Ars Gratia Artis: The History of Animated Cartoons

‘Toons. Cartoons. Animated films. Bah! Kids’ stuff!

And perhaps you may be right. These days, cartoons have a distinct, childish look and feel to them. When someone mentions cartoons, we think of the kids sitting in front of the television on Saturday mornings watching “Cartoon Network”, “Nickelodeon” or the “Disney Channel”. But cartoons have had a longer and more colourful history than most of us are probably aware of. Characters such as Betty Boop, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Popeye the Sailor Man, Goofy, Pete, Koko the Clown, Pluto, Tweety-bird, Daffy Duck and dozens of others, have histories stretching back well over fifty, sixty, seventy and in rare cases, eighty years! When and where did cartoons come from? How were they created? Who did what, when and how?

For the purposes of clarification, this article will cover the history of cartoons in the context of animated film, not as the funny pages in your local paper. So grab some popcorn, your best ACME-brand director’s chair, sit down and relax…

The First Animated Cartoons

Ever since the dawn of photography, people learned that pictures taken in quick sucession, of a moving object, could be flipped through, sequentially, to create the illusion of a ‘moving picture’. This became the basis of moving pictures of all kinds for over a hundred years, from the 1870s until the late 1990s, when it was gradually made obsolete by computer and filmmaking-technology that was more up-to-date.

People reasoned that, if dozens of photographs taken in quick sucession could be ‘played back’ as a ‘moving picture’, then there was no reason why a series of carefully-drawn illustrations couldn’t do the same thing. The first experiments with this took place in the late 19th century and the results were short animated cartoons created through ‘flip-books’. A flip-book worked by holding a small book (with the illustrations inside) spine upwards and then letting the pages fall downwards in front of you. As the pages fell and revealed the next frame in the animation, the pictures appeared to ‘move’.

The Development of Animated Film

Animated cartoon-films as we know and love them today, were born in the early 20th century, with companies and film-studios such as Inkwell Studios, the later Fleischer Studios, Warner Bros. Studios and most famously, the Walt Disney Studios and the less well-known Van Beuren Studios, all founded in the first few decades of the 20th century.

Since cartoons exist outside the world of conventional physics, science, medicine and technology and are created in a world entirely of their own, animators, illustrators, directors, producers and voice-actors of animated films soon realised that they could bend reality to extraordinary levels and thereby create amazingly vivid, surrealist and imaginative films which, in turn, allowed for a great deal of liberty and creativity in making comedy cartoon-shorts, something which the early animation studios produced a great deal of.

Cartoons started off looking very crude as animators originally struggled to draw such detailed drawings in great number. The cartoon tradition of having characters drawn with only four fingers and four toes was supposedly a time-saving measure. By having only four digits on the hands and feet, animators could draw more quickly, but at the same time, not appear to have greatly mutilated the limbs of the characters being used. This tradition of four-fingered characters has continued into the modern day with cartoons such as “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy”.


In the late 1920s, with the invention of films with synchronised audio (the “talkies”), animation studios began to explore with sound-effects, vocal-talents and music for their cartoons, to liven them up and add to the comedy in an audiable as well as visual way. Famous voice-actors of the “Golden Age of Animated Cartoons” included Walt Disney (Mickey Mouse), Mae Questal (Betty Boop, Olive Oyl) and Clarence Nash (who did Donald Duck’s famous raspy duck-voice). The famous Disney cartoon-short, “Steamboat Willie”, starring Mickey Mouse, Pete and Minnie Mouse was famous for being the first animated cartoon with complete post-production audio (music, dialogue and sound-effects) to be screened to the public.

Cartoon Music

With the creation and perfection of synchronised audio for animated films, animation-studios began experimenting with other additions to their cartoon-shorts to make them as humorous as possible. The next logical step after dialogue was the inclusion of music. From the earliest cartoons with sound, animators started including popular songs from the day or popular folk-songs. In “Steamboat Willie”, Mickey and Minnie Mouse play a goat as a phonograph which plays the song “Turkey in the Straw”. The 1930s Van Beuren ‘Tom and Jerry’ short “Piano Tooners” included notable songs such as “Margie” (in the opening credits), “Daisy Bell” (at the 1:50 mark) and later on, “Doin’ the New Low Down”, which was a popular jazz-song published in 1928, which would’ve been a very contemporary piece of music to include in a cartoon released in 1932.

Other popular songs used in cartoons included “Happy Days Are Here Again”, “Kitten on the Keys”, “Manhattan Serenade” (in the MGM short “Mouse in Manhattan”) and a selection of turn-of-the-century Vaudeville songs, such as those used in the Disney short “The Nifty Ninties” (that’s the 1890s, folks).

The most famous piece of cartoon music is probably the Warner Bros. Studio’s adaptation of Raymond Scott’s famous composition: “Powerhouse”, published in 1937, whose slow, rhythmic melody was used in several “production-line” sequences in numerous cartoons.

For curious minds, the theme tune for the Warner Bros. cartoon-shorts series “Looney Toons” was “The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down”, the theme-tune for “Merrie Melodies” was “Merrily We Roll Along”.

Colour Cartoons

Colour still-photograhy became a reality in the 1860s, believe it or not and probably equally unbelievable was the fact that colour film technology was born as equally early in the motion-picture industry as it was in the photography industry. Using the famous ‘Technicolor’ film system, cartoons (and live-action films) were, for the first time, shot in full colour.

Technicolour had been available from the early 1920s, but due to the expensive nature of shooting a film in colour, before the development of synchronised sound to make the expense worthwhile, most film-studios (animated or otherwise), never bothered with it and through the 1920s and the first half of the 1930s (mostly due to the Depression), popular cartoons such as Betty Boop, Popeye the Sailor, Tom and Jerry and the earliest Mickey Mouse cartoons, remained black and white as a cost-cutting measure.

Starting in the second half of the 1930s, though, with the Depression slowly beginning to ease up, animation studios began experimenting with colourised, audio-synced cartoons, to great effect. The Disney “Silly Symphonies” cartoons of the late 1930s showed the quality of early Technicolor technology which was a great change from the greyscale black-and-white cartoons of only a couple of years previously. Technicolor, famous for its saturated tones, gave cartoons new life and provided animators with even greater comedic clay to craft into something even funnier and more memorable than before.

Viewing Cartoons

Before the rise of television in the 1950s, cartoon-shorts and obviously, full-length feature-animations, were screened in cinemas. If you’ve ever wondered why old cartoons from the 30s, 40s and 50s looked like they were treated as miniature films, with credits telling folks who was the director, producer, composer of the music and who did all the voice-acting, it’s because they were films which were showed in cinemas, along with conventional live-action films. This trend stopped in the 60s, though, with the rise of television, and with cartoons being delegated to the slot of Saturday-morning entertainment for the kids. But before then, making cartoons to be shown in cinemas was big business and the people who made them took a lot of pride and care in their work and craft. Naturally, they wanted to be properly credited for their part in their final masterpiece!

“Yeah but cartoons are computer-generated. You have the software and the graphics and the motion-capture and the…pfft”.

Making cartoons wasn’t always as easy as fiddling around with a mouse to create graphics on a computer-screen. In fact, it wasn’t until very recently that the first entirely CGI (Computer-Generated-Imagery) animated film was created…Disney-Pixar’s “Toy Story” in 1995. Before then, cartoons were still done the old-fashioned way and while CGI had been around since the early 1970s and had helped animators take a few shortcuts…before then, things were a lot different.

Walt Disney sketching out Mickey Mouse as he appeared in “Steamboat Willie” in 1928

Handcrafted Fantasies

In the days before computer graphics, before photoshop, before CGI, before computer-editing and all the rest of it, cartoon-films were made an entirely different way to how they are now. To begin with…they were all made by hand. Literally.

Today it’s impossible to imagine the level of skill, patience, dexterity, patience, care, patience, talent, patience, perseverence, patience, attention-to-detail, patience and time (did I mention ‘patience’?) that it took to create an animated film. It was an incredible artform where screwing up literally sent you back to the drawing-board. To work in an animation studio, you needed incredible patience. As Mel Blanc said, in an interview with David Letterman:

    “…To make a six-and-a-half minute cartoon in full animation, took a hundred and twenty-five people nine months; to make one fully-animated cartoon. And even then, it cost around $50,000…”

    – Voice-actor Mel Blanc (“The Man of A Thousand Voices”)

So, just how hard was it to make a cartoon the old-fashioned way? How was it done? Who did what? When? Why?


The first step in animation was drawing a storyboard. A storyboard is a rough series of sequential drawings, set out a bit like a comic-strip. The storyboard tells people what’s happening in the cartoon in a basic, easy-to-understand manner. It’s like a visual representation of a film-script. Anyone who’s seen storyboards of animated films will know just how quickly and crudely they’re drawn, often just with pencil or ink in a simple, sketchy, black-and-white way without any colours, with little captions under each picture to explain what’s happening in each frame.


With the basics of the cartoon illustrated on the storyboard, it’s time to put sound to pictures. Believe it or not, but in animated films, the soundtrack (the music, the sound-effects and the dialogue) is all done first, before the actual animation. The reason for this is so that the animators can draw and custom-fit their animation-cells AROUND the soundtrack and better synchronise the sounds with the pictures, actions and the lip-movements depicted on-screen. Doing it the other way would have the soundtrack fighting to keep up with the actions on-screen instead of having the animators “tailor-make” the pictures to go with the sound.

It’s during the recording process that the voices for the characters, the sound-effects for the actions and the music for the film are created. Voice-actors such as Nancy Cartwright (Bart Simpson, Nelson Muntz, Ralph Wiggum) and Mel Blanc (Yosemite Sam, Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig) have often said that creating a voice for a character in a cartoon was not about making up a voice and then trying to figure out a character from the voice, but rather being given a picture of the cartoon-character and then deciding what kind of voice the character should have, based on the picture and a short description.

Reeling it In

With the storyboard drawn up, the voices, sounds and music recorded and spaced out and the characters created, it’s time to string the whole thing together. Obviously, perfectly synchronising movement with sound is an amazingly tricky process (which is why the first ‘talkie’ didn’t come out until 1927!), and to help them do this, animators create what is known as a story-reel.

The story-reel plays the cartoon, frame by frame along with the soundtrack, with all the frames drawn roughly as a draft for the final product. It’s during this process that any problems with synchronisation, lip-movements and timing between the movements on-screen and the audio, are fixed up. Getting the initial ‘meshing’ of the sound and movement perfect at this stage of the filmmaking process is important because, as animation is obviously a very expensive business (don’t forget, $50,000 for a six minute cartoon!), the animators and the studio cannot afford mistakes in the audio-synchronisation later on in the production process, when the film is almost complete. Doing it now when the drawings are still crude saves a lot of money in buying aspirin-tablets for folks later on.

Timing it Out

The next stage in traditional animation was design and timing. ‘Design’ was taking the storyboard and the story-reel and the pictures of all the things that would be in the cartoon, and drawing them out professionally, removing the rough edges and making it appear like a real cartoon. ‘Timing’ is making sure that all the problems with audio-synchronisation are removed and that the film runs and sounds flawlessly. Small details such as lip-synchronisation and music-synchronisation are touched up at this point.

The Layout

With the pictures being finalised and the audio properly synchronised, it’s time to organise the layout of the film. This includes camera-angles (how the camera is positioned) the camera-paths (how the cameras move) and the lighting…whether a scene will be bright, dark, done in half-light, shadow and so-on.


With the sound synced to the story-reel, it’s time for the animation. Animation is the process of making the characters and objects in the cartoon…move! It’s not as easy as you might think. It takes animators a very long time to do this professionally, since animation is done by hand. At the drawing-board, the animator starts drawing out the frames, one by one, illustrating them, colouring them in and making sure that they’re perfect. Traditional animation of this sort is called “cel animation” or “hand-drawn animation”. What’s ‘cel’?

‘Cel’ is short for ‘Celluloid’. Traditionally, the animation-frames were drawn out on clear, transparent sheets of celluloid plastic, from which this process gets its name. Cels are illustrated with the scene and the characters and objects and the cel is then coloured in using acrylic paints. Cel animation is no-longer used in big-budget cartoon movies (the Walt Disney Company stopped that in 1990) and original, framed animation-cels of famous characters or cartoons from the Golden Age of Animated Film, are big, big, BIG collectables, often fetching thousands of dollars at auctions. However, at this stage in the animation-process, cels don’t come into the picture yet. It’s still all done on paper.

Animation takes a considerable time. Apart from the characters moving and running around, apart from the drawing and the colouring and drawing the backgrounds to match movements and making sure it all matches PERFECTLY with the soundtrack, you also have to think of other aspects of the film. What about effects such as…fire? Wind? Rain? Weather? These are separate parts of the animation process which are handled by folks called…appropriately: “Effects animators”, whose job it is to fill in and animate all the parts of the film which are not either objects (vehicles, machinery, etc) or characters moving around. Once this is all done, can it be considered complete…after repeated touch-ups, examinations and careful screening, probing and analysis by the big bosses.


With the hand-drawn animations finally completed, it’s time to turn the paper sheets and sketches and drawings into something which you can actually watch on a screen! Now of course…If you shined a projector-light onto a piece of paper, it wouldn’t work. The paper would block the image drawn on it and it wouldn’t appear on a screen because paper isn’t transparent. To overcome this problem, the final stage of the animation-process is the inking and painting.

In this step of the filmmaking process, the animated drawings are traced, copied and painted onto cels (remember those? The plastic sheets?). Since the cels are…celluloid, and are smooth and made of plastic, pencil-graphite and fountain-pen ink won’t stick to it. Instead, thicker inks and acrylic paints are used to draw and colour in each frame of the film.

With the transfer-process done, the film is now ready for photography, where it is filmed by special animation-cameras and lights are used to determine how bright or dark each frame of the film should be. Once all the cels have been photographed by the animation-camera, it’s transformed into film, where it can be mass-produced, ready for release to the public and screening in cinemas around the world!

This is where traditional, hand-drawn animation ends. These days, cels are no-longer used. The inking and painting of the drawings is done electronically after the sketches are scanned onto a computer, and are coloured in using the appropriate animation software. But, from the dawn of animated films in the 1920s, until computers started taking over in the 1970s…every single cartoon you watched, whether it was a ten-minute short or a two-hour feature-film extravaganza, was painstakingly sketched, recorded, transferred, inked, painted and photographed entirely by hand…exactly as described above.

Cartoons and the Modern World

A lot of things have changed since the first cartoons hit the screens of movie-theatres back in the 1920s, with all their flickering, black-and-white animated glory. One of the main things that has changed is the content and acceptability of what’s shown or not shown on cartoons and what is, and isn’t, what can and cannot, be shown to children.

Censorship and Political Correctness

Due to their free-reign of creativity and imagination, cartoons have long been attacked by political-correctness gurus and censorship hounds. Cartoons filmed in the 20s, 30s and 40s are altered, cut, censored or otherwise changed from their original state to something “suitable for the kiddies to watch”. Scenes depicting violence, sexual references (Yes! Even in cartoons!), racism, animal cruelty and warfare are often edited, changed or removed altogether.

“Mammy Two Shoes”, the obese, African-American housekeeper who looked after the house where Tom the Cat and Jerry the Mouse live, is one famous victim of modern cartoon-censorship, with her appearance, voice and mannerisms being changed to reflect a more politically correct view, by having a slim, white teenage girl replace her in some scenes.

Scenes in Betty Boop cartoons which depict legs, arms, breasts, which hint at rape, sexual-assault and racism were also heavily censored in later years and some cartoons were even banned from being shown at all!

Warner Bros’ famous cartoon character, “Speedy Gonzales”, the fastest mouse in Mexico, was also subjected to heavy censorship…until Mexican-Americans had to stand up and state flatly that they didn’t find the cartoons offensive and that they remembered them fondly from their childhoods.

These, and other countless examples of censorship and political correctness affecting classic cartoons have been dominating much of peoples’ enjoyment of these entertainment classics in the late 20th and early 21st century. Many people feel that the censorship is uncalled for and unecessary and that the political correctness is overboard. The cartoons should be viewed with the context in which they were produced, 60, 70 or even 80 years ago, and should not be measured by modern standards of society and acceptability.

Famous Cartoon Characters

Cartoons aren’t just about the whacky sounds, the funny things you see, the music or the great illustrations…it’s about…the characters! And what characters! Some of them have remained famous to this day, even though they’re up to eighty years old! So who are they?

Mickey Mouse

Mickey Mouse looking very smart in his white tie and tails, from the 1947 short “Mickey’s Delayed Date”

Created by Walt Disney in 1928, Mickey Mouse is King of Animated Characters! Funny, charming, witty, amazingly sweet and adorable to look at in any context! Mickey Mouse was born out of Disney’s desire to create a different kind of cartoon character. Instead of cats or dogs or people, Disney wanted to draw something really unique. He took his inspiration for Mickey from the bog-standard cartoon mouse of the period, with large, black ears, big eyes, a round body and large feet.

Disney fleshed out the character from a simple, nondescript mouse into a screen legend. Mickey was famous for a lot of things, such as appearing in the first cartoon with complete sound, for popularising white gloves and for his catchphrase “Ooooh boy!”.

Mickey’s voice was deliberately high-pitched to match his size and species, but still distinctly male in tone. So far, Mickey has been voiced by four people over the years:

– Walt Disney himself (1928-1947).
– Jimmy MacDonald (1947-1977).
– Wayne Allwine (1977-2009)…Allwine died from diabetes in 2009, and was replaced by…
– Bret Iwan, who is the current voice of Mickey Mouse, and who has been voicing him since Allwine’s death in 2009.

Mickey’s use of white gloves on his paws (which has since become a rather common sight in animated animal cartoons) was so that audiences could distinguish between Mickey’s paws and the rest of his body (since both were black), so that viewers could tell where his hands were when they were placed against dark backgrounds.

Minnie Mouse

Created in 1928, Minnie was originally an unnamed Disney cartoon mouse, but as the months progressed, she was eventually established as Mickey’s girlfriend by mid 1929. Minnie has been voiced by no less than seven voice-actors over the past eighty-odd years, ranging from Walt Disney himself, to Mae Questal (more famous for voicing Betty Boop) and currently, Russi Taylor, who has provided her voice since 1986, and continues to do so.

As Mickey’s girlfriend, Minnie made several appearances on-screen, either as Mickey’s girlfriend, or as an unnamed female mouse as a partner for Mickey. In early cartoon shorts from the 1920s and 30s, it was a common joke that Minnie’s skirt would flap up or be blown up, showing off her undergarments, just one of the several things that was changed in the mid 1930s with increasingly tight censorship standards, enforced by the Hays Code of 1934.

Donald Duck

Famous for his raspy voice, clumbsiness and incredibly short temper, Donald Duck has been one of Disney’s greatest creations, since he first appeared in 1934. Donald’s distinct, raspy duck-voice was skillfully provided by Clarence Nash from 1934, right up until 1985, when he died of lukemia, aged 80. Since 1985, Donald Duck has been voiced by the equally-talented Tony Anselmo.

In the 1940s, Donald Duck starred in several WWII propaganda films, most famous of these was probably “Der Fuhrer’s Face”.

Donald Duck’s biggest claim to fame is probably his incredibly large extended family, something which not many other cartoon characters had. Apart from Donald, Disney also created…

Scrooge McDuck (named after Ebeneezer Scrooge), who is voiced by Alan Young, who is Donald’s exceedingly wealthy Scottish uncle.

Huey, Dewey and Louie, Donald’s three, mischievious nephews, who first appeared on film in “Donald’s Nephews” in 1938.

Grandma Duck, Donald’s grandmother, and…

Gus Goose, Donald’s cousin Gus…a goose…with an enormous appetite who causes him all kinds of strife in the short film “Donald’s Cousin Gus” (1939).

Daisy Duck, created in 1940, although not part of the Duck family, nonetheless made several appearances in cartoons of the 1940s and 50s as Donald’s longsuffering girlfriend.


Goofy Goof was created in 1932 and he, Mickey and Donald appeared in several successful and highly humorous cartoons during the 1930s and 40s. Goofy is famous for being rather dim, making mistakes and several blunders and also for his distinctive chuckle (“Aaah-hyuk!”) and his catchphrase “Gawrsh!” (“Gosh!).

In later, TV cartoons, Goofy has a son, Max, although Goofy’s wife is never identified. Television cartoons of the 1990s often had comedy coming from Goofy struggling to raise his troublesome son, who was often portrayed as a difficult teenager. Max Goof has the distinction of being one of the few Disney cartoon characters who has actually aged in real-time.

In some cartoons from the 40s and 50s, Goof was often used as an ‘everyman character’, to be a representative of the common working man. In these shorts, his name was often given as “George Geef”.

Betty Boop

Created by an animator working for Fleischer Studios in 1930, Betty Boop has remained one of the most famous and popular cartoon characters of all time. I won’t mention her in this article, since she already has her own article.

Bugs Bunny

“Eeeeeeeh…what’s up, dawc?”

Bugs looking smart in his white-tie tux

Created in 1937, Bugs Bunny is Warner Bros’. most famous cartoon character ever. He made his official screen debut as Bugs in 1940 and was voiced, originally, by the highly talented Mel Blanc. Bugs’ cartoons often depicted him being a source of trouble for either Daffy Duck or the hunter, Elmer Fudd. When voicing Bugs, Blanc blended the Brooklyn and Bronx accents of the American Eastern Seaboard to try and come up with the ultimate, tough-guy, wise-cracking voice for this new cartoon character, which had been described to him as such, by the Warner Bros. studio executives.

One big challenge for Blanc was recording Bugs’s catchphrase: “Eeeeh…what’s up, doc?”. The words weren’t the hard part. What Blanc found difficult was having to crunch on an actual carrot and to chew it to produce the proper sound-effect for just before Bugs speaks. The problem was that Blanc hated carrots! In the end, he reached a compromise with the recording-crew, whereby he crunched on the carrot, stopped the recording, spat the carrot out and then continued with the rest of the catchphrase!

Bugs’s fame skyrocketed during WWII. His easygoing nature and casual speech made him popular as a screen-star and several propaganda films were created with him as the main character between 1942-1945.

Tom and Jerry

Tom Cat and Jerry Mouse were two famous cartoon characters who originally starred in a series of highly successful shorts from 1940-1958 created by the animation department of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Like several cartoon characters of the period, they used exaggerated cartoon violence to incredible and hilarious effect and the original series of cartoons was only stopped because MGM closed its animation department in 1958.

Tom and Jerry returned in 1962 in even more series of cartoon-shorts, which were shown on television, and there continue to be revisions of the comic duo right up to the 21st century.

Less well-known Characters

Not all characters were amazingly famous, though. How many of these can you remember?

Clarabelle Cow? Horace Horsecollar? How about Private Snafu?

Clarabelle and Horace were both Disney cartoon characters, although not as well known as some of the others. A full cast of classic Disney characters can be seen in the immensely funny cartoon-short “Symphony Hour” (1942).

Private Snafu was created in the 1940s to star in a series of educational cartoons for the US. Army. Given the intended audience of the Snafu shorts would be young men going into armed services, Snafu cartoon-shorts were a bit more raunchy and politically incorrect than other cartoons of the period. Snafu’s name comes from the army acronym: “Situation Normal: All Fucked Up”, although this was changed to ‘Fouled Up’ in the cartoons. In the later war years, of 1944 and 1945, SNAFU was supposed to be teamed up with his brothers, ‘Tarfu’ (Things Are Really Fucked Up) and ‘Fubar’ (Fucked Up Beyond All Repair), in additional series of educational cartoons for the Air-Force, Marines and Navy, however, the war ended before these series could begin (save for one lone Tarfu cartoon)…which was probably just as well for the censorship department!

That’s All, Folks!

Well, this concludes my little writeup on the history of classic, animated cartoons. So, as Porky Pig says:

“Th-th-that’s a…that’s…that’s all, folks!”

If you want to see classic Disney, MGM or Warner Bros. cartoons (such as Tom & Jerry, Betty Boop, Snafu or Mickey Mouse), dozens of them are available for viewing on


Albert Fish: The Original Bogeyman

Albert Fish,
Albert Fish,
Children were,
His favourite dish!

Not many people would remember that rhyme today. And probably even fewer people would remember the fellow named Albert Fish…which is probably just as well, considering who he was.

Growing up, all children are invariably taught never to talk to strangers, never to wander off, never to take candy from people they don’t know and never to follow someone they don’t know to somewhere they don’t know, or to get into a car with a driver they’ve never met.

Well. Albert Fish was living proof (if ever any was needed), that such rules aren’t just around to scare kids out of their wits at night, and if you’ve any naughty kids who aren’t listening to their parents about keeping away from strangers…the story of Mr. Fish might bear repeating.

The Man Behind the Monster

Hamilton Howard Fish was born in 1870, the son of Randall Fish, who was old enough to be his grandfather (at age 75!). Considering that Hamilton Howard Fish’s first and second names were the same as a pair of famous watch-companies (The Hamilton Watch. Co. and the Howard Watch. Co), it’s probably not surprising that soon after his birth, he changed his name to Albert. Okay seriously, he wasn’t named after a pair of watch-manufacturies (The Hamilton Watch. Co. didn’t exist when Fish was born). He was actually named after Hamilton Fish, a distant relation who was the 16th governor of the State of New York.

Albert Fish’s life was miserable at the best of times. His family had a history of mental illness; a branch of medical science generally misunderstood in the 19th century. How severe was his family’s mental instability? Well…one of his uncles was a maniac, one of his brothers was locked in a lunatic asylum, another brother of his died from the condition commonly known as “Water on the Brain”, his mother was prone to hallucinations and a sister of his was also diagnosed with an undisclosed “mental affliction”.

All in all…not a happy family.

Young Albert was a homosexual masochist (a person who derives pleasure from pain); something that he discovered about himself from a very young age. When in school, he discovered that he enjoyed being caned. He had affairs with other boys and even got a job at a local bathhouse, just so that he could see other boys undress!…and he wasn’t even twenty yet!

Fish’s sexual experimentations grew more and more extreme as the years continued. By his early twenties, he became a prostitute, a homosexual rapist and had developed a highly disturbing fascination with castration. Amazingly, despite all this, he did actually get married and produced six children of his own!

Not surprisingly, Fish’s marriage did not last, and his wife soon left him. His mental state went spiralling out of control as he continued raping and molesting boys from as young as five years old and upwards. He developed a fascination with self-harm (the less said about that, the better) and began to suffer from hallucinations, claiming that God told him to do things to children. Doctors diagnosed Fish with religious mania.

The Attacks Begin

By the 1920s, by which time Fish had already served two jail-terms for molestation, he had well and truly started the actions for which he became infamous: Abucting, torturing and killing children. He often selected younger children, African-American children or those with mental retardation. His most famous kidnap-and-murder victim was Grace Budd.

Grace Budd lived with her parents, her sister and older brothers. She was just ten years old.

It all started one day in 1928. Edward Budd, one of Grace’s brothers, put an advertisement in the local newspaper (the now defunct ‘New York World’). He said that he was an 18-year-old lad looking for a job on a farm somewhere in the country. Interested employers should come to the Budd home to see if Edward was suitable for work on their properties.

If young Edward knew who was about to show up on his father’s front doorstep, he probably would’ve burnt down the building where the New York World was printed! On the 28th of May, 1928, Albert Fish came calling. Only, he wasn’t Albert Fish, the infamous rapist and sexual deviant…he was Frank Howard, a farmer living in New York state. Edward Budd wasn’t home, but Fish met young Grace and became very interested in her.

The next time Fish called, he met Edward and agreed to hire him. He also met Mr. Albert Budd I, Edward and Grace’s father. Fish asked if he could take Grace to his sister’s house. There was a birthday party there that the girl might like to attend. Once the party was over, Fish could return Grace back home. Mr. and Mrs. Budd thought this was a wonderful idea, and agreed to let Fish take their baby girl to his sister’s ‘birthday party’.

It was a trap, of course. There was no birthday party. And Mr. and Mrs. Budd would never see Grace again.

Once the Budds realised that Grace had been abducted, they contacted the police, but despite frantic efforts, the child was not found. Nothing more was heard until one day in 1934, a full six years later. On that day, Mrs. Budd received a letter which was unsigned. Not being able to read due to her illiteracy, she left the letter alone, until one of her sons returned home to read it for her. The text of the letter is written below (with original spelling retained). It is not for faint of heart…

    Dear Mrs. Budd.

    In 1894 a friend of mine shipped as a deck hand on the Steamer Tacoma, Capt. John Davis. They sailed from San Francisco for Hong Kong, China. On arriving there he and two others went ashore and got drunk. When they returned the boat was gone. At that time there was famine in China. Meat of any kind was from $1–3 per pound. So great was the suffering among the very poor that all children under 12 were sold for food in order to keep others from starving. A boy or girl under 14 was not safe in the street. You could go in any shop and ask for steak—chops—or stew meat. Part of the naked body of a boy or girl would be brought out and just what you wanted cut from it. A boy or girl’s behind which is the sweetest part of the body and sold as veal cutlet brought the highest price. John staid [sic] there so long he acquired a taste for human flesh. On his return to N.Y. he stole two boys, one 7 and one 11. Took them to his home stripped them naked tied them in a closet. Then burned everything they had on. Several times every day and night he spanked them – tortured them – to make their meat good and tender. First he killed the 11 year old boy, because he had the fattest ass and of course the most meat on it. Every part of his body was cooked and eaten except the head—bones and guts. He was roasted in the oven (all of his ass), boiled, broiled, fried and stewed. The little boy was next, went the same way. At that time, I was living at 409 E 100 St. near—right side. He told me so often how good human flesh was I made up my mind to taste it. On Sunday June the 3, 1928 I called on you at 406 W 15 St. Brought you pot cheese—strawberries. We had lunch. Grace sat in my lap and kissed me. I made up my mind to eat her. On the pretense of taking her to a party. You said yes she could go. I took her to an empty house in Westchester I had already picked out. When we got there, I told her to remain outside. She picked wildflowers. I went upstairs and stripped all my clothes off. I knew if I did not I would get her blood on them. When all was ready I went to the window and called her. Then I hid in a closet until she was in the room. When she saw me all naked she began to cry and tried to run down the stairs. I grabbed her and she said she would tell her mamma. First I stripped her naked. How she did kick – bite and scratch. I choked her to death, then cut her in small pieces so I could take my meat to my rooms. Cook and eat it. How sweet and tender her little ass was roasted in the oven. It took me 9 days to eat her entire body. I did not fuck her tho [sic] I could of had I wished. She died a virgin.

The Budd Family was horrified and disgusted at the letter and demanded police-action. By examining the envelope which carried the letter, and its postmarks, the police were eventually able to track down Albert Fish to an address at 200, East 52nd Street, Manhattan. Officers and detectives waited for Fish in his bedroom until he arrived home. William F. King, the arresting officer, confronted Fish with the evidence and the accusation of murder. Fish agreed to be taken in for questioning, however at the last minute, he tried to slash King with a straight-razor! King successfully disarmed Fish and arrested him, taking him off to be questioned.

Under questioning, the police soon discovered the true barbarity that bubbled away inside Fish’s head. He had not actually intended to kidnap Grace, but had actually wanted to kidnap Edward (and a friend of his), take them to the woods, strip them naked, tie them up, castrate them and leave them to bleed to death.

Albert Fish, shortly before his death

After the initial questioning was over, Edward Budd and his father Albert, were driven to the police-station by investigators, to positively identify Fish as the man who had kidnapped their sister and daughter. When Edward spotted Mr. Fish, he threw himself on the old man, screaming out: “You old bastard! Dirty son of a bitch!” and had to be physically restrained by police!

Trial and Execution

For the kidnapping, murder and cannibalisation of Grace Budd (amongst others), Albert Fish was sentenced to death. The court-case was one of the most amazing ever seen, and it took some pretty extraordinary pieces of evidence from the prosecution (such as an x-ray photograph of Fish’s pelvis, with nearly thirty nails permanently embedded in it!) to show the court that Fish really was the sick and twisted manical lunatic who would, and did, kidnap, rape, butcher and eat children and teenagers.

The trial of Albert Fish lasted all of ten days. On the last day, the jury, who had seen such morbid pieces of evidence such as x-rays, photographs and even Grace Budd’s skull and who had heard testimonies from both the Fish and Budd families took less than an hour to find Fish guilty of murder. The judge promptly sentenced Fish to death. Obviously, Fish was not pleased about this…but he livened up a bit when he discovered he was going to be electrocuted in the electric-chair, and thanked the judge for the sentence and opportunity.

In 1935, Fish was sent up the river to the state penitentiary, Sing Sing Prison, New York where, on the 16th of January, 1936, Albert Fish was executed by electric-chair. He was sixty-five years old.


The Final Solution: The Holocaust and Jewish Persecution during the Nazi Regime

This article concerns an extremely upsetting and disturbing time in human history and may contain graphic photographs and images. Persons offended by such material are advised not to read it.

The Final Solution. The Holocaust. The Shoah. The period of twelve years from 1933 until 1945, that European Jews were hunted, persecuted, slaughtered, tortured and massacred by the German Nazi Party and by their various collaborators. This article charts the progress of Jewish persecution by the Nazis and their allies and collaborators from the rise of the Nazis in 1933 under Adolf Hitler, until the end of the Second World War in Europe on the 8th of May, 1945.

The Holocaust was, is and will forever be, one of the most shocking examples of human degradation ever to darken the face of the earth; up there with the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot, Kim Jong Il and North Korea, Stalinist Russia and the Cold War. This article will show the progression of the Holocaust from a small, irritating little prickle, into the fiery hell that it escalated to in the early 1940s; from simple, anti-semitic beginnings to the popular, Hollywood and pop-culture image of it, as portrayed in films and on television.

Why the Jews?

Of all the peoples throughout history, few have been more chased, hunted and persecuted than those who follow the Jewish faith. Why?

Jews were persecuted for various reasons, but mostly due to their significantly different beliefs and customs to those who followed the Christian faith. Jews followed different customs and practiced different beliefs and traditions to Christians. Jews formed their own communities (ghettos) inside larger communities, a bit like Chinatowns or Little Italys. The Jews kept to themselves and mingled in and amongst themselves. This show of apparent isolationism bred contempt and suspicion from non-Jewish people who accused them of almost anything, when there was any accusing to be done. In the 14th Century, for example, when the Black Death ripped through Europe, frantic and horrified peasants, desperate for answers, lunged at rumors that Jews poisoned wells and that this poison spread the Plague. It wasn’t true, of course, but when mass-hysteria grabs hold, there’s very little to hold it back.

Such was the case with the Holocaust in the 1930s and 1940s.

The seeds of the Nazi Holocaust were sewn in the mid 1920s and the 1930s. Germany, crushed and humiliated after losing the Great War of 1914-1918, had been ripped to pieces. Its land had been cut up, its military forces had been ripped to shreds and all its finest ocean-liners were sold off to the Allies to pay for war-damages. Furious and downhearted, Germans found comfort in the belief that it was the Jews who “stabbed Germany in the back”. The stab-in-the-back theory of anti-semitism made Germans feel better about themselves, and this set the ball rolling for the Nazis, who were, in the 1920s, a small, insignificant political party. Anti-semitism grew in the second half of the 1920s and early 1930s with the German Hyperinflation Crisis of 1922. In order to pay off massive debts incurred by the First World War, thousands of German marks were printed. This influx of currency reduced the value of the Mark until it was literally worthless. The Depression that came less than ten years later, secured Hitler’s rise to power and the start of a systematic program of anti-Jewish measures.

Pre-War Persecution

To many people, the Holocaust and Jewish persecution started in 1939, with the declaration of war, by the United Kingdom and France, upon Germany. However, what people may not be aware of is the fact that German persecution of Jews started significantly earlier than that.

Anti-Jewish laws and regulations were brought into Germany along with the Nazis in 1933. At first, the laws and regulations started out small…here are a few…


7th April…

– Jews barred from civil service in Germany.
– Jews barred from becoming practicing lawyers.

25th April…

– Jews barred from German universities.


– Jews excluded from serving in the German military.


– ‘Mixed marriages’ between Aryans and Jews are forbidden.
– Jews lose the Vote.
– Jews lose German citizenship.
– Jews banned from entering or using public places (restaurants, swimming-pools, public parks).
– Jews no-longer allowed to own…bicycles, typewriters, records and phonographs.
– Jewish travel restrictions began.

It was around this time that many German Jews started trying to leave Germany. The smart ones took trains north or west, to England or France and boarded ocean-liners, either to the United Kingdom or across the Atlantic, to the United States. Firm anti-Jewish immigration laws, however, only allowed so many hundreds of Jews to immigrate to these places each year. Many just moved across the border to France, Poland or other neighbouring countries, which would soon be swallowed up by the Nazis.


– Jews excluded from cinemas, theatres, concert-performances, public beaches and holiday resorts.
– Jewish children are expelled from schools and forced to attend “Jewish schools” instead.
– Jews have their passports marked with a “J” (for ‘Jude’, the German for ‘Jew’), to identify them when they travel.

In 1939, with the invasion of Poland by the German Army, the Allies, who had sat back for long enough without doing anything, finally started waking up to the fact that Hitler would not stop wanting to grab more and more land. On the 3rd of September, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany. For the Jews, now living in a country at war, life became even harder. Stricter and tighter rules were put in place. Amongst these, were…

– Jews could not own radios.
– Jews had to abide by a curfew.
– Jews could not own telephones.
– Jews were forcibly evicted from their houses without reason or notice (this was provide homes for Germans whose homes had been bombed by the Allies).
– Jews forbidden to leave the country.
– Jews forbidden pets.

And then, from 1941 onwards, the most famous of all Anti-Jewish measures was made law.

– All Jews over the age of six years old must wear a yellow Star of David, with ‘Jude’ written on it.

The YELLOW Star of David was not universal, however. In Poland, for example, the Star was blue with a white background. This is what they looked like…

A Polish blue & white Star of David armband

A German yellow-and-black Star of David badge, with ‘Jude’ written on it

The Polish armbands had to be worn on the right sleeve of the outermost garment that a person wore; the yellow badge had to be sewn onto the front of the person’s clothing, to clearly identify them as Jews.

Escaping the Nazis

Before the War, escaping persecution was tricky. Jews could only travel to certain countries, in certain numbers, at certain times of the year. However, when the Second World War started, escaping from Nazi tyranny became almost impossible. It wasn’t just a matter of getting in a car or on a train or hotfooting it across the countryside. Oh no. Jews had to pass checkpoints, border-patrols and Military Police. To do this safely, they required the necessary travel-documents, which were not easy to obtain. Many Jews were aided in their escapes by various resistence and underground groups and organisations, from the German Resistence, the French Resistence, Partisan groups and the Danish Resistence. Countries such as Sweden, Denmark and England were the most instrumental in helping Jews escape.

Due to Denmark’s importance to the German war-machine; providing ports, providing food and drink and other vital wartime necessities, the Germans more or less left Denmark to its own devices (so to speak) after the German Army came in and steamrollered everything. This made the Danish Resistence all the stronger to fight and better enabled them to help Jews, who they smuggled from Denmark to Sweden (and thence to England) by cargo-ships which sailed the North Sea regularly to deliver vital German war-supplies.

Going into Hiding

For those who could not contact Resistence Movements, for those who could not escape from the Nazis on their own, they had no choice but to either wait around and be arrested and rounded up and dragged off to God-knows-where…or they had to go into hiding.

To go into hiding was an ambitious and scary thing to do, as evidenced by the most famous example of this: The Frank Family in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Going into hiding wasn’t just a matter of pretending you weren’t home. It meant pretending you didn’t exist at all. You had to disappear competely from society. Many Jews were aided in their hidings by sympathetic (and incredibly brave!) non-Jewish friends, who sheltered them and provided them with food, drink, clothing and other necessities. Resistence-movements also aided Jews who went into hiding, or who joined the Resistence to fight back against the Nazis. The Official Guiness World Record for the longest time spent living in an attic was set by a Jew who went into hiding there in the 1940s to escape from the Nazis and stayed up there for over fifty years!

Entering the Ghetto

One method which the Germans used to keep an eye on Jews was the creation of ghettos, or as Wladyslaw Szpilman referred to them, “Jewish Districts” (the Nazis’ words, not his). The ghettos were walled-off areas of town where the Jews were forced to live in so that the Nazis and their collaborators could keep an eye on them. Famous cities with ghettos included Warsaw, Lodz and Krakow in Poland, which held tens of thousands of Jews between them.

At first glance, you’re probably thinking that all this was rather jolly. Your own section in town to do whatever you liked in with nobody to bother you…Sit down, shut up and wait for the Tommies to come charging in on their DD tanks.



Ghettos were far from comfortable and far from luxurious and far from home…in fact they were as far from being the friendly, community area that you might think they were.

To start off with, food was far from plentiful. While transports of food, clothing and other necessities were allowed to be driven, carted or carried through the gates that led into the ghettos, there was never enough for everyone and throughout the years that the ghettos operated, there was a chronic shortage of essentials. And it wasn’t as easy as you might think, to get out of the ghetto to go and get more food. The walls that were built around all ghettos were topped with all kinds of nasty things, from barbed wire, sharp rocks and jagged pieces of smashed up glass, to cut up the hands of anyone brave or stupid enough to try and climb over them. But people still found ways. In the Warsaw Ghetto, for example, drainage-sluices had been made in the bottoms of some of the walls to allow rainwater to drain away so that the ghetto wouldn’t flood. The smallest of children used to slip through these holes and scurry off to find food in the dark of night.

Warsaw, Poland. August, 1940. Here, one of the walls is being built for the Warsaw Ghetto that would house the Jews living in, or coming to Warsaw

Apart from the shortages of food, there was also the constant threat of disease. The ghettos were ‘advertised’ as places of safety for the Jews where they could practice their Jewish ways and live their Jewish lives away from the pure-bred Aryans. But they were also there to prevent the spread of “Jewish diseases”, one of the most prominent of which was typhus.

Due to the significant lack of medical aid, medicine and surgeons and hospitals in the ghettos, epidemic diseases (such as typhus) were serious killers and hundreds of Jews died from outbreaks. Wladyslaw Szpilman, the Polish-Jewish pianist, wrote of how he used to go home from work each night in the ghetto. He had to be careful where he walked to prevent tripping over the corpses in the streets, which were there either from death from disease, starvation or rioting.

Life in the ghetto was far from easy. Raids by the Gestapo and military police were common and Jews could be dragged out of their houses and shot in the streets for absolutely no reason at all. And it wasn’t always the Gestapo who did it, either.

To maintain law and order in the ghettos, the Jewish Ghetto Police were created. They were there, on the surface, to protect the Jews and look after them…being Jews themselves. But being a ghetto policeman meant getting various priveliges such as more food, better clothes and more money. This could lead to serious corruption, and did, in many cases. Ghetto policemen aided the Gestapo in rounding up transports of Jews to be taken to the death-camps, with the provision that if they did so, their own families would not be hurt. Of course this was a load of bupkiss, the Germans didn’t give a damn either way. And there were stories of ghetto policemen being killed by fellow Jews in revenge on the train-rides to the extermination-camps.

Liquidation of ghettos started in about 1943 and every few days, more and more Jews were rounded up, driven to stations, dumped on trains and sent by rail to the various death-and-labour-camps around Poland and Germany. For many people, this would be the last train-ride they ever took.

Liquidation meant more than just carting people off to their doom, though. It also involved soldiers marching into the ghettos with machine-guns and flamethrowers to torch, shoot and destroy every single building and person that they could find. To protect themselves against this, many Jews went into hiding, even in the ghettos, creating hidey-holes and secret spaces where they could live. Other Jews managed to escape out of the ghetto and find help with sympathetic non-Jews, who helped them contact the various underground resistance-groups who housed them, hid them or recruited them into their anti-Nazi causes.

The Camps

One of the most enduring images of the Holocaust are the death camps. Names like Auschwitz I, Sobibor, Treblinka, Bergen-Belsen and Mauthausen. And of course, the most famous camp of all…


The camps were combination slave-labour and extermination camps and millions of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, POWs and political prisoners were sent through their gates to come out as ashes or as skeletons. Life in these camps was horrific at the very best of times, with chronic shortages of food, warm clothing, medical care and almost everything else necessary for survival. Families were separated on arrival and the elderly, infirm and children were gassed almost the moment that they got off the trains, in massive gas-chambers, where they would be told that they were having a shower.

