Welch’s Grape Juice was originally a teetotaler’s dream, serving exclusively as a non-alcoholic, sacramental wine. That puts it squarely on my list of intriguingly repurposed items; right next to Kleenex’s make-up removal tissues.
First real-time digital computer developed in 1944 by MIT to aid the war effort. From MIT News:
In the years during and after World War II, MIT played a prominent role in developing technologies that helped the U.S. military defeat Nazi Germany and imperial Japan, and later in creating systems used to track aircraft during the Cold War. In the process, the Institute created the world’s first real-time digital computer and the first electronic navigation system — a forerunner of today’s GPS.
These pioneering developments were among those recognized Wednesday at the Boston-area dedications of three commemorative plaques from the IEEE recognizing the projects as “Milestones” in the field.
MIT’s Project Whirlwind computer, developed beginning in 1944 in a building at 211 Massachusetts Ave. in Cambridge, was the first computer ever to use magnetic-core memory — a system that went on to dominate the computer industry for two decades. It was also the first to use a CRT display to show its output, and the first that was fast enough to provide real-time computations, allowing it to be used to control an aircraft simulator for bomber pilots.
Awesome piece of technology history!
Housed at the Smithsonian, this is the hat that Lincoln wore to Ford’s Theater on the night of his assassination.
According to the Smithsonian:
Abraham Lincoln’s hat, while not marked, equates to a modern hat size of 7 1/8. It is made of silk fibers over a paper base and fabric lining, trimmed with a silk 3” grosgrain ribbon band (presumably a mourning band added after purchase) and a silk 3/8” ribbon with small metal buckle.
Here’s a bit of the Revolutionary War that they usually skip over in high school.
During the American War for Independence, the Continental Congress had promised the officers of Washington’s Army pensions of half pay for life as payment for their patriotic service.
In 1782, the officers of the Continental Army were doubtful that Congress was going to fulfill it’s lofty wartime promises.
Enter, Major John Armstrong, Jr., a veteran who had joined the cause in 1775 as a young student at Princeton.
Armstrong wrote two anonymous letters that circulated amongst army officers from March 11 to March 12th. In them, he incited his fellow officers to threaten Congress with violence if they did not honor their word:
I would advise you, therefore, to come to some final opinion, upon what you can bear, and what you will suffer. […] change the milk and water style of your last memorial; assume a bolder tone […] the slightest mark of indignity from Congress now, must operate like the grave, and part you for ever […] in any political event, the army has its alternative.
In short, Armstrong’s writings are borderline treasonous.
George Washington, fearing the army’s, “alternative,” cast himself into the fray, forbidding Armstrong’s meeting to take place, and setting one of his own for March 15th, 1782.
There he gave a statement of his own that forever subordinated the Army of the United States to the will of Congress.
First he berated the officers as unmilitary for organizing to such a purpose, and then he reached into his pocket to read a letter offered from a member of Congress. Before opening it, Washington showed his political brilliance.
The general had always shown himself stoic before his troops. Now he allowed them to relate to him as a man, fumbling in his pocket to retrieve his spectacles Washington defused the Newburgh Conspiracy, and pulled America back from the brink of a coup with one sentence:
Gentlemen, you must pardon me. I have grown old in the service of my country and now find that I am growing blind.
No one heard the text of the letter. The words were drowned out by the sobs of weeping men. Their leader, who had slept on the ground with them in the field, suffered with them at Valley Forge, and never left their side from 1775 to 1782*, had touched their hearts.
They had followed him as their general, now they followed him as a man.
So, what happened to Major Armstong, the man who almost tore America away from liberty and plunged her into the chaos of military uprising?
The man who would betray Congress, joined it.
He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1787.
After that he was Thomas Jefferson’s ambassador to France. Then he served as a brigadier general in the war of 1812, until he was made Secretary of War by President Madison.
At that time, it was thought that he might eventually run for President.
Unfortunately for Armstrong, his time as head of the War Department was something of a failure! He failed to organized numerous Canadian offensives, each ending in disaster. Most notably, he was responsible for the burning of Washington, D.C.. Armstrong’s failure to fortify properly led the Americans to lose the now infamous Battle of Bladensburg.
After winning there, the British went on to Washington, D.C., dining in the Executive Mansion before famously setting fire to the building.** Somewhat ironically, Dolly Madison would famously rescue a portrait of George Washington from the blaze. This was the second time that Washington would escape Armstrong’s military misadventures unscathed.
After this Armstrong resigned in disgrace, his hopes to become President had literally gone up in smoke.
However, Armstrong’s effect on the Army can still be felt in some ways.
