Alfred Gartner: patent attorney & petty swindler


Alfred-GartnerI’m no history buff. Far from it. I don’t like movies with battle scenes and I never stop to read historical placards alongside the road.

When I first downloaded Alfred Gartner’s 1918 patent for an exploding package for “candy, nuts and the like” I figured it would just make a quirky 4th-of-july packaging story. What tripped me up were the tantalizing hints of scandal and intrigue surrounding the inventor.

Gartner’s invention coincided with the start of WWI, but there was something about his inclusion of the “on to Berlin” slogan in his patent drawings that seemed important, although I couldn’t say why.

When I put up Friday’s post about Gartner’s “explosive patriotic packaging,” I thought that was all that I would ever had to say about it. I had questions, but I imagined that the answers were nowhere to be found.

Yesterday, however, on the fourth of July, I felt compelled to dig just a little bit deeper  into Alfred Gartner’s “history” and what I found was way more about him that I ever expected to know.

The picture of Gartner above was taken for a 1916 passport application—an application in which he sought permission to travel to Austria and Germany. This application set off an investigation into Gartner’s business affairs, which, as it turned out, were pretty nefarious.

IN RE: Alfred Gartner, German suspect
Special Agent Jesse H. Wilson Jr.’s Report (4/30/1917):

Gartner is man weighing well over two hundred pounds, fairly tall, between fifty-five and sixty years of age, grey headed, smooth shave. His most striking characteristic is his puckered mouth and his habit of speaking without perceptible movement of the lips.

Yes, this was the same Alfred Gartner who was the grifter featured in a 1913 NY Times article, indicted for defrauding a repertory “show of midgets” with his $5,000,000 “Civic Circus” scheme.

And, yes, this was also the same Alfred Gartner who was the patent attorney, disbarred in 1918 for “gross misconduct.” (More about that later)

But wait, there’s more!

On left: detail of Walter Thompson’s patent; on right: 1901 NY Times blurb announcing the “Independent Tin Can Company”

In 1901 he and his law partner, John W. Steward, established the “Independent Tin Can Company” to capitalize on Walter Thompson’s patented “Solderless Side Seam for Tin Cans.”

The Independent (Tin) Can Company of New York, the American Solderless Can Co., New Jersey, were not can making concerns, each owned certain patents (and nothing else) which after a trial proved to be unsuccessful and were abandoned.

The Steel and Metal Digest, 1914

This experience must have left a bad taste in Walter Thompson’s mouth. Where he had once collaborated on inventions with Gartner, by 1917 Thompson was so angered by Gartner’s business practices that he sent a letter to the Department of Justice describing him as “a thoroughly conscienceless, unprincipled petty swindler of working people, servant girls and waitresses, a great schemer to get money without work and a hard drinker.” (More about this later…)

Gartner was also accused of selling (or attempting to sell) patent secrets to the Germans, munitions to the Austrians and shoes to the Russian army.

Because of the passport application, an investigation was launched by the Department of Justice’s newly formed “Bureau of Investigation” (later to be renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation). Gartner, once a wealthy “man of means” was now under suspicion of being, either a German sympathizer or perhaps something worse.

Despite my indifference to history in its usual forms, the declassified FBI files about Gartner’s case were, for me, a fascinating read. Were Gartner’s patriotic inventions a sincere expression of his national allegiance? Or was he, as an Austrian-born naturalized citizen, seeking cover from wartime suspicion by wrapping himself in the American flag?

Judge for yourself, after the fold…

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Packaged (past tense): explosive patriotic packaging


Alfred Gartner’s 1918 patent for his explosive patriotic packaging is something I’ve been saving for 4th of July.  His “Container for candy, nuts and the like” with fuse and small explosive charge— a “confection explosive bomb”—was actually invented, not for the 4th of July, but for World War I.  (“On to Berlin” being a popular slogan of the time)

For improvements in containers for nut, candy and the like, Alfred Gartner, of 606, 9th Street, N.W. Washington, D.C., U.S.A., has been granted Letters Patent No. 118,798. The invention consists in the improved container, and in the employment of a predetermined amount of explosive for effecting a gentle rupture or a removal of part of the container, so as to avoid scattering of the contents.

The Paper Box and Bag Maker (publication), 1918

Interestingly, Gartner also had a string of other patriotic, war-time inventions, although it’s uncertain if any were ever manufactured.

Curious about his background I tried to find out more about Alfred Gartner, but my research raised more questions than it answered…

Was this the same Alfred Gartner who was an attorney, disbarred in 1918 from practicing before the United States Patent Office “for gross misconduct?”

Was this the same Alfred Gartner who was a grifter arrested in 1913 for defrauding a repertory “show of midgets” with his $5,000,000 “Civic Circus” scheme?

