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Posts Tagged ‘History’

The Questions…

1. What is a lunette?

2. From 1987 until 1995, twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen played the role of young Michele Tanner in the TV series Full House. As the girls matured, what special accommodation became necessary on the set?

3. Lake Baikal in Siberia, at one mile deep, is the world’s deepest lake. What other superlative does Baikal have going for it?

4. Movie trailers have been around since 1913, when the Loew’s theater chain showed the first preview of an upcoming film. If previews are shown before the feature film, why are they called “trailers”?

5. Why is the Statue of Liberty green?

The Answers…

1. A lunette is the thing on a guillotine that holds the subject’s head in place. It consists of a bottom half, where the neck rests, and an upper half, which is lowered onto the back of the neck to immobilize the subject.

2. The twins lost their baby teeth at different times, so they had to be fitted with prosthetic teeth to maintain the same appearance.

3. It’s also the world’s oldest lake at some 25 million years old.

4. In the old days, trailers were shown after the feature film ended. That was a short-lived practice, since most people were busy leaving the theater and didn’t pay attention, but the name stuck.

5. The statue turned green because of oxidation of the copper. The original color in 1885 was dull brown. 30 years later, the green patina had formed. It protects the copper from further erosion.

Execution By Guillotine Taking Place

SL

 

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Queen of the Dolls

When my boys were growing up, they owned the usual succession of popular guy toys. Naturally, they had no experience with dolls and other girly stuff.

(G.I. Joe action figures don’t count as dolls, do they? Certainly not. Perish the thought.)

On the other hand, thanks to TV commercials, friends, neighbors, etc., we were plenty familiar with the girl toys on the market. We never had an actual Barbie around, but we knew all about the perennial queen of the dolls.

Barbie-1

Fashion Model Barbie, 1977.

All these years later, Barbie remains a genuine cultural phenomenon and a sales and marketing juggernaut. I’m uncomfortable with how advertisers manipulate kids, but still, you have to be impressed by the masterful job they did with Barbie.

I did some research to fill in the details, and the story is fascinating.

———

It’s another tale of a business started in a garage.

In 1945, two Southern California product designers formed a company called Mattel Creations. The designers were Harold “Matt” Matson and Elliot Handler. Mattel was a combination of their names.

Working out of Handler’s garage, the men built picture frames using shop equipment purchased from Sears on the installment plan. In addition, Elliot began using the wood scraps to make doll furniture.

Elliot and his equally enterprising wife Ruth had a host of potentially marketable ideas. Among them were a child-size ukulele and a jack-in-the-box.

Mattel was not the Handlers’ first business venture. In the late 1930s, newly married, they formed Elzac (named for Elliot and his then-partner Zachary Zemby), which made and sold costume jewelry and brooches. Most were inexpensive and often whimsical.

Barbie-2

An Elzac brooch from the 1940s.

Elzac was a successful venture, but the Handlers, having greater ambitions, put their hopes in Mattel.

And Mattel was profitable from year one. The ukulele (the Uke-A-Doodle) was a popular seller. In 1947, the Handlers bought out Matson, and Ruth and Elliot became co-CEOs of Mattel.

By the early 1950s, Mattel was focused exclusively on toys, and business boomed. In 1955, it surged exponentially when Mattel began advertising on TV.

When the Mickey Mouse Club was set to debut on television, Disney and ABC approached Mattel about sponsoring a 15-minute segment of the program. The deal required a commitment for the full 52-week season, at the sobering cost of $500,000.

At the time, that was almost Mattel’s entire net worth. But the Handlers understood the potential and took the deal.

The television exposure was transformative. Within a few years, Mattel’s annual sales topped $1 million, then $5 million, then $14 million.

For several years, Ruth had been musing about an idea she got when her daughter Barbara was a pre-teen. Barbara often played with paper dolls, making paper clothes for them and acting out fanciful stories and adventures.

Ruth also observed that Barbara had outgrown her doll babies and always treated the paper dolls as adults.

Ruth wanted to give girls like Barbara a replacement for both traditional dolls and paper dolls: an adult female doll with a wardrobe of clothing made of fabric, not paper.

But Ruth couldn’t convince Elliot or the Mattel staff. They insisted parents wouldn’t buy their daughters a doll with the figure of a grown-up. Ruth had to bide her time.

In 1956, the Handlers took their then-teenaged children Barbara and Kenneth to Europe on vacation. During the trip, Ruth discovered a new German sensation, “Bild Lilli.”

Bild Lilli was a comic strip character in the tabloid Bild. Lilli was a gold-digger — single, seductive, and always scantily dressed. Men regularly pursued her, and Lilli deflected them with witty comments.

The comic strip became so popular that a doll in Lilli’s likeness was made. It was sold in gift shops as a novelty for men, not as a doll for children.

But Lilli was almost precisely what Ruth had in mind.

Barbie-3

A Bild Lilli doll.

After the trip, Ruth created a prototype doll based on Bild Lilli, but slightly modified. She named her creation Barbie after their daughter. Elliot and the staff quickly were on board.

