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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● Sharks belong to a subclass of fish (along with sawfish, skates, and rays) whose skeletons are made of cartilage, not bone. Cartilage, the stuff your earlobes and nose are made of, is lighter and more flexible than bone. Exception: a shark’s teeth, like yours, are made of calcified dentin.

● The longest highway in America is U.S. Route 6, which runs 3,199 miles from Provincetown, Massachusetts, to Bishop, California.

● Brigham Young had 27 wives.

● In the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy’s dog Toto was played by a female Cairn Terrier named Terry. (The dog’s weekly salary was $125. Most of the Munchkins were paid from $50 to $100 per week.) After the huge success of the film, Terry’s name officially was changed to Toto. She appeared in 13 films.

● The favorite alcoholic beverage of Queen Victoria, who reigned over the United Kingdom from 1837 until her death in 1901, was a mixture of single malt Scotch whisky and claret.

● In making the 1969 film The Wild Bunch, director Sam Peckinpah’s production team expended some 90,000 rounds of blank cartridges. This is said to be more ammunition than was used in the entire Mexican Revolution.

● On February 9, 1964, evangelist Billy Graham broke his long-time rule against watching TV on Sunday by watching the first appearance by the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show.

● Symbolically, drawing a circle around the earth at the equator creates the northern and southern hemispheres. Likewise, drawing a circle around the prime meridian creates the eastern and western hemispheres. Africa is the only continent with land in all four hemispheres.

● The London Underground, the city’s rapid transit system, has a station below Buckingham Palace that could evacuate the royal family in an emergency.

● The aboriginal people of Australia developed two types of throwing sticks for hunting: boomerangs, which are aerodynamically designed to return to the thrower, and kylies, which are non-returning. Typically, boomerangs were used to frighten game birds into taking flight into nets, and kylies were used to hit and bring down targets.

● In badminton, the shuttlecock can reach speeds of nearly 200 MPH.

● In 1958, In anticipation of Hawaii and Alaska becoming states, a high school teacher in Lancaster, Ohio, asked his students to design a new 50-star flag. The design submitted by 17-year-old Robert Heft (1941-2009) earned a B-. The teacher said it lacked originality.

Nevertheless, Heft sent the design to his congressman, and in 1960, it was chosen out of 1,500 submissions as the official new U.S. flag. The teacher retroactively raised Heft’s B- to an A.

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

In 52 BC, a Roman army invaded present-day France and defeated the Parisii, a Celtic tribe living along the River Seine. There, the Romans established the city of Lutetia (Latin for “place near a swamp”). Lutetia remained under Roman rule until 476 AD, when the Franks invaded and kicked out the Romans. Lutetia was renamed Paris for the previous occupants.

During the first moon landing in 1969, Armstrong and Aldrin were on the surface for 21 hours. During that time, they snacked on peaches, sugar cookies, bacon, coffee, and grapefruit-pineapple juice.

Xanthophobia is the fear of the color yellow or the word yellow. It’s a genuine phobia that can develop after a traumatic experience involving something yellow. (Being hit by a school bus maybe?) Symptoms can include fear, anxiety, panic, etc.

Worldwide, some 340 dog breeds are recognized (although the haughty AKC only recognizes 167). About 20 breeds have evolved webbed toes, primarily as an aid when swimming. Among them: the Newfoundland, Portuguese Water Dog, Weimaraner, and Chesapeake Bay Retriever.

Dachsunds are not swimmers, but they also have webbed feet. Originally, they were bred for hunting small game, and the webbing allows them to shovel dirt more efficiently when pursuing, say, a badger in its den.

Webbed toes

The English language is known for giving curious and unexpected names to groups of animals: a pride of lions, a gaggle of geese, a murder of crows, a prickle of porcupines. FYI, a group of rats (eewwww) is called a mischief.

An animal described as crepuscular is one that is most active around twilight. Bats, for example.

Technically, the holiday Cinco de Mayo, commemorates a battle on May 5, 1862, in which 2,000 Mexican irregulars defeated an invading army of 5,000 French troops. It is a minor holiday in Mexico, but the U.S. has made it a day to party, the excuse being to celebrate Mexican heritage.