(More details, after the fold…) [Read more…]

Oeuvre Overlap: Liza vs. Linda

On Left: Linda Dolack‘s 2002 “Froot Loops”; on right: Liza Lou‘s 1996 “Froot Loops”

I make sport sometimes of pointing out coincidentally similar artworks and ideas, but I empathize with such artists, suddenly realizing there’s an oeuvre overlap.  It’s hard to stake out a creative territory for oneself and ever be truly certain that it isn’t already occupied by somebody else. (See: In Six Moves, footnote #2)

Most likely, one or the other got there first, but that doesn’t always count for much. Free markets are random and capricious about giving credit where credit is due. (Likewise for money, attention, love, respect…)  Finding yourself in direct competition with a doppelganger raises the stakes in ways that are probably unpleasant for both parties.

That said, if your chosen medium is glass beads and you’ve made sculptures of consumer packaging, then there’s a high probability that some of the same brands will be depicted by both you and your doppelganger.

On left: Liza Lou’s “Frosted Flakes” 1991-1996; on right: Linda Dolack’s “Frosted Flakes” (2002?)

(More about each of these two artists, after the fold…) [Read more…]

1 more thing: the Kellogg’s To Go Twinpot

Photos of the Kellogg’s “To Go” Twinpot container from MoDiP

A white bowl with two compartments made in Northern Ireland. One containing Kellogg’s Frosties cereal and the other containing a separate pot of UHT milk. The film lid covers both compartments, sealing the contents in place.

The Museum of Design in Plastics (MoDiP)

The Kellogg’s To Go Twinpot package is not exactly “late breaking news” since it was launched 14 years ago in 2001, but it’s news to me or I would have included it in Friday’s post about Cereal and Milk Combo Packs.

It appears to have remained a viable enough product to have remained on the market longer than “Breakfast Mates,” although it, too, seems to have now been discontinued.

Kellogg’s To Go Twinpots, will be available later this month in Corn Flakes, Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes, Bran Flakes, Special K and Frosties varieties.

Each Twinpot contains individual portions of the cereal, extended-life milk, sugar and a spoon.

Twinpots will cost between 79p and 99p and will be sold in supermarkets, convenience stores, petrol station forecourts, city centre metro stores, takeaway food counters and sandwich bars.

Chris Doyle, Kellogg’s head of marketing for out-of-home consumption, commented: “While Kellogg’s is still the most popular cereal brand in the UK, we have recognised our consumers’ eating habits are changing — people have less time to eat in the home.”

Julia Day, Kellogg’s targets people on the go
The Guardian, 2001

Fun fact: Kellogg’s “To Go” Twinpots were also available in some constabularies as a convenient breakfast for the incarcerated consumer. (In this context, I suppose, “to go” is a misnomer, since prisoners are not really at liberty to go anywhere.)

More dual packaging for cereal & milk: 4 patents


1. It was while researching dual-chambered bottles and other dual packaging that I first noticed the patented bifurcated bottle above (invented by Charley Y. Lloyd, Amany Abouelenein, John P. Rebhorn and Karen McClure) entitled:


I like the way diagonal partition inside the bottle creates two, more-or-less equal sized spaces for dry cereal and liquid milk, while affording the cereal a larger opening to pour through. And I like seeing the cereal and milk poured simultaneously.

This 2002 patent led me to the broader topic of cereal and milk combo packs, in general.

Considering the scathing critiques of this idea from business and marketing pundits—(e.g.: here, here & here)—it’s surprising, perhaps, that so much creative energy has gone into devising new and improved ways of packaging cereal and milk together in one container.

We have 3 other interesting examples… [Read more…]

Packaged (past tense): Cereal and Milk Combo Packs

3-Combo-Cereal-Milk-Packs-2Cereal and Milk Combo Packs: the idea of combining milk and breakfast cereal in one convenient package has been tried a number of times with mixed results.

Ralston-Purina’s 1990 “Breakfast on the Run” and Kellogg’s 1998 “Breakfast Mates are widely considered text book examples of product failure.  Ennis Foods’ 1997 “Rumblers,” on the other hand, rumbles successfully on as an airline food and in an alternate form, in which cereal is combined with yogurt rather than milk.

(Details about all 3 products, after the fold…) [Read more…]

7 quotes about Royal Baking Powder

RoyalBakingPowder-containersA collection of “Droste effect” Royal Baking Powder cans from Nicki Dugan Pogue’s Flickr Photostream

Today’s the day that we take a recursion-excursion into the Royal Baking Powder label.

There will be questions. There will be quotations.


First used in 1873, but who actually designed the label?

WalkerEvans-RoyalBakingPowderOne commenter on Yahoo claims, The design of the original can within the can label was by Octavio Hoagland, the son of one of the company’s co-founders.” Octavio? Of the two Hoagland brothers who founded the Royal Baking Powder company, James C. Hoagland’s son was named John. And Cornelius Hoagland’s son was named Raymond. (I’m guessing “Octavio” is a red herring.)

There are lots of references in Royal Baking Powder’s advertising to repetition. Repeat sales, repeat purchases all hinting at an infinity of profits: “The demand for Royal Baking Powder never ceases.”

