JF Ptak Science Books Post 267
I found this wonderful catalog this morning--the 1935 Liberty Catalog of Display Fireworks. It is big (11x8 inches) and its 64 pages are filled with descriptions of the hundreds of different advanced firework displays that you could purchase. Mostly the company was interested in selling very large, packaged displays, hovering in the hundreds of dollars, which was quite allot of money in the 1930's, even without considering the impact of the Depression on the fireworks-pursuing populace. These people were definitely not selling firecrackers to kids.
The illustrations in the pamphlet are remarkable for displaying so many of their goods, and were printed in high relief, being dark red on a field of black. Very effective!
What is particularly striking about the catalog, aside from its terrific visual elements, are the names given to the fireworks--they are artistic, literary, mythological. No "brainbusters" or "Finger Splinters" here. Some of the names include Cleopatra’s Jewels, the Victor Jerome Battle in the Clouds Shell, Flight of Egyptians Repeating Bombshells, Spiderweb Comet, the Arenic Festival of Flowers, Devil Among the Tailors, the Palmetto Fountain, Selma Lee Shell of Shells, Sparkling Diamonds and the Sparkling Diamond Merry-Go-Round, Temple of Isis, the Mammoth Devil Wheel, Prismatic Devil Wheels, Whistling Jack Bombshells, Messengers to Starlands, Radio Flash Rockets, Ceylon Rubies, Fish and Whistle, the End of the Rainbow, and my favorite: The End of the World.
Funny thing is that they do sort of describe the effect of the fireworks. I thought that I might learn something of the social under- or over-currents by having a peek at the names, but there was little of that: several FDR displays are sprinkled around the catalog, a couple of special radio-related items, but really, that's about all. No insights there. No "Honey I'm Going to Catch the Danvillle Train and Get Me Some Dough" or "Brother Can You Spare a Dime" displays; who wants to be reminded of the not-so-nice when celebrating something with gigantic loud colorful controlled explosions?
No. The surprising element was the naming of the explosions. And naming explosions goes back quite a way in the history of military affairs, not that I really know anything about that--I do have photographs of French soldiers decorating their 15-inch shells with messages to the Germans in 1918, and there's no end to the images of American soldiers writing/naming their bomb-to-be-delivered to whomever it was we were blasting. But they weren't quite in this Liberty Catalog arena of fresh literariness, though the more-modern military epigrams were more pithy, and drenched in their own sea of color. (This of course is Slim Pickens as he climbs aboard a thermonuclear device, nearly ready to buckaroo it down to its destination; the other device I think was called "Dear John".) The atomic device at Trinity was decorated with scribble, but I'm not sure that any of the photos were ever clear enough to reveal the sentiments.
The U.S. government had names for every one of their test shots of nuclear devices, though none approached anything like a creative caliber: Able, Baker, Prisiclla, Operationr Plumbbob, Thunderwell, Smoky, Diablo....pretty ordinary. The government did wake itself up to use some scientific-biographical names for some of the tests in the Plumbbob Operation: Franklin, Kepler, Pascal, Stokes, Galileo, Doppler, Fizeau (!), and Newton. I think that only Sir Isaac would've been pleased with this honor.