Archive for March, 2011

SundayMagazine on

I wrote a piece about SundayMagazine for that just went online today. If you’re discovering this site for the first time via Slate, welcome! A good place to start is with my roundup of favorite articles from 1910. If you’re a regular reader who’s never read Slate, start with my article!

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Written by David

March 30th, 2011 at 1:37 pm

Posted in Blog Stuff

New Method Of Teaching Morality To The Young

From April 2, 1911


NEW METHOD OF TEACHING MORALITY TO THE YOUNG: Visual Instruction in Right and Wrong and Niceties of Conduct the Keynote of Novel Educational Movement Begun by Milton Fairchild. (PDF)

Milton Fairchild was concerned that kids weren’t getting the morality instruction they needed:

“Most children are left in ignorance of what is considered right by intelligent people. How many parents or teachers have ever fully explained property rights to the children in their care. We teach geography, but the chart of life, by which our boys and girls can make a true success of life, is not taught, either at home or in school. And I might add that I believe most parents are no more fitted to teach morals than they are geography.”

So Fairchild developed a series of lessons in morals accompanied with photographs Fairchild himself took.

“To throw upon a screen pictures taken from a boy’s life of our own time, photographs of real boys doing the things that every boy does or sees done, and point out to him while he sees the picture the diference between wrong and right, between cheating and fair play, between contemptibleness and manliness.

“For example, take the lesson on ‘The True Sportsman.’ The attention of the boys is caught and held by screen pictures of a bicycle race, in which it can be plainly seen that the boy who is losing is deliberately running into the winner to foul him.”

Especially interesting to me is Fairchild’s description of the covert way he took the photos:

“The pictures have to be taken especially for this purpose, because no one but myself has been taking snapshots of matters of importance to child morality. It is a matter of very close study of child life to choose the pictures and ideas for a morality lesson.

“Shortly after starting on this work I found that it was necessary to devise a special camera for my own use. You see, it is a a very difficult matter to get just the kind of pictures that I wanted, for no faked photographs would answer. I knew that my audience of schoolboys would look upon a posed photograph as a put-up job, and would reject the moral application as quickly as they would reject a goody-goody story.

“In order to successfully stalk these scenes of child life, I had a camera built, the box of which looked like a suit case. It was fitted with a swift lens and a focal-pane shutter.

“After five years spent in what was practically preliminary work, I spent six years more in making my collection of negatives. Armed with my camera, I tramped the streets of nearly al the large cities of the Eastern States. In 1903, I went to England for scenes to add to my collection.”

I would love to see the photos he took. Considering that his goal was to capture all sorts of moral and immoral behavior, he must have created an interesting archive of photographs showing life in the early 20th century.

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Written by David

March 30th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Posted in Education

Stories That Modern Science Has Made Impossible

From March 26, 1911


STORIES THAT MODERN SCIENCE HAS MADE IMPOSSIBLE: Why the Classics of Poe, Hoffman, and Others Seem Antiquated To-day. (PDF)

This amusing piece supposes that modern technology is making scary stories impossible.

It is lucky for us that Poe, Hoffman, Andersen, and other chroniclers of the great unknown lived years ago. For mystery and romance have suffered greatly at the hands of modern science and inventions. Electricity is the worst offender in that respect, as it has killed more goblins than all the grandmothers ever created.

Think how much richer in unearthly being the world was in the day of the tallow candle, the oil lamp, and the flintlock. Imagine your great-great-grandfather coming home at, say, 1 in the morning; the house he returned to was one of those immense, gaunt mansions, built piece by piece, wing by wing, of wood that creaked and moaned when the night wind rose or when the worms were milling slowly, stubbornly, the heart of the beams into impalpable, yellow flour. Your great-great-grandfather’s conscience may have troubled him a little, for he may have partaken of a trifle too much of he cheering claret.

When the street door’s lock had clicked behind him he stood enshrouded in the hostile darkness of the endless corridors; echoes magnified the noise of every motion, his breath sounded like a cyclone. A match finally consented to burn, and its flicker only helped him to realize the thickness of the velvety pall.

