Video History: More Dangerous Than Dynamite

By November 22, 2008General

We’re currently suffering a shortage of Cool Stuff Being Made liquidity, and so for a weekend video turn to our favorite resource of historic films, the Prelinger Archives.

With gasoline back down to under $2 a gallon, some homemakers may find themselves tempted to do a little home drycleaning with gasoline. That would be a mistake.

As this educational film from the California Fire Marshal explains, a gallon of gasoline has the explosive potential of 83 pounds of dynamite. Trying to save money by cleaning your clothes at home with gas is foolish and dangerous, especially if you’ve got a pot on the stove or might even spark it with static electricity. In contrast, modern drycleaning establishments have many safeguards available — like asbestos fire blankets.

It’s easy to mock these educational shorts six decades later, but we imagine today’s PSAs will look just as silly in the year 2068.  And with so much prattle lately about another Great Depression, this admittedly dated film also provides some good perspective. Imagine being on a budget where taking your one nice dress to the cleaners is too expensive, so you economize with gas in a bowl. Today we’re fortunate: A lot fewer people are burned to death at home carrying out this practice.

The topic of Depression-era cleaners actually came up Thursday at a National Review Institute/Hillsdale College conference on conservatism. The luncheon speaker, Hillsdale College professor Burton Folsom Jr., told the story of Jack Magid, a New Jersey tailor who went to jail for violating the NRA price codes by charging a customer only 35 cents to press a pair of pants; the industrial code mandated a minimum 40 cents. Our thought at the time: 40 cents was a lot of money in the mid-30s. (In 1938, 40 cents was the equivalent of $6.14 in 2008 dollars.)



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