"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

Useful information from 1884

By on July 26, 2021 in Columnist with 0 Comments
Rod Molzahn

By Rod Molzahn

Chas. E. Houghtaling in Albany, New York copyrighted and published his Handbook of Useful Information in 1884.

It must have been a hot seller. Houghtaling published revised editions in 1885, ’86, ’88, ’91 and 1905.

The 1905 edition measures 3.5 inches by 5.5 inches and contains 222 pages bound in “Red Alligator Leatherette.” The book sold for 25 cents with free shipping to any part of the United States. A special notice on page 2 and again on page 222 advertises: “We want live and intelligent agents in every city and town to sell this book. If you want employment give this book a trial and you will be convinced that you can make good wages selling it.”

The variety and scope of the Useful Information in the little book is stunning, ranging from national, state and city populations to how to preserve eggs and the time required to digest certain foods.

Among the information in the book are these tidbits:

The population for nation, states and cities: The population of the United States was 76,305,036 as enumerated in the 1900 census. The state of Washington counted 518,103 people, up from 349,390 10 years earlier. The city of Seattle had 80,671 in 1900, almost double the 42,887 total in 1890.

Your political duty as a citizen: “If you are of age and a man, your duty is to vote at all elections and to inform yourself beforehand what measures and men you ought to support and to watch the conduct of public officers to see that they perform their duties and observe their constitutional limitations. It is your duty as an American citizen to obey the laws, even if they are, in your belief, unjust or unwise. It is your duty to serve in the militia if the law commands it.”

The tallest man of modern times: “This new giant is an Austrian named Winkelmeier, and his height is 8 feet 9 inches, which is over one foot more than that of Chang, the Chinese giant.”

The human form divine: “Each ear has four bones. The human skull contains 30 bones. Every hair has two oil glands at its base. The sense of touch is dullest on the back. The lower limbs contain 30 bones each. The globe of the eye is moved by six muscles. The cerebral matter is about seven-eighths water. The exact details of the functions of the spleen are unknown.”

Centenarians: “The most remarkable were: The Countess of Desmond, killed by falling from a cherry tree in her 146th year. Thomas Parr died after a dinner party in his 152nd year.”

Time required for digesting food: Striped Bass – 3 hrs; beans – 2 ½ hrs; beef steak – 3 hrs; cornbread – 3 hrs 15 min; boiled cabbage – 4 ½ hrs; fried catfish – 3 ½ hrs; old strong cheese – 3 ½ hrs; roasted wild duck – 4 ½ hrs; hard boiled eggs – 3 ½ hrs; broiled lamb – 2 ½ hrs; raw oysters – 2 hrs 55 min; boiled salmon 4 hrs; fresh boiled trout – 1 ½ hrs; roast turkey – 2 ½ hrs.

How to tell if a person is dead or alive: “Apply the flame of a candle to the tip of one of the great toes of the supposed corpse and a blister will immediately rise. If the vitality is gone this will be full of air and will burst with some noise if the flame be applied a few seconds longer. If life is not extinct, the blister will be full of matter and will not burst. The test, therefore, should be applied as soon as life is supposed to be extinct and before an undertaker is called in.”

How to preserve eggs: “To each pail full of water, add two pints of fresh slacked lime and one pint of common salt; mix well. Fill your barrel half full with this fluid. Put your eggs down in it any time after June and they will keep two years if desired.

What housekeepers should remember: “That fish may be scaled much easier by first dipping them into boiling water for a minute. That fresh meat beginning to sour, will sweeten if placed out of doors in the cool air overnight. That thoroughly wetting the hair once or twice with a solution of salt and water will keep it from falling out. That one teaspoonful of ammonia to a teacup of water applied with a rag will clean silver and gold jewelry perfectly.”

Useful household remedies: “For nose bleeding, bathe the face and neck with cold water. Nervous spasms are usually relieved by a little salt taken in the mouth and allowed to dissolve. Hemorrhages of the lungs or stomach are promptly checked by small doses of salt. For freckles, two ounces of lemon juice or half a dram of powdered borax, one dram sugar; mix and let stand in glass bottle several days, then rub on the face occasionally.”

Just simply stop breathing: “It is a fact not generally known that if a person holds his breath wasps and bees may be handled with impunity. The skin practically becomes a coat of mail against which the insects vainly drive their stings. The moment a particle of air escapes the lungs the stings will penetrate.”

The nations that eat most: “Among modern nations, the greatest eaters are the English, Germans, French and the Americans — the ruling people of our civilization. The diet of the Spaniards and Italians is notably less substantial than that of the English and Germans, just as their brains are less active and original. The Americans are, on the average, the greatest eaters in the world.”

Strength of ice at different thicknesses: “Two inches thick will support a man. Four inches thick will support a man on horseback. Five inches thick will support an 80-pounder cannon. Eight inches thick will support a battery of artillery with carriages and horses. Ten inches thick will support an army.

Three beers a day for a year would buy: “one barrel of flour, 20 pounds of corn starch, 10 pounds of macaroni, 10 quarts of beans, 4 twelve pound hams, 1 bushel of sweet potatoes, 3 bushels of Irish potatoes, 10 pounds of coffee, 10 pounds of raisins, 10 pounds of rice, 20 pounds of crackers, 100 bars of soap, 3 12-pound turkeys, 5 quarts of cranberries, 10 pounds of prunes, 4 dozen oranges, 10 pounds of mixed nuts; 4 barrels full and in the last barrel, a purse with two pockets, in one pocket a $5 gold piece marked ‘a dress for mother.’ In the other a $10 bill marked ‘to buy shoes for the children’.”

And to help you achieve that goal:

A cure for drunkenness: “sulphate of iron — five grains; magnesia — 10 grains; peppermint water — 11 drachms; spirit of nutmeg — one drachm; taken twice a day.

Historian, author and teacher Rod Molzahn can be reached at

shake.speak@nwi.net. His recent book, What They Found, Stories of People in North Central Washington, is available at ncwstories.net and at retail locations throughout the area.

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