IWU alum’s “astronaut food” discovered in time capsule

Guest post by Anthony Romanelli, Class of 2023

Illinois Wesleyan’s Founders’ Day of 1969 was a momentous occasion. Apollo astronaut Frank Borman was being hosted by the University. His entire Apollo 8 crew were presented with honorary doctorates and Borman placed a time capsule in the newest building on campus. Borman, the University, and local Bloomington-Normal businesses all contributed to an extensive list of items to place in a time capsule in the Mark Evans Observatory. Some of the notable items on the list include an audio tape recording of a Christmas message by the astronauts, an integrated circuit identical to the ones on Apollo 8 (provided by the General Electric division in Bloomington), and perhaps most noteworthy, a medallion that had joined the astronauts on the first crewed flight to reach the Moon’s orbit. [A post about the time capsule contents is available here.]

But when the capsule was opened during Homecoming of 2019, many of the perishable objects had been completely destroyed, including much of the papers. Moisture had somehow penetrated the copper box and corroded the material. Upon closer inspection, one of the culprits may have been a packet of “space food” contributed to the capsule by the local candy company Beich Industries. The food itself was gone; all that remained was a label from the company and a product description by its head researcher, one Mr. Alikonis. The man behind the space food had a story of his own, one that eventually led to his product in space.

Justin J. Alikonis was born in Johnston City in southern Illinois on December 7, 1912. When he was 18, he hitchhiked to Bloomington during the Great Depression looking for work to pay for college. He found a job at the Quality Café at 426 Main St in downtown Bloomington. There, he worked as a busboy, a waiter and a short-order cook as needed to pay his tuition. Luckily for him, IWU president Henry McPherson had instated in 1932 a “livestock for tuition” plan, where students could trade in live animals or produce from family farms as tuition payments. The controversial policy was enacted to keep young Central Illinoisans in school in the wake of the Depression, and this video shows Alikonis trading in a pig for his first semester of 1932. (While family relatives of Alikonis confirmed his appearance in the film, it is unknown why he uses the name “Isaac Rosenburg” in it.)

Justin Alikonis with lab equipment

Justin Alikonis ’35 with lab equipment

Alikonis graduated from Illinois Wesleyan in 1935 as a chemistry major, and completed graduate school at the University of Illinois. By the late 1930s, Alikonis had a lab in Bloomington and respected reputation as a preeminent chemist. Alikonis provided Bloomington with a variety of services using his homemade equipment, from manufacturing stain removers for the local laundromat to providing forensics for the McLean County Sheriff’s Department in a suspected poisoning case.

It wasn’t until World War II that Alikonis began working for the Beich Candy Company, his employer for the next 40 years. Paul F. Beich was born in Wehlen, Prussia (now part of the German town of Bernkastel-Kues), a German immigrant to New York. He moved to Bloomington to live with his aunt, and in thirty years went from not knowing a word of English to being one of the most notable businessmen in Blommington. It was Beich who convinced John Hershey to set up a factory in McLean County to be closer to the dairy supply, and Beich himself later bought the factory. Beich Co.’s then-owner, the elder Beich’s great-grandson William, employed Alikonis as a researcher and designer in his candy factory in west Bloomington (since sold to Nestle) and the young chemist began working on high-energy candy bars to feed the G.I.s in the Pacific. During the war, over 95% of sales went straight overseas to the Armed Forces. In 1951, Beich and Alikonis participated in a rations design conference hosted by the United States Army Quartermaster Corps, and Beich helped supply the candy for homesick troops.

Justin J. Alikonis (fourth from left) participates in a candy taste test at Georgia Agricultural Experiment Station with other representatives of the industry on behalf of the Quartermaster General of the United States Army, October 1952.*

Alikonis quickly realized how valuable his caloric little bars were, and as the Cold War dawned, Alikonis began making bars designed for long-term storage in bomb shelters. At the height of the Space Race, Beich rebranded its bars and sold them to NASA for consumption during space missions. During the Mercury-Atlas 8 mission, astronaut Wally Schirra ate Beich bars made with Alikonis’s patented formula, and on Apollo 8, Frank Borman shared them with his crewmates. The Beich bar recipe was also contained in the IWU time capsule, which reveals the new technologies Alikonis was working on. Determined to create an inexpensive, non-perishable candy, Alikonis was one of the first to use sorbitol, a natural sugar substitute, in his candies. Sorbitol, along with aspartame, is one of the most common natural flavorings used in diet soda today.

