keswick, Cumberland is home to the Cumberland Pencil Company, producer of Derwent colored art pencils and a number of other pencil-art-related products. The Pencil Museum houses the world's longest colored pencil (a yellow one) and is the home of the "world's first pencil." The claim is based on a local legend of a vein of graphite discovered under a fallen tree; the "strange black material" was used to mark sheep and eventually inspired the development of lead pencils and the formation of the UK's first pencil factory in 1832. In addition to showcasing the history of everyone's most-misplaced item (aside from car keys, probably), the museum offers art workshops and family events year-round.

3. Sidon Soap Museum

Photo: Wikimedia Commons; Photographed by BlingBling10

The Soap Museum in Saida, Lebanon, was once a factory and is now a chronological history of soap-making dating back to the 14th century, including the tools and processes from raw ingredients to final product. Displays range from simple urns and bowls to modern manufacturing equipment to molded and packaged soaps, and the tour wraps up with a look at the factory's role in improving local hygiene and a guide to the Hammam.

4. Lock Museum of America

Located in Terryville, Connecticut, the Lock Museum of America is built near the site of the Eagle Lock Company, which was founded in 1854. Items on display include thousands of door locks, a room devoted to bank and vault locks, doorknobs and, of course, keys to open everything. The pièce de résistance is a 4000-year-old Egyptian tumbler pin lock.

5. Zhang Xiao Quan Scissors Museum

The museum, located inside the Hangzhou Zhang Xiao Quan Scissors Factory, is home to more than 1500 scissors from all over the world, as well as scissor-making tools, art made from scissors, and calligraphy. You can also tour the factory and watch as blades are placed one by one on machines that affix them to their handles.

6. Lumina Domestica Lamp Museum

Interior lighting is nice to have, though we mostly don't think about it. Lumina Domestica wants to change that, and with its collection of 6500-plus interior lamps dating from prehistory to IKEA, it clearly surpasses any other museum in this goal. Included: torches, oil lamps, incandescents and LEDs.

7. Frank and Jane Clement Brick Museum

Believe it or not, bricks have a fascinating history and the market for rare "brand" bricks is better than you might expect. The Clements' in-home brick museum in Orchard Park, NY, is home to thousands of such bricks, including a front drive and back patio built exclusively of collectible pieces. Viewing is by appointment only, so make sure to call ahead.

8. The Lee Maxwell Washing Machine Museum

Lee Maxwell is a washing machine enthusiast. His collection of antique-to-retro washtubs includes thousands of models, which you can look at in Eaton, CO, if you make an appointment first. If washing machine history is kind of your thing, Maxwell has a book, as well. Popular pieces are early Maytags and 1920s steam laundries.

9. The Bottle and Can Opener Museum

There is very little information about the Bottle and Can Opener Museum, but it does claim to be the only museum dedicated to this particular type of item, so it may well be worth a trip to Kibbutz Misgav Am, Israel, if you're a collector or bottle-opener enthusiast.

10. Haarundkamm Museum

The Haircomb Museum in Mümliswil, Switzerland, celebrates ornamental haircombs as well as eyelash, eyebrow, beard and mustache combs, and even lice combs. In addition to the many thousands of items in the museum's possession, visitors can learn all about the manufacture of combs and the invention's impact on grooming habits through history.

11. Madsonian Museum of Industrial Design

If you like to keep all of your everyday objects in one place, but are tired of looking at the ones you have at home, consider a trip to Waitsfield, Vermont, home of the Madsonian Museum of Industrial Design. The items here are old and used, and you've probably seen almost all of them before. But the fact that we know and love these objects speaks to the museum's mission: celebrating good design in mass-produced products. From eggbeaters to shoes to cars to toasters, the Madsonian's mundane objets d'art are on display to make us think. As director David Sellers says, "By making the everyday beautiful and well designed, and by recognizing and valuing that effort, we can reduce our throw-away culture and become one that surrounds ourselves with beauty, thoughtfulness and art."

Have you been to any of these or do you know of a museum that should be on this list? Let us know!

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Zach Hyman, HBO
10 Bizarre Sesame Street Fan Theories
Zach Hyman, HBO
Zach Hyman, HBO

Sesame Street has been on the air for almost 50 years, but there’s still so much we don’t know about this beloved children’s show. What kind of bird is Big Bird? What’s the deal with Mr. Noodle? And how do you actually get to Sesame Street? Fans have filled in these gaps with frequently amusing—and sometimes bizarre—theories about how the cheerful neighborhood ticks. Read them at your own risk, because they’ll probably ruin the Count for you.

1. THE THEME SONG CONTAINS SECRET INSTRUCTIONS.

According to a Reddit theory, the Sesame Street theme song isn’t just catchy—it’s code. The lyrics spell out how to get to Sesame Street quite literally, giving listeners clues on how to access this fantasy land. It must be a sunny day (as the repeated line goes), you must bring a broom (“sweeping the clouds away”), and you have to give Oscar the Grouch the password (“everything’s a-ok”) to gain entrance. Make sure to memorize all the steps before you attempt.