Mattel’s new Barbie doll debuted at the New York Toy Fair in 1959, enjoying modest success. But soon, following a barrage of TV commercials — which advertised the doll directly to little girls, not their parents — Barbie, Mattel, and the Handlers were rocketed to toy business stardom.

Barbie-4

The first Barbie doll.

In 1959, 300,000 Barbie dolls were sold for $3.00 each. Clothing sets cost from $1.00 to $5.00.

By Barbie’s 50th birthday in 2009, over one billion Barbie dolls had been sold.

FYI, the last Lilli cartoon appeared in Bild in 1961. In 1964, Mattel bought all patents and copyrights to the Bild Lilli doll, and production in Europe ended.

Ruth and Elliot Handler guided Mattel for the next 30 years. They introduced a wide range of Barbie-related dolls and merchandise, as well as the Chatty Cathy doll and the Hot Wheels line of toy cars.

In 1972, somewhat unexpectedly, Mattel reported a substantial loss. The government investigated, and in 1974, Mattel was charged with filing false reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission. The Handlers chose to plead no contest and agreed to resign from Mattel management.

After the departure of the Handlers. Mattel rebounded and continued to grow. Over the years, the company acquired Western Publishing (Little Golden Books), Fisher-Price, Tyco Toys (Matchbox cars), Pleasant Company (American Girl), and the Learning Company (educational software).

At various times, Mattel also made licensee deals to manufacture Disney Princess dolls as well as toys for franchises such as Harry Potter, Superman, Batman, Justice League, Loonie Tunes, and others.

Ruth and Elliot Handler were inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame in 1989. Barbie was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 1998.

In 2002, Ruth died from complications of surgery for colon cancer. She was 85. Elliot died in 2011 at age 94.

———

To round out the story, here is some Barbie trivia…

— Barbie had seven sibling dolls over the years, plus an English cousin, Francie Fairchild.

— Christie, the first African American doll, was introduced in 1968.

— Mattel always uses the color Barbie Pink (PMS 219) in its logos and merchandise.

— In 1971, Barbie’s eyes were changed from looking coyly sideways to looking directly forward. In 1977, Barbie’s mouth was modified to reveal her teeth and form a smile.

— In 2016, Mattel began offering dolls with seven skin tone options and three body types: “tall,” “curvy,” and “petite.”

— In 2015, Barbie was given adjustable ankles so she could wear flat shoes.

— In 2003, Mattel released a pregnant version of Barbie’s friend Midge Hadley. The doll featured a removable baby that was held in place by a magnet. Pregnant Midge received mixed reviews.

Barbie-5

— In the 1960s, an elaborate backstory was created for Barbie in a series of books.

— Occasionally, celebrity dolls are sold in Barbie world, among them Elizabeth Taylor, Twiggy, Cher, Elvis and Priscilla Presley, and Nicki Minaj.

— Barbie and her boyfriend Ken (named for the Handlers’ son Kenneth) broke up in 2004, but got back together on Valentine’s Day 2011.

— Barbie has held over 150 careers.

— Mattel has released a “Barbie for President” doll every election year since 1992.

For 2019, Mattel debuted a doll with a prosthetic leg as well as a doll in a wheelchair.

Barbie-6

— Today, a Barbie doll is sold somewhere in the world every three seconds. Barbie-related merchandise generates annual sales of about $2 billion.

— A live-action Barbie movie starring Margot Robbie is in the works. For real.

Barbie-7

Kenneth, Ruth, Barbara, and Elliot Handler.

 

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

In 1457, King James II of Scotland banned golf and football (soccer), which he said were interfering with the military preparation of the populous for Scotland’s ongoing war with England. The ban was lifted after England and Scotland signed a peace treaty in 1502.

The first Academy Awards were presented in 1929. The award for Best Picture, then called Outstanding Picture, went to the war film “Wings.” At the time, only silent films were considered. The first talkie to win an award was “The Broadway Melody” in 1931.

Hawaiian is a Polynesian language related to Samoan, Tahitian, and Tongan. It was an oral-only language until the 1820s, when New England missionaries worked out a modified English alphabet that allowed Hawaiian to be written for the first time.

The Hawaiian alphabet consists of five vowels (A, E, I, O, and U, each having both a long and a short pronunciation), seven consonants (H, K, L, M, N, P, and W) and assorted combinations thereof. For example, AU = the OU sound in OUT.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, published in 1900, was only the beginning for author L. Frank Baum. He wrote 14 full-length novels about Oz, the last published in 1920 after his death.

Since then, Baum’s publisher has released 26 more Oz books by a series of writers. The most recent books based on the world of Oz are a trilogy published in 2005, 2006, and 2014.

Oz books

In 1972, electrical engineer Nolan Bushnell founded the popular video game Atari. In 1977, he opened the Chuck E. Cheese restaurant chain, which he envisioned as a place where kids could eat pizza and play video games.

Bushnell’s Law on the subject of video game design states “All the best games are easy to learn and difficult to master. They should reward the first quarter and the hundredth.”

The idiom hands down can describe winning with ease (“He won the competition, hands down.”), or can mean without a doubt (“Hands down, Mom is the best cook in town.”).