The spider with the venom most toxic to humans is the male Sydney Funnel-Web Spider (Atrax robustus), found around Sydney in eastern Australia. The venom of the female is nasty, but less toxic. The spiders are aggressive and will attempt to bite you multiple times.

Atrax robustus

When a song or an advertising jingle is stuck in your head, you are said to have an “earworm.”

A luthier is a craftsman who builds stringed instruments, whether plucked or played with a bow. The word luthier comes from luth, which is French for lute.

Wind speeds around the globe are increasing, most likely due to climate change. The increase is so significant that experts say the output of the world’s wind turbines is expected to climb by as much as one-third.

The wombat is the only animal whose scat is cube-shaped instead of round. The anus of the Australian marsupial is round, but the animal has developed the ability to control its muscles and poop in the form of square pellets.

This ability seems to have evolved because wombats use piles of scat to mark territory, and, whereas round scat rolls away, cubes stay put.

Wombat pellets

 

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Hi-Yo, Silver!

In the 1940s and 1950s, veteran announcer Fred Foy introduced the Lone Ranger on radio and TV thusly:

Hi-Yo, Silver!

A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust, and a hearty ‘Hi-Yo, Silver!’ The Lone Ranger!

With his faithful Indian companion, Tonto, the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains led the fight for law and order in the early Western United States. Nowhere in the pages of history can one find a greater champion of justice!

Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear! From out of the past come the thundering hoofbeats of the great horse Silver! The Lone Ranger rides again!”

Americans were introduced to the Lone Ranger, Tonto, and their valiant steeds Silver and Scout in the early 1930s. Today, the Lone Ranger is considered ancient history — just some do-gooder cowboy from yesteryear. More often than not, he is now a source of humor mixed with ridicule, à la Colonel Sanders.

That’s a shame. The Lone Ranger is an appealing character and a man, albeit fictional, of admirable integrity.

The Lone Ranger was created for radio in 1933 by writer Fran Striker and producer George Trendle. The program first aired on radio station WXYZ in Detroit. Within a few years, it was being carried on over 400 radio stations across the country.

Striker and Trendle gave the Lone Ranger a compelling backstory. He is a Texan named Reid, first name originally not given. He is the only survivor of a group of six Texas Rangers, one of them Reid’s older brother Daniel, who were ambushed by outlaws.

Tonto finds the wounded Reid and helps him recover. Thereafter, wearing a black mask made from his late brother’s vest, Reid roams the west as the Lone Ranger, helping those in need and fighting evil and injustice.

The Lone Ranger is a man of impeccable character who follows a strict moral code. He never shoots to kill. He doesn’t drink, smoke, or womanize. His grammar and pronunciation are always precise. He is an intelligent version of Dudley Do-Right, minus the humor.

From 1949 until 1957, a popular TV version of the radio show was aired starring Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels.

Six Lone Ranger movies have been made, the first in 1956, the most recent in 2013. A comic strip, various comic books, and 18 novels also have been published.

The Lone Ranger has given us some wonderful cultural tropes — Fred Foy’s dramatic introduction. The cry of “Hi-Yo, Silver! Away!” Silver bullets left as calling cards. The theme music from the William Tell Overture. A bystander inevitably asking, “Who was that masked man?”

LR&T

And then there is “kemosabe,” as Tonto calls his masked companion. Usually, the term is described as meaning “faithful friend” or “trusty scout.”

The meaning has generated jokes, too. In one, kemosabe means the rear end of a horse. In another, it means “meathead.”

Maybe the meaning is cloudy, but there is evidence of the word’s origin. Jim Jewell, who directed the radio show from 1933 until 1939, said the name came from a boys’ camp in Michigan, Kamp Kee-Mo-Sah-Bee, founded by Jewell’s father-in-law.

The father-in-law is believed to have taken the name from a 1912 book on Indian lore by one of the founders of the Boy Scouts. In the book, the term kee-mo-sah-bee is said to mean “scout runner.”

The term may have come from the Minnesota Ojibwe word giimoozaabi, which means “he who peeks” or maybe “sneaks.”

