Tag Archives: history

Walt Whitman Dies

Whitman_at_about_fiftyOn March 26, 1892, American poet and journalist Walt Whitman died. Considered one of America’s most influential poets, Whitman was known as the “Bard of Democracy,” with a writing career that spanned 50 years.

Whitman was born to a family of modest means on Long Island in 1819. It is thought that Whitman’s love for democracy and Americana stemmed from the beliefs of his parents, who named his younger brothers respectively George Washington Whitman, Thomas Jefferson Whitman, and Andrew Jackson Whitman. Thinking he could capitalize on the economic growth of New York City, Whitman’s father moved their family to Brooklyn when Whitman was only three. By age 11, Whitman was pulled out of school to work and help support his family by his father who had struggled to make ends meet.

He worked for several different newspapers learning about their printing presses and typesetting for many years. When he was 17, Whitman became a teacher on Long Island, a job he stayed at for a few years until founding his own newspaper, the Long Islander. He soon sold the newspaper and moved to New York City where he became editor of a few different newspapers including the Brooklyn Eagle. He was eventually fired from his job there for taking the “radical” or more liberal side on certain issues like women’s rights, immigration, and labor issues. He moved to New Orleans and became an editor of a paper there for a short time where he saw the horrific nature of slavery and the slave trade in the South.

In 1850, he began writing his most well-known work, Leaves of Grass. In the 12 unnamed poems, he finally began to find his true voice as a writer. Whitman paid for the first printing of the collection of poems himself, printing 795 copies. Poetic norms were let go in Leaves of Grass, and Whitman wrote using free verse and discarded traditional rhyming methods. No one paid much attention to Whitman’s first version of his now famous work, with the exception of fellow poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, who called the work “the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom” to come from an American poet. Whitman would revise the work for the rest of his life, and the second edition was brought to the attention of writers Henry David Thoreau and Bronson Alcott by Emerson, who both visited Whitman at his home.

When his third edition was ready to print, it seemed to be more commercially promising, but the beginning of the Civil War forced Whitman’s publisher to go out of business. Whitman then moved to Washington to care for his brother who had been wounded in the war. He began volunteering to visit wounded soldiers, which became a life-changing experience for the writer. He stayed in Washington for several years and found stable work with the Indian Bureau of the Department of the Interior.

The writer’s life took a turn for the worst in 1873 when he suffered the first of many strokes, which he called “whacks,” that left him partially paralyzed. That same year, he returned home to visit his sick mother, who died three days after his arrival. Feeling weak himself and unable to continue working his job in Washington, Whiman moved in with his brother in Camden, New Jersey. His 1882 edition of Leaves of Grass received good reviews and made Whitman enough money that he was able to purchase his own house in Camden.

In his last few years alive, Whitman began to receive much recognition for his work, but he was not happy with the state of American after the Civil War. Leaves of Grass had gone through seven editions and now contained around 300 poems. On March 26, 1892, Whitman died at his home in Camden at the age of 72. He was buried at Camden’s Harleigh Cemetery. Though Whitman is now known as one of the greatest poets in American history, he never felt he was accepted by his country. He once wrote, ”The proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it. I have not gain’d the acceptance of my time.”

Sources: Biography.com, Shmoop, Wikipedia, PBS

 

Read full storyComments { 0 }

John Lennon and Yoko Ono Start Their “Bed-In”

bed in

John Lennon and Yoko Ono in their hotel room at the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel.

On March 25, 1969, John Lennon and his new wife, Yoko Ono, staged their first “Bed-In For Peace.” These “Bed-Ins,” based on sit-in protests, were meant to be experimental tests to promote peace and protest war. Lennon and Ono spent their honeymoon in Amsterdam, 5 days after their wedding, sitting in their hotel room bed, discussing peace while the press was allowed to come in to their room to ask questions and take photographs of the famous couple.

