Art, architecture, history, travel

Eisenglass curtains y’ can roll right down; women did not drive

Before she died my grandmother told me about her first car.  It was a DORRIS.  It belonged to her grandfather. It was one of the first cars in St. Louis. Her maternal grandfather had six children so every sixth week they got to borrow the car on Sunday, otherwise they had to walk to their house on Grand Avenue. About ten blocks. Even in winter.  Women did not drive.

Henry Ford and the Quadricycle

Henry Ford and the Quadricycle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It had detachable eisenglass curtains, that were stored under the seats. She said when it started to rain bottoms went up.  Eisenglass is a mineral like mica and could be cut thin for windows.  It had a  crank starter just like in the movies.  Her Uncle Frank broke his arm once trying to start it.

Well the… I don’t know all the history, I’m not that old, but.. (laugh). When the industry started out on the turn of the century there really wasn’t any auto glass dealers, or cars of you call them that, were really open buggies with no glass. And then they.. there was eisenglass and various types of synthetic or natural materials that were some kind of hazy, see-through things which were tried earlier on, then somebody developed glass.
And I think about 1910, maybe, cars started to use glass windshields. I think they were still using side curtains, generally, but they used glass windshield, the windshield were ground a polished plate glass, single thickness in glass. And that remained the state of the art until I think about 1930 or so, when, according to the story, I’m not sure this is all true, but Henry Ford the first who was running the Ford Motor Company and got into the glass manufacturing business at Ford, as well as the car business, discovered that in frontal impact accidents people would go right through this windshield and quickly got very ugly cuts as that windshield glass would break.
And he heard of a development in England by a company called Triplex of a laminated glass that had two sec… two pieces of glass with a plastic liner in between them. And he got a patent licence on that product to introduce them, and that became the safety glass that then went around all the windows, front side rear, of basically all the cars. When I joined the industry in the fifties, that was the state of the art, all cars had laminated Triplex type glass, back windows, side widows, windshields. And that was the state of the art and there’s never been subsequent changes.

As Rogers and Hammerstein said

The wheels are yeller, the upholstery’s brown,
The dashboard’s genuine leather,
With isinglass curtains y’ can roll right down,
In case there’s a change in the weather.

Two bright sidelight’s winkin’ and blinkin’,
Ain’t no finer rig I’m a-thinkin’
You c’n keep your rig if you’re thinkin’ ‘at I’d keer to swap
Fer that shiny, little surrey with the fringe on the top!


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