Image above: Easy Washer Booth, Oregon State Fair, 1927

“The stuff is really neat!” says Kylie Pine, Collections Manager and exhibit curator for Yesterdayland: Innovations of the Past, the new exhibit coming to Salem’s Willamette Heritage Center. Creating the exhibit has been “a fun opportunity to pull out many artifacts from the collections that don’t usually get to be on display,” Pine says. “Everything from the profound to the borderline absurd – people would patent pretty much everything.”

The highly anticipated Yesterdayland exhibit illustrates a wide number of turn-of-the 20thCentury innovations that have transformed the way people in the Mid-Willamette valley live and work.

“I think this exhibit will have a lot for folks of all ages,” Pine says. “Adults and seniors, for the nostalgia of seeing things they or their grandparents may have used, and kids for getting the opportunity to be exposed to technology that shaped their worlds – even if it isn’t in a familiar form.”

Her vision is that the exhibit will be “a great conversation-starter between generations.”

The daily lives of Salem people changed in remarkable ways in a very short period of time. Pine notes that “Electricity, automobiles, indoor plumbing, refrigeration, telephones, radios, office and farming equipment not only meant we could do things quicker, longer and more efficiently, but also transformed our landscapes and social systems.”

The automobile, for example, brought huge changes to the region. Road systems were altered, gas stations and repair shops appeared, regulations were written and rewritten as new and unanticipated situations arose. “It is a fascinating web,” Pine says, “that surrounds an introduction of a new technology that isn’t always apparent at the invention stage we often highlight in the history of technology.”

One of Pine’s most intriguing finds, as she sifted through WHS’s extensive archives, is an old-time steam cooking apparatus. The contraption was built with a series of interlocking basins stacked on top of each other with a tube running down the side.

“It was marketed as a space-saving device for your stove,” Pine says. “Water would be placed in the bottom basin, and as it cooked steam would rise through the chimney on the side and enter the basins above, helping to steam the food there.”

This means that using only one burner, the cook could be heating things in five different pots. “Practically, it looks hilarious,” Pine says, “and we are not sure how efficient it was.”

Willamette Heritage Center anticipates that visitors to the exhibit will not only marvel at the artifacts but also draw parallels to how technological advances impact people’s day-to-day lives, both then and now.


Yesterdayland: Innovations of the Past

Willamette Heritage Center
1313 Mill St SE, Salem

June 8 – Sept 1, 2018

Mondays – Saturdays 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Admission included in regular museum entry prices