One last anecdote before I allow the Lone Ranger to ride into the sunset…

After the TV series ended in 1957, actor Clayton Moore began a 40-year career of making public appearances as the Lone Ranger, masked and in costume.

In 1979, TV producer Jack Wrather, who had obtained the legal rights to the Lone Ranger, was preparing to release the film “The Legend of the Lone Ranger,” in which Moore did not appear.

Convinced that Moore’s public appearances would hurt the film at the box office, Wrather obtained a court order that blocked Moore from appearing in public as the Lone Ranger.

Moore counter-sued, and he continued making public appearances wearing Foster Grant sunglasses instead of the black mask.

Moore C

The lawsuit was a disaster for Wrather. Public opinion overwhelmingly was with Moore. Wrather became “the man who sued the mask off the Lone Ranger.” When Wrather’s movie came out in 1981, it lost money and, for good measure, was panned by critics.

In late 1984, Wrather was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Soon thereafter, he lifted the restraining order, freeing Moore to resume his appearances as the Lone Ranger. Two months later, Wrather died.

Wrather’s final gesture to Moore was noble and generous. It was worthy of the Lone Ranger himself.

 

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More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

The “#” symbol aka hashtag, pound sign, crosshatch, number sign officially is called an octothorpe. The word probably was invented in the late 1960s at Bell Labs when they added the symbol to telephone keypads and needed a word to describe it. Note: an octothorpe has eight protruding lines, and octo means eight.

The 2019-20 brush fires in Australia burned an area of about 63,000 square miles, roughly the size of Florida. Smoke from the fires reached Argentina, which is 6,000 miles away.

When the Titanic sank in 1912, 12 dogs were aboard. Two Pomeranians and a Pekingese survived in lifeboats, but the other nine dogs were lost.

The Sargasso Sea, a region of the eastern Atlantic Ocean, is the only body of water in the world with no land boundaries. It is bordered by four ocean currents: the Gulf Stream, the Canary Current, the North Atlantic Current, and the North Atlantic Equatorial Current.

The Sargasso is named for its abundance of sargassum, a rich brown seaweed that is important to marine life. The Sargasso Sea is known for its exceptionally clear water and deep blue color.

Sargasso

The population of New Delhi, the capitol of India, is 28.5 million. The city’s air is so polluted that breathing it is the equivalent to smoking 50 cigarettes a day. In 2018, of the 10 cities in the world with the worst air pollution, nine were in India.

In the periodic table of the elements, the symbol for silver is Ag, which comes from argentum, the Latin word for silver.

Right now, Greenland’s ice sheet is melting seven times faster than in the 1990s.

The blue whale is believed to be the largest animal that ever lived. An adult is about 100 feet long and weighs almost 200 tons. Its tongue weighs as much as an elephant.

Blue whale

The nuclear meltdown in 2011 at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan means the area will be lethal and mostly unusable for a few lifetimes. Meanwhile, the resourceful Japanese plan to build wind farms and solar arrays there.

70 percent of the earth’s surface is covered by water, and 97 percent of that water is seawater. Of the paltry three percent that is fresh water, 69 percent of that is locked up in glaciers and ice caps.

● “Plyboo” is a brand of plywood made of bamboo.

Pringles potato “crisps” and the Pringles container were designed and patented in the 1960s by organic chemist Fredric Baur. He had been hired by Proctor & Gamble to develop a new kind of potato chip because of consumer complaints about bagged chips being broken, stale, and greasy.

Baur died in 2008. As stipulated in his will, he was cremated, and a portion of his ashes was interred in a Pringles can.

Pringles

 

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More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

In the 1970s, Sweden sold 1,000 Volvo automobiles to North Korea for 200 million krona. Sweden delivered the cars, but North Korea didn’t pay up. Since then, twice a year, Sweden has sent Pyongyang a bill for the money. In today’s U.S. dollars, the tab is about $22 million.

Boxing became an Olympic sport at the 1904 Summer Olympics in St. Louis. A total of 18 boxers competed. All 18 were from America, so we won all the medals.

