Archive for July, 2010

Freak Patents That Have Come In With The Aeroplane

From July 31, 1910


FREAK PATENTS THAT HAVE COME IN WITH THE AEROPLANE: Would-Be Inventors Keep the Department at Washington Busy With Schemes That Sound Flighty. (PDF)

The illustrations and descriptions of crazy flying contraptions that people applied for patents on (sometimes successfully) are fantastic. I managed to find one of the actual patents for a machine mentioned in the article that’s powered by birds. I think the technical drawings in the patent are even better than the illustrations shown here. Check it out. It’s powered by eagles!

Here’s how the article describes that invention:

From gay Paree comes Edouard Wulff, with a patented scheme for flying by means of “eagles, vultures, or condors.” True to the instincts of his native city, he fits out his birds with “corsets,” the specifications of which as to trimmings, binding, etc., are carefully set out.

By a strange oversight for one bred in the city of fashions, he fails to state what is the latest mode of wearing the feathers on his motors. With wise foresight he has provided for two aeronauts, one on top among the birds and the other below to steer the craft. This is sensible; a man busy prodding up a dozen uncouth and bewildered condors wouldn’t have much time for steering.

Not all of the inventions are outrageous in hindsight. The article takes a mocking tone at a proposed airship so big it has several floors and resembles a hotel, but of course we have multilevel jumbo jets today, some with luxury approaching that of hotels, so it wasn’t so far fetched.

Most of the invention descriptions in the article are too vague for me to find the original patents (if they truly even reached the application stage), but you can find a lot of this kind of thing using Google’s patent search engine. Here is a link to search “flying machine” or “airship” with results displayed visually in chronological order.

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Written by David

July 30th, 2010 at 10:15 am

The Loeb College Of Politeness For Customs Officers

From July 31, 1910


THE LOEB COLLEGE OF POLITENESS FOR CUSTOMS OFFICERS: It’s First Class Was Just Graduated After a Course that It Is Hoped Will Silence Many Complaints of Tourists from Abroad. (PDF)

An interesting look at rules for customs officers, with particular attention paid to how they should handle a lady’s dainties when going through her bags:

The pupil is also taught to handle the most costly lace, lingerie, and gowns in a way which will leave no cause for complaint from the owner…

“You must be circumspect in your dealings with women,” says the text book. “Remember you come into contact with their most intimate possessions and that your observations and findings should be as sacred and confidential as the privileged communications of a profession. Neither by work nor action, look or gesture must you overstep any of the conventional proprieties that govern the relations of the sexes, if you value your position and your reputation as a man.”

Sidebar: I noticed that the dek uses the conjunction it’s when it should have used the possessive pronoun its. I thought it strange that this slipped by, so I did some research. Apparently, until a few hundred years ago it’s was in fact the proper possessive form for it. You abbreviated it is as ’tis. In the 19th century, ’tis was seen as archaic, and there was a period of overlap before our current usage became the norm. (Sources: 1, 2).

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Written by David

July 30th, 2010 at 10:00 am

Posted in Life,Recreation

How Long Should A Man’s Vacation Be?

From July 31, 1910


HOW LONG SHOULD A MAN’S VACATION BE? President Taft Says Every One Should Have Three Months — What Big Employers of Labor and Men of Affairs Think on the Subject. (PDF)

President Taft said that Americans should get take two or three months vacation in the summer:

“The American People,” said he, “have found out that there is such a thing as exhausting the capital of one’s health and constitution, and that two or three months’ vacation after the hard and nervous strain to which one is subjected during the Autumn and Spring are necessary in order to enable one to continue his work the next year with that energy and effectiveness which it ought to have.”

So the New York Times Magazine asked several prominent businessmen what they thought of the proposal. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t like it.

William Ellis Corey, President of US Steel: “I am of the opinion that two or three months, as suggested by the President, is entirely too long under ordinary circumstances.”

John Dustin Archibold, VP of Standard Oil: “For people who conserve their powers carefully in their current work, reasonably short periods ought to suffice.”

John Wanamaker, former Postmaster General: “I cannot see the President’s two or three months idea at all, except to repeat that it should not be taken too seriously.”

And so on. I’m not sure how many vacation days Taft himself took during his Presidency, but these days the media keeps track of Presidential vacations pretty closely.

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Written by David

July 30th, 2010 at 9:45 am

Posted in Politics,Recreation

“The Country Needs A Period Of Rest And Readjustment”

From July 31, 1910


“THE COUNTRY NEEDS A PERIOD OF REST AND READJUSTMENT” This Is the View of Roger W. Babson, Expert Economist, Who Thinks This Is a Time for “Cainting Ourselves to the Floor and Thinking” — A Careful Analysis of Financial Affairs (PDF)

The more I read about economist Roger Babson, the more I realize that he’s a hard guy to sum up in a blog entry. He was an economist who believed the business cycle followed the laws of nature. He thought that stocks were like gravity, so what goes up must come down. He didn’t just use gravity as a metaphor, but really believed the planet’s gravitational pull was a literal influence on business. He eventually founded the Gravity Research Foundation to study gravity (and the possibility of anti-gravity) in 1949.