2. SESAME STREET IS A REHAB CENTER FOR MONSTERS.

Sesame Street is populated with the stuff of nightmares. There’s a gigantic bird, a mean green guy who hides in the trash, and an actual vampire. These things should be scary, and some fans contend that they used to be. But then the creatures moved to Sesame Street, a rehabilitation area for formerly frightening monsters. In this community, monsters can’t roam outside the perimeters (“neighborhood”) as they recover. They must learn to educate children instead of eating them—and find a more harmless snack to fuel their hunger. Hence Cookie Monster’s fixation with baked goods.

3. BIG BIRD IS AN EXTINCT MOA.

Big Bird is a rare breed. He’s eight feet tall and while he can’t really fly, he can rollerskate. So what kind of bird is he? Big Bird’s species has been a matter of contention since Sesame Street began: Big Bird insists he’s a lark, while Oscar thinks he’s more of a homing pigeon. But there’s convincing evidence that Big Bird is an extinct moa. The moa were 10 species of flightless birds who lived in New Zealand. They had long necks and stout torsos, and reached up to 12 feet in height. Scientists claim they died off hundreds of years ago, but could one be living on Sesame Street? It makes sense, especially considering his best friend looks a lot like a woolly mammoth.

4. OSCAR’S TRASH CAN IS A TARDIS.

Oscar’s home doesn’t seem very big. But as The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland revealed, his trash can holds much more than moldy banana peels. The Grouch has chandeliers and even an interdimensional portal down there! There’s only one logical explanation for this outrageously spacious trash can: It’s a Doctor Who-style TARDIS.

5. IT’S ALL A RIFF ON PLATO.

Dust off your copy of The Republic, because this is about to get philosophical. Plato has a famous allegory about a cave, one that explains enlightenment through actual sunlight. He describes a prisoner who steps out of the cave and into the sun, realizing his entire understanding of the world is wrong. When he returns to the cave to educate his fellow prisoners, they don’t believe him, because the information is too overwhelming and contradictory to what they know. The lesson is that education is a gradual learning process, one where pupils must move through the cave themselves, putting pieces together along the way. And what better guide is there than a merry kids’ show?

According to one Reddit theory, Sesame Street builds on Plato’s teachings by presenting a utopia where all kinds of creatures live together in harmony. There’s no racism or suffocating gender roles, just another sunny (see what they did there?) day in the neighborhood. Sesame Street shows the audience what an enlightened society looks like through simple songs and silly jokes, spoon-feeding Plato’s “cave dwellers” knowledge at an early age.

6. MR. NOODLE IS IN HELL.

Can a grown man really enjoy taking orders from a squeaky red puppet? And why does Mr. Noodle live outside a window in Elmo’s house anyway? According to this hilariously bleak theory, no, Mr. Noodle does not like dancing for Elmo, but he has to, because he’s in hell. Think about it: He’s seemingly trapped in a surreal place where he can’t talk, but he has to do whatever a fuzzy monster named Elmo says. Definitely sounds like hell.

7. ELMO IS ANIMAL’S SON.

Okay, so remember when Animal chases a shrieking woman out of the college auditorium in The Muppets Take Manhattan? (If you don't, see above.) One fan thinks Animal had a fling with this lady, which produced Elmo. While the two might have similar coloring, this theory completely ignores Elmo’s dad Louie, who appears in many Sesame Street episodes. But maybe Animal is a distant cousin.

8. COOKIE MONSTER HAS AN EATING DISORDER.

Cookie Monster loves to cram chocolate chip treats into his mouth. But as eagle-eyed viewers have observed, he doesn’t really eat the cookies so much as chew them into messy crumbs that fly in every direction. This could indicate Cookie Monster has a chewing and spitting eating disorder, meaning he doesn’t actually consume food—he just chews and spits it out. There’s a more detailed (and dark) diagnosis of Cookie Monster’s symptoms here.

9. THE COUNT EATS CHILDREN.

Can a vampire really get his kicks from counting to five? One of the craziest Sesame Street fan theories posits that the Count lures kids to their death with his number games. That’s why the cast of children on Sesame Street changes so frequently—the Count eats them all after teaching them to add. The adult cast, meanwhile, stays pretty much the same, implying the grown-ups are either under a vampiric spell or looking the other way as the Count does his thing.

10. THE COUNT IS ALSO A PIMP.

Alright, this is just a Dave Chappelle joke. But the Count does have a cape.

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iStock
A New App Interprets Sign Language for the Amazon Echo
iStock
iStock

The convenience of the Amazon Echo smart speaker only goes so far. Without any sort of visual interface, the voice-activated home assistant isn't very useful for deaf people—Alexa only understands three languages, none of which are American Sign Language. But Fast Company reports that one programmer has invented an ingenious system that allows the Echo to communicate visually.

Abhishek Singh's new artificial intelligence app acts as an interpreter between deaf people and Alexa. For it to work, users must sign at a web cam that's connected to a computer. The app translates the ASL signs from the webcam into text and reads it aloud for Alexa to hear. When Alexa talks back, the app generates a text version of the response for the user to read.

Singh had to teach his system ASL himself by signing various words at his web cam repeatedly. Working within the machine-learning platform Tensorflow, the AI program eventually collected enough data to recognize the meaning of certain gestures automatically.

While Amazon does have two smart home devices with screens—the Echo Show and Echo Spot—for now, Singh's app is one of the best options out there for signers using voice assistants that don't have visual components. He plans to make the code open-source and share his full methodology in order to make it accessible to as many people as possible.

Watch his demo in the video below.

[h/t Fast Company]

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