Archive for April, 2010

Spring’s Iceberg Dangers

From May 1, 1910



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

Two years later, the Titanic sank.

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Written by David

April 30th, 2010 at 9:04 am

Posted in Nature,Science

A Mania For Buying Results In A Strange Collection

From May 1, 1910


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

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

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

From the article:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Written by David

April 30th, 2010 at 9:03 am

Posted in Life

Wireless Wonder Aged 14 Amazes Senate Committee

From May 1, 1910


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Written by David

April 30th, 2010 at 9:02 am

Mark Twain’s Secret Book Gives Startling Views

From May 1, 1910


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

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

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

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

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Written by David

April 30th, 2010 at 9:01 am

Mark Twain — Philosopher Of Democracy

From April 24, 1910


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

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


Written by David

April 23rd, 2010 at 9:05 am

Schoolboys Learn To Make Air Ships

From April 24, 1910



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

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

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Written by David

April 23rd, 2010 at 9:04 am

Posted in Life,Technology

What It Costs A Young Girl To Be Well Dressed

From April 24, 1910


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

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

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


Written by David

April 23rd, 2010 at 9:03 am

Posted in Life

Baden Powell’s Boy Scout Plan Invades America

From April 24, 1910


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

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

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


Written by David

April 23rd, 2010 at 9:02 am

Where Music Soothes While Lobsters Broil

From April 24, 1910


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A pretty good rant. And I love the illustrations.

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Written by David

April 23rd, 2010 at 9:01 am

The New Times Square Looking Toward The North

From April 17, 1910


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

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

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


Written by David

April 16th, 2010 at 9:10 am

Posted in Development