Curiosity Corner: Ketchup and Covered Bridges


Curiosity Corner

By: Dr. Jerry D. Wilson

Emeritus Professor of Physics

Lander University

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QUESTION: Is that tomato stuff we eat on hamburgers “ketchup” or “catsup”?

REPLY: Well, it tastes the same regardless of how you spell it, but it is ketchup. English sailors brought back the original from Southeast Asia in the 17th century. It was originally “ke-tsiap,” a pickled fish sauce. The Malaysians evidently modified the ingredients (mushrooms instead of fish), as well as the name “kechup.”

Heinz added tomatoes, and in 1876 produced tomato ketchup. I don’t when know the mushrooms went out, but now we have some onion powder and a few other things. Maybe the mushrooms went into the spaghetti sauce.


QUESTION: There used to be covered bridges, but there are very few anymore. Why were they covered? (Asked by a reader who remembers them like I do.)

REPLY: This question is near and dear to me. I grew up in Ohio (yes, I’m a damn Yankee) near a town that had a covered bridge over the Muskingum River — a big one, maybe 50 yards long. It withstood the 1913 flood and was replaced in the 1960s. They don’t build them like they used to. As kids, we would ride our bikes to the bridge and climb around.

I think that you’ll find most covered bridges were up north. It is generally believed that the bridges were covered to protect them from snow and ice in the winter (and it made a good place to get out of the rain in the summer). A large accumulation of snow and ice would make the bridge impassable, since it would be difficult to clear. Just as today we see signs “Bridge freezes first,” the same was true then because the cold air gets beneath the bridge. But they didn’t have the equipment we do today, and the covering protected the bridge.

Also, part of the reason may have been for horses. They are kind of skittish crossing an open bridge where you can see the water between the planks. A covered bridge looked a little like going into a barn.

C.P.S. (Curious Postscript): “Before God we are all equally wise – and equally foolish.” –Albert Einstein

Curious about something? Send your questions to Dr. Jerry D. Wilson, College of Science and Mathematics, Lander University, Greenwood, SC 29649, or email Selected questions will appear in the Curiosity Corner. For Curiosity Corner background, go to

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