Home robots are still an amazing concept, especially for people who grew up watching episodes of “The Jetsons” on television. Roombas were first introduced in 2002, and over 15 million units have been sold worldwide as of this writing. While many people are delighted by their autonomous robot vacuum, most people don’t know that a robot vacuum was first envisioned in the 1950s.
Donald G. Moore patented a robot floor cleaner in 1957. It was controlled by a central console that only required the press of a button to activate the cleaner. The robot would appear and had the functionality to both vacuum and mop your kitchen floor. Unfortunately, a working version of the robot was never built or released to the public.
Watch the robot in action in this promotional film for the RCA Whirlpool “Miracle Kitchen” in 1959 (the robot floor cleaner appears at 11:50):
If you have the patience to sit all the way through the end of a movie’s credit (maybe waiting for a little post-credit Easter egg scene), you’ve probably noticed the disclaimer at the end: This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, is purely coincidental. Where did that come from and why do they need to put it on the end of obviously fictitious films like Finding Dory or Star Wars? The answer lies, surprisingly with the famous Russian mystic Grigori Rasputin.
Slate has the full story: “It all started when an exiled Russian prince sued MGM in 1933 over the studio’s Rasputin biopic, claiming that the American production did not accurately depict Rasputin’s murder. And the prince ought to have known, having murdered him.”
The Slate article goes on to detail the MGM production in question Rasputin and the Empress and how the exiled Russian Prince Felix Youssoupoff sued them for defamation. Eventually, MGM had to pay up to his wife and take the film out of circulation to purge the offending scene. The landmark case made the film industry overly cautious and now some form of the “fiction” disclaimer appears at the end of most films.
The Seven Lady Godivas: The True Facts Concerning History’s Barest Family was one of the few books he wrote for adults, telling the tale of seven Godiva sisters, inspired by the real-life Lady Godiva who rode naked through the streets to protest oppressive taxation. His story tells the story of the naked sisters traveling throughout the land on a quest for “horse truths.” Throughout the story, the sisters appear completely naked and are illustrated as such, though the pictures lack any anatomical details.
The book was published by Random House in 1938 and was later cited as Dr. Seuss’s biggest publishing failure. The original print run of 10,000 copies was estimated to sell only around 2,500 copies. Many reasons are given for the failure. Seuss says it was because he couldn’t draw naked women correctly. At the time the failure was attributed to a hefty $2 price tag during the Depression and the nudity driving away readers. The remaining copies were sold for 25 cents in a chain of cigar stores.
Luckily, the failure of this book can be credited for helping Dr. Seuss focus his energies on the magical children’s books that made up the rest of his career. Due to fan demand, the book was reprinted in 1987. The book is currently out of print, though used copies can be purchased online, and a PDF version is currently avaialble.
Goofy is a beloved Disney character created back in 1932. Over the years, children and adults have fallen in love with this dopey goofball as he stumbled his way through all types of chaos and problems. He was the star of many animated shorts, including the Everyman years in the 1950s. That series reimagined Goofy as a family man named George Geef who dealt with everyday issues like raising children, dieting, and even quitting smoking.
However, this short called “No Smoking,” doesn’t feature the moral lesson you’d expect in Disney animations targeted at children. While Goofy does try to quit smoking, there is no real condemnation of smoking as a habit or discussion of any health concerns besides a brief issue with breathing. While his addiction is played for laughs and there are a few frames of dingy furniture and overflowing ashtrays, I was shocked to see that the cartoon presented a general shrug about whether or not Goofy actually quit. In fact, they referred to his attempt as a “strange desire.”
While today many people feel like vibrators are as commonplace as they ever been, they actually used to be sold as a medical treatment device. Today you’ll sometimes see them online or in the Brookstone catalog marketed as neck and back massagers instead of their true intended purpose of providing sexual pleasure. But vibrators were first invented as a treatment for “hysteria.”
In the 19th century, what would now be easily be identified as sexual frustrations, was labeled as the condition of hysteria. Women would see their doctor regularly, who would manually stimulate them to orgasm to relieve the issue. This treatment became so popular that doctors suffered from hand pain and cramping. To solve this issue, they began developing a mechanical device to treat hysteria. Thus the vibrator was born (you can learn more about this process in the hilarious fictional movie Hysteria or the novel The Road to Wellville by T.C. Boyle.)
As expected, vibrators became an immediate hit, and soon home versions were created so women could “treat” their hysteria on their own. During the early 20th century you could find them advertised in women’s magazines like Needlecraft and Women’s Home Companion, as well as the Sears & Roebuck Catalogue. Once they started appearing in pornographic movies, vibrators disappeared from magazines and became difficult to purchase. With the rise of feminism in the 1970s, vibrators made a comeback and are very easy to buy today. Still, it’s funny to look back on those old catalog advertisements and know what they were really selling.
We came. We saw. We littered. On each of mankind’s six historic moon landings, dozens of objects were left behind– indelible imprints that outlasted Neil Armstrong’s famous first footprint (which was likely obliterated during the lander’s return liftoff). Read more at the official website for An Incomplete List of Things
We Left Behind on the Moon.
