Blue glass and other topical subjects, 1877


A letter from Lee Hayden Daniels, age 16, writing to his childhood friend, Adelaide Stoddard, in Chicago:

Milwaukee, March 4th, 1877.

Dear friend Adelaide, —–

I am the guilty one this time as far as answering letters is concerned. One reason is “Lack of time,” that is quoted from one of my previous letters, and also an overflow of debates. One week from last Friday I debated upon the following question —- Resolved, Party spirit is more beneficial than injurious. Now without telling you the side I took, I want to ask you what you think about it. Another reason for delaying is the interest I took in the presidential contest. Now it is just 12 hr. and U.S.G. will “take a rest” to use a common expression.

How did you enjoy the sermon this morning? I mean on “Who is the Genuine Unitarian”? Did you conclude that you are one? And then give me Miss. Congers views of it. There certainly must be news by this time from her. Doing well I hope.

Hurrah! “Turkey”! For that has just been the announcement. It is very seldom that I refuse to eat a part of one of those birds.

Just finished and I will finish this. What books have you read lately?

We received a letter from New York from Walter yesterday and he enclosed a small sketch which I will send to you. It is a sketch of a statue given by France to this country and is to be placed in New York Harbor. This is the only part that has arrived and it measures, from the elbow to the hand, 20 feet. Think what an enormous figure that will be when completed.

Milwaukee has an awful fever over blue glass, but I can not find anyone, except General Pleasenton, that can give a reason of its beneficialness. All of my teachers think it a humbug.

In looking over this letter, I find I have said little only asked questions. Probably enough for a good long letter from you which will come soon I hope. I do not see more room on this sheet and will close.

Ever your friend

My notes:
[1] “U.S.G.” refers to President Grant, of course, who would be leaving office the following day. The election results had been the subject of unprecedented political and legal challenges (comparable only to the Presidential election of 2000), and the winner, Hayes, had finally been determined by an electoral commission on March 2nd–less than 72 hours before the inauguration!

[2] Nellie B. Conger is one of Addie’s friends, born in Madison County, New York in 1861, who moved with her family to Chicago at a young age. Adelaide attends a Universalist church; her grandfather, Jeremiah Stoddard, was a Universalist minister in Maine and Massachusetts. I suspect that the Daniels family are Universalists, also, but have not confirmed it. Was there a Universalist church in Milwaukee in 1877?

[3] Walter Allen Daniels is Lee’s older brother, who is 25.

[4] Augustus J. Pleasonton (1801-1894) was a general during the Civil War. He presented a pseudo-scientific paper, “The Influence Of The Blue Ray Of The Sunlight And Of The Blue Colour Of The Sky”, to the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture in 1871 and (after shrewdly securing patents) published a book with a similar title–bound in a blue cover and printed in blue ink–in 1876.

The paper, or a portion of it, can be found at

Even a casual reading of the paper shows that Pleasonton has little or no understanding of the electromagnetic theory which Maxwell formalized between 1861 and 1873. In the paper, after presenting his experimental results, his theory and claims get increasingly eccentric (starting about p. 12).

The entire book is available here.

His theory was that the blue wavelengths of light from the sun are especially beneficial in the growth of plant and animal life by virtue of their electrical effects. His experiments included growing grapes in greenhouses where he alternated direct sunlight with filtered blue light. His claims went far beyond agriculture, of course, and included all sorts of health benefits–giving birth to the “chromotherapy” movement.

His theory and experimental methods met with much criticism from the scientific community, but the public was excited by his amazing claims. The demand for panes of cobalt blue glass, particularly the color called “Royal Mazarine”, remained high for several years, which led manufacturers to over-produce; eventually they would have to scrap enormous quantities when the fad ended. Thirty years later, houses could still be seen with alternating blue and clear panes in each window. I wonder if there are still some Victorian houses in Milwaukee with a few panes of blue glass remaining.

It appears that Mazarine blue spectacles were also popular.

The “blue-glass craze” faded, of course, but never completely disappeared. There are still a few isolated adherents to the belief, even today. Through the medium of the Internet, they can now find each other and organize to spread General Pleasonton’s message, anew:

David Thomas
Sugar Land, Texas
Originally posted on Wed Feb 22, 2012 in the forums.

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