The couple knew their marriage would be a high profile event that the press would latch on to, so they took this publicity opportunity to convey to the world their thoughts on peace. Starting on March 25, and lasting an entire week until March 31, Lennon and Ono took up residence in the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel’s Room 902, spending the entire time in their bed and allowing press to visit from 9 AM – 9 PM daily. Because Lennon and Ono were known for previous lascivious public images of themselves they had used as promotional material, most of the press expected something lewd upon visiting the hotel room of the two stars. Instead, they found Lennon and Ono in their pajamas, comfortably sitting up in their hotel bed with signs that read “Hair Peace” and “Bed Peace” above them. The two discussed their visions of world peace with the press and their opposition to the Vietnam War and the Cold War.

Most of the press that covered this protest/performance “peace” did not take it seriously, but Lennon insisted that that was exactly what Ono and he wanted. “It’s part of our policy not to be taken seriously. Our opposition, whoever they may be, in all manifest forms, don’t know how to handle humour. And we are humorous,” said Lennon.

Seven days later, the couple flew to Vienna, Austria where they held a press conference to discuss Bagism, which was a term created by Lennon and Ono to satirize prejudice and stereotyping. Bagism literally involved encapsulating oneself in a bag, so that no judgement about the outward appearance of a person could be made, and people could only judge someone by the vocal messages they conveyed. It was viewed as a form of total communication.

The Amsterdam Bed-In was not the only one performed by Lennon and Ono. In May of 1969, the couple again reenacted their previous peaceful form of protest in the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal. It was here that they recorded “Give Peace a Chance” with other notable individuals. Later that year, they further publicly spread their message of peace by displaying on billboards in 11 major American cities, “WAR IS OVER! If You Want It – Happy Christmas From John and Yoko”. A documentary film made of the two’s Bed-Ins can be watched here.

The impact made by Lennon and Ono’s Bed Ins has been seen in the several popular culture references made about the peaceful protests, and protest groups and artists around the world have reenacted the famous “peace” since the 1960s.

Sources: Wikipedia, TIME, The Guardian, NPR

Read full storyComments { 0 }

Bob Dylan Releases Debut Album

bob dylanOn March 19, 1962, American folk singer Bob Dylan released his first album titled Bob Dylan. Dylan’s now famous first album was very different than any pop music at the time. Little did critics at the time know that Dylan would help to popularize and define folk music of the time.

In the early 1960s, “The Twist” was at the height of its popularity, with many charted songs at the time honing in on this dance craze and using it as the focal point of their songs. The Beach Boys had also started to peak in popularity with their charged surfer rock tunes. The Kingston Trio was the most well known folk group at this time, and Dylan sounded nothing like them. He had been performing in coffee shops in New York City for the past year, singing traditional folk songs in his nasal voice, which most didn’t believe would be plausible for radio.

Legendary talent scout John Hammond saw great potential in the young singer after he met Dylan at a recording session for Carolyn Hester in which Dylan was playing harmonica. Shortly afterward, Dylan received a rave review from music writer Robert Shelton in the New York Times. Upon seeing this, Hammond signed Dylan to a five-year contract and a month later, they were in the studio recording. Dylan’s whole album only took six hours to cut and cost $402.

The album contained a variation of old traditional folk songs which were standard in Dylan’s live sets at the time. The only two songs on the album that were original songs written by Dylan were “Talkin’ New York” and “Song to Woody,” which was a tribute to one of Dylan’s biggest inspirations and favorite folk singers, Woody Guthrie. Dylan later reported that he wrote the song a few weeks after moving to New York. Dylan made the trip to New York in part to meet his musical hero (Guthrie), who was living at Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital in New Jersey.

Dylan’s first album was the only not to make it on to the Billboard charts, and some in the record industry began referring to Dylan as “Hammond’s Folly.” Though the album only sold 5,000 copies in the first year, Hammond was not discouraged and soon brought Dylan back into the studio to begin recording his second album. At this point, Dylan had more original songs under his belt and had shifted to writing about political topics. His songs spoke of the social unrest of the world, and Dylan became a cultural figurehead of the 1960s, chronicling the historical and political happenings of the time in his lyrics.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, The Guardian

 

Read full storyComments { 0 }

Julius Caesar Dies

On March 15, 44 BC, Julius Caesar, Roman Consul, statesman, general, and Latin prose author was assassinated. He played a crucial role in the events leading up to the fall of the Roman Republic and the subsequent rise of the Roman Empire.

