Wednesday, January 31, 2007

last 8-track tape from a major label

The 8-track cartridge was a magnetic tape format, popular for music from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s. It was created by Bill Lear (the Lear Jet guy) in 1964. 8-tracks replaced a similar 4-track tape system, called Stereo-Pak, invented by Earl "Madman" Muntz (known for crazy car commercials and cheap TVs).

The tape within the 8-track cartridge was arranged in an "endless loop" and coated with a slippery material to minimize the friction where the tape rubbed against itself. The coating sometimes also caused the tape to slip, leading to poor speed control, which hurt the sound quality and made the cartridges unpopular with audiophiles.

The design allowed simple, cheap, and mobile players; but unlike a two-reel system, it didn't permit tape movement in both directions. Some players offered a limited fast-forward function, but rewinding was impossible.

The 8-track cartridge was briefly used for 4-channel "quadraphonic" recordings, but was made obsolete by the Compact Cassette, invented at Philips in 1963. The cassette was originally intended to be a monophonic dictation device with no consideration for high fidelity.

The stereo "Music" audio cassette (or Musicassette) was introduced in 1966, and became a practical high fidelity format with the addition of Dolby noise reduction in 1971. (Your editor attended the press conference where Dolby Labs first demonstrated cassettes with their noise reduction.)

Cassettes not only sounded better than 8-track tapes, they were much smaller, stored more music without breaks, and could be recorded in home recorders, which were uncommon in the 8-track format. During the transitional period in the 1980s, there were adapters that fit into automotive 8-track players to allow playback of cassettes without a big investment.

8-track players became less common in homes and automobiles as the 1970s went on. By the time the Compact Disc arrived in 1982, the 8-track had nearly disappeared. 8-tracks were phased out of retail stores by 1983.

There is a debate about the last commercially released 8-track by a major label, but many agree it was Fleetwood Mac's Greatest Hits in November 1988. Some 8-track titles were still available through record clubs until 1989. Many of these late-period releases are highly collectible due to the low numbers that were produced. Among the most rare is Stevie Ray Vaughan's Texas Flood. The record-club-only 8-track cartridge that seems to sell for the highest amount is The Police's The Singles, which has sold for over $200 for a single copy. Another highly sought-after title among collectors has been The Sex Pistols' Never Mind The Bollocks Here's The Sex Pistols, which has sold for over $100 for an open copy in average condition.

There was also a rare record club only 8-track box set of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band's Live/1975-85, which is probably the only boxed set ever released on vinyl, cassette, compact disc and 8-track tape. There are reports of bootleg 8-track tapes being made in Mexico as late as 1995, and some independent artists released 8-track tapes as late as 2006. (info from Wikipedia & other sources)

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

patent for electric plug and outlet

While watching through a window as a janitor cleaned behind some electrically-operated games in a penny arcade, Connecticut inventor Harvey Hubbell noted the tedious process required for disconnecting and reconnecting wires in order to move the equipment away from the wall.

The exasperated janitor had to detach each of the power supply wires from separate post terminals extending outward from the wall. After moving the games aside and sweeping the floor, the janitor then had to identify each wire and its proper terminal post, make each of the reconnections, and check them to avoid short circuits.

Hubbell got the idea to design a device with individual wires attached, allowing the user to easily connect and disconnect a game. He built three prototypes, which the janitor tested.

Later, Hubbell's "separable plug" design took shape on the drawing board, and was submitted to the patent office. Additional designs -- separable plugs in different configurations, a flush-mounted receptacle, cartridge fuses and fuse block, lamp holders, and sockets -- soon followed. (info from Hubbell, Inc.)

Monday, January 29, 2007

first woman on a Supreme Court

Florence Ellinwood Allen (1884 - 1966) majored in music at Western Reserve University, then studied piano in Berlin while also working as a music journalist. After a nerve injury ended her music career, she returned to Cleveland to work as a music critic and a teacher.

Later, law became her main interest, and she received a Master of Arts in political science and constitutional law.

Rejected by Western Reserve's law school because of her sex, Allen attended the University of Chicago and New York University. After receiving her law degree, she was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1914, and successfully defended women's municipal voting before the Ohio Supreme Court.

Allen's career included several female firsts: her appointment as assistant county prosecutor in 1919; election as common pleas court judge in 1920, and as Ohio Supreme Court judge in 1922.

President Roosevelt appointed her as Judge of the United States 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in 1934. Later Roosevelt and Eisenhower both considered her for a Supreme Court appointment, but apparently the time wasn't right. In 1958, Allen became chief judge of the 6th Circuit, making her the first woman chief judge of a federal court. (info from The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History)

Friday, January 26, 2007

McDonald's sings Big Mac song

In 1968, the Big Mac burger became available in the whole McDonald's chain, after being invented by Jim Delligatti, one of the first McDonald's franchisees.

Sales really took off in 1975, with a commercial featuring the famous tongue-twister: "Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun." The phrase is a listing of the Big Mac ingredients, and was often spoken rapidly as a single word in ads. The first commercials ran only a year and a half, but the tongue-twister remained popular beyond its TV life.

McDonald's revived the phrase in 2003. In a commercial in the "I'm lovin' it" campaign, a rapper rapidly recites the Big Mac ingredients. Also in 2003, there was a Big Mac Christmas ornament that played the jingle.

In the 2004 documentary Super Size Me, several women were interviewed who couldn't correctly recite the Pledge of Allegiance, but could accurately recite the slogan.

In the late 1990s, Burger King offered a near-copy of the Big Mac, originally called the Double Supreme Cheeseburger, but later renamed the Big King. Some Burger King employees used to sing the McDonald's jingle while assembling Big Kings. (Info from Wikipedia, McDonalds and other sources)

Singapore bans chewing gum

Chewing gum causes problems in Singapore, apparently much bigger problems than elsewhere.

