Linotype typecasting machines revolutionized publishing when they were invented in 1886, and remained the industry standard for nearly a century after. The first commercially successful mechanical typesetter, the Linotype significantly sped up the printing process, allowing for larger and more local daily newspapers. In Farewell, etaoin shrdlu (the latter portion of the title taken from the nonsense words created by running your fingers down the letters of the machine’s first two rows), the former New York Times proofreader David Loeb Weiss bids a loving farewell to the Linotype by chronicling its final day of use at the Times on 1 July 1978. An evenhanded treatment of the unremitting march of technological progress, Weiss’s film about an outmoded craft is stylistically vintage yet also immediate in its investigation of modernity…
* Thomas Edison, speaking of the linotype machine
As we agree with John O’Hara that “hot lead can be almost as effective coming from a linotype as from a firearm,” we might spare a thought for a communicator of a very different sort, Arthur Duer “Harpo” Marx; he died on this date in 1964. A comedian, actor, mime, and musician, he was the second-oldest of the Marx Brothers. Harpo was a master of both the clown and pantomime traditions; he wore a curly reddish blonde wig, never spoke during performances, and of course, played the harp in each of the Marx Brothers’ films. A man of wide and varied friendships, he was a member of the Algonquin Roundtable.
Originally published in 1876, this book is remarkable not only for being the first major work in contemporary chromotherapy, but also for its unique appearance. True to the ideas held within — that blue light is bearer of unique and special properties — the book is entirely printed with blue ink on blue paper. Its author, a retired US Civil War general named Augustus James Pleasonton, proposed that isolating blue wavelengths from the sun could benefit the growth of both flora and fauna, and also help to eradicate disease in humans. The science was shaky at best…
As we step away from the monitor, we might recall that it was on this date in 1772 that the soon-to-be state of New Jersey passed the first law in the US to license medical practitioners, except those who do not charge for their services, or whose activity is bleeding patients or pulling teeth. There is to this day no federal medical licensing law.
Nearly everyone interested in records will have, at some point heard the news that there is a Brazilian who owns millions of records. Fewer seem to know, however, that Zero Freitas, a São Paulo-based businessman now in his sixties, plans to turn his collection into a public archive of the world’s music, with special focus on the Americas. Having amassed over six million records, he manages a collection similar to the entire Discogs database. Given the magnitude of this enterprise, Freitas deals with serious logistical challenges and, above all, time constraints. But he strongly believes it is worth his while. After all, no less than a vinyl library of global proportions is at stake…
An interview with master collector Zero Freitas: “Inside the World’s Biggest Record Collection.”
* Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top)
As we drop the needle, we might send harmonious birthday greetings to Jean-Philippe Rameau; he was born on this date in 1683. One of the most important French composers and music theorists of the Baroque era, he replaced Jean-Baptiste Lully as the dominant composer of French opera and is also considered (with François Couperin) the leading French composer for the harpsichord of his time.
50+ examples: “Evolution of Horror Movie Poster Designs: 1922 – 2009.”
* Robert Anton Wilson
As we prepare to shriek, we might recall that it was on this date in 1947 that a secret executive order issued by President Harry Truman established Majestic 12, a secret committee of scientists, military leaders, and government officials empaneled to investigate UFO activity in the aftermath of the Roswell incident— or so many UFO conspiracy theorists believe. The purported documentary evidence of Majestic 12 has been judged fake by both the FBI and the Air Force (e.g., here)… but then, they would wouldn’t they…
This solemn group of posters teaching safety to British citizens comes from the archive of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. The images are from the Wellcome Library’s website; I first saw them on the blog the Passion of Former Days.
The RoSPA displayed a series of its 20th-century posters in a 2012 exhibition, after rediscovering a small archive of them in an outbuilding. In the exhibition notes,RoSPA curators noted that the society, which dates back to World War I, focused on road safety and pedestrian awareness in the 1920s and 1930s (much like analogous American safety organizations).
From the redoubtable Rebecca Onion: “Stark, Spare, Beautiful Midcentury British Safety Posters.”
* Vladimir Nabokov,
As we put safety first, we might recall that it was on this date in 1938 that the Great New England Hurricane (AKA, The Long Island Express) dissipated. It had made landfall on Long Island on September 21. With impact felt from New Jersey all the way north to Canada, the storm was estimated to have killed 682 people, damaged or destroyed over 57,000 homes, and caused property losses estimated at $306 million ($4.7 billion in current value).
“It’s hard for me to get used to these changing times. I can remember when the air was clean and sex was dirty.”*…
This fall’s entering college students, the class of 2020, were born in 1998 and cannot remember a time when they had to wait for anything. They also can’t recall a time when the United States was not at war, or when someone named Bush or Clinton was not running for office.
Each August since 1998, Beloit College has released the Beloit College Mindset List, providing a look at the cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students about to enter college.
In their lifetimes they have always had eBay and iMacs, and India and Pakistan have always had the bomb. The Sopranos and SpongeBob SquarePants have always been part of popular culture, Gretzky and Elway have always been retired, and Vladimir Putin has always been in charge in the Kremlin.
And although they think of themselves as a powerful generation—Sanders voters, consumers—they are faced with the prospect of student loan debt and of robots and foreigners taking their jobs making them feel anxious and weak…
* George Burns
As we muster to matriculate, we might recall that it was on this date in 1862 that President Abraham Lincoln signed the (preliminary) Emancipation Proclamation, announcing that if the rebel states did not end the fighting and rejoin the Union by January 1, 1863, all slaves in those states would be free. No Confederate state capitulated, and on the first day of 1863, President Lincoln issued the Proclamation declaring “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”
Despite it’s expansive wording, the Emancipation Proclamation was limited in many ways. It applied only to states that had seceded from the Union, leaving slavery untouched in the loyal border states. It also expressly exempted parts of the Confederacy that had already come under Northern control. Most important, of course, the freedom it promised depended upon Union military victory.
Still, it captured the hearts and imagination of millions of Americans and fundamentally transformed the character of the war. After January 1, 1863, every advance of federal troops expanded the domain of freedom. Moreover, the Proclamation announced the acceptance of black men into the Union Army and Navy, enabling the liberated to become liberators. By the end of the war, almost 200,000 black soldiers and sailors had fought for the Union and freedom.