His failed coup established the precent of Congressional authority over the Army. Also, as Secretary of War he was responsible for the promotion of General Winfield Scott whose influence would in turn shape the professional American military.
After the total military embarrassment of 1812, Scott’s influence with Congress generated the establishment of a professional officer corp educated at West Point***; something that could not have happened if Armstrong had not promoted him. This development was extremely significant because it strengthened the Army for the remainder of the 19th Century, beginning its evolution from a militia style to a standing army.
At the last, Armstrong influence the emergence of a strong American military after all.
Rather than bring it about through hoped for success, he actually brought it about through realized failures.
Pretty crazy, right?
*Actually Washing did return home for a single Christmas Eve when his Army had passed near Mount Vernon. He raced ahead of them to see his wife, adopted children, and home. The following day, he rejoined his troops.
**The white paint used to cover the scorch marks from the blaze led to the building receiving a new nickname: The White House.
***Later, both Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant would attend West Point. Lee would serve under Scott in the Mexican War so successfully that the aged Scott recommended him to Abraham Lincoln as Commander of the Union Army. Lee declined.
1) Fredriksen, John C. “Armstrong, John.” In Tucker, Spencer C., gen. ed. Encyclopedia of American Military History. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2003. American History Online. Facts On File, Inc. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?
ItemID=WE53&iPin=EMHI0042&SingleRecord=True (accessed May 5, 2012)
2) Gilje, Paul A. “Newburgh conspiracy.” In Gilje, Paul A., and Gary B. Nash, eds. Encyclopedia of American History: Revolution and New Nation, 1761 to 1812, Revised Edition (Volume III). New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2010. American History Online. Facts On File, Inc. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?
ItemID=WE52&iPin=EAHIII266&SingleRecord=True (accessed May 5, 2012).
3) “Washington puts an end to the Newburgh Conspiracy,” The History Channel website, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/washington-puts-an-end-to-the-newburgh-conspiracy (accessed May 5, 2012).
On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress voted to declare independence from Great Britain. That was the real American Independence Day. Two days later on July 4, 1776 they voted to approve the wording of the final draft copy of the Declaration of Independence.
Therefore, Independence Day is something of a misnomer for the fourth of July. On the second the founders committed treason. On the fourth they dotted the proverbial “I”.
Just a thought.
On March 30, 1937 a mass of Chicagoans numbering between one thousand and twenty-five hundred was stopped by two hundred and fifty members of the city’s police department. The violence that ensued would go down in history as, “[…] one of the most violent [episodes] in the history of U.S. labor organization.”
The workers of Republic Steel had been struggling to gain ground with mill owner Tom Girdler for over a year. U.S. Steel had recognized both the CIO (Committee for Industrial Organization), and SWOC (Steel Workers Organization Committee) in 1936. Republic Steel was holding out.
As part of their effort a large group of workers, as well as their families and conscientious community members, decided to form a picket line outside the factory gate on Chicago’s Southeast Side.
They never made it there.
Girdler had hired a veritable army of strikebreakers, including a large number of local police. Even Police Chief John Pendergast was under the employ of the mill. The company provided the police with headquarters inside its gates. They also fed three shifts of ninety officers each, with 38 in reserve. In a final astonishing act, this private firm armed their police cohort with tear gas and hatchet handles to accost the strikers. For their part, the police brought their own guns.
The protestors and police met at a field north of the factory gate. Protesters threw rocks and sticks. Police fired into the crowd.
Panic ensued. The crowd of strikers ran for their lives.
As workers fled, the police continued to fire and used tear gas and hatchet handles to assault anyone they could. The injured were refused medical attention, as the police dragged them behind their lines, isolating them from help.
In total 10 ten protestors were killed, and 90 were injured. Of those, 7 were shot in the back. There were 30 bullet wounds.
The coroner ruled the deaths as, “justifiable homicides,” and President Roosevelt unbelieveably condemned both sides.
A year later, the National Labor Relations Board thought otherwise. They found the company responsible for the strike. As a result, they forced Republic Steel to recognize the unions, rehire striking workers, and pay reparations for the death they had caused.
One has to ask: What would happen if these circumstances were repeated today?
Keyes, Jonathan J. “Encyclopedia of Chicago.” Accessed May 27, 2012. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/810.html.
Doll, Susan. “Memorial Day massacre.” In Campell, Ballard C., Ph.D., gen. ed. Disasters, Accidents, and Crises in American History. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2008. American History Online. Facts On File, Inc. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp? ItemID=WE52&iPin=DACH0129&SingleRecord=True (accessed May 27, 2012).