In 1983 a gum ban was proposed because of problems in public housing. Vandals stuffed used gum in mailboxes, inside keyholes and on elevator buttons. Chewing gum left on floors, stairways and pavements increased the cost of cleaning and damaged cleaning equipment. Gum stuck on the seats of public buses annoyed passengers.

Government leaders thought that a ban would be too drastic and did not take immediate action. In 1987, the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system, began operation. It was then the largest public project ever implemented in Singapore, and expectations were high. Vandals stuck gum on the door sensors, preventing the doors from functioning properly and causing disruption of train service. In 1992, new Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong decided on a ban.

The import of chewing gum was immediately halted. A transition period was provided for stores to sell their their existing inventory, and then the sale was completely terminated. When first introduced, the ban caused controversy and some open defiance. Some people went to nearby Malaysia to buy gum. A few tried to bring back more than what is legally permitted. These offenders were publicly "named and shamed" to deter other would-be smugglers. As time passed and the uproar died down, Singaporeans became accustomed to the lack of chewing gum. There was no black market.

In the mid 1990s, Singapore’s forbidding laws began to receive intense international attention. The US media sensationalized the case of Michael P. Fay, an American teenager sentenced to caning for vandalism (spray paint, not chewing gum). At this time Singapore gained its infamous "nanny state" image, with actions of every citizen scrutinized and dictated by the government.

Singapore leaders responded that as a sovereign state, Singapore had the right to form policies based on its unique political and cultural values, and these policies result in greater overall benefits. When a BBC reporter suggested that overly draconian laws would stifle the people's creativity, an official retorted: "If you can't think because you can't chew, try a banana."

In 1999, US President Bill Clinton and Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong agreed to initiate talks for bilateral free trade. The talks continued during the Bush administration. By the final phase of negotiations in early 2003, there remained two sticky issues: the War in Iraq and chewing gum.

US officials requested that Singapore express support for US invasion of Iraq, which was readily agreed to. The US also demanded that Singapore lift the gum ban, because of lobbying for the Wrigley gum company. This caused a serious dilemma to Singapore leaders. They knew that the agreement would be a great boost to Singapore's economy and they could not afford to be delayed by the chewing gum issue; but giving in would make them look bad.

Singapore came up with a creative solution. They recognized the health benefits of certain gums, such as Wrigley's Orbit sugar-free gum that contains calcium lactate to strengthen tooth enamel, and Pfizer's smoke-stopping Nicorette gum. They allowed sales of these medicinal gums, by dentists and pharmacists, who record the names of buyers. (info from BBC and Wikipedia)

Thursday, January 25, 2007

end of world's oldest family business

Japanese construction company Kongo Gumi, which was founded in 578 by a family from the ancient Korean kingdom of Baekje, went into liquidation in January 2006.

The company started when carpenter Shigemitsu Kongo built the Shitennoji Temple in Osaka. Kongo had been invited to Japan by Prince Shotoku, a great Japanese cultural hero, who at the age of 16 brought about the adoption of Buddhism in the country.

Shigemitsu Kongo's descendants continuously maintained the family business, and the firm was named the world’s oldest company by the Economist magazine. The firm has been a symbol of “shinise,” Japan's family business culture.

In addition to the Shitennoji Temple, Kongo Gumi built the Horyuji Temple in Nara. Both are important examples of early Japanese architecture.

Due to heavy debts and a severe drop in the value of land Kongo Gumi had purchased in 1980s, the company decided to liquidate; and operation of the company was transferred to the Takamatsu Corporation. With the retirement of Masakazu Kongo, Kongo Gumi's firm’s 40th president, 1,400 years of history as a family firm came to an end.(info from Chosun and other sources; photo from Osaka COnvention & Tourism Bureau))

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

2019 (approximate)
last American telephone renter dies

In the 1990s, AT&T (the real one, not the current one that used to be called SBC) wanted to sell phone gear to long distance companies like MCI and Sprint, who competed with AT&T. These companies were reluctant to spend money that would enrich their enemy, so AT&T split apart in 1996, and the new phone equipment operation was named Lucent Technologies.

Lucent wanted to concentrate on business customers, and sold its consumer phone rental business to North Street Consumer Phone Services, a subsidiary of Swiss banking giant UBS. North Street does business as AT&T Consumer Lease Services, with the old (pre SBC) AT&T logo.

In the mid-1980s, more than 30 million people were renting phones. Prior to the sale to North Street, Lucent spokesman Bill Price told me that 2.6 million people were renting 3.5 million telephones. By mid-2004, only about 970,000 households rented a phone, according to the Associated Press. Most phones now rent for $5-$10 per month, and some of them have been generating rental revenue for 40 years.

Most renters are poor, uneducated, elderly, or all three. The youngest phone renter is Louella Belle Firestone of Hope, Arkansas. She's 73, and will probably pay rent for another 12 years.

1978: first person born in Antarctica

Belief in the existence of a vast continent located in the far south of the Earth has existed since around the year 150. Ptolemy, the Greek astronomer, mathematician, geographer, and astrologer, suggested the idea in order to preserve symmetry of landmass in the world.

Depictions of a large southern landmass were common in maps in the early 16th century. The first confirmed sighting of Antarctica was in 1820, but there is disagreement about which of three ships got there first.

The magnetic south pole was first reached during an expedition led by British explorer Ernest Shackleton in 1907. Shackleton himself and three other members of his expedition made several firsts in 1908 and 1909: first humans to traverse the Ross Ice Shelf, first humans to traverse the Transantarctic Mountain Range, and first humans to set foot on the South Polar Plateau. In 1911, a party led by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen became the first to reach the geographic south pole. It was not until 1956 that anyone set foot on the pole again, when a US Navy group led by Rear Admiral George Dufek landed a plane there.

Antarctica has no permanent residents, but several countries keep permanent research stations there. The population on Antarctica and nearby islands varies from about 4,000 in summer to 1,000 in winter. In 1978, Emilio Marcos Palma was the first person born on the Antarctic mainland. His parents were sent there with seven other Argentinean families to determine if family life was suitable on the continent. (info from PBS and Wikipedia, photo from NASA)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

first power-pimped electric scooter

Gary Elkies of West Haven CT bought a "Razor" electric scooter to save on gasoline and car maintenance expenses when commuting to work.

