1909: Mr. Flip featured the first cinematic use of an important item in the slapstick comedian’s arsenal: the pie in the face. The cross-eyed actor Ben Turpin spent the entire film pestering young female workers, but a waitress got her own back by rubbing a pie in her tormentor’s face.
Category archive: 1900s
1908: The Times Literary Supplement review of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows doubted whether a mole would whitewash his house, a water rat sail a skiff or a toad become a rabid motorist. “As a contribution to natural history,” the reviewer observed, “the work is negligible.”
Source: The Times Literary Supplement, 22 October 1908
1906: Pardon the pedantry, but Ivan Pavlov used a buzzer, not a bell, to stimulate salivation in laboratory dogs. The popular notion that the Russian physiologist rang a bell appears to have originated from the mistranslation of a speech in The Lancet.
Source: Daniel P. Todes, Ivan Pavlov: A Russian Life in Science (2014), pp. 1, 287, 315, 492, 764, 766–7
1905: Two examples from Sigmund Freud’s The Joke and Its Relation to the Unconscious:
A physician visits a sick woman. As he’s leaving, he shakes his head and says to the woman’s husband: “I don’t like the look of your wife.”
The husband agrees: “I haven’t liked the look of her for a long time.”
Here is another joke, which Freud considered “rather coarse-grained”:
Two Jews are talking about bathing. One says to the other: “I take a bath every year, whether I need it or not.”
Source: Sigmund Freud, The Joke and Its Relation to the Unconscious (2002), pp. 30, 62
1904: On 31 March, a British military expedition advancing into southern Tibet clashed with a ragtag defence force near the village of Guru. Tibetan muskets were no match for Maxim machine guns, and amulets offered no protection against shrapnel. “A hail of bullets came down on us,” wrote one of the defenders. “The sound of firing continued for the length of time it would take six successive cups of hot tea to cool.” In that brief time, 628 Tibetans were killed and 222 wounded.
Source: Patrick French, Younghusband: The Last Great Imperial Adventurer (1994), pp. 221, 224
1903: One month after it opened to great fanfare, the Iroquois Theatre in Chicago was gutted by fire. A floodlight ignited drapery during an afternoon performance of Mr. Bluebeard. The fire curtain at the front of the stage was probably not fireproof, and anyway, it got stuck. Theatre staff dithered; the audience panicked; emergency doors jammed. Result: 602 members of the audience died, many of them children. Burned, trampled, suffocated.
Carl Prinzler, a hardware salesman, had a ticket for the show, but cancelled at the last minute. The one benefit to emerge from the disaster was that Prinzler and two colleagues devised a panic-release bar for emergency exit doors.
Source: Joanna Bourke, Fear: A Cultural History (2005), pp. 51–2, 58
1902: “It is all very well to write books,” the novelist and playwright J.M. Barrie reportedly teased H.G. Wells, “but can you wag your ears?”
Source: J.A. Hammerton, Barrie: The Story of a Genius (1929), p. 232
1901: Americus Callahan of Chicago filed a patent application for an “envelop” with “a section of transparent material” covering a hole cut in the front “through which the sending address upon the inclosure may be readily observed”. In other words, a window envelope.
1900: An outbreak of plague in the Chinatown district of San Francisco was seized on by Organized Labor as an excuse to print racist vitriol. “The almond-eyed Mongolian is watching for his opportunity,” the journal warned its readers, “waiting to assassinate you.”
Source: Robert Sullivan, Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants (2004), p. 156
1909: Did Robert Peary lead the first expedition to reach the North Pole? Did he really get there?
Many believed Peary’s claim that he and a party of five reached the Pole on 6 April, but others were sceptical. Doubters pointed out that Peary’s expedition notes were scanty and slapdash; none of his companions during the final attempt on the Pole was capable of making navigational observations; and some of the distances Peary claimed to have covered across the Arctic pack ice were frankly incredible.
1908: In Scouting for Boys, Robert Baden-Powell expressed a certain mistrust of men with waxed moustaches: “It often means vanity and sometimes drink.”
Source: R.S.S. Baden-Powell, Scouting for Boys: A Handbook for Instruction in Good Citizenship (1908), p. 77
1906: Writing in the Münchener Neueste Nachrichten on 7 February, music critic Rudolf Louis panned Max Reger’s Sinfonietta for “conjuring up the illusion of significance by a thousand contrapuntal tricks”.
Reger bristled. “I am sitting in the smallest room of my house,” he wrote in reply. “I have your review before me. In a moment it will be behind me.” (“Ich sitze in dem kleinsten Zimmer in meinem Hause. Ich habe Ihre Kritik vor mir. Im nachsten Augenblick wird sie hinter mir sein.”)
Source: Nicolas Slonimsky, Lexicon of Musical Invective: Critical Assaults on Composers Since Beethoven’s Time (2000), p. 139
1905: Richard Creedon was employed as a “sandhog” – one of the labourers who constructed the tunnels for New York’s subway system. On 27 March, while he was working in a pressurised air chamber beneath the bed of the East River, the roof of the chamber sprang a leak. Creedon attempted to plug the hole, but it suddenly widened into a blowout, and the pressurised air forced him through the hole, like a cork out of a champagne bottle. Creedon was propelled through 8 metres of silt and water, flung high into the air, then dumped in the river. Although dazed, he was unhurt, and claimed, with a touch of bravado: “I was flying through the air, and before I comes down I had a fine view of the city.”
Source: New York History, January 1999
1904: Writing home from Paris, where she had been sent to finish her education, 17-year-old Edith Sitwell described the changes to her pubescent body: “I am growing eyebrows. One can see them distinctly.”
Source: Richard Greene, Edith Sitwell: Avant-Garde Poet, English Genius (2011), p. 48
1903: From 1903 onwards, Coca-Cola no longer contained cocaine.
Source: Mark Pendergrast, For God, Country and Coca-Cola: The Unauthorized History of the Great American Soft Drink and the Company That Makes It (1993), pp. 90–1
1902: Staff at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore were scared out of their wits one night when a tiger peered into the billiard room. Like many buildings in Southeast Asia, the billiard room was raised off the ground to protect against flooding. Next morning the tiger was discovered hiding beneath the room. A marksman was summoned, and the animal was shot and killed. The tiger, it transpired, was absent without leave from a nearby circus. Over the coming years, various accounts embroidered the story of the tiger, the last to be shot in Singapore. Instead of being shot under the billiard room, it was shot in the billiard room under the billiard table.
Source: Ilsa Sharp, There Is Only One Raffles: The Story of a Grand Hotel (1981), pp. 35–7
1901: Uncle Sam arrived in the Philippines as a liberator and stayed on as a coloniser. Filipinos resisted, of course, but they were no match for the U.S. Army. One of the few Filipino successes was at Balangiga, on the island of Samar. On 28 September, armed only with machetes, guerrillas surprised the American garrison at breakfast, killing 54 and wounding 20 out of 78. American retribution was brutal. General Jacob Smith promised to turn Samar into a “howling wilderness” and ordered his troops to kill all islanders aged 10 or over.
1900: Angered by tram workers on strike in Berlin, Kaiser Wilhelm II dispatched a tetchy telegram to the commander of the Guards Corps: “I expect at least five hundred people to be shot when the troops intervene.”
Source: John C.G. Röhl, Wilhelm II: Into the Abyss of War and Exile 1900–1941 (2014), p. 139
1909: Cyclists in the inaugural Giro d’Italia crossed the finish line in Milan on 30 May. After eight stages and 2,445 bumpy, dusty kilometres of road, the overall winner was Luigi Ganna, a bricklayer. Asked how he felt, Ganna replied: “L’impressione più viva l’è che me brusa tanto ’l cu.” (Rough translation: “My arse is killing me.”)
Source: John Foot, Pedalare! Pedalare!: A History of Italian Cycling (2012), p. 15
1908: Eighteen months after he was commissioned as an ensign in the U.S. Navy, Chester Nimitz was in command of the destroyer Decatur when it ran aground on a mudbank in Batangas Bay, in the Philippines. Nimitz was court-martialled and found guilty of “neglect of duty”. He was relieved of his command, but his mistake had no lasting effect on his career; he moved up the ranks and in December 1941 was put in command of the U.S. fleet in the Pacific.
Source: Brayton Harris, Admiral Nimitz: The Commander of the Pacific Ocean Theater (2011), pp. 15–19
1906: On the afternoon of 16 November, Enrico Caruso was arrested in New York’s Central Park for “annoying” a female visitor to the monkey house.
Monkey business in the monkey house? Clearly, proclaimed the arresting officer. Certainly not, protested Caruso. Did the Italian opera star foist himself on the young lady? Was she the innocent victim of Caruso’s unwanted attentions? Unfortunate woman.
1905: Dr. Williams’ Pink Pills for Pale People promised to cure anaemia, gastritis, lumbago, rheumatism and a host of other aches and ailments. Like most patent medicines, Dr. Williams’ pills promised much and cured little, but a catchy name and vigorous advertising ensured that they made pots of money for their Canadian manufacturer and distributor, George Fulford.
Source: Peter G. Homan, Briony Hudson and Raymond C. Rowe, Popular Medicines: An Illustrated History (2008), chap. 19
1904: Nikolai Valentinov got to know Vladimir Lenin in Geneva, where the Bolshevik leader was living with his wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya. Valentinov’s Encounters with Lenin gives glimpses of Lenin’s domestic life. He liked to walk in the country and enjoyed picnics. He swam well and skated well. He exercised on the trapeze and on rings. He was very good at billiards. Before starting work each morning, he dusted his books and put them in order. He cleaned his shoes until they shone. If he lost a button, he would sew on another himself, and this he did “better than Nadya”.
Source: Nikolay Valentinov, Encounters with Lenin (1968), pp. 79–80
1903: In the Austrian border town of Linz, the Tagespost newspaper carried a lengthy obituary to retired customs official Alois Hitler: an authority on bee-keeping, an enthusiastic singer and the father of Adolf.
Source: Joachim C. Fest, Hitler (1974), p. 20
1902: That summer, Benito Mussolini travelled to Switzerland in search of work. At Lausanne, short of money, he slept rough under a bridge, and in the early hours of 24 July was arrested for vagrancy.
Source: Nicholas Farrell, Mussolini: A New Life (2003), pp. 23–5
1901: “Gosh! man I’ve got a tune in my head.” The effervescent composer was Edward Elgar, writing to his friend August Jaeger, and the tune was the trio section of the first Pomp and Circumstance march, later set to words in “Land of Hope and Glory”.
Source: Jerrold Northrop Moore, Elgar and His Publishers: Letters of a Creative Life (1987), vol. I, p. 267
1900: The Prince of Wales’s horses were a safe bet throughout 1900. Ambush II was an easy winner in the Grand National, and in flat racing, there were victories for Diamond Jubilee in the 2000 Guineas, Derby and St. Leger.
Source: Philip Magnus, King Edward the Seventh (1964), p. 266
1909: Ninety years before the 9/11 attacks in the United States, Russia’s political police were sufficiently perceptive to realize that aircraft might be used as terrorist weapons, and began to monitor the activities of aviators, would-be aviators and flying clubs.
Source: Charles A. Ruud, Fontanka 16: The Tsar’s Secret Police (1999), p. 70
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.