Archive for June, 2010

How To Get Sleep On Hot Summer Nights

From June 26, 1910


HOW TO GET SLEEP ON HOT SUMMER NIGHTS: Advice from Well Known Physicians and Specialists Which Will Make the Sizzling Season Easier to Bear (PDF)

What’s a New Yorker to do when the air conditioner breaks down? How on Earth is anyone supposed to get to sleep? Take some tips from 1910, where sleeping in the heat was the norm. Air conditioners didn’t really become common in public spaces for another ten years.

Advice from the article: eat in moderation and avoid alcohol and cigarettes before bed; try to keep a worry-free mind; avoid meat but enjoy fruits and berries. And if your bedroom is too hot, you can always try sleeping in one of the locations pictured: a rooftop, a pier, a park, or a fire escape.

One photo is labeled “an open-air bedroom.” This downtown brownstone takes that concept literally.

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Written by David

June 25th, 2010 at 9:10 am

Posted in Life,Nature

Science Measures The Energy Stored In Various Foods

From June 26, 1910


SCIENCE MEASURES THE ENERGY STORED IN VARIOUS FOODS: Interesting Results Given from Recent Government Experiments with the Calorimeter (PDF)

We think about calories as just a number on a food container, and it’s easy to forget that a calorie is actually a unit of energy. It’s the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree. So how did they determine how many calories were in food in 1910? The article describes a pretty outrageous experiment:

In making these experiments a man is shut in an apartment that is sealed hermetically and supplied with air, food and drink…

While the man within is reading or writing or attending to the numerous small duties connected with the care of himself, for he must weigh himself, stripped and dressed, twice a day, must note his bodily temperature and keep track of many other conditions connected with the experiment, those on the outside are busy with a long programme of work that must be done regularly every hour of the many days that some of the experiments are under headway. For instance, the thermometer in most of the experiments is read every two minutes, and the reading set down carefully.

The air is removed, measured, and recycled. The subject’s heat emission is measured during work, rest, sleep, reading, etc. All of this is used to measure… something.

At this point the article loses me, because I’m not quite sure how you go from that information to the amount of calories in food. I have an easier time understanding how tests like this could be used to measure calories burned by various activities, and indeed tests like these are used today for that very purpose. But how you go backwards to the food he ate is beyond me. has a pretty good writeup about how we measure calories in food today.

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Written by David

June 25th, 2010 at 9:08 am

Posted in Science

Humors Of Golf As Played At Van Cortlandt Park

From June 26, 1910


HUMORS OF GOLF AS PLAYED AT VAN CORTLANDT PARK: There Public Links Offer Excellent Opportunities to Study Human Nature — Growing Interest in the Game Shown by Big Increase in Army of Players (PDF)

I’m not a big fan of golf, but I absolutely love the illustrations in this article about people-watching in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. The course opened in 1895, making it the oldest public golf course in America. It’s still in operation, and was recently upgraded. You can get there by subway, so if golf is your thing check it out.

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Written by David

June 25th, 2010 at 9:04 am

Posted in Sports

A Proposed Plan For An Invariable Calendar

From June 26, 1910


A PROPOSED PLAN FOR AN INVARIABLE CALENDAR: Prof. L. A. Grosclaude Offers an Interesting Suggestion to Solve the Troubles of the Present Division of Days (PDF)

By 1910, most of the world had adopted the Gregorian calendar that we use today, although several major nations still had not (including China, Russia, Greece, Turkey, and others). An international meeting was held in London to consider the possibility of a new calendar. It was meant to solve the problem of not easily knowing what day of the week a particular date falls on. Several proposals were put forth:

Prof. Grosclaude proposed that the quarters should be composed of ninety-one days each, as this number is divisible by seven, each quarter being thus composed of thirteen weeks exactly. The two first months of each quarter would have each thirty days and the third one thirty-one. This gives us in all for the year 364 days.

Prof. Grosclaude, however, proposed to intercalate between Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 a day to be called New Year’s Day, and for leap years he would place another day between June 31 and July 1, which he would call “Leap Day.”

Concerning the subdivision of the year into smaller unities various views had been put forward, according to the manner in which the number 364 could be decomposed.