Unfortunately, the first time he tried to ride the Razor to work, he ended up walking about half of the five-mile distance, because the battery died.

Gary refused to be discouraged, and sought the services of AbleComm Automotive Engineering of Milford CT.

AbleComm outfitted the scooter with a marine battery housing, a second battery, and an A-B switch to select which battery sends power to the scooter's motor. There's also a digital meter with an illuminated display to monitor battery power while charging, and during the trip.

Unfortunately, the weather has been too cold to test the modified vehicle, so Gary's not sure if he'll be able to scoot to work.

Monday, January 22, 2007

last American convertible (for a few years)

In the mid 1970s, it seemed like the American convertible would disappear, a victim to government safety concerns, sunroofs, T-tops and air conditioning. Chrysler and Ford had stopped making ragtops early in the decade, and by mid-decade GM was making just one, the huge bloated Cadillac Eldorado.

GM announced that there wouldn’t be a ’77 Eldorado convertible, and Caddy built the last 200 1976 models as an all-white "last American convertible" special edition. Speculators grabbed many of them, and carefully stashed them away in anticipation of re-selling them later at a huge profit.

GM, Cadillac, the speculators and the American auto industry, were wrong. Not only was the ’76 Eldo not the last American convertible, but it wasn’t even the last Eldorado convertible.

In 1980, Chrysler boss Lee Iacocca had a Chrysler coupe sent to a custom auto body shop in California, where it was rebuilt into a convertible. When Iacocca drove it around Boca Raton, Fla., in the winter of 1981, it won instant admirers. That limited market survey helped convince him that the potential demand for a revived convertible was bigger than anyone imagined.

From the moment they went on sale, the Chrysler LeBaron convertible and its sister car, the Dodge 400, were extremely successful: 24,000 were sold in 1982, vs. 3,000 projected by Chrysler. The four-seat LeBarons were snapped up by celebrities, moguls, babes, pimps, and ordinary folks looking to show off.

Iacocca's LeBaron got Detroit thinking topless once again and started the convertible renaissance. Now in the 21st century, convertibles are a basic part of the American car business, with a huge variety available from both American and foreign brands. (Info from Time & other sources)

man begins perpetual erection

Charles "Chick" Lennon received a Dura-II penile implant in 1996, about two years before Viagra went on the market. The implant is designed to allow impotent men to position the penis upward for sex, then lower it. It consists of a series of plastic plates strung together with steel surgical wire, almost like a roll of wrapped coins. Springs press against the plates, creating enough surface tension to simulate an erection.

But Lennon could not position his penis downward. He said that because of a defective implant, he could no longer hug people, ride a bike, swim or wear bathing trunks because of the pain and embarrassment. He became a recluse and was uncomfortable being around his grandchildren, said his attorney Jules D'Alessandro. "I don't know any man who for any amount of money would want to trade and take my client's life. He's not a whole person."

Lennon cannot get the implant removed because of health problems, including open-heart surgery, the lawyer said. Impotence drugs could not help Lennon even if he were able to have the device taken out, because tissue had be to removed for it to be implanted.

In 2004, a jury awarded him $750,000. A judge called that excessive and reduced it to $400,000. Later the Rhode Island Supreme Court affirmed that award in a ruling that turned on a procedural matter.

Dacomed maintained that nothing was wrong with the implant. Dacomed was later acquired by a California company whose sales dropped when Viagra was introduced. The company filed for bankruptcy the following year. The medical device maker's insurance company argued that since the device's now-defunct manufacturer, Dacomed Corp., can't be held liable for the device, it can't be either.

In a recent interview, Lennon said "I'm suffering with it right now", he said. "It never stops. It's like a constant headache." (info from The Associated Press)

Nixon no longer worst president since WW2

President George W. Bush was named the worst president in the last 61 years by American voters -- with nearly twice the negative rating of Richard Nixon -- in a poll released by Quinnipiac University on Jun 1.
Bush was named by 34 percent of voters, followed by Richard Nixon at 17 percent and Bill Clinton at 16 percent, according to the poll. Leading the list for best President since 1945 is Ronald Reagan with 28 percent, followed by Clinton with 25 percent.
President Bush was ranked worst by 56 percent of Democrats, 35 percent of independent voters and 7 percent of Republicans, the University poll found. Best ranking for Reagan comes from 56 percent of Republicans, 7 percent of Democrats and 25 percent of independent voters. Among voters 18 - 29 years old, Clinton leads the "best" list with 40 percent.
"Democrats just plain don't like President Bush. His father, the 41st President, was voted out of the White House after one term. Nixon quit under fire. But most Democrats think Bush 43 wins the worst-president race," said Maurice Carroll, Director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
"Kennedy and Truman get big Democratic votes, especially among Baby Boomers (45 - 64 years old) and seniors (over 65), but recent memory counts," Carroll said. "Democrats say Clinton's the best and Republicans say he's the worst. Republicans don't think much of Jimmy Carter either. There's no contest for the GOP favorite: It's the Gipper."

last Horn & Hardart Automat restaurant

In 1912, Philadelphians Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart made history in New York City when they opened the "Automat," a cafeteria with prepared foods behind small windows with coin-operated slots. It was like a giant walk-in vending machine.

Some items cost as little as a nickel. The Automats were particularly popular during the Depression; and their Macaroni and Cheese, Baked Beans, and Creamed Spinach were
popular offerings. Despite the low prices and lack of table service, the dining experience was somewhat luxurious, with Art Deco architecture that rivaled the lobby of the Chrysler Building.

Unlike modern fast food restaurants, Automat food was served on non-plastic dishes, with metal utensils, and drinks were in glasses.

A fast-fingered cashier sat in a change booth in the center of the restaurant, behind a wide marble counter. She accepted paper money and coins from customers, and give them nickels. A customer would insert the required number of coins in a slot, and then slide open a window to remove the food. The machines were filled from a kitchen behind the windows.

