Tuesday, July 31, 2007

1977: 3M introduces Post-it® Notes

In 1968, Dr. Spencer Silver discovered a unique, repositionable adhesive while working as a scientist in 3M's research lab. He circulated information to other 3M scientists, trying to discover a problem that the adhesive could solve.

In 1974, while singing in his church choir, Art Fry, another 3M scientist, tired of losing his place in the hymnal. He dreamed of a bookmark that's lightly adhesive; then he remembered Silver's adhesive, and his dream began to become real.

Fry used a portion of his working hours to develop a solution to his problem, and in 1977, he overcame manufacturing obstacles to produce enough Post-it® Notes to supply 3M's headquarters, and 3M employees were soon hooked.

After test markets show mixed reactions to Post-it® Notes, marketers realized that success depended upon sampling the product. 3M-ers went to Boise, Idaho, to launch a sampling campaign known as the Boise Blitz. After saturating the office supply industry with samples, an astonishing 90 percent of people who tried Post-its said they'd buy them, and the product was approved by management. By 1980, Post-it® Notes were being sold nationwide. Today, they're used throughout the world. (info from 3M, photo from Getty Images)

Monday, July 30, 2007

2007: man becomes Eagle Scout
after 70 year delay

Walter Hart, 88, of Lehigh Acres, FL, received his Boy Scout Eagle Award Saturday, 70 years after he was to receive it originally.

Hart joined the Cub Scouts in 1928 in Malden, MA. He later completed all the requirements for Eagle Scout, but never received the award because he joined the Navy in 1943 and served for two years in Asia.

In 2006, Hart found some of his old Boy Scout memorabilia, including the documents that showed he had completed the requirements for his Eagle Scout Award but never received the badge. Hart contacted the Boy Scouts to inquire about receiving his award, and this year, after verifying the information with the National Office of the Boy Scouts of America, the Southwest Florida Council presented the badge.

Hart, a cancer survivor, underwent a quadruple heart bypass in April. “Pride, honor and the will to never-give up” are the words Hart’s daughter Elizabeth Gatturna uses to describe her father. “He is Boy Scout through and through.”

The Eagle award is a performance-based achievement only about 5 percent of all Boy Scouts earn. To earn the Eagle Scout rank a Boy Scout must fulfill requirements in the areas of leadership, service, and outdoor skills. (info and photo from News-Press.com)

Thursday, July 26, 2007


I'm taking a few days off. I'll be back next week.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

2007: Sony no longer most popular US brand

Sony has been unseated from the top spot in Harris Interactive’s annual “Best Brands” poll, after holding the distinction every year since 2000. Sony dropped to #2, behind Coca Cola.

Four electronics brands made the top ten. Among them, Sony is the second most-popular brand in the US, Dell is 4th, and Microsoft and Apple are 8th and 9th, respectively. Last year’s 7th most-popular brand, HP, fell out of the top ten, as did GE. Car makers Toyota, Ford, and Honda came in 3rd, 5th, and 10th, with Kraft Foods 6th and Pepsi Cola 7th.

The survey was conducted by interviewing 2,372 adults online in early June, and asking them “think about brands or names of products and services you know,” and asking, “considering everything, which three bands do you consider the best?” Since 1996, the poll had been won every year by either Sony or Ford. (info from Dealerscope)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

2007: first person swims at North Pole

Earlier this month, British explorer and endurance swimmer, Lewis Gordon Pugh apparently became the first man to swim at the Geographic North Pole.

The swim which took 18 minutes took place in freezing temperatures of minus 1.8 degrees centigrade -- the coldest waters a human has ever swum in -- and was conducted in accordance with Channel Swimming Association Rules, in just Speedo briefs, cap and goggles.

The geographic North Pole is situated at 90 degrees north. The previous record held for the coldest point swum by a human is 0 degrees centigrade off Antarctica -- a record also held by Pugh.

Pugh, nicknamed the Polar Bear, said, "I hope my swim will inspire world leaders to take climate change seriously. The decisions which they make over the next few years will determine the biodiversity of our world. I want my children, and their children, to know that polar bears are still living in the Arctic -- these creatures are on the front line up here."

Added Pugh, "I am obviously ecstatic to have succeeded, but this swim is a triumph and a tragedy -- a triumph that I could swim in such ferocious conditions but a tragedy that it's possible to swim at the North Pole."

Pugh's team included Expedition Scout Jorgen Amundsen, who skied alongside him to find open sea amidst the ice to make this record attempt. Amundsen is a relative of Roald Amundsen, the first man to walk to the South Pole and first man to fly across the Arctic Ocean via the North Pole.

Pugh described the swim: "The water was absolutely black. I shook Jorgen Amundsen's hand and then plunged into the sea. It was like jumping into a dark black hole. It was frightening. The pain was immediate and felt like my body was on fire. I was in excruciating pain from beginning to end and I nearly quit on a few occasions. It was without doubt the hardest swim of my life."

"This expedition represents the end of an era of Arctic exploration as we know it," said Amundsen. "Many expeditions fail each year when they encounter big stretches of open sea. I cannot imagine what pioneer explorers like Roald Amundsen and Admiral Robert Peary would have thought of someone swimming at the North Pole."