The lamp was located; its chimney struck, but finally yielded just before all that was left of the match was a short, winking ember. Another match was struck and this time the wick, with much spluttering, emitted a little light; back went the chimney to its socket, and the shade that surmounted it divided this mystic worlds of darkness into two regions — the table and a part of the floor were immersed in a soft yellow gleam. Above the shade, however, ghosts and goblins, frightened an instant by man’s intrusion, resumed their play.


On a similar note, here are some stories that cell phones have made impossible. And here’s a list of Seinfeld episodes that could not have happened with today’s modern technology.

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Written by David

March 25th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Noises Of The Animal World Are Really Musical

From March 26, 1911


NOISES OF THE ANIMAL WORLD ARE REALLY MUSICAL: Properly Analyzed, the Mooing of a Cow or the Barking of a Dog Accord with the Rules of Composers. (PDF)

In 1955, Don Charles put out a novelty album by The Singing Dogs. You’ve probably heard their still-popular barking rendition of Jingle Bells around the holidays.

But did you know, according to no cited source other than “a musical authority,” that “the mooing of a cow is set to a perfect fifth, octave or tenth; the barking of a dog to a fourth or fifth; the neighing of a horse is a descent on the chromatic scale; while the donkey brays in a perfect octave?”

Apparently, those little factoids were “going the rounds of the exchanges,” which today would probably mean you get an email from your mother with the subject “FW: FW: FW: FW: Kitty’s meow is actually music!!”

Fortunately, other equally unnamed authorities explained to the Times Magazine that while animals are certainly expressive and communicative in their sounds, they don’t follow any particular musical scales: “The mooing of a cow is set to whatever notes suits that particular cow’s fancy and voice.”

Now forward this on to ten friends in the next ten minutes, or you’ll have ten years of bad luck.

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Written by David

March 25th, 2011 at 9:00 am

Posted in Music,Nature

Blood Tests In Criminal Cases No Longer Uncertain

From March 26, 1911


BLOOD TESTS IN CRIMINAL CASES NO LONGER UNCERTAIN: Murderers Can No Longer Be Shielded by Doubtful Analysis, for the Newest Biological Chemistry Can Now Tell Human Blood Stains from Others. (PDF)

Those fluent in biochemistry may enjoy the details, but the gist of the article is summed up in the second paragraph:

It has often happened in murder trials that the guilt or innocence of the prisoner depended entirely on the ability of expert witnesses to determine whether or not certain stains were caused by human blood. Formerly, this was a difficult question to decide. The revelations of biological chemistry, however, have made the tests comparatively easy. In fact, it is not too much to say that the tests used nowadays to settle the question whether certain stain, be they new or old, were made by human blood, constitute an exact science.

This reminds me to recommend The Alienist, Caleb Carr’s murder mystery set in 1896 New York City, to those of you who have never read it. The protagonist uses newly developed techniques (like fingerprint matching, for example) to solve the crime. It’s a very good read.

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Written by David

March 23rd, 2011 at 9:30 am

What Is The Difference Between Richard And Johann Strauss?

From March 26, 1911


WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RICHARD AND JOHANN STRAUSS? The “Real Richard” and How He Expresses Himself in “Der Rosenkavalier.” (PDF)

This is easy. One of them wrote music famously featured in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. The other one, um, also had music prominently used in that movie.

Okay, let me try again. One of them is Austrian, and one of them is… um… German?

Okay, I give up. What does the article say?

If you want to see a hitherto peaceful human face mobilize twenty thousand warlike expressions within one brief and crowded moment of glorious life step up to a man with music in his soul and say:

“Is there any difference between Richard Strauss and Johann Strauss?”

He will either walk away, brutally insult you, or start to explain the difference, in which case he will drain the dictionary in twenty-four minutes and go insane in thirty-five. If you do not believe the above seek out that friend of yours who simply dotes on modern music, hold him firmly by the sleeve so that he can’t walk away, invite him to have a drink so that he can’t insult you, and then pop the question.

If, at the end of twenty minutes’ explanation, his condition (and yours) does not cause you acute concern, why — but it will, don’t you worry, it will.

Alpha and Omega, Zenith and Nadir, north pole and south pole — not one of those combinations suggests to the average man a greater difference between its component parts than does, to the musician, the juxtaposition of Richard Strauss and Johann Strauss. In fact, it is a common thing to see wild-eyed highbrows running round and round the most select musical circles, vainly inquiring by what cosmic freak the constructor of that tempestuous thing, “Elektra,” ever got tagged with the identical name borne by him who gave us “The Blue Danube.”

