Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Idlewild Airport in Jamaica, NY, on Long Island was officially dedicated on July 31, 1948, by President Harry Truman, who hailed it as the “front door” to the United Nations. The UN’s headquarters had just been started that year in Manhattan. Initial construction of runways was begun in 1943 to relieve congestion at LaGuardia Airport. The facility’s name came from the Idlewild Golf Course that it displaced, but its actual name was New York International Airport-Anderson Field (in honor of an Army major) until it was renamed in December 1963 for President John F. Kennedy, one month after his assassination. The airport had six runways and a seventh under construction in 1948; they were modified in the late 1960s to accommodate Boeing 747 jumbo jets. Pictured: Pan American World Airways opened the Worldport terminal, with its broad “flying saucer” roof, in 1960. It will soon be demolished. Trans World Airlines opened the TWA Flight Center, designed by Eero Saarinen with its distinctive “winged-bird” shape, in 1962. It has been renovated.
Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Novelist and poet Emily Brontë was born on July 30, 1818, in Yorkshire, northern England, an area still known for its heather moorland. Her older sister, Charlotte, and her younger sister, Anne, both became authors. Raised by a deeply religious aunt, the children began writing fiction and created fantasy worlds for themselves. In the 1840s they jointly published a book of poems under the masculine names Currer Bell, Ellis Bell and Acton Bell (based on their respective initials), believing that publishers and the public were prejudiced toward women authors. Little is known about Emily because she was reclusive in her brief 30 years of life and had few friends outside her family. Her only novel, Wuthering Heights (1847), is set on her native moors, where the doomed love affair between the passionate Catherine and the intense, Byronic Heathcliff plays out amid supernatural encounters and psychological torment. Brontë’s readers were disturbed by the book’s overt sexual passion, powerful imagery and themes of revenge, religion and class prejudice.
Monday, July 29, 2013
The Arc de Triomphe was inaugurated on July 29, 1836, in Paris, at La Place de l'Étoile, now also known as La Place Charles de Gaulle. The “Triumphal Arch” honors those who fought and died for France in the French Revolution and in the Napoleonic Wars. It was commissioned in 1806 by Emperor Napoleon at the zenith of his political and military success, after he defeated the Russo-Austrian army at the Battle of Austerlitz (in what is now the Czech Republic). Laying the Arc’s immense foundations took two years. The structure consists of a simple central arch with a vaulted passageway (98 feet high and 49 feet wide) topped by a viewing terrace. The names of all French victories and generals are inscribed on the Arc’s inner and outer surfaces, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I lies beneath the vault. Every evening a flame is revived there. The most famous of the Arc’s four sculptural reliefs, showing French volunteers rallying against foreign enemies, became known as "La Marseillaise" for the French national anthem, written in 1792.
Sunday, July 28, 2013
The first public flight of the U.S. Army Air Corps’ B-17 “Flying Fortress” bomber aircraft took place on July 28, 1935, at a Seattle facility of Boeing company, which built the massive, four-engine plane (called Model 299) in competition with the Martin Company and Douglas Aircraft. A reporter with the Seattle Times immediately dubbed the bomber a "flying fortress" because it was fitted with multiple machine guns, the most distinctive of which was placed in the nose to defend from frontal attacks by enemy fighters. Boeing quickly trademarked the phrase. Capable of long-range flights at high altitudes, the B-17 experienced difficulties and design changes. But by 1941 it had been deployed to Britain’s Royal Air Force, and then used by U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II for precision bombing of German industrial and military targets. In February 1944, one week of raids by 3,500 flying fortresses dealt a fatal blow to Nazi Luftwaffe factories. By the war’s end, Boeing had built more than 12,700 B-17s. Only about a dozen are airworthy today.
Saturday, July 27, 2013
The first Bugs Bunny cartoon, titled “A Wild Hare,” was released on July 27, 1940, by Leon Schlesinger Productions (later Warner Bros. Cartoons). It is the first animated cartoon in which Bugs is shown as the prey, and clever tormentor, of the absurdly incompetent hunter, Elmer Fudd, and the first in which Bugs says his signature phrase, “What’s up, Doc?” as voiced by Mel Blanc. That phrase is derived from a famous scene featuring Clark Gable in “It Happened One Night” (1934). Elmer’s opening line, "Be vewy, vewy quiet, I'm hunting wabbits," would also follow him through many subsequent cartoons in which Bugs is more interested in driving his pursuer crazy than in actually escaping. The wily rabbit was the creation of Fred “Tex” Avery, an animator, cartoonist and director who also gave birth to Daffy Duck, Droopy, Porky Pig and others. Avery’s cartoons were the antithesis of Walt Disney’s, always avoiding sentiment and sweetness in favor of non-stop action and characters prone to sarcasm, allusive wit and situations best described as “looney.”