Other team members included Pugh's mind coach, David Becker and Professor Tim Noakes of the University of Cape Town, who is a leading expert on the effect of cold water on the human body.

"This is the coldest water any human being has ever swum in," said Noakes. "Lewis has worked incredibly hard and undergone an extremely intense period of training to make this as safe as possible for him." His unique ability to withstand cold and raise his body temperature in anticipation of a swim has intrigued sports scientists.

Pugh, 37, explorer, environmentalist and swimmer, is the only person to have completed a long distance swim in each of the five oceans.

In 2003 he completed the first swim in the Barents Sea by swimming around North Cape, Europe's most northern point. The following year, he swam the entire 204km length of Sognefjord, Norway's longest fjord, in an epic feat that took him 21 days to complete. And in August 2005 he plunged into the Arctic Ocean near the North Pole and swam 1km around the most northern point of the island of Spitsbergen at 80 degrees North to break the world record.

In 2005 Lewis completed the most Southern swim in the world when he covered 1km in 18 minutes at Petterman Island, Antarctica in waters of 0 degrees C.

Last summer he completed the challenge of swimming the entire length of the River Thames (203 miles). In February 2007, he swam across the width of the Maldives, a distance of some 87 miles. CLICK for more. (info from Health News Digest)

Monday, July 23, 2007

1925: last successful new American car maker

The Chrysler car company was founded by Walter P. Chrysler on June 6, 1925, when the Maxwell Motor Company was re-organized into the Chrysler Corporation. The company has had its ups and downs over the years, and is now at the end of a brief marriage with Daimler of Germany.

Other US car companies started after 1925, but none are still in business. DeLorean didn't make it. Neither did Tucker.

This fall, Tesla Motors will try. The gorgeous 2007 Tesla Roadster should accelerate, brake and handle like a high-end sports car, but it runs completely on electricity. It plugs into the wall for charging and is not a hybrid. Range should be about 250 miles. Price is just under $100,000. About 550 have already been reserved by customers. CLICK for more

Friday, July 20, 2007

1911: first woman owner
of major league baseball team

In March 1911, with woman suffrage a popular topic of conversation, a major league baseball club owner's death caused a stir in the worlds of sports and society.

Stanley Robison bequeathed controlling interest in the St. Louis Cardinals to his niece, Helene Robison Britton. The remaining shares went to Helene's mother, the widow of former club co-owner Frank DeHaas Robison, Stanley's brother.

Early reports dismissed the notion that a woman or women would maintain ownership, least of all control, of a baseball franchise. But Helene, a young wife and mother of two small children, surprised the male-dominated world of baseball by refusing to sell the Cards, and took an active role in its operation for the next six years, becoming the first woman in history to own a major league baseball club.

Born in 1879, Helene Hathaway Robison's father and uncle owned a Cleveland streetcar business in addition to that city's National League team, the Spiders. Helene's relatives encouraged her to become familiar with sports in general, teaching her to play billiards and other games. Though refined and well educated, she adopted an especially keen interest in baseball.

In 1899 Stanley and Frank Robison purchased the NL's St. Louis Brown Stockings and arranged the two rosters to favor St. Louis. As a result, the Spiders ended up with one of the poorest records in baseball history and became one of the four clubs the NL eliminated for the 1900 season, leaving Helene without her hometown team. She nonetheless maintained her interest in baseball, frequently accompanying her family on road trips of the St. Louis club, which had changed its colors from brown to red and adopted the enduring name of Cardinals.

In 1901 Helene married Schuyler Britton, a Cleveland attorney, and was living with him, their two children, and her mother at the time of Stanley's death in 1911.

Reports indicate that Helene and her mother initially considered selling the Cardinals to Charles Weeghman of Chicago, but they quickly decided to keep and operate the club as its late owner had requested.

Helene endured with dignity a great deal of media gibing about a woman assuming the position of a major league baseball magnate. One newspaper cartoon jokingly suggested that the players' uniforms might soon include bloomers. Some stories described Mrs. Britton as a militant suffragette, but interviews of the time portray her more as soft-spoken, intelligent, and strong-willed than militant. During her years in baseball she never criticized her female detractors when she overheard their spiteful remarks. In an interview held at the ballpark, she once told a female reporter that those same women could excel in other traditionally male-dominated fields if given the chance.

On assuming ownership of the Cardinals, Helene expressed admiration for manager Roger Bresnahan. When asked what she would rather have, a team of good hitters or a team of fair batsmen with a good corps of pitchers, she told a St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter, "Certainly there will never be a pennant prospect for the Cardinals until they have both. And I am satisfied that Mr. Bresnahan intends to get them for me."

When the Cardinals moved up to fifth place during her first year as owner, Helene rewarded Bresnahan with a new five-year contract worth $10,000 a year and 10 percent of the club's profit. But the team didn't fare as well the next season, and the resolute "magnatess" met head on with the pugnacious manager. One report states that Bresnahan went into a tirade at the Britton home while defending himself against accusations of throwing games. He also persisted in offers to buy the franchise after she refused to sell. Arguments kept erupting between the two, and at the end of the 1912 season she finally fired him after he angrily told her that "no woman can tell me how to run a ball game!"