Discord, violence, horrible shrieks in the night, possible police interference — that’s what Richard Strauss has always meant. Was it not he who gave us “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” which sounds even worse set to music, and “Salome,” beside which the orchestral complications of Richard Wagner sound like those five-finger exercises that mother used to make us do?

Wow, okay, so the difference I guess is that Richard Strauss sucks and Johann Strauss is awesome.

Now would someone please explain to me the difference between Ke$ha and Katy Perry?


Written by David

March 22nd, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Entertainment,Music

Experiment Station To Solve Housekeepers’ Problems

From March 26, 1911


EXPERIMENT STATION TO SOLVE HOUSEKEEPERS’ PROBLEMS: Mrs. Frank A. Pattison Heads a Movement to Give Practical Aid to Tests of Inventions That Lighten Labor and Effect Economies. (PDF)

Mary Pattison was the President of the New Jersey State Federation of Women’s Clubs, “an organization of fifteen or sixteen thousand women, which believes in doing practical things.” The organization is still around today.

She set up an “experiment station” in her New Jersey home to figure out how housewives can make their daily routines easier, more efficient, and more enjoyable. Part of that involved trying new machines with potential to make labor easier.

Mrs. Pattison led the way to a small kitchen. It was full of strange objects, queer shaped ovens, and odd, black things standing on long legs.

“This,” said Mrs. Pattison, “is my electric motor.”

It was a small thing she touched, and it did not look like the solution of anything, but she wheeled it up to the coffee mill, slipped a pin somewhere, turned a crank, and in ten seconds the motor was working like a galley slave, grinding the coffee. After a minute Mrs. Pattison stopped it, drew out the pin that connected it with the mill, and explained that it would turn the washing machine, chop up the meant, or polish the silver, just as energetically as it had ground the coffee.

“This motor is not perfection by any means,” said Mrs. Pattison, “but it shows that we are on the right track. I paid $75 for it with the coffe mill, the polisher, the washing machine and the chopper included. It was quite a sum to put down at the start, but you see what a saving it is in labor…

“This,” she said, turning to another strange object that looked something like a wash boiler, “is the dishwashing machine. We had a great time getting this and it is not a very satisfactory one, though it is the best on a small scale in the market so far. I wrote to every firm that dealt in such things and I would get back answers that they had a very admirable dishwashing machine that would wash a thousand plates a minute, or something like that, and had been used in various hotels. Then they would add: ‘We have nothing as yet for the small kitchen, but we have some plans for such a model.'”

I like that women were technology early adopters back then.

[There are] vacuum cleaners which do away with the strain of sweeping, and of course it will be a part of our Federation to find out which are the best cleaners for the various purposes that our women will have need for… The average woman does not know about all these things, and if she does she is afraid to buy because she knows the chances are even that she is going to be cheated. We believe that when she knows where to turn for accurate information, she will joyfully buy them.”

A couple years later, Pattison wrote a book called Principles of Domestic Engineering, which you can read free from Google Books. The lengthy subtitle is “The what, why and how of a home; an attempt to evolve a solution of the domestic “labor and capital” problem – to standardize and professionalize housework – to re-organize the home upon “scientific management” principles – and to point out the importance of the public and personal element therein, as well as the practical.”

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Written by David

March 22nd, 2011 at 9:30 am

Can Science Hereafter Grow Giants At Will?

From March 26, 1911


CAN SCIENCE HEREAFTER GROW GIANTS AT WILL? Recent Researches Seem to Point to the Pituitary Gland as Holding the Secret of the Size of Human Beings — Gigantism Is a Disease, Which May Be Artificially Produced. (PDF)

Science has at last figured out a way to promote desirable physical traits without eugenics: gland stimulation!

Fancy, for instance, the production to order of a regiment of soldiers each exactly seven feet tall; or, a group of eight-foot giants for the circus or museum. If the theory held by many is correct, this can readily be accomplished by stimulating the pituitary body to hyper-activity. On the other hand, b diminishing the activity of the gland we could arrest growth and produce a group of dwarfs. In other words, persons old enough to know just what height they wished to attain could have it regulated to order, or be “made to measure.”