Friday, July 26, 2013
Playwright, journalist and socialist George Bernard Shaw was born July 26, 1856, in Dublin, Ireland. In 1876 he moved to London, where he became a theater and music critic and, in the 1890s, found his greatest strength in writing plays. As a member of the Fabian Society, he articulated many of the group’s socialist principles, which focused on social change through gradualist and reformist means rather than revolution. In 1895 he founded the London School of Economics with other Fabians. Of his 63 plays, the most famous is “Pygmalion” (1912), based on the Greek myth of a sculptor who fell in love with a statue he had carved. The social rise of Shaw’s Cockney flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, provides a dramatic send-up of “proper” British society and its class system, coupled with sharp commentary on the role and independence of women. Shaw won an Academy Award for the screenplay of the 1938 movie version of the play. Much of his witty dialogue remained intact in the 1956 Broadway musical version of the play, “My Fair Lady.”
Thursday, July 25, 2013
Painter and Illustrator Maxfield Parrish was born on July 25, 1870, in Philadelphia. He became the highest-paid commercial artist and muralist in America by the 1920s. After settling in New Hampshire, he illustrated numerous children’s books and collections, including L. Frank Baum's popular Mother Goose in Prose (1897), Eugene Field's Poems of Childhood (1904) and other notable books of the era, now prized by collectors. Through the 1920s he produced illustrations for major advertisers and for Collier’s and Scribner’s magazines. He also profited from his popular posters and mass-market color prints, including “The Garden of Allah” (1919) and “Dawn” (1920). Parrish’s works are instantly recognizable for their androgynous nudes placed in fantastical settings and for dazzlingly luminous colors, which he achieved partly through a technique involving coats of paint layered with varnish. His signature use of cobalt blue is now known as “Parrish blue.” Pictured: the painting “Daybreak” (1922) is the most-reproduced art print of the 20th century.
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
French author Alexandre Dumas was born on July 24, 1802, near Paris in northern France. He is also known as Alexandre Dumas, père, to distinguish him from his son, also an author. In the 1840s he wrote many plays and, most notably, historical novels of high adventure on which his reputation is based, celebrating themes of loyalty and honor among men. The Count of Monte Cristo (1844), first serialized in a weekly paper, was a literary success that made Dumas rich, thanks to its protagonist, sailor Edmond Dantès, who, after a wrongful trial and imprisonment, embarks on a search for justice and vengeance that also involved wealth, forgiveness and love. The Three Musketeers (1844) recounts the adventures of the young nobleman d'Artagnan who leaves home and joins the Musketeers of the Guard in Paris, becoming friends with the inseparable trio Athos, Porthos and Aramis, who live by the motto, "all for one, one for all." On both books Dumas collaborated with ghostwriter Auguste Maquet, who was well paid to outline the plots and characters.
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
July 23, 1904, is the generally accepted date for the introduction of the ice cream cone in the United States. It was served by various vendors along the entertainment midway known as “the Pike” at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, known as the World’s Fair, in St. Louis, Missouri. The cone consisted of a waffle rolled into an edible “cornucopia” shape (pictured). Paper and metal cones had been used in Europe to hold ice cream, and edible cones were known to have been served in England prior to 1904. A vendor named Charles E. Menches is credited with filling a cone with two scoops of ice-cream, but history indicates that more than 50 purveyors of ice cream operated at the Fair, and several may have concocted the cone at the same time. Ice cream itself may have originated with the Chinese, who may have developed freezing techniques to make both sorbets and ice cream. Today, it takes about 12 pounds of whole milk to make one gallon of ice cream. Americans consume an average of about five and a half gallons of ice cream annually.
Monday, July 22, 2013
On July 22, 1934, serial bank robber John Dillinger was identified and shot by agents of the Bureau of Investigation (later called the FBI) outside Chicago’s Biograph Theater. A thief since his teenage years in Indiana, Dillinger and his gang robbed 24 banks and four police stations. He was also charged with the murder of an Indiana policeman and escaped from two jails. Of the many violent criminals who arose in the early 1930s (including Bonnie and Clyde), Dillinger was especially notorious as “Public Enemy No. 1,” attracting intense media attention for the number of his crimes, his recklessness in committing them (including gun battles), his eluding of authorities and his brash personality. In May 1934 he underwent crude plastic surgery to avoid detection. It didn’t work. After watching the movie “Manhattan Melodrama” with a brothel madam and another prostitute, he was shot dead in an alley near the Biograph, which the Bureau had staked out. A crowd gathered around his body, and several people dipped handkerchiefs into his blood for souvenirs.
