The US Senate Once Tried to Ban Dial Telephones From Capitol Hill

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.

Well, that’s the world’s greatest deliberative body for you.

The World Trade Center Towers Originally Lacked Lightswitches

When the World Trade Center in New York City was first opened in 1973, employees didn’t have to worry about turning off the lights when they left work. Why was that? Because their offices didn’t have switches.

In the early 1970s, electricity was considered “too cheap to meter” so the building’s planners– in a show of bravado, if not wastefulness– opted to forgo the traditional on-off switches, meaning all lights stayed on indefinitely, or at least until a floor manager turned them off for the day.

After energy prices rose markedly over the the following decade, individual light switches and a programmable scheduling system were eventually installed in 1982.

Nixon Had a Speech Prepared In Case the Apollo 11 Astronauts Were Stranded in Space

When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969, they made history. But one thing that didn’t make history that day was the backup speech that President Nixon was slated to give in the event that something went wrong on the mission and the astronauts were stranded 238,900 miles from earth.

Written by presidential speechwriter William Safire and not revealed until 1999, the speech was planned in case the astronauts had to be abandoned. In that scenario, according to Safire in a July 18, 1999 Meet The Press interview, “then they would have to be abandoned on the moon. Left to die there, And mission control would have to, to use their euphemism, close down communication. And the men would either starve to death or commit suicide. And so we prepared for that with a speech that I wrote and the president was ready to give that.”

Below is the full text of the speech that Nixon never gave.
Read the rest of this entry »

Kodak Invented the Technology That Later Forced Them Into Bankruptcy

US Patent number 4,131,919. Though it may not go down in history, it’s sure to be one of the most important inventions in our modern age.

In 1975, Kodak employee Steven Sasson built the world’s first functional digital camera using then-new but now-ubiquitous CCD chips. Though it would take a few decades for the technology to hit the mainstream, Kodak was responsible for inventing the same technology that would later force it to file for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in January 2012.

Although it also brought the world’s first single lens reflex digital camera to market in the early 90s, Kodak was slow to shift its business from film-based to the digital-based products (the company once made almost all of its income from selling film).

2007 was the last year that the imaging pioneer turned a profit, and today Kodak relies on suing others for allegedly infringing its patents (ones that it often failed to capitalize upon), and since declaring bankruptcy has resorted to auctioning those patents off to the highest bidder.

After Mein Kampf, Hitler Wrote a Second Unpublished Book

When Adolf Hitler died at his own hand in 1945 he left behind Mein Kampf, his ideology encapsulated in a two-volume, 720 page set of books. But what’s lesser known is that he also wrote a second book, unpublished in his lifetime, which sat hidden in a vault until his death.

In 1928, two years after publishing Mein Kampf, Hitler penned his second book, which is now known simply as Zweites Buch (“second book”). While his first book was mostly autobiographical and ideological (explaining his hatred of Jews), the second book was to lay out his plans for Germany’s future foreign policy.

His publisher initially discouraged him from trying to publish it, fearing it would cannibalize sales of his first book, Mein Kampf. So it sat unpublished, with only two copies in existence until Hitler ascended to power in the early 1930s. After the 1930 Reichstag elections, the soon-to-be leader of Germany feared its publication would reveal in too much detail his foreign policy goals so he ordered it be kept secret.

And so it was, at least until 1945 when it was discovered in the vault of a German air shelter by an American officer. After its authentication by a former employee of Hitler’s publisher, the book was eventually made public for the first time. It’s now available for purchase.

I get (hate)mail

For the first time in a long time, I got two emails from readers. One was a very encouraging email from a reader who wanted me to begin posting on this blog again (and I very well might, after a long period of dormancy). The second email was, well, this:

EJ ( wrote: Buddy, is it coincidental that all of your “lost history lessons” have to do with the republican/ conservative party and their “foul ups”? I’d love to see just one ounce of information that displays the notion that democrats over the years have been less than ethical.