During Caesar’s time, Romans were reluctant to give praise to a king. Caesar was a powerful member of the Roman senate, and although he turned down the idea of kingship when it was presented to him, he held steady in the position of “dictator for life.” This action is what turned many against Caesar and plots for his assassination began to take hold. More disdainful feelings started to brew in the minds of many when Caesar’s face appeared on Roman coinage. This angered many because that honor was usually only given to deities.

The conspirators behind the attack on Caesar were called “the liberators.” At the head of this group was Marcus Brutus, who was somewhat torn with his relationship with Caesar. Caesar had spared the life of Brutus and promoted him in office even though Brutus had fought against Caesar in the Roman civil war. Brutus’s family, however, was known for defying those who were power hungry, and thus Brutus’s animosity towards Caesar grew.

Cassius Longinus was also a main conspirator and worked to get Brutus to join him in plotting against the “dictator for life.” Caesar was scheduled to leave Rome on March 18 to begin help fighting a battle, so the conspirators knew they had to work fast. Upon entering a Senate meeting, Caesar was apparently handed a note, warning him of his fate, but he failed to read it. He was soon surrounded by senators holding daggers, and was stabbed 23 times. In all, there were 60 conspirators involved in the attack.

The “Ides of March” has been marked in history as the famous day when Caesar met his demise.

Sources: Wikipedia, History.com, National Geographic

 

Read full storyComments { 0 }

The Cat in the Hat Published

cat in the hatOn March 12, 1957, children’s story The Cat in the Hat was first published. The story, penned by Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, follows an anthropomorphic cat who wears a red and white hat and a bow tie.

The creation of this famous children’s tale began when William Spaulding, then the director of Houghton Mifflin’s educational division, saw a Life magazine article in 1954 written by John Hersey. The article was called  ”Why Do Students Bog Down on First R? A Local Committee Sheds Light on a National Problem: Reading,” and covered a topic that was a major concern of the time – why children couldn’t read. The conclusion of the article was that most children were bored of the story most used to teach children to read at the time – Dick and Jane. In the article, Spaulding suggested that Dr. Seuss write a new book for children to take interest in. Spaulding was intrigued by the idea and issued it to Dr. Seuss as a challenge.

thing1thing2This challenge spurred Dr. Seuss to write The Cat in the Hat, which went on to become a huge success. Dr. Seuss had achieved considerable fame as a children’s author before this, but The Cat in the Hat put him on the map and made Dr. Seuss a household name. The Cat in the Hat was Seuss’s 13th book, and has since become his most prolific.

The storyline of The Cat in the Hat follows an anthropomorphic cat in a large red and white top hat to the home of two children on a rainy day when their mother is out of the house. The cat brings with him two mischief-making friends named Thing One and Thing Two. The three try to impress the children with their various tricks bringing energy and exuberance into the house on what would’ve been a dreary day. Along with this excitement comes some chaos. The children’s articulate goldfish is vehemently opposed to the behavior of the cat and his friends. The children eventually get things under control, and the cat cleans up the mess he’s made in the house and disappears mere seconds before the children’s mother returns home.

This famous children’s story is not only praised for engaging children and making them want to read, but also is praised from a literary standpoint for its incredible feats in writing. The entire story follows a strict triple meter, keeps a tiny vocabulary that is easily understood by children, and weaves an intriguing tale that doesn’t bore its readers. The story only uses 223 different words, with 33 of these words only occurring twice, and 54 only once.

The Cat in the Hat is the 9th bestselling hardcover children’s book of all time and sold over 7.2 million copies in the United States alone.

Sources: Wikipedia, PBS, Seussipedia, NPR

Read full storyComments { 0 }

Barbie Day

barbie calendarOn March 9, 1959, the first Barbie doll was released at the American Toy Fair in New York City. Barbie was the first mass produced doll made in the United States with adult features and has since become a cultural icon as well as a subject of much controversy.