Sunday, July 21, 2013
The Aswan High Dam on the Nile River in southern Egypt was completed on July 21, 1970. Heavily funded and designed by the Soviet Union, the enormous rock and clay dam played a role in Gamal Abdel Nasser’s rise as Egypt’s president and had a great impact on Egyptian life. For the first time in history, the Nile’s annual late-summer floods were controlled by impounding the floodwaters in Lake Nasser, releasing them when needed for irrigation of crops (largely cotton) and also generating electric power. Negative effects have included diversion of fertilizing silt along the length of the Nile and degradation of farmland from increased salinity. The project displaced more than 100,000 people. It also caused relocation of major archaeological sites, including the Abu Simbel temples near Sudan, which had been carved into a mountainside in the reign of Pharaoh Ramses II circa 1244 BCE. From 1964 to 1968, the Nubian temples were cut into large blocks averaging 20 tons, then reassembled above the Nile in a historic feat of archaeological engineering.
Saturday, July 20, 2013
44 years ago: Apollo 11, the fifth of NASA’s manned Apollo missions, was launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 20, 1969, nine years after President Kennedy said the United States would send a man to the Moon and return him safely to Earth. The mission’s computers had less processing power than today’s typical smartphone. Six hours after launch, astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped from the lunar module onto the Moon’s surface, followed by Buzz Aldrin, while Michael Collins remained in lunar orbit in the command module. Aldrin and Armstrong collected 47.5 pounds of lunar material for return to Earth. Though Armstrong took the first step on the Moon, Aldrin was the first to pee there, using a special bag within his space suit. Both astronauts left urine bags behind on the Moon, and all three suffered from troublesome flatulence because of hydrogen bubbles in their water. Moondust on their suits imparted an acrid smell similar to ashes and spent gunpowder. In today’s dollars, the entire Apollo program cost roughly $150 billion.
Friday, July 19, 2013
The first line of the Paris Métro (or Métropolitain) subway system opened on July 19, 1900, during the Exposition Universelle (World's Fair). It connected the Porte Maillot in the area of the Bois de Boulogne with the Porte de Vincennes, where that year’s summer Olympic Games were held in the Bois de Vincennes, the city’s largest park, on the eastern edge of Paris. The new transportation was a great success. Begun in 1898 and designed initially for 10 lines, the project was headed by civil engineer Fulgence Bienvenüe, who developed a special tunnel construction method that allowed for rapid repaving of streets and roads. In 1901 he planned additional lines that would make any point in Paris no more than 500 metres distant from a Métro station. The decorative entrance designs (pictured) by architect Hector Guimard helped foster the Art Nouveau style. Today the Métro hub at Châtelet–Les Halles (two stations conjoined) is the largest subway complex in the world, connecting five métro lines with three commuter rail lines.
Thursday, July 18, 2013
According to Roman historian Tacitus, the Great Fire of Rome began on the night of July 18, 64 CE, breaking out in the merchant area and slums near the Palatine Hill, which today is one of the most ancient parts of the city. The fire spread quickly through highly flammable tenements (“insulae”) that dominated Rome, and burned for six days. Only four of the city’s 14 districts escaped the fire, and three were completely destroyed. The cause is uncertain, but many held Nero responsible – though he never played a fiddle (the instrument didn’t exist) or the lyre while Rome burned. To deflect blame, he used the fire to repress the growing influence of Christians. Nero may in fact have wanted to build a grander Rome, but large accidental fires were common in the ancient city, which burned again twice in the next 20 years. Thugs and bandits may have used arson as an opportunity for plunder. Over time a more spectacular Rome built of marble and stone arose, and the fire’s debris was used to fill the Tiber’s deadly, mosquito-infested marshes.
Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Lawyer and detective novelist Erle Stanley Gardner was born on July 17, 1889, in Malden, Massachusetts, north of Boston. He passed the California bar exam in 1911 as a self-taught attorney and spent more than 20 years practicing law there, until 1933, when he published his first pulp mystery, The Case of the Velvet Claws, featuring attorney Perry Mason. That was the first of 82 novels and short stories, most of which were rigidly structured with plots involving: a murder, Perry’s investigation (assisted by secretary Della Street and private eye Paul Drake), and a murder trial in which Perry proves his client’s innocence by dramatically forcing a confession from the criminal. He never lost a case. In his early years, Gardner set himself a quota of writing 1.2 million words a year. He was a two-finger typist, but later dictated his many books to a staff of secretaries. Actor Raymond Burr was the incarnation of Mason in the TV series from 1957 to 1966, with its theme music, “Park Avenue Beat.” Gardner is one of the best-selling authors of all time.