When I was a little boy, I really loved Looney Toons. I can remember a whole host of favorite episodes. In one, the animators found an ingenious way to interest children in classical music. A hat truck crashed on the main road, sending a shower of chapeaus raining down on the forest where Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd were continuing their perpetual tête-à-tête.
As the hats landed on their heads, the characters acted out the roles represented by their random garment. With Elmer wearing a horned Viking helmet*, and Bugs a wedding veil, I was introduced to Ride of the Valkyries.
Is it possible to put a hat on history? Can it make dry stories more accessible to us the way it made Wagner more accessible to me?
Abraham Lincoln’s stovepipe hat is certainly the most famous hat in American History. It saddles the imagination like the pot worn by Johnny Appleseed, or the raccoon cap of Davy Crocket.
Along with this lofty title, it is also a repository of historical fun facts and trivia!
In this sense the hat takes on a life of its own, brimming over with anecdotes both comical and tragic. Like the man who donned it, Lincoln’s hat bewitches us with its, “kitchy charm.”
Probably the most popular token of history surrounding the hat is how Lincoln chose to use it: as his personal filing cabinet.
Before he was president, Lincoln practiced law in Springfield, Illinois, where a forgetful Abe was teased by his partner William Herndon for keeping all manner of important documents inside his hat to sidestep his absent mindedness. Over time bankbooks, legal documents, and (when he hit the campaign trail) drafts and notes for speeches.
In a way, Lincoln’s hat became his IPhone, (or IHat,) allowing him to carry his important information with him, wherever he went.
One night the hat would provide a much greater service.
Lincoln’s hat may have saved his life!
In August 1864, President Lincoln was riding alone to his, “summer getaway,” at about 11:00PM. The so called, “Soldier’s Home,” was near Washington, and in Lincoln’s era it was not unthinkable for the POTUS to travel all by his lonesome, even in the midst of a Civil War!
While riding his favorite horse, a lanky nag bearing the nickname, “Old Abe,” the President heard a shot!
Lincoln’s hat was shot clean off his head. Old Abe went wild, and so did his eponym. Abe (the human) later joked that while he tried to calm the panicking beast, he pondered whether it would have been better to take the bullet.
He would tell the story to his friend and bodyguard, Ward Hill Lamon the following morning.
(I have included the story below for anyone who is interested to read the the account.**)
According to Private John W. Nichols, who witnessed the aftermath of the event, Lincoln asked that the story be kept quiet so as not to worry his family. Nichols dutifully complied with the request, and returned the hat to the president the following day. The bullet had passed right though, leaving matching holes in the material.
It is possible that Lincoln’s hat obscured the shooter’s ability to target the president, taking the bullet, and thereby saving his life!
For his part, Lincoln would later downplay the attempt as the effect of an errant hunters bullet.
However, the aforementioned account later offered by Lamon tells a very different tale.
Moreover, after the fateful night, Abe would only go to the, “Soldier’s Home,” in a closed carriage with a full military guard.
Ironically, the same absent bodyguard (Lamon) who heard the story that morning was also absent on April 14, 1865, the night Lincoln was fatally shot.
Lamon had been sent to Richmond by Lincoln.
Tragically, his replacement, Officer John H. Parker of the Washington D.C. Police Department, was equally in absentia. He snuck off to watch the performance at Ford’s Theater, rather than his president.
The rest is history.
Within a year Lincoln went through two absent bodyguards, two assassins, and two historic hats, one bearing the mark of an attempted assassination, the other wearing colors of mourning to this day.
The second hat is depicted above in a follow-up post.
*Since we’re talking head gear, it may be worth noting that the horned helmet of the Vikings is historically inaccurate. Actual Viking helmets had no horns. Which makes a lot of sense if you think about it. Imagine running around a medieval village trying to pillage with cumbersome horns getting in the way.
**Last night about eleven o’clock, I went to the Soldiers’ Home alone, riding Old Abe, as you call him (a horse he delighted in riding), and when I arrived at the foot of the hill on the road leading to the entrance to the Home grounds, I was jogging along at a slow gait, immersed in deep thought, contemplating what was next to happen in the unsettled state of affairs, when suddenly I was aroused–I may say the arousement lifted me out of my saddle as well as out of my wits–by the report of a rifle, and seemingly the gunner was not fifty yards from where my contemplations ended and my accelerated transit began. My erratic namesake, with little warning, gave proof of decided dissatisfaction at the racket, and with one reckless bound he unceremoniously separated me from my eight-dollar plug hat, with which I parted company without any assent, express or implied, upon my part. At a break-neck speed we soon arrived in a haven of safety. Meanwhile I was left in doubt whether death was more desirable from being thrown from a runaway federal horse, or as the tragic result of a rifle-ball fired by a disloyal bushwhacker in the middle of the night.