The workings of the pituitary gland were still not understood. A prominent Professor at the Royal College of Surgeons in London surmised further:

Science, therefore, holds out the hope that people may not only be able to regulate their height, but beauty doctors may be able to work on strictly scientific principles.

“If a lady, for instance, did not think that her nose was symmetrical, a doctor could bring it to the shape required by means of a pituital sandwich. In fact, the plainest people might be made beautiful.”

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Written by David

March 21st, 2011 at 9:30 am

Posted in Nature,Science

A Matrimonial War Breaks Out In Hoboken

From March 19, 1911


A MATRIMONIAL WAR BREAKS OUT IN HOBOKEN: In the Effort to Accelerate Marriages Two Justices Resort to Advertising (PDF)

There I was, reading this amusing little article about how Justices of the Peace resorted to advertising in order to bring in more couples to be married, when all of a sudden I came across this question from the reporter to one of the Justices, George F. Seymour, known to locals simply as “Judge”:

“Is it your custom to kiss the bride, and if so, why?” I asked.

Wait, what? The Judge kissed the bride? Surely the reporter means to ask if it’s the Judge’s custom to tell the groom to kiss the bride, right? I mean, why would the Judge kiss the bride?

“No, I don’t,” he replied thoughtfully. “I believe those other fellows do, though. Well, let them. I don’t for one reason, because ‘my wife wont’ let me.’ Here the other day, after I had tied the knot good and fast for a couple” (the Judge’s mind seemed to be wandering back to his seafaring days) “and they were getting ready to make sail and leave the office with the witnesses, one of the latter sang out, ‘Ain’t you goin’ to kiss the bride, Judge?’

“I says, ‘No, I make it a practice never to kiss the bride in my office. If I want to do so I’ll do it elsewhere than here.’ The bridegroom did not quite know how to take it, but he laughed and they went away. No, I don’t want no experimental kissing with strange women; there’s too many microbes about, so I take no chances.”


This particular Justice takes his job very seriously:

“I won’t stand for any darned funny business when people come in here to get married, and that’s more than some other Justices can say. For instance, if I see the feller is lush I simply say, ‘I can’t marry you to-day.’

“If he asks why, I tell him, ”cause I’m too busy.’ If he insists on knowing, I say, ‘You’ve had a few drinks too much. I ain’t a-going to have you or the gal come back here in three or four months and say that I married you while you were “loaded.” Come back here to-morrow and if you’re all right I’ll marry.’ If he’s a sensible feller he’ll go away and return the next day with the gal and I marry ’em.

“Sometimes it’s the woman who gets the ‘call down.’ At times she laughs and tries to be ‘funny.’ Then I tell her a few things. I says, ‘Where do you think you are? In a circus? I want you to under-stand that this marrying business is a very serious thing. If you don’t take that view of it there’s a door there, and you can close it from the outside quick.’ That generally fetches them, and they cut out the laughs.”

It sounds like Judge really knows how to make a wedding day into a joyous occasion.

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Written by David

March 18th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Posted in Life

Circus Acrobat Woos Death Daily, But Rarely Weds Her

From March 19, 1911


CIRCUS ACROBAT WOOS DEATH DAILY, BUT RARELY WEDS HER: Surprisingly Small Percentage of Fatal Accidents Occur in a Year, Though the Performers Take Big Risks. (PDF)

“There is so much dash, so much apparent abandon, in the kaleidoscopic whirl which makes up the present-day three-ringed circus that the dazed spectator goes away with the feeling that the whole thing has been tumbled together at haphazard, that the big gates at the end of the arena simply bubble out their endless profusion of elephants, tumblers, camels, bareback riders, trained monkeys, and clowns; that each does his own peculiar stunt and then in his own good time disappears in a cloud of glory, tanbark, and sawdust.

“But if you could ask that obscure but very important circus personage, the programme maker, he would tell you a very different story. What seems a wild riot of stunts is in reality a carefully timed, carefully constructed mosaic.”

You know what? This article is interesting and all, but if the topic interests you even a little bit, I highly recommend you watch the PBS documentary series Circus. It’s an incredibly engaging look behind the scenes of the Big Apple Circus, and it can be watched in its entirety streaming for free on If it’s more convenient, you can also catch it streaming on Netflix, and Amazon Instant Video.