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
J.D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye was published on July 16, 1951, by Little Brown. It received mixed reviews. The book recounts the experiences of a 16-year-old anti-hero, Holden Caulfield, in New York City following his expulsion from Pency Prep, an elite private school. He had also been expelled from three previous schools. The plot is noticeably less important than the nature of Caulfield himself and his unreliable first-person narration while exploring New York, interacting with teachers, prostitutes, nuns, an old girlfriend and his sister. Salinger's use of language, particularly the realistic dialogue, was revolutionary at the time. By the late 1950s the book had become a controversial favorite of adolescents, and Holden remains today an icon of teenage rebellion. Some critics praised the novel, comparing it with Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. Others found the book merely “cute,” and Norman Mailer famously called Salinger "the greatest mind to ever stay in prep school." About 250,000 copies of the book are still sold annually.
Monday, July 15, 2013
Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn was born on July 15, 1606, in Leiden, Dutch Republic, where he received early education before apprenticing in painting at his own request. At age 20 he began working on etchings, which he endowed with unique, painterly qualities through exceptional use of light and dark. His paintings encompassed portraits of his contemporaries, illustrations of Biblical scenes, and a lifelong series of self-portraits. Many of his works left huge areas in shadow, creating vibrant spots of illumination against great darkness. He lived beyond his means and often bid up the price of his own works. One of Rembrandt’s final works, the massive “Shooting Company of Frans Banning Cocq” (1642), became known erroneously as “The Night Watch” (pictured) after it had been darkened under many layers of varnish. The tumultuous, 13’x16’ commission shows a group of Dutch civic guardsmen emerging from a dark courtyard in a dazzling blaze of light, color and motion. It marked the height of “Dutch Golden Age” painting.
Sunday, July 14, 2013
Austrian symbolist painter Gustav Klimt was born on July 14, 1862, near Vienna, where he studied architectural painting and produced murals for public buildings in the prevailing classical-realist style. In the 1890s his painting became personal and experimental, and criticism of that work impelled him to help establish the artists’ movement known as the Vienna Secession (1897), which rebelled against prevailing Viennese conservatism in art, with its orientation toward traditional historical styles, and staged exhibitions for new young artists. Klimt's style combined rich, decorative surfaces with complex symbolism and allegory, often with blatantly erotic content. His “Golden Phase,” in which he widely used gold leaf, brought acclaim and financial success. Key works of the period are the “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I” (1907) and his famous work, “The Kiss” (1907–08, pictured), which reflected fin-de-siècle sensuousness and decadence in an opulent style influenced by Art Nouveau, medieval illuminated manuscripts and Japanese prints.
Saturday, July 13, 2013
Multimillionaire businessman John Jacob Astor IV was born on July 13, 1864, in Rhinebeck, NY, north of New York City. His great-grandfather and namesake came to America in 1783 and became its first millionaire as a fur trader. Apart from managing a vast family fortune, Astor wrote a quasi-scientific novel, developed several mechanical devices and built New York’s fabled Astoria Hotel (1897). After he married his second wife, 18-year-old Madeleine, in 1911, he took her to Europe to escape disapproving gossip. They set out to return home in April 1912 on the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic, which they boarded with their retinue at Cherbourg. Madeleine, who was pregnant, survived. Astor did not. He left most of his $85 million estate (more than $2 billion today) to his son, Vincent, who was older than his widowed stepmother. Astor’s body was recovered 10 days after the sinking. Dressed in a blue serge suit, his possessions included a gold watch, gold and diamond cuff links, a diamond ring with three stones, and £225 and $2,440 in cash.
Friday, July 12, 2013
Business innovator George Eastman was born on July 2, 1854, in Waterville, NY, east of Syracuse, and grew up in Rochester, NY, where his father operated a business college. Largely self-educated, he pursued photography as a hobby in the 1870s when it was cumbersome, expensive and messy, involving chemicals and heavy glass plates. He experimented with silver bromide in emulsion on dry plates, then on paper, then strips of cellulosic film in a roll format. In 1888 he trademarked the name “Kodak” (devised using a Scrabble-like game) and offered a small, fixed-focus box camera for ordinary people to use. It was priced at $25, pre-loaded with a 100-exposure roll of film. A photographer simply took pictures, sent the entire camera and $2 to the Rochester factory, then received finished prints and a reloaded camera. Eastman shrewdly separated picture-taking from photo-processing, using the slogan, "You press the button, we do the rest." He founded the Eastman Company in 1889 and later became a major philanthropist.
