Archive for April, 2010

Spring’s Iceberg Dangers

From May 1, 1910

SPRINGS ICEBERG DANGERS

SPRING’S ICEBERG DANGERS (PDF)

“To provide against such dangers,” the article says, “ships now are being built to defy the ice.”

Two years later, the Titanic sank.

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Written by David

April 30th, 2010 at 9:04 am

Posted in Nature,Science

A Mania For Buying Results In A Strange Collection

From May 1, 1910

A MANIA FOR BUYING RESULTS IN A STRANGE COLLECTION

A MANIA FOR BUYING RESULTS IN A STRANGE COLLECTION: Sale of the Effects of the Late Mrs. Theodore Moss Reveals a Remarkable Assortment of Things Gathered Apparently Through the Mere Love of Shopping (PDF)

Hoarding is well known enough today that we even have a TV show about people who amass enormous amounts of crap. But apparently in 1910, it was news!

One difference between the hoarders on that TV show and this woman, Mrs. Theodore Moss, is that apparently she was wealthy and could afford what she bought (including a lot of jewelry, which took a while to find among all her other trinkets after she died).

From the article:

The very fact that she was shrewd in business matters — that she knew the value of a dollar, and that her buying was systematic and with a knowledge of values — makes all the more strange the story of her vast collectings…

In her earlier purchases it is probable that Mrs. Moss bought with an idea of the practical utility of her possessions. Fine linens and silks and laces, tableware, silver, crockery, and the thousand and one odds and ends which fit out the feminine wardrobe and the household might readily enough tempt any woman with a taste for beautiful things and the means to gratify it.

But the idea of finding use for all her many purchases must have been discarded many years ago, if she ever thought about it. And still this strange victim of the collecting mania — for it is that when it reaches such a point as this — went on adding to her stores, duplicating and triplicating item after item, and locking up a veritable fortune in material things, many of which became less and less valuable as time went on…

So far as could be learned, the Moss family was never aware of the extent to which Mrs Moss was investing in this merchandise. The house in Madison Avenue contains seventeen or more rooms and of these at least ten were used as a storehouse by Mrs. Moss. She carried the keys, and no one ever entered the rooms but herself. Here her purchases were tucked away as fast as they arrived and when, after her death, the rooms were opened, the sight was one to amaze even those who knew of Mrs. Moss’s remarkable inclination for buying.

If only a show like Hoarders had been around back then to film it all. What an episode.

Update: Rob Walker, who writes the Consumed column in the present-day New York Times Magazine, has written a nice commentary on this post on his personal blog Murketing.

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Written by David

April 30th, 2010 at 9:03 am

Posted in Life

Wireless Wonder Aged 14 Amazes Senate Committee

From May 1, 1910

WIRELESS WONDER AGED 14 AMAZES SENATE COMMITTEE

WIRELESS WONDER AGED 14 AMAZES SENATE COMMITTEE: Young W. E. D. Stokes, Jr., Glibly Discussed Radio-Activity and Modern Electricity in a Way That Made Staid Solons Wonder (PDF)

This is a great story. This 14 year old kid, W. E. D. Stokes, Jr., was the first President of the Radio Club of America, the world’s oldest radio communications society (then called the Junior Wireless Club). At his age, he already held patents relating to wireless communication. Back in 1910, there were no commercial radio stations — the first wouldn’t broadcast for another 10 years — and there was no FCC to regulate the airwaves (it was formed in 1934), but there were an estimated 25,000 to 40,000 amateur wireless operators in the United States. New York Senator Chancey Depew (R) had introduced a bill that would restrict the use of airwaves, posing a threat to the radio club’s hobby. So the club sent their president down to Washington to testify before Congress. At the time, he was the youngest person to do so.

Here is some of what he told the Times about why he testified:

“I don’t think it will be a very long time,” he said, “before men will be able to carry around with them in their automobiles or aeroplanes wireless telephone outfits. With these they should be able to talk to people having like instruments within a radius of forty or fifty miles… If the communication trust is allowed to go as far as it likes, all the wireless instruments will be gobbled up so you can’t buy one by the time science has made it possible for people to talk to one another that way. There are certain kinds of talking instruments now that can’t be bought; they can only be rented…”

“We amateurs are blamed for much that we do not do. The cases where amateurs actually interfere are few and exaggerated. In many cases antiquated apparatus and incompetent professional operators are responsible for the trouble. A good operator with an up-to-date machine can cut out interference and continue his work.”

Of course, we know that the airwaves finally became regulated, but that doesn’t diminish this kid’s passion and accomplishment. Amateur radio operators are still around today, and they have people like W. E. D. Stokes, Jr. to thank.

One of my favorite things about these old articles is that, with the benefit of 100 years of history, we can find out what ever became of W. E. D. Stokes, Jr. I did some research and found that he served in the Navy during World War II, and he had a family, including a son named Houston who today is an economics professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago with a family of his own. As far as I can tell, W. E. D. Stokes, Jr. died in 1992.

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Written by David

April 30th, 2010 at 9:02 am

Mark Twain’s Secret Book Gives Startling Views

From May 1, 1910

MARK TWAINS SECRET BOOK GIVES STARTLING VIEWS

MARK TWAIN’S SECRET BOOK GIVES STARTLING VIEWS: The Humorist Wrote His Serious Thoughts on Religion and Life and Had Them Printed for Private Circulation Among His Intimates (PDF)

This issue of the Times came out about 10 days after Mark Twain died. The article excerpts a book called What is Man? that Twain had written and only shared with his close friends. Just 250 copies were printed, and were attributed to his personal secretary. Even his most knowledgeable biographer had never heard of it.

The article says, “The book is in the form of a dialogue between an Old Man and a Young Man. The Old Man had asserted that a human being is merely a machine and nothing more. The Young Man objected and asked him to go into particulars and furnish his reasons for his position.”

Having only ever read Twain’s famous works, I’d never heard of this book before. The article includes several excerpts that are thought-provoking and philosophical. You can read the entire text for free at the Gutenberg Project. A free edition is also available for the nook. I couldn’t find a free copy for Kindle but this one is only 95 cents.

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Written by David

April 30th, 2010 at 9:01 am

Mark Twain — Philosopher Of Democracy

From April 24, 1910

MARK TWAIN -- PHILOSOPHER OF DEMOCRACY

MARK TWAIN — PHILOSOPHER OF DEMOCRACY: The Serious Side of the Famous Humorist Whose Dominant Note Was Love of Liberty and Hate of Shams (PDF)

Mark Twain died 100 years ago this week, on April 20, 1910. The following Sunday, the Times ran this remembrance of him on the front page of the Magazine Section.

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Written by David

April 23rd, 2010 at 9:05 am

Schoolboys Learn To Make Air Ships

From April 24, 1910

SCHOOLBOYS LEARN TO MAKE AIR SHIPS

SCHOOLBOYS LEARN TO MAKE AIR SHIPS (PDF)

It had been less than seven years since the Wright brothers flew the first airplane, but already kids gathered in after school clubs learning to build their own working models.

The boy inventor is not hindered by patent restrictions of any kind. He is free to copy any model he sees fit, and the cheapness of the material brings such experimenting within the reach of all. Every meet or tournament of the boy aviators serves to bring out many new models. A large proportion of these are, of course, futile, but each serves to bring the youthful inventors a step nearer to the goal.

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Written by David

April 23rd, 2010 at 9:04 am

Posted in Life,Technology

What It Costs A Young Girl To Be Well Dressed

From April 24, 1910

WHAT IT COSTS A YOUNG GIRL TO BE WELL DRESSED

WHAT IT COSTS A YOUNG GIRL TO BE WELL DRESSED: Actual Facts Given by a Student of Sociology Which Were Obtained from a Class of Young Women in a Private School (PDF)

The girls in question here are mainly upper class. The article points out that “75 per cent of [their] parents are training their daughters for lives of leisure, to make a business of leisure, as it were, to lead a life of organized up-to-date play” and says “it is no more fair to condemn these girls for their extravagance than it is to blame the messenger boys for getting into the juvenile court. The standards of both reflect the stimuli to which they are being subjected.”

So how much did they spend? In 1910, the total amount a young girl spent in a year was around $556, on shirtwaists, undergarments, suits, hose, boots, and hats (both “street” and “dress”). This was roughly one fourth what they said they would spend “if I had all the money I wished.” See the article for the breakdown, plus interesting comments on clothing and class in 1910.

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Written by David

April 23rd, 2010 at 9:03 am

Posted in Life

Baden Powell’s Boy Scout Plan Invades America

From April 24, 1910

BADEN POWELLS BOY SCOUT PLAN INVADES AMERICA

BADEN POWELL’S BOY SCOUT PLAN INVADES AMERICA: W. B. Wakefield, Who Has Charge of It in England, and Ernest Thompson Seton Will Help Establish It Throughout America (PDF)

I associate the Boy Scouts of America so strongly with Americana in general that I never suspected that scouts began anywhere but in the USA. It turns out that the Scouting Movement was started in England by Baden Powell, the man depicted in the center illustration.

Today the Boy Scouts are the subject of several controversies. For example, they don’t allow atheists or homosexuals as members, and yet they receive support from the Federal Government. The BSA’s ban on gay members is more interesting considering recent speculation that Powell himself may have been a repressed homosexual.

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Written by David

April 23rd, 2010 at 9:02 am

Where Music Soothes While Lobsters Broil

From April 24, 1910

WHERE MUSIC SOOTHES WHILE LOBSTERS BROIL

WHERE MUSIC SOOTHES WHILE LOBSTERS BROIL: No Restaurant Is Now Complete Without an Orchestra to Serve Wagner, Bach or Chopin to Tempt the Appetite — Noted Musicians Draw Big Crowd (PDF)

Based on this article one could only conclude that in 1910, live classical music in restaurants was as pervasive and annoying as Muzak is today.

You sit down at a table. And all is very peaceful. The waiter silently passes the carte de jour, while he and the others quietly wander to and fro. This looks good to you — it promises an hour of rest and comfort. Good food, a good glass of wine, maybe, and an agreeable during and after luncheon chat with a sympathetic companion. What more does any man desire?

For a few minutes the menu absorbs your attention. Then cocktail and the soup arrive. All is very restful. You glance around. The place is filling up. It is all first class, no bustle and no noise, no clatter of dishes, no loud talking. The gowns over there are chic, the hats the latest modes, the faces underneath them well worth a second glance. Really you are glad you found this place.

You raise your fork to attack the delicious brook trout in the dish before you, and the fork remains poised in the air. Your face grows pale. Your appetite is suddenly put to rout and fear grows strong upon you. What is that awful din? What catastrophe has happened? Oh! no need to be alarmed — it is only the orchestra playing “William Tell,” with an orchestrion arrangement to give the music greater volume. And that haughty deceiving minion has placed you directly underneath the balcony where the musicians sit, so that you cannot escape even the tiniest softest grace note in the score…

When you come to think of it, it is really surprising to what trouble and expense these restaurateurs go to supply this musical fare that you and I don’t want. Perhaps the explanation, not very flattering, is that we, as individuals, don’t amount to much. See how the crowds flock to the rooms where the music may be — MUST BE — heard.

Then admit that you and I are the exceptions to the rule. Of course it must be so, or the bands would go.

A pretty good rant. And I love the illustrations.

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Written by David

April 23rd, 2010 at 9:01 am

The New Times Square Looking Toward The North

From April 17, 1910

THE NEW TIMES SQUARE LOOKING TOWARD THE NORTH

THE NEW TIMES SQUARE LOOKING TOWARD THE NORTH: View of This Section of the City as It Will Look After the New Buildings in Process of Construction or in the Hands of Architects Are Completed (PDF)

This lovely illustration projects what Times Square will look like once then-current construction is finished. It filled the entire front page of the Magazine Section. It really deserves to be viewed as a PDF zoomed larger than full screen to appreciate the amount of detail that’s in this image.

I couldn’t find a corresponding photo of Times Square in 1910 for comparison, but I did find one looking the other direction.

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Written by David

April 16th, 2010 at 9:10 am

Posted in Development

Is The First Born Child Inferior To Its Brothers?

From April 17, 1910

IS THE FIRST BORN CHILD INFERIOR TO ITS BROTHERS?

IS THE FIRST BORN CHILD INFERIOR TO ITS BROTHERS? Sir Francis Galton Says It Is and Upsets English Society (PDF)

Has the practice of hedging a sensational headline by phrasing it as a question always been around? This example suggests it has, and it upsets Jon Stewart.

But what if it’s true? From the article:

[A eugenics professor states that] “we find the neurotic, the insane, the tuberculous, and the albinotic the more frequent among the elder-born… The result of this law is rather remarkable. It means that if you reduce the size of the family you will tend to decrease the relative proportion of the mentally and physically sound in the community.”

In England, the eldest son inherits the throne. So it’s understandable that this would upset them, because it suggests a flaw in that system. But more recent research should make them happy. In 2007, the New York Times reported on a study which indicates first born children have higher IQs than their siblings. More information on recent birth order studies can be found in this Time Magazine article called The Power of Birth Order.

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Written by David

April 16th, 2010 at 9:02 am

Posted in Nature,Science

The Season of The Treasure Hunt Is On

From April 17, 1910

THE SEASON OF THE TREASURE HUNT IS ON

THE SEASON OF THE TREASURE HUNT IS ON: Searchers for Buried Loot of Pirates Follow the First Signs of Spring Weather (PDF)

Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised to find tales of pirate treasure hunters in the New York Times Magazine, with illustrations that appear to be straight out of Treasure Island, but I was. Here’s an excerpt:

An old Frenchman turned up at Eastport, Me., about thirty years ago. He set about fitting out a little Digby schooner for a mysterious trip. The Frenchman was ignorant… but he had an idea, and a paper which he carefully guarded, and this schooner and this expedition were the culmination of a life dream, and the investment of a life’s hard savings…

A few months later the old Frenchman returned to Eastport, alone and broken-hearted. His schooner had been wrecked… He survived and so did his curious map which, out of the bitterness of his heart, he showed several sympathizers.

It was the map of an island shaped like a spread eagle. Between the wings, on the back toward the neck of the bird, was a circle designating where a great treasure was supposed to be buried. The Frenchman had had this map in his possession for sixty years, and his father and grandfather had had it before him. It had been his dream to save enough to buy a schooner and search for the island that looked like a bird. Now his dream was shattered.

Of course, modern day treasure hunters use GPS, sonar, and other technology, to avoid such fates. And if you don’t happen to have a treasure map, you can always try your hand at geocaching. There’s even an app for that.

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Written by David

April 16th, 2010 at 9:01 am

Posted in Adventure

Blog Launch Day

I’m formally announcing this blog today. You can get the story behind the blog on the About Page. I hope all of you find the material here as interesting as I do. If you have any questions or notice anything not working correctly, please leave a comment or email.

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Written by David

April 13th, 2010 at 12:45 pm

Posted in Blog Stuff

No Flood If Noah Had Known Hydraulics

From April 10, 1910

NO FLOOD IF NOAH HAD KNOWN HYDRAULICS

NO FLOOD IF NOAH HAD KNOWN HYDRAULICS: Old Testament Story Viewed in the Light of Recent Surveys of the “Garden of Eden” in the Euphrates Valley (PDF)

Let’s just pretend for a moment that the stories in the Bible are literally true, and there really was a flood that happened exactly as described. This article suggests that “the skill of modern engineers… could readily have prevented the inundation.”

Wasn’t the flood supposed to have covered the whole planet? We can barely contain floods today with modern engineering, so that would be a big feat for 1910 hydraulics. The article says, “The Bible records that the flood rose to a height of 15 cubits, or 22½ feet.” That’s it? Just 15 cubits? I always thought the waters rose 15 cubits above the highest mountain. So I looked it up. Genesis 7:20 says “Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered” (KJV). I guess they were small mountains.

For comparison, the maximum height of a New Orleans levee in 2005 was 23 feet.

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Written by David

April 9th, 2010 at 12:19 pm

Posted in Nature,Religion,Science

Fear Of Being Buried Alive Is Groundless

From April 3, 1910

FEAR OF BEING BURIED ALIVE IS GROUNDLESS

FEAR OF BEING BURIED ALIVE IS GROUNDLESS: Popular Belief That Such a Fate is Common Exploded by the London Lancet, After Careful Study of the Matter (PDF)

I guess this was a reasonable fear at the time, especially considering how our definition of “dead” has changed over the years (Is it when the heart stops? When the person is no longer breathing? When there’s no brain activity?). The London Lancet newspaper (“the authority of the Royal Colleges of Physicians and of Surgeons in England”) did a little Mythbusting, as the Sunday magazine reported:

To be buried alive is beyond doubt a fate sufficiently dreadful to cause the blood to run cold at the mere thought. But in spite of all the stories to the contrary, it is a peril that in modern times is to all intents and purposes none-existent…

Speaking ex cathedra in an editorial article, the Lancet calls attention to the fact that in all the thousands of post mortem examinations which have been performed throughout the civilized world during the last fifty years, there has not been a single authenticated case of the supposed corpse under examination showing signs of life such as would invariably appear at the dissection of a living subject…

The London Lancet has performed a very valuable service in issuing this authoritative pronouncement which should receive the widest publicity, since it will rob death of some of the terrors which Edgar Allen Poe did so much to develop in his gruesome tales.

The photo in the article shows the “Duke of Saxe-Weimer, whose family has taken extreme precautions against being buried alive.” And apparently both Alfred Nobel and Hans Christian Andersen took steps to make sure they wouldn’t be buried alive. While their fears may have been groundless, Snopes.com says that it has happened.

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Written by David

April 2nd, 2010 at 11:30 pm

Posted in Science,Urban Legend

Scientific Play For Children

From April 3, 1910

SCIENTIFIC PLAY FOR CHILDREN

SCIENTIFIC PLAY FOR CHILDREN (PDF)

This article outlines rules for playing tag, based upon rules adopted by the International Playtime Committee on Juvenile Sports. It took me a minute to realize that this article is not serious, but is an example of turn-of-the-last-century humor. Here are some of the rules:

I. — Tag is a game in which three or more players try to touch each other, not for money, but for fun, and with their hands.

II. — It may be played by any child over two and under ninety who is strong in wind and limb, and who has the time to devote to it.

III. — The player who is appointed by lot to touch the others is called “IT.” He should be able to stand on his feet and run if he is to be at all expert in the game.

It goes on to explain Rule XI, which describes the end of the game as “when all the players are out of breath.” Rule XII admonishes against playing in a parlor full of Chippendale furniture. And Rule XIII explains that there are no winners in tag, only a loser.

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Written by David

April 2nd, 2010 at 9:50 pm

Posted in Humor,Science

“Enchantress” Bewitches All At Murder Trial

From April 3, 1910

ENCHANTRESS BEWITCHES ALL AT MURDER TRIAL

“ENCHANTRESS” BEWITCHES ALL AT MURDER TRIAL: Even the Judge Is Not Proof Against the Fascinations of the Countess Tarnovsky in Venice’s Sensational Case (PDF)

Countess Marie Tarnovsky was a woman accused of being an accomplice to murder. The prosecution claimed that she used her charms to convince a man named Nikolas Naumoff, who was in love with her, to kill her husband.

This article describes the enchanting affect the Countess had on everyone in the courtroom. But another article published in the Magazine a few weeks earlier gives a fuller account of the murder. It describes the Countess as “barely 30 years of age, of a majestic yet supple figure, rising to nearly five feet nine, with a Grecian bust and neck… a voluptuous, insinuating mouth — and all crowned by a wealth of brownish black hair that gleams golden-bronze in the sunlight.”

Apparently this wasn’t the first time one of the Countess’ lovers killed another, and the prosecution tried to establish a pattern to suggest that she’d done this before. I looked up the verdict. She was found guilty, and sentenced to eight years prison. She was pardoned after five years.

I can’t help but think there’s a movie there waiting to be written. Or at least a Law & Order episode.

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Written by David

April 2nd, 2010 at 9:16 pm

Posted in True Crime

Black Hand Manacled At Last

From April 3, 1910

BLACK HAND MANACLED AT LAST

BLACK HAND MANACLED AT LAST: How Chief Wilkie’s Secret Service Men Drew a Net Around the Leaders of the Most Dangerous Band of Foreign Criminals Ever Known in This Country (PDF)

Another fascinating true crime story. The man in the middle of that photomontage is John Wilkie, chief of the United States Secret Service from 1898 – 1911. This article tells the story of how he finally caught an international gang of criminals known as the Black Hand. The website GangRule.com is all about organized crime during the turn of the last century, and they have a lot of background information about the Black Hand including biographies of all the members. This article describes the detective work that brought them down.

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Written by David

April 2nd, 2010 at 9:03 pm

Posted in True Crime

World’s Biggest Sponge Found In The Bahamas

From April 3, 1910

WORLDS BIGGEST SPONGE FOUND IN THE BAHAMAS

WORLD’S BIGGEST SPONGE FOUND IN THE BAHAMAS (PDF)

It is what is known as a wool sponge, which is the finest quality known among spongers. It is in form perfectly round, arched like an immense fruit cake, and is six feet in circumference and two feet in diameter in every direction. When taken from the water it weighed between eighty and ninety pounds, and the fortunate man who captured it had a hard time landing it in his dory. Now that it has dried out and been relieved of all excrescences it weighs about twelve pounds.

This article has a little bonus: a humorous musing on why garlic is always referred to as “he.” Because everyone refers to their garlic as “he,” right?

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Written by David

April 2nd, 2010 at 8:10 pm

Posted in Nature,Science

The Science Of Weather Forecasting

From April 3, 1910

THE SCIENCE OF WEATHER FORECASTING

THE SCIENCE OF WEATHER FORECASTING (PDF)

How did they do it before satellites and radar? It was a large scale coordinated effort involving telegraph messages sent from station to station across the country, used to compile a weather map.

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Written by David

April 2nd, 2010 at 10:03 am

Posted in Science