Some had proposed thirteen months of four weeks; others would have preferred fifty-two weeks without reference to months. Prof. Grosclaude proposed, as indicated, four quarters of thirteen weeks each, as he believed that the other suggestions would cause even more inconvenience than those of the old calendar, introducing a “complete disarray of our habits,” and in the former case would necessitate new names for the months and would bring many complications into commercial calculations.

I kind of like Grosclaude’s idea. But it’s weird to think of New Year’s Day and Leap Day as being distinct from days of the week. That is, you wouldn’t say Leap Day falls on a Monday, but rather that it comes between Sunday and Monday.


Written by David

June 25th, 2010 at 9:02 am

Posted in Development

Famous Prima Donna Champions Woman Suffrage Cause

From June 26, 1910


FAMOUS PRIMA DONNA CHAMPIONS WOMAN SUFFRAGE CAUSE: Madame Lillian Nordica Talks Interestingly of the Movement, Which She Is Giving Her Enthusiastic Support (PDF)

Here we have the story of a famous opera singer, Lillian Nordica, who supports a woman’s right to vote. I found it interesting that this article tries so hard to let the reader know that men have no need to worry about too much change if women are allowed to vote. There is the explicit reassurance that the right to vote won’t make women any less feminine. This is underscored by an intermittent narrative* throughout the article describing Nordica sewing during the interview, as though to say, “See? The suffragette still does womanly things.”

Here is a representative passage:

The end of the long hem of the curtain had been reached. It was examined, laid aside, and a new piece taken up.

“We don’t want to fight husbands and brothers.” A new needle was threaded with the skill born of long experience. “Women will always continue to depend upon their husbands and brothers. There is not the slightest danger that they will become masculine and independent in any unpleasant sense.

“No, the world misunderstands us, purposely, perhaps. We want to help, not to hinder our husbands or brothers — not to fight them. We want to work with them as their equals in arms in the great battles of life.

“Certainly we can be of greater assistance to them by entering intelligently into their lives than by being excluded from them.

“It does not follow that I will exercise every right I am allowed under the law. I have selected a certain work in the world and the granting of the suffrage to women would not cause me to forsake my art, and it is the same with all women. But I don’t want to feel that under the law I am nonentity in the community.”

Meanwhile there had been a number of interruptions, for Mme. Nordica is a housekeeper in fact as well as name, and a dozen questions of detail were brought to her.

“Housekeeping is very well in its way,” said the great singer, after one of these interruptions. “I enjoy it for one. A woman’s home, we are told, is her life. I believe that it is. But the suffrage will not interfere with that, will not cause her to neglect this obvious duty. We will agree that housekeeping is very important, but why should it keep women from going beyond that? The drudgery of housekeeping does not round out the fullest possible life for her.

*I guess you could say her sewing is a running thread.

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Written by David

June 25th, 2010 at 9:00 am

Posted in Politics,Theater

Can You Tell An Ear For Music By Looking At It?

From June 19, 1910


CAN YOU TELL AN EAR FOR MUSIC BY LOOKING AT IT? If Dr. J. J. Kinyoun’s Theory Is True the External Ear Dicsloses Whether You Have the Musical Gift or Not (PDF)

For a minute in 2007, the blogosphere was abuzz about a Hungarian plastic surgeon named Dr. Lajos Nagy who claimed that making your ears pointy would allow you to better appreciate music. He said this craze was huge in New York, and would soon be sweeping the globe.

On his website, he explains scientifically why pointed ears are more sensitive to sound:

One of its reasons is rather simple: pointed ears focus sounds in a better way, which, in the case of animals, is supplemented by the fact that they can orientate themselves towards the source of sounds without turning their heads, by moving only their ears.

The other reason is the own frequency of the pinnae, as being solid objects themselves, which changes together with their shape. Pointed ears resonate with sounds at the frequency of around 8 kHz, thus they amplify sharp sounds instead of the intermediate frequencies. This is the reason why, amongst other things, dogs are sensitive to ultrasonic sounds, which are imperceptible for human ears.

Although turning the pinnae still remains impossible for human beings according to its anatomic features, the advantages of pointed ears can be enjoyed once again with the help of a simple, routine operation.

Of course all of this is ridiculous, and it doesn’t take much poking around on his site to realize that it’s a big joke (see this discussion for more information).

If the hoaxter had seen this 1910 article, perhaps his fictional doctor could have marketed his craft differently. This article claims that ear shape determined not your ability to appreciate music, but to be musical yourself. As one doctor quoted in the article says:

“It is commonly thought that persons who have the musical ‘gift’ have a peculiarity of the auditory tract, which distinguishes them from ordinary folk. There seem to be an actual physical quality in the hearing of musicians whereby they differentiate tones with subtlety, and this quality is congenital…

[There is] a peculiar conformation of the external ear in musicians, first observed by Dr. J. J. Kinyoun of Washington, but never published, which is constant and readily perceptible.”

I’d go on to quote the description of the peculiar conformation, but it makes about as much sense as Dr. Nagy’s explanation for his procedure, so I’ll spare you the details. But the conclusions at the end of the article are still worth a look if you want to know how to tell if your own kids are musical by looking at their ears. And if they’re not, I suppose they can always get plastic surgery.

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Written by David

June 18th, 2010 at 9:06 am

Posted in Music,Nature,Science

Pot Shooting In Central Park

From June 19, 1910


POT SHOOTING IN CENTRAL PARK: Archer Hazzler, a Crack Rifle Shot, Has the Unique Privilege of Shooting When and Where He Will in the Great Pleasure Ground (PDF)

Wild animals occasionally make their way into Central Park. Just a few months ago, a coyote in the Park seemed to be the talk of the town. In modern times, these animals are taken down by NYPD sharpshooters with tranquilizer guns. But back in 1910, there was one man whose full time job was hunting animals in New York City’s parks. His name was Archer Hazzler. He had a license to kill.

Hazzler’s method of hunting is very simple. He keeps a small boat ready to be launched on the lakes and, rifle in hand, gently paddles along the shores. These expeditions are usually undertaken early in the mornings before the public is astir.

Early risers in the great buildings facing the Park have doubtless heard the persistent crack, crack of a rifle near by and wondered at it. Hazzler thinks nothing of coming in from such a hunting trip with a bag of fifty or more rats…

The Park sharpshooter must, of course, be extremely cautious in his hunting not to interfere with the safety of the general public. So well has he done his work that there has never been an accident, never a stray shot for all the thousands of birds and animals he has brought in.

He avoids the more frequented sections of the Park, and especially the walks or drives. For this reason very few people of the millions who constantly visit the parks have ever caught a glimpse of him.

But some day if you chance upon a wiry, alert little man wearing a rough rider hat with a faded gilt cord and carrying a polished rifle in his hand you will know that it is he.

Animal hunting is not allowed in Central Park today, but here’s a short list of things you can hunt for: bugs, mushrooms, and treasure.

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Written by David

June 18th, 2010 at 9:04 am

Posted in Adventure,Nature

No Centenarian Living, Says Dr. Woods Hutchinson

From June 19, 1910


“NO CENTENARIAN LIVING,” SAYS DR. WOODS HUTCHINSON: And Probably Only Three Ever Lived to be Over 100 Years of Age He Concludes After Studying the Question of Centenarianism (PDF)

Life expectancy is longer than it’s ever been, and there were already hundreds of people claiming to be more than 100 years old in 1910. But Dr. Woods Hutchinson investigated and decided they were all wrong:

“I don’t mean that such men and women are wilful liars. I believe they are mistaken. Many of them don’t know when they were born. Many of them become almost feeble-minded and believe they are a great deal older than they are.

“Oftentimes a person who does not know his age is told at 60 that he looks to be 80, and ever afterward computes his age from that basis. If he lives to be 82 he is declared to have lived to be 102. If he lives to be 90 he is said to have lived to be 110.”

But, the article notes, if Dr. Hutchinson is right, “this means almost all of the rest of the world is wrong”:

Germany, a year or two ago, with a population of 33,600,000, claimed 78 centenarians; France, 213; England, 145; Scotland, 46; Denmark, 2; Belgium, 3; Sweden, 10; Norway, 23; Spain, 410, while the Balkan States outdid the world with a claim of one centenarian to each 100 of population.