Though her Robison predecessors maintained a Cleveland address even after their purchase of the Cardinals, Helene wanted to be closer to her operation. In 1913 she moved with Schuyler and their children to St. Louis. That year, with Helene's influence, Schuyler was elected president of the Cardinals - much to the relief of the NL's other owners (for two years Helene had insisted on attending and participating in their previously men-only meetings herself).

But Schuyler was a figurehead; time revealed that it was Helene, who some fans referred to as the club "mascot," who actually controlled the operation. It was her decision to lure women to games by introducing a Ladies Day, when all women accompanied by male escorts were admitted free. She also hired a singer to perform between innings. In an era when following baseball and attending games unescorted were considered unladylike, Helene abated society's misgivings while encouraging her own gender to develop an interest in the sport.

Mrs. Britton staunchly maintained her ownership despite facing a number of difficulties. A lack of funds to renovate the Cardinals' deteriorating ballpark, the club's fall to last place in 1913, and the birth of the Federal League in 1914 failed to dampen her resolve. The St. Louis Federal League team, the Terriers, snatched some of her players. Additionally, she contended with competition from the American League's Browns, which played a few blocks away. Despite those obstacles, the Cardinals rose to third place in 1914, the highest position attained by the club since its purchase by the Robison brothers.

In January 1916, at a peace conference over the disposal of the failed Federal League, Helene held her ground when the NL attempted to force a sale of her club. The Cardinals were falling behind in the standings, were short of money, and Robison Field was sorely in need of repair. Reportedly Helene had already named a price when the other club owners demanded that she sell for the "good of the game." At that point she called in her selling option and returned home still in possession of the club and its park.

Finally in 1918 Mrs. Britton sold the Cardinals and their ballpark for $350,000 to a local investment group headed by Sam Breadon, who went on to become club president. The Robison brothers' original investment of $40,000 had netted a handsome profit for their descendant, but years later Helene said that she loved baseball and regretted her decision to sell. About her own success she said, "All I ever needed was the opportunity. That's all any woman needs." (info from Baseball Biography Project)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

1983: first plastic money

In ancient China coins were rectangular with a hole in the middle. Several coins could be strung together on a rope. Merchants in China, if they became rich enough, found that their strings of coins were too heavy to carry around easily. To solve this problem, coins were often left with a trustworthy person, and the merchant was given a slip of paper recording how much money he had with that person. If he showed the paper to that person he could regain his money. In the 600s there were local issues of paper currency in China, and by 960 the Song Dynasty, short of copper for coins, issued the first generally circulating notes.

A note is a promise to redeem later for some other object of value, usually specie (metal money). The issue of credit notes is often for a limited duration, and at some discount to the promised amount later. The original notes were restricted in area and duration, but the Yuan Dynasty, facing massive shortages of specie to fund their occupation of China, began printing paper money without restrictions on duration. By 1455, in an effort to rein in economic expansion and end hyperinflation, the new Ming Dynasty ended paper money, and closed much of Chinese trade.

In Europe, the first paper money consisted of paper 'coins' issued in Leyden in the Netherlands during the Spanish siege of 1574. Over 5000 of the estimated 14,000 residents of Leyden died, mostly due to starvation. Even leather (often used to create emergency currency) was boiled and used to feed the people. So to create currency, the residents took covers and paper from hymnals and church missives and created paper tokens, which were struck using the same dies that were previously used to mint coins.

The first proper European banknotes were issued by Stockholms Banco, a predecessor of the Bank of Sweden, in 1660, although the bank ran out of coins to redeem its notes in 1664 and ceased operating in that year.

In the early 1690s, the Massachusetts Bay Colony was the first of the colonies to issue the permanently circulating banknotes. The use of fixed denominations and printed banknotes came into use in the 18th century.

In the United States, public acceptance of banknotes in replacement of precious metals was hastened in part by Executive Order 6102 in 1933. This order carried the threat of a maximum $10,000 fine and a maximum of ten years in prison for anyone who kept more than $100 of gold in preference to bank notes. Similar measures were taken worldwide, with similar results.

In 1983, Costa Rica and Haiti issued the first Tyvek and the Isle of Man issued the first Bradvek polymer (or plastic) banknotes; these were printed by the American Banknote Company and developed by DuPont.

In 1988, after significant research and development by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the Reserve Bank of Australia, Australia produced the first polymer banknote made from biaxially-oriented polypropylene (plastic), and in 1996 became the first country to have a full set of circulating polymer banknotes of all denominations.

Since then, other countries to adopt circulating polymer banknotes include Bangladesh, Brazil, Brunei, Chile, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Nepal, New Zealand, Papua and New Guinea, Romania, Singapore, the Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Viet Nam, Western Samoa and Zambia, with other countries issuing commemorative polymer notes, including China, Kuwait, the Northern Bank of Northern Ireland, Taiwan. Other countries indicating plans to issue polymer banknotes include Nigeria. In 2005, Bulgaria issued the world's first hybrid paper-polymer banknote.

Polymer banknotes were developed to improve durability and prevent counterfeiting through incorporated security features, such as optically variable devices that are extremely difficult to reproduce.