The verb abscond means to depart quickly and secretly. The verb squattle means to duck into hiding. The word perambulate means to wander about. With its usual panache, the English language combined those three words into absquatulate, which means to leave abruptly in order to save yourself. Think of an overthrown dictator fleeing to a friendly country.

Absquatulate originated in the 1830s as part of a whimsical fad of making up playful words that sound impressive and vaguely Latin. Discombobulate, which means to totally confuse someone, also came from that era.

The crater formed by the impact of a meteorite is called an astrobleme.

Astrobleme

Butterflies have taste receptors on their feet, which means they can land on a plant and check it out for nectar at the same time.

If you were an astronaut in space and you cried, the tears would not fall because there is no gravity. Instead, the fluid simply would pool up on your eyeballs.

A pizzly is a cross between a polar bear and a grizzly bear. The hybrid also is called (groan) a grolar bear.

The smallest known mammal in the world is the bumblebee bat, a native of Thailand and Myanmar. Adult bats are a little over an inch long and weigh half an ounce.

Bumblebee bat

The Empire State Building has its own ZIP code. 10118.

The pineapple plant originated in South America. We associate it with Hawaii because of the success of the Dole Pineapple Plantation on Oahu. The plantation opened in 1901 and grew to become the world’s largest producer of fruits and vegetables.

The popular French-Canadian dish poutine consists of French fries topped with cheese curds and brown gravy.

Vanilla ice cream is made with milk and cream, plus the manufacturers’ chemicals of choice. French vanilla ice cream also includes egg yolks, which make the product creamier and add a yellowish hue.

French vanilla

 

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More poetry that isn’t pretentious and a waste of time…

———

Mother o’ Mine

By Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling

Joseph Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

If I were hanged on the highest hill,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
I know whose love would follow me still,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

If I were drowned in the deepest sea,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
I know whose tears would come down to me,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

If I were damned of body and soul,
I know whose prayers would make me whole,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

———

Angels

By Mary Oliver

Oliver M

Mary Jane Oliver (1935-2019)

You might see an angel anytime
and anywhere. Of course you have
to open your eyes to a kind of
second level, but it’s not really
hard. The whole business of
what’s reality and what isn’t has
never been solved and probably
never will be. So I don’t care to
be too definite about anything.
I have a lot of edges called Perhaps
and almost nothing you can call
Certainty. For myself, but not
for other people. That’s a place
you just can’t get into, not
entirely anyway, other people’s
heads.

I’ll just leave you with this.

I don’t care how many angels can
dance on the head of a pin. It’s
enough to know that for some people
they exist, and that they dance.

———

Mother to Son

By Langston Hughes

Hughes-L

James Mercer Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor –
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So, boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps.
Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now –
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

———

Perhaps

By Vera Brittain

Brittain V

Vera Mary Brittain (1893-1970)

Perhaps some day the sun will shine again,
And I shall see that still the skies are blue,
And feel once more I do not live in vain,
Although bereft of You.

Perhaps the golden meadows at my feet
Will make the sunny hours of spring seem gay,
And I shall find the white May-blossoms sweet,
Though You have passed away.

Perhaps the summer woods will shimmer bright,
And crimson roses once again be fair,
And autumn harvest fields a rich delight,
Although You are not there.

Perhaps some day I shall not shrink in pain
To see the passing of the dying year,
And listen to Christmas songs again,
Although You cannot hear.

But though kind Time may many joys renew,
There is one greatest joy I shall not know
Again, because my heart for loss of You
Was broken, long ago.

– Dedicated to her fiancé Roland Aubrey Leighton, who was killed during WWI.

———

A Poison Tree

By William Blake

Blake W

William Blake (1757-1827)

I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.
And I watered it in fears,
Night and morning with my tears;
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.
And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine,
And into my garden stole
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

The Star Wars character Yoda was introduced in The Empire Strikes Back in 1980. Originally, George Lucas named the character Buffy, which horrified Leigh Brackett, the screenwriter. She convinced Lucas to go with Minch Yoda, which soon was shortened to Yoda.

The Turkish city of Istanbul straddles the Bosporus, the strait separating Europe and Asia. Two-thirds of Istanbul is in Europe, one-third is in Asia. With a population of 15 million, it is Europe’s largest city and the world’s fourth-largest.