For me, the most surprising thing in this article was the revelation that in 1910 elephants were believed to live to 300 years old. According to a recent Discovery Channel article, the median lifespan of African elephants in the wild is actually 56 years.

Dr. Hutchinson, incidentally, died in 1930 at just 68 years old.

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Written by David

June 18th, 2010 at 9:02 am

Posted in Nature,Science

A Morning Walk And Talk With Mayor Gaynor

From June 19, 1910


A MORNING WALK AND TALK WITH MAYOR GAYNOR: Every Day the City’s Chief Executive Goes from His Home to His Office Afoot — A Vigorous Advocate of Fresh Air and Exercise (PDF)

William Jay Gaynor served as mayor of New York City from 1910 – 1913, and walked to CIty Hall from his home in Park Slope every day, enjoying the view of the city as he crossed the Brooklyn Bridge and planned out his day in his head. This brings to mind the present mayor Michael Bloomberg, who famously takes the subway to work every day. Or does he?

Three years ago, the New York Times stalked Bloomberg for five weeks and discovered that while he does take the subway, he first takes a car from his Upper East Side home to a subway station a mile away, passing two subway stops in between. And he actually took the car the entire way to City Hall for all but two days per week.

I can’t help but wonder how often Mayor Gaynor took a hansom cab to the Bridge and walked the rest of the way.

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Written by David

June 18th, 2010 at 9:00 am

Posted in Politics

The Hobble Is The Latest Freak In Woman’s Fashions

From June 12, 1910


“THE HOBBLE” IS THE LATEST FREAK IN WOMAN’S FASHIONS: “Skirts Are So Tight Around the Ankle That Locomotion Is Seriously Impeded and Speed Is Impossible (PDF)

The headline and illustrations sum up the article pretty well, but my favorite part is the caption of the bottommost image. It reads, “These Are Not Exaggerated at All. The Skirts Really Look Like This.”

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Written by David

June 11th, 2010 at 9:16 am

Posted in Life

Dr. Hyslop Tells Of Experiments With Famous Mediums

From June 12, 1910


DR. HYSLOP TELLS OF EXPERIMENTS WITH FAMOUS MEDIUMS: Secretary of the American Society for Psychical Research Reports Furthers on the Piper Phenomena (PDF)

Spiritualism was at its peak in popularity at the turn of the last century. Thousands of people met with mediums in hopes of reaching their dead loved ones. Even Mary Todd Lincoln attended a séance in hopes of speaking with Abraham one more time.

Leonora Piper was one of the more famous mediums in 1910. Dr. James Hyslop, head of the American Society for Psychical Research, attended one of her séances and wrote about it in this article.

I’ll believe that the dead can communicate with the living when there is actual evidence to support this claim. Until then, I’m a skeptic. Hyslop, however, seemed to believe that Piper really did communicate with the dead.

In 1992, Martin Gardner wrote an article called How Mrs. Piper Bamboozled William James which demonstrated how Leonora Piper used cold reading techniques to give the impression that she can communicate with the dead.

Cold reading is the same practice used today by so-called mediums and psychics like Sylvia Brown, John Edward, and James Van Praagh. The thing about cold reading is that it doesn’t always work, and often relies on the subject making connections where there is none; then the subject counts that as a successful hit on behalf of the psychic.

Hyslop does exactly that just a few paragraphs into the article, explaining that “two or three incidents which he had to reject as false… have since then found a probable interpretation.”

One of these is an incident which he had referred to before as the incident of “the broken wheel.” His father communicating from the spirit land by means of a medium, he says, had mentioned that he (his father) and his (Dr. Hyslop’s) aunt, Eliza, had been in an accident in which the wheel of a wagon was broken.

When Dr. Hyslop asked his aunt about the accident she denied that it had taken place. Therefore, he discarded the communication as of no value.

Now he declared the incident turns out to be one which occurred the day after his father’s death, and involved Dr. Hyslop and his uncle. This uncle has since died, and, Dr. Hyslop declares, the latter, in communicating from the spirit world, has used the incident to prove his identity to his wife, Dr. Hyslop’s aunt.