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Written by David

March 17th, 2011 at 9:15 am

New York Pays About $7,000,000 Yearly For Its Music

From March 19, 1911


NEW YORK PAYS ABOUT $7,000,000 YEARLY FOR ITS MUSIC: Opera the Biggest Item, But Other Sources from the Hand Organ to Symphony Make Up the High Amount. (PDF)

The New York Times runs some numbers. They figure out how much money is spent each year on organ grinders, restaurant musicians, philharmonic performers, pianolas, sheet music, opera singers, piano teachers, phonographs, and every other form of music they can think of. They come up with a total just shy of $7,000,000 and wonder if it’s all worth it. I think the answer is yes, and I’m kind of surprised they bother to ask.

One thing I found interesting in the article is that “records which immortalize in wax or celluloid Caruso’s sobs, Tetrazzini’s fioriture or Sousa’s brassy thrills, cost from 25 cents to $5 apiece.” Converted from 1911 dollars, that’s between $6 and $120 today. But you can still get tons of great albums for just $5 apiece on Amazon. Huh.

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Written by David

March 16th, 2011 at 11:15 am

“We Are A Nation Of Suicides,” Says Dr. H. W. Wiley

From March 19, 1911


“WE ARE A NATION OF SUICIDES,” SAYS DR. H. W. WILEY: He Believes Americans Over-Eat, Over-Drink and Over-Everything and Thereby Slowly Kill Themselves. (PDF)

Harvey Washington Wiley was the first commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration. He later took over the Good Housekeeping Research Institute, testing products for consumers. In this article, he describes several ways that people are killing themselves through excessive drinking, smoking, eating, etc. It’s all pretty sensible, and can be summed up with one word: moderation.

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Written by David

March 15th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Life,Recreation

“Americans Have An Incapacity For Leisure,” Says Percival Chubb

From March 12, 1911


“AMERICANS HAVE AN INCAPACITY FOR LEISURE,” SAYS PERCIVAL CHUBB: The Only Way to Remedy It, According to This Well-Known Ethical Culturist, Is to Educate the Young to Know What to Do with Their Spare Time. (PDF)

“Americans, young and old, rich and poor, have an incapacity for leisure. They know how to kill time, but they don’t know how to spend it profitably; they don’t know what fruitful leisure is. I don’t think much can be done for the elder generation. The only hope is in the proper education of the young.”

This is the gist of an interview given by Percival Chubb of the Society of Ethical Culture to a representative of The Times

“It has been said that if you want to understand a people, see them at play. A man is free to play as he pleases. He is constrained at work and it is not then fair to judge him.

“See the New Yorker at play on New Year’s Eve — an orgy of gluttony and noise. See him at play on the Fourth of July — an orgy of noise. See him at Coney Island, the favorite playground of the great metropolis — an orgy of cheap glitter and thrills.

“He may be an excellent mechanic, a shrewd, capable business or professional man; but when it comes to playtime, there is nothing within himself, and he must rely upon feather-ticklers and merry-go-rounds. Mentally, he is excellently equipped with tools for his work, but he is empty of playthings. He has the means of a livelihood but not the means of life.


“A child is not given time to be a child nowadays; parents try to jump them into maturity. One of the popular ideals of the day is the smart kid. He is a result of the current method of treating youngsters as adults. He is pert, irreferent, no good. His apotheosis is the street gamin.

“Not knowing how to play themselves, parents do not realize the necessity of making their children play. A child should be kept childish, and his interest kept in childlike things.

“his development should be slow rather than rapid. The outcome of the latter is a narrow development that squeezes out all delight in beauty, all capacity for leisure, all spirit for composure. But it leaves nerves and neurotic tendencies.”

Man, this guy would hate Angry Birds.

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Written by David

March 11th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Posted in Entertainment,Life

Welsh Rabbit As Harmless And Wholesome As Meat

From March 12, 1911


WELSH RABBIT AS HARMLESS AND WHOLESOME AS MEAT: No More Can the Chafing Dish Product Be Blamed for Nightmares, Since Cheese Is Perfectly Digestible According to Tests Made by Government Experts (PDF)

Welsh Rabbit contains no rabbit. Its main ingredient is melted cheese. One theory about the name is that it’s supposed to be a joke: when only well-off people could afford butcher’s meat, rabbit was considered the poor-man’s meat in England; but in Wales, cheese was the poor-man’s rabbit.

