Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Once Upon A Time, Scales Were Displayed In Parlors, Not Hidden In Bathrooms

Date:
December 16, 2008
Source:
Washington University in St. Louis
Summary:
Stepping onto a scale after a calorie-filled holiday season isn't an activity many 21st-century Americans relish. But in the late 19th century, scales were all the rage at festive gatherings -- the 1800s' answer to Guitar Hero. "A family would think it fun to weigh themselves before and after a big holiday dinner to see how much they had gained," said Deborah I. Levine, Ph.D. "Knowing your weight was a novelty, a kind of parlor trick."

Today, scales are plain, but in the 19th century, they were garbed in polished wood and semi-precious stones.
Credit: iStockphoto

Stepping onto a scale after a calorie-filled holiday season isn't an activity many 21st-century Americans relish. But in the late 19th century, scales were all the rage at festive gatherings — the 1800s' answer to Guitar Hero.

"A family would think it fun to weigh themselves before and after a big holiday dinner to see how much they had gained," said Deborah I. Levine, Ph.D., an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Modeling Interdisciplinary Inquiry Fellowship Program in the Humanities and Social Sciences in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.

"Knowing your weight was a novelty, a kind of parlor trick, before scales became widely available through mass production," said Levine.

Instead of being hidden away in a bathroom, home scales in the late 19th century often resided in prominent places in parlors, where family and guests would gather to socialize, likely alongside other popular 19th-century devices for body measurement. They were garbed to fit in their elaborately decorated environments.

"Parlor scales, which use the same technology that many doctors' office scales use today, often were made with highly polished wood, with inlay designs and semi-precious stones," Levine said.

However, in the early 20th century, attitudes about weight evolved. Medical and life insurance industries set weight "norms" for healthy individuals, and Americans began to see being over- or underweight as hazardous.

A person's weight became more than just a number, Levine said. It was health information, and having too big or too small a figure could mean serious consequences. A fun fact to be shared and compared among family and friends was transformed into a statement about a person's health and even moral character.

As the public's perception of weight changed, so did scales' places in fine society, Levine said. They were banished from their lofty spots in parlors to kitchens and finally, to bathrooms. Sequestered scales no longer needed to impress, and their ornate decorations gave way to the plain white or gray often seen today.

Levine earned a doctorate in the history of science at Harvard University in 2008. Her research focuses on the evolution of medicine and understanding of nutrition before and after the turn of the 20th century.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Washington University in St. Louis. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Washington University in St. Louis. "Once Upon A Time, Scales Were Displayed In Parlors, Not Hidden In Bathrooms." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 December 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081212092058.htm>.
Washington University in St. Louis. (2008, December 16). Once Upon A Time, Scales Were Displayed In Parlors, Not Hidden In Bathrooms. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081212092058.htm
Washington University in St. Louis. "Once Upon A Time, Scales Were Displayed In Parlors, Not Hidden In Bathrooms." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081212092058.htm (accessed October 21, 2014).

Share This



More Science & Society News

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

CDC Revamps Ebola Guidelines After Criticism

CDC Revamps Ebola Guidelines After Criticism

Newsy (Oct. 21, 2014) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued new protocols for healthcare workers interacting with Ebola patients. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
'Cadaver Dog' Sniffs out Human Remains

'Cadaver Dog' Sniffs out Human Remains

AP (Oct. 21, 2014) Where's a body buried? Buster's nose can often tell you. He's a cadaver dog, specially trained to find human remains and increasingly being used by law enforcement and accepted in courts. These dogs are helping solve even decades-old mysteries. (Oct. 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Traditional Farming Methods Gaining Ground in Mali

Traditional Farming Methods Gaining Ground in Mali

AFP (Oct. 20, 2014) He is leading a one man agricultural revolution in Mali - Oumar Diatabe uses traditional farming methods to get the most out of his land and is teaching others across the country how to do the same. Duration: 01:44 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Your Birth Season Might Determine Your Temperament

Your Birth Season Might Determine Your Temperament

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) A new study says the season you're born in can determine your temperament — and one season has a surprising outcome. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Science & Society

Business & Industry

Education & Learning

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins