Archive for the ‘Development’ Category

How Conversation Across A Continent Came About

From July 9, 1911


HOW CONVERSATION ACROSS A CONTINENT CAME ABOUT: The Men Who Made It Possible for New York to Talk to Denver — Graham Bell Has Lived to See His Invention Grow Beyond All the Bounds Believed to be Set for It When He Made It. (PDF)

The development of the long distance telephone, which began thirty years ago, is due in a most striking way to a group of brilliant scientists and inventors, each of whom contributed one or more factors essential to the success of the whole. But for the discoveries and scientific devices of these men the original invention of Prof. Alexander Graham Bell would not be the wonderfully practical means of communication that it is, and talking over continental distances would be out of the question. With but a very few exceptions, these men, who by their improvements on the Bell instrument have made the long distance telephone a reality, are alive to-day and actively engaged either in the further development of the telephone or in other scientific pursuits.

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Written by David

July 7th, 2011 at 10:03 am

Making Washington One Of World’s Beautiful Capitals

From July 2, 1911


MAKING WASHINGTON ONE OF WORLD’S BEAUTIFUL CAPITALS: L’Enfant’s Dream to Come True After a Century — With the Approval of the Plans for Three New Department Buildings, the Ten-Year-Old Plan for a Splendid Home for the Government Is Launched (PDF)

Pierre Charles L’Enfant was a French born American architect who designed the layout of Washington DC in the country’s early years. But, the article says, his “great work was hampered and thwarted for a century by the lack of appreciation for beauty in the Government.”

Ugly buildings, slums, and “even houses of ill-fame” lined the mall. In 1911, plans were approved to build some new government buildings in keeping with L’Enfant’s original vision.

Today, work is still being done to improve the mall and surrounding parks. You can see a list of ongoing projects under supervision of the National Parks Service.

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Written by David

June 27th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Posted in Development,Politics

New York’s Proposed New Subway System At A Glance

From June 18, 1911



Time to update your subway maps.

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Written by David

June 16th, 2011 at 10:30 am

Posted in Development

What Is The Most Beautiful Spot In New York?

From June 18, 1911


WHAT IS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SPOT IN NEW YORK? Well Known Artists Express Their Preferences and Show an Astonishing Lack of Unanimity, No Two Selecting the Same Place — But They Upset the Popular Opinion That Skyscrapers Are Ugly. (PDF)

What’s the most beautiful spot in New York City? Answers in this article from a variety of artists include The Ramble in Central Park, Madison Square Park, Broad Street in the financial district, and the Brooklyn Bridge.

What do you think is the city’s most beautiful spot?

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Written by David

June 15th, 2011 at 10:15 am

Centenary Of City Hall To Be Observed On July 4

From June 11, 1911


CENTENARY OF CITY HALL TO BE OBSERVED ON JULY 4: Descendants of Mayor De Witt Clinton and Other Officials of That Day Asked to Join in the Celebration — The Story of the Building. (PDF)

100 years ago, the city celebrated City Hall‘s 100th anniversary. But I can’t find any announcements of bicentennial celebrations planned for this year. So I propose that we all celebrate by riding the 6 train through the abandoned City Hall subway station.

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Written by David

June 10th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Development,Politics

There Is Too Much Waste In Our Educational System

From June 11, 1911


THERE IS TOO MUCH WASTE IN OUR EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM: Business Principles of Factories Should Be Applied to It, Says Leonard P. Ayres, of the Sage Foundation. We Don’t Demand Definite Results and Don’t Know What We’re Aiming At. (PDF)

I don’t have time to write more comments on this article because I’m a brand new dad and need to focus on that for a bit. But please feel free to read the article and make your own comments.

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Written by David

June 9th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Celebrating The Naming Of America At St. Die

From June 4, 1911


CELEBRATING THE NAMING OF AMERICA AT ST. DIE: Four Hundredth Anniversary of the Death of Mathias Ringmann, Who First Suggested the Name of This Continent in His “Introductio Cosmographiae.” (PDF)

I don’t have time to write more comments on this article because I’m a brand new dad and need to focus on that for a bit. But please feel free to read the article and make your own comments.

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Written by David

May 31st, 2011 at 9:50 am

Posted in Development

Sectional View Of The New Municipal Building

From May 21, 1911


SECTIONAL VIEW OF THE NEW MUNICIPAL BUILDING: Intricacies of the Huge Structure Shown, and the Approaches to the Subways Connecting with the Bridges Plainly Indicated. (PDF)

A lovely cross-section of the Municipal Building. Almost exactly four years ago, I got married in that building.

The rest of this post is unwritten because I’m a brand new dad and need to focus on that for a bit. But please feel free to read the article and make your own comments.