Even though the psychic got almost all the details wrong, Hyslop managed to make it fit something in his life that made sense to him. That’s a hit! More likely it’s an example of confirmation bias on Hyslop’s part. Who doesn’t know someone who’s been in an accident?

While some so-called psychics may actually believe they have supernatural powers, it’s the ones who know better and prey on innocent people who really infuriate me. So it’s with pleasure that I link to this great video of famed psychic James Van Praagh attempting to give a cold reading where absolutely nothing goes right for him.

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Written by David

June 11th, 2010 at 9:14 am

Posted in Science

Tragedies Of Our Inexorable Immigration Laws

From June 12, 1910


TRAGEDIES OF OUR INEXORABLE IMMIGRATION LAWS: How They Sunder Families and Wreck Hard-Saved Fortunes — A False Cablegram from Anybody Will Detain a Traveler (PDF)

Open any newspaper today and you’ll see that we still have problems with immigration law. But in 1910, when immigrants came through Ellis Island, the problems were of a different sort. People were turned away, and families were even separated, when someone was even suspected of carrying a disease, or being an undesirable person who might become a burdon to the state.

This article gives several examples of people wrongfully turned away, people of status being given preferential treatment, and legal loopholes used to deport immigrants even after they’ve been admitted to the country and lived here more than three years (the window of time during which the government could legally deport someone). Here is one such story:

Four years ago a lawyer’s clerk came over here, leaving behind him a not very savory reputation. In this country, too, he did not distinguish himself, and when word came across the water as to his past career then the authorities were glad to fall upon him and arrange for his deportation.

How did they do it, you ask, seeing that the three-year limit had been well passed? By this ingenious device.

It seems that once upon a time, when prosperity beamed, he had given way to a natural desire to look on the scenic beauties of Niagara. Not only that, but when there he took a carriage, the better to see the country side.

And in that carriage he crossed the bridge and spent about ten minutes in Canada. At this time he had been in America two years and ten months.

So when the authorities learned that the man was an undesirable citizen they pointed out that his residence in this country dated not from the time he landed at New York, but from the moment when he drove into it over the bridge after his ten-minute trip through Canada. They said he had left the United States and made a re-entry, and the fact that all this was done in the course of an hour’s drive did not alter the validity of their claim.

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Written by David

June 11th, 2010 at 9:12 am

O. Henry (Sidney Porter) As His Intimates Knew Him

From June 12, 1910


“O. HENRY” (SIDNEY PORTER) AS HIS INTIMATES KNEW HIM: Quiet, Modest, Reserved, He Avoided the Limelight and Found Happiness in Odd Corners of New York That Furnished Types and Plots for His Delightful Stories (PDF)

O. Henry, author of famous stories including The Gift of the Magi died on June 5, 1910. In this article, the New York Times Magazine writes a nice remembrance.

You can download several of his stories for free at Project Gutenberg.

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Written by David

June 11th, 2010 at 9:10 am

Posted in Humor,Literature

Human Nature As Seen In A Safe Deposit Vault

From June 12, 1910


HUMAN NATURE AS SEEN IN A SAFE DEPOSIT VAULT: Queer Traits of Character Shown by Owners of Boxes That Furnish an Odd Series of Stories (PDF)

In this article, an officer in charge of safe deposit vaults at a large bank discusses the various personalities he encounters at the bank. One example:

“A man prominent in the New York business world — you’d know him, too, if I were to mention his name — came here and rented a box. Unquestionably he had others elsewhere, but he took one here just the same, and among the things he put in it was a package of new-crisp bank bills — there was probably $30,000.

“I don’t know — nor care, for that matter — what people place in their boxes. It’s not my business to know; but this particular man did not hesitate to let me understand just what was in his. In fact, I rather think he wanted me to know that he had money in it, for it subsequently developed that he felt there would come a time during the panic when ready cash would be mighty hard to get and he was taking time by the forelock, as it were.

“Well, he would come in very often — about once a week — get out his box and place it before him on my desk instead of going to one of the booths as most people do.

“Then he’d take out the bills and count them over a couple of times, a smile on his face during all of the procedure. When finished, he would return the box to its little space, but before actually locking the door would pull out the box about three times, lift the lid, gaze fondly at the stack of bills, and then gently, even lovingly, pet them.”