Thursday, July 11, 2013
Artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler was born on July 11, 1834, in Lowell, Massachusetts. He was educated in St. Petersburg, Russia, and later dismissed from West Point for bad grades. He established himself as a painter in Paris and London in the 1850s, never again returning to the United States. Overall, he had no easily defined style, producing multi-faceted works ranging from early etchings (using skills he learned as a cartographer), portraits in the style of Realism, and late abstract landscapes, which he called "nocturnes." As a key proponent of “art for art’s sake,” he retitled many of his works using terms associated with music to emphasize tonal qualities and composition and disregard any narrative content. Oscar Wilde based the murdered artist in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) on Whistler, with whom he quarreled. Pictured: “Whistler’s Mother” is actually “Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1” (1871). She was a last-minute stand-in for this exercise in tonal harmony and composition, balancing rectangles and curves.
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
The communications satellite Telstar 1, the first of a series of satellites with that name, was launched on July 10, 1962, from Cape Canaveral, to relay telephone calls and television broadcasts across the Atlantic. The 3-foot-long aluminum object was an international collaboration between AT&T, Bell Labs, NASA and corresponding agencies in Britain and France. It consumed 14 watts of power, about one-seventh of the power of a laptop today, generated by solar panels on its outer surface. It carried 600 phone calls and one black-and-white TV channel, a generous amount for the time. Telstar 1 was not geosynchronous; it circled in low Earth orbit every two and a half hours, with the result that it was positioned for transmissions between the U.S. and Europe for only 20 minutes in each orbit. It relayed its first live public TV picture almost two weeks later, on the afternoon of July 23, showing the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower, followed by part of a baseball game. It made the phrase “live via satellite” possible for decades.
Tuesday, July 9, 2013
On July 9, 1962, artist Andy Warhol had his first one-man gallery show when his “32 Campbell Soup Cans” were exhibited at a gallery in Los Angeles. It was the West Coast debut of Pop Art, which had already appeared in New York. Warhol’s subversive critique of consumerism and mass production set him apart from both Abstract Expressionists (such as Rothko) and traditional, painterly “fine” artists. The works are 20"×16” screen-printed canvases, intended as a unit, one for each of the 32 soup varieties Campbell sold at the time. They were shown in a line, resting on a shelf mounted on the wall, to mimic a grocery store shopping experience. Warhol’s printing method was semi-mechanized: he repeated the basic soup can image on each canvas, then hand-painted or stenciled the names of each soup. Some observers bemoaned the exhibit’s denigration of art, its draining away of meaning. But Warhol ironically celebrated “things” and reveled in popular culture, even as he delivered a message about mass consumption.
Monday, July 8, 2013
British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans was born on July 8, 1851, in a paper mill town northeast of London. The son of a famed prehistorian, he traveled throughout Europe after studying at Oxford, where he later became Keeper of the University’s Ashmolean Museum, which he built into a world-renowned archaeological museum. He was intensely interested in ancient Greek civilizations at Mycenae and the island of Crete. He determined the latter had flourished from 1380-1100 BCE in the Late Bronze Age. In the 1890s he bought land on Crete that included the site of the ancient cultural capital of Knossos, where he unearthed ruins of a vast palace whose size and grandeur suggested the labyrinth of the legendary King Minos, who fed youths to the Minotaur. Evans’ discoveries, including 3,000 clay tablets, helped established dates for the mercantile Minoan civilization to the Neolithic period, and furthered understanding of Minoan writing (known as Linear A and Linear B). Pictured: restored frescoes at the Palace of Knossos.
Sunday, July 7, 2013
85 years ago: On July 7, 1928, pre-sliced bread was sold commercially for the first time in the history of mankind by the Chillicothe Baking Company, in the north central Missouri town of Chillicothe. Sold as "Sliced Kleen Maid Bread" and available "at quality grocers in the area," the loaves were cut and wrapped in wax paper by the newly invented Rohwedder Bread Slicer, a machine created by Iowa-born inventor, Otto Rohwedder, a jeweler in St. Joseph, MO, who had worked on the contraption for more than a decade. His second machine was bought by a St. Louis baker, Gustav Papendick, who improved on its bread-wrapping – thereby addressing staleness, a major drawback of sliced bread. When Wonder Bread was marketed in sliced form in 1930, the phenomenon took off: people found it convenient to eat more slices, and did so more frequently. Consumption of things to put on bread (including jam) also increased, and standardization of slices boosted sales of pop-up toasters, which were invented by Charles Strite in 1926.