|"The Chicago Gang, Part 1" - Thayer & Chandler make Chicago the airbrush capital of the world.|
Chicago hosted the 6 month long Columbian Exposition of 1893, the last and best of the 1900's World's Fairs. Along with hamburgers, carbonated soda, and the Ferris wheel, the 27 million visitors were also introduced to the airbrush. The fair was an incredible opportunity for national and international exposure and Liberty Walkup was there with his Airbrush Manufacturing Company and he had great expectations for the fair. Unfortunately he was upstaged by Thayer & Chandler, a Chicago mail order art supplies and crafts Company that exhibited a new type of airbrush in the same Manufactures/Liberal Arts building. Norwegian Henry Thayer, and Englishman Charles Chandlerís new internal mix airbrush, made since 1891under an agreement with it's inventor, Charles Burdick, was given an award declaring "the effects in shading are delicate and the results presented good." The new internal mix airbrush was not only easier to use and simpler to maintain, it gave better results with less training. This was not lost on the members of the photo retouching industry, the primary users of the airbrush at the time and well into the 1920's. Walkup was incensed but the handwriting was on the wall, his star as on the wane and he was never to be the force he once was.
Thayer & Chandler continuously promoted and improved their airbrush. In 1896, Olaus "O.C." Wold, a foreman at Thayer & Chandler, filed a patent for an airbrush that used a replaceable nozzle that protruded slightly from the front of the body. This eliminated the paint buildup on the inside of the body, a problem with the Burdick design. Wold also incorporated a removable aircap to protect both the needle and the photo being worked on. Any paint accumulated on the aircap is easily removed. The needle assembly is much simplified and the needle can easily be changed. A true valve is used to regulate the incoming air instead of crimping a rubber tube. The paint cup remained in the body as in Burdick's, but it's manually refilled instead of having the fount in the handle. For the craftsman using the brush, Wold's design was as much a step forward as Burdick's, if not more. It was easier to control the air, the needle was easily replaceable, although it now had to be replaced less often thanks to the protective aircap. There was also less damage to the artwork from a protruding needle and paint clogs were greatly minimized. Wold truly streamlined the airbrush and its use. Unfortunately for Wold, he is the inventor and Thayer & Chandler are the assignees (owners) of the patent.
In 1897, a patent is issued to Wold, also assigned to Thayer & Chandler, for an airbrush that uses a trigger that slides fore and aft to control both the air and paint. He claims ease of use and better control at the finer range of the spray pattern. It also could be disassembled without any tools, another nifty Wold idea. It was produced and you can see the only known model by clicking here. Wold would never totally give up on this uni-directional trigger concept, more on that in part 2. The most important idea to come out of this airbrush is that the paint is isolated from the trigger assembly. The paint sits in its own trough ahead of the trigger; no more messy trigger to clean. Around 1899, Thayer & Chandler introduces a model that uses a side mounted cup that could be put in and tilted to any angle thus allowing the airbrush to be used at any angle. It also makes cleanup easier because the cup can be easily removed and the body flushed out under pressure with a syringe or rubber bulb filled with the necessary thinner or water depending on the medium used. The early Thayer & Chandler side cups (photo on left) are gorgeous. Beautiful, fanciful but impractical because of the long path the paint has to travel; basic geometry, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.
Thayer & Chandler's airbrush line along with their crafts and china business continued to prosper into the mid 20th century when they dropped everything but airbrush manufacturing. They continued making the "Model A" until they closed their doors in 1999. The company was sold to Badger Airbrush of Franklin Park, Illinois, a suburb of, where else, Chicago.
An interesting sidelight to the fair Is that it was within days of opening and 90% of the buildings were yet to be painted. Joe Binks, a maintenance supervisor at Marshall Fields Department Store in Chicago, had developed a paint spraying machine in 1890 to white wash the basements at Field's. It was put to work and every building was evenly covered with a dazzling whitewash and the "White City" was ready to open on Mayday, 1893. Binks later started the company that eventually became one of the premier maker of automotive and industrial spray equipment.
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