Thursday, May 17, 2012

The day they stopped Niagara Falls

The day Niagara Falls ran dry: Newly discovered photos show the moment the iconic waterfall came to a standstill!
Its been 42 years, a previously unseen set of photos of the mighty Niagara Falls reduced to nothing more than a barren cliff-top have surfaced. The stark images reveal North America 's iconic - and most powerful - waterfall to be almost as dry as a desert.
In June 1969, U.S. Engineers diverted the flow of the Niagara River away from the American side of the falls for several months.
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Stark: A completely dry Niagara Falls never seen before or since the six months in
July 1969 when U.S. Engineers set about restructuring the American side of the twin landmark.
Description: F9715957B9E94AD498B999E6A79CF91A@margPC
Mountain of rubble: This set of photos only recently came to light when
Russ Glasson found them in a shoebox in his in-laws' Connecticut garage.
Their plan was to remove the large amount of loose rock from the base of the waterfall, an idea which they eventually abandoned due to expense in November of that year. During the interim, they studied the riverbed and mechanically bolted and strengthened a number of faults to delay the gradual erosion of the American Falls .
The team, made up of U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, blew up their temporary dam in November, 1969 and six million cubic feet of water once again thundered over the falls' sides every minute.
Now, after lying unseen for more than four decades, a set of images showing the eerie calm at the American Falls that year have been unearthed by a man from Connecticut.
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Plan: The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers studied the riverbed and mechanically bolted and
strengthened a number of faults to delay the gradual erosion of the American Falls . Description:
Historical moment: In order to stop the Niagara River from running over the American Falls,
engineers constructed a dam consisting of 27,800 tons of rock, stopping the water for the first time ever.
Russ Glasson recently stumbled across the pictures, which were taken by his in-laws, and had been left in an old shoebox in their garage for over four decades.
Mr. Glasson said: 'My in-laws took these pictures during the six months through June to November that the Army was working to improve the health of the American Falls .'
Two rockslides from the plate of the falls in 1931 and 1954 had caused a large amount of rock to be collected at the base. In 1965, reporters at a local newspaper, Niagara Falls Gazette, revealed that the American Falls would eventually cease to flow and stop altogether if the rocks were not removed.
Four years later, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers were charged with de-watering the falls to clean the river bed and to remove any loose rock at the bottom of the falls.
Gradual deterioration: Two rockslides from the plate of the falls in 1931 and 1954
had caused a large amount of rock to be collected at the base.
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Eerie calm: The temporary dam can be seen in the top-right of this photograph.
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Thunderous: The American Falls as they normally appear,
with millions of gallons of water hurtling over the edge every minute.
To achieve this the army had to build a 600ft dam across the Niagara River, which meant that 60,000 gallons of water that flowed every second was diverted over the larger Horseshoe Falls which flow entirely on the Canadian side of the border.
The dam itself consisted of 27,800 tons of rock, and then on June 12 1969, after flowing continuously for a long, long time, the American Falls stopped.Over the course of the next six months thousands of visitors flocked to the falls to witness the historic occasion.
Once the engineers had removed the collected rocks from the falls base and made geological testing to make safe the rest, the falls were re-watered on November 25 in front of 2,650 onlookers.
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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

11 Eponymous Brands and the People Behind Them

1. Adolph “Adi” Dassler – Adidas

© Schnoerrer/dpa/Corbis
Adi and his brother Rudolph owned their own shoe company in Germany during the 1920s and 30s. Their products were so popular, many of the German competitors in the 1928 Olympics wore Dassler Brothers shoes. But during WWII the brothers had a falling out. While both joined the Nazi party, Rudolph was more fanatical and went off to fight, leaving Adi to make shoes for the military. After the war ended, Rudolph left and formed his own company, Puma. Adi then renamed the original company after himself, and Adidas was born.

2. King Camp Gillette – Disposable Razor

King realized early on that people liked things they could use for a short time and then throw away. Since constantly sharpening your razor was a pain, he decided to come up with a disposable one. After five years of work he finally succeeded, and founded the Gillette Safety Razor Company in 1901. King came up with the idea to give away the razor for free and charge men for the blades. He also believed in a socialist utopia, where all companies would be combined into one, which would be owned by the public. He offered Teddy Roosevelt a $1 million salary to be head of this theoretical company, but was turned down. He also believed that everyone in the United States should live in one giant city called Metropolis, which would be powered by Niagara Falls.

3. Candido Jacuzzi – Hot tubs

The seven Jacuzzi brothers emigrated from Italy to California in the early 1900s. Once there they started coming up with innovations for the big new craze: the airplane. Their biggest hit was the creation of the first plane with an enclosed cabin, which the US Postal Service bought to deliver mail. According to legend, their mother was worried about her sons’ safety and eventually convinced the brothers to change jobs. They started concentrating on hydraulic pumps for irrigation and hospital use. In the late 1940s, Candido’s young son Kenneth started suffering from arthritis. He received hydrotherapy at a hospital, but his father decided his son needed to have access to it at home as well. He filed a patent for his invention, but it wasn’t until another relative, Roy, joined the business years later that they started selling their Jacuzzi tubs to the public.

4. Charles Rudolph Walgreen – Drug stores

Today Walgreens pharmacies can be found in more than 8,000 locations around the US. But originally, Charles had nothing to do with pharmacies. He was working in a shoe factory in the late 1800s when he lost part of a finger in an accident. The doctor who patched him up managed to convince him to become an apprentice in a drug store. Eventually he became a licensed pharmacist, but enlisted to fight in the Spanish-American war before he could do anything with his new skills. At the war’s end, he started opening pharmacies that also had other amenities like over-the-counter goods and soda fountains. Soon Walgreens were popular hangouts, and Charles owned a chain of hundreds of them before his death in 1939.

5. Earl Tupper – Tupperware

Earl wasn’t always in plastics. Originally he was a landscaping man, but the Great Depression put him out of business. He got a job at DuPont and created a lightweight, flexible plastic, which the government then used for gas masks during WWII. In 1948, ten years after he founded the Tupperware Plastics Company, he was contacted by a woman named Brownie Wise. At that time Tupperware was sold in stores, but Wise had started selling it at women’s get-togethers to great success. She and Earl joined forces and soon he pulled his entire line from shops and it was sold exclusively at these “Tupperware Parties.”

6. Frank Zamboni – Ice Resurfacers

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Before household refrigerators were common, the ice making business was booming. But in 1939, twelve years after Frank and his brother started their ice block business, refrigerators were popular enough that they saw little future in the venture. Stuck with many large refrigeration units, they decided to open an ice rink. It was there that Frank, who had no more than a 9th grade education, came up with a way to resurface the ice. Originally it took three men an hour and a half to get it done, but in 1949 he invented the precursor of the ice machine we know today. Now one man could resurface a rink in ten minutes. Like Xerox and Kleenex, Zamboni is a trademarked word that we now use to refer to all ice resurfacing machines. In April 2012, the 10,000th Zamboni ever sold was delivered to the Montreal Canadiens.

7. Dr. Klaus Märtens – Footwear

The Nazis were apparently very good at footwear. Like Adidas, Doc Martens were designed during WWII by Klaus while he was on leave from the German army due to an ankle injury. He experimented with making better boots for himself, and when the war was ending and Germans started looting from their own cities, he managed to get his hands on a bunch of leather. When the war officially ended he pilfered more from disused Luftwaffe air fields. He was surprised to find when he opened his shops that 40% of the people who purchased his comfortable, durable boots were housewives. Once his shoes were popular enough, an English company bought the rights to distribute them in the UK. Since it was only 1959 and feelings towards Germany were still negative, the name was Anglicized to Doc Martens.

8. Orville Redenbacher – Popcorn

The creator of the most popular popcorn in the United States didn’t even start selling it until he was almost 50 years old. Orville spent most of his life breeding corn hybrids, tens of thousands of them, until he found one that would pop 40% larger than normal corn. Since this special corn, called “RedBow,” was more expensive, many distributors were hesitant to buy it. Orville hired a Chicago marketing company for $13,000. Their advice? Call the popcorn Orville Redenbacher’s and put his picture on the label. While Orville was fond of saying his mother came up with that idea for free, it worked and starting in the 1970s he was appearing in dozens of popular television commercials and going on chat shows to convince the public he was a real person.

9. Josiah Wedgwood – Pottery

Josiah may be remembered today in his eponymous pottery, but his life was far more exciting than that association would lead one to think. In his day he was a prominent abolitionist, and his pottery company made a medallion with the design of a black slave on his knees with the motto, “Am I not a man and brother?” He produced large quantities of the medallion and distributed them for free through the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Fashionable women started wearing them as jewelry and men smoked pipes with the image on the side. It became the most widely recognized image of a black person during the 1700s. Sadly, Josiah died before slavery was abolished in England. However, he also has the distinction of being the grandfather of Charles Darwin.

10. William Henry “Boss” Hoover – Vacuums

Boss’s last name is so synonymous with vacuum cleaners that in the UK it is both the go-to noun and verb; there they hoover the house with a hoover. But it wasn’t Boss who came up with the idea. James Murray Spangler invented the first upright vacuum in 1908 because his asthma was exacerbated by the dust the carpet sweeper used at his work stirred up. He was making one every 2-3 weeks when he loaned a model to his cousin Susan Hoover. Her husband, Boss, was looking for a new business venture since he was a leatherworker and the popularity of the car was reducing people’s need for his goods. He seized the opportunity and bought Spangler’s patent from him. But if only a few people had been interested in Boss’s leather goods, absolutely no one was interested in his weird sucking machine. Desperate, he put an ad in a popular magazine allowing what was possibly the first ever “free at home trial.” The gimmick worked and within four years the Hoover Company was an international brand.

11. Linus Yale, Jr. – Locks

Linus was originally a gifted portrait painter. But in 1858, his father died and Linus started working at the lock company his dad had founded. Once there, Linus used his drawing skills to envision ever more complex and secure locks. In order to make sure companies bought from him and not his competitors, Linus learned how to pick their locks and would demonstrate how easily they could be broken into at banks and businesses. He died of a heart attack in 1858 1868 while in the middle of negotiating the use of his locks in a new skyscraper. Yale went on to be the #1 lock manufacturer in the US.
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There are plenty more where these came from. If there’s an eponymous brand whose history you’d like to know more about, leave a comment and we’ll talk about a sequel.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The American Civil War was a very misunderstood historical event

American Civil War, aka War Between the States, aka the War of Northern Aggression, aka the War Between Southern Confederacy and Northern States' Federal Government.

1. First, it wasn't a civil war.

It was not a war between two parties trying to control the same government. It was an attempt of the Southern States to secede from the Union. You may say that it was a rebellion, but see the next part.

2. The Southern States had the right to secede.

The Constitution (10th Amendment) reserved all rights for the States and their people except those that were reserved for the Federal Government or were explicitly denied to the States (right to coin money, right to form international treaties, etc.). A right to secede from a union between sovereign nations is a right that was not explicitly denied to the States by the Constitution; nor was it reserved for the Federal government (a right to expel a state from the Union). Therefore, constitutionally, the States had that right.

Were the States sovereign nations before the signing of the Constitution? Historically, after the Colonies broke away from the United Kingdom, they reverted to the state of nature. Afterwards, they each re-formed into states, each with its constitution and legislature. Afterwards, the States formed a union, in which their sovereignty was preserved. (Also, what is the very last thing that you see if you look at the back of the Constitution? That's right: you see signatures of the representatives of the specific States.) The Constitution was ratified as a contract between sovereign nations and a government they were creating.

Claiming that the States had no right to secede is the same as claiming that when two people enter into a contract or a treaty (without specified time limits), they have no right to terminate the contract whenever they wish. It contradicts the accepted practices of contracts.

Therefore, the Civil War was an attempt of the Southern States to secede from the Union. It would be no different from, say, Spain deciding today that it wants to secede from the European Union and EU invading Spain to make it a "subject" of Brussels. I.e., your regular expansionist invasion.