For example: How about NJ Governor McGreevy was the first male governor (aka, Gay-American..never knew queers chose nationalities but OK) to suck cock in his office? And gee, where WAS Obama born…what’s that?…no “Birth Certificate”? Riiiiight. And don’t forget about Teddy Kennedy and his family of very well-connected folks.

Go eat a vegan burger and chase it with a shot of wheatgrass you poor excuse for an informative individual.

I’ll leave you with what you want to hear: democrats ARE the chosen ones. By who? I can’t say…you don’t believe in religion. FUCK YOU.

I’m still laughing about the wheatgrass thing.

President Roosevelt Used to Ride Around in Al Capone’s Limousine

Hours after Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Secret Service found themselves in a bind. President Franklin D Roosevelt was to give his infamy speech to Congress the next day, and although the trip from the White House to Capitol Hill was short, agents weren’t sure how to transport him safely.

The White House did already have a specially built limousine for the president that he regularly used, it wasn’t bulletproof, and the Secret Service realized this could be a major problem now that the country was at war. FDR’s speech was to take place at noon December 8th, and time was running out. They had to procure an armored car, and fast.
Above: Al Capone’s armored Cadillac
There was one slight problem. US government rules at the time restricted the purchase of any vehicle that cost more than $750 ($10,455 in today’s dollars). It was pretty obvious that they weren’t going to get an armored car that cheap, and certainly not in less than a day.

One Secret Service agent was a quick thinker. The federal government did already have in its possession a car that just might fit the bill: Al Capone’s, which had been sitting in a Treasury Department parking lot ever since it had been seized from the infamous mobster during the IRS’ tax evasion suit years earlier.

Capone’s car was a sight to behold. It had been painted black and green so as to look identical to Chicago’s police cars at the time. It also had a specially installed siren and flashing lights hidden behind the grille, along with a police scanner radio. To top it off, the gangster’s 1928 Cadillac 341A Town Sedan had 3,000 pounds of armor and inch-thick bulletproof windows. Mechanics are said to have cleaned and checked each feature of the Caddy well into the night of December 7th, to make sure that it would run properly the next day for the Commander in Chief.

And run properly it did. The car apparently preformed perfectly– so perfectly that Roosevelt kept using it– at least until his old car could be fitted with identical features (and to this day, Presidential limousines have flashing police lights hidden behind their grilles).

Above: FDR in his limousine convertible, before and after bulletproof glass and armor was installed.

The old car was a 1939 Lincoln V12 Convertible built by Ford (and affectionately nicknamed the “Sunshine Special,” supposedly because FDR liked to enjoy the sun while riding around with the top down… hardly safe, although the use of presidential convertibles was not eliminated until after JFK’s assassination). Roosevelt was apparently so enamored with his convertible however that he had it bullet-proofed. The Lincoln was now undoubtedly worth more than $750, so the White House got around the spending cap regulation by making a special arrangement to lease it from Ford at the rate of $500 per year.

When he was told his car’s origin (probably on December 8th as he rode to Capitol Hill), Roosevelt reportedly quipped, “I hope Mr Capone won’t mind.”

Lysol Used to be Advertised as a Feminine Hygiene Product and Birth Control

Yes, the disinfectant more commonly known today as a toilet bowl cleaner, was once suggested for vaginal use. Talk about versatile!

Although it was always intended for household cleaning, from the 1920s up until the ’60s, Lysol was largely marketed for personal bodily use, rather than disinfecting doorknobs or coffee tables like we see in today’s advertising for the product. Ads suggested that women use the cleaner as a douche fluid for everyday cleaning, and even as a form of birth control for use directly after sex (the disinfectant would kill sperm, the advertising suggested).
Above: A vintage Lysol advertisement
According to Lysol ads of the day, this use of the product was endorsed by European doctors, who, it was later revealed by the American Medical Association, did not actually exist.

