Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Questions for Curatorial: Back when "meter reading" meant "money collecting"...

Curatorial Director Dave answers your questions.

Who took the quarters out of the gas meters in 97 Orchard Street’s kitchens and how often were they collected?

97 Orchard Street's residents used gas for light, cooking, and heating water perhaps as early as the 1890s. Apartments contained gas meters, which were operated by dropping a quarter in the slot, which turned on the gas for a certain period of time.

While Museum researchers are continuing to investigate how the fees were collected, it is likely that representatives from the gas company came to empty the quarters from the meter. Although we're not certain, it's possible that this was done regularly throughout the year, perhaps on a quarterly basis.

Resident lore says that children sometimes created quarter-shaped disks of ice by shaping ice chips in their mouths and used these to fool the meter.

When 97 Orchard was rediscovered by Ruth Abram and Anita Jacobson in 1988, none of the original gas meters remained, as the gas company had probably come to collect the meters after the building was condemned as unfit for human occupancy in 1935. Those on display in the Baldizzi, Rogarshevsky, and Confino family apartments have been sourced elsewhere.

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