The uptake of polymer banknotes has however been comparatively slow with an estimated 1.5% of the Worlds banknotes now using this material. Problems with print durability and the very bulky nature of creased polymer notes rank high amongst the problems limiting polymer uptake. Some countries such as Thailand have reverted to paper after testing polymer notes in circulation. (info from Wikipedia)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

2010: first non-Chinese car maker to sell new brand in China

Honda said it will start selling cars with its Chinese partner Guangzhou under a new brand in 2010, becoming the first foreign car maker to develop an original brand in China.

Honda and Guangzhou will spend about $250 million to build a new Chinese research and development center to develop the new brand, which doesn't yet have a name. The first few models, which will be derived from existing Honda cars, will likely be priced below $10,000. Analysts say the new Guangzhou Honda line will allow Honda to penetrate China's growing market for inexpensive cars without diluting its brand image.

Honda's move comes at a time when the Chinese government is putting pressure on foreign auto makers to share more of their technology and resources with domestic companies so that they can eventually produce vehicles with standards high enough to export to other markets. Under Chinese law, a foreign company has long had to have a local partner in order to produce cars for the Chinese market. More recently, the central government has been urging China's major state-controlled car companies, many of which produced foreign-brand cars, to build their own brands.

The potential for foreign auto makers is huge in China, where passenger-car sales rose by more than one million vehicles, or 35% last year. If this growth keeps up, China could surpass the US as the world's biggest vehicle market by 2010.

Honda's new research center and brand will give its Chinese partner increased access to technology such as the development of hybrid vehicles and other environmentally-friendly innovations that Honda is known for.

For Tokyo-based Honda, the new brand will give it a boost in the fast-growing Chinese market. Honda, Japan's No. 2 auto maker by sales after Toyota, became the first Japanese company to sell cars in China in 1999, and sold about 320,000 vehicles last year. But Toyota, which entered China in 2002, is the fastest growing and recently surpassed Honda as the best-selling Japanese auto maker in the market. Toyota sold 212,000 cars in China in the first-half of 2007, up 77% from a year earlier.

Honda, which analysts say gets 80% of its operating profit from the American market, has been aggressively expanding in China as demand in the US shows signs of slowing. Last year Honda launched its upscale Acura line in China. In September, a new joint-venture plant in Guangzhou opened that will produce 120,000 Accords annually, nearly doubling the number of Accords produced in China.

Honda says it expects to sell 310,000 cars in China this year. The Fit subcompact which retails for about $12,000 and the CRV crossover sports utility vehicle priced at around $20,000 are the best sellers.

In addition to expanding its domestic presence, Honda is increasingly manufacturing cars in China for export. In 2005 Honda began exporting the Chinese-made Jazz compacts to Europe and will export about 43,000 cars this year, up from 24,000 units in 2006. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

2006: more clothes than computers sold online

Maybe Americans don’t need dressing rooms after all.

For the first time since online retailing was born a decade ago, the sales of clothing have overtaken those of computer hardware and software, suggesting that consumers have reached a new level of comfort buying merchandise on the Web.

In 2006, revenue from skirts, suits and shoes reached $18.3 billion, surpassing that from PCs, printers and word-processing programs, which totaled $17.2 billion, according to a report by a major trade group.

The surging popularity of clothing on the Web defies predictions that fashion — which is hard enough to buy in stores, with the aid of sales clerks and fitting rooms — would be difficult, if not impossible, to translate onto the Internet.

The majority of shoppers, it was feared, would never abandon the habit of trying on clothes to assess the feel of fabrics and the fit of a given size, which varies a lot by brand.

“If you are looking for a sign that online retailing has really gone mainstream, I don’t think you can find a better one than this,” said Scott Silverman, executive director of Shop.org, the group that released the report.

Online retail executives said liberal return policies and better navigation tools on their Web sites, like the ability to zoom in on and rotate the images of a $500 handbag, have bridged the once wide gap between online and offline clothes-shopping experiences.

At the same time, the rapid growth of high-speed Internet access in American homes — now in about 50 percent of households — has made it possible for online shoppers to quickly download product images and complete a purchase in seconds, rather than minutes using dial-up services.

At Zappos.com, a popular online retailer of shoes, jewelry and clothing, free overnight shipping and free returns, with postage paid by the company, now make it possible for customers to treat the Web site somewhat like a bricks-and-mortar store, where they can try on and discard a dozen pairs of high heels.

Consumers are still largely reluctant to buy clothing online, at least compared with products like computers. In 2006, they made only 8 percent of all clothing purchases on the Web, compared with 41 percent of computers, 21 percent of books and 15 percent of baby supplies, according to the Shop.org report, which was prepared by Forrester Research.

But the clothing market is far larger than the others, which explains why apparel retailers are eager to refine their Web sites and win over new buyers.

There is a downside, though. Return rates for clothing bought online are about twice as high (14 percent) as other products bought on the Web, Shop.org said, giving retailers the cost of restocking and reselling merchandise.

Online apparel and footwear retailers are decking out their sites with a range of new features. At Timberland.com, shoppers can design their own boots right down to the color of the retailer’s signature tree logo. They can consult a detailed chart that converts sizes for customers in Japan, Italy and Greece. And they can spin, rotate and zoom into images of it.