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Written by David

May 20th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Posted in Development

Sectional View Of New York’s New Public Library

From May 14, 1911


SECTIONAL VIEW OF NEW YORK’S PUBLIC LIBRARY: Some Idea of the Size and Completeness of the Structure May Be Had from the Accompanying Drawing. (PDF)

I love this illustration. I like to imagine that the cutaway walls are really like that, and you can go up to the roof of the library and slide down them.

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Written by David

May 9th, 2011 at 10:00 am

A Fire Detective — Latest Necessity Of City Life

From May 7, 1911


A FIRE DETECTIVE — LATEST NECESSITY OF CITY LIFE: His Strange Discoveries in Tracking Firebugs — His Studies in the Psychology of That Increasing Product of Present Conditions, the Pyromaniac. (PDF)

See also: Robert De Niro in Backdraft

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Written by David

May 5th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Centenary Of Maker Of First Portrait Photograph

From April 30, 1911


CENTENARY OF MAKER OF FIRST PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPH: New York University Will Honor the Memory of Prof John William Draper, Who Took the First Human Likeness When Daguerre Failed to Do It. (PDF)

I’m a photographer professionally, so articles like this are especially interesting to me. This one celebrates the 100th birthday of John William Draper, credited with taking the first portrait photo, an image of his sister Dorothy.

Back then, photos required long exposures, so the subjects needed to sit extremely still. Draper experimented with putting white powder on people’s faces to lighten them up a bit for the picture. And he also realized that if a person sits still for a 30 second exposure, they can feel free to blink during that time without worrying about ruining the image. But any other movement must be considered and eliminated:

“The hands should never rest upon the chest, for the motion of respiration disturbs them so much as to make them have a thick, clumsy appearance, destroying also the representation of the veins on the back, which, if they are held motionless, are copied with surprising beauty.”

Here’s some more of Draper’s advice for a portrait sitting:

“It has already been stated that pictorial advantages attend an arrangement in which the light is thrown upon the face at a small angle. This also allows us to get rid entirely of the shadow on the background or to compose it more gracefully in the picture. For this it is well that the chair should be brought forward from the background from three to six feet.

“Those who undertake daguerreotype portraiture will, of course, arrange the background of their pictures according to their own tastes. When one that is quite uniform is desired, a blanket or a cloth of drab color, properly suspended, will be found to answer very well.”

While Draper took the first formal portrait, Louis Daguerre actually took the first photo of a person. He captured a photo looking out over a street in Paris. It was a long exposure, so people moving through the frame were not captured. But one person stood still long enough to register in the image while he was getting his shoe shined. But the figure is tiny and silhouetted, so it could hardly be called a portrait.

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Written by David

April 29th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Fighting To Beautify Fifth Avenue With Trees

From April 30, 1911


FIGHTING TO BEAUTIFY FIFTH AVENUE WITH TREES: Widening of the Avenue Above Forty-Seventh Street Gives Fresh Impetus to the Movement of the Tree Planting Association (PDF)

This article discusses a proposal to turn Fifth Avenue in to a tree-lined street with a tree-lined median, like Park Avenue has today.

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Written by David

April 26th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Posted in Development

Seeking An Invention To Prevent Railroad Collisions

From April 23, 1911


SEEKING AN INVENTION TO PREVENT RAILROAD COLLISIONS: Inter-State Commerce Commission Makes Tests on Staten Island of Young Texan’s Device, One of Twenty Selected for Official Investigation. (PDF)

In a sort of precursor to the X Prize, Congress set aside $50,000 and invited inventors to submit their inventions which would prevent railroad collisions.

Of course there was an avalanche — a grand rush of eager young geniuses to the spot. They submitted plans of every description, ranging from those that seemed to possess real merit to the wildest and most impossible dreams that ever rioted through a human brain.

The total number of inventions submitted was 185. Every one of them, no matter how extravagant, was looked into my the commission’s experts. Flaws were picked out which made device after device impracticable — one by one the fruits of hours and days and years of sleepless toll were discarded. At last barely twenty survived.

These were put aside for further consideration and further weeding out. Then exhaustive practical tests of the few survivors were instituted by the commission’s examiners.

I’m unclear if the winning inventor gets the $50,000, or if that money was used to test the inventions. But either way, one invention stood out as having promise, devised by a twenty-six year old named Frederick Lacroix.

No sooner had his idea firmly established itself in his inventive brain than he set to work making experiments, adopting and rejecting various schemes, until at last he hit on exactly what he was after. Then he had a model made for him, and with it made numberless further experiments to see whether his invention fully realized his dreams.

It did.

His solution involved adding a third rail to carry electricity, which forms a circuit with some equipment in the train. Another train on the same section of track would interrupt the circuit, triggering a device that automatically applies the brakes and whistle. As an added benefit, the third rail would also provide a telephone line so the trains can talk to each other.