The expression originated in horse racing. When a jockey was certain of victory at the end of a race, he could lower his hands, relax his hold on the reins, and stop urging the horse on.

In 1912, when the London Symphony Orchestra was invited to perform in the U.S. for the first time, the group booked passage on the RMS Titanic. However, the maiden voyage of the Titanic was delayed, and the orchestra switched to the SS Baltic to stay on schedule.

Modern dentures are made of acrylic resins and plastic over a metal base, but in olden times, other materials had to be employed. The Romans made partial dentures out of human and animal teeth. In the 1500s, the Japanese invented wooden dentures. In Europe in the 1700s, dentures often were carved from ivory and animal horn.

But by the 1800s, the most popular source was human teeth, which were not only denture-ready, but widely available from medical schools, graveyards, and battlefields. After the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, scavengers closed in to collect teeth from the thousands of casualties.

Dentures

Adolphe Monet, the father of French painter Claude Monet, was a prosperous retailer of groceries and ship’s supplies. He was greatly displeased when Claude became an artist instead of taking over the family business.

When young Claude was conscripted into military service, Adolphe declined to purchase his son’s exemption, which was the usual practice among the wealthy at the time. Take that, you ingrate.

The average elevation above sea level in the Kingdom of Bhutan, located in the Himalayas between India and China, is 8,000 feet, which is the highest average in the world.

Bhutan is a constitutional monarchy founded in 1616. All government policy is guided by the concept of Gross National Happiness, an index of the collective contentment and well-being of the populace. Let that sink in.

Atoms are composed of a nucleus (consisting of protons and neutrons) and one or more electrons. The electron was discovered in 1897 by English physicist J. J. Thomson. The proton was discovered in 1917 by New Zealand physicist Ernest Rutherford, who was a student of Thompson. The neutron was discovered in 1932 by British physicist James Chadwick, who was a student of Rutherford.

The world’s largest functioning guitar is 43.5 feet long, 16 feet wide, and weighs 2,255 pounds. It is a replica of a 1967 Gibson Flying V, with strings made of aircraft cable. The guitar was built in 2001 by the Academy of Science & Technology in Houston to demonstrate principles of acoustics. The big fella is on display at the National Guitar Museum in Orlando.

Guitar

 

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The Questions…

1. What is the smallest planet in the solar system?

2. The four carvings on Mt. Rushmore depict Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt. Why those four?

3. “Koala bear” is an inaccurate term because the animal isn’t a bear. What is a koala?

4. Milk is a source of calcium and protein, and cow’s milk is the most widely-consumed milk in North America. But another kind of milk is more popular in the rest of the world. What is it?

5. Lego bricks, the plastic construction toys, were created in 1932 by Ole Christiansen, a Danish carpenter. In 2015, Lego was named the “world’s most powerful brand.” Over 600 billion Lego bricks have been manufactured. What is the origin of the word “Lego”?

The Answers…

1. It depends. Of the eight big-league planets, Mercury is the smallest, being about 38 percent the size of Earth. Pluto was the smallest until it was demoted to “dwarf planet.” Of the five dwarf planets we officially recognize these days, the smallest is Ceres at 600 miles in diameter.

2. Gutzon Borglum, the monument’s creator, said Washington represented the birth of the nation, Jefferson the growth, Lincoln the preservation, and Roosevelt the development.

3. The koala is a marsupial. Specifically, an arboreal herbivorous marsupial whose closest relative is the wombat.

4. Goat’s milk.

5. Lego comes from the Danish phrase leg godt, which means “play well.”

Mercury et al

Legos

 

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

———

November

By Thomas Hood

Hood-t

Thomas Hood (1799-1845)

No sun -- no moon! 
No morn -- no noon -- 
No dawn -- no dusk -- no proper time of day.
 
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease, 
No comfortable feel in any member -- 
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees, 
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! -- 
November!

———

Who Has Seen the Wind?

By Christina Rossetti

Rossetti C

Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894)

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.

Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.

———

Justice

By Langston Hughes

Hughes-L

James Mercer Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

That Justice is a blind goddess
Is a thing to which we black are wise:
Her bandage hides two festering sores
That once perhaps were eyes.

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Hope is the Thing With Feathers

By Emily Dickinson

Dickinson E

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (1830-1886)

“Hope” is the thing with feathers —
That perches in the soul —
And sings the tune without the words —
And never stops — at all —

And sweetest — in the Gale — is heard —
And sore must be the storm —
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm —

I’ve heard it in the chillest land —
And on the strangest Sea —
Yet — never — in extremity,
It asked a crumb — of me.

———

The Ploughman’s Life

By Robert Burns

Burns R

Robert Burns (1759-1796)

As I was a-wand’ring ae morning in spring,
I heard a young ploughman sae sweetly to sing;
And as he was singin’, thir words he did say, –
There’s nae life like the ploughman’s in the month o’ sweet May.

The lav’rock* in the morning she’ll rise frae her nest,
And mount i’ the air wi’ the dew on her breast,
And wi’ the merry ploughman she’ll whistle and sing,
And at night she’ll return to her nest back again.

*Skylark.

 

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

The ