When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Tag archive: United States

What If . . . ?

1931: On the afternoon of 22 August, a young British aristocrat named John Scott-Ellis was making his way along Brienner Strasse, in Munich, in a little red Fiat. “Although I was going very slowly, a man walked off the pavement, more or less straight into my car.” The 42-year-old pedestrian was bowled over, but quickly picked himself up, politely shook hands with the driver, and went on his way.

Continue reading

Lindbergh’s Logic

Charles Lindbergh, standing in front of the plane he flew across the Atlantic, the Spirit of St Louis

1927: Charles Lindbergh’s inflight food for his trans-Atlantic trip consisted of five sandwiches. With dry logic he explained, “If I get to Paris, I won’t need any more, and if I don’t get to Paris, I won’t need any more either.”

Source: A. Scott Berg, Lindbergh, 1998, pp. 14–15

Working His Passage

1925: After graduating from college in Iowa, William Shirer made his way to Montreal, where he boarded a cattle ship that carried him to Europe and the start of a career in journalism. To save money, he worked his passage across the Atlantic by feeding and watering the cattle and shovelling their manure overboard.

Source: Steve Wick, The Long Night: William L. Shirer and The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (2011), pp. 9–12

Birth Of BackRub

Q: What began life at Stanford University in 1996 as a student research project with the nickname “BackRub”?
A: The Internet search engine Google.

Source: John Battelle, The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture (2005), pp. 72–6

Pedal Power

1995: At the beginning of the century, the world land speed record, set by the Belgian racer Camille Jenatzy in 1899 in an electric-powered car, stood at 105.88 km/h. By the end of the century, bicycles were travelling faster than that. Much faster. On 3 October 1995, at the Bonneville Salt Flats, in Utah, the Dutch cyclist Fred Rompelberg, pedalling in the slipstream of a dragster, set a world bicycle speed record of 268.831 km/h.

Source: www.lepetitbraquet.fr/chron38_
fred_rompelberg.html

Vaccines Save Lives

1993: Deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases in the United States: diphtheria, 156 in 1953 and none in 1993; whooping cough, 270 in 1953 and one in 1993; tetanus, 337 in 1953 and 11 in 1993; paralytic polio, 1,450 in 1953 and none in 1993.

Source: www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/
pinkbook/downloads/appendices/e/
reported-cases.pdf

Blindfolded Monkeys

1988: In his 1973 book A Random Walk down Wall Street, the American economist Burton Malkiel suggested: “A blindfolded monkey throwing darts at a newspaper’s financial pages could select a portfolio that would do just as well as one carefully selected by experts.”

In 1988, The Wall Street Journal decided to put Malkiel’s theory to the test. A list of stocks was fixed to the office wall and journalists – the next best thing to blindfolded monkeys – picked stocks by flinging darts at the list. Investment professionals, representing the experts, selected their portfolio by more conventional means.

Continue reading

Killer Robot

1979: “A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.” Isaac Asimov’s laws of robotics notwithstanding, this year saw the first known killing of a human by a robot. On 25 January, workers at a Ford Motor Company plant in Flat Rock, Michigan, noticed that a robot appeared to be giving incorrect information about the number of parts stored on shelves. When Robert Williams climbed on to a shelf to investigate, he was fatally struck on the head by the robot’s arm.

Source: The New York Times, 11 August 1983

Foreign Bodies

1974: Over a five-year period, St. Vincent’s Hospital and Medical Center of New York treated 28 patients with foreign bodies lodged in the rectum or with perforations of the colon resulting from “self-administered instrumentation”. Plastic battery-powered vibrators were the instrument of choice; other items used included bottles, bananas, a broom handle and an onion.

Source: Annals of Surgery, November 1976

Sniper On Campus

Charles Whitman, university student and sniper in the tower

1966: Charles Whitman, a student at the University of Texas at Austin and a former Marine, confided to the university psychiatrist that he often thought of shooting people from a tower that dominated the campus. Whitman “seemed to be oozing with hostility”, but other students came to the psychiatrist with fantasies about the tower, so he wasn’t unduly concerned.

