University of South Carolina

The evolution of technology, on display

By Steven Powell, spowell2@mailbox.sc.edu, 803-777-1923

The Swearingen Engineering Center hosts an eclectic exhibition of technological history in its lobby.

Carter BaysCarter Bays, an emeritus professor of computer science in the College of Engineering and Computing, has placed hundreds of items on display in the Swearingen lobby, such as a 1920s electricity-free ice maker, a “portable” television from 1947 with a 3-inch screen, a hand-pumped vacuum cleaner from 1910, and a “paw foot” sewing machine from 1865.

Bays worked with Dean Tony Ambler to find a home for some of the many antiques Bays has collected over the years. "Tony and I really worked together on this project," said Bays. "If it weren't for him, none of this would have happened."

The college helped to organize the provision of 10 display cases, one of which is filled with a variety of clocks (see video below):

Clocks require an accurate method of marking time, and there are a number of methods demonstrated in Bays’ display:

The quality of Bays’ collection of sewing machines is unrivaled in the world; just a few of his 260 machines are displayed in Swearingen:

The front panel of USC’s first mainframe computer is part of Bays' display on computers:

Early household technology is a prominent part of the exhibit:

“I’ve been a collector all my life. It’s what I do,” said Bays. “I used to break light bulbs for their filaments when I was 6. I was collecting tungsten back then.” He moved on to butterflies, early American bottles, antiques and sewing machines, and he featured much of his extensive collection of the latter in The Encyclopedia of Early American & Antique Sewing Machines, now in its third edition.

Bays acquired most of the contents of the early technology exhibit in Swearingen during the past few years, but not purely to satisfy his lifelong interest in collecting. “My motivation has been building the exhibit that Dean Ambler and I talked about,” said Bays. “Here is something that people can actually learn from, and I hope it might even influence some kids to come to our engineering school.”

The exhibit in the Swearingen lobby is wide ranging, including, just to name a few examples, the Sinclair Executive calculator, slide rules, cathedral radios, a water-powered egg-beater, “surviving atomic attack” kits from the 1960s, hand-operated washing machines, the Congreve rolling ball clock, IBM plugboards from the 1940s, ear trumpets, quack medical devices, the earliest sewing machines, daguerrotype and ambrotype photographs, a water clock, staple-less staplers, vacuum tubes throughout the 20th century, an alcohol-powered iron, 19th-century doorbells, the Biola "potato battery," pocket TVs and the Blickensdoerfer typewriter.

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Posted: 06/13/13 @ 4:20 PM | Updated: 06/18/13 @ 9:38 PM | Permalink