The Automats became the world's largest restaurant chain, with 180 eateries serving 800,000 customers a day at its peak. The company also popularized the notion of take-out food, with the slogan "Less work for Mother."

The format was threatened by the growth of suburbs and the rise of fast food restaurants with drive-thru windows in the 1950s. By the 1970s, Automat appeal was strictly nostalgic. Also, inflation made food too expensive to be bought conveniently with coins, before dollar bill slots were common.

The last American Automat closed in 1991.

  • In The Apartment (1960), Jack Lemmon tells Shirley MacLaine that he ate dinner at the Automat last Christmas.
  • "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend", sung by Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), contains the line, "A kiss may be grand but won't pay the rental on your humble flat or help you at the Automat."
  • In That Touch of Mink (1962), Audrey Meadows stocks the machines in an Automat.
  • In Hercules in New York (1970), Arnold Schwarzenegger as Hercules declares the food he got at a New York City Automat is "fit for the Gods".
  • Face The Music, a 1932 musical, featured Irving Berlin's "Let's Have Another Cup Of Coffee," a song celebrating the automat.
  • Want to know more, and have the recipes for Automat macaroni and cheese, chicken pot pie, and other favorites? CLICK to buy a book co-authored by Frank Hardart's great granddaughter, Marianne Hardart
  • 2006:
    "planet" is defined, and Pluto isn't one

    Pluto was discovered in 1930 by American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh. It was regarded as the ninth planet from the sun in our Solar System.

    Astronomers later found many similar objects in the outer solar system, and on August 24, 2006 the International Astronomical Union defined the term "planet" for the first time. Their definition excluded Pluto, which was then reclassified under the new category of dwarf planet.
  • Pluto is smaller than several of the moons in our solar system, and approximately one-fifth the mass of Earth's moon.
  • Pluto is primarily composed of rock and ice.
  • Pluto is now classified as the prototype of a family of trans-Neptunian objects.
  • Walt Disney's Pluto is still classified as a dog.
  • The American Dialect Society voted “plutoed” as the 2006 word of the year. To pluto is to demote or devalue someone or something, as happened to the former planet Pluto
  • 1841: beginning and end of shortest US presidency

    William Henry Harrison was president only 30 days, 11 hours and 30 minutes. He was the first president to die in office, and served the shortest term of any American president

    When Harrison arrived in Washington, he wanted to show that he was still the mighty hero of the Battle of Tippecanoe. He took the oath of office on March 4, 1841, an extremely cold and windy day. He wore no overcoat and delivered the longest inaugural address in American history. It took nearly two hours to read, even after his friend Daniel Webster had shortened it.

    Harrison later caught a cold, which then got much worse. His doctors tried everything, applying opium, castor oil, plants, and even snakes. The treatments made Harrison worse and he went into delirium. He died on April 4, 1841, of pneumonia, jaundice, and septicemia.

  • When Harrison died, there was no 25th Amendment to the Constitution to specify the vice president's actions when the president became disabled or when there was a vacancy before the end of the incumbent's term.
  • An episode of the fourth season of The Simpsons, "I Love Lisa", includes a song titled "We are the Mediocre Presidents", which was a tribute to lesser-known presidents. It included the lyric: "There's Taylor, there's Tyler, there's Fillmore and there's Hayes. There's William Henry Harrison, 'I died in thirty days!'"
  • According to a legend which has no historical basis, Tecumseh (who was defeated by Harrison at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811), placed a curse on Harrison, claiming that every president elected in a year ending with zero (which happens every 20 years) would die in office. Harrison, Lincoln (elected 1860), Garfield (elected 1880), McKinley (elected 1900), Harding (elected 1920), Roosevelt (elected 1940), and Kennedy (elected 1960) all died in office, falling prey to the Curse of Tecumseh, sometimes called the "zero-year curse." Ronald Reagan, elected in 1980, broke the curse, though there was an assassination attempt on Reagan in 1981.
  • Harrison is the first -- but not the only -- American president to have no military vessel named after him. (info from Wikipedia)
  • 1969:
    ARPAnet (father of Internet) is born

    The Internet started as ARPAnet, and it was designed to fight a nuclear war, not to download porn or upload movies.

    In the Cold War 1960s, Washington was worried that a nuclear attack would disrupt communications and hinder the Pentagon's ability to fight back. The Department of Defense started a project to develop survivable communications.

    The Department's agency that dealt with futuristic research was (and is) ARPA, the Advanced Research Projects Agency. It was interested in survivable communications and in computer networking, and created the ARPAnet, the precursor to the Internet.

    Originally linking four universities, the ARPAnet came online in 1969. One major difficulty was getting computers from different makers and using different operating systems to communicate. This led to the now-standard TCP/IP communication protocols.

    Today, information is transmitted through networks, as it was in those early days. It's broken up into small packets, which are sent via whichever route is least busy, and reassembled at the destination. Information can successfully pass through a damaged network and needs no centralized control, providing the survivability that the Pentagon wanted.

    The ARPAnet very quickly spread to other computer research facilities. In 1971, an email program was created, and in 1972, the @-symbol began designating where someone was 'at'.

    The ARPAnet was extremely successful at a secondary goal: increased communication among researchers. Emailing lists took off on a wide variety of topics, and were not limited to computer science. One of the earliest and busiest lists was for sci-fi fans.

    Soon universities who did not have Pentagon research contracts realized the need to have a similar network and CSNET was born. Commercial service providers such as AOL, Prodigy and Compuserve soon followed, and the boom was on. When adoption of http (hypertext transmission protocols) created the World Wide Web, the Internet was fully formed.

