I am a believer that everyone should be remembered in life. Each person has a story and today it is all about Almas Knowlton. Almas, it seems, wore many hats in life. He began as a blacksmith, went on to give lectures on astronomy, made violins, made silhouettes, practised dentistry, and apparently invented a variety of things.
The quiet man who only wore grey suits never smoked and never drank. He was greatly interested in inventing things but his real joy was making violins. Almas would play the old hymns and tunes on the violins he made and he was a very faithful member of the Universalist Church, which was a faith tradition that encouraged each individual to develop a personal faith.
The only education Almas Knowlton received was at the Ball Schoolhouse, which stood only a few hundred yards from his childhood home in Coldbrook, which is now Knowlton, Quebec. Instead, Almas decided to self-educate himself by becoming a well-read man. He set up a blacksmith shop in the village of Knowlton where he probably shod his first horse. He was mending pitchforks, teapots, and guns, and putting irons on sleighs. Sometimes he was paid in cash, sometimes in oher ways. Some paid him in sugar, others in coal, some in corn. Then there were those that paid with sheep skins, for which folks got a credit of 30 cents each.
Being “bled” by the village blacksmith was one of the ways in which the people of Knowlton and the surrounding townships used to keep well in the 1800s. Almas had quite a reputation as a “blood letter” and people used to go to him from miles around. Mr. Knowlton did not profess to be a physician in the regular sense, but he proved to be real handy in opening a vein in the arm and letting out superfluous of diseased blood. Almas owned some very fine lances such as the surgeons of the day used, and he handled them most expertly. Such was the word of the rest of the blacksmiths in all the counties for dealing with high blood pressure.
In due course, Almas Knowlton gave up his blacksmith business and went through the townships showing magic lantern slides and lecturing on astronomy and other subjects. He made a point of changing the slides quickly, to give the effect of a moving picture. One series of slides depicted a man pulling teeth, and I guess that Almas took a liking to it and it changed the course of his life years later.
Before long he had got into daguerreotypes which was an early kind of photograph made on glass by backing a thin negative with a black surface. Keep in mind too that daguerreotypes were expensive. Almas Knowlton was very enterprising in his methods of doing business. He travelled about the countryside with his equipment, and often he would set up at a hotel and would inform the inhabitants of the vicinity that he was ready to take their portraits. He described himself as always ready to wait upon customers until they produced a smile.
Did you know why people didn’t smile in those days? The most common reason people didn’t smile in photographs in the past is blamed on dental hygiene. The most common cure for sick teeth during this time was to pull them out. There were no caps or other fixes to make chipped or broken teeth more aesthetically pleasing. So perhaps the reason tightly controlled mouths were considered more beautiful than beaming smiles in the past was in part due to dental hygiene.The rich were more likely to be photographed than the poor, and even then, most families were only photographed on special occasions, perhaps only even once in a lifetime. Maybe, that is why Almas took up a new occupation.
In 1860 he had taken up a new profession and was practising as a dentist. He had learned this science by studying under a Dr. Oilman at St. Albans, Vermont, a noted practitioner of the time. Almas Knowlton practised dentistry like he had practised photography. He moved from place to place, inviting those who needed attention to their teeth to call upon him. In extracting teeth he may have used an instrument called a turnkey. The turnkey had a handle and spindle, quite like that of a gimlet, and had a hinged claw. The claw would be jammed down into the gums. Then, by twisting and turning the turnkey, out would come the tooth. The forceps used were more like a blacksmith’s tongs than the instrument used today, and the victim was lucky if more than one tooth did not come at a time. Usually the patient was laid on the broad of his back on the floor with a third party to hold him down. This procedure could only apply to the male sex. Almas Knowlton had a gum freezer. But one of his patients was heard to say that it was “about as good as cold water.”
Knowlton was not content, however, to leave dentistry as he found it. He made a series of inventions through the years, mostly related to better people’s artificial teeth. When the first Dental Act of the Province of Quebec was passed, he became one of the first members of the profession that was thereby created. He received his diploma in 1870 and in the following year he located himself permanently in Waterloo. In 1902, a year befre he died, he gave the village of Waterloo free land to build a library. Almas Knowlton lived with no regrets dying in October, 1903. He was a man ahead of his times of his times and he deserves to be remembered. Therefore we document this amazing man for all to read and remember.
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