Luddites

Luddism – a hatred of technology – takes its name from a group of disgruntled nineteenth-century textile workers who rebelled against new factory methods that threatened their livelihood. Although the original Luddite Revolt was swiftly quashed, fear and distrust of new scientific advances continues to play a role in politics and has colored contemporary debates about a variety of topics ranging from computers to genetically modified foods.

The original Luddites took their name from Ned Ludd, who may or may not have been a real person. According to legend, Ludd broke into a house sometime in the late 1770s and destroyed a pair of stocking fames, recently invented knitting machines that were blamed for putting textile workers our of work. Whether or not this event actually occurred, the phrase “Ludd must have been here” became a common refrain in English factories whenever a piece of newfangled machinery was found damaged.

By 1812, a group of textile workers who had crowned Ned “King Ludd” began destroying stocking frames and weaving frames all over England. The first organized Luddite Revolts occurred in 1811; it took 2,000 troops to quell the violence. Soon thereafter, “machine breaking” was made a capital crime. (After one 1813 trial in York, seventeen men were hanged for breaking this law.)

Although the original Luddite Revolt faded away, the term Luddite entered the political lexicon as a way of describing opponents of the relentless onslaught of technology.

The Slinky

In 1943, at the height of World War II, a Pennsylvania engineer named Richard James was working in his home laboratory on an obscure but crucial military issue. Because navy ships often navigated through rough seas, they needed elaborate measures to stabilize onboard instruments. James attempted to solve this problem by anchoring these instruments to a system of sensitive springs that would react to the turbulence while keeping the instruments level.

While at work one day, James accidentally dropped one of his springs and watched it smoothly step from his shelf to a stack of books to a tabletop and on down to the floor, where it coiled back into a perfect cylinder. James’s thoughts immediately shifted from the war effort to the toy store. He shared the idea with his wife, Betty, and she came up with a name for the gizmo: the Slinky.

A Slinky is manufactured by coiling sixty-seven feet of steel wire, a process that James’s first machines could complete in almost ten seconds. With the exception of smoothing the sharp ends, the toy hasn’t changed since the first models were sold in 1945. James couldn’t convince any toy sellers to purchase his idea, so he manufactured and sold Slinkys himself, beginning with a sale of 400 units to the Gimbles department store. James died in 1974, but by 1995, James Industries had sold more that an quarter-billion Slinkys.

In addition to being toys, Slinky have often served educational purposes, expecially to demonstrate the properties of waves in seismology, the study of earthquakes. NASA even used the toy for experiments aboard the space shuttle – beinging the Slinky back full circle to its scientific origins.

In 1960, James left his company and family and joined a Bolivian religious cult.

The Star-Spangled Banner

“The Star-Spangled Banner”, the national anthem of the United States, was written in 1814 by Maryland lawyer Francis Scott Key. Set to the melody of an English drinking song (To Anacrean in Heaven), the patriotic tune was an instant hit, and Congress officially decreed in the national anthem in 1931.

Key, a prominent attorney and amateur poet, wrote the anthem’s lyrics under peculiar circumstances. During the War of 1812 (which actually lasted until December 1814), the British attacked Washington, DC, sacking the city and burning down the White House. Next they targeted Baltimore, about forty miles north of the capital, and its imposing fortress, Fort McHenry, which guarded the city’s harbor.

Before the beginning of that battle in September 1814, Key had been selected to meet the British commander aboard his warship in Baltimore harbor to discuss the release of a prisoner of war. The British agreed to release the prisoner but insisted that Key remain at sea aboard a neutral ship behind the British fleet until after the battle to prevent him from sharing information with the Americans about British preparations.

Forced to watch the fighting from eight miles out at sea, the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner” describe Key’s impressions of the battle as it unfolded. The British bombardment – “the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air” – would last for twenty-five hours before the invaders gave up. As the smoke cleared, Key excitedly peered through the haze over Fort McHenry to the the red, white, and blue flag still fluttering in the morning breeze – a sign of American victory.

The British, unsuccessful in their attack on the fort, allowed Key to return to shore that day, and his poem was immediatley published in local newspapers. It was reprinted nationally and for the next century would be played at many patriotic events. Major League Baseball made it the de facto anthem by selecting the song to be played before baseball games, and Congress later made the selection final.

Fort McHenry’s original flag, sewed by Baltimore seamstress Mary Pickersgill, is in the custody of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.

Suburbanization

After World War II, millions of Americans seeking a house and a yard of their own moved out of cities and into newly built suburban towns, a trend that soon led to profound social and environmental consequences. With the sudden departure of so many residents, many older urban areas were thrown into crisis. Meanwhile, millions of acres of rural farmland were lost to so-called sprawl as the suburbs grew inexorably outward.

