Little Bits of History

May 16

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 16, 2017

1891: The International Electrotechnical Exhibition opens in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. The exhibition ran until October 19 on the sites of three former Western Railway Stations, located on the western outskirts of the city. The Elektrotechnische Gesellschaft (Electrotechnical Society) was founded in 1881 in Frankfurt with the goal of promoting electricity and research into uses for industry and technology. By 1884, ten manufacturers of electrical equipment had moved to the city and by 1890 some of the major players in the German power infrastructure had moved there. A “second industrial revolution” found roots in the city as new ideas were explored and electricity took over as the power source once held by steam engines.

Paris was host to a World Fair in 1889 and inspired Leopold Sonnermann to put forth the idea to the Electrotechnical Society to host their own exhibition. The issues at hand were twofold. The newly emerging markets for electricity needed to be explored and opportunities were abundant for further uses. A second concern was for Frankfurt itself. They were planning a new power station and the city’s political and technical leaders were unsure which type of power to produce. At the time there were three options: direct current, alternation current, and three-phase current. The exhibition would be the place for each type of power to demonstrate benefits and show why it was the most commercially viable.

Lauffen am Necker was about 110 miles away. They would produce three-phase current and transmit the high voltage power to Frankfurt with a minimal loss of 25%. The highlight of the exhibition was a three-section entrance gate with the center gate’s signage saying: Power Transmission Lauffen–Frankfurt 175 km (in German). The two side rectangles bore signs proclaimed Allgemeine Electricitätsgesellschaft (AEG – General Electricity Company) and Maschinenfabrik Oerlikon (Oerlikon Engineering Works). The entire entrance was ablaze with 1000 light bulbs and that wasn’t all. Inside was an electrically powered waterfall to amaze the 1,200,000 visitors from around the world. The ticket to enter was 15 marks, about $200 today.

The exhibition was so successful, it helped Germany decide on the way to power itself. It found the most economical means of transmitting power to be the three-phase current and the Lauffen station continued operation after the event. Frankfurt went on to built its own power station nearby and a third private company built one in Bockenheim. The three-phase current is a type of polyphase system and is the most common method used by electrical grids worldwide. It is usually more economical than a single-phase for the same voltage because it uses less conductor material to move the same amount of power.

Invention is the most important product of man’s creative brain. The ultimate purpose is the complete mastery of mind over the material world, the harnessing of human nature to human needs. – Nikola Tesla

Electricity for example was considered a very Satanic thing when it was first discovered and utilized. – Zeena Schreck

There is a force more powerful than steam and electricity: the will. – Fernán Caballero

Is it a fact – or have I dreamt it – that, by means of electricity, the world of matter has become a great nerve, vibrating thousands of miles in a breathless point of time? – Nathaniel Hawthorne


Oregon Trail

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 16, 2015
Oregon Trail map *

Oregon Trail map *

May 16, 1842: The first major (and second overall) wagon train leaves to traverse the Oregon Trail. The wagon train was made up of over 100 pioneers led by Elijah White. They left from Elm Grove, Missouri and traveled as a group until they made their way to Fort Hall, located in Idaho. At that point along the trail, pioneers could take the northern route to Oregon or the more southern route to California. The travelers in this group continued on to Oregon with the single men hurrying on ahead while the families followed at a slower pace.

The Oregon Trail was a 2,200 mile route connecting the Missouri River to the fertile valleys of Oregon and used for east to west migration of large wheeled wagons. While it was wild territory in the days of the early settlers, today the route passes through parts of Kansas and nearly all of Nebraska, Wyoming, and Idaho and ends after crossing most of Oregon, as well. Between 1811 and 1840 the trail was mostly used by trappers and by 1836 a decent trail had been made for wagons to cross all the way to Fort Hall. Slowly, more trails were forged and reached to the Willamette Valley of Oregon and came to be known as the Oregon Trail. Eventually, improved roads, cutoffs, ferries, and bridges made the trip westward easier. Between the mid-1830s and 1869 about 400,000 settlers had used the route to move to what they hoped would be greener pastures.

Elijah White was born in 1806 in New York. He was a missionary and a physician as well as a government agent. He first made his way to the Willamette Valley by sea and while there his friend and he came to a difference of opinion about the direction of the mission they had established. Also while there, both of his sons were drowned in the river. White headed east to bring in more settlers over what was becoming an established route, although it was only a decent trail up to Idaho. He led this first large contingency of settlers west. During the trek, Osborne Russell, trapper and later politician, served as a guide. As they pulled away from Elm Grover, there were 112 people, 18 wagons, and a variety of livestock in the group.

The group eventually split into two but there were also several Canadians who joined the procession. White arrived first at Fort Vancouver ahead of the main party on September 20,1842. He brokered a code of conduct with the Nez Perce tribes and eased tensions in Walla Walla with the Cayuse tribes. Just two days after arriving at Fort Vancouver, he informed those he was traveling with that he had been made an official of the government and asked that they also select him as their leader. As such he appointed judges to deal with disputes between natives and settlers. Oregon was first a County in 1843 and became a Territory in 1848. It was the 33rd state, being admitted to the Union on February 14, 1859. Today, nearly 4 million people make their home there. The trip today is much easier to make.

The pioneers going west in the 1840s carried with them the promise of a land of milk and honey into what proved to be a desert; the 2,000 mile length of the Oregon Trail was littered with abandoned wagons and newly furnished graves. – Lewis H. Lapham

The cold-blooded game begins by asking you to name every member of your doomed party, creating an emotional connection to each character. – Benny Johnson, discussing the computer game, Oregon Trail

We came twenty two miles, traveling all day in the Bear River valley. The valley and mountains are covered with grass and the summits of the latter are adorned with splendid groves of fir making the scenery beautiful. We passed a (small) stream every few miles. The water runs very swiftly and is perfectly clear and very cold with a pleasant taste. A horse ran away today causing a train ahead of us to stampede. – Abigail Scott, Oregon Trail traveler’s diary entry for July 17, 1852

. . . a picture of home beauty that went directly to our hearts. The edge of the wood, for several miles along the river, was dotted with the white covers of emigrant wagons, collected in groups at various camps, where the smokes were rising lazily from the fires, around which the women were occupied preparing the evening meal, and the children playing in the grass; and herds of cattle grazing about in the bottom, had an air of quiet security, and civilized comfort, that made rare sight fort the traveller in such a remote wilderness. – John Fremont, dairy entry for July 1845

Also on this day: “Oh-oh! SpaghettiOs!” – In 1965, Franco-American puts SpaghettiOs on the market.
Sedition – In 1918, a new Sedition Act was put into place in the US.
Hank – In 1905, Henry Fonda was born.
Sassafras Tea – In 1866, Charles Hires invented root beer.
Friends and Heroes – In 1763, James Boswell met Samuel Johnson for the first time.

* “Wpdms nasa topo oregon trail”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

Friends and Heroes

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 16, 2014
James Boswell's Life of Johnson

James Boswell’s Life of Johnson

May 16, 1763: Author and subject meet. Samuel Johnson was a British poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor, and lexicographer. Born in Lichfield, Staffordshire, England he has been described as “arguably the most distinguished man of letters in English history.” But it is not as an author that we meet with him today. Rather, he is the subject of the most famous biography ever written. He was 54 years old when he first met the young man, 24-year-old James Boswell, who would write this famous biography, changing the genre for future biographers around the world.

Boswell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1740 and was a lawyer and diarist as well as the more spectacular calling of biographer. His name has come to mean something more than simply the man, but instead to be a constant companion and observer, especially one who records his/her observations. He was the eldest son of a judge and both parents were not terribly affectionate. He suffered from anxiety as a child and this would haunt him all his life. He was sent away to school at the age of five and was brought back home by the age of eight since his symptoms had finally manifested in physical issues. With private tutors, he bloomed and by age thirteen he was enrolled at the University of Edinburgh but suffered serious depression while there, as well.

Life of Samuel Johnson was assiduously researched. The younger man had a case of hero worship for the brilliant man of letters and this was not diminished by their close contact. Since Johnson’s life predated his author’s by decades, the younger man took great pains to find out as much as possible about what happened prior to their meeting. There are some liberties with the authorship wherein the biographer revised some of Johnson’s quotes and even censored many comments. Even with these shortcomings, the book is considered a source of information not only on Johnson’s life, but on the times in which he lived.

The two met on this day at Tom Davies’ book shop and an abiding friendship bloomed. Boswell would travel or return to Scotland for months at a time, but returned for further research and to rekindle the friendship. He kept meticulous journals during these visits and when these were published in the 20th century, they filled 18 volumes. Other biographers were already working on Johnson biographies and many more have been published since. However, Boswell’s is the most famous even though scholars have figured that the most time the two could have spent together was 250 days. Johnson died in 1784 at the age of 75 and it was not until 1791 that his life would be open to such scrutiny inside Boswell’s excellent book.

A page of my journal is like a cake of portable soup. A little may be diffused into a considerable portion. – James Boswell

A companion loves some agreeable qualities which a man may possess, but a friend loves the man himself. – James Boswell

The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good. – Samuel Johnson

A wise man will make haste to forgive, because he knows the true value of time, and will not suffer it to pass away in unnecessary pain. – Samuel Johnson

Also on this day: “Oh-oh! SpaghettiOs!” – In 1965 Franco-American puts SpaghettiOs on the market.
Sedition – In 1918, a new Sedition Act was put into place in the US.
Hank – In 1905, Henry Fonda was born.
Sassafras Tea – In 1866, Charles Hires invented root beer.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 16, 2013
Political cartoon about the Sedition Act of 1918

Political cartoon about the Sedition Act of 1918

May 16, 1918: The United States Congress passes the Sedition Act of 1918, a follow up to the Espionage Act of the previous year. With the fear spread by the Great War taking place in Europe and the fall of the Russian Tsar, it was felt the US needed to maintain a stronger hold on the government’s power base and there was less concern for the freedoms granted by the Bill of Rights.

The Espionage Act imposed a maximum fine of $10,000 ($168,225 in 2009 USD) and up to 20 years in prison for endangering US troops or promoting the enemy in this time of war. The law was passed shortly after the US entered the war on June 15, 1917. President Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921) was fearful that widespread dissent would harm the war effort.

The Sedition Act increased sanctions against “disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language” about the government, flag, or armed forces during war time. While the Espionage Act made it a crime to aid and abet the enemy, the new law made it a crime to even speak out against the war in any way. A similar set of laws was first passed in 1798 called the Alien and Sedition Acts that was passed when John Adams was in office. The Bill of Rights, however, guarantees the freedom of speech in the First Amendment.

Over 2,000 people were prosecuted, some say persecuted, before the law was repealed in 1921. Eugene Debs, Socialist and Unionist, was sentenced to 10 years under this act. Other anti-war protestors and union men who were said to be interfering with the war effort were brought to trial. The law was cited in Schenck v. United States in 1919 and upheld at that time by the Supreme Court. In 2006, the governor of Montana pardoned all people in his state who had been found guilty of breaking this law.

“What seems fair enough against a squalid huckster of bad liquor may take on a different face, if used by government determined to suppress political opposition under the guise of sedition” – Learned Hand

“The Bill of Rights is a born rebel. It reeks with sedition. In every clause it shakes its fist in the face of constituted authority… it is the one guaranty of human freedom to the American people.” – Frank I. Cobb

“The fact you could have, for example, peaceful protests and end up being charged with sedition. That doesn’t seem right.” – Mr. Howard

“I’m talking sedition. In England I could be hung for this 200 years ago.” – Ken Kesey

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Eugene Debs was born in 1855 in Indiana. His political life began as a Democrat but he shifted to the Socialist Party of America when running for President. He served as member of the Indiana Senate from 1885 to 1889. He was active with the Unions and was a founding member of the Industrial Workers of the World. He became one of the best known socialists living in the US. He first served time in prison for defying a court injunction against a strike. While in prison he read Karl Marx and was mesmerized. He ran on the Socialist ticket for President in 1900, 1904, 1908, 1912, and 1920. Although sentenced to ten years under the Espionage Act, President Harding commuted his sentence in December 1921. He died of heart failure in October 1926, two years after being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Also on this day “Oh-oh! SpaghettiOs!” – In 1965 Franco-American puts SpaghettiOs on the market.
Hank – In 1905, Henry Fonda was born.
Sassafras Tea – In 1866, Charles Hires invented root beer.

Sassafras Tea

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 16, 2012

Charles Elmer Hires

May 16, 1866: Charles Elmer Hires invents root beer. He was 12-years-old when he began working in a drug store. By age 16 he moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and worked until he had saved enough money ($400 or close to $9,000 in 2009 USD) and opened his own pharmacy. There is a legend he discovered “root tea” while on his honeymoon where it was served at the hotel he was staying at. Although a member of the temperance movement, Hires named his version of the tea as “root beer” thinking it would sell better. It didn’t catch on.