3. Was the war about slavery?

Well, yes and no. It was in the sense that the Southern States seceded when it became clear that the Congress would be dominated by the anti-slavery Northern States. But it's not so simple as to say that the war was a crusade to end slavery in the South.

First, Lincoln and many other Northerners did not care about the slavery per se. They cared about preserving the Union. Lincoln is known for saying that if he could preserve the Union by freeing all the slaves, he would do that; if he could do it by freeing half the slaves, he would do that; if he could do it by freeing none of the slaves, he would do that too.

Many Northern abolitionists were in favor of letting the Southern states secede for three reasons: a) they did not want to be in the same Union with the states involved in the abominable practice, b) they believed (correctly) that Southern states were adamantly pro-slavery due to the reasons of honor and politics, c) they knew that the economic forces would make slavery unprofitable very soon (as they did in many other countries).

So, what was the war about? In no order of importance:

a) Southern States' rights and honor. Southerners felt that they had the right to self-government in the areas that locally concerned the individual states, not the Union altogether, and the the Federal government was abusing its powers. Plus, the Southerners felt that the Northerners were disdainful of the Southern culture and were trying to turn the Southerners into second-class citizens. (Yes, I know it's ironic for slave-owners to feel this way. I never claimed they were consistent. Many of the Founding Fathers were also slave-owners and were also inconsistent.)

b) Money. The Northern States wanted to dominate the Congress in order to be able to impose tariffs on the European imports to "protect" Northern manufactured goods. European nations, in retaliation, imposed tariffs on American exports, which were, for the most part, agricultural products (mainly cotton) from the South. So, if the Northern States controlled the Congress, they could make things favorable for the Northern manufacturers and hurt Southern farmers.

c) Northern racism and economic interests. Many Northerners wanted slavery abolished (both in the Southern States and in the Federal territories). Not all of them had humanist motives. Many of them (including the author of the famous Wilmot Proviso which would ban slavery in any territories acquired from Mexico) wanted the labor markets available for the white men.

They were 19th-century version of modern-day opponents of doing business with illegal immigrants and China. There are two reasons to oppose that today: i) one can be concerned about the welfare of the Mexicans and the Chinese, ii) one can be a racist and more concerned about "bona fide Americans" getting the jobs. The same was the case in the North in the 19th century. Many anti-slavery advocates wanted the labor markets secured for white men and former slaves shipped out of the country back to Africa or the Caribbean.

d) Southern racism and economic interest. Yes, obviously, there were Southerners who considered the slaves to be non-humans and who had interest in keeping them working in plantations, cotton gin or not. To ignore that would be intellectually dishonest.

4. Was the War worth it?

This is a complicated question. Obviously, the lives of many slaves became better off as a result of the War. There is no denying it.

Then again: the War remains the bloodiest single conflict in the US history. US remains the only Western nation to end slavery by killing a lot of its own citizens. (Even in Russia the serfdom ended around the same time peacefully.) Slavery was going to end anyway, and very soon: changing economic realities (the invention of the cotton gin, etc.) would make sure of that. Of course, the slaves might not be ok with waiting for another few decades for the markets to change, but it is not clear that all the murder of the soldiers and civilians was justified...

Economically, the War (and the ensuing Restoration) devastated the South, and its effects are still felt.

Politically, the War was a case of freeing the slaves and enslaving the free. It reversed the polarity between the Federal Government and the States. While originally, the Federal Government was a government of enumerated powers, whose sovereigns were the States (who could threaten to nullify the Government's laws if they proved to be unconstitutional or threaten to secede), after the war, it became clear that the ball was in the Federal Government's court.

The size and power of the Federal Government, its involvement in people's personal lives, in the economy, in all aspects of the society started growing and grows still. No American today is free from the tyranny of the majority, one way or another. While before, if one did not like conditions in one state, he could move to another, today, the conditions are made more-or-less uniform by the Federal tyranny. One's choice is to move to another country, which is not as easy as to move, say, from Louisiana to Massachusetts.

Effectively, whatever gains in political freedom for individuals and communities had been accomplished by the War for Independence from Britain were reversed by the Civil War.