The major housing crunch that emerged after World War II helped trigger suburbanization. Few new houses had been built during the Great Depression of the 1930s. As a result, many returning war veterans were unable to find a place to live. In cities such as New York, some families were forced to double up in tiny apartments. In congressional testimony in 1947, housing advocates said, “Veterans and civilians alike are seeing the ruins of their postwar dream homes.”

In response, developers began to build new communities from scratch. The first and most famous postwar suburb, Levittown, New York, opened in 1947. Thousands of others sprang up over the next decades. Amid the economic growth of the 1950s, the suburbs became symbols of the nations postwar prosperity.

The departure of middle-class residents, however, left many cities in decay. Urban unrest in the 1960s exacerbated this trend by sparking another exodus to suburbia (sometimes known as white flight).

Suburbanization also made millions of Americans completely dependent on their automobiles for transportation, a trend that some economists and social scientists blame for rising air pollution, increasing dependence on imported oit, and even the nation’s staggering obesity rate.

Zenger Trial

A colonial-era newspaper publisher in New York City, John Peter Zenger (1697-1746), helped create the American concept of freedom of the press by successfully defending himself against a libel accusation in 1735.

Born in Germany, Zenger came to New York City with his family as a child. His parents apprenticed him to a well-known printer, where he learned to operate presses. In 1733, after finishing his apprenticeship, he started his own newspaper, the New-York Weekly Journal.
Like many early American newspapers, the Journal was openly partisan. Its mission, Zerger proclaimed in the first issue, was to be a platform for invective against the British-appointed governor, William Cosby (c. 1960-1736).

Cosby, an aristocrat who was widely disliked in New York, was not amused. After Zenger printed some particularly critical articles and poems, Cosby ordered him arrested. Zenger continued to publish the newspaper from behind bars for ten months by passing instructions to his wife during prison visits.

At trial, Zenger was represented at no charge by a well-known Philadelphia lawyer, Andrew Hamilton (1676-1741). The jurors faced enormous pressure from the government – and from the Cosby-appointed judge – to return a guilty verdict. But in a much-acclaimed argument to the jury, Hamilton convinced jurors that since the law was unjust, they should acquit Zerger despite the judge’s instructions.

By the end of the trial, Zenger had won the sympathy of many New Yorkers, and the memory of his trial helped inspire the First Amendment to the Constitution protecting free speech fifty years later.

The jurors depended on the controversial concept of “jury nullification,” by which juries can choose not to enforce laws they consider unjust, to acquit Zenger. Although rarely used, American juries still have this prerogative.

Trail of Tears

In 1838, President Martin van Buren (1782-1862) forced 16,000 members of the Cherokee tribe to leave their ancestral homelands in Georgia and relocate to Oklahoma. The Cherokees’ unwilling journey westward – more than 1,200 miles on foot – is often referred to as the Trail of Tears. During the trip, thousands of Cherokee died of dysentary, road accidents, and exhaustion.

Before the arrival of European settlers, the Cherokees were one of the most powerful tribes in the Southeast. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, more than 20,000 Cherokees lived in present-day Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama.

In the early 1800s, however, the federal government and the state of Georgia decided that the Cherokee should be “relocated” to make room for more white settlers. Cherokee chiefs refused to leave and declared themselves an independent nation. The Supreme Court sided with the Cherokees, but President Andrew Jackson famously dismissed the court’s opinion, declaring, “[Chief Justice] John Marshall has made the decision; let him enforce it now if he can.”

The final order to evacuate was issued by Van Buren, Jackson’s successor, in May 1838. About 7,000 soldiers were dispatched to Cherokee territory that spring to round up the tribe at gunpoint, despite vociferous protests from may Americans who sympathized with the tribe’s plight. The brutal march west would kill between 2,000 and 8,000 Cherokees.

The tribe had no connections to Oklahoma, which the federal government had designated as Indian Territory, but those who survived were eventually able to adapt to their new surroundings. According to the 2000 census, the Cherokees are now the largest tribe in the United States, with about 730,000 members.

One reason for the sudden federal interest in the Cherokees was the discovery of gold near tribal lands in Dahlonega, Georgia, in 1829, which set off the nation’s first gold rush.

Battle of Antietam (American Civil War)

The Battle of Antietam, fought on September 17, 1862, was the single bloodiest day of the American Civil War and remains the deadliest day in the history of American warfare. Total Union and Confederate casualties at Antietam, a small creek in Maryland about fifty miles northwest of Washington D.C., exceeded 23,000 men. The battle, a Union victory, halted a planned Confederate invasion of Maryland.