Those left alive were worked to death. They were housed in cramped, freezing, overcrowded and filthy barracks, as many as three or four people to a bunk, with no fires to keep them warm. Epidemics of typhus, typhoid and dysentery killed thousands and bodies were burned or buried as fast as possible, which was never fast enough.

Chances of survival were few in Auschwitz. In Poland, where winters sent temperatures plummeting solidly into the negative digits, many people died from hypothermia. One of the few places where one could be safe was in getting a job in the camp, either as a sonderkommando (who was a Jew assigned to help with the gas-chamber process, to remove bodies from the chambers after they were used) or to work in “Kanada”.

“Kanada” was the sorting-area of Auschwitz. Here, all the suitcases, steamer-trunks, gladstone-bags and handbags were sent and dumped, to be sorted through by the Jews (mostly women) who worked there. Working in Kanada was probably the safest job in Auschwitz: It meant better food, access to warm clothing, being kept indoors, away from rain and snow and it meant that you could keep (if you were crafty) any little trinkets that you found, and use them to bribe guards. One story tells of a woman who learned of her sister and her children arriving at Auschwitz. She begged a guard to bring them to Kanada. The guard intervened in the gas-chamber process and brought the woman’s sister to work with her in Kanada, ensuring their safety throughout their time there. The children, however, useless in Kanada or anywhere else in the camp, were sent to the gas-chambers. Later on, the woman spoke out in favour at the guard’s war-crimes trial to get him a lesser sentence.

The famous slogan on the gates of Auschwitz I; “Arbeit Macht Frei”, translated from German to English (literally) as: “Work Makes Free”, or more fluidly, “Work Makes You Free/Work Liberates”, is another symbol of the death-camps and the Holocaust which has never gone away. Even today, people still remember it…even if they don’t always remember what its significance is, such as the unfortunate Italian politician Tommaso Colleti .

People Associated with the Holocaust

The Holocaust brought out the best and worst in everyone. Some people became famous because they survived, some became famous for what they did, or what they did not do. Some became famous for providing incredible records of an amazing period in human history. Here are just a few of the more famous people associated with the Holocaust…

The Bielski Brothers (Tuvia, Asael, Alexander, Aron).

Four Jewish-Polish brothers who, after the deaths of their parents and other siblings at the hands of Nazi collaborators, formed the Bielski Otriad, a partisan group which lived in the forests of Belarus, hiding, housing and recruiting Jews and protecting them in camps made in the midst of the forests. They conducted geurilla raids on Nazi sympathisers, collaborators and military police, using stolen firearms, ranging from simple revolvers to shotguns and rifles. They lived in the forests from 1941 until liberation, saving 1,200 Jews. Tuvia and Alexander moved to the USA after the War and died in 1987 and 1994 respectively.

Their struggle was turned into a film (“Defiance”) starring Daniel Craig.

The Frank Family (Otto, Edith, Margot, Anne).

The Frank Family and four other people went into hiding in Amsterdam, the Netherlands in 1942 to 1944. They were discovered in August of ’44 and sent to the camps. Of the eight people in the Secret Annex at the back of the building where they were hiding, only Otto survived. He published his daughter Anne’s diary and was instrumental in creating the world-famous Anne Frank museum. He died in 1980, aged 91.

Capt. Wilhelm Hosenfeld

A German army-officer who protected and aided Polish Jews (most notably, Wladyslaw Szpilman, the pianist). His private diary showed his disgust for the Holocaust and records his personal attempts to aid persecuted Jews. He was captured by the Red Army when the German Army retreated in 1944 and was held in a Prisoner of War camp. Despite efforts by all the people whom he rescued and protected, the Russians refused to release him and he died in the camp in 1952.

Oskar Schindler

A German industrialist and a member of the Nazi Party, Oskar Schindler is famous for saving over 1,000 of his Jewish factory-workers by writing up the now world-famous ‘Schindler’s List’. This list allowed hundreds of Jews to survive the war by being “essential workers” which were keeping the German war-effort going. Oskar Schindler died in 1974 at the age of 66. The Jews he saved are officially known as the Schindlerjuden (Schindler’s Jews). A film of his efforts, (“Schindler’s List”) was directed by Stephen Spielberg.

Wladyslaw Szpilman

A Polish-Jewish pianist who died in 2000 at the age of 88. He is famous for surviving the Warsaw Ghetto and for writing his memoir “The Pianist”, which was turned into a film by Roman Polanski. He was portrayed by Adrien Brody in the film.


The Unopened Case: Men’s Jewellery Which You Never See Anymore

Okay, perhaps “never see” is a bit strong…but there was a time, not too long ago where men wore nice, glittery accessories too. Jewellery has never been just for the womenfolk, you know. Men have been wearing jewellery for years, decades, centuries…but somewhere along the line, the classic set of men’s jewellery fell by the wayside, to be replaced by stainless steel, grills on the teeth, tattoos, fake, gold-plated chains, fake, gold-plated rings and earrings which would look more at home on the end of a bull than dangling from a man’s earlobe.

Proper masculine jewellery has seen a shocking decline in recent years. Now we have gold-plated watches, gold-plated necklaces and chains, gold-plated rings and more piercings than an embroidered quilt. And if piercings around the eyes, ears and mouth aren’t bad enough, men’s ‘jewellery’ has recently taken a more southerly route, along the lines of Prince Albert piercings and other delightful decorative detritus (if you don’t know what a Prince Albert piercing is, don’t ask).

This article is about the classic pieces of mens’ jewellery that people used to wear, back when the world was stylish, people had more self-respect for their appearance and looking good meant more than merely working out at the gym. We enter a world of cufflinks, tie-bars, collar-bars, shirt-studs and watch-chains, a world of rings and necklaces and clips which looked like gold and silver because that was what they were made of. We enter the unopened case of mens’ jewellery…

Starting at the Top…

Unlike womens’ jewellery, mens’ jewellery usually served a double-purpose of being both decorative, but also practical and useful at the same time. And the amount of jewellery that men could wear was considerable, even without all these modern and sight-searing invaders. So what did men wear back in the day?

As I said, men’s jewellery was practical as well as pretty and a lot of it was used in conjunction with clothing. The standard, white dress-shirt took up a lot of the jewellery on a man’s dressing-table, which is quite an achievement in itself. The following articles of jewellery were typically tacked, tied, tangled or thrust into a shirt to either hold it together or give it extra sparkle.


Cufflinks…classic mens’ jewellery. The kind of things that wives give their DHs in those classic movies from the 40s and 50s in those touching, family-friendly Christmas & birthday scenes. Cufflinks have been around for over a hundred years, since the mid 1800s right up until today. Their purpose, as the name suggests, is to link the cuffs together. The cuffs being the shirt-cuffs on the ends of your sleeves.

“Yeah but all shirts have buttons on the cuffs. What do you want me to do? Cut them off!?”

Not all shirts have buttons, silly! Formal dress-shirts, button-down long-sleeved shirts and business-shirts made by various clothing-manufacturers used to (and still do) make shirts with what are called “French Cuffs”.

French cuffs are twice as long as ordinary cuffs, and don’t contain any buttons, but instead contain four (or sometimes, six) buttonholes on each cuff. The cuffs are folded back on each other so that the buttonholes line up, and then the cuff is pinched together so that it makes a raindrop shape. The cufflinks are then pushed through the buttonholes to hold the cuff together.

A shirtsleeve with French cuffs. Note how the cuff is folded back before the cufflink is passed through the buttonholes to hold it together

Most pairs of cufflinks came in a distinctive T-bar design, with the link being pushed through the buttonhole to have a small metal tab flip out the bottom (forming a shape something like a seriffed letter “I”). Cufflinks could be plain steel ones, or they could be (and usually were) ornate and decorative pieces of jewellery with pearls, diamonds, lapis lazuli, bloodstone and other precious, semi-precious or just plain preposterous decorative stones or other materials included in them to give them extra bling.


The classic dress-shirt does seem to be lacking in the department of buttony goodness, doesn’t it? If a shirt didn’t have cuff-buttons, then it would surely have something to hold the bloody FRONT together!…Right?

No, actually.

So, enter shirt-studs.

Shirt-studs were a bit like cufflinks, only they came in sets of more than just two, often four or more; and their job was to hold together the front of a shirt (like what…oh I dunno…BUTTONS? do?) in a stylish and decorative manner. Unlike cufflinks, though, which could be shiny and decorative and all that stuff, shirt-studs usually had to be a certain colour to go with the shirt which they were being worn with. They were made up of two small discs of metal, held together by a very short length of chain. One disc passed through both buttonholes in the shirt (one at the front, one behind) to hold it shut, and in the end, you’d have a row of shirt-studs going through the sets of buttonholes on your shirtfront, giving you a nice, uniform appearance.


Having done up your cuffs and your shirtfront, it was time to put on your collar.


