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Posts Tagged ‘American history

“Wish you were here”*…

 

Before it earned its reputation as a little town with first one, then two world-class music studios, Muscle Shoals was known for its hydroelectric facilities– as memorialized in this card, printed in 1948.

In 1898, the American government allowed private postcards to be sent with one cent stamps. Cheaper than the prevailing letter rate, this began the widespread use of postcards by the public– and the equally widespread use of postcards as an advertising tool by civic boosters.

From the 1930s through the 1950s, tourists taking their first road trips in their newfangled automobiles would frequently stop along the way to pick up a few colorful postcards to mail to the folks back home. The most popular form of eat-your-heart-out greeting was the large-letter postcard, which had been around since the first part of the 20th century but whose heyday was during what we know today as the linen-postcard era. Made of textured paper rather than actual cloth, linen postcards were printed by companies such as Curt Teich & Company of Chicago, Tichnor Brothers and Colourpicture of Boston, E.C. Kropp of Milwaukee, Beals Litho & Printing of Des Moines, and Dexter Press of Pearl River, New York, among many others. Their souvenir postcards for states, cities, military bases, and tourist attractions were usually heralded at the top by the words “Greetings From,” below which were large, blocky, dimensional letters filled in with illustrations or photographs of the destination’s most scenic or noteworthy sights.

In 1945, Dunkirk, New York, on the shores of Lake Erie, must have been known for its grapes… or so this large-letter postcard would suggest.

Since 2009, the primary resource for fans of this popular postcard genre has been “Large Letter Postcards: The Definitive Guide, 1930s to 1950s,” written by Fred Tenney and Kevin Hilbert. Published by Schiffer, “Large Letter Postcards” features more than 2,200 examples, from several dozen versions of Atlantic City cards (Curt Teich’s first linen large-letter) to cards for Coney Island, Niagara Falls, and Death Valley. Also included are several examples of how large-letter postcards were created, from the card’s initial sketch to its final design, courtesy of materials loaned to the authors by the Curt Teich Postcard Archives

Southern Illinois, where the Mississippi and Ohio rivers meet, is known as Egypt or Little Egypt. Some cards, such as this Curt Teich from 1945, included maps as well as scenic shots in their design.

Read more, find more wonderful examples and links to still more at “When Postcards Made Every Town Seem Glamorous, From Asbury Park to Zanesville.”

* Archetypical postcard message

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As we pack our bags, we might recall that it was on this date in 1910 that the first American-born female police officer was sworn in, as Alice Stebbins Wells became a full member of the Los Angeles Police Department.  (Marie Owens, born in Canada, was the first female police officer in the United States, hired in 1891 in Chicago.)  Prior to this time, women were employed as non-commissioned personnel to oversee the care of female prisoners.  Two years after Wells joined the force, two other female officers were sworn in; sixteen other cities and several foreign countries hired female police officers as a direct result of Wells’ activities by 1915, when Wells created the International Policewomen’s Association.  The University of California created the first course dedicated to the work of female police officers in 1918, and Wells was made the first president of the Women’s Peace Officers Association of California in 1928.

Wells wearing the uniform she had to sew for herself, the first police woman’s uniform in the United States

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Written by LW

September 12, 2014 at 1:01 am

“In politics the middle way is none at all”*…

 

In the midst of the intense partisanship we experience today– with Americans polarized into red and blue camps and no convergence in sight– it’s easy to forget that much of the nation’s history was characterized by similarly-intense political rivalry, especially the late nineteenth century.

The map above, created in 1883, was created by Census Superintendent Henry Gannett, and  published the massive Scribner’s Statistical Atlas, which included maps of each presidential election.  The series ended with this unprecedented attempt to map the returns of the 1880 presidential election not just at the state but the county level.

Such data maps are routine today. But this one stunned nineteenth-century Americans by showing them a nation organized not according to railroads and towns, or mountains and rivers, but Democrats and Republicans. The parties, of course, represented entirely different agendas then, and even their color associations were reversed. On the Scribner map, red denotes Democrats, while blue marks Republicans. Yet the overall portrait is strangely familiar, with red blanketing much of the south while blue spreads across the north. (As to the color scheme reversal, it’s a bit of a mystery. Republicans are now generally represented with red and Democrats with blue, a change that seems to have taken hold sometime after the 2000 election. But other colors were used as well through the twentieth century, as in Paullin and Wright’s Atlas of 1932.)

