Scene: Collegeville, Pennsylvania, Summer, 1934. The windows are wide open, but there is little relief from the steamy Mid-Atlantic heat and humidity. A brilliant young physicist sits down at the dinner table and his lovely wife places his meal before him. He smiles and thanks her, picks up the salt shaker and upends it over his plate. Nothing happens. He shakes, and still nothing.
“Jeepers!” he cries, “There must be a way to fix this! I need a pencil!”
Okay, I made that up in my mind … there is absolutely no evidence in the collection that John Mauchly said “Jeepers” (although that is a nice authentic 1930s exclamation!) or that he was driven to say it by his salt solidifying due to the humidity.
However, there is evidence that Dr. Mauchly thought that a solution to this problem was necessary. Residential air conditioning was not common in American homes until the latter half of the 20th century, so it is possible that Dr. Mauchly may have experienced a scene similar to the one I have depicted. And if I know anything about Dr. Mauchly, it is that he was a problem solver and a creative thinker. Below is his suggestion for a way to keep salt and sugar dry in a pre-air conditioned home!