Yes. Your collar. In the old days, shirts did not come with collars. They were detachable (as were some cuffs, by the way). The reason for this was because that most men wore shirts for days or even weeks at a time before taking them off, but would change cuffs and collars frequently. If the shirt you have doesn’t need a collar tacked onto it, ignore this. Otherwise…

…Shirts with detatchable collars lasted well into the Twentieth Century; these are the classic, stiff, starched collars that you hear grandmother or grandfather complaining about having to wash (and wear) when they were children. They were held onto the top of the shirt with a set of collar-studs (or pre-sewn buttons, if you had them). Putting on a collar like this could be quite an ordeal, as Roald Dahl found it, when he mentioned struggling into his school uniform in his autobiography “Boy: Tales of Childhood”. But…people will go through anything for fashion (which is true of any period, not just of the early 20th Century!).

With your cufflinks, shirt-studs and collar-studs on, you now had to do up your tie. But you don’t like how your collar flops around and doesn’t stay where it’s meant to…and it’s wiggling your tie all over the place. Relax. That’s why the collar-bar was invented!

The Collar-Bar

I admit that I was rather ignorant of this piece of jewellery until fairly recently (if you can call it jewellery, more like an accessory). The collar-bar is a bar or rod of metal used to hold the two ends of the collar under your chin, in-place, and to stop them from going where they’re not meant to. Collar-bars could also be used to keep a tie in-check and stop it flopping around. There were three kinds of collar-bars…

– Pins and Needles

These were rather basic collar-bars; they poked through the fabric of the collar (a bit like a safety-pin) to hold the collar together and down. Not the best kind if you didn’t want your collars full of unnecessary holes!

– Pinch it

The second variety of collar-bar had miniature clamps at each end; these clamps…uh…clamped onto the wings of your collar and kept it down and close together. Tidier and without risk of being pricked by a sharp pin.

– Push and Pull

The last collar-bar was used with collars which had pre-manufactured holes in the collar-wings. The final variety of collar-bar was pushed through these holes and held the collar in-place.


Often associated with businessmen or detectives wearing two-piece suits, the tie-bar is a simple clip or slide which holds a necktie together to stop the two ends flapping around and getting out-of-line. Tie-bars were sometimes sold along with cufflinks as a three-piece set of two links and a tie-bar all in one.


Some people wear rings for individuality. Some wear rings to show membership to a certain group of people. A school, a club, a company, a university or a certain organisation. But in the “old days”, not many men wore rings. But the rings that they did wear were real marks of individuality, which would stand out even more today than they did a hundred years ago.

These days, wearing a wedding-ring is something done by both sexes. However, it may surprise you to know that it wasn’t until pretty recently that men as well as women, started wearing weddings to show their marital status.

Signet-rings were traditionally the man’s ring of choice. They had the man’s coat of arms (either his own personal arms, or those of his family) or his monogram (initials) engraved on the ring in mirror-fashion, so as the ring could be used to seal documents with sealing-wax. While this function of the ring (which is what it was designed for) is largely obsolete these days; having a signet-ring made for you and wearing one is certainly one way to make yourself stand out. If you want a unique, personal piece of jewellery that looks good, think about one of those. After all, class-rings, university rings, school rings and graduation-rings are all descended from this one, humble band of gold with a few knife-scratches in the top of it.


Oop-Boop-A-Doop! The History of Betty Boop

One of the most famous and iconic cartoon characters of the 20th century, up there with Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Bart Simpson and Peter Griffin (or not), Betty Boop hit the movie-screens of the world all of a sudden in the early 1930s, bringing untold joy and laughter to thousands of Americans who were out of work in the struggling times of the Great Depression. This article will explore the history of Betty Boop and what she meant to the world.

Made of Pen and Ink…

Betty Boop was created by animator Grim Natwick in 1930 as a character for the animated-film company Fleischer Studios (founded in 1921 as Inkwell Studios, reflecting the company’s area of production of animated films). She was originally a female cartoon dog (as in those furry things that go ‘woof!’), made to go with the cartoons then being produced and directed by brothers and company-founders Max and David Fleischer.

Betty Boop made her first appearance in the short film “Dizzy Dishes”, on the 9th of August, 1930. She had a more dog-like face, with long, flapping ears, to reflect her original role as an animal character in the studio’s line of films. Betty Boop was modelled after then-popular singer Helen Kane, whose distinctive scat-singing style gave rise to Betty’s well-known “Oop-boop-a-doop!” catchphrase. The fact that Kane was an inspiration for Betty was so well-known that in 1932, Helen Kane tried to sue Fleischer studios for the stupendous sum of $250,000! No that’s not a typo, that’s two hundred and fifty thousand dollars; an absolute fortune in the struggling, Depression-era years of the 1930s. Unfortunately for Kane, she wasn’t able to prove that her singing style was uniquely hers (other singers besides herself, who also sang in a similar ‘oop-boop-a-doop’ scat-style were brought forward as proof of this) and she was also unable to prove that her appearance had been copied by the artists at Fleischer studios (who had based Betty’s appearance on the likeness of equally-famous 1920s actress Clara Bow). Ultimately, Kane lost the lawsuit and Betty was here to stay.

Throughout the early years of the 30s, Betty’s appearance continued to change. Originally drawn as a dog, she eventually became more and more human until by 1932, Max Fleischer had decided to make her totally human. In keeping with 20s and 30s contemporary style, Betty was drawn up as a stylised flapper girl; a good dancer, young in appearance, innocent and with a short, above-knee length flapper dress. Her long, doggy ears became ordinary-sized ears, with large, hoop earrings.

…She can win you with a wink…

One of Betty’s biggest claims to fame was as one of the earliest known sex-symbols! Now I’m sure to many people today, the idea of getting your jollies on a hand-drawn, black-and-white ink-and-pen cartoon character sounds absolutely ludicrous! Betty surely had no more sex-appeal than Mickey Mouse! But therein lies the very reason. Betty wasn’t Mickey. Betty wasn’t an animal. She wasn’t a mouse. She was drawn as a person. As a human being. As…a woman.

Previous to Betty, all female characters were crudely drawn, basically looking like male cross-dressers. No thought was given to the female form…it wasn’t really seen as being necessary. But with Betty, that all changed. She was drawn with hips, breasts, big, batting eyes and a proper female figure, something which nobody had ever done before. This, combined with her (then) skimpy outfits, which showed off her arms and most of her legs, added to her sex-appeal.

Betty Boop, showing off her legs, shoulders and arms and sporting her signature hoop earrings

There was a great deal of sexual exploration in the 1920s and early 30s, with women dressing up in men’s clothing and men dressing up in clothing intended for females! Men tried on makeup and women smoked cigarettes, in a day and age when only men smoked! The popular song “Masculine Women, Feminine Men”, from 1926, shows that sexual exploration was nothing new in the 20s and 30s!

Because of all this, Fleischer studios were simply going with the times and decided to make a more overtly sexual character than had previously been allowed. Don’t forget that this was 1932; not too long before in the Victorian era, the mere glimpse of a woman’s arm or leg by anyone other than her husband or a medical doctor was considered scandalous!

Betty was also somewhat controversial because of her age. She is supposed to be only sixteen, although if you look at some cartoons, she does some very adult things such as running hotels and boarding-houses, and if you watch a few more cartoons, it’s implied that she is still a virgin and it’s been suggested that her ‘oop-boop-a-doop’ as a euphamistic nonsense term created to allude to her virginity.

…Ain’t She Cute?..

Betty was an instant screen sensation. Her popularity soared and she became famous the world-over. The Betty Boop cartoons had a cast of supporting characters which only added to the comedy and hilarity of all the insane and crazy situations that Betty found herself in. Most notably amongst these were Koko the Clown, a friendly, if clumbsy clown, Bimbo, a dog-like character and another one of Betty’s friends, and probably most famously, Professor Grampy, an eccentric, elderly inventor who helps Betty out of numerous jams. He was famous for his skittish dance and for putting on his thinking-cap (a mortarboard hat with a lightbulb on top) when trying to figure out solutions. The hat’s lightbulb would light up when he got an idea which invariably led him to jump up and cry out: “Haha! I’ve got it!”

Grampy with his thinking-cap on, hard at work


Betty’s nonsense catchphrase, “Oop-Boop-A-Doop” was taken from the singing-style of Helen Kane, who was a popular 1920s vocalist, but probably more famous was Betty’s signature, high-pitched, teenage voice. This was provided by numerous voice-actors over the years, but Betty was most famously voiced by Mae Questel, who won the role of voicing Betty in a talent-contest when she was only seventeen, by imitating the singing-style of…you guessed it…Helen Kane!

From 1931 to 1939, Mae Questel voiced Betty in over 150 animated cartoon shorts, gaining worldwide fame as a voice-actress. Questel also voiced several other famous cartoon characters, including Casper the Friendly Ghost, Felix the Cat, Minnie Mouse and Olive Oyl, the longsuffering girlfriend of Popeye the Sailor.

Apart from voices, Betty’s cartoons were famous for including new and popular songs in their soundtracks, most notably, Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher”. Several short theme-songs were also written for the cartoon series. If you’ve been linking up all the subtitles in this article so far, you may have already figured out what one is.