    When the original ARPAnet was finally shut down in 1990, the Internet was so widespread that its end was barely noticed. (info from WiseGeek)

    If you want to learn more about the early days of the Internet, I strongly recommend Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins Of The Internet by Katie Hafner

    Sunday, January 21, 2007

    first toilet paper

    Behinds have needed to be cleaned since human beings started living in groups. Our ancestors used grass, leaves, fur, moss, seashells, corncobs, stones and pieces of clay. Ancient Roman public toilets had a stick with a sponge attached to its end that soaked in a bucket of brine.

    Using a wet hand is common in India and Muslim countries, where people use their left hand to clean themselves and their right hand for eating or greeting. In parts of Africa, though, the reverse is true, and a right-handed handshake could be considered rude. Some Indians and Middle Eastern people are disgusted by dry toilet paper because they feel washing is absolutely necessary.
    • In the court of Henry VII of England, the Groom of the Stool was given the job of cleaning the royal anus by hand.
    • Real toilet paper, made specifically for butt wiping, goes back at least to the late 14th Century, when Chinese emperors ordered it in large sheets.
    • Pages torn from newspapers and magazines were commonly used in outhouses in the early American West. The Sears catalogue was well-known for this purpose, and the Farmer's Almanac had a hole in it so it could be hung on a hook and the pages torn off easily.
    • Joseph C. Gayetty of New York started producing the first packaged toilet paper in the U.S. in 1857. It consisted of pre-moistened flat sheets medicated with aloe.
    • Modern rolled and perforated toilet paper was invented around 1880. Various sources attribute it to the Albany Perforated Wrapping Paper Company in 1877, and to the Scott Paper company in 1879 or 1890. Scott was too embarrassed to put their name on their product, as the concept of toilet paper was a sensitive subject at the time; so they customized it for their customers. Waldorf (Hotel) became a big name in toilet paper.
    • In 1935, Northern Tissue advertised "splinter-free" toilet paper. Early paper production techniques sometimes left splinters embedded in the paper.
    • In 1942, St. Andrew's Paper Mill in Great Britain introduced two-ply toilet paper.
    • The Great Toilet Paper Shortage occurred in 1973 after Tonight Show host Johnny Carson joked that there was an acute shortage in the US. The next morning, 20 million people bought all the toilet paper they could find. By noon, most stores were sold out. (info from Great Northern, Wikipedia, Nobody's Perfect)

    first Chinese restaurant in the US

    In China, there are about 300 McDonalds restaurants; but in the US, where there are about 13,000 McDonaldses, there are more than 40,000 Chinese eateries.

    McDonalds opened in China in late 2005, but apparently the first US Chinese restaurant was opened in 1849 in San Francisco.

    Chinese food arrived in America in the mid-1800s with laborers imported to work the California gold rush. By the 1890s, Chinese restaurants had opened in big cities on both coasts. Most early Chinese immigrants were from Canton, in southern China, and brought that city's cuisine. As Chinese cooks adapted to their new land, they came up with new dishes, including chop suey, chow mein, egg foo young, and the fortune cookie.

    Chinese restaurateurs, aware of how intimidating the new cuisine could be, encouraged ordering "family style" and devised the "one from Column A, one from Column B" system to simplify selection. Chinese restaurants also welcomed blacks and Jews when other establishments shunned them. Christmas dinner at a Chinese restaurant is still a tradition for many American Jewish families.

    Chinese-American cuisine changed after 1965, when increased immigration from Asia was permitted. Spicier Sichuan and Hunan dishes from northern Chinese provinces, began replacing former Cantonese favorites. New immigrants sought opportunities throughout the US. For example, in 1971 there were 28 Chinese restaurants in Utah. Now there are more than 250. (info from U.S. News & World Report, and other sources)

    first known British babysitter

    Since the earliest days, humans have relied on relatives and neighbors to watch over children, when adults had to hunt, tend the crops, make war or make love.

    By the 15th century, royalty and other wealthy families in Europe were employing live-in nannies to watch over their children.

    The babysitter, employed for a few hours rather than full-time, was a more recent development. The first known sitter was Abigail Greel, born in 1592 in Upton-on-Thrum in central England.

    Her diary, now in the British Museum, records that she was paid three pence on November 14, 1604 to watch eight-year-old Harold Busby, while his parents saw a performance of Shakespeare's As You Like It. William Shakespeare himself was in the cast, acting as the ghost of Hamlet's father.

    1874: the spork is patented

    It is believed that the modern spork, a combined spoon and fork made of disposable plastic, was introduced by Kentucky Fried Chicken for eating coleslaw in the early 1970s; but this fast-food fixture actually goes back to Medieval times. Ancient sporks, however, were not called sporks, weren't made of plastic, and didn't look like modern sporks.

    In England, the Folgate Silver Plate Company made sporks sometime between 1875 and 1900. In the US, various patents for sporks and proto-sporks have been issued over the years. A combined spoon, fork, and knife closely resembling the modern spork was invented by Samuel W. Francis and patented in 1874. Other early patents predating the modern spork include a "Cutting spoon", granted in 1908 and a spoon with a tined edge in 1912. These design patents do not prevent others from designing and manufacturing their own version of a spork. Modern US patents for sporks were granted in 1978 and 1998.

    The word spork originated in the early 1900s to describe such devices. According to a December 20, 1952 New York Times article, Hyde W. Ballard of Westtown, Pennsylvania filed an application to register "Spork" as a trademark for a combination spoon and fork made of stainless steel. The Van Brode Milling Company registered SPORK for a combination plastic spoon, fork and knife in 1970, but abandoned the registration.

    While the most common sporks are plastic throwaways, some are more durable, including lightweight titanium sporks for camping. Several recent spork-like utensils have the spoon and fork on opposite ends, and others have knife-like cutting edges. (some info from Wikipedia)

    1814: first bathtub in the White House

    The White House is like a five-star hotel filled with the latest gadgets and appliances. One of the last things the president has to think about, is whether the plumbing works; but many earlier first families suffered with poor plumbing and heating.

    Congress can be blamed for a least part of the problem, because necessary appropriations weren't made, and the building decayed. The White House was in such bad condition before a major renovation in 1948, that officials considered demolishing and replacing it.

