How We Got Here (40)

June 27, 2014


Snapshot: America in 1900

* The population in 1900 was about 76 million, twice the 1950 total of 151 million, and a little more than three times the 23 million of 1850.

* The union had 45 states, as opposed to 48 in 1950 and 31 in 1850.

Backward ho, to the amazing 19th century, which was every bit as revolutionary as the 20th, transforming every aspect of life into something previously unimaginable. America ended that century on the verge of world leadership; a hundred years before, it was in a very different, and precarious, situation. It was an interesting ride.



How We Got Here (38)

June 26, 2014

Theodore Roosevelt

Probably something more should be said about automobiles, but I can’t bring myself to do it. They were important, they had a vast influence on everything from warfare to farming, but I don’t even want to read about them, let alone write about them. So we’ll take a look at the presidency and influence of Theodore Roosevelt, and consider that we’ve given the 20th century its due, and shall proceed to the 19th.

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June 25, 2014

How We Got Here (37)

The Wright Brothers

At first, Wilbur and Orville Wright, and their sister Katharine, fascinated the Europeans. They were so modest and unassuming, so businesslike, so down-to-earth, so willing and able to deal with workmen and with kings (literally) in an equally friendly but dignified manner. They seemed the very personification of the best of America’s supposedly classless society. Later, when patent infringement suits seemed to threaten the development of the airplane industry, they came to personify another aspect of America, a less attractive side. Yet the Wrights hadn’t changed. Circumstances had brought out a different aspect of their collective character.

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How We Got Here (36)

June 24, 2014


Like television later, and like radio at the same time, but to a greater degree, movies were America’s greatest ambassadors and propagandists. Foreigners often mistook American films for reality, and if this sometimes led them to think it was still a land of cowboys and Indians, it also led them to think that this was the land where working people lived in mansions, and rich girls married poor boys, and the streets were paved with gold.

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How We Got Here (35)

June 23, 2014

Woodrow Wilson

Perhaps at some point I will fill in Woodrow Wilson’s place in America’s rise to world power. Suffice it to say here that he kept us out of the war as long as could – certainly longer than nearly anyone else likely would have done – and proposed relatively equitable peace terms. The punitive terms that were finally imposed on Germany in June, 1919, were punitive at the insistence of the French and British, who had, after all, suffered most. (The French lost an estimated 11 per cent of their population, a staggering injury.) Edgar Cayce said much later that the Christ spirit had sat at the peace table, but had not been listened to. Wilson’s League of Nations proposal was adopted by the allies, but ironically not by his own country, for reasons good, bad, and arguable.

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How We Got Here (34)

June 22, 2014


Radio wasn’t invented in the United States. It rested on the work of many man, mostly Europeans, throughout the 19th century, culminating in Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi. He was awarded the first (British) patent for a radio wave wireless telegraphic system, and he is credited with turning radio into a global business. Brazilian priest Roberto Landell de Moura transmitted the human voice wirelessly in a public experiment in the year 1900, and was awarded fundamental patents by the Brazilian and American governments.

Nor, at first, were Americans particularly in the forefront. The Read the rest of this entry »

How We Got Here (33)

June 21, 2014


A few months after the end of World War I, a man named Orteig had offered $25,000 to the first person to fly nonstop from New York to Paris. Eight years later, the Orteig prize remained unclaimed, but several people were racing to be the first. They were all well known except the boy.

In September, 1926, a three-engine biplane carrying a three-men team led by French World War I ace Rene Fonck crashed and burned on takeoff, killing the two crewmen. The following April, two famed U.S. Naval aviators, testing another three-engine biplane, died when their plane, too, crashed on takeoff. In early May, French war heroes Charles Nungesser and Francois Coli disappeared at sea on a westward flight from Paris in a seaplane.

Two weeks later, three more airplanes were preparing to fly east from Long Island. One was a two-man team led by American air racer Clarence Chamberlin, and the other was a four-man team led by Commander (later Rear Admiral) Richard Byrd. The third was not a team but a lone 25-year-old pilot who, the year before, had been flying the air mail route between St. Louis and Chicago, and his airplane was a single-engine overhead-wing monoplane whose design and construction he had overseen during the winter.

He had much less flying experience than any of the others, none of it over water. He was financing the flight on a $15,000 bank loan, a $1,000 donation from his employer at Lambert Field, St. Louis, and his own small savings. He had had to teach himself great-circle navigation, because he was afraid that if he asked the military to teach him, he would be forbidden to make the attempt. In order to keep down inessential weight, he was flying without a radio. That meant that from eight a.m. May 20, 1927, all through the day and the long night and a good part of the next day, there was no way for the world to know if he was still alive and in the air, or had joined the six who had been killed in the weeks just past.

After that long night, he was spotted over the coast of Ireland, then over England, and then, at nearly 10:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 21, he landed at Le Bourget field in Paris, and he and his frail craft were overrun by a hysterically welcoming mob estimated at 150,000 people. The effect his successful flight produced was perhaps proportional to the anxiety caused by the long night – and the dead airmen who had preceded him.

The French Foreign Office flew the American flag for him, President Coolidge sent a Navy cruiser to bring him and his airplane home. The Post Office issued an Air Mail stamp in his honor. He was given a ticker-tape parade in New York City. He was Time magazine’s first “Man of the Year.” His book We, published within months, sold 650,000 copies within a year, earning him a quarter of a million dollars. The boy his friends had always called Slim was being called Lucky Lindy, and The Lone Eagle.

His influence on aviation was phenomenal. Applications for pilot’s licenses in the U.S. tripled. The number of licensed aircraft quadrupled. The number of airline passengers grew 3,000%, to 173,405 in 1929, from 5,782 in 1926. Aviatrix Elinor Smith Sullivan later said that Lindbergh’s flight changed aviation forever because “after Lindbergh, suddenly everyone wanted to fly, and there weren’t enough planes to carry them.”

For more – much more —

Oh, and those other two teams that we left on Long Island waiting to fly? Chamberlain made it from New York to Germany in a 43 hour flight two weeks later. Byrd and his team left on June 29, reached Paris on July 1, and, being unable to land there due to weather conditions, wound up ditching in the ocean off Normandy. They both succeeded in making the crossing, and they did it within weeks of Lindbergh’s solo flight. But it didn’t matter. That flight – and something in his winning personality — made Charles A. Lindbergh into an icon, not only in his own country but all through Europe and around the world. And that fame lasted. More than 25 years later, he won a Pulitzer Price with The Spirit of St. Louis, which, among other things, told of his out-of-body experience and spiritual contacts during that long night over the North Atlantic.


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