Babson College, a business school he founded in Massachusetts, includes this note in their official biography of Babson:

His pseudoscientific notion, that the laws of physics account for every rise and ebb in the economy, had no more validity than the ancient beliefs that the stars govern the destinies of men or that base metals could be transmuted into gold or silver.

But it turns out that he did have some good ideas, and successfully predicted the crash of 1929 (I’m not sure how many crashes he may have predicted that didn’t come true, but that one he got right).

He was also the Prohibitionist Party’s candidate for President in 1940. I had no idea such a party still exists, but here is the tribute to him on their website.

Fun fact: The prohibitionist party mascot is a camel.

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Written by David

July 30th, 2010 at 9:30 am

Posted in Development,Politics

Ice Water From Sunshine

From July 31, 1910



The article describes the Mexican olla, a clay vessel which uses evaporation of water on the surface to cool the vessel’s contents enough to keep perishables from spoiling. I’d never heard of it before, but it makes sense.

The next step, I suppose, it getting ice from fire. For that, see The Mosquito Coast.

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Written by David

July 30th, 2010 at 9:15 am

Posted in Science,Technology

Experts Foretell The Wonderful Feats Of Surgery

From July 31, 1910


EXPERTS FORETELL THE WONDERFUL FEATS OF SURGERY: View of Drs. Charles Mayo, John H. Gibbon, Edward Martin, John B. Murphy, Roswell Park, and Others. (PDF)

The doctors in this article give rather sensible and reasoned responses when asked to predict the near future of surgery. They look forward to better anesthesia, simplification of procedures, etc. But one doctor makes several references to a man named Dr. Carrel, whose work in the area of transplantation he feels has a lot of potential. This got me curious.

So I looked up this Dr. Carrel. What a guy. Dr. Alexis Carrel was the first person to successfully suture blood vessels together. He developed methods of preventing infection during surgery. He worked with Charles Lindbergh to build a machine that circulates blood through organs outside the body. In 1912, he won the Nobel Prize for his work. Sounds good so far.

But there’s a strange and dark side of Dr. Carrel. He kept a chicken heart alive in his office for decades (it even outlived him). His laboratory walls were all black, and he insisted that his staff wear black clothes. He promoted the idea that people can be preserved in suspended animation for hundreds of years. And he was denied tenure at the University of Lyon medical college after he told colleagues that he witnessed a woman miraculously cured by divine intervention.

But the most appalling thing is that Dr. Carrel promoted eugenics. He advocated that gas chambers be used to kill people who are genetically inferior, criminal, or insane. He wrote about this in his book Man, The Unknown, a later edition of which included a note in praise of the Nazis’ “energetic measures.”

In light of this, I was disturbed to come across a 1999 Mother’s Day speech by the late John Cardinal O’Connor of the New York Archdiocese in which he praises Carrel as a good Catholic for standing by his statement that he witnessed divine intervention. O’Connor states, “Dr. Alexis Carrel undoubtedly believed in the extraordinary statement from our Divine Lord in today’s Gospel [Jn. 14:15-21]. ‘If you love me, keep my commandments.'” I think the Cardinal did not do his homework on that one.

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Written by David

July 30th, 2010 at 9:00 am

Will Future Generations Lose Historical Records Of To-Day?

From July 24, 1910


WILL FUTURE GENERATIONS LOSE HISTORICAL RECORDS OF TO-DAY? Scientists Point Out the Probably Destruction of Newspaper Files in a Few Centuries — The Wood Pulp Problem (PDF)

In the late 1990s, I was a photographer for Christie’s auction house. I shot for every department, and even though the historic letters and documents were not a challenge to shoot, they were still among my favorite things to photograph. I felt privileged to handle (carefully) important documents from history, including one of the original copies of the Declaration of Independence, letters from America’s founding fathers, the diary of a Civil War soldier, etc. Since many of today’s documents exist only digitally, our ancestors won’t have these kinds of physical objects hundreds of years from now. While looking at digital files can give me a similar feeling of connectedness with the past, there’s a feeling I get when I’m holding a piece of paper in my hand that was signed personally by George Washington that I just can’t get from a digital copy of the same document.

Preserving those kinds of historic documents has always been a challenge. This article mainly concerns newspapers and the switch from rag-based to wood-based paper in the late 1800s (wood-based paper being more difficult to preserve). Microfilm was already around in 1910, but the article does not discuss the possibility that newspaper copies could be preserved on film. Microfilm didn’t really become popular until the mid-1920s, and it wasn’t until 1935 that Kodak’s Recordak division began preserving the New York Times in that format.