    President Millard Fillmore (1850-53) is most often credited for the first bathtub in the White House, in 1851; but he doesn't deserve the credit. Journalist and satirist H.L Mencken wrote a fictional history of the bathtub for the The New York Evening Mail in 1917, and mentioned the Fillmore tub's installation. Mencken recanted the Fillmore tub tale later, saying "My motive was simply to have some harmless fun in war days. It never occurred to me that it would be taken seriously."

    In reality, fourth president James Madison was probably the first to bathe in the White House, in 1814; but the water had to be heated on a stove and carried in a bucket. Real plumbing apparently came in 1834 during the Andrew Jackson administration. (info from Plumbing World, Trivia Library; tub picture from Chief Symbols)

    Saturday, January 20, 2007

    cans pop their tops

    Metal cans have been used for storing foods and drinks since 1810. The first tin cans were so thick they had to be hammered open. As cans became thinner, it became possible to invent dedicated can openers, and dozens of different types were developed and sold.

    All of the openers had a fundamental problem: they're useless if they're still in the kitchen while the thirsty people are in a park, stadium or boat.

    In 1959, Ermal Fraze was at a picnic in Ohio, and had forgotten an opener for the canned beverages. He improvised an opener, and started thinking of ways to eliminate the need for a can opener in the future. Others had tried to make a can with a built-in opener, but they didn't work well.

    Fraze concentrated on a lever attached to a rivet at the center of the top of a round can. Fraze’s first version used a lever that pierced a hole in the can but resulted in sharp, sometimes dangerous edges. Later he created the familiar pull-tab version, which had a ring attached at the rivet for pulling, and which would come off completely. He received a patent in 1963 and sold it to Alcoa.

    Iron City Beer was the first drink to use the pop-top can design, and its sales zoomed. Other beverage companies became interested, and by 1965, nearly 75 percent of U.S. breweries were using them.

    In the mid-1970's, outcry from environmentalists led to the design of cans with non-removable tabs, created first by the Continental Can Co. (info from MIT and; photo from Texas A&M)

    meat & potatoes for couch potatoes

    The TV Dinner is a prepackaged frozen multi-item single-serving meal that's heated and eaten.

    TV Brand Frozen Dinner was developed in 1953 for C.A. Swanson & Sons. TV Dinner eventually became a generic term for any frozen meal purchased in a supermarket and heated at home.

    The original TV Dinner came in an aluminum tray inside a flat cardboard box, and was heated in an oven. Most frozen food trays are now made of microwaveable material. The first TV Dinner was turkey with cornbread dressing, peas and sweet potatoes.

    The entire dinner, which sold for 98 cents, could be removed from the outer packaging as a unit, and heated directly in the oven (25 minutes at 425°F) without a pan; and the meal could be eaten out of the same tray, without a plate.

    The aluminum tray had rounded edges like a TV screen, and it fit nicely on a TV snack table, for someone watching TV; so the name was constantly reinforced. Swanson planned to sell 5,000 dinners during the first year, but ended up selling more than 10 million. (info from Wikipedia)

    first college name change because of jokes

    For years, the students and staff at Philadelphia's women-only Beaver College, tolerated jokes and ridicule about "the rodent, the TV show 'Leave It to Beaver' and the vulgar reference to the female anatomy," said college president Bette E. Landman. So, as of July 16, 2001, Beaver College became Arcadia University.

    Beaver was founded in 1853 as a small women's college in western Pennsylvania's Beaver County. In 1925 it moved hundreds of miles east, to suburban Philadelphia.

    The college has appeared on David Letterman's Top 10 list. Conan O'Brien and Howard Stern have joked about it. When "Saturday Night Live" writers invented an annoying film critic, they made him a representative of Beaver College campus radio.

    The college's research showed it appealed to 30 percent fewer prospective students because of the name. Problems worsened with the Internet, since some PC filters intended to block sexually explicit material, blocked access to the college's website.

    Surveys about the name change were sent to more than 20,000 alumni, students, parents, faculty and staff, and comments came in from others who saw news stories about the search for a name. Six names were sent to focus groups, and Arcadia was the clear winner. (info from The Associated Press)

    first American kids kept after school

    On the first day of 1777, several children were throwing snowballs in a school yard in Haverstraw, a former Dutch village in New York.

    12-year-old Hans Bronck aimed a snowball at his friend Dirk Hendrik. Dirk ducked, and the snowball smashed a window in the school. They were observed by a local farmer, Yonah Schimmel, who reported them to the schoolmaster. The boys were punished by being kept after school for an hour each day for the remainder of the school year.

    Italian king tastes first pizza

    Long before Italians ate pizza, Babylonians, Israelites, Egyptians and other ancient Middle Eastern people baked flat bread in mud ovens. It was like pita, which is still common in Greece, and in Greek restaurants in the US. Greeks, Romans and their neighbors added the original toppings: olive oil and spices -- but probably no tofu, pineapple or barbecue chicken.

    The modern pizza is believed to have been developed by poor people in Naples, Italy. In 1889, Rafaele Esposito of the Pizzeria di Pietro e Basta Cosi (now called Pizzeria Brandi), is said to have created a dish for Italy's King Umberto and Queen Margherita. In order to impress them and show his patriotism, Esposito topped the dough with food that would represent the colors of Italy: red tomato, white mozzarella cheese, and green basil. The king and queen were impressed, and the dish became very popular.

    By the beginning of the 1900's, Italian immigrants brought pizza to the United States, particularly to New Haven, New York and Chicago. Because those cities had large Italian populations, restaurants began serving pizza. American soldiers who tried pizza while fighting in Italy in World War II, encouraged restaurants to offer it when they got home.

    The first pizzeria in the United States was probably Lombardi's in New York. The second may have been Frank Pepe's in New Haven. (info from Pizza-pedia and other sources)

    first flight with human passengers

    French Brothers Joseph and Jacques Montgolfier were paper makers who observed that smoke tended to rise, and that paper bags placed over a fire expanded and also rose. They concluded that if they could capture what they thought was a unique gas inside a lightweight bag, the bag would rise.