Alikonis was equally successful in the civilian market. He designed and patented, among other things, a marshmallow-making machine, the “Whizolater”, named after the Beich flagship candy bar, the Whiz. With no moving parts and operating solely on pressurized air, the Whizolater could make 1,400 gallons of marshmallow or nougat per hour. Curtiss Candy Company, the original makers of the Baby Ruth (then called the Kandy Kake), bought several Whizolaters for their Chicago-based plant. In the 1970s, “Beich’s Caramels”, which in reality were fruit-flavored taffy squares, became a hit once jokes (submitted to the company by children) were added to the wrappers. Beich’s Caramels became known as Laffy Taffy, a popular candy to this day.

Alikonis returned to IWU during Founders’ Day ‘69 to advertise his “space food” rations, and place a sample of his famous ration bar in the time capsule. While the bar may have rotted away, IWU will always have the story behind it, of the curious chemist-turned-candymaker who made history, on Earth and beyond.

Survival ration instructions found in the 1969 time capsule.

This informational leaflet concerning the Beich survival bar was found in the 2019 after the 1969 time capsule was opened, but was unfortunately moisture damage deteriorated it beyond preservation. Alikonis’s name can be seen towards the bottom of the decayed paper.

*Group photo credit: Quartermaster General of the Army. Activities Report of the Quartermaster Food and Container Institute for the Armed Forces. Vol. 4, No. 3, pg. 257. Research and Development Associates, Food and Container Institute, Inc., 1952. https://books.google.com/books?id=svDhVf4KeDAC&lpg=RA1-PA98&dq=beich rations&pg=RA2-PA163#v=onepage&q=beich rations&f=false.

Beat Writers Collection in Special Collections

Within The Ames Library’s 4th floor department called Tate Archives & Special Collections are thousands of unique materials and all are available to benefit people in the IWU and surrounding communities.

Click to enlarge

This image contains parts of a collection consisting of books and periodicals (24 linear feet) published by members of the avant-garde literary movement known as “Beat Writers,” whose counter cultural and non-conformist attitudes helped shape the hippie culture of the 60’s. Some of the writers represented in this collection are Diane diPrima, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, LeRoi Jones, and Jack Kerouac. There are approximately eighty others.

The items displayed in these posts are just a small portion of the kinds of materials found in Tate Archives & Special Collections. These collections are in a variety of languages and formats (artifact, book, manuscript, and media) and creation dates range from the 11th-21st centuries. Some collections are completely described and identified and some have yet to be thoroughly organized or examined.

Although many holdings do have a direct connection to the University, many are distinct and unrelated to the others such as the supporting materials for research on the people who created and collected the pottery and basketry items displayed in the entry level rotunda.

Curious minds seeking inspiration for creative works and original research are welcome to stop by and explore the possibilities!

 

More Pembroke windows (sort of)

pembroke lamp2_croppedTerry Garbe of Touch of Glass recently created a lampshade that is now available for use — or just admiring up close — in Tate Archives & Special Collections’ Reading Room.

Mr. Garbe and his staff were responsible for the restoration of the Pembroke Windows that accent the library’s 4th floor rotunda. Pieces left over from that restoration still remain, but pembroke lamponly enough for one complete shade containing many of the windows’ motifs were available.

Stop by, have a seat, enjoy the new shade and the view; and you can also ask about the other treasures hidden in Tate Archives & Special Collections!

Yet another time capsule building identified!

While looking into the history of the Alice Millar Center for the Fine Arts last week, I came across a photo taken in 1973 on the day the date stone was placed in what we now call the Joyce Eichhorn Ames School of Art Building. If anyone reading this has details on what might be in it, contact the archives because all we have is a photo!

With all that have been previously reported, we now can confirm a total of eleven campus buildings with time capsules:
Hedding Hall (1870; time capsule removed in 1966)
Science Building (1910)
Memorial Gymnasium (1921)
Buck Memorial Library (1922)
Memorial Center (1946 and 1947 dedications and 1965 addition)
Shaw Hall (1954)
Dolan Hall (1955)
Sheean Library (1967; time capsule removed in 2011)
Mark Evans Observatory (1969)
Joyce Eichhorn Ames School of Art Building (1973)
State Farm Hall (2013)

School of Music reel-to-reel tape

Here’s an update on the time capsule post…the only item in the box that we couldn’t immediately understand/interact with was a tape of original faculty and student works from the School of Music. The tape appeared to be in good condition, but since it had been exposed to temperature fluctuations for a number of years, I decided to have it professionally transferred to digital format.

I just heard back from the vendor that the transfer went well and there was no loss of quality or damage to the tape. Hopefully, within a week or so we’ll have it back and be able to make some segments of it available. As a teaser, check out the program that was included with the tape in the time capsule. Lots of interesting musical works to look forward to…stay tuned!

