When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

When Grandpa Was a Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

A Popular History of the 20th Century

Not Just For Eating

1907: In 1870, there were 30,000 orange trees in California; 20 years later, there were 1.1 million. At the start of the 20th century, Californian citrus growers ran the risk of producing more oranges than they could sell, and with recently planted trees set to begin bearing fruit, the problem was likely to worsen.

Growers faced a stark choice – reduce supply or increase demand. So, in 1907, the California Fruit Growers Exchange teamed up with Lord & Thomas advertising agency. The growers adopted the name Sunkist for their produce; the advertisers launched energetic sales campaigns and devised snappy slogans.

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Green Girls

André Derain, photographed in about 1903

1906: The young girls of London, André Derain wrote to Henri Matisse, have faces “made to stand out in the misty streets or in the cold calm of English interiors”: “very blond hair, untidily wound up, with plaits tight around a matt-ivory coloured face, with their lips and cheeks lightly tinted pink, which makes the skin green”.

Source: Ernst Vegelin van Claerbergen et al., André Derain: The London Paintings (2005), p. 133

Chance Discovery

1905: Edgar Purnell Hooley patented Tarmac in 1902. The story goes that Hooley, a county surveyor, came upon a hard-wearing and dust-free stretch of road. Tar had been spilled on the surface and slag from a nearby ironworks used to cover it. Hooley set up a company to exploit his discovery – The Tar Macadam (Purnell Hooley’s Patent) Syndicate Ltd., which in 1905 was renamed Tarmac Ltd.

Source: J.B.F. Earle, A Century of Road Materials: The History of the Roadstone Division of Tarmac Ltd (1971), pp. 16–17

“Worse Than Baboons”

1904: “Just look at us. [We’re treated like] Dogs, slaves, worse than the baboons on the rocks.” In January, the Herero people of German South-West Africa could stand it no longer, and rebelled against their colonial oppressors. Defeated at the battle of Waterberg in August, they fled into the eastern desert. To make sure they didn’t come back, General Lothar von Trotha issued a Vernichtungsbefehl, or extermination order: “Every Herero found within the German borders, armed or unarmed, with or without cattle, will be shot.” By the summer of 1905, in the first genocide of the 20th century, three-quarters of the original Herero population of 80,000 had been killed.

Source: Jon M. Bridgman, The Revolt of the Hereros (1981), pp. 38–131

Modest Sales

1903: King Camp Gillette’s disposable razor blades would eventually revolutionize shaving, but 1903 sales for the fledgling Gillette Safety Razor Company were modest: 51 razors and 168 blades.

Source: Gordon McKibben, Cutting Edge: Gillette’s Journey to Global Leadership (1998), p. 14

One Man’s Poison

1902: One man’s poison is another man’s meat. The abrupt postponement of Edward VII’s coronation (caused by the king’s appendicitis) meant that delicacies destined for coronation banquets were distributed instead to London’s poor. Soup kitchen menus briefly included prawns, oysters and Dover sole poached in Chablis, as well as quail, snipe and consommé de faisan aux quenelles.

Source: Andrew Roberts, Salisbury: Victorian Titan (1999), p. 823

Crammed Coffin

1901: Victoria’s coffin was crammed with her favourite shawls and embroidered handkerchiefs, her wedding veil, Prince Albert’s dressing gown, a model of Albert’s hand, numerous lockets and bracelets, family photographs, a photograph of John Brown and a lock of his hair. There were so many mementos that there was barely room for the queen herself. Luckily she was a short woman.

Source: Jerrold M. Packard, Farewell in Splendour: The Death of Queen Victoria and Her Age (2000), pp. 199–201

Jittery In Manila

1999: For weeks, the Philippines was rife with rumours of a military plot to unseat the country’s unpopular president, Joseph “Erap” Estrada. When the lights went out in Manila and across much of Luzon on the evening of 10 December, jittery Filipinos thought a coup was under way, until Estrada popped up to show he was still in charge. The electrical blackout had in fact been caused by jellyfish: tons of jellyfish had clogged the cooling water intake of a power plant in Pangasinan.

Source: Lisa-ann Gershwin, Stung!: On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean (2013), pp. 13–14

Name Change

1998: After 70 years of getting by on first-name terms, Mongolians resorted to using three names – given name, patronym and clan name. The communist government had banned clan names in the 1920s; Mongolians owed their allegiance to the state, the authorities had said, not to their clan. All change in the post-communist 1990s: Mongolians were instructed to resume using their old clan names or, if they couldn’t remember them, to adopt new names. Many chose Borjigin, the clan name of Genghis Khan.