In repeated tests, Lacroix’s solution worked. But I am unable to find any evidence that it was actually adopted as a safety device. Does anybody know?

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Written by David

April 22nd, 2011 at 9:00 am

New York’s First Subway Built More Than Forty Years Ago

From April 23, 1911


NEW YORK’S FIRST SUBWAY BUILT MORE THAN FORTY YEARS AGO: Curious History That Surrounds a Grating Opposite City Hall Marking a Forgotten Enterprise of “Certain Prominent Citizens.” (PDF)

New York City’s subway opened in 1904. So what is this article talking about? Well, there was a secret subway, built without permission from the city. It was only one block long because it was exposed by a reporter before much work could be done. And this subway didn’t run on electricity as our modern subway does. It ran in pneumatic tubes!

So why did it need to be built in secret? Why wouldn’t the city have wanted it? Well, when the subway was first proposed, people did not think it was a good idea. Even the Times was against it:

The Times of March 15, 1869, editorially exclaims: “It is said that the Legislature is quite likely to charter a project for building what is called an arcade railroad under Broadway. We can scarcely believe it. When this wild scheme was dismissed a year or two ago we hoped and believed that we had heard the last of it — and so did everybody else.”

The public and The Times, though, were justified in their distrust of the scheme. Those prominent men wanted to build a subway with a vengeance. What they wanted to do was to dig down, the whole width and length of Broadway from the Battery away uptown, for seventeen feet. They proposed to restore the street by building a roof over the chasm.

This plan, as has been said, died a natural and unobtrusive death. The next move toward a subway was in the early part of 1869. It didn’t seem like a move at all. Legislative power was obtained to construct a pneumatic tube from Warren Street to Cedar Street for the purpose of blowing small and large parcels, indeed all kind of express business, between these two localities.

Then queer rumors began to fly around.

In the latter part of 1869 a young man dressed in working clothes, and looking rather mussed and dirty, went down in the middle of the night to the cellar of the Rogers-Peet Building. In this cellar he groped around until he found an opening he was looking for. He went through the opening and landed in an underground tunnel, dark except for flaring lights here and there. There was an air of excitement and feverish work in this tunnel. Whatever talking there was was done in whispers, although a shout wouldn’t have been heard on the street. The young man applied for work. He got it and spent that and the following night in very hard and earnest digging.

And then The Tribune came out with a full expose of the subway that was secretly being built.

The young man was a Tribune reporter.

The substance of the article was this: In the last week one block of subway tunnel had been dug and built by night. It extended from the southwest corner of Broadway and Warren Street to Broadway and Murray Street. So that nobody should see the earth that was dug away it had all been carted to the big cellar of the Rogers-Peet Building and dumped there. If The Tribune had not exposed what was going on a subway under the whole length of Broadway was to have been secretly built. A car was in the tunnel. Also a big machine that was going to blow the car from one end of the track to the other.

It seemed incredible. Who had ever heard of being blown through the earth to one’s destination?

New York wavered between perplexity and indignation.

When this article came out, the tunnel still existed. But it was most likely destroyed when an authorized subway system tunnel was built soon after. has a page with sketches of the pneumatic subway system, and more information about its demise.

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Written by David

April 19th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Moving A Million Books Into The New Library

From April 16, 1911


MOVING A MILLION BOOKS INTO THE NEW LIBRARY: Transfer of the Lenox and Astor Library Contents to the Beautiful New Building at Forty-second Street and Fifth Avenue a Big Undertaking. (PDF)

The worst thing about moving is all the books. They take much longer to pack than you think they will, they fill more boxes than you guess they will, and they’re a lot heavier than you remember them being. The last time I moved, I probably had a few hundred books that came with me. That’s about 0.02% of what had to be moved into the new library.

At the Forty-second Street entrance to the new building there is always a long line of moving vans, and sixty men from the establishment which is handling the job go in and out, bent under the weight of learning, like frugal ants stocking their hill for the Winter. At the entrance a lady in a sheath skirt, with her hair done in the style of 1860 and her finger poised under her chin, watches the laborers. Even though she is marble, she seems to grow daily more bewildered at the endless procession.

To any oen who has ever moved from one abiding place to another, the mere statement that 1,300,000 pieces have had to be packed, transported, and unpacked is enough without elaboration. When to this is added the fact that many of the volumes are old and of great value and that two picture galleries have had to be moved as well, there is room for amazement that the readers of the city are not going to be deprived of their books for a longer period.

I hope they remembered to lift with their knees, not with their backs.

