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So wait a minute. Who is this 'Batman' guy, and just exactly who is copying who here?

By Andrew Pollack on 11/12/2006 at 08:44 PM EST

In the past few posts I've been working on Second Signal's new logo, and with your help I'm pretty happy with what I have now. The final straw as was that I now have a name for the logo itself. I'm calling it the "Hat Signal". A bit tongue in cheek maybe, and it isn't something I'll make formally part of anything, but it does bring to mind a question that has been bugging me.

Who is copying who?

In may of 1939 some guys named Bob Kane and Bill Finger started writing and drawing this "Batman" guy. So, as I understand the story, this guy goes around like normal most of the time but when he's needed -- signaled through the use of elaborate alarm systems because he's not just sitting there all the time waiting to be needed -- he slides down a pole, puts on really nifty gear, and drives off to save the day in a very special rig of some kind.

Hm. Really cool, but not so original.

First of all, lets look at the use of an alarm to declare the emergency. In fact, the use of a lantern isn't even unique. (source link) "In addition to the ringing of a bell, one city suspended a crimson ball (lantern at night) from the cupola of city hall. The position of the ball or lantern around the cupola indicated the direction of the fire." So much for the "Bat Signal" being unique.

Now, this idea of using a pole to quickly get the gear and the cool rig isn't original at all. In fact (source link) "Origins of the fire pole are traced to David B. Kenyon, captain of Engine Company No. 21 of the Chicago Fire Department, who invented the sliding pole in 1878." That pretty much takes care of that.

What about the cool rig, this so-called "Bat Mobile"? C'mon, what's cooler than a fire engine? Those have been around a LONG time. Much longer than you might think. (source link) "Ctesibius of Alexandria is credited with inventing the first fire pump around the second century B.C. The fire pump was reinvented in Europe during the 1500s, reportedly used in Augsburg in 1518 and Nuremberg in 1657. A book of 1655 inventions mentions a steam engine (called fire engine) pump used to 'raise a column of water 40 feet [12 m],' but there was no mention of whether it was portable."

Oh, and that whole bit about Batman's day job? Until Cincinnati established the first full time career department in April of 1853, all firefighters were on-call only. Even today, nearly 90% of all firefighters are heroes on their own time, and have day jobs as well.


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