A conversation with the University of Alberta about Mechanics’ Institutes of course!

I was cordially invited to offer my thoughts about the Mechanics’ Institute of San Francisco to the graduate class Foundations of Adult and Higher Education at the University of Alberta. Via Skype I delivered the following lecture last night. The audio file includes the Q& A. Thanks so much! Hi thank you for having me. I’m Taryn Edwards, I’m one of the 8 librarians on staff at the San Francisco Mechanics’ Institute. I’ve worked here 8 years and have spent the last four intensively analyzing our history – searching for themes and practices that we can capitalize upon today in order to chart a path forward. Let me tell you a bit about the circumstances surrounding our founding. The SF MI’s birth is closely tied to the aftermath of the California...

San Francisco politics “through the curtain”

Monika Trobits’ tidy little book ends with a great quote from Shakespeare’s As You Like It, – “All the world’s a stage / And all the men and women merely players”. Indeed, after reading Antebellum and Civil War San Francisco: a western theater for northern & southern politics, one wonders how Shakespeare could have been so prescient. Antebellum and Civil War San Francisco consists of thirteen chapters that in a linear and concise fashion outline the political maneuverings and major events that lead up to and culminate with the Civil War. As even the phrase “political maneuverings” may elicit snores, let me assure you, this is not a dull book. Trobits’ humor leaps from the page and her experience as a walking tour leader shines as she ably makes even the...

A Fair to Remember and Relive

How many times have you rolled your eyes and sighed when someone starts telling you about his great grandfather? When you ask Lee Bruno about his, he is surprisingly circumspect – perhaps too much so. Lee Bruno’s gorgeous volume Panorama: Tales from San Francisco’s 1915 Pan-Pacific International Exposition is a testament to “the City that knows how”, the Exposition, and the remarkable vision of Ruben Brooks Hale, the author’s great grandfather. Hale was a far sighted entrepreneur, president of the Merchants’ Association, who planted the idea of hosting a grand Exposition – timed with the opening of the Panama Canal – in the minds of San Francisco’s civic leaders in 1904. Unfortunately, the earthquake and fire of 1906 naturally put plans on hold. As the city...

Wines, Brandies, and Vinous Products – Part 3

Meanwhile, in 1878 the Mechanics’ Institute was conducting special research on the wine industry with the help of a wine expert from Australia, Rev. John J. Bleasdale. Bleasdale visited vintners up and down the state taking samples of their wines for scientific analysis. In blind trials the wines were judged according to a 20 point system by Date of vintage, Color of sample, Condition, Flavor, Bouquet, Body, and Acidity felt to the palate. The wines were then given a final score of 3, 2 or 1 with 1 being the best. A report was drawn up in time for the 1878 Exhibition that explained each wines’ merits and how the properties of the soil, water, and variety of grapes affected the final product. This is the standard by which future Exhibitions would judge wine. The...

Wines, Brandies, and Vinous Products – Part 2

As you can see by 1869 the grape crop was huge in comparison to the other fruits grown in California. Even the State’s signature fruit, the orange is surpassed by the grape. 1869 would see the consumption of wine grow to 5,000,000 gallons and brandy’s consumption would grow to 200,000 gallons. At the fairs, we start to see wines from Nevada City, Sonoma, Martinez, Napa, Santa Clara. The 1868 and 1869 fairs looked like this inside, again taken by our favorite photographer Eadward Muybridge. Note the central fountain, it was a wonderful place to people watch. 600,000 people would attend the 1868 fair.  Right next to the fountain in the back is Martinelli’s Cider display – always a party pleaser, back then his cider was even more fun, it was alcoholic! The fair...

Wines, Brandies, and Vinous Products at the Mechanics’ Institute’s Industrial Expositions, 1857-1899 – Part 1

On October 23, 2014 I gave a talk at the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society’s Grapes of Past event about the wine industry of San Francisco as it was reflected in the 31 Industrial Expositions of the Mechanics’ Institute. These expositions took place between the years of 1857 and 1899 and were marvelous “snapshots” of the city and state’s burgeoning industrial output. The following posts will be the text of Wines, Brandies, and Vinous Products at the Mechanics’ Institute’s Industrial Expositions, 1857-1899. Thanks for having me tonight. I’m Taryn Edwards, I’m one of the Librarians on staff at the Mechanics’ Institute of San Francisco – one of the oldest libraries in the West, the oldest chess club in the United States, and...