“You can virtually pick up the product, giving you the essence of touch,” said Troy Brown, general manager of Timberland’s website. Sales at the site, started in 2001, have grown an average of 35 percent over the last three years.

A factor behind the strong growth of online clothing sales in 2006 was the start-up of several sites from prominent retailers. Gap created Piperlime, which sells shoes; Amazon.com started Endless, a site for shoes and handbags; and eBags created 6pm.com, another handbag and shoe site.

Shoppers who traditionally ordered clothing from catalogs are switching to the Web, a trend spotted by J. C. Penney executives, who run both Web site and catalog operations.

Customers now use the catalog “as a tool for online shopping,” said Richard Last, head of new business development for the department store’s jcp.com site. It reached sales of $1 billion in 2005, two years ahead of schedule, Last said.

Over all, online sales grew 25 percent in 2006, to $220 billion, including travel. Still, online sales represented only 6 percent of all purchases made last year, excluding travel packages and airline tickets.

But Shop.org, in surveying the state of the online retail industry, said the growth suggested that e-commerce “has come of age.” The report, which surveyed 174 retailers, said the young industry was in little danger of reaching a saturation point and abruptly slowing down. (info from The New York Times)

Monday, July 16, 2007

1997: first DVR

While TiVo is a brand name that has become a verb, and is an extremely popular brand of digital video recorder (DVR) it was not the first.

ReplayTV claims to be the inventor of DVR technology, developing the first ReplayTV DVR in 1997

Both ReplayTV and TiVo, were launched at the 1999 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Although ReplayTV won the "Best of Show" award in the video category, it was TiVo that went on to much greater commercial success. ReplayTV claims to be the leader in features and performance. TiVo disagrees. ReplayTV also sells DVR-like software for TVs.

Panasonic briefly sold a ReplayTV box with their own brand and "ShowStopper" label. It came with a lifetime subscription that avoided the monthly fee. They are now available for as little as $50 on eBay, but recording time is much less than on newer DVRs.

Friday, July 13, 2007

1984: first bank branch in a supermarket

There was a time when when banks were open just five days a week, and closed promptly at 3PM.

In January of 1984, J. Alton Wingate, founder of Financial Supermarkets, Inc., opened a Community Bank & Trust branch in an Ingles Supermarket in Cornelia, Georgia.

The concept spread quickly, and has been vary popular with store owners, shoppers, and bankers. An in-store bank can be opened for 1/5 the cost of a traditional brick & mortar branch, and its "lobby" can hold thousands of potential customers.

So, now you can deposit a paycheck or apply for a mortgage when you buy your broccoli.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

1902: animal crackers

In the 1890s, animal shaped cookies called "Animals" were imported from England to the United States. The demand grew so much that American bakers began to produce them.

A number of bakers, including the Dozier-Weyl Cracker Company of St. Louis and the Holmes and Coutts Company of New York City, were predecessors of the National Biscuit Company, today's Nabisco Brands.

Each bakery made its own version, in limited supply, to meet the demands of customers in the immediate area. As the 19th century drew to its close, bakeries began to unite.

In 1902 animal crackers officially became Barnum's Animals and evoked the familiar circus time theme. Later in 1902 the now-familiar box was designed for the Christmas season with the innovative idea of attaching a string to hang from the Christmas tree. These five-cent cartons were a big hit and are still so today. (Up until that time crackers were sold in bulk or in large tins.)

With each generation, there have been some changes in the number and variety of animals caged in that colorful little box. In total, there have been 54 different animals represented by animal crackers since 1902. There will probably always be lions and tigers, bears and elephants. But the dog and jaguar have fallen to the hyena and gorilla. Today each package contains 22 crackers with a variety of animals. The Koala is the newest addition, voted on by consumers, beating out the penguin, walrus and cobra. The Koala bear joined the 18 other animals in September 2002.

Although the circus box has gone through updates and changes over the years, it still remains true to its origin -- bright, colorful and fun. There have been three different and limited edition boxes produced in the last decade, still the same shape and size, but with a different design on the box. Endangered Animals box in 1995, the Chocolate Zoo in 1997 and the Marine Collection in 1998.

In 1948 the company changed the product name to Barnum's Animal Crackers a designation still used today. Later, in 1958, production methods changed to improve the crackers' visual details. Until then animal shapes were stamped out of a dough sheet by a cutter. This produced outlines with little sophistication. By installing rotary dies, bakers actually engraved details onto each cracker, creating a much more intricate design. The rotary dies are still used today.

Animal crackers seem to a part of everyone's childhood -- no matter how many years ago that was. They've also been written about, sung about and probably dreamed about by millions.

They are all produced in Nabisco's Fair Lawn, NJ bakery. Flour, sugar, shortening, corn flour, whey solids, salt, leaving and oil-of-lemon combine to make a not-too-sweet-cracker/cookie. More than 40 million packages of Barnum's Animal Crackers are sold each year, in the US and worldwide. The crackers are baked in a 300 foot long traveling band oven. They are in the oven for about four minutes and are baked at the rate of 12,000 per minute. Fifteen thousand cartons and 300,000 crackers are produced in a single shift, using some thirty miles of string on the packages. This runs to nearly 8,000 miles of string a year. Those bright circus boxes are produced in three colors - red, blue and yellow - with different variety of animals on each.