On September 3, 1862, Confederate general Robert E. Lee (1807 – 1870) decided to invade Maryland, a border state where slavery was still legal. Lee and Confederate president Jefferson Davis (1808 -1889) hoped that a Southern victory on Northern soil would deal a crippling blow to Union morale before the 1862 midterm elections.

Lincoln with McClellan and staff at the Grove Farm after the battle.

However, the warm welcome from Marylanders that Lee expected never materialized, and U.S. President Lincoln (1809=1865) immediately sent Union general George McClellan (1826-1885) with troops to repel the invasion. The Union troops caught up with Lee near the town of Sharpsburg on the evening of September 16.

The battle the next day lasted twelver ferocious hours. Nearly 100,000 soldiers participated in the battle – a force of greater size that the entire army that had fought the American Revolution seventy years earlier.

Although both parties suffered awful casualties, it was Lee who decided to withdraw from the fight, retreating back to Virginia. Lincoln, sensing an opportunity to finish off Lee’s army once and for all, ordered McClellan to pursue Lee into Virginia, but McClellan enraged Lincoln by dragging his feet. For the Union, McClellan’s failure to follow Lee into Virginia was one of the great lost opportunities of the war.

1.In the South, the clash is known as the Battle of Sharpsburg.
2.Six General were killed – Three on each side – during the battle.
3.After the battle, the dead were buried in shallow graves, many of which soon became exposed. In 1867 the army finally established a cemetery on the site and gave its fallen proper burials.

Betty Boop

Although short-lived as a cartoon character, the coy, curvaceous Betty Boop proved that animation could be more than children’s entertainment. An animated version of a risqué vaudeville singer, she appeared in a series of adult-oriented cartoons produced by Paramount Pictures between 1930 and 1939.

Boop’s inspiration was the 1920s singer and flapper Helen Kane (1910-1966). Kane was known for many of the things that her cartoon counterpart would make world famous: the short haircut, the high-pitched singing style, and the kick-line dancing (She even coined the famous catchphrase “boop-oop-a-doop”)

Using Kane as his model, film producer Max Fleischer (1883-1972) created a new character for his Talkartoon series of short animated films, which were distributed by Paramount. Betty Boop was only loosely based on Kane in the beginning. In Boop’s first apprearance in 1930, she was a French poodle. Beginning with the January 2, 1932, film Any Rags she was depicted in her now-famous human role. A year earlier, a voice actress named Mae Questel (1908-1998) began performing Betty Boop’s voice, a role she would keep until the last Boop cartoon – Yip Yip Yippy – was drawn in 1939.

Helen Kane

The studio was soon forced to tame Boop, however, when the Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors Association adopted a set of industry-wide decency standards known as the Hays Code in 1934. Among the rules stipulated were dress codes for women – even animated women. After the code was established, Betty Boop had to don a longer dress and a higher neckline.

In the 1934 short Betty Boop’s Rise to Fame, the cartoon character’s breast is briefly as she changes outfits.

In  1934, Kane unsuccessfully sued Fleischer Studios and Paramount Pictures, claiming that she was owed compensation for Betty Boop’s popularity.

Pop Culture – The Hula Hoop

Art Linkletter demonstrating the Hula Hoop.

In the spring of 1958, a toy company in California called Wham-O introduced its newest novelty: the Hula Hoop. Based on an age-old toy with origins stretching back to ancient Greece and Rome, Wham-O’s plastic version of the hoop sold for $1.98 and became an overnight sensation. In the first four months, the company sold an astonishing 25 million hoops in the United States; within two years, the figure reached 100 million.

At the height of Hula Hoop’s popularity in the summer of 1958, hooping was an omnipresent national fad. Imitators like the Hooper Dooper and Whoop-de-Doo also quickly appeared around the nation’s waists.

But the fad died almost as quickly as it had begun; indeed, Wham-O actually lost money in 1958 because sales plummeted after kids went back to school in September, causing unwanted hoops to pile up in the company’s warehouses.

By the early 1960s, sales had stabilized. Stores continue to sell the hoops, which have enjoyed periodic revivals – albeit never at the level of the initial craze.

With its brief, overwhelming popularity, the Hula Hoop has been described as the prototype for later consumer fads. “No sensation has ever swept the country like the Hula Hoop,” wrote Richard Johnson in the book American Fads; the hoop “remains the one standard against which all national crazes are measured.”

Hooping was also a widespread fad in fourteenth-century England.