Made of pen and ink,
She can win you with a wink,
Ain’t she cute?
Sweet Betty!

That short ditty was played at the start of several of the Betty Boop shorts, occasionally substituted with this one:

She’s our little queen,
Of the animated screen,
Ain’t she cute?
Sweet Betty!

A significantly longer theme-song went:

A hot cornet can go *wah-wah-wah!*
Playing hot and blue,
But a hot cornet can’t,
Like Betty Boop can do!

A saxophone can go *doo-doo-doo*
Playing all night through!
But a saxophone can’t,
Like Betty Boop can do!

This little miss,
Would never miss,
A chance for vocal tuning,
And anytime and anywhere,
You can hear this lady crooning!

An old banjo can go *plink-plink-plink*
That’s no news to you!
But an old banjo can’t,
Like Betty Boop can do!

Sweet Betty!

For the past eighty years, Betty Boop remains one of the most famous and popular animated characters ever, with her distinctive voice, appearance and singing style. But Betty wasn’t always this sweet. While she was originally rather scantily clad, the Motion Picture Production Code (more famously known as the ‘Hays Code’, after the man who instituted it) put an end to all this. In the late 30s and into the 40s, Betty Boop’s figure had to be changed to meet the new, stricter censorship laws. Most notably amongst these changes was in Betty’s wardrobe. Betty’s dresses became less revealing, changing from the 1920s, sleeveless flapper dresses which showed off her legs from her knees down, to more conservative dressing which covered up her arms, back, shoulders and brought the hemline of her dress further down to below her knees.

This 1935 film-poster for a Betty Boop animated short, shows how the Hays Code affected Betty Boop’s appearance under the new censorship laws

Despite these changes though, Betty Boop has remained a popular and beloved character by thousands of people around the world.


It Sounds Like…History!: Obscure Musical Instruments

Over the centuries, mankind has invented all kinds of musical instruments, and some have stood the test of time better than others. Ever since we discovered that whacking a stick against another stick sounded awesome, we’ve created newer, better, stranger, more unique-sounding or just plain crazy instruments! Here are a few instruments that you might never have heard of. Or if you have, then might never see in a modern music-shop!

The Calliope

The Calliope (pronounced ‘kally-ope’) was a popular musical instrument which was invented in the mid 19th century; in 1855, to be precise. In October of that year, Joshua C. Stoddard patented an instrument that he’d invented, guaranteed to be heard for miles around, deafen anyone within that range, and produce warbly, wavy music for everyone to enjoy…or not.

The calliope is basically a steam-powered pipe-organ. Like a conventional organ, it works by opening and closing valved pipes, letting air rush out of the pipes to create audiable sounds. However, instead of air, the calliope used much more powerful steam instead! The result was a significantly louder instrument which took a bit of skill to play, since you had to control the steam-pressure as well as know how to operate a keyboard instrument.

Calliopes were popular throughout the second half of the 19th century and well into the early 20th century, where they became fixtures on Mississippi-style paddlesteamers. Onboard riverboats, the calliopes had a ready supply of steam from the steam-engines used to power the ship’s paddlewheels; the large size of many riverboats meant that calliopes were easily installed on these craft to provide music for passengers.

Calliopes could also be found in funfairs and carnivals, playing music and announcing the arrival of the funfair to everyone in town. They were often towed on their own trailers by steam-powered vehicles; their size and the necessity for steam-power meant that calliopes were not very portable or easy to use. The calliope died out in the 1950s as electrical power and compressed air replaced superheated water and steam-power to produce the necessary pressure to work the instrument. These days, you can still find calliopes on Mississippi paddlesteamers, where compeitions between different boats are often held to see which boat has the best calliope-player.

Here, you can see the calliopist on the P.S. Delta Queen performing a medly of songs on the boat’s calliope in a calliope-contest.

The Jew’s Harp

The Jew’s Harp is a weird little instrument. To begin with, it looks nothing like a harp!


The Jew’s Harp is a small, all-metal instrument which is played with the mouth and tongue. The rounded bit at the end is held with the hand while the straight part is placed between the lips. The long, flexible metal plate (called the ‘reed’) vibrates as it is flicked with the tongue, producing a distinct metallic twangy sound. It’s not that hard to get a sound out of one of these (I tried it myself once, when I was younger), but to make anything called ‘music’ takes considerable practice. The Jew’s Harp is one of the oldest instruments still around today. While its origins are not precisely known, it is believed to date several thousand years back into history.

Deagan Shaker Chimes

Deagan Shaker Chimes, also called Deagan Organ Chimes, are one of the most unique musical instruments that man ever thought fit to create.

Manufactured by the J.C. Deagan Company of Chicago, Illinois (a manufactury of chimes, bells and various novelty instruments) for the first 20-30 years of the 20th century, Deagan Shaker Chimes are among the rarest musical instruments around today. As their name suggests, the chimes are handheld and work by being shaken back and forth by the performer. As the chimes are shaken, they emit bright, metallic tones, similar to those made by tubular bells. The Dapper Dans, the famous Disneyland Barbershop Quartet, regularly use an antique set of Deagan shaker chimes (manufactured ca. 1901) in their performances. If you’re fortunate enough to see a performance of “Mr. Sandman” by the Dans, then you’ll be able to see the chimes at work:

The Dapper Dans. The triangular-shaped instruments in their hands are antique Deagan shaker chimes

John Calhoun Deagan (born 1853), the owner of the J.C. Deagan Company, died in 1934 at the age of 81, which may account for the rarity of Deagan shaker chimes today.

The Hurdy Gurdy

Even though it sounds like one of those crazy old jazz dances your grandparents might have done, like the Charleston or the Lindyhop, the Hurdy Gurdy is actually an instrument which has somehow survived some five, six or seven hundred years (or more!) from when it was first invented, waaaaaaaay back in the Middle Ages!

The Hurdy Gurdy is best described as a cross between an accordian and a violin, in my opinion. It’s like a violin in that it’s shaped roughly like a violin, it has strings, a bridge, tuning-pegs and sound-holes, but it’s like an accordian in that it has a small keyboard which you press on to play the melody.

A Hurdy Gurdy. Cute, isn’t it?

Due to its size (something like a small guitar) and the necessity to have both of your hands free to play the instrument, the hurdy gurdy was played by the instrumentalist in a seated position, with the hurdy gurdy on his lap, like a guitar, with the neck sticking out to the player’s left. On the right side of the hurdy gurdy is a crank-handle. Turning the handle turned a wooden wheel or disc inside the hurdy gurdy (which is hidden under the curved cover on the left). As the wheel turned, it rubbed against the strings inside the hurdy gurdy, much like how a violin-bow rubs against a set of violin-strings. As the wheel was turned, the friction and rubbing caused the strings to vibrate and produce sound. By turning the crank (and thus, the wheel) faster or slower, the instrumentalist could make the music louder or softer. On the underside of the hurdy gurdy was a keyboard which the player pressed with his left hand, while his right hand cranked the handle. Pressing on the keys pressed down on the various strings inside the hurdy gurdy, changing each of the strings’ tone and pitch. Once you were good enough at both cranking and using the keyboard, you could produce some pretty nice-sounding music.

The hurdy gurdy is still around today and while it’s a little different from its medieval grandparent in terms of shape, the modern hurdy gurdy still works the same way as it did back in the Medieval Era and is still played today in performances of European folk-music.

The Zither

Another somewhat well-known instrument, the zither, like the hurdy gurdy, is a European folk-instrument, characterised by having a large board, lots of strings, tuning pegs and a sound-hole to amplify the vibrations of the strings. The zither is played in a seated position, or at a table and, like the guitar, it’s played by plucking and strumming the strings. Most people might remember the zither because it became famous in the 1950s for playing the theme-music to the film-adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel “The Third Man”, as seen here; played by Anton Karas, the zitherist who both composed and performed this famous piece of music for the film.

The Theremin

Invented by Prof. Leon Theremin in the mid 1920s, the theremin holds the distinction of being the world’s first electronic instrument! Forget electronic keyboards, guitars and violins, this one trumps them all! And unlike the guitar, piano and violin, this instrument has no accoustic cousin; it works entirely on electricity.

Prof. L. Theremin, with his invention that bears his name

The theremin consists of a control-panel in the middle, from which two antennae extend outwards. The curved antenna on one side controls the frequency or pitch while the vertical antenna controls the volume. By moving his hands up or down, left and right in the space between these two antennae (when the instrument is turned on), the thereminist can produce music by interrupting the electronic signals which pass between the two antennas. The resultant sound-waves are sent through an amplifier and projected through speakers nearby.

Without the thereminist actually having to touch, hold or move anything at all, apart from his or her hands, the theremin is, rather obviously, a notoriously difficult instrument to play, and very few people in the world have been able to master this very unique instrument. One of the most famous thereminist is Celia Sheen. She uses a theremin to perform the famous, eerie, wavering theme-music that opens each episode of the British detective drama “Midsomer Murders”.