Source: Ian Jeffries, Mongolia: A Guide to Economic and Political Developments (2007), pp. 19–20

Height Advantage

1996: An intriguing but ultimately meaningless statistic: “practically every president elected in the United States since 1900 was the taller of the two candidates”. Eighteen of the 25 presidential elections in the 20th century were won by the taller of the two main candidates and five by the shorter. In the other two elections, the main opponents were the same height.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Heights_of_presidents_and_presidential_
candidates_of_the_United_States

Laws Of Physics

1995: In “Tumbling toast, Murphy’s Law and the fundamental constants”, Robert A.J. Matthews demonstrated mathematically that “toast does indeed have an inherent tendency to land butter-side down”. At the end of his article, Matthews suggested ways to avoid this messy outcome: by swiping at the falling toast, to give it a horizontal as well as a vertical velocity; by reducing toast size to 2.5-centimetre squares; or by breakfasting at 3-metre-high tables.

Source: European Journal of Physics, 1995

Scaredy Cats

1994: Why the sudden appearance, in Japanese backstreets and alleys, of clusters of plastic bottles filled with water?

To ward off unwanted cats. Householders believed the cats would be frightened by their distorted reflections as they walked past. A sort of feline hall of mirrors.

Source: James M. Vardaman, Jr., and Michiko Sasaki Vardaman, Japan from A to Z: Mysteries of Everyday Life Explained (1995), pp. 19–20

Shrieking Rabbits

1993: During the siege of the compound near Waco, in Texas, occupied by the Branch Davidian religious group, the FBI subjected sect members to the recorded shrieks of dying rabbits.

Source: Garret Keizer, The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want: A Book About Noise (2010), p. 71

Exhausting The Inexhaustible

1992: The catastrophic collapse of the cod population off the eastern seaboard of Canada forced the government to impose a moratorium on catches.

European sailors who reached Newfoundland at the end of the 15th century found the seas “full of fish which are taken not only with the net but also with a basket”. In 1851, Newfoundland’s display at the Great Exhibition in London dealt solely with the history and manufacture of cod liver oil. Cod sustained the Newfoundland economy, and cod numbers seemed inexhaustible.

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Nothin’ To It

1991: Louisiana’s executioner expressed nonchalance about operating the state’s electric chair: “It’s no different to me executing somebody and goin’ to the refrigerator and getting a beer out of it.”

Source: Wilbert Rideau, In the Place of Justice: A Story of Punishment and Deliverance (2011), p. 220

Dahl Finds Solace

Roald Dahl, photographed in 1982 by Hans van Dijk

1990: In 1962, Roald Dahl’s 7-year-old daughter, Olivia, caught measles. The virus can lead in rare cases to measles encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain that is sometimes fatal. Olivia was one of those rare cases, and the disease was fatal.

Thirty years later, as his own life drew to a close, the children’s author tenderly remembered his dead daughter and drew inspiration from her. “I am not frightened of falling off my perch,” he said. “If Olivia can do it, so can I.”

Source: Donald Sturrock, Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl (2010), pp. 383–8, 560

Internet Acronym

1989: A new Internet acronym: “LOL”, meaning “Laughing Out Loud”, which appeared in the 8 May issue of the computer newsletter FidoNews, between mentions of “exiting” new software (a “Realistic Cake Mixing Simulation” and a “ ‘Fun’ Nuclear War Game”) and an article about UFOs.

Source: www.textfiles.com/fidonet-on-
the-internet/878889/fido0619.txt

Unlucky Number Nine

1988: Ne Win wasn’t the only member of the Burmese military to attach importance to the number nine. The officers who shunted him aside in a coup timed their action for 18 September (1 + 8 = 9; September = 9th month).

Source: Christina Fink, Living Silence: Burma under Military Rule (2001), p. 229

Bad Year In The Air

1985: On the first day of the year, 29 passengers and crew died when an Eastern Air Lines plane flew into the side of a mountain in Bolivia. Six weeks later, an Iberia airliner struck a television antenna near Bilbao, in northern Spain; 148 people died. A terrorist bomb exploded on an Air India jumbo jet over the north Atlantic on 23 June, killing all 329 people on board. On 12 August, in what was shaping up to be a bad year for air accidents, a Japan Airlines jumbo jet on a domestic flight went out of control after its tail sheared off. The aircraft crashed in mountains west of Tokyo; 520 died, four survived. On 12 December, 248 U.S. servicemen, heading home for Christmas, together with eight crew, perished when their Arrow Air plane came down shortly after takeoff from Gander, in Newfoundland. Total fatalities for the year: 2,962.