Another man kept an “old-fashioned daguerrotype” photo of his mother in a safe deposit box. He would visit the photo and get teary-eyed. “It was the picture of one of the sweetest and quaintest looking women I have ever seen, and dressed in the style of half a century ago.”

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Written by David

June 11th, 2010 at 9:08 am

Posted in Life

Ex-Slaves Dream Of A Model Negro Colony Comes True

From June 12, 1910


EX-SLAVES DREAM OF A MODEL NEGRO COLONY COMES TRUE: Mound Bayou, Mississippi, in the Heart of the Fertile “Delta” Is a Community of 8,000 Where No White Man Can Own a Square Foot of Property (PDF)

The 13th amendment ended slavery in the United States when it was ratified in 1865. In 1887, Isaiah Montgomery founded Mound Bayou as an independent black community of freed slaves. Slightly smaller than one square mile, Mound Bayou today has a population of just over 2,000 people, 98.43% of whom are African American (as of the 2000 census), which is one of the largest black populations by percentage in the U.S.

The article is a fascinating look at race relations in 1910. I found the article’s account of what happens when white visitors come to Mound Bayou to be especially interesting:

It might be supposed that the white visitor to a community composed entirely of blacks would be expected to put himself on a plane with them, and if he sought their hospitality he must break bread with them on terms of perfect equality. But such is far from the case.

If a white man desires to spend the night in Mound Bayou he finds that certain rooms in the hotel are reserved exclusively for white visitors. They are neat and cleanly to a degree of nicety, far in advance of what is found in the average country hotel, and instead of being asked to eat at the table, or even in the same dining room with the colored boarders, the white sojourner’s meals are served in his own room in a most appetizing manner.

For more distinguished white visitors a pretty, cheerful room is set aside in the home of Isaiah Montgomery, the hospitality accorded being probably best expressed in the language of a Memphis newspaper writer, who was one of the first white men to spend a night in the colony.

“When I realized,” he said, “that we would be compelled to remain over night in Mound Bayou I began to wonder what treatment we, the only two white people in the place, would receive. I asked Montgomery about some place to eat and sleep, and he replied that there was a room at his home that had never been occupied excepting by white people. To his house my companion and myself were taken. We were met in the hall by Montgomery’s wife and two daughters, neatly dressed and with a manner and refinement that were a revelation. They had prepared for us a savory supper, which we ate with much relish in the regular dining room all by ourselves.

“Our bedroom was neat, clean, and as nicely furnished as you will find in the average hotel. After some conversation with Montgomery concerning his colony and the general condition of the negro farmers of Mississippi we retired to our room. The thought occurred to us, while the storm was raging outside, what a difference between our position and the position of two negroes who might have strayed into a town populated entirely by whites, and in which negroes were not permitted to live. Here we were at Mount Bayou — two white men — among 7,000 negroes, and our treatment had been irreproachable.”

The whole article is very thought provoking.

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Written by David

June 11th, 2010 at 9:06 am

Hudson Maxim On “A Coming War Of Aeroplanes”

From June 12, 1910


HUDSON MAXIM ON A COMING WAR OF AEROPLANES: The Famous Inventor of High Explosives Predicts a Revolution in Warfare Due to the Use of the Craft of the Air as Fighters (PDF)

Hudson Maxim was a chemist and inventor. In this article, he predicts the use of airplanes as fighters in the “next great war,” writing, “there will be new and strange guns and strange missiles in that conflict.” Sure enough, in just a few years World War I would begin, and airplanes would be used for combat — perhaps most famously by a German fighter pilot named Manfred von Ricthofen, better known as the Red Baron.

But Maxim makes other predictions about air travel, writing enthusiastically about the opportunity for inventions that the airplanes will inspire:

Could we come back in 2010, to banquet some famous Curtiss* of that time, we should think little of a flight to the function to do him honor from Chicago, from the Thousand Islands, from the Summer estate on Mount Katahdin in Maine; and the wide stretches of country rushing under as, as we came, would be a strange commingling of villas, city, and farm; while the chains of carefully prepared alighting areas, stretching in all directions, would give the landscape something of the aspect of an enormous fox-and-goose board…

We shall not have to wait a hundred years for the stanch, wind-defying machine with automatic equilibriation. Very soon, automobiling of the sky will be as safe as automobiling upon the earth is now.