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Written by David

April 15th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Planning To Make New York A Beautiful City

From April 16, 1911


PLANNING TO MAKE NEW YORK A BEAUTIFUL CITY: Municipal Art Society Assembles in an Exhibition Many Suggestions for Doing Away with Ugliness and Increasing the Beauty of the Town. (PDF)

New York City recently celebrated the 200th anniversary of the gridded street system. The Times has put together an interactive map where you can compare the original plan with the final outcome.

I bring it up because in this article — which is mainly about an art exhibit at the Municipal Art Society in which various artists share their vision for a beautified New York — the grid system is not hailed as such a great idea:

[T]here is not a city in Europe laid out on the rectangular plan like New York that has not had to change it sooner or later… Have you ever stopped to think how much time we lose by going straight up and then straight across.. and perpetually rushing around right angles?

It always takes five or ten or fifteen minutes longer to get from one great centre of the city to another than it should. Persons of a statistical turn of mind may calculate that if five million persons lose ten minutes a day in this way it makes fifty million minutes, or nearly a million hours, and so on.

Nobody denies the necessity for more and diagonal avenues. The objection has always been based on expense. It does seem a considerable undertaking to buy up land enough for a new avenue and tear down houses and lay a street, but other municipalities have met the same problem and settled it.

For such a celebrated street system, I was surprised to see that the Municipal Art Society concludes “New York is very badly planned, indeed, but… things are going to be changed, and just as soon as they are the artists can be trusted to see to it that beauty is not forgotten.”

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Written by David

April 11th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Development

We Safeguard Property; Now Protect Life — Waldo

From April 9, 1911


WE SAFEGUARD PROPERTY; NOW PROTECT LIFE — WALDO: Fire Commissioner Outlines Plans by Which, Having Made Our Building Fireproof, We Can Prevent the Slaughter of those Who Have to Work in Them. (PDF)

A couple weeks ago, you probably noticed a lot of coverage of the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. It happened on March 25, 1911, which was a Saturday. The Sunday Magazine did not cover it that weekend — the main news sections of the paper did — but on April 9, Rhinelander Waldo, the city’s Fire Commissioner, wrote this article for the Magazine proposing a new division of the fire department with a new goal: instead of just fighting fires, let’s try to prevent them.

Fire extinguishment in this city has about reached its maximum efficiency. When the motor-driven fire apparatus is installed throughout the city and also the high-pressure water system there will be little left for us to do to raise the efficiency of our fire-fighting force.

The great thing is to prevent fire.

This is simply taking a leaf from the book of the medical profession. For many years doctors concentrated all their efforts upon curing disease. The modern school bends its main efforts to preventive measures.

One of his recommendations doesn’t actually prevent a fire from starting, but can extinguish a small fire before it spreads: automatic sprinklers.

This is a system of pipes which is suspended from the ceiling and which is connected with a tank on the roof. At certain distances on the pipes are nozzles which have fusible metal caps. This metal fuses at a temperature of 160 degrees. Even a small flame will open adjacent nozzles, and the water, which is thrown up against a plate, is diffused over the floor in a spray which covers about eight square feet.

Only last Wednesday there was a demonstration of the efficiency of the sprinkler system. Fire was discovered at 5:15 o’clock in the afternoon in the receiving department on the ninth floor of the building occupied by a well-known department store. Although there were probably more than 1,000 customers in the store at the time, only a few of them knew of the fire. The fact was unknown even to most of the employees. When the heat in the room rose to the necessary temperature the sprinkler system automatically began to work, and at the same time an alarm was automatically sounded. The fire was extinguished quickly with a damage by water that did not exceed $200.

Compare this with what would have occurred had there only been hose pipe in reels on the wall and panicky employees relied upon to haul them through rooms filled with panicky customers.

He goes on to describe how narrow aisles, blocked doors, and discarded rubbish can all create fire hazards. He concludes by proposing a new Bureau of Fire Prevention within the Fire Department that would be in charge of inspecting fire escapes, sprinklers, fireproofing, etc. The proposal went through, and the FDNY website has information about the Bureau of Fire Prevention today.

Bonus: If you actually download the PDF to read the article, you’ll get another article on the same page profiling a circus lion tamer.

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Written by David

April 5th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Posted in Development,Politics

All Roads Lead To Times Square

From April 2, 1911


ALL ROADS LEAD TO TIMES SQUARE: The Pending Subway Offers Make It a Focal Point for the Transit Development of the Future — A Bird’s-eye View Showing How Proposed Lines, if Carried Out, Would Lead to Times Square. (PDF)

I like this bird’s eye illustration showing potential additions and extensions to the existing IRT and BMT subway lines. For a good look at how the subways lines grew and changed over time, check out‘s archive of historic subway maps.

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Written by David

April 1st, 2011 at 9:15 am

Posted in Development

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

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