    Their original test balloon was made of paper and linen and open at the bottom. When flaming paper was held near the opening, the bag, called a balon, slowly expanded with the hot air and floated upward.

    The brothers tested balloons of various sizes that rose as high as 600 feet. They built a large cloth and paper balloon about 33 feet in diameter that rose over 6,500 feet above the marketplace in Annonay on June 4, 1783.

    On September 19 in Versailles, the Montgolfiers flew the first passengers in a basket suspended below a hot-air balloon: a sheep, a rooster and a duck. The flight, which lasted eight minutes, took place in front of about about 130,000 people, including Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and the French court. The balloon flew nearly 2 miles before returning the animals safely to earth.

    The next major milestone occurred on October 15, when the brothers constructed a tethered hot-air balloon that rose 84 feet and flew for nearly four minutes with human passengers.

    On November 21, two men made a free ascent in a balloon and flew from the center of Paris to a suburb, going about 5.5 miles in 25 minutes. (info and illustration from the US Centennial of Flight Commission)

    first man to eat a lobster

    During a fall harvest festival in 31,827BC, a 22-year-old caveman named Fnork killed, cooked and ate a lobster he found crawling on a beach in southern France.

    Before that meal, lobsters were considered to be spawn of the devil (and high in cholesterol), and many people praised Fnork as the bravest man in the world.

    According to interpretations of a cave painting, Fnork ate the lobster boiled, with melted butter and mashed turnips. Fnork's lobster bib was made of goat hide, and he used a goat's femur bone to crack the claws. Fnork said the boiled lobster was OK, but he wanted to try it stuffed with crabmeat in the future.

    first World Series game on TV

    The first World Series game to be televised was the Sept. 30, 1947 opener between the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers.

    The game, at Yankee Stadium, was broadcast by WABD, WCBS, and WNBT in New York, and was also telecast in Philadelphia, Schenectady, and Washington.

    The 1947 World Series brought in television's first mass audience, and was seen by an estimated 3.9 million people, mostly in bars. The 2006 Series was viewed by an estimated nearly 80 million viewers, mostly on couches.

    first voicemail system

    While many tinkerers and inventors, including Thomas Edison, worked on devices to record telephone calls, the first commerically successful answering machine was the 1936 Ipsophon, developed in Switzerland.

    Ipsophons recorded sound magnetically on steel tape, and were used in large businesses and in phone company central offices.

    When people wanted to retrieve their messages, they dialed into the Ipsophon, and whistled or made other sounds to initiate and control playback. (Photo and info from

    Friday, January 19, 2007

    first major league night baseball game

    Although there were a number of earlier minor league nighttime baseball games, the first major league game under the lights was at Crosley Field in Cincinnati, Ohio, on May 24, 1935. The home team Reds beat the Philadelphia Phillies, 2 to 1.

    According to Time Magazine, these were objections to night games:

    (1) In eastern cities it is not pitch dark until after 9PM most of the summer. Because teams must warm up before starting and because lights are useless except in pitch dark, games will not start till 9:30, and will end near midnight, too late for most fans.

    (2) Every team would have to spend some of the increased revenue from night games to pay for two teams, one for days and one for nights. Once they were used to one set of conditions, players could not switch from one team to the other.

    (3) Old-time managers, opposed to change on principle, dislike the experiment. Of 16 managers, only two were slightly interested.

    end of the Bell System

    On January 1, 1984 the Bell System ceased to exist.

    Twenty-two Bell Operating Companies were combined to form seven Regional Bell Operating Companies; and a new AT&T that retained its long distance, manufacturing, and research operations.

    Over the succeeding years, AT&T was broken up more, but the Bell Operating Companies recombined into just three companies. One of them uses the AT&T name.

    first gas station in the US

    Apparently, the first places that sold gasoline were drugstores.
    Henry Ford's mass-production of cars lowered prices and greatly increased car sales, and the need for filling stations.

    The world's first gas station was built in St. Louis, Missouri in 1905 at 412 S. Theresa Avenue. The second gas station was constructed in 1907 by Standard Oil of California (now Chevron) in Seattle, Washington. (info from Wikipedia)

    first US president elected by Supreme Court

    The presidential election on November 7, 2000 was one of the closest presidential elections in the history of the US. It was a contest between Democrat Al Gore, the Vice President, and Republican George W. Bush, Governor of Texas.

    On election night, news media twice prematurely declared a winner in Florida based on exit polls, before deciding the race was too close to call. Both candidates needed Florida's electoral votes to win the presidency. A month of court challenges and recounts folllowed, until the US Supreme Court halted recounts by ruling for Bush. Bush was certified as the winner in Florida by a margin of 537 votes, defeating Gore, who received more votes than Bush nationwide. It was the third time in American history that a candidate won the the Electoral College vote without winning the popular vote. (info from Wikipedia)

    first computer with a hard drive

    In 1956, IBM introduced the 305 RAMAC computer, which was the first computer to include a disk drive. Prior to this, computers stored data with core memory, tape, or drums. The magnetic disk provided more storage in less space.

    The 350 Disk File consisted of a stack of fifty 24" discs. The capacity of the entire disk file was about 4.4 MB, which was an enormous capacity for 1956. IBM leased the 350 Disk File for $35,000 per year. In early 2007, you should be able to get a TeraByte hard drive (with nearly 250,000 times the capacity of the original IBM drive) for just $399. (info from CEDmagic)

    first restaurant operated by a college freshman

    Megan's Seafood Patio is an indoor/outdoor restaurant in Tallahassee, FL, specializing in finfish and shellfish from the nearby Gulf of Mexico, as well as New England and the Pacific. Owner Megan Elkies is a freshman at Florida State University, majoring in hospitality administration.

    first baby from commercial frozen egg bank

    Eight-pound, 2-ounce Avery Lee Kennedy, born on the last day of 2005, is apparently the first baby born after being conceived with a frozen donor egg from a commercial egg bank.