In 1930, Groucho Marx played hunter Jeffrey Spaulding in Animal Crackers, an absolutely hilarious movie, made by Paramount.

"One morning, I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don't know. Then we tried to remove the tusks, but they were imbedded so firmly that we couldn't budge them. Of course, in Alabama, the Tuscaloosa, but that's entirely irr-elephant to what I was talking about." (info from About.com and Imaginative Inventions)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

1743: first roller skates

The first recorded use of roller skates was in a London stage performance in 1743. The inventor is unknown. The first known inventor was Jean-Joseph Merlin, who demonstrated a primitive inline skate with metal wheels in Belgium in 1759. The first roller skate design patent was obtained in France by M. Petitbled, in 1819.

These early skates were similar to today's inline skates, but they were not very maneuverable; it was very difficult to do anything but move in a straight line and perhaps make wide sweeping turns. During the rest of the 19th century, inventors continued to work on improving skate design.

The four-wheeled turning roller skate, or quad skate, with four wheels set in two side-by-side pairs, was first designed in 1863 in New York City by James Plimpton in an attempt to improve upon previous designs. The skate contained a pivoting action using a rubber cushion, and this allowed the skater to skate a curve just by leaning to one side. It was a huge success, so much so that the first public skating rink was opened in 1866 in Newport, Rhode Island with the support of Plimpton. The design of the quad skate allowed easier turns and maneuverability, and the quad skate came to dominate the industry for more than a century.

Arguably, the most important advance in the realistic use of roller skates as a pleasurable pastime took place in Birmingham, England in 1876 when William Bown patented a design for the wheels of roller skates. Bown's design embodied his effort to keep the two bearing surfaces of an axle, fixed and moving, apart. Bown worked closely with Joseph Henry Hughes, who drew up the patent for a ball or roller bearing race for bicycle and carriage wheels in 1877. Hughes' patent included all the elements of an adjustable system. These two men are thus responsible for modern day roller skate and skateboard wheels, as well as the ball bearing race used in bicycles, and later motorcycles and cars.

Another improvement came in 1876, when the toe stop was first patented. This provided skaters with the ability to stop promptly upon tipping the skate onto the toe. Toe stops are still used today on most quad skates and on some types of inline skates.

Roller skates were being mass produced in America as early as the 1880s, the sport's first of several boom periods. Micajah C. Henley of Richmond, Indiana produced thousands of skates every week during peak sales. Henley skates were the first skate with adjustable tension via a screw, the ancestor of the kingbolt mechanism on modern quad skates.

In 1884, Levant Richardson received a patent for the use of steel ball bearings in skate wheels to reduce friction. This also allowed skaters to increase speed with minimum effort. In 1898, Richardson started the Richardson Ball Bearing and Skate Company, which provided skates to most professional skate racers of the time.

The design of the quad skate has remained essentially unchanged since then, and in fact remained as the dominant roller skate design until nearly the end of the 20th century.

In 1979 Scott Olson and Brennan Olson of Minneapolis, Minnesota came across a pair of inline skates created in the 1960s by the Chicago Roller Skate Company and, seeing the potential for off-ice hockey training, set about redesigning the skates using modern materials and attaching ice hockey boots. A few years later Scott Olson began heavily promoting the skates and launched Rollerblade, Inc..

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Rollerblade brand skates became so successful that they inspired many other companies to create similar inline skates, and the inline design became more popular than the traditional quads. The Rollerblade skates became synonymous in the minds of many with "inline skates" and skating, so much so that many people came to call any form of skating "Rollerblading," thus becoming a genericized trademark.

For much of the 1980s and into the 1990s, inline skate models typically sold for general public use employed a hard plastic boot, similar to ski boots. In or about 1995, "soft boot" designs were introduced to the market, primarily by the sporting goods firm K2, and promoted for use as fitness skates. Other companies quickly followed, and by the early 2000s the use of hard shell skates became primarily limited to the aggressive skating discipline.

The single-wheel "quintessence skate" was made in 1988 by Miyshael F. Gailson of Caples Lake Resort, California, for the purpose of cross-country ski skating and telemark skiing training. Other skate designs have been experimented with over the years, including two wheeled (heel and toe) inline skates, but the vast majority of skates on the market today are either quad or standard inline design. (info from Wikipedia and Imaginative Inventions.)

Monday, July 9, 2007

2004: last Oldsmobile
1936: last car from Mr. Olds's other company

I often joked that I'd never be old enough to buy an Oldsmobile. It's not just a joke now -- nobody can buy a new Oldsmobile.

The last Oldsmobile rolled off the assembly line in April 2004 in Lansing, Michigan, in a plant that produced the venerable vehicles for nearly a century. The car carried the signatures of plant employees on the inside of the hood and was scheduled to be displayed at the R.E. Olds Transportation Museum in Lansing for about four months.

Oldsmobile, the brand that pioneered chrome-plated trim and gave drivers the Eighty Eight series, the front-wheel-drive Toronado and the Cutlass, was named for its founder, Ransom E. Olds, who started the Olds Motor Vehicle Co. in Lansing in 1897. It became part of GM in 1908. Of the 35.2 million Oldsmobiles built during the nameplate's existence, more than 14 million were built in Lansing.