December 8th, 2013 | Posted in 1960s, 1970s, Space | Comments Off on We left astronaut poop on the moon
We’re used to seeing a president and a vice president, but more than a dozen times throughout American history, there hasn’t been a sitting VP.
The first American president to spend part of his time in office without a #2 was James Madison who was savvy enough to win two terms in office. One thing he wasn’t good at? Choosing his vice presidents apparently. Both men he chose for his first and second terms died part of the way through them, so he simply finished his terms without a veep!
The situation arose again for a longer period of time in 1841 when John Tyler left his spot as the vice president to become the president (his president, William Henry Harrison, died after just a month in office). Tyler served the entirety of his term without a vp. A similar situation occurred with Millard Fillmore who became president after his #1 died as well.
Luckily Richard Nixon had the good sense to appoint a second vice president after his first (Spiro Agnew) resigned when caught taking bribes. Well, good sense, plus the 25th Amendment (ratified in 1967) which required a Vice President at all times. When Nixon himself resigned in disgrace, his second vice president, Gerald Ford, became president. And thus ended the tradition of leaving the vice presidential slot empty: America has never been without a vice president since.
July 29th, 2012 | Posted in Forgotten History, Nixon, Presidents | Comments Off on 18 American Presidents Didn’t Have a Vice President For All or Part of Their Terms
In the United States, presidents are not elected directly– instead, each state’s votes are tallied and the winner receives electoral college members who then cast votes for president. It’s a complex system that’s leftover from the Constitutional Convention of 1787 when American democracy was still, shall we say, getting her sea legs (it was the same convention that decided African Americans were worth three-fifths of a person).
In theory, the system works so that the average citizen votes by proxy: they vote for a candidate, and based on how many people vote for that candidate, the candidate is awarded the state’s electoral college votes, to be apportioned among its campaign supporters. Those supporters, who have been hand-picked by the campaign and are generally considered to be loyal to the candidate, are the ones who actually ratify the election by voting for the candidate.
But sometimes things don’t work out as planned. It turns out, 158 electoral college members have voted in a way other than the people of their state. Sometimes the reason for becoming what’s called a “faithless elector” is somewhat understandable: 63 of these 158 were cast differently due to Horace Greeley’s untimely death which occurred after he lost the election of 1872 but before the electoral college had a chance to vote).
Other times, the electors decide to go their own way for ideological reasons. This was the case in the election of 1872 when all 23 electors from the state of Virginia– which was pledged for the Democratic candidate Martin van Buren– refused to vote for van Buren’s vice presidential candidate, Richard Mentor Johnson, because the mother of his children was black. He wasn’t officially married to her because it was illegal, but he treated her as his common law wife.
July 29th, 2012 | Posted in Forgotten History, Presidents | Comments Off on Members of the Electoral College Have Voted Their Own Way 158 Times
When we think of the space race, we generally think of initial race to put a human in space and the moon landing which followed (the former glory went to the USSR, and the latter glory to the USA). But what’s often forgotten is that the USSR actually beat America in landing probes on the moon, Venus, and even Mars.
The first man-made object to land on the moon was Luna 2 (after an unsuccessful Luna 1 attempted landing which missed its target by more than 3,000 miles), a Soviet probe. It made headlines on September 13th, 1959 when it reached its target and successfully transmitted data back to earth.
A few years later, in 1966 the USSR once again beat the USA in becoming the first country to successfully land a probe on Venus. The Venera 3 crash-landed on the second planet from the Sun on March 1st, 1966, though it was unable to send back any data to earth after landing (several unsuccessful attempts at a landing later, the Venera 7 eventually succeeded).
And the first Mars landing? That happened in late 1971, with the USSR’s Mars 2 lander, which crash landed on the martian planet’s surface. The subsequent Mars 3 lander succeeded in landing on the surface intact, and was able to transmit back a single blurry image (pictured above) and then unceremoniously shut down after approximately 15 seconds of operation.
Today for most people who own cell phones, manual dialing is largely a thing of the past: your contacts are stored in your phone and you rarely have to type in a new number.
But that wasn’t the case in 1930: back then it was normal to pick up a phone and be connected with an operator who would then place your call for you. And for some in the early 20th Century, the thought of dialing your own phone number was downright scary.
In 1930 the US Senate took up the pressing issue of new manual-dial phones with the following resolution when dial phones were installed in their Congressional offices:
Whereas dial telephones are more difficult to operate than are manual telephones; and Whereas Senators are required, since the installation of dial phones in the Capitol, to perform the duties of telephone operators in order to enjoy the benefits of telephone service; and Whereas dial telephones have failed to expedite telephone service; Therefore be it resolved that the Sergeant at Arms of the Senate is authorized and directed to order the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. to replace with manual phones within 30 days after the adoption of this resolution, all dial telephones in the Senate wing of the United States Capitol and in the Senate office building.
Bill sponsors hoped the measure would convince the phone company to remove dial phones from all of Washington, DC, not just Capitol Hill. The motion passed and though younger Senators preferred to dial their own numbers rather than wait for an operator to connect them to the party they wished to reach, the phones were banned. At least temporarily– a later compromise allowed Senators to choose which type of phone they wanted for their office.