In 2005, Bill Nye, the Science Guy, obtained a patent for an improved ballet slipper. His design features added support around the toes and along the outsole to reduce pressure on the feet, which lessens pain and helps prevent injuries.

Grapevines differ according to variety, soil type, and planting location. But on average, a vine produces about 40 clusters of 100 grapes each. The rule of thumb: the yield of one vine is about ten 450ml bottles of wine. Ergo, it takes about 400 grapes to make a bottle of wine.

Grapes

The National Basketball Association was founded in 1946 as the Basketball Association of America. It became the NBA in 1949 after merging with the rival National Basketball League.

In 1954, the league introduced the 24-second shot clock to stop the strategy of stalling. In 1976, the NBA merged with the pesky American Basketball Association, and in 1979, the league adopted the ABA’s three-point field goal to “open up” the game further.

Every summer, a beauty pageant for goats is held in the Lithuanian city of Ramygala, which adopted the goat as its symbol in the 16th century. The pageant does not include a talent competition; the winner is chosen strictly based on good looks.

In 1921, Albert Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery of “the law of the photoelectric effect.” What is that? Well, when light above a certain frequency hits a thing, energy is transferred from the light to the thing, and particles are emitted.

Einstein explained how it works: the light interacts with photons, causing electrons (called photoelectrons in this case) to be shed. Einstein was the first to identify the photon as an elementary particle.

In 2002, English artist Andy Brown created a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II consisting of over 1,000 teabags, new and used, sewn onto burlap.

Queen E

Prohibition was established in the United States when the Volstead Act was enacted in 1920. The act was repealed in 1933 when Congress legalized the sale of 3.2 percent alcohol. When President Roosevelt signed the repeal, he reportedly said, “I think this would be a good time for a beer.”

English businessman John Cadbury founded the chocolate company Cadbury’s in 1824. His son Richard took over the company in 1861 and was the first to sell chocolates in a box. Specifically, the boxes were adorned with roses and cupids for Valentine’s Day.

Fashion icon Ralph Lauren, the son of immigrants from Belarus, was born Ralph Lifshitz. He changed his last name while attending high school in the Bronx, in an attempt to stop the constant teasing and bullying.

Halley’s Comet swings close to the earth (relatively) every 75 years. Records of its passing go back to 240 BC, but nobody knew it was the same comet until 1705, when English astronomer Edward Halley figured it out. The comet’s most recent appearance was in 1986. Unless events conspire to prevent it, the comet will return in 2061.

Halley's

 

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More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

In 1909, a portion of Woodward Avenue in Detroit became the first road in the United States to be paved. Woodward Avenue was built in 1805, following the route of an Indian trail between Detroit and Pontiac.

The Tower of London, built in 1066, was used as a prison from 1100 until 1952. Its first prisoner was a financial minister to King Rufus, Ranulf Flambard, who became a scapegoat for the financial crimes of his bosses.

The last prisoners were London mobsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray who, in 1952, refused to report for service in the Royal Fusiliers. They were held in the Tower until they were court-martialed. They were given dishonorable discharges, which probably hurt their feelings real bad.

Virginia was founded in 1607, when Jamestown became the first permanent English settlement. Over the next 200 years, the Commonwealth lost substantial territory as new states were created. Areas that once were part of Virginia now belong to Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.

The novel This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald used the words “T-shirt” and “daiquiri” in print for the first time. It also included the first known use of the word “wicked” to mean cool or excellent.

This Side

Delaware Bay, the outlet of the Delaware River between New Jersey and Delaware, is the country’s second-busiest waterway (after the Mississippi River). Its wetlands make it an important breeding site for many aquatic species.

The bay is prime oystering ground and home of the world’s largest concentration of horseshoe crabs. Each spring, thousands of horseshoe crabs come ashore to lay their eggs, which provide food for bird migrations.

Elvis Presley had naturally blond hair that turned sandy brown by the time he was a teenager. When he started singing professionally, he dyed his hair black because he thought it made him look edgy and cool.

