Dittos, DDT Trucks, and Scratch and Sniff Stickers
Someone had emailed me asking about common things from our youth that would be difficult to replicate. That got me thinking about how school is so different now than when I was young, and how much of an important role paper played in everything we did there.
While paper is still around, the Ditto machine and the sweet-smelling dittos it produced are long gone.
What is a Ditto?
The Ditto Corporation of Illinois was the most well-known maker of what were called spirit duplicator machines in the United States. They were so ubiquitous that the word “Ditto” would become synonymous with the purple-tinted copies that it would churn out.
Why purple? Well, that was the color that helped to create the most contrast on the printed page using this technology. Still, it could be a challenge to read.
The term “spirit duplicator” refers to the alcohol that is used during the printing process. To make a copy, you would use these spirits or ammonia to transfer ink from your master onto other pieces of paper.
The machines were so popular because they were small, inexpensive compared to other methods of printing, and could be run with no electricity. No wonder they would become a fixture in schools and churches for over half a century.
That Ditto Smell
When people are nostalgic for Dittos, they are most likely not referencing the look of a Ditto. What people remember about a Ditto was the smell.
What was the smell? It was the pure methyl alcohol (methanol) that was used in the duplication process. While not carcinogenic, methanol is considered a hazardous material. Many people over the years were hurt in incidents involving poorly ventilated spaces and a Ditto machine.
So when you took that freshly printed quiz off your desk and took a deep smell, it might not have been the healthiest of moves. But who could resist?
The smell of methanol is not the craziest scent that triggers childhood memories. I would give the top prize to a truck that drove around my town when I was a kid.
Chasing the DDT Truck
If you live in an area that has a significant mosquito population (I grew up in a swamp), you might have seen, or still see, trucks rumbling down your street spraying pesticides into the air.
Years ago, before it was banned, the chemical they used was DDT. It was an effective bug killer and was also a magnet for kids on bikes. Whenever the pesticide truck would come down our block, we would hop on our bikes and chase after it, breathing deeply of the white cloud of bug killer it trailed.
It turns out this was not uncommon.
Sometimes when I have been around bug spray, I get just a hint of that childhood memory and I need to resist the urge to spray the can directly into my face.
Of course, not all smells from childhood were dangerous. I was lucky enough to grow up in the heyday of an amazing smell revolution.
Scratch and sniff Stickers
When I was in grade school and did well on a test, some of my teachers would reward me with a Scratch and Sniff Sticker. For those not familiar, these stickers would release a scent when scratched.
The technology can be applied to a variety of surfaces and was invented by the 3M corporation back in 1965. What makes this smell magic happen is something called microencapsulation.
In the case of these stickers, the micro-capsules surround a specific scent. The capsules break when rubbed, thus releasing the smell.
Scratch and sniff was not the original purpose of this technology. To bring things back around to copies, the process was originally developed with ink to create carbonless copy paper. A technology that could compete with the Ditto machine.
I cannot find any information on what those copies smelled like.