The 1929 Walker Evans photo on the right (“Royal Baking Powder” Advertisement on Steps to Elevated Train Platform, Sixth Avenue, New York City) shows that, even without an image of their trademark can, the Royal Baking Powder Company was nothing if not fully invested in a repetition of sales message.

7 quotations on the subject (and more pictures), after the fold… [Read more…]

Milk Splash Crown Bottle Cap


T67550-300Dmitry Patsukevich’s stated intention for the milk splash crown bottle cap on his Queens Village milk bottle was to “keep the bottle as simple as possible but add some liveliness.”

Milk-splash-crown-bottle-cap-Dmitry-PatsukevichThat may be true, but the splash-shaped milk bottle cap also harkens back to the early high-speed photography of Dr. Harold Edgerton.

In the 1950s, Edgerton’s high speed photographs dramatically revealed the crown-shaped splashes formed by a dripping liquid.

There is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ result or a complete study of a phenomenon. For example, although I’ve tried for years to photograph a drop of milk splashing on a plate with all the coronet’s points spaced equally apart, I have never succeeded.

Dr. Harold Edgerton

Bottle caps are also associated with crowns for other reasons.

Crown Cork and Seal was so named because its metal bottle caps were thought to resemble a crown.

Other beverages are branded with crown shaped splashes, but by incorporating the crown splash into the structural design of his bottle, Patsukevich has done something splashy that we haven’t seen before. Milk splash crown bottle cap.

(Some videos of Edgerton’s milk splashes, after the fold…)

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Packaged (past tense): Andy Warhol ate a hamburger

Warhol eats hamburgerIn 1981, Andy Warhol ate a hamburger for filmmaker Jørgen Leth’s movie entitled, 66 Scenes from America. Naturally, Warhol ate the hamburger in his own deadpan “screen test” style.

In the video above, Leth explains the circumstances of the filming, citing Warhol’s preference for McDonald’s packaging design over Burger King’s, the implicit martyrdom of Warhol swallowing hamburger through his “slender neck” with no beverage to wash it down, etc.

In recent years, the clip has become something of an internet meme.  Lots of people with various agendas have recreated the scene and posted it online. With so many hamburgers consumed in his honor, I wonder how frequently Warhol ate hamburger.

Warhol-Leth Andy Warhol eats hamburger

Leth’s original scene (without commentary) and a few meme-related versions, after the fold…

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Package Smashing

Package smashing: high-speed photos by Alan Sailer of projectiles passing through consumer packaging

At the dawn of packaging, consumers had to smash open their cans with rocks because no one had thought to invent the can-opener yet.

Nowadays, most packaging is designed with easier access to contents. Yet people still seem to enjoy seeing modern consumer goods opened the old-fashioned way.

Not all of Alan Sailer‘s photographs involve package smashing, but a high enough percentage that I couldn’t hope to feature them all here.

Sometimes his brand choices are played for laughs. (Jolt Cola, Orange Crush, etc.)

And there are a number of great package smashing videos on his Flickr site. For example…

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Swedish shrink sleeve design (it’s so cold in älska)


Pure-love-alskaI just saw this on Packaging of the World: the new shrink sleeve design for a 4-pack of canned älska cider, designed by Gustaf Boman, Gustaf Boman and Stefan Raabe.

Channeling their inner Naoto Fukasawa, Boman & company use the packaging-as-fruit-skin metaphor aptly and with great finesse.

Granted, these are idealized Photoshop simulations, but (if well-printed) the new versions cannot fail to be an improvement over älska cider’s current shrink sleeve.

(The trompe l’oeil masking-taped labels are also a nice touch.)

The brand has not yet come to the U.S. If and when it does, it seems likely that consumers here would assume that “älska” was a shortened version of Alaska, the state. (Similar to the short-hand spelling of the word, plumber in “Liquid-PLUMR”)

This assumption would be incorrect, as “älska” is actually the Swedish verb for “love.” Would the unintentional associations with Alaska be a bad thing for this brand? There might be some consumer confusion about the product’s origin, but as the northern most state of the United States, I reckon many Americans would simply think: cold.

The language-learning website MemRise offers “I love Alaska (alska)” as a mnemonic for remembering this Swedish verb.

For some American consumers, however, Alaska might also bring some less positive associations to a brand-name, synonymous with love.

[Read more…]

7 More Bifurcated, Dual-Chambered Bottles


Following up on Bristol-Myers’ 1960s dual-chambered bottle for Tandem Shampoo, here are 7 more bifurcated, dual-chambered bottles.

Looking at bottles like these, I’m wondering if part of their appeal is that we feel akin to this sort of divided, bilateral symmetry. We, too, are compartmentalized, our dual halves sometimes at cross-purposes.

Our bodies and brains are largely bilaterally symmetrical … The internal organs, including the heart, lungs, and stomach, are arranged asymmetrically, presumably for more efficient packaging. But the brain… remains for the most part built on a bilaterally symmetrical plan.

The brain is not only symmetrical; it is also double.

Michael C. Corballis, The Divided Brain

(Details about each one of the 7 bottles above, after the fold…) [Read more…]