Continue reading

Cold War Nadir

1961: From an American perspective, the middle of April was one of the lowest points of the Cold War. Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel into space on 12 April, and this Soviet technological and propaganda triumph was followed, five days later, by the military fiasco of the American-backed invasion at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba.

Source: Jamie Doran and Piers Bizony, Starman: The Truth Behind the Legend of Yuri Gagarin (1998), p. 142

No Escape

Lyndon Johnson, photographed in 1964 after assuming the presidency

1957: Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson pleaded and cajoled to get the civil rights bill through the U.S. Senate. The tall Texas senator was very intense, very physical: up-close, fast-talking, his heavy arm draped around a shoulder, his “big meaty hands” grasping his quarry, “his long forefinger through the hole in the senator’s lapel”, buttonholing him “to prevent him from moving away”.

Source: Robert A. Cato, The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate (2003), pp. 587–90, 959–60

Peak Crude Oil

1956: Geologist M. King Hubbert’s prediction that American crude oil production would peak in the next 10 to 15 years was met with scepticism, but in 1970, on cue, output reached a record high of 9.6 million barrels per day, and then went into decline.

Source: David Strahan, The Last Oil Shock: A Survival Guide to the Imminent Extinction of Petroleum Man (2007), chap. 2

Striped Stream

1955: Leonard Marraffino of New York State applied to patent a device capable of “dispensing two or more paste-like materials of different character, for example, different color, in the form of a striped stream”. A striping dispenser, he called it. That led, a few years later, to the appearance of striped toothpaste.

Source: www.freepatentsonline.com/
2789731.pdf

Nuclear Option

1954: Did the Eisenhower administration really offer to drop atomic bombs on the Vietminh troops besieging the French at Dien Bien Phu? Nine years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, did the Americans contemplate once again using their nuclear arsenal in combat? Howard Simpson thought so. “The relevant documents remain classified,” he wrote in Dien Bien Phu: The Epic Battle America Forgot, “but enough has seeped out through personal comments and written memoirs to suggest that such a proposal was seriously considered.” Fortunately for the men on the ground, the idea was abandoned; any attack would have wiped out attackers and defenders indiscriminately.

Source: Martin Windrow, The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam (2004), pp. 568–9

Original Computer Bug

1947: When Harvard University’s Mark II Aiken Relay Calculator started playing up on 9 September, operators discovered a moth trapped between the points of a relay. “Bugs” had bothered machines before; this was the first recorded instance of a “computer bug”.

Source: www.jamesshuggins.com/h/tek1/first_computer_bug.htm

Truth And Lies

1941: William Marston claimed that, while still a psychology student at Harvard, he had been the first person to measure blood pressure as a means of lie detection. Throughout the 1920s and ’30s he lobbied unsuccessfully for the use of the polygraph in court cases. In 1941 he created the comic-book heroine Wonder Woman, who used a magic lasso to ensnare criminals and to extract confessions.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Polygraph

Cannon Fodder

1940: The American broadcaster William Shirer found it difficult to read the minds of Berliners thronging the Unter den Linden on Easter Sunday afternoon. “Their faces looked blank. Obviously they do not like the war, but they will do what they’re told. Die, for instance.”

Source: William L. Shirer, Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934–1941 (1941), p. 241

Culture Shock

Pearl Buck, photographed by Arnold Genthe

1934: Pearl Buck had lived so long in China that on her return to America she found she was a foreigner in her own country. Like most Chinese, Buck ate little meat and avoided dairy products altogether. She quickly noticed that white Americans smelled. The milk, butter and beef they consumed gave them “a rank wild odor, not quite a stink, but certainly distressing”.