According to the 2002 book Devices and Desires: A History of Contraceptives in America, “By 1940, the commercial douche had become the most popular birth control method in the country, favored by women of all classes. It would remain the leading female contraceptive until 1960, when a breakthrough technology– oral contraceptives– knocked it off its lofty pedestal… [T]he most popular brand, Lysol disinfectant, were soap solutions containing cresol… which, when used in too high a concentration, caused severe inflammation, burning, and even death.”

Devices and Desires further states that “Lysol was a caustic poison and in more concentrated form was retailed with a prominent skull-and-crossbones icon. Ingested, it could kill; applied externally, it irritated and burned. Lehn & Fink sold it for feminine hygiene anyway, ignoring a recommendation made by the 1912 Council on Pharmacy and Chemistry of the AMA…”

Several women reportedly died after using the product as directed. The worst part? It turned out, Lysol didn’t even work as a contraceptive at all: a 1933 study showed that 250 out of 507 women using the disinfectant got pregnant, probably about the same number who would have using no birth control at all.

Coca-Cola’s Secret Ingredient Used to be Cocaine

Where did you think it got the name Coca-Cola anyway? Yes, popular legend is correct, and the soft drink did originally contain cocaine (obtained from the coca leaf).

Coca-Cola was first conceived between 1885 and 1886 by a John Pemberton, a former Confederate soldier turned drug store owner. He marketed it as a “patent medicine” and claimed that it would cure whatever ailed the consumer, including headaches, impotence and morphine addiction (though it apparently didn’t work too well as the later, because Pemberton later himself got addicted to morphine).
Above: Coca-Cola
The name Coca-Cola was derived from its two “medical” ingredients: “Coca” came from the coca leaf which is used to create the cocaine the drink contained, and “Cola” from the Kola nut, which provided the drink’s caffeine.

After the drink was accused of having “similar effects to cocaine, morphine and such like” and being the cause of racial ferment, the Coca-Cola company decided to cut out active cocaine.

The presence of cocaine was hardly a secret: a drawing of the coca leaf was even featured in the advertising:

However, the company was still attached to the name, and, in order to keep calling itself Coca-Cola, they felt they needed to have at least some element of the original coca leaves in the product. As a result, they switched from active cocaine to un-synthesized coca leaves.

Before this was known, the company was even slapped with a “misbranding” lawsuit by the US government, which claimed that they didn’t have the right to call themselves Coca-Cola if they no longer contained coca leaves (Coca-Cola won this case).

And, believe it or not, Coke still contains coca leaves. To this day, the Coca-Cola company puts in their syrup what’s left of the leaves, as supplied by a company called Stepan, after they’ve had the cocaine extracted from them. (Stephan, by the way, is the only US company legally licensed to import coca leaves, which they do from Peru. While Coca-Cola gets the “spent leaves,” the active ingredients go to a pharmaceutical company called Mallinckrodt, the only US company legally allowed to use cocaine in their medicines.)

The Official Pledge of Allegiance Salute Used to be a ‘Hitler Salute’

… Yes, that title is correct. Read on, intrepid history-seekers.

The pledge of allegiance was originally written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a socialist magazine writer. When he wrote it for an children’s magazine, he also described a salute that he thought would be appropriate during its recital.

The pledge was aimed towards children, and the magazine also gave free flags away to schools, where the pledge was originally recited. The salute they were taught to give, with one stiff arm outstretched toward the flag, was deemed the “Bellamy salute” after its creator (who had gotten the idea from a salute that the Romans had done).
Above: The Bellamy Salute, before WWII
In the early 1940s, it was noticed that the salute bore a resemblance to a certain other salute being used in Germany at the time (which was based off of the same original Roman salute). As a result, it was formally replaced by Congress with the now-customary hand-on-heart during the pledge.

Below are three photographs showing the old salute, now in the Library of Congress, which were taken in May 1942 in Southington, Connecticut, just one month before the new salute became official. These photographs were taken by Charles Fenno Jacobs, a photojournalist who was at the time employed by the US government.