*I believe Curtiss here refers to aviator Glenn Curtiss.

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Written by David

June 11th, 2010 at 9:04 am

Charles K. Hamilton Tells How To Run An Aeroplane

From June 12, 1910


CHARLES K. HAMILTON TELLS HOW TO RUN AN AEROPLANE: The Intricate Mechanism of His Biplane Explained in Detail Showing the Uses of Every Part (PDF)

It had been 7 years since the Wright Brothers flew the first plane, and Charles Hamilton was about to make the first round trip flight from New York to Philadelphia. In this article, he provides a very plain-language explanation of exactly how his plane works.

Driving an aeroplane at the speed of 120 miles an hour is not nearly as difficult a task as driving an automobile sixty miles an hour…

In running the automobile at high speed the driver must be on the job every second. There are constant opportunities of encountering obstacles. For instance, a man can never tell at what moment he is to encounter some vehicle, perhaps traveling in the opposite direction. Nothing but untiring vigilance can protect him from this danger. Then there are turns in the road, bad stretches of pavement, and other like difficulties. All these require the same attention.

But in an aeroplane it is an entirely different proposition. Once a man becomes accustomed to aeroplaning, it becomes a matter of unconscious attention. For instance, let me give you as an example the bicycle. Nearly every one has at some time or other ridden one, and these can appreciate my point. They will remember how, when they first mounted the wheel, maintaining their equilibrium was a matter of nerve-racing vigilance. In their efforts to maintain it they would invariably put the wheel too far to the falling side. Whenever they saw an approaching vehicle they felt a moral certainty that they would be run down, and in order to avoid this catastrophe would make ridiculously wide detours, but a little practice and the equilibrium was unconsciously maintained. They were soon riding without the use of the handlebars maintaining their poise simply by an unconscious shift of the body. Approaching vehicles became an equally simple problem.

Now, that is exactly the situation with an experienced aviator.

He may have been an experienced aviator, but he wasn’t a good prognosticator. He says:

For my part, I do not believe that there will ever be an automatically controlled aeroplane. Such a contrivance would tend to drive an aeroplane through counter air currents, and the machine would be hopelessly ripped to pieces. They will get an automatic control for an aeroplane when they devise a pair of eyes for an automobile that will guide it down Broadway without collision.”

It actually didn’t take very long before autopilot was in common use. In 1931, an aviator set a record for flying around the world in just 8 days. He used autopilot to steer when he needed to rest.

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Written by David

June 11th, 2010 at 9:02 am

Passing A Good Joke Along The Wire

From June 12, 1910



Today viral jokes spread by email, Twitter, or blogs. But in 1910, jokes went viral by telegraph, and not how you might think:

[The reporter asks] “Do you mean to say that there are people so anxious to spring a new joke that they will go to the expense of telegraphing it to their friends?”

[The telegraph operator responds] “No; no one goes to the expense — that’s on the telegraph company. You see, it’s this way: The operators at all the big telegraph centres over the country have a speaking acquaintance with each other. They call each other by first names, though the chances are that they haven’t the slightest idea of each other’s appearance. During the night the wires are often quiet. Now, suppose a message has just been sent from New York to Buffalo; for the time being there is nothing more to be dispatched, and no other operator is trying to get the wire. In this case the telegraph instrument in Buffalo is very apt to click off, ‘Say, Jim, I just heard a new story. It’s a good one,’ and the story follows.

“When Jim at Buffalo gets Jack at Chicago or Pete at St. Louis on an idle wire, the new story is passed along. And so in a single night a cracking good story may be passed from New York to San Francisco.”