The 1880 campaign itself was rather routine, with little of substance to differentiate the two parties aside from their positions on tariff policy. Yet the election itself was as much of a nail biter as 1876 had been: nine million Americans turned out, and when it was over Republican James Garfield had outpolled the Democrat by a margin of just 7,000 votes nationwide.

Focus on the outcome by statesthe only measure that matters in the Electoral Collegeand the map shows a nation that seems hopelessly divided along a north-south axis, still fighting the Civil War by other means. Democrats control the former slave states, while Republicans hold an edge in the northeast and Midwest… the map revealed spatial patterns and relationships that might otherwise remain hidden, or only known anecdotally. Perhaps its no coincidence that at the same time the two parties began to launch more coordinated, disciplined, nationwide campaigns, creating a system of two-party rule that we have lived with ever since.

More all-too-familiar-seeming charts and graphs– and an account of the social and political temper of those times– at “The Story Behind the Ancient Map That Invented Red and Blue States.”

* John Adams

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As we party on, we might recall that it was on this date in 1858 that the Lincoln-Douglas debates began.  It was the first of a series of public encounters on the issue of slavery between Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois and Abraham Lincoln, a Kentucky-born lawyer and one-time U.S. representative from Illinois.  The two politicians, the former a Northern Democrat and the latter a Republican, were competing for Douglas’ U.S. Senate seat.  In the seven debates–each lasting about three hours–Lincoln argued against the spread of slavery while Douglas maintained that each territory should have the right to decide whether it would become free or slave.  Lincoln lost the Senate race, but his campaign brought national attention to the young Republican Party– whose Presidential candidate he became two years later.

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Written by LW

August 21, 2014 at 1:01 am

“If we ever owned the land we own it still, for we never sold it”*…

 

Between 1776 and 1887, the United States seized over 1.5 billion acres from America’s indigenous people by treaty and executive order.  Watch Native Americans’ land evaporate at The Invasion of America, an interactive map that illustrates how the U.S. took over an eighth of the world.

Produced by University of Georgia historian Claudio Saunt to accompany his new book West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776, the site is a time-lapse vision of the transfer of Indian land between 1776 and 1887. As blue “Indian homelands” disappear, small red areas appear, indicating the establishment of reservations.

[via the invaluable Rebecca Onion]

* Chief Joseph-Nez Perce

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As we redraw the Caucasian Chalk Circle, we might recall that it was on this date in 1868 that Navajos signed a treaty of capitulation after the Long Walk: Kit Carson had rounded up 8,000 Navajos and forced them to walk from their traditional home in Eastern Arizona more than 300 miles to the Bosque Redondo in southern New Mexico– a “reservation” that to all appearances was more like a prison camp.

Navajo on the Long Walk

source

Written by LW

June 27, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself”*…

 

The 93rd U.S. Congress, 1973-74, considered 26,157 bills; it made 738 (3%) of them law.  The 103rd Congress, 1993-94, enacted 458 (5%) of the 9,746 bills it considered.  The current Congress– the 113th, 2013-14– has so far introduced 7,980 bills, and passed only 100 (just over 1%) of them.

The Legislative Explorer, from researchers at the University of Washington’s Center for American Politics and Public Policy, allows readers to follow the lawmaking process– over 250,000 bills and resolutions introduced from 1973 to present– in action.

The left half represents the U.S. Senate, with senators sorted by party (blue=Democrat) and a proxy for ideology (top=liberal). The House is displayed on the right. Moving in from the borders, the standing committees of the Senate and House are represented, followed by the Senate and House floors. A bill approved by both chambers then moves upward to the President’s desk and into law, while an adopted resolutions (that does not require the president’s signature) moves downward.

Each dot represents a bill, so one can see them move through the process.  The drop-down menus at the top allow a shift of focus to a specific Congress, a person, a party, a topic, and several other categorizations; and there’s search to allow one to examine specific bills.  Counters across the bottom of the screen keep track of the action… or the lack thereof.

Give it a try.