Time capsules among us

A recent research request led to explorations of archives’ holdings about building dedications and the tradition of placing time capsules in cornerstones.

Until this point, only the contents of Hedding Hall’s time capsule were available in the archives. But our research showed there was also a time capsule in the cornerstone of Sheean Library. When the demolition of that building was announced in July 2011, that box was removed.

Now Sheean Library’s artifacts have been revealed and much of their content is also available in the archives (see further description below and the inventory we created of items removed).

Initially we found newspaper coverage related to five buildings with such artifacts. Since then, a few more have become evident as we learn more about what to look for: the naming variations for this tradition range from time capsules to just “boxes” or “articles” being placed in cornerstones.

The following are descriptions and links out to related information for the nine time capsules we have found to date:
Hedding Hall (1870)
In 1965, almost one hundred years after it was set, a time capsule was recovered from the Hedding Hall arch when both the arch and the building were being demolished. The simple metal box contained money, now held in the archives, as well as a Bible, a Methodist Almanac, university catalogs, newspapers, and more (see the Wesleyana yearbook story on this time capsule removal).

Science Building (1910)
When this building was constructed, only three others existed on campus: Old North, Old Main (aka Hedding Hall) and the Behr Observatory (predecessor to the Mark Evans Observatory). A dedication program for the event is all the evidence we have that the building known today as Stevenson, home to the School of Nursing, contains a time capsule. The document notes that student Vice President R. O. Graham was “Placing Articles in Corner Stone.” [Photos of this event have not been found yet.]

Memorial Gymnasium (1921)
The building we now know as Hansen Student Center was first dedicated on November 5, 1921. The only records that indicate a time capsule is contained within its cornerstone are a photograph and a line in the dedication program for “Depositing Box in Cornerstone.”
The box is pictured at the base of the crane in this photograph.

Shaw Hall (1954)
A time capsule was placed behind this building’s cornerstone when it was being constructed in June of 1954. The records on this event include a letter that was sent to Dr. Shaw’s family by President Holmes describing two photographs of the placement that he sent to them. The family donated the letter and photographs back to the university at some point. The letter mentions that a “box containing articles sealed in the cornerstone” which can be seen in this photograph. The building was formally dedicated during Homecoming of that year and programs of that event along with a list of contents for the time capsule are held in the archives.

Dolan Hall (1955)
The Argus reports on the time capsule contents of the new Men’s Dormitory (later known as Dolan Hall) on February 9, 1955. Representatives of the Student Union presented the box to President Holmes with items including, among other things, a “Freshman Beanie,” contemporary student artwork, photos of significant people, and programs of events on campus.

Memorial Center (1946 and 1947 dedications and1965 addition)
Records of a committee comprised of members from all campus constituencies are held in the archives. This group selected items and designed a program for placing the cornerstone and time capsule in one 1946 event and then dedicating the building a year later. The 1946 article linked above describes time capsule contents such as lists of veterans and Gold Star men, a copy of the Pantagraph, and a history of Wesleyan. A refrain of “Wesleyan Will Remember” was invoked for the occasion and was drawn from a 1944 Homecoming speech, the text of which is reprinted in the dedication program. The 1965 addition also contains a time capsule and events surrounding its dedication are reported on in the Argus as well. This is believed to be the only campus building with two time capsules.

Sheean Library (1967)
A dedication program contains details of this time capsule which was sealed in a cornerstone on October 14th, 1967. For the first time on record, student works were included including a two-track stereo recording of the concert band, choir, orchestra, chamber singers, and soloists performing a variety of works in many genres. The box also contained novels, magazines, plays, and a book published by Mary Shanks and Dorothy Kennedy, two faculty members of the School of Nursing, “The Theory and Practice of Nursing Service Administration.”

  • When the box was opened during Homecoming 2011 more items were found than had been previously recorded.
  • Photographs of both events are also available by searching for “time capsule” and “cornerstone laying”at http://tinyurl.com/7jus7k9

Mark Evans Observatory (1969)
This time capsule included many items that were not connected directly with the campus such as a package of space food, the Apollo 8 astronaut’s Christmas Eve tape, a road atlas, the Illinois Agricultural Association (IAA) Record and fifty-year history, and the Bloomington-Normal Phone Directory on microfilm. On March 18, 1969, the astronaut Frank Borman, commander of the Apollo 8 space mission (the first manned flight to orbit the moon), received an honorary degree at Founders’ Day Convocation that year, a highlight of which was the cornerstone laying. One photograph shows Borman holding the time capsule.