The initials of Mr. Olds also appeared on REO-brand cars and trucks manufactured from 1905 to 1954, including the famous REO Speed Wagon light delivery truck. It was an ancestor of the pickup truck, and provided the name for the 1970s rock group REO Speedwagon, incorrectly pronounced as "R-E-O."

By 1907 REO had gross sales of $4 million and the company was one of the top four automobile manufacturers in the U.S. After 1908 however, despite the introduction of improved cars designed by Olds, REO's share of the automobile market shrank due in part to competition from emerging giants like Ford and General Motors.

From 1915 to 1925, REO was profitable. In 1925, under Olds's successor Richard Scott, REO launched an expansion program to make the company more competitive with other manufacturers by offering cars in different price ranges. The failure of this program and the effects of the Depression caused such heavy losses that Ransom Olds came out of retirement in 1933 and took control of REO again, but resigned in 1934. In 1936 REO abandoned cars to concentrate on trucks.

Although World War II truck orders enabled it to make something of a comeback, the company remained unstable in the postwar era. In 1954 it was sold to the Bohn Aluminum and Brass Company of Detroit, and in 1957 became a subsidiary of the White Motor Company. White then merged REO with Diamond T Trucks in 1967 to form Diamond-Reo Trucks, Inc. In 1975, this firm filed for bankruptcy and most of its assets were liquidated. The corporate shell reorganized in the 1930s after a bankruptcy and the end of automobile manufacturing went through a series of transmutations into the nuclear medicine and prefabricated housing businesses before becoming today's steel company Nucor.

GM announced in December 2000 it would end production of the struggling Oldsmobile line with the 2004 model year. The Alero was the last model remaining in the brand's once diverse lineup. The workers who made Oldsmobiles switched to other GM brands. (info from The Associated Press and Wikipedia)

Friday, July 6, 2007

2007: iPhone is hacked

Less than one week after the release of Apple's iPhone, hackers have figured out ways to override some of the restrictions imposed by Apple and AT&T, the phone's exclusive service provider.

The hacking likely will be limited to the most tech-savvy iPhone owners. Most customers probably will decide the hacks are too complicated or not worth the trouble, and Apple is skilled at battling hackers and is likely to figure out ways to overcome the overrides.

The most popular hack so far is targeted at the requirement that iPhone users sign a wireless-service contract with AT&T. Without it, none of the device's features are supposed to work, including its Web browser and iPod music player.

Several hackers have posted step-by-step instructions on the Web to activate the iPhone's Web browser and iPod functions without signing up for an AT&T contract. One of the hackers is Jon Lech Johansen, a Norwegian software expert who infuriated Hollywood by creating a program that allowed customers to copy DVDs onto their computers. He has also worked on ways to alter the iTunes software so songs could be downloaded to devices other than iPods.

Several iPhone users confirmed that the iPhone hacks worked. Jean Sebastien, a television director in Paris, paid $850 on eBay for his iPhone. No European wireless carrier is yet able to offer service for the device. Nevertheless, Sebastien said he followed Johansen's instructions and got it to work as a Web browser and iPod.

But it is doubtful that many will follow this route. To do so would mean buying an iPhone, which sells for $499 or $599, and only using it as an iPod and Web browser. Moreover, the hacked Web browser, which is designed to work in all areas reached by AT&T's wireless network, will only work in Wi-Fi hot spots.

Hackers are working on much more substantial overrides, including trying to figure out ways to get the iPhone to work on networks of other carriers. This is especially desirable overseas, where the iPhone isn't on the market. "It will be possible in two weeks," Sebastien predicted.

Hackers also are trying to download unapproved applications off the Web and use the iPhone as a Wi-Fi phone. One Web posting gives iPhone owners guidance on how to activate the device with a cheap prepaid plan from AT&T rather than a two-year contract; but a comment on that site said the hack doesn't work.

Some iPhone owners said they are justified in trying to circumvent Apple and AT&T's restrictions. They maintained that because they own the expensive phone, they should be free to use it on any network and download any application.

An AT&T spokesman said the iPhone "explicitly requires the customer to sign up for a wireless voice and data plan from AT&T. Any attempt to bypass this requirement is an illegitimate use of the phone."

Apple has long played a cat-and-mouse game with hackers, often coming out on top. Successful hacks of iTunes, for example, often last a short time, until Apple releases a software update. (Info from The Wall Street Journal)

Thursday, July 5, 2007

2008: first Chinese Chryslers

Small cars made in China and bearing the Dodge or Chrysler name will begin arriving in Latin America and Eastern Europe in 2008 and in North America and Western Europe in 2010, in a major shakeup for for the automotive industry.

The newly independent Chrysler Group signed a deal on Independence Day with Chery Automobile Co. of China to develop subcompacts and other small vehicles.

If Chrysler and its Chinese partner are able to deliver a high-quality car at low cost - less than $10,000 - the auto industry will be shaken to its foundations, analysts said yesterday.

"It challenges global trade patterns" and has the potential to create massive job dislocation in high-cost countries with long-established vehicle manufacturers, one automotive observer said yesterday. "You're talking about an industry that is a core industry in a whole bunch of countries," the analyst said.