The only time I’ve ever eaten Welsh Rabbit was at Moby’s vegetarian cafe called teany on the Lower East Side. It was listed as Welsh Rarebit on the menu, a popular variation on the name Welsh Rabbit. I’d never heard of it before, and had no idea really what I was ordering. It was delicious. But it may have had some sort of vegan cheese substitute; I don’t remember.

Anyway, apparently there was some concern over cheese back in 1911. It was feared that it could not be digested as well as meat. So the government ran some tests.

The United States Government has given [cheese] fair trial before that august organization, the Department of Agriculture, and has acquitted her of all the dire charges that have been cumulatively piled up against her through the years that have passed. One after another, in the face of the facts, have these charges evaporated into thin air. One after another have those food products deemed fittest by the dietary orthodox entered the lists with despised cheese and been unhorsed. When the battling was over there was but one claimant for honors remaining as a competitor to cheese and that competitor was the humble bean. All the others of those staple foods that go to make up the breakfast, dinner and supper of the ninety millions had gone down in defeat.

Now the Department of Agriculture reports that cheese is as digestible as the average meats. It carries, weight for weight, twice the nourishment that is contained in your Britisher’s beef. It has as much nourishment as its weight in bacon or ham, and is more digestible. A pound of it is worth in nourishment three pounds of fish. And, greatest surprise of all, one pound of cheese has as much body-building material in it as has two pounds of the much-touted product of the over-worked American hen.

They are very excited about their cheese. If you consider yourself a cheese connoisseur, you will enjoy the excessive detail in the rest of the article.


Written by David

March 10th, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Science

Big Highway Planned From New York To Washington

From March 12, 1911


BIG HIGHWAY PLANNED FROM NEW YORK TO WASHINGTON: The Only Routes Now Necessitate a Wide Detour — Gen. du Pont’s Gift of a Hundred-Mile Road to the State of Delaware (PDF)

In 1911, cars were only just becoming popular, and the government was not yet motivated to build interstate highways for the limited number of people who would use them. So Automobile Associations across the country made their own highways. This article describes the efforts of two private groups to build a highway connecting New York and Washington, better than the current route which was circuitous and in disrepair.

The New York-Washington project is for a highway consisting of six roadways, two of which are to be for trolley cars, two for automobiles, and two for other vehicles and pedestrians. Each of these roadways wil be for one-way traffic only. The total width of the highway will be 144 feet.

The two roadways set aside for general traffic will be on the outside, and will cross railroads at grade, but the four inner sections — the two for trolleys and the two for automobile traffic — will be so constructed that they will pass over or under the railroads encountered along their course, thus entirely doing away with grade crossings.

It is the plan of the company which proposes to build this highway to charge toll on the four inner sections of road and throw the two outer sections open to traffic free of charge. When sufficient earnings have been received to pay costs of building, equipping, and operating the highway, together with other expenses, the company intends to cease charging toll for the use o the above-mentioned sections of road to automobiles owned and operated by individuals. Automobiles used for public or commercial transportation purposes will still be charged the toll.

When the highway is complete, the plan is to increase the speed limit from a sluggish 20 miles per hour to a more reasonable 24 miles per hour.

Eventually, privately built highways popped up all over the country, each with their own style of signage and naming conventions. So Congress passed the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1925, which created US Highways operated by the states instead of automobile associations, and formalized their names and indicias.

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Written by David

March 9th, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Development

Streets To Be Glowing Lanes Of Hidden Light At Night

From March 5, 1911


STREETS TO BE GLOWING LANES OF HIDDEN LIGHT AT NIGHT: Illumination of the Future Will Be by Concealed Lights So Reflected as to Rival Sunlight Within and Without. (PDF)

Buildings that glow in the night; façades lighted from hidden sources so that all the architectural detail is brought out as clearly by night as by day; streets in which the atmosphere itself is luminous without any visible means of illumination — these are among the possibilities of the not distant future.

