Unfortunately, this wonderful snapshot postcard has no identifying information on the back. The writing was added after the postcard was printed. Toodles does look like a cat with an attitude. We can’t see his eyes, but he does have crazy ears, and his body is coiled for attack!
Monthly Archives: April 2015
As I went back into my files for another look after I researched the Kum-Pet Dog and Cat Feeder, I discovered that I owned two publicity photographs associated with another early automatic feeder, the Kenl-Master. I did a web search for the firm, expecting to find absolutely nothing on this object, when up popped a reference from the June 3, 1939, issue of The New Yorker (p. 64), which I have excerpted below:
“our native inventors have been as busy as little bees. At Bloomingdale…there is Kenl-Mastr, a covered food plate for dogs which pops its lid at feeding time if you remember to set its alarm-clock timer ($5.59).”
This reference was in one of the New York City shopping surveys that the magazine still occasionally publishes. Incredible!
Upon closer examination,the Kenl-Master feeder seems to be the “Time Controlled Feeding Device for Domestic Pets” illustrated in a 1939 patent drawing in my previous post on the Kum-Pet Dog and Cat Feeder of 1947. (Kenl-Mastr and Kum-Pet. Is anyone out there collecting gadget names? Someone needs to work on this!)
Notice the alarm clock in the second photo is set for a few minutes past six o’clock. The people who set up the shot are suggesting that six is the normal dinnertime for city dogs. Now go back and look at the first picture. The clock is set for ten minutes after five o’clock, and the handsome wire-haired fox terrier is shown already waiting at the feeder. This is apparently intended to suggest that dogs in the 1930s tried to push dinner time up a bit, just as every dog I have ever owned has tried to do.
The feeder does not turn up in any of the trade catalogs or magazines in my collection. The Kenl-Master Manufacturing Company is listed in a 1939 Los Angeles phone directory I found online — but here the trail ends for the time being.
The Kum-Pet Dog and Cat Feeder is one of several automatic pet feeders in my collection. Its mechanism is simple. A wind-up alarm clock, mounted flush into a galvanized metal frame, is set with the time for the pet’s meal. When mealtime is reached, the tension unwinding spring that operates the clock’s alarm also spins a metal spool that winds up a string. The string is attached to the underside of the metal feeding dish under the cover, kept in place by a cut-out in the metal base. The pan of food slides into view and — voilá! — dinner is served.
Like the V.I.P. Pet Brush, the subject of my very first blog post, the Kum-Pet Dog and Cat Feeder is a gadget from the “Populuxe” era, when peace and increasing prosperity led Americans to some giddy purchasing decisions. In the decades after World War II, people with extra money to spend began to direct some of this cash toward all sorts of powered kitchen gizmos including ice crushers and blenders, electric carving knives, meat grinders and mixers. Some gadgets were supposed to help housewives save money by taking on tasks as home, while others were intended to make routine tasks easier. Others, such as automatic pet feeders, responded to consumer interest in convenience, suggesting that even the most ordinary tasks could be enhanced by novel applications of simple technologies.
As part of the family, pets became proxy consumers in postwar America. The expanding array of products intended to nourish, heal, house, entertain and ornament them suggests how ordinary people understood and accommodated the needs of their charges. In this case, automatic feeders were promoted as improving the lives of both pets and their people. Timed feeders allowed the designated caregiver to be away from home when it was dinnertime for Trixie or Pal, who could still expect grub to arrive at the usual time.
The Kum-Pet feeder received its patent as a “Feeding Device for Animals” on 25 February 1947. This seems to be the only patent issued to Jerome Frankel, who I have been unable to track so far. Several men with this name lived in and around New York City at the time the Kum-Pet Feeder was offered for sale. The patent’s text suggests that the invention responded to problems with some existing feeders:”One of the objects of the invention is to provide an automatic feeder of simple construction having few parts which can be cheaply produced and assembled….of neat and attractive appearance, and which will be fool-proof and positive in operation…sanitary and easily cleaned.” The food pan in the Kum-Pet is an 8-inch metal baking pan, and the alarm clock is a Gilbert. The William L. Gilbert Clock Corporation had been in business since 1828 and was known for its alarm clocks at the time the feeder was made by Lorraine Metal Specialties Company of Brooklyn, new York.
Farmers had been interested in automatic feeders for livestock for several decades when the Kum-Pet was patented. However, the first patented feeder that I have been able to find relating specifically for pets is a “Time Controlled Feeding Device for Domestic Pets (US 2157682), patented by Raymond V. Sweeny in 1939. Notice that this one also makes use of an alarm clock! At least five applications for automatic pet feeders appeared between 1946 and 1966. The timing of automatic pet feeders is congruent with wide consumer acceptance of packaged pet food, another convenience for busy households.
This carte des visite photograph of “Nick” is unsigned by the photographer, and the back of the card has no stamp or printing. It does have a wonderful pencil inscription, however, so I scanned it for this post. The card was presented to “Elise J. W.” in 1871. At the top is a second date, 1873; I don’t yet understand its meaning.
In any case, this is a lovely pose, and a rare example of a photo of a kitten from the cdv era. Their portraits became more common with the development of easy photography for amateurs, especially with the arrival of roll film in the 1880s and the popularity of real photo postcards in the early 20th century. The composition includes an empty wooden spool, probably used as a cat toy. From the kitten’s expression, I can imagine the photographer waving a hand or another toy above the camera.