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Written by David

June 11th, 2010 at 9:00 am

Posted in Humor,Life,Technology

First Account Of The Conquering Of Mt. McKinley

From June 5, 1910


FIRST ACCOUNT OF THE CONQUERING OF MT. McKINLEY: Pete Andersen, the Intrepid Swede, Is Given the Honor of Hoisting the American Flag On the Highest Peak, Where It Still Flies (PDF)

I had no idea that the first ascent of Mt. McKinley was surrounded by so much drama. Let me give you a little back story:

As you may know, Mt. McKinley is the tallest mountain in North America. It has a higher rise than Mt. Everest, although Everest’s peak is at a higher elevation. It’s located in Denali National Park in Alaska (which wasn’t a state at the time, and wouldn’t become a state for another 49 years). It has two peaks, known as the Northern peak and Southern peak. The Southern peak is the highest.

A few years before this article was written, in 1906, a guy named Frederick Cook claimed that he was the first person to summit Mt. McKinley. A couple years later, Cook also claimed that he reached the North Pole, another first. In fact, he did neither. But in 1909, a guy named Robert Peary really did reach the North Pole, and he publicly challenged Cook’s claim to have gotten there first. This put Cook and his wild claims in the spotlight.

Meanwhile, in Alaska, four local gold miners with no mountain climbing experience were sitting in a bar. They heard about Cook’s McKinley claim, and they were unconvinced that he reached the summit. They furthermore figured that an Alaskan could climb that mountain better than any outsider could. The bar owner heard their boast and bet them $500 that they couldn’t climb Mt. McKinley.

Can you guess what happened next?

And so, in mid-February, 1910, those four miners with no hiking experience set out to climb Mt McKinley. And on April 3, they made it to the top of the North peak where they planted a flag.

Or so they said.

On April 16, the New York Times ran an article (pdf) in which naturalist Charles Sheldon suggested everyone just hold off on the accolades until this story is verified. There was good reason to be skeptical. These climbers were middle aged, overweight, had no real climbing experience, and made claims of feats even experienced climbers wouldn’t attempt (for example, they said they climbed the last 8,000 feet in one day; modern McKinley hikers typically save the last 3,000 to 4,000 for one day, taking 10 to 15 hours to do it). And even though they brought a camera, none of the photos they took provided evidence of having been taken on the summit.

A couple weeks later, on June 5 the New York Times Magazine ran a story in which expedition leader Thomas Lloyd told the whole story of his climb, in his own words. It filled three pages, all of which are included in the PDF link at the top of this blog post. It included notes from his journal, and transcribed recollections, including how his party reached both of McKinley’s peaks.

But this article didn’t end the controversy. It wasn’t until 1913 that another expedition on McKinley finally was able to verify Lloyd’s story. They reached the North summit and found the flag that Lloyd’s party had planted. Vindication at last!

The strangest thing to me about this whole saga is the fact that Thomas Lloyd really did lie about one thing: he claimed that his party reached both peaks when in fact they only reached the North summit. I think that lie was completely unnecessary. His story was incredible enough as it was.

Note: This excerpt from a book about Mt. McKinley was very helpful in researching this post.

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Written by David

June 4th, 2010 at 9:09 am

Posted in Adventure

The Pet Economies Of Well Known Millionaires

From June 5, 1910


THE PET ECONOMIES OF WELL KNOWN MILLIONAIRES: Peculiar Characteristics of John D. Rockefeller, His Son, Paul Morton, Andrew Carnegie, August Belmont and Others (PDF)

Apparently some of the most famous millionaires were frugal in certain pet areas. J.D. Rockefeller, Jr it seems was an awful tipper. “He does it,” the article says, “but with a painful effort.”

When Mr. Rockefeller, Jr., goes into a downtown restaurant for lunch he eats quite a lot and gives the impression of having a jolly time. The moment comes for paying. Mr. Rockefeller pays cheerfully enough.

Then a sad expression steals over his face, and slowly, reluctantly, he lowers his hand into his pocket, there is a struggle seen going on there, and the hand comes out clutching a nickel. This coin is impressively placed in the centre of the waiter’s hand… On exuberant occasions he parts with a dime…

There is a story that one time when Mr. Rockefeller had laid a shining nickel in the centre of the big, black hand of a negro waiter, the darky, not knowing who his tipper was, had hesitated, looked around, and then whispered softly: “Here — take it back, boss! I ‘spose you need it more than me.”

I’m pleased to discover that my spellcheck is unfamiliar with the word “darky”.

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Written by David

June 4th, 2010 at 9:07 am

Posted in Life