We have become so accustomed to regarding the present as an age of marvels, so used to giving a seven-days’ wonder only an hour’s attention, that we give scarcely any notice to the inovations that come gradually.

In few lines of invention has there been a more steady advance than in that of the men who are trying to discount the setting of the sun and light up the night by artificial means.

What follows is an interesting discussion of different kinds of lighting, including gas, electric, vapor, and even firefly. It’s interesting to see the different possibilities pondered 100 years ago about something we take for granted today.

There are still a few places in the city to see old fashioned gas street lamps. In November, the Wall Street Journal wrote about the gas lamps that still (barely) illuminate the streets of Park Slope. And in Manhattan, City Hall Park still has gaslights on its fountain. The great website Forgotten New York has a deeper look at gaslight remnants around town.

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Written by David

March 4th, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Fifty Years Ago Lincoln Was Inaugurated

From March 5, 1911


FIFTY YEARS AGO LINCOLN WAS INAUGURATED: Yesterday’s Anniversary the Beginning of the Great Civil War Semi-Centennials — How New York Times Reporters Described the Event at the Time. (PDF)

If you enjoy this blog, I hope you’re also following the New York Times Disunion series. While I’ve been posting the most interesting articles from the Sunday Magazine 100 years ago in real time, they’ve been posting about the events of 150 years ago leading up to the Civil War in real time. So for the past couple weeks, they’ve been following Lincoln’s train ride from Springfield, Illinois to Washington, D.C. leading up to the day of his inauguration.

In this article, the Times Magazine of 100 years ago took a look back a mere 50 years to Lincoln’s inauguration to see how they covered the event.

“I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living hearth and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be by the better angels of our nature.”

It is fifty years ago yesterday since Abraham Lincoln closed his inaugural address with these words. The anniversary is the beginning of the semi-centennials of the civil war.

Of the thousands who crowded every available inch of space in the Capitol grounds at Washington to hear that address there was probably not one who realized that he was listening to the beginning of the great epic of American history — that tremendous war which created a revolution in our whole social and political structure. Those who stand at the soruce of great events very seldom do realize it.

But we, looking back over this half century to-day, can realize it. We can see in that vast crowd listening to that earnest man fifty years ago the beginning of one of the great chapters in world history.

It’s obvious to us how much the world has changed in the 150 years since Lincoln’s inauguration. But I hadn’t really thought about how much the world changed in just the 50 years leading up to this article. Here’s a glimpse of some names, events, and inventions that happened or peaked during that time: The Civil War, Lincoln’s assassination, an industrial revolution, the Battle of Little Bighorn, the phonograph, light bulb, blue jeans, barbed wire, the first electric power plant, Mark Twain, Arthur Conan Doyle, the Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower, Tchaikovsky, Van Gogh, HG Wells, airplanes, etc. It was such a different world.

Read the PDF to get a glimpse of what the day was like for the reporters who covered it.

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Written by David

March 4th, 2011 at 9:30 am

Posted in Politics

Wind In The Moving Pictures

From March 5, 1911



Apparently, there was a lot of wind in early movies. Why were they all so windy?

The question is asked by almost every one who has been bitten by the bug of the moving picture show. It is a fact that in every scene where there’s half a chance of getting up a breeze it blows a tornado, or at least a brisk gale disports itself in the trees in the background and the skirts of the harassed heroine in the front.

A moving picture man solved the problem.

“That’s easy,” he replied in answer to a query. “If the pictures were taken when the air was perfectly still, then if the living characters happened to be still also the picture would be as dead looking at a 35-cent chromo of ‘Twilight.’ So a time is selected for photographing the scenes outside when the wind is playing old hob with things generally, trees swaying, and skirts fluttering and hair flying — haven’t you ever noticed how much more effective a woman is when her hair is streaming behind her like the burgee on a racing yacht?”

For a classic example of strong wind in silent film, jump to the 55 minute mark in Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill, Jr.(1928) and watch to the end.


Written by David

March 3rd, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Gives Up Royalties On Great Telephone Invention

From March 5, 1911


GIVES UP ROYALTIES ON GREAT TELEPHONE INVENTION: Major G. O. Squier of the Army Turns Over His Patent to the Government — His Multiplex Telephone May Revolutionize Long Distance Talking. (PDF)

Major George Owen Squier gave the world a gift with one invention, and a decade later invented a technology which would become the butt of jokes.

