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Schenectady Gazette via Google News

Bring Back the Thor Automagic, the 1940s Hybrid Clothes/Dishwasher

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Schenectady Gazette via Google News

In a just world, I would be able to clean my pants in a dishwasher. Despite the incredible technological advancements we've made in the past century, this still isn't possible. I can check my email in an airplane flying 35,000 feet over the ocean, but if want to throw a pair of khakis in with wine glasses after dinner I'm asking for too much all of a sudden.

When I brought up this idea to friends and co-workers, many expressed concern over dirty clothes contaminating dinnerware. Why? The desired end-result for both my laundry and my dirty dishes is the same: get clean. And as the old saying goes, "clean is clean" (that is not an old saying but let's keep moving here). Either way, were I to throw my pants in a consumer-grade dishwasher, they wouldn't come out clean as desired. Hard, slick materials like plates and glasses only require a spray and rinse, whereas soft fabrics need to soak and be agitated in order to remove the absorbed and ingrained grime. The two tasks also call for different types of detergents. Alas, my problem persists.

Wouldn't it be great if you only needed one machine? I'm not the first person to have thought this, for we all stand on the shoulders of giants.

In 1890, inventor Margaret A. Wilcox submitted a patent application for a combination clothes- and dishwasher (Shaunacy Ferro features the invention in this piece). It doesn't look as if the device, which relied on an air pump and hand crank for operation, ever made it to production, but Margaret A. Wilcox was a woman who got it. (Wilcox would later go on to achieve deserved recognition for inventing the first car heating system.)

After Wilcox's patent submission, it wasn't until the mid-1940s that the dream of a hybrid dishwasher and washing machine would come alive. That's when the Electric Household Utilities Corp. released their Thor Automagic combination clothes- and dishwasher, a machine that featured interchangeable tubs that could be swapped out depending on which items you were washing.

Here is a video showing a lucky Automagic owner testing out both features in a refurbished model:

A paragon of versatility! Why doesn't every home in America feature this beautiful, indiscriminate cleaning cube? Take my money, Electric Household Utilities Corp., take it now!

Even though it didn't allow you to wash dishes and clothes in one giant clump (as is my ultimate dream), it's still an ingenious and space-saving idea. I currently don't own a dishwasher or a washing machine, but were this to still exist, I could knock both purchases out in one fell—and economically smart—swoop.

According to the man who refurbished the Automagic featured in this video (a 1955 version of the machine—one of its last years in production), it had "just one wash speed," which provided "a gentle agitation." The video doesn't demonstrate the Automagic's dishwashing tub attachment (it's "off to be re-galvanized"), but he assures it's "very ingenious ... you will never cross-contaminate wash and dishwash water, all held in separate tubs!!"

He's not the only one excited about the Automagic. A commenter recalls, "I grew up with one of these ... We were a family of nine so my poor Mum really needed it. I have just written a poem about it! On firework night the rabbits and guinea pigs were put in the drum (no water and switched off—natch) to save them from being frightened by the bangs!" If that isn't the loveliest remembrance of a home appliance you have ever read, please send me the lovelier ones ASAP.

When asked if this would be a viable machine today, Roy Berendsohn, the Senior Home Editor at Popular Mechanics, doesn't sound as impressed. “Combining these two appliances, I think you’ll probably end up with a machine that does one function well and the other poorly or both poorly,” he says. “It seems unlikely that you’d produce a machine that does both well. Not to mention a machine that does both well and meets the energy-saving and water-conserving standards that modern (separate) appliances do.”

It’s true, modern dishwashers only use about six gallons per cycle, whereas a washing machine will use around 40 gallons for a full load. Any water-saving benefits would likely be lost due to the unique requirements of each task.

“Besides, what would you do if you want to wash dishes and do laundry at the same time?” Berendsohn adds. “Busy people would have little patience for swapping out tubs to handle these routine chores.”

The precise reason the Thor Automagic faded from marketplace relevancy isn't entirely clear, but its fall can be tracked as advertisements for the appliance stopped appearing in magazines in the early 1950s. Some of the last places where you'll find evidence of the Electric Household Utilities Corp. or Thor are in various directories of obsolete securities.

