What It Is? Revealed

Our mystery object from last week was, as its box explains, a Fiske Reading Machine.

Fiske Reading Machine. 2005.0015. Rosenbach Museum & Library

Fiske Reading Machine. 2005.0015. Rosenbach Museum & Library

The Fiske Reading Machine was a magnifying device that was intended to be used to read “micro books” (as its instructions call them),  thereby enabling you to carry a whole newspaper or even a novel in your pocket. A March 30, 1926 article in the Miami Times entitled “‘Reading Machine’ Invented to Abolish Bulky Volumes” explained that the “reading matter..is so microscopic as to be undecipherable with the naked eye” and claimed that Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad could be reduced to a “13-page pamphlet three and three-quarters by five and three-quarters inches in size.” Another article, published in Scientific American in June, 1922, highlighted the diminished costs of producing, distributing, and storing reading material with the new device. Check out the articles for more on the fascinating reading idea.

This photograph, used in the Scientific American article, shows a version of the reading machine in use.

Photograph by Harris & Ewing. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Who knows what Admiral Fiske would have made our modern pocket sized reading devices!

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library.

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