The idea for Barbie came from the mind of Ruth Handler, who co-founded Mattel, Inc. with her husband in 1945. She noticed that her young daughter had stopped playing with her baby dolls in lieu of playing with paper dolls that looked like adults. Handler realized that this specific niche of dolls modeled after adults was something that had yet to be tapped into. Playing with these adult dolls allowed children to imagine the future of themselves as grown-ups.

Barbie’s design and inspiration came from a German doll named Lilli. Lilli was a comic strip character, who was turned into a doll meant to be sold as a gag gift for men sold in tobacco shops. Lilli unexpectedly became a popular toy with children, and Mattel bought the rights to her so that they may create their own version. The name “Barbie” came from Handler’s little girl who was named Barbara. In 1955, Mattel became the first toy company to broadcast commercials targeted at children due to their sponsorship from The Mickey Mouse Club.

After her introduction at the American Toy Fair, and the new use of commercial ads, the popularity of Barbie skyrocketed. The demand for the doll was so great that soon Handler created a boy version of the doll and named it Ken after her son Kenneth.

Along with Barbie’s popularity came a significant amount of controversy. Some thought that Barbie’s mass amounts of material items – her dream house, her multiple cars, and her huge closet of “designer” outfits gave children the idea that being materialistic was a normal and good thing. The thing about Barbie that caused the most outrage though was the size of her waist and breasts which scores of people thought gave children negative views on body image, equating skinny with pretty.

Even with all this criticism though, Barbie has remained a popular and well-known figure in the world of children’s toys and her impact on the toy market is one that will and has go down in history. She has now become a global phenomenon.

Sources: History.com, Wikipedia, dolls4play.com

Read full storyComments { 0 }

Fight of the Century

life-frazier-cover frank sinatraOn March 8, 1971, two World Heavyweight Champion boxers, Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali faced off at Madison Square Gardens in the “Fight of the Century” to determine the true world champion.

At the time of the fight, both boxers had a legitimate claim to the title “World Heavyweight Champion.” Ali won the title in 1964 from Sonny Liston with an undefeated record, but had been stripped of the title when he refused to register in the draft in 1967. He won an appeal for his conviction and 5-year prison sentence in front of the Supreme Court in 1971 and returned to fighting. During Ali’s hiatus, Frazier had fairly won the title, and soon a match between the two champions received considerable hype and was billed the “Fight of the Century.” Surprisingly, the fight lived up to its name.

Ali had become well-known over the years for his speed and dexterity despite his large size. Frazier was known for his unmatched left hook and the way he would ferociously attack his opponent’s body. At a time when the country felt divided, the two fighters came to represent the two politically and socioeconomic sides of America. Ali represented the anti-establishment left-wing liberals, while Frazier was seen as a symbol for the blue collar pro-war conservatives. This parallel symbolism of the two fighters added to the hype of the highly anticipated fight.

ali calendarBoth fighters were guaranteed a $2.5 million purse for the fight, which was a record for any single prizefight at the time. Madison Square Garden had a raucous atmosphere on the night of the highly publicized fight with tons of police officers on hand to keep the crowd under control, and countless celebrities in attendance. Among them were Norman Mailer, Woody Allen, and Frank Sinatra, who was there taking photos for Life magazine because he was unable to obtain a ringside seat.

Unexpectedly, the fight lasted a full 15 rounds. Ali was on top for the first three rounds, delivering several quick jabs to Frazier’s face, causing it to welt up. Things turned around at the end of round three though, when Frazier struck Ali’s jaw with one of his famous hooks, causing Ali’s head to snap backwards. Frazier followed up by ferociously attacking Ali’s body as he was stunned. The bodily blows wore out Ali, and Frazier began to dominate the match in the fourth round.