Union leaders have already watched the Detroit Three abandon the subcompact market only to see Chrysler and General Motors re-enter it with vehicles built outside North America at a time when they are slashing tens of thousands of jobs here.

Although Chrysler and Chery have been in talks on a deal for months, the signing ceremony in Beijing yesterday came on the eve of the opening of contract talks that Chrysler and its Detroit rivals Ford and GM will hold this summer with the United Auto Workers.

The companies have warned privately that unless they can dramatically reduce a labor cost disadvantage of $25 an hour versus their Asian competitors in North America during these talks, they will shift more and more investment offshore. The number of vehicles produced in North America fell by two million between 1995 and 2006.

The deal with Chery will fill a major hole in the lineup for Chrysler, which has no subcompact as the North American market shifts to smaller vehicles amid soaring gas prices. Chery, the fourth-largest car maker in China, sold 305,000 vehicles last year, of which 50,000 were exported.

Chrysler Group's move to outsource the entire assembly of some vehicles to a Chinese company puts it at the leading edge of global auto makers looking to use China as an export base.

Executives at Chrysler, which is struggling to pare costs, said the agreement with Chery is likely to serve as a template as the company looks to roll out new models quickly, inexpensively and with less capital investment.

"We will combine Chrysler's research and technology and global reach with Chery's lean manufacturing," Chrysler Chief Executive Tom LaSorda said yesterday. "I would say there are endless possibilities."

Chrysler is moving ahead with its tie-up with a Chinese auto maker as questions mount about the safety of some Chinese exports. A recent crash test by a German motor club on a car from another Chinese manufacturer that is being sold in Europe is raising questions about the safety standards of Chinese vehicles. LaSorda said he doesn't "see any issues" with Chery's safety and quality.

The Chery deal was approved in February by DaimlerChrysler AG's board before the company decided in May to sell 80.1% of unprofitable Chrysler to private-equity firm Cerberus Capital Management.

The first Chinese-made car that Chrysler plans to sell under its Dodge brand will be a modified version of a Chery four-door hatchback known as the A1, LaSorda said. Chery started selling the car in China this year with a retail price of about $7,000 to $7,900.

Chery got its start in 1997 making small cars. General Motors sued Chery in 2004, saying that a Chery subcompact known as the QQ was a copy of the Chevrolet Spark, to which it bears a striking resemblance. The two companies settled the suit in 2005.

The QQ remains the best-seller, but Chery has been moving to produce more sophisticated products, including sedans, crossovers and SUVs, relying heavily on the expertise of foreign firms.

For years, foreign car companies have focused on building autos for the fast-growing Chinese vehicle market, the world's second largest. Now they are increasingly trying to take advantage of China to lower their global production costs.

Trevor Hale, a spokesman for DaimlerChrysler in Beijing, said Chrysler is considering selling the Chinese-made cars first in Latin America and Eastern Europe because there "is more growth potential there," and it won't take as long to modify the cars "to meet customer tastes and market-specific regulations."

It will take longer for Chrysler to prepare the cars for entry into the "very competitive and more developed" North American and Western European markets, Hale said. Chrysler would need to exert more "design, development and engineering influence" before the Chery-made cars would meet "customer tastes and regulatory standards" in the U.S. and European Union. As it is configured for the Chinese market, the A1 wouldn't meet U.S. and European emissions standards.

(info from Troronto Globe & Mail, and The Wall Street Journal)

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

1845: first tire with air in it

Early cars used wooden wheels, adapted from horse-pulled wagons. Some had metal rims for durability, or solid rubber treads for improved traction.

Charles Goodyear invented vulcanized rubber in 1844 that was later used for tires.

Robert William Thomson invented the first vulcanized rubber pneumatic (air-filled) tire, patented in 1845. His invention worked well but was to costly to catch on.

In 1888 a patent was granted to Scottish veterinarian John Dunlop for a pneumatic bicycle tire.

In 1895, André Michelin was the first person to use pneumatic tires on an automobile, but not successfully.

In 1911, Philip Strauss invented the first successful tire, which was a combination tire and air filled inner tube.

In 1903, P.W. Litchfield of the Goodyear Tire Company patented the first tubeless tire. It wasn't commercially exploited until the 1954 Packard.

In 1904, mountable rims were introduced that allowed drivers to fix their own flats.

In 1908, Frank Seiberling invented grooved tires with improved road traction.

In 1910, B.F. Goodrich Company produced longer life tires by adding carbon to the rubber. Goodrich also invented the first synthetic rubber tires in 1937, made of a patented substance called Chemigum. (info from About.com)

Monday, July 2, 2007

2007: first iPhone returned

On Friday, June 29, at about 6:15pm, Paul R. Cavanaugh purchased an Apple iPhone at an AT&T store in Daytona Beach, Florida. It was the second iPhone sold in the store, and was to be a wedding present for Cavanaugh's University of Maryland roommate George Friedman. Friedman was to get married on Sunday in Wausau, Wisconsin, where he will soon start working as a pharmacist.

After making the purchase, Cavanaugh viewed the AT&T website from a PC in the store, and was shocked to learn that there was no AT&T coverage in the area.

He immediately returned it for a refund, less than five minutes after the purchase.