Source: Pearl S. Buck, My Several Worlds: A Personal Record (1955), p. 315

Career Advice

Hollywood “It Girl” Clara Bow, photographed by Nicholas Murray

1923: Clara Bow, the “It Girl” of Hollywood silent movies, made her first screen appearance in Down to the Sea in Ships. Her mentally ill mother, who regarded heavily made-up actresses as no better than prostitutes, had threatened to kill her to keep her out of films. “You ain’t goin’ inta pictures,” she had ranted. “You ain’t gonna be no hoor.”

Source: David Stenn, Clara Bow: Runnin’ Wild (1989), pp. 13, 22–3

Threat To Public Health

An illustration in The New York American from 1909 pulls no punches about Mary Mallon

1907: Between 1900 and 1907, typhoid broke out in seven wealthy New York households where Mary Mallon was employed as a cook. Mallon appeared healthy enough, but she was a carrier of the disease. When she used the toilet, typhoid bacilli got on her hands and then contaminated the food she prepared. She infected an estimated 22 people; one died. As soon as her role in the outbreaks had been established, the authorities decided that she was a threat to public health, and detained her at an isolation hospital.

Continue reading

Sporting Casualties

1999: Although the crunching collisions of American football are absent from soccer, the game is not without its perils. Between 1979 and 1999, 18 children died and 14 were seriously injured in the United States when movable soccer goals fell on them.

Source: Simon P.R. Jenkins, Sports Science Handbook: The Essential Guide to Kinesiology, Sport and Exercise Science (2005), vol. 1, p. 140

Sleepyhead

1991: Vicki Childress, from Key West in Florida, kept two items beneath her pillow: an inhaler in case she had an asthma attack, and a .38 revolver to protect against intruders. Just before midnight on 21 October, she needed her inhaler. Half-asleep, she reached under her pillow. You can guess what happened next. The following day she was in hospital recovering well, but with several shattered teeth.

Source: Tampa Bay Times, 23 October 1991

At Long Last

1990: The retired Iowa farmer Charles Osborne finally stopped hiccuping, more than six decades after he had started. The hiccups had begun one day in 1922, when Osborne had been hanging up a hog for butchering. “I picked it up and then I fell down. I felt nothing, but the doctor said later that I busted a blood vessel the size of a pin in my brain.” Once the hiccups started, they wouldn’t stop. For the next 68 years, Osborne hiccuped 20 or even 40 times a minute – several hundred million hiccups altogether.

Source: http://people.com/archive/a-
cure-for-hiccups-retired-farmer-charles-
osborne-isnt-holding-his-breath-hes-
had-them-for-60-years-vol-17-no-12/

Digestive Difficulties

1987: Japan’s former agriculture minister Hata Tsutomu told a luncheon on Capitol Hill that the United States should not expect his country to suddenly step up imports of American beef.

Hata cited as “fact” that Japanese people find it more difficult to digest beef as they have longer intestines than Americans. Centuries of eating a diet heavily reliant on grains had lengthened Japanese digestive tracts, Hata claimed; consequently any beef consumed would remain in the intestines longer and be more likely to spoil.

Source: www.apnewsarchive.com/1987/
Stepped-Up-Beef-Imports-Can-t-
Stomach-It-Says-Japanese/id-
8fff51f61de3400636ec9af70a2680d8

Nine Lives

1984: Over a five-month period, the Animal Medical Center in New York dealt with 132 cats that had fallen from the city’s windows and roofs.

Wayne Whitney and Cheryl Mehlhaff, who gathered and analyzed data from the clinic, found that the shortest fall was two stories, the average fall 5.5 stories and the longest fall 32 stories. Four of the cats had fallen previously; two cats fell together. Most of the cats fell directly on to concrete but, despite this, 44 of them didn’t need treatment. One-tenth of the cats that did require treatment died, but nine-tenths survived. Treatment was mainly for respiratory problems, facial wounds and bone fractures.

Continue reading