There’s a difference between curiosity and nosy-ness. At least, I hope there is. I think the reason I headed into a career in journalism is that it is the best way to satisfy my curiosity. Also, I savour words like some people savour food. And I can type (word process, is the current term) pretty well. There are other reasons, too, of course.
So, last weekend I got thinking about what it’s like to be in bed at night in June. Usually it waits until you’re almost nodding off, limbs finally relaxed, mind out of gear, mattress and pillows supporting you in just the right way. If you’re like me, you’ve tossed and re-covered yourself in the June heat, until you have just the right weight. And then… in the darkness… near your ear… that familiar, divebombing sound of droning toward its object at lightning speed… the mosquito.
Of course, there’s always the stealthy spider that zaps your midriff during the night, leaving you with an itchy welt that lasts at least a month.
All of this took me into wondering about the marvellous individual who changed our lives with the invention of window screen. Now, I ask you, where else could you make your living wondering about stuff and following up on your wondering and then sharing it with other people (or, inflicting it on them, some might say)?
So I called Shari Morasch, owner of Cyber.Stalker, an internet research firm, who took on the research project with great enthusiasm. Then I settled into our family library, pulling out decades worth of National Geographic, Our Wonder World (which documents inventions up to 1929), the Canadian Encyclopedia, the Junior Encyclopedia, McClelland & Stewart’s CD Canadian Encyclopedia•World Edition. Lots of wonderful information. I can now tell you how a doorknob works. How glass is blown and pressed. How a watermill operates. I got quite excited when Volume II, page 286 of Our Wonder World offered an entry on screen. “Every boy, even a girl, (remember, this was published in 1929) can make this attractive wood frame screen, with fabric panels that enhance any room,” it read. Oh, my!
Nothing about the humble window screen.
Shari’s search engines took her into sunscreen, computerscreen, the production of wire; even the history of architecture turned up nothing on the inventor of the lowly window screen.
Shari did discover that between 1826 and 1832 construction of the Rideau Canal was halted during several consecutive summers as malaria infected up to 60% of those labouring on the canal, presumably because they were bitten by mosquitos. One website, from Montreal’s Dr. Dick MacLean, credits window screens with the gradual disappearance of malaria in the early part of this century. Hurrah for window screen!
Shari’s three computers are hooked up to different search engines as she pulls down information from thousands of websites. No luck.
A call to Cathy at Information Barrie took me over to Ayla at the reference desk of Barrie Public Library. The research systems there went into high gear. But screen is elusive.
I can now tell you with some authority that screen today is made from aluminum and fibreglass, with fibreglass being the most maleable and aluminum being the stronger material. Nobody mentions copper screening, popular in the middle part of this century, still on the market today, very durable and very expensive. Copper screening can be expected to last at least 50 years unless your family pooch takes a nosedive through it, in which case, you’ve just lost about $500 worth of screen.
I can tell you how to wash screen. How to repair screen.
I can tell you that Jackie Laing owns a company in Orillia called Screen Door Art which presumably offers all kinds of decorations for your screens.
And, if you go online to research screening you will uncover literally thousands of sellers of screening… thousands of them. Not one has a website which offers the history of screen, a tidbit about the noble inventor.
It seems unbelievable that someone somewhere hasn’t documented the emergence of the very fabric that permits Canadians to celebrate summer. It gives us leave to fabricate some incredible fantasy about a Canadian in the Minesing Swamp who, in an effort to remain alive, created this wonder metal mesh that has saved the world from dying of any number of diseases.
Maybe. We may never know. But, you can be assured that if I find out, it will be published first right here.
What a journey this bit of curiosity has launched!