By the sixth round, Frazier had attacked Ali with a flurry of his famous left hooks and Ali began to look noticeably run down. Ali still had a speed and combo advantage that kept the match close until the eleventh round. In the eleventh round, Frazier cornered Ali and pummeled him with another one of his left hooks which nearly floored Ali. Ali survived the round and the next three, though Frazier was in the lead for all of them. At the beginning of round 15, Frazier once again struck Ali with a left hook, sending him to the floor on his back. Refusing to give up, Ali stood up with a swollen jaw and lasted the rest of the round despite the terrific amount of blows issued by Frazier. The judges unanimously declared Frazier the winner, and Ali faced his very first loss.

The fight no doubt lived up to its name, and is still considered one of the greatest boxing matches in the history of the sport.

Sources: Wikipedia, LIFE, ESPN Boxing

Read full storyComments { 0 }

The New Yorker Debuts

Eustace-TilleyOn February 21, 1925, The New Yorker debuted with its first issue. The New Yorker is an American magazine which includes serious reportage, social commentary, essays, satire, fiction works, poetry, and essays. Though mostly centered around the life of New Yorkers, the magazine has a broad international fanbase and because it is produced weekly, it is known for its highly topical covers and commentary on American popular culture.

The magazine was founded by Harold Ross and his wife, New York Times reporter Jane Grant. Tired of the “corny” content which filled other humorous publications at the time, Ross strove to create something sophisticated, yet entertaining. The magazine started out as a glorified society column centering around life in New York featuring a now famous dandy gentleman staring at a butterfly through a monocle on the cover. The dandy man on the cover, later given the name ‘Eustace Tilley,’ was drawn by The New Yorker‘s first art director, Rea Irvin.

NY168 - Seaside Cafe.graffleTilley’s appearance on the first cover was meant to be a joke, but confused readers did not know what to make of it or the magazine at first. Was it supposed to be an accurate portrayal of The New Yorker readers? And if so, what did it mean? Are readers cosmopolitan individuals closely studying life’s small beauties? Or are they haughty beings only concerned with their own existence? The perplexing first cover image seemed to mirror the likewise befuddling content inside. Filled with gossip and writing targeted at in-the-know Manhattanites, those involved in the beginning soon decided a broader scope should be the natural evolution of the new publication.

Still holding on to its humorous roots, The New Yorker gradually established a base for serious fiction writers and journalists to publish their work. After World War II came to an end, the magazine began to print short stories, poems, essays, and other contemplative and stimulating writing by some of the 20th and 21st centuries’ most renowned writers. Such famed names as Haruki MurakamiVladimir NabokovJohn O’HaraPhilip RothJ. D. SalingerIrwin ShawJames ThurberJohn Updike, and E. B. White have appeared with bylines in the publication.

The New Yorker’s circulation is now well over one million, and its audience is made up mostly well-educated and liberal-minded individuals who seek the detailed coverage and commentary of Americana the magazine provides. Its combination of journalism and creative pieces as well as reviews and art has made The New Yorker one of the most revered magazines in the world.

Sources: The New YorkerBritannica.com, Wikipedia

Read full storyComments { 0 }

First Teddy Bear Sold

charliebearOn February 15, 1903, the first Teddy bear went on sale at a toy store in Brooklyn. The name ‘Teddy’ was borrowed from the nickname of then president, Theodore Roosevelt. Teddy bears have since become one of the most popular stuffed animal gift items to signify love, congratulations, or sympathy.

Roosevelt traveled to Mississippi in November of 1902 to help settle a border dispute between Mississippi and Louisiana. After the issue was resolved, Roosevelt went on a hunting expedition to relieve stress. In this famous incident, Roosevelt’s hunting guides had tied an injured black bear to a tree for him to kill. Though the details about the incident are unclear – like the age of the bear or the exact reason behind Roosevelt’s reaction – the most popular consensus is that upon seeing the bear, Roosevelt said he did not hunt prey who could not fight back and let the bear go. Clifford Berryman, who was a political cartoonist, witnessed the incident and based what was to become an extremely popular cartoon off the event. He titled it “Drawing the Line in Mississippi,” and it featured Roosevelt in hunting garb ordering a small bear cub to be released. It was published in the Washington Post a few days later, and the name ‘Teddy bear’ was spawned from this.

The original teddy bear cartoon featured in the Washington Post.

