Technology: The Science That Deals with The Industrial Arts

By Sister Marietta McGannon

When I was a youngster, there were four unique technological advantages that I remember, though I certainly did not think of them in those words. One was the movable washing machine where on rainy days, I watched my other scape slips of soap of a large bar of yellow Fels-Naptha. She would then put a hose attached to the water faucet of the sanitary tub into the washer and pour in hot water, creating, to my fascination, bubbling suds. Into that washer went wrinkled items in a definite order. With each step of this process, she answered my constant questions, mainly, “Why?” “Why are the sheets first?” Why are you filling that tub with cold water?” “What’s that thing on top? What does it do?” (referring to the wringer) “What are you doing now, Mom? How are you going to get the wet sheets dry enough to hang on our clothes line?” Right about now, this amazing woman unscrewed a gadget and swung the wringer between the two tubs, rescrewing that gadget tight as I exclaimed, “How did you do that, Mom?”

My poor mother patiently answered each question, hoping I would stay interested enough for her to finish the wash. As I write this, I realized this unique advance from the scrub brush, a washing machine, was brought with us from Chicago to San Francisco to Santa Rosa, still working, with larger and larger loads of laundry.

Much more mysterious was the odd, black, rectangular box on the wall of the kitchen: the telephone. I was not allowed to touch it. I couldn’t reach it anyway! Perched on the top of this silent contraption were two bells keeping each other company. On the front of the box was a hook that held something that looked like a big capital “C” with two circles on either end.  Both circles had holes poked into them. When the two bells rang, the ringing raced through the house, as did my siblings vying with one another to answer. Off came the “C,” and I heard, “McGannon Residence.” We had a party line; some other family had access to it also. Both could hear the same conversation. Of course, courtesy demanded that they not listen-in, but you sometimes wondered. That condition affected other calls as well. My parents might be speaking on the phone, and the other party might decide that a call was necessary. He would hear something like, “The line is in use.” And reply, “Sorry,” and hang up to try again later. Obviously, the phone was used sparingly: to make or change appointments, get emergency services, notify work of absence or lateness. It certainly was not used to find out what one’s homework was or simply chat. Use of the phone was serious business back then.

The machine I waited for every afternoon around 3:30 was my Dad’s car. From our dining room window, I could see it enter into our alleyway about a half block away. I would race through the dining room, kitchen and porch, down the stairs and out the back door, continue running the length of our driveway to our entrance to the alley, then Dad would slow down and let me hop onto the running board and hold onto the door where the window had been rolled down. This was my time alone with Dad before my siblings got ahold of him. I would jabber away with no one else listening or interrupting. It was my special time.

It was in this special car that I joined Mom and Dad on Tuesday nights to drive to the cinema. There we would enjoy watching this week’s movie shown by a projector high behind us, another technological wonder! Here communication happened between the movie stars, but in the newsreel, the announcer was demanding the attention of the audience through tone of voice, vocabulary and music background. The audience listened. After the movie, as people exited the theater, the clamor of voices soared in topics: movie action, stars, plot, characters, music or news covered. Or simply how up, down or tired they felt. Many voices does a clamor make!

Reading this back before printing, I realize I forgot the most used technological instrument we had--the radio! It was this instrument that drew the family together. My sister ironed as we rooted for Notre Dame to make that touchdown. My mom darned socks while we listened to “My Family” on Sunday nights. The radio too was technology that created communication!