New York's Capital Region in 50 Objects

New York's Capital Region in 50 Objects


Each region of the nation has its own distinctive history and identity. The New York’s Capital Region—consisting of Albany, Rensselaer, Schenectady, and Saratoga Counties—is no different. But what best identifies the region? What events, objects, people, and ideas have contributed to its character and uniqueness?

To learn the answers, we presented these questions to the numerous museums, historical organizations, libraries, and residents of the Capital Region. The fifty objects that were ultimately selected present an exciting history of the Capital Region, including well-known favorites but also unexpected surprises. Some of the fifty objects characterize very broad topics like the textile industry and the Hudson River School of art, while others embody large populations of people who shaped the character of the region, such as the Dutch and the Iroquois. Many objects represent specific people or events, such as writer William Kennedy and the Battle of Saratoga. In some instances, the objects represent themselves, like the GE Monitor Top refrigerator and Albany’s beloved Nipper statue. A complementary image accompanies each of the fifty objects, providing context and additional information.

Overall, the fifty objects clearly demonstrate that this narrowly circumscribed part of New York State has played an astonishing role in shaping the history of the nation and, in several instances, the world beyond the confines of our national borders.

GE Monitor-Top Refrigerator

Mechanical refrigeration units for home use became available to American consumers for the first time in 1910 when General Electric of Schenectady, New York, manufactured a model called the Dumbbell. Its wood case looked like traditional ice boxes, but when it debuted the electric unit sold for the significant amount of $1,000.00, a pricetag beyond the reach of most Americans. GE’s Electric Refrigeration Division soon set to work making improvements.

In 1927, the company marketed a refrigerator with the compressor mounted on top. The unit quickly gained the name “Monitor Top” because the top-mounted refrigeration compressor ressembled the gun turret on the Civil War ironclad ship named the USS Monitor. The refrigerator entered the market with a price tag around $525, but within a few years models were selling as low as $200, making GE’s Monitor Top refrigerators affordable for many Americans.

In addition to being affordable, the Monitor Top’s hermetically sealed steel case, designed by GE’s chief engineer Christian Steenstrup, looked modern (even though it had legs that mimicked colonial period furniture) and appealed to consumers increasingly concerned with food safety and health. The compressor coils were completely covered, which prevented dust from collecting in hard-to-reach places, and the steel case could be easily scrubbed, both inside and out.

During the 1930s competition from other companies led to design changes, most noticeably the concealment of the compressor unit within the refrigerator case, instead of on top of it, and the elimination of feet, resulting in a box-like unit that resembled our modern day refrigerators.

Monitor Top Refrigerator

General Electric, Schenectady, New York | c.1930

Maker: General Electric, Schenectady, New York

Medium: Steel with enamel finish

Dimensions: 64 ¼’ H x 22 ½” W

Credit: Gift of the Estate of Ruth and William Streets

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Photomechanical print on paper

Courtesy of MiSci (Museum of Innovation and Science)

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