First, he invented the multiplex telephone. That’s the technology which allows several conversations to be carried simultaneously on the same wire without crossover. Instead of profiting from this invention, he gave it to the public domain, saying:

Is it not right that I should give this to te public? I obtained my education through the American people; as an officer of the United States Army my time and all the good that may accrue from the use I make of that time and the education given me belongs morally to them. When a man in the army commences to think of money he commences to forget his moral duty to his country. It is my creed that all that is best in me, all that that best can produce, belongs to my country and my people. Do they not provide for me? I am assured by these people of the United States three square meals a day and comfortable quarters as long as I do my duty. A man with millions cannot ask more; he cannot eat more or dress more comfortably than my countrymen assure me I shall always find my portion as long as I do my duty.

“I have given my life and all that is in it to my country, and I think it only right that whatever of good I may bring forth, especially if that good has its roots in the education they afforded me, should accrue without cost to the benefit of the people. Therefore I have dedicated this invention to their use without reserve, placing it beyond the power not only of any monopoly of capital but even of myself to exercise any control or place any limitation upon its use. It is as free as air to the humblest.”

That is pretty noble.

In 1922, Squier came up with another invention that’s still with us today. He created Wired Radio, a service that piped music to subscribers over wires. It was originally intended as a better alternative to residential wireless radio, which was still working out its kinks. But those issues were quickly resolved, so this service was marketed instead to hotels and restaurants. Squier eventually decided that the service needed a better name than Wired Radio and, inspired by the catchy brand name Kodak invented, Squier changed his company’s name to Muzak.

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Written by David

March 3rd, 2011 at 9:45 am

Possibilities In Mahler Symphony

From March 5, 1911



When I saw the Philadelphia Philharmonic Orchestra perform Mahler’s Eighth Symphony at Carnegie Hall in 2008, there were 335 performers on stage, including a chorus of 205 people. It was pretty impressive. But that was nothing compared to the symphony’s premiere.

Mahler’s Eighth is sometimes called the Symphony of a Thousand and it turns out that’s just about how many people were in the original performance:

In the time of Mozart a symphonic composer was very well content to have an orchestra of forty men or so — a few strings, a few wind and percussion instruments. Beethoven rather upset some of the symphonic traditions by writing his ninth symphony, which requires a chorus and four solo voices. Liszt and Berlioz carried the symphonic upsetting of traditions a bit further. Gustav Mahler, however, has seemingly gone several steps further than any of his predecessors.

His eighth symphony lasts about an hour and three quarters. In the finales Mahler has eight trumpeters and four trombone players in addition to the regular orchestra, who all stand up in a row at the top of the platform and blow for all they are worth into the faces of the audience. Besides these extra brass players there are in the orchestra itself four trumpets, eight horns, four trombones, a tuba, four kettledrums, and three pairs of extra cymbals, not to mention the great organ, which also goes full blast. These in addition to the usual instruments of the orchestra and 850 voices. To enumerate exactly, the symphony demanded 7 soloists, 500 men and women chorus singers, 350 children, and an orchestra of 170 men!

“There were a lot of interesting details,” writes one critic. “In the orchestra, for instance, one could note a double bassoon, elongated by the attachment of an aluminium tube two or three feet long, in order, I suppose, to secure lower tones than possible with the ordinary instrument. The busiest bee in the hive, not excepting Mahler himself, was the kettledrum player.

“It was a mere bagatelle for him to play two drums, one with each hand, while tuning a third with his teeth. He also had a faithful Achates, who spent most of his time tinkling triangles, ringing bells, banging big drums, etc. However, when the demands became too great even for the almost superhuman ability of the aforesaid kettledrum player, this true friend would drop his own work, spring twenty feet across the platform, never once upsetting a music desk, snatch up a pair of sticks, and let loose on the kettledrums numbers three and four, while the first artist confined himself to numbers one and two.”

Wikimedia has a photo from 1910 of the whole ensemble in their final rehearsal. It looks like quite a spectacle. I don’t think even half that many people could have fit on the stage at Carnegie Hall.

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Written by David

March 2nd, 2011 at 11:00 am

Posted in Entertainment