Sunday, January 20, 2013

"Education is what remains

after one has forgotten what was has learned in school."   ~Albert Einstein

Our Spring Semester starts this week, and I am back to teaching.  Hopefully, I can give my students some things that will help them unlike Einstein...of course, Einsteins progress with or without assistance!

It does amaze me that the classroom has not really changed much.  Teacher's desk...students' chairs...but, for those who went to traditional schools, we all have memories of sitting in desks of various designs depending on our age.  The school desk was not a permanent fixture until the late 1800's. It took a woman to figure out that students crammed on benches with slates in their laps did not make for the best educational environment--little did she know that a century later they would sit on chairs with laptops and i-pads!  Progress?

In 1889, Anna Breadin received a patent for the design that we identify today as old-fashioned school desk, but Sidney School Furniture Company in Ohio was the main manufacturer.  According to my research, "The Sidney School Furniture Company, located in Sidney, Ohio, began manufacturing the popular 'Fashion' school desk in 1881. Advertising for the desk claimed, 'No desk in the market is made with more care, nor of better materials than the ‘Fashion,’ and none has met with a more popular reception, or gives better satisfaction. The desk featured a Patent T-head, which eliminated screws and bolts by joining the wood of the top, back, and seat to the legs, which were made of cast iron." 

There are a number of school desks around today that were built by the Sidney School Furniture factory. It is easy to determine which are the Sidney desks because the words "Fashion" and Sidney were molded into the wrought iron which comprises the leg portions of the desks. There is also a number from 1 to 6 which denotes the size of the child for which it was intended.

This style enabled school rooms to line up students, and it also gave students a place to store their books and supplies.  They were fastened to the floor, and they came in different sizes and in doubles.  I remember in 7th grade sitting in a double desk...that was in interestingly these were not retired quickly.  That style also had a variation where the top lifted up, but that was not popular since the top would drop and break arms.

However, as teaching methods changed, and students were given freedom, the attached rows were retired, and the new individual desk came into existence.  This old 1930s desk has a neat look...still has an inkwell though!
Then, as plastics became the new style, wood desks were relegated to the basements or landfills.  I am sure many had a variation of the style below...a similar style still exists in my 21st century college classroom.

Many antique shops and co-ops have a 19th century desk or two floating around the inventory. I have a tiny one...they make unique end tables or may have to create a leveler for the legs since some do have a slant.  I also have a larger one from a Connecticut manufacturer with the intricate cash iron sides. 

And, as in the previous posts, I have urged getting out and seeing instead of sitting so I end with this...

"A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world."
~John le Carre


Piamonster said...

Hi Susan, I love this post on Anna Breadin's school desk design and was wondering if we could cross-post it with permission onto our site We profile women in non-traditional careers to inspire girls and women to picture and pursue any career of their choice. I can be reached at Thanks in advance for your consideration!

Jeyakani said...

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