RIT is a school that prides itself in innovation, so much so that we have an entire building dedicated to the craft. Besides being known for its brilliant students, RIT (and Rochester, in general) is known for its brutal winters. If last year’s weather patterns are any indication of how this winter is likely to turn out, let’s take a moment to honor the brilliant minds that made winter not only bearable for us hairless apes, but who also made it fun!
Before anything, we need to be warm. Jackets, boots, and mittens have been around since prehistoric times; without those basics, the native people of northern Canada would have frozen before you could say “mammoth.” When did people decide to give winter the finger and invent gloves? According to Fashion Time, the first remnants of gloves were found in Tutankhamun’s tomb. Considering he died in around 1323 B.C.E., that makes the oldest known pair of gloves somewhere in the ballpark of 3338 years old!
Granted, Egypt isn’t exactly known for its brutal winters, but you know where is? Central Asia; and you know what came from Central Asia? Snowshoes! More than just tennis rackets for your feet, snowshoes allow the wearer to move across deep snow with ease by spreading the wearer’s weight out over a larger surface area than their feet alone, keeping them on top of the snow instead of knee deep in a drift. Snowshoe Mag dates the invention of snowshoes to sometime between 4,000 and 6,000 years ago.
Let’s jump even farther back in time, now, for a look at skiing. The term “ski” comes from the Old Norse word for — surprise — a stick of wood, “skíð.” The oldest ski remnants were found in northern Russia and date back to roughly 6,000 B.C.E.
Snowboarding, on the other hand, is a much more recent invention. It was invented in 1964 when a young surfing enthusiast named Sherman Poppen decided to make a surf board for the snow so he could shred it up in the Rockies. Initially, the invention, whose prototype was made of a pair of skis bolted together, was called a “snurfer” — a clever shortening of “snow surfer.” The popularity of the idea grew and manufacturing began shortly after its conception. Sadly, Poppen’s idea died out about as quickly as it had taken root, and it wasn’t until 1970, when another surfer from upstate New York, Dimitrije Milovich, decided to redesign Poppen’s model. Milovich’s inspiration came in the form of a lunch tray and a new, shorter model of surfboard. His design featured a shorter board with gravel and glass laminated to the top to give it some grip and nylon straps to keep your feet in place. His idea was better, but still not quite right. In the following years, several other snurfing enthusiasts tinkered with and improved on the design until it eventually became what we know it to be, today.
Time to credit one crafty kid. The invention of earmuffs goes back to Farmington, Maine, in 1873 and Chester Greenwood, who decided he’d had enough of the cold and that something had to be done about it. To chase the chill away, Chester created his “Greenwood Champion Ear Protectors,” which were made of beaver fur on the outside of the earpiece, velvet on the ear-side, and a band of soft wire connecting the two pieces. He later refined the model to include a thicker band and spring hinges at either end to hold the fabric parts more snugly to the wearer’s head. His idea was patented March 13, 1877, and the rest is history.
Sleds and Toboggans
The word “toboggan” is a funny-sounding word that likely comes from the Mi’kmaq word for sled (tobâkun) or the Abenaki word for sled (udãbãgan). According to Canadian Icons, the French Canadians adapted the word sometime in the early 1800s to “tabaganne,” from which today’s “toboggan” evolved. While toboggans have been around longer than the Internet seems to know, they are thought to have originated in Northern Canada as the brainchild of the aboriginal groups living there. The Mi’kmaq or Micmac lived in what is now Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, a part of the Gaspé Peninsula, and eastern New Brunswick and the Abenaki inhabited parts of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.
Sleds as we know them today differ from toboggans in their steerability and the runners on the bottom of the sled, and are a much more recent invention. Samuel Leeds Allen, the inventor of the Flexible Flyer, patented his steerable sled August 13, 1889. You may have seen these kinds of sleds hanging up somewhere in your grandparents’ garage — the wooden sleds with metal runners, just like something out of an old fashioned winter scene. They may be a bit slow compared to newer sleds and toboggans, and they may be a little on the fragile side, but if you ever get the chance to ride one of these sleds, it sure is a treat.
As fun as winter is, there comes a time for almost everyone where the weather gets to you and you find the cold to be both inside and out. You wake up, your throat hurts, then it turns into a tickle and eventually a cough. Fortunately, someone made cold and flu season a bit more bearable for us all, and that “someone” is James Smith, of Poughkeepsie, New York, and his two sons, William and Andrew. James Smith was the father of “cough candy,” which appeared in an advertisement in a local paper a few years after its invention, in 1852. His sons inherited the business after their father’s death, in 1866, and carried on the recipe, though there were many impersonators who tried to butt in on the profits. Eventually, they developed a distinct package that became one of the first factory-filled products in history.
Before we had the wonders that are disposable facial tissues, people used handkerchiefs, which, I imagine, when someone came down with a case of the sniffles, wouldn’t last too long before you needed a new one. Now, of course, many people prefer the disposable option of the little bits of soft paper we call facial tissues. Who decided to create these little wonders, and how long did humanity have to wait for a trusty ol’ Kleenex? As it turns out, disposable facial tissues have been around for centuries, in Japan, where they are called washi. It wasn’t until 1924 that Kimberly-Clark introduced Kleenex, though their original intended use was for removing cold cream, rather than blowing one’s nose. Consumers, however, were having none of that cold cream business, and by 1926, somewhere in the ballpark of 60 percent of users were using the Kleenex for wiping their noses, while the other 40-ish percent used them for other tasks, such as napkins and toilet paper.
Winter just isn’t complete without hot chocolate. It’s the perfect pick-me-up after a long afternoon of whizzing down hills on your toboggan or a brisk walk back from class. Although our favorite lady, Swiss Miss, didn’t join the party until the 1960s, hot chocolate has been around since 2,000 to 1,000 B.C.E., when the Olmec of Mesoamerica, in what is now southern Mexico. Their practice for making the chocolate beverage they called “xocolātl” was to grind cacao beans into a paste, mix it with water, and pour it between bowls to make it frothy. The drink gave sustenance and provided a pick-me-up, leading the Olmec to believe that the drink possessed mystical qualities. From the Olmec, the drink was passed to the Maya and the Aztecs. When Cortes conquered the Aztecs and their chocolatey drink, he brought it back to Spain, where it spread throughout the rest of the world.
And the rest, my friends, is history. Happy winter!