The original teddy bear cartoon featured in the Washington Post.

Morris and Rose Mitchom were toy store owners and inventors who owned a small store in Brooklyn. Inspired by the popular cartoon, the two decided to create a replica of the bear in the cartoon and dubbed it ‘Teddy’s bear.’ Because they feared the president would be offended by the use of his name in correlation with a stuffed toy, they wrote and asked his permission. Several months later, the president finally responded, giving the Mitchoms permission but also expressing his doubt that the name would actually boost sales. He was wrong.

They displayed two bears Rose sewed in the window and both were snatched up in no time. People were soon requesting more be made, and the ecstatic Mitchoms promised to produce more. After a while, they began solely producing the popular toy. Roosevelt and the Republican party adopted the bear as their campaign symbol in 1904, and they were displayed at all White House functions. The original teddy bear is now on display in the Smithsonian Museum.

Sources: Examiner, Wikipedia, History.com

Read full storyComments { 0 }

Facebook Launched

The login screen from Facebook's predecessor, thefacebook.com.

The login screen from Facebook’s predecessor, thefacebook.com.

On February 4, 2004, Mark Zuckerburg, a 23-year-old Harvard University student launched Facebook – now the most prevalent social networking site in the world.

As a psychology student and avid computer programmer, Zuckerburg’s forays into the world of social networking did not start with Facebook. Prior to Facebook was Coursematch, a networking site that allowed students to view other people who were pursuing the same degree as themselves, and Facemash, which allowed college students to rate other peers’ attractiveness based solely on photos of their faces.

In January 2004, Zuckerburg began writing code for a new social networking project called, “thefacebook.” The idea was sparred from his creation of Facemash as a way to connect college students. The name was derived from the Harvard face book papers given to freshmen at the university, profiling students and staff. Zuckerburg shared his creation with some close friends, who suggested he put his site on his dormitory’s mailing list which included 300 people. Within 24 hours, between 1200-1500 students had registered to use the site.

Zuckerburg quickly ran into trouble with his creation. Just six days after the site’s launch, three Harvard seniors, Cameron WinklevossTyler Winklevoss, and Divya Narendra claimed to have been misled by Zuckerburg, who had allegedly promised to help them build a website to connect Harvard students called “HavardConnection.com.” They accused Zuckerburg of using their idea to create a competitive site. They filed a lawsuit against Zuckerburg and eventually settled for $65 million in 2008.

The site was initially only open to students at Harvard, and over half of the student population became registered users by the end of the first month. Zuckerburg quickly formed a team to work with including  Eduardo Saverin (business aspects), Dustin Moskovitz (programmer), Andrew McCollum (graphic artist), and Chris Hughes. Just months later, Facebook expanded to include other Ivy League and Boston-area schools. It then moved on to most other Canadian and United States schools before the end of 2004. Sean Parker, an entrepreneur and co-founder of music service Napster, had been advising Zuckerburg and joined the now incorporated company as president. They moved their offices to Palo Alto, California in mid-2004. In 2005, the company dropped ‘the’ from its name, and purchased the domain for facebook.com for $200,000.

By late 2005, Facebook was open to all U.S. universities and high schools, as well as schools in a few other countries including the United Kingdom and Mexico. At the beginning of 2006, work networks with corporate e-mail addresses were allowed to join and by September anyone over the age of 13 could join, and Facebook’s popular news feed function was introduced, allowing users to view their friends’ wall posts in one place.

Microsoft bought a 1.6 percent stake in Facebook for $240 million in 2007 and forged an advertising partnership. Facebook began introducing new features such as Facebook chat and the ‘like’ button, allowing friends to promote each others posts. Soon Facebook passed up Myspace as the top social network in the U.S. With the launch of Facebook mobile, integration of other social media and sharing sites, hashtags, trending topics, Facebook’s growth has not stopped since its launch from a Harvard dorm room in 2004.

Facebook now has a staggering 1.2 billion users, and only wishes to fulfill their vision of connecting the world.

Sources: Wikipedia, IBN Live, The Guardian

Read full storyComments { 0 }