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World were the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Lighthouse of Alexandria, the statue of Zeus at Olympia, and the Colossus of Rhodes, also a statue.

In 2007, 100 million people voted and declared the New Seven Wonders of the World to be the Great Wall of China, the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Brazil, the ruins of the Incan city of Machu Picchu in Peru, the ruins of the Mayan city of Chichen Itza in Mexico, the ruins of the Arab city of Petra in Jordan, the Roman Colosseum, and the Taj Mahal.

Flamingos are born with gray feathers, but the feathers gradually turn pink because of beta carotene, a natural dye occurring in their diet of brine shrimp, algae, and larvae.

Flamingos

Spain got its name from the Roman word Hispania, which is the Roman name for the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal). The origin and meaning of the word Hispania is unclear.

Some experts think the Romans borrowed the word from an earlier language, and we may never know. Others believe it means “Land where metals are forged,” “Land of the setting sun,” and “Land of rabbits.”

A 150th anniversary is called a sesquicentennial because the Latin prefix sesqui- means “one and a half times.” Likewise, a person given to using long words (by implication, in a pretentious manner) is called a sesquipedalian.

The Roman poet Horace once cautioned young writers to avoid “sesquipedalia verba” — which literally means words a foot and a half long.

A tetrachromat is an organism with four color receptors in the eyes instead of the usual three (trichromat). Four receptors allows more vision on the color spectrum. This abnormality, or superpower, occurs in some fish, birds, insects, and mammals, including humans.

Women are more likely to be tetrachromatic than men. One study found that 50 percent of women and eight percent of men are tetrachromatic to some degree.

A nut is a type of fruit consisting of an edible seed inside an inedible shell. Almonds, pecans, walnuts, etc. all qualify. Peanuts, however, are not nuts. They are legumes, related to beans and peas. Rule to remember: nuts grow on trees, legumes grow underground or on bushes.

Peanuts

 

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The Bad Old Days

The 1800s has been called the “patent medicine” era, a golden age of quack medications that claimed to relieve a wide range of ailments. They were noted for being sold with sensational claims, but scant evidence that they worked.

Syrup-1

Back then, no laws regulated the sale of medicines or narcotics. The manufacturers weren’t even required to disclose what their products contained. Because government oversight did not yet exist, miracle cures and snake oil remedies flourished.

Sometimes, the patent medicines did no harm. For example, when 7-Up first came on the market, it contained a trace of lithium, a substance known for its mood-stabilizing properties. At the time, 7-Up was sold as a hangover cure, not as a soft drink.

But the amount of lithium in a bottle of 7-Up was teeny-tiny, essentially useless and harmless. (Lithium continued to be added to the product until 1948.)

A similar example: Buffalo Lithium Water was sold as a treatment for “fevers and nervous disorders.” Later, it was found to contain so little lithium that a useful dose would require drinking 150,000 gallons a day.

To be fair, patent medicines occasionally worked, even if accidentally. Dr. Williams’ Pink Pills for Pale People was touted as a cure for paralysis, heart palpitations, sallow complexions, general weakness, and more. The main ingredient was iron, and the pills were an effective treatment for iron deficiency anemia, a common condition in that era.

Syrup-2

Nevertheless, many potions and nostrums of the time were dangerous and often deadly.

A.B.C. Liniment, which promised to relieve pain from sciatica, rheumatism, and lower back pain, was named for its primary ingredients aconite (a plant toxin), belladonna (another toxin, AKA deadly nightshade), and chloroform (a sedative and carcinogen).

Users of the product were regularly poisoned, but likely had no idea what sickened them.

A product called Chlorodyne was invented in the 1840s by a British doctor as a pain-reliever. Decades later, it was marketed as a treatment for diarrhea, insomnia, and migraine headaches.

Chlorodyne was a mixture of tincture of opium, tincture of cannabis, and chloroform. The product relieved pain like a boss, but its use led to countless overdoses and cases of addiction. And again, people often didn’t realize Chlorodyne was the cause.

Sozodont Tooth Powder claimed to “harden and invigorate the gums, purify and perfume the breath and beautify and preserve the teeth from youth to old age.” Not really. Sozodont contained acids, astringents, and abrasives that eroded tooth enamel.