Source: www.planecrashinfo.com/1985/
1985.htm

Words For Snow

1984: How many words do the Eskimos have for snow? A handful? Dozens? A hundred?

The anthropologist Franz Boas gave four examples in his 1911 Handbook of American Indian Languages. Benjamin Lee Whorf expanded the list to at least seven in a 1940 essay. After that, the number snowballed; by 1984, an editorial in The New York Times was mentioning “100 types” of snow and “100 synonyms” for the white stuff.

So how many words do the Eskimos have for snow? It’s not exactly a trick question, but there are a variety of answers, depending on what you mean by “Eskimo” and “word” and “snow”.

Source: American Anthropologist, June 1986

Williams Bows Out

Tennessee Williams, photographed in happier times by Orlando Fernandez

1983: The American playwright Tennessee Williams bemoaned the downward trajectory of his career “from good reviews, to bad reviews, to no reviews”.

On 25 February, his body was discovered in a New York hotel room, curled on the floor next to the bed. An alphabet of prescription drugs, from Aldomet to Zyloprim, lay on the chest of drawers; capsules of Seconal, a barbiturate, littered the bedclothes; a half-empty glass of red wine stood on the bedside table. Cause of death: the toxic amount of Seconal consumed and not, as some reports suggested, a medicine bottle cap stuck in the throat.

Source: John Lahr, Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh (2014), pp. 582–8

“Lawn Chair Larry”

1982: Larry Walters had always wanted to be a pilot, and on 2 July he finally achieved his ambition.

The Los Angeles truck driver bought a bunch of weather balloons, inflated them with helium and tied them to an ordinary garden chair – what the Americans call a lawn chair. He then donned a parachute, strapped himself into the chair and instructed his ground crew to release the cords that tethered his home-made flying machine to the ground.

Walters had expected to rise gently into the sky and to float about at a modest altitude; instead, he zoomed upwards at an alarming speed and drifted into the airspace over Long Beach airport.

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Silver Lining

1981: The economic recession of 1981 to 1982 forced the closure of many steel mills and factories in Pittsburgh and throughout Pennsylvania. This produced a sharp reduction in air pollution. Measured in terms of total suspended particulates, or TSPs, pollution fell by a quarter between 1980 and 1982. The improved air quality led in turn to a decline in infant mortality caused by “internal” causes (respiratory and cardiopulmonary deaths, for example). While the number of births in Pennsylvania increased by roughly 3,000, the number of infant deaths actually decreased: from 1,815 in 1980 to 1,595 in 1982. So, each year, 220 infants lived who, if it hadn’t been for the recession, would have died.

Source: www.nber.org/papers/w7442.pdf

Out Of Step

1980: Each year, regularly, in December, the United Nations General Assembly voted to find “approaches and ways and means” to improve the “effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms”. Given its laudable aims, the resolution garnered overwhelming support: 120 nations voted for it, and one nation voted against, in 1980; 135 nations voted for, and one against, in 1981; 113 for, one against, in 1982; 132 for, one against, in 1983. Each year, regularly, the lone country opposed to the resolution was the United States of America.

Source: www.un.org/en/ga/search/
view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/35/174

Bearing The Brunt

1979: The introduction, in 1979, of a one-child family policy in China was followed by more intrusive birth control measures that reached a peak in 1983. The number of abortions increased from 5.4 million in 1978 to 14.4 million in 1983, while sterilisations jumped from 3.3 million to 20.8 million. Women bore the brunt: female sterilisations outnumbered male sterilisations by three to two in 1973; by 1985, four times as many women as men were operated on; in 2000, the ratio was more than five to one.

Source: Susan Greenhalgh and Edwin A. Winckler, Governing China’s Population: From Leninist to Neoliberal Biopolitics (2005), pp. 255–61

Final Breath

1977: The novelist Vladimir Nabokov died in a Swiss hospital (window carelessly left open, bronchitis) at the age of 78. Véra, his wife, and Dmitri, his son, were in the room. With his last breath, said Dmitri, his father emitted “a triple moan of descending pitch”.

Source: The Observer, 25 October 2009