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Do any of the Xanadu Houses – a series of early computerised houses built in the US – still survive?


QUESTION Do any of the Xanadu Houses — a series of early computerised houses built in the U.S. — still survive?

The Xanadu Houses were experimental homes designed to showcase new building technology and automation in the home. They were built in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin; Kissimmee, Florida; and Gatlinburg, Tennessee. None survive.

Xanadu was the brainchild of Bob Masters, a pioneer of rigid insulation as a building material. He created a system of giant balloons covered with polyurethane foam, which was then allowed to harden, forming a series of domed structures. 

Xanadu was a reference to the summer capital of the Yuan dynasty of China, mentioned in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem Kubla Khan: ‘In Xanadu did Kubla Khan, a stately pleasure-dome decree.’

The first property at Wisconsin Dells was designed by Stewart Gordon and constructed by Masters in 1979. It was 4,000 sq ft with seven rooms. It was a popular attraction, receiving more than 100,000 visitors in its first year.

The second Xanadu house was inspired by Disney’s Epcot Centre in 1982. Epcot stood for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, Disney’s celebration of man-made design and technology. The house at Kissimmee was designed by Roy Mason and opened in 1983. It had 17 rooms and was 6,000 sq ft.

Xanadu Houses were built in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin; Kissimmee, Florida; and Gatlinburg, Tennessee. None survive

Xanadu Houses were built in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin; Kissimmee, Florida; and Gatlinburg, Tennessee. None survive

The rooms were controlled by Commodore computers. The kitchen featured an ‘autochef’, an electronic dietitian that planned and produced balanced meals and featured concepts such as teleshopping, CCTV and a health-monitoring system. Unfortunately, these ideas were way ahead of the technology, leaving visitors unimpressed.

A third Xanadu House opened in Gatlinburg in June 1982. It was 7,600 sq ft and cost $350,000 to build. But the ‘futuristic’ technology dated quickly. The homes in Wisconsin and Tennessee were demolished at the end of the 1980s. The house in Kissimmee operated as a visitor attraction until 1996. It was eventually abandoned and demolished in October 2005.

Matthew Walsh, Malvern, Worcs.

QUESTION When was ten-pin bowling invented?

The history of ten-pin bowling is a long one. 

Sir Flinders of Petrie, emeritus professor of Egyptology at London University, identified the essential components for a game similar to bowling in the grave of an Egyptian child which has been dated to 5,200 BC.

The bowling balls were rounded stones and these have appeared elsewhere in Europe and also in the Polynesian islands. Evidence was also found in Polynesia of flat discs, 4-5 cm in diameter, being used as well as ball-like objects.

A game using wooden discs of a larger diameter is still played in pubs in Northamptonshire, with the 9 in skittles mounted on a table with padded sides and back to prevent injury to spectators. I play this for my pub team in a local league.

Sir Flinders of Petrie, emeritus professor of Egyptology at London University, identified the essential components for a game similar to bowling in the grave of an Egyptian child which has been dated to 5,200 BC (stock image)

Sir Flinders of Petrie, emeritus professor of Egyptology at London University, identified the essential components for a game similar to bowling in the grave of an Egyptian child which has been dated to 5,200 BC (stock image)

The form of ten-pin bowling played today originated in the Middle Ages in Northern Europe, where nine skittles rather than ten were used. 

In 1300 there is evidence of a form of the game being played in Northern Germany using only three skittles, and in other areas the number of skittles goes as high as 17. Martin Luther, founding father of the Reformation, was a keen bowler.

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Skittles, or bowling, of this sort is still played in the UK, Ireland and parts of Europe, notably Germany. In Britain the nine pins are used to form a diamond formation, rather than the triangular shape required for ten-pin bowling.

The first indoor bowling alley was opened in 1830 at the Knickerbocker Hotel, New York City. It had three lanes and a hardened clay bowling surface. However, nine pins were the standard, not ten. The transition came when the state of Connecticut, concerned about the control of the game by gambling syndicates, outlawed it in 1841. New York followed suit.

However, the laws specifically stated that the ban applied to a game played with nine pins or skittles. By introducing a tenth, the anti-gambling law was circumvented and the modern game was born.

In 1875, nine bowling clubs in New York City got together and formalised a standard set of rules for the game. Although these have changed over the years, they are the first rules of the game we know today and were subsequently adopted by all ten-pin bowling clubs.

The automated pin re-setter was invented by engineer Gottfried Schmidt in 1936 and was introduced into bowling alleys in 1952.

Bob Cubitt, Northampton.

QUESTION Who coined the term ‘venture capitalist’?

Venture capitalism is a form of private equity financing that investors provide to start-up companies and small businesses with perceived long-term growth potential.

In exchange for the investment, venture capitalists typically receive equity ownership in the company.

Though such ventures can be recognised in early maritime trading, their modern application to business start-ups began in postwar America.

When John Hay Whitney returned from World War II, he thought the free-enterprise economy needed a new dimension. 

Venture capitalism is a form of private equity financing that investors provide to start-up companies and small businesses with perceived long-term growth potential (stock image)

Venture capitalism is a form of private equity financing that investors provide to start-up companies and small businesses with perceived long-term growth potential (stock image)

He wanted a place where an entrepreneur with a high-risk dream beyond the standards of the conventional banking industry could obtain start-up money and business advice in exchange for equity. 

He put up $10 million and, in 1946, J. H. Whitney & Company, the first such company, was born.

At first, the Press insisted on referring to it as an investment bank. A new term was required that incorporated ‘risk’ and ‘adventure’. 

Benno C. Schmidt, the managing partner of J. H. Whitney & Company, coined the term in the early 1950s. He took ‘private adventure capital’ and shortened the wording, naming what has become a $400 billion industry.

J. P. Smith, London E1. 

Is there a question to which you want to know the answer? Or do you know the answer to a question here? Write to: Charles Legge, Answers To Correspondents, Daily Mail, 9 Derry Street, London W8 5HY; or email charles.legge@dailymail.co.uk. A selection is published, but we’re unable to enter into individual correspondence 



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