In some cases, the public knew full well what they were getting. Medications were an under-the-table way for proper ladies and gentlemen to get high or tipsy.

Most tragic of all, some mothers of teething babies or infants with colic, often tired and desperate, turned to an especially nasty category of patent medicines: sedatives to stop babies from crying.

Dalby’s Carminative and Godfrey’s Cordial were sold precisely for that purpose. Both products contained opium and led to unknown numbers of poisonings and deaths over the years.

Among the most infamous of the calmatives was Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup, a product that did, indeed, stop babies from crying, pretty much instantly, with a combination of morphine and alcohol.

Syrup-3

Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup was created in the 1840s by Charlotte Winslow, a pediatric nurse in Bangor, Maine. She used the syrup to treat her own children as well as those in her care.

In 1849, her son-in-law, Jeremiah Curtis, formed a company to market the product. The syrup became popular throughout North America and Britain. By 1868, Curtis reported annual sales of 1.5 million bottles.

Syrup-4

But the syrup easily could be lethal. One fluid ounce contained 65mg of morphine. As little as 5mg of morphine can be fatal to a newborn.

The directions recommended six to 10 drops for newborns, half a teaspoon for a six-month-old, and a full teaspoon for older children — in all cases, three or four times a day. At that dosage, a toddler could get 260mg of morphine in 24 hours.

In other words, a teaspoonful of Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup could kill, depending on the age and health of the child. And, indeed, many children took the syrup and never woke up.

Syrup-5

In truth, science was just beginning to understand the effects of morphine, opium, and other narcotics. Most parents thought of the syrup as a useful, modern remedy, not a dangerous drug.

But deaths occurred regularly, and by the 1880s, many physicians began raising the alarm, calling the syrup and products like it “baby killers.”

Finally, in 1906, the Pure Food and Drug Act became law. It required ingredients to be listed, and it enforced purity standards.

In 1911, Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup was denounced by the American Medical Association for its lethal history. Soon after, the manufacturer was forced to remove morphine from the product and to remove “soothing” from the name.

The syrup continued to be sold until the 1930s.

It’s impossible to know how many infants and children died from morphine overdoses or the complications of addiction and withdrawal. Most likely, many thousands.

Charlotte Winslow died in 1851, probably unaware of the toll her product was taking.

Her son-in-law, however, lived long enough to be aware of the stories documenting the product’s lethal history. Jeremiah Curtis died a millionaire in 1883.

Many patent medicines from the Bad Old Days were reformulated and are still on the market today.

Originally, Coca-Cola contained a small amount of cocaine and was sold as a cure for impotence and morphine addiction. Later, when the dangers of cocaine were better understood, the drug was quietly dropped from the ingredients.

Although they contained no cringeworthy ingredients, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, and Hire’s Root Beer all made medicinal claims back in the day. Ads for Dr. Pepper said it “aids digestion and restores vim, vigor, and vitality.” Hires claimed it could “purify the blood and make rosy cheeks.”

Carter’s Little Liver Pills began as a cure for “headache, constipation, dyspepsia, and biliousness,” but today is sold simply as a laxative.

Consider this eye-opening statistic: in 1800, 43 percent of children worldwide died before age five. By 1900, the rate was 36 percent. Better, but still appalling.

Today, the rate is four percent, thanks to scientific advancements and government oversight.

Government regulations are a wonderful thing. They protect your vulnerable, unsuspecting self from the consequences of quackery, fakery, deception, cheating, and ignorance. Which is a fine thing for government to be doing.

Corruption in high places no doubt is inevitable. But it’s wrong to vilify government so completely, as the conservative herd is wont to do.

What government needs is sensible guidance — support, protection, and encouragement to be fair and do the right thing for the benefit of us all.

But I digress.

Syrup-6

 

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Don’t raise your voice. Improve your argument.

— Desmond Tutu

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Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.

— Marcel Proust

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I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.

— Douglas Adams

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Those who say it can’t be done should get out of the way of those who are doing it.

— Anne Lamott

Lamott-A

Lamott

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Tutu

 

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