    The parents couldn’t conceive on their own, and learned of a new technology in which women’s eggs can be frozen and stored in much the same way as donor sperm, which has been available for decades.

    The couple turned to a company that billed itself as the world’s first commercial donor egg bank, Cryo Eggs International. The technology to freeze women’s eggs allows women to select someone with similar characteristics, from donor eggs. The eggs can be shipped anywhere to be thawed, fertilized and transferred as an embryo to the woman who wishes to experience the pregnancy and birth. (info from

    first married Catholic priests in modern era

    For many years, Catholic priests were allowed to marry, but the rules for Roman Catholics changed in 1139, under Pope Innocent II. (Priests in Eastern Rite Catholic churches may marry prior to ordination.)

    On July 22, 1980, the rules for Roman Catholics changed again. Married non-Catholic clergy were allowed to remain married after converting to Catholicism and being ordained as Catholic priests.

    Thus, a current Catholic priest who wants to get married must choose between marriage and the priesthood, while a married Lutheran minister or Episcopal priest can become a Catholic priest and keep his wife. This seems unfair to some Catholic priests who left the clergy to marry. Some priests who married continue to function as priests, defying the Vatican.

    Many of the apostles were married. Seven popes were married. Thirteen popes were sons of priests. Six popes fathered children after the 1139 Celibacy Law. Pope Alexander VI had grandsons who became cardinals. (Info from, and other sources. Photo from Sydney Morning Herald)

    first American Bat Mitzvah ceremony

    Jewish males become Bar Mitzvah ("son of the commandment") and assume adult responsibilities and privileges at age 13, often with a special ceremony in a synagogue, and often with a celebration.

    On Saturday morning, March 18, 1922, 12-year-old Judith Kaplan, daughter of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, walked to the front of her father’s synagogue in New York City. She recited prayers, read a portion of the Torah in Hebrew and English and shocked "a lot of people," she later recalled, "including my own grandparents and aunts and uncles." This was the first known American Bat Mitzvah ("daughter of the commandment") ceremony.

    Except in Italy, before 1922 there was no ritual for girls parallel to a boy's Bar Mitzvah ceremony. The Orthodox Jewish Italian rite for becoming Bat Mitzvah made a great impression on Rabbi Kaplan, who was originally Orthodox, became Conservative, and then founded Reconstructionist Judaism.

    Through Kaplan's influence at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, Jews from all branches of non-Orthodox Judaism learned about and emulated the Bat Mitzvah ceremony. Most Orthodox rabbis strongly rejected it, despite the Italian Orthodox origin.

    Judith Kaplan earned degrees in music education from Columbia University, and taught musical education and the history of Jewish music at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. In 1959, at age 50, she entered the School of Sacred Music of Hebrew Union College, obtained her Ph.D. and taught there until 1979. By the time of her death in 1996, she had composed a significant body of original liturgical music, created a radio series on the history of Jewish music and wrote several books. (Info from Jewish Virtual Library, Wikipedia and other sources.)

    first woman who vacations in space

    On September 18, 2006, Anousheh Ansari paid $20 million to ride on the Russian Soyuz TMA-9 capsule, and became the first woman to vacation in space.

    Anousheh was also the first Iranian in space, first Muslim woman in space, and the fourth private explorer in space.

    She blasted off for an eight-day expedition aboard the International Space Station as part of the Expedition 14 crew of the Soyuz TMA-9, which included NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin.

    Thursday, January 18, 2007

    first multi-business credit card in the US

    While many businesses extended credit to their customers, Diners Club allowed cardholders to use a single credit card at multiple businesses.

    In 1950, the first Diners Club cards were given out to 200 people, mostly salesmen who often dined with clients, and could be used at 14 restaurants in New York City.

    Here's the official story: In 1949, Frank McNamara schedules a business meal at a New York restaurant called Major's Cabin Grill. Prior to dinner, he changes suits. After dinner, the waiter presents the bill. Frank reaches for his wallet...and realizes that he has left it in his other suit. McNamara finesses the situation, but that night he has a thought, "Why should people be limited to spending what they are carrying in cash, instead of being able to spend what they can afford?" In February 1950, McNamara and his partner, Ralph Schneider, return to Major's Cabin Grill and order dinner. When the bill came, McNamara presents a small, cardboard card - a Diners Club Card - and signs for the purchase. In the credit card industry, this event is still known as the First Supper.

    By the end of 1950, Diners Club had 100% of the credit card business, with 20,000 customers, and was accepted at over 1000 restaurants. By the end of 2006, Diners Club (now called Diners Club International and owned by Citibank), had less than 1% of the credit card business.

    first female MD in the US

    (more to come)

    first transcontinental railroad in the US

    The First Transcontinental Railroad was completed on May 10, 1869, with a ceremonial golden spike driven at Promontory, Utah, after track was laid over a 1,756 mile gap between Sacramento and Omaha by the Union Pacific Railroad and Central Pacific Railroad.

    first Earth vehicle lands on another planet

    Viking 1 was launched Aug. 20, 1975, and arrived at Mars on June 19, 1976.

    On July 20, 1976, the Viking 1 lander separated from the orbiter and touched down at Chryse Planitia.

    more women than men in US colleges

    Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster PA began as Franklin College, the first coeducational college, in 1787.

    Its first class had 78 male and 36 female students. The school ran into financial problems, and women students were shut out for 182 years.

    Women remained the minority in colleges and universities for many years. Now 56% of American higher education students are women, and the percentage has been rising.

    Traditionally, men were the family breadwinners, and college was the path to higher salaries. During the feminist movement of the 1970s, more girls sought careers, and enrolled in college. By 1981, more women than men were attending.

    There has been an unexpected and unexplained drop in the number of boys applying to college. Researchers have a number of theories. More boys than girls drop out or are expelled from high school. Boys are three times more likely than girls to be in special education programs. (info from PBS and other sources)