An inglorious end for such an ingenious product. It may not have been perfect, but at least it tried. If the day ever comes when we can proudly throw our pants into the dishwasher, we'll be able to look back and give thanks to the clever Automagic.

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Courtesy of Nature
Scientists Create Three Puppy Clones of 'Snuppy,' the World's First Cloned Dog
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Courtesy of Nature

Snuppy, the world's first cloned dog, died in 2015, but his genetic legacy lives on. As the National Post reports, South Korean scientists recently described in the journal Scientific Reports the birth of three clone puppies, all of which are identical replicas of the famous Afghan hound.

Those who lived through the 1990s might remember Dolly, the Scottish sheep that gained fame for being the very first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell. Following Dolly's 1996 cloning, scientists managed to replicate other animals, including cats, mice, cows, and horses. But dog cloning initially stymied scientists, Time reports, as their breeding period is limited and their eggs are also hard to extract.

Ultimately, researchers ended up using somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) to clone a dog, the same method that was used to make Dolly. In the early 2000s, a team of South Korean scientists inserted DNA harvested from an Afghan hound's skin cells into a dog egg from which the DNA had been removed. The egg divided, which produced multiple cloned embryos.

The scientists implanted 1095 of these embryos in 123 dogs, an exhaustive initiative that yielded just three pregnancies, according to NPR. Of these, Snuppy—whose name is a combination of "puppy" and Seoul National University's initials—was the only survivor.

Snuppy died from cancer in April 2015, just shortly after his 10th birthday. To celebrate his successful life, the same South Korean researchers decided to re-clone him using mesenchymal stem cells from the dog's belly fat, which were taken when he was five. This time around, they transferred 94 reconstructed embryos to seven dogs. Four clones were later born, although one ended up dying shortly after birth.

The tiny Snuppy clones are now more than a year old, and researchers say that they don't think that the pups face the risk of accelerated aging, nor are they more disease-prone than other dogs. (Dolly died when she was just six years old, while cloned mice have also experienced shorter lifespans.) Snuppy's somatic cell donor, Tai, lived just two years longer than Snuppy, dying at age 12, the average lifespan of an Afghan hound.

Researchers say that this new generation of Snuppys will yield new insights into the health and longevity of cloned animals. Meanwhile, in other animal cloning news, a Texas-based company called ViaGen Pets is now offering to clone people's beloved pets, according to CBS Pittsburgh—a service that costs a cool $50,000 for dogs.

[h/t National Post]

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Hole Punch History: 131 Years Ago Today, a German Inventor Patented the Essential Office Product
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The next time you walk into a Staples, give thanks to Friedrich Soennecken. During the late 1800s, the German inventor patented inventions for both a ring binder and the two-hole punch, thus paving the way for modern-day school and office supplies. Today’s Google Doodle celebrates the 131st anniversary of Soennecken’s hole puncher—so in lieu of a shower of loose-leaf confetti, let’s look back at his legacy, and the industrial device that remains a mainstay in supply rooms to this day.

If Soennecken’s name sounds familiar, that’s because in 1875 he founded the international German office products manufacturer of the same name. (It went bankrupt in 1973, and was acquired by BRANION EG, which still releases products under the original Soennecken label.) Not only was Soennecken an entrepreneur, he was also a calligraphy enthusiast who pioneered the widely used “round writing” style of script. But he’s perhaps best remembered as an inventor, thanks to his now-ubiquitous office equipment.

As The Independent reports, Soennecken likely wasn’t the first to dream up a paper hole-punching device. In fact, the first known patent for such an invention belongs to an American man named Benjamin Smith. In 1885, Smith created a hole puncher, dubbed the “conductor’s punch,” that contained a spring-loaded receptacle to collect paper remnants. Later on an inventor named Charles Brooks improved on Smith’s device by finessing the receptacle, and he called it a “ticket punch.”

For unclear reasons, Soennecken was the one who ended up being remembered for the device: On November 14, 1886, he filed his patent for a Papierlocher fur Sammelmappen (paper hole maker for binding), and the rest was history.

“Today we celebrate 131 years of the hole puncher, an understated—but essential—artifact of German engineering,” Google said in its description of the Doodle. “As modern workplaces trek further into the digital frontier, this centuries-old tool remains largely, wonderfully, the same.”


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