May 22, 2009

From The Mixed-Up Files Of Mrs Lif E. Magazine: Woodward Cradle By Fritz Goro


When the history of dramatically lit photographs of quirky 19th-century American inventions is finally written, February 9, 1945 will have its own chapter. That's the day LIFE magazine's legendary science photographer Fritz Goro unpacked his Klieg light at an undisclosed location in New England and shot, among many other things, a crazy wooden egg beater, a crazy rotary washing machine, a crazy extendible candlestick, this unbeliveable painted hardware sign from 1840--and this sweet, sweet bentwood cradle.

It wasn't until I dug up the patent that I realized that yes, in fact, there was a central spine, and it was just Goro's angle that made those elegant ribs appear to float free, like the rungs on those weird, new non-ladders that are turning up on all the playgrounds these days.

But then, of course there's a central spine, because it ends beautifully in those turned rocking handles, just as the curved splines of the base end in the hooked handle you use to wheel the thing around.


Those are just some of the details that Abner Woodward left out or hadn't yet figured out when he filed for his patent, "Improvement in Cradles," in 1876, but they're the things that push the Woodward cradle across the line between invention and art.

Woodward hailed from Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, and though he was awarded at least eight other patents--this was his first--I can't find any more information online about him or whoever produced this cradle--or where Fritz Goro was actually shooting all this stuff in the first place.


But the cradle is a remarkable--and remarkably American--incarnation of cutting edge design and technology. Michael Thonet had only begun making his bentwood furniture in 1867, and compared to the flowery, elaborate bentwood cradles Thonet and his competitor, J&J Kohn were making at the end of the 19th century, Woodward's is a model of utilitarian restraint.

In fact, it would be 1936, almost sixty years before another ribbed cradle as modern and mobile as Woodward's would appear, and that would be made by Jean freakin' Prouve.


So let's see if we can find out what this Woodward fellow was up to, shall we?

UPDATE: the Nantucket Historical Association has one.


Just imagine how nicely those ribs would nest together on a 4x8 sheet of plywood.

I will, as soon as I finish imagining how nicely a baby head would nest in those gaps on the ends.

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