I think we have all had times when we couldn’t seem to concentrate on our work. Or maybe you had a child who couldn’t concentrate on their homework. Well, in 1925, an inventor named Hugo Gernsback, a Luxembourgish-American inventor, writer, editor, and magazine publisher, invented a helmet to make sure a person focused on their work. It was called the Isolator, and it was…well, bizarre. Gernsback was often known as “The Father Of Science Fiction,” and one look at his invention can tell you why that might be. The Isolator was a wooden helmet that blocked out sound and vision in order to help the wearer focus on whatever task was at hand. Gernsback claimed that the helmet blocked out sound by up to 95%, and the tiny glass spy-hole ensured that no amount of movement nearby could be seen, so that the wearer was not distracted. This would eliminate all outside distractions, and barely give enough room for the wearer to see the work in front of them, and nothing else.
While it might have been a great device to help the wearer focus, it looked more like some kind of medieval torture device. The front of the device had an oxygen tube that was attached to a bottle of oxygen, so it was impossible to eat and study too. So, with no sound, no food, no way to play video games, the modern child would have no choice but to focus on homework. Now, I don’t know if the device could be locked in place…only to be removed when the work at hand was done, but if that is the case, I would think the wearer would get right to the task, so that the device could come off sooner. Just think of how much studying a college student could accomplish. Of course, my guess would be that even a person who was not claustrophobic before wearing the Isolator, would be claustrophobic after wearing it…not to mention a little paranoid, and leery of the person who made them wear the Isolator in the first place.
The Isolator never really caught on, and I think anyone can see why that might be, but I guess it might have been a good idea, had it not been so archaic and confining. Of course, that was only part of the problem. The wearer also looked ridiculous, and while they could be anonymously ridiculous looking in some places, it didn’t work that way at the office or in study hall, where everyone knew who was in the office or class. And, of course, it would be really creepy sitting next to someone who was wearing the Isolator. I think we will have to chalk this one up to a good idea gone crazy.
My Grandma Spencer’s photo album contains a number of pictures from the days when the family lived in International Falls, Minnesota, and worked in the lumber business, and I assume, the paper mill there in town. If the family didn’t work there, then I would assume that she was simply interested in all the changes that were taking place in the area. At that time, the big man around town was a man named Edward Backus, who owned a vast empire of lumber and paper mills. Oddly, he originally got into that business as a young college student in need of money to finish his university program. He took time off from college to earn that money, took a job in the lumber business, and bought into the business, before finally buying out his partners to become the sole owner. He later brought in a partner, William Brooks, and together they incorporated, and their company Backus-Brooks Co. bacame the parent company for for numerous subsidiaries that came into being with developments at International Falls, Fort Frances, Kenora and elsewhere. The little sawmill in Minneapolis that started it all, was sold in 1906 because by then, the owners were devoting much of their efforts into the developing industry in the north, which is where my grandparents’ families came into the picture, and my interest was founded. As a side note, as far as I can tell, Mr Backus never went back to finish his university program, but then I suppose there wasn’t time for that with everything else that was going on in his life.
As I said, my grandmother had numerous pictures of a paper mill, in several stages of its construction. This got me started wondering if that paper mill still existed. I began my search looking for paper mills in International Falls, and came up with a current paper mill owned by Boise Cascade…a name most of us know quite well, which came back into the news just recently when they announced the layoff of 265 workers on May 2, 2013. They plan to stay open, but will focus on the successful lines of their production, and close out two unsuccessful lines. I wondered if this paper mill could have started with the one my grandmother’s pictures to me so much about.
In my research, I found not only the information on Mr Backus, but a picture of his paper mill…Falls Paper Mill…and it was indeed the one in my grandmother’s album. So, not only does the paper mill still exist, it is still in use today. So many buildings that were built in the early 1900’s are crumbling or have been demolished, but this building is still there, still standing, and still useful, although it appears that there have been some improvements and buildings added to it and around it. I guess that goes to show that good workmanship will stand the test of time.