[TotH to Flowing Data]

* Mark Twain

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As we yield, Mr. Speaker, to the gentleman from the District of Columbia, we might think expansionist thoughts in honor of Thomas Jefferson, whose emissaries Robert Livingston and James Monroe  signed the the Louisiana Purchase Treaty, called by some “the letter that bought a continent,” in Paris on this date in 1803… and in one stroke (well, three strokes– Livingston, Monroe, and French representative Barbé Marbois all signed) doubled the size of the United States.

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“If you want to change the culture, you will have to start by changing the organization”*…

 

But to change it, you have to know what that organization is…

 click here, and again on the image, for larger version

With this 1855 chart, Daniel McCallum, general superintendent of the New York and Erie Railroad, tried to define an organizational structure that would allow management of a business that was becoming unwieldy in its size. The document is generally recognized to be the first formal organizational chart.

Historian Caitlin Rosenthal, writing in the McKinsey Quarterlypoints out that the chart was a way for McCallum to get a handle on a complex system made more confusing by the new availability of data from the use of the telegraph (invented in 1844). Information about problems down the track was important to have—it could help prevent train wrecks and further delays—but the New York and Erie’s personnel didn’t have a good sense of who was in charge of managing this data and putting it into action…

Read the whole story in the ever-illuminating Rebecca Onion’s “The First Modern Organizational Chart Is a Thing of Beauty.”

* Anthropologist Mary Douglas

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As we grapple with grapple with the Great Chain of Being, we might recall that it was on this date in 1937 that General Motors formally recognized the United Auto Workers as the collective bargaining representatives of GM workers.  The decision came on the heels of a 44-day sit-down strike that had begun in December, 1936, and that had idled 48,000 employees.  Still (to Dr. Douglas’ point), old habits die hard: two month later GM guards assaulted and beat UAW leaders at the company’s Rouge River plant.

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By Hand…

 

Alastair Simms – Cooper

Photographer Steve Kenward celebrates the craftsmen and women who fashion things by hand…

Amanda Winfield – Stained Glass

Andy Doig – Neon Signs

Many more elegant photo essays at “Made Not Manufactured.”

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As we contemplate craft, we might recall that it was on this date in 1872 that Susan B. Anthony cast a ballot in the presidential election at her local polling station in Rochester, NY– an act for which she was arrested two weeks later.  The presiding judge at her trial (U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ward Hunt) refused to let her testify directly, explicitly ordered the jury to return a guilty verdict, refused to poll the jury afterwards, and read an opinion he had written before the trial even started; Ms. Anthony was convicted.  But her public defense of her action, rooted in the recently-adopted Fourteenth Amendment (“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”) generated sufficient public support to accelerate her campaign for women’s rights.  And while her sentence was a fine of $100, the U.S. government never tried to collect.

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The Big (Not So) Easy…

Lake Providence lies in East Carroll Parish in the northeast corner of Louisiana…

It’s a place where the air is so soupy-hot your shins sweat; where bugs are such a looping, whirring presence that it can feel like you’re trapped in hell’s version of a snow globe; and where the level of income inequality, as persistent as the bugs and humidity, is higher than any other parish or county in America…

Since the late 1970s, the gap between rich and poor has widened to Grand Canyon proportions — pushing America toward a two-class society. People have a harder time getting ahead now than at any time since the Great Depression.

The nation is more economically split, according to the CIA, than Iran or Nigeria.

East Carroll Parish, population 7,500 and home to Lake Providence, is worse off still…

And of course, the difference makes a difference…

This is well documented in a book called “The Spirit Level” by epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. Drawing on decades of work, the researchers found, essentially, that people who live in economically unequal places — such as Louisiana or the United States as a whole — tend to live harder lives.

Not just poor people. All people.

When the researchers plotted income inequality against an index of social problems that included infant mortality, mental health and others, they got the chart below, which shows that more unequal places tend to have more of these issues. The United States, the most unequal of the developed countries, for example, also has the world’s highest incarceration rate and a higher infant mortality rate than comparable nations. Sweden, meanwhile, has a low level of income inequality and fares much better on these social measures….

Read the whole story– it’s eminently worth reading the whole story– (with more and bigger, more-legible charts) at “The Most Unequal Place in America.”

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As we mind the gap, we might recall that it was on this date in 1930, in Atlanta, that Jessie Daniel Ames founded the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching.

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