Hires continued to work on his recipe and in 1876 a friend, Reverend Dr. Russell Conwell, encouraged Hires to sell his product at the US Centennial Exposition being held in Philadelphia. Trying to catch market share, he then called the concoction “The Temperance Drink” and billed it as “the greatest health giving beverage of the world.” The exposition featured other great inventions, such as Alexander Graham Bell’s phone, Remington’s typewriter, and Heinz Ketchup. Hires used aggressive advertising to help spread the word about his drink. Eventually, the drink became a sensational success. He sold the powder to housewives and soda fountains. They mixed the powder with water, sugar, and yeast and it yielded five gallons of drink. He moved to drink syrup and by 1890 he was bottling the brew.

Root beer is a carbonated drink and was originally made using brewed sassafras root. It does come in an alcoholic form  as well as the traditional soft drink. Root beer, when brewed as an alcoholic drink has a very low level of alcohol. Other countries have Ginger Beer, but root beer is an American beverage. Today there are hundreds of varieties of root beers. Hires is part of the Dr Pepper Snapple Group. December 4 is International Root Beer Day.

Sassafras root is no longer used in the making of root beers. The trees are native to North America and eastern Asia. Various parts of the trees are used for a number of different purposes. Distilling the dried root bark produces an essential oil that was used for fragrances in perfumes, soaps, and aromatherapy. The yield from the roots is low and so today camphor is often substituted. Safrole, the distilled product, is used in making MDMA or ecstasy, and is a controlled substance. It was also found that long term ingestion of sassafras root products leads to liver damage and cancer. In 1960 the FDA banned the used of the product. In 1994 the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act once again allowed sassafras products on the market. The tea can be used as an anticoagulant.

I think the reason people continue to come is because we offer an old-fashioned environment. We have the old mugs that we still fill with root beer and it makes people think about the ’50s. – Pat Smith

It wouldn’t be summer unless I came to the root beer stand. – Caitlin Ryan

The egg creams of Avenue A in New York and the root beer float….are among the high points of American gastronomic inventiveness. – Mark Kurlansky

Doing business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you are doing, but nobody else does. – Steuart Henderson Britt

Also on this day:

“Oh-oh! SpaghettiOs!” – In 1965 Franco-American puts SpaghettiOs on the market.
Sedition – In 1918, a new Sedition Act was put into place in the US.
Hank – In 1905, Henry Fonda was born.

“Oh-oh! SpaghettiOs!”

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 16, 2010

Yummy SpaghettiOs

May 16, 1965: SpaghettiOs are introduced by Franco-American food company. The circular shaped pasta was swaddled in a tomato sauce and could have cheese, meatballs, or sliced hotdogs too! The round shape was made for easy and less messy eating by children. The low cost and ease of preparation made the product a hit with cash-strapped college kids, as well.

Franco-American  was founded by Alphonse Biardot, a Frenchman who immigrated to the US in 1880. He and his two sons opened his business in 1886, featuring foods from France. It became a subsidiary of Campbell’s Soup Company in 1915 and was discontinued in 2004. Campbell’s now markets the pasta solely and has five versions of the circular treat – Original, Meatballs, Plus Calcium, RavioliOs, and Sliced Franks. There are five more versions that have oddly shaped pasta, such as letters and other “fun shapes.”

Campbell’s Soup Company was founded in 1869 by Joseph A. Campbell and Abraham Anderson. It was originally called Joseph A. Campbell Preserve Company and produced a variety of canned goods including tomatoes, vegetables, jellies, condiments, minced meats, and soups. In 1897, a year after Anderson left the concern, Campbell reorganized and rebranded the company, assisted by his nephew. The new company, Joseph Campbell & Co., hired John T. Dorrance who was a chemist who figured out how to make condensed soup, by halving the amount of water. The trademark red and white cans were adopted in 1898.

Ralph Miller, creator of the childhood staple, was working as an organic chemist for Campbell’s Franco-American line when he realized that pasta did not have to be cooked prior to the canning procedure. There are four different sizes of “Os” in the spaghetti swimming in a mild sauce. SpaghettiOs were the first of many convenience foods marketed toward children. Bon appetit!

“Those who forget the pasta are condemned to reheat it.” – unknown

“As a child my family’s menu consisted of two choices:  take it or leave it.” – Buddy Hackett

“Hunger is the best sauce in the world.” – Cervantes

“If we’re not willing to settle for junk living, we certainly shouldn’t settle for junk food.” – Sally Edwards

“What is patriotism but the love of the food one ate as a child?” – Lin Yutang

Also on this day:
In 1918 the US Congress passed the
Sedition Act of 1918.
In 1905
Henry Fonda was born.