Incidentally, if you do have a wood pulp newspaper you want to archive, the website has a pretty good overview of how historical newspapers can be preserved.

[Note from January 2019:

Today, newspapers are usually created digitally, and so are easy to preserve digitally. But even digital records can become impossible to retrieve as formats become obsolete. And the fluid nature of the internet, where most publishing takes place these days, makes it a difficult medium to preserve. But the non-profit Internet Archive is making a great effort.

I’m glad that people were thinking about preserving their archives 100 years ago. If they weren’t, I’d have a much harder time with this website.

Side note: As a photographer, I think a lot about future-proofing my digital archive. I began shooting digitally in 1997 — at Christie’s, where the studio was on the cutting edge of digital photography — and recently came across some old images in file formats that I couldn’t open. (It took some hunting but I finally found legacy software that allowed me to convert the images to a modern format.) If you save the raw files from your digital camera, chances are good that they are in a proprietary format that may one day be obsolete. Some of the best writing I’ve found about future-proofing your digital photo archives is by Peter Krogh. If these issues concern you, I recommend his book on Digital Asset Management for photographers.

[Side note here added January 2019 by Jesse Rifkin, David Friedman’s successor administrator for The aforementioned website referenced midway through David’s post no longer exists, which in and of itself attests to David’s statement: “The fluid nature of the internet, where most publishing takes place these days, makes it a difficult medium to preserve. But the non-profit Internet Archive is making a great effort.” I have updated David’s original link about History Buff’s guide to newspaper preservation to the Internet Archive’s cached version of that same link from 2010, back when David originally made this post.]

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Written by David

July 23rd, 2010 at 10:15 am

Personally Directed Sports Are Popular With Children

From July 24, 1910


PERSONALLY DIRECTED SPORTS ARE POPULAR WITH CHILDREN: Park Commissioner Stover Finds that This Plan Makes Play More Attractive to the Youngsters of the Streets (PDF)

Around 1900, a group called the Playground Association organized sports for boys in some of the city playgrounds. It was going well until the city took over the playgrounds, and ended the supervised games. The city figured that “play was just play, and if the spaces were there the boys would go, whether an instructor presided or not.” But they didn’t. It turned out that streets were just as fun to play in, and had more shade to cool down in.

The article describes a movement under the new Park Commissioner to bring back directed sports in 1910. I especially like the dialogue here between a boy and a sports director:

The other day, when an instructor walked into a park to establish a new centre for games, the first thing every boy did was to take to his heels as hard as he could. The instructor was accompanied by the park guard, who was to show him the plot, and the boys knew him for a natural enemy. Only one boy stood, like Horatio, to keep the bridge — or maybe he was too lazy to run. The instructor beckoned to him, and the boy came, keeping a way eye out for an avenue of escape, but determined not to be bullied by any number of park guards.

“Look here, Johnny,” said the instructor easily, “we’re going to open a playground here, and we’re going to play baseball. Tell the rest of the boys to come back.”

“Huh?” said the boy.

The instructor repeated.

“They don’t let you play no baseball in the parks,” returned the boy scornfully, when the second explanation was finished.

“Yes, they’re going to let us. I’ve got a permit from the Park Department.”

“Park Department?” said the boy.

“Yes. Go call the boys.”

“Call ’em back?”

“Yes. Run along.”

The boy eyed the young man dubiously. The child of the streets is slow to believe, and this particular specimen stood on one foot, rubbing the other against his leg, for fully half a minute while he decided whether this was a fair offer or a trap.


“All right. Gee!” he said, and he was off like a shot.

Some of the directed activities included baseball, basket weaving, and gymnastics. No word on tag.

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Written by David

July 23rd, 2010 at 10:00 am

Posted in Development,Life,Sports

Lure of Viennese Waltz Wins Wealth For Composers

From July 24, 1910


LURE OF VIENNESE WALTZ WINS WEALTH FOR COMPOSERS: The Vogue of the Music of Lehar, Strauss and Leo Fall Has Made Them Rich (PDF)

An interesting look at the popularity of Viennese waltz in the turn of the last century. As you read, please enjoy Johann Strauss’ 1866 piece An der schönen blauen Donau, known in English as The Blue Danube:


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Written by David

July 23rd, 2010 at 9:45 am

Posted in Entertainment,Music

If You Are Bald You’ll Stay Bald

From July 24, 1910


IF YOU ARE BALD YOU’LL STAY BALD: That’s What a Tonsorial Artist Says and He Always Has His Reasons Therefor (PDF)

The logic here seems to be: If there were a cure for baldness, barbers would know about it. Barbers don’t know about it. Therefore there is no cure for baldness. Modus tollens.

But the real gem is this quote: “Some are born bald. Some achieve baldness. Some have baldness thrust upon them… The born bald usually get over it and live to get it again.” Sage words.

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Written by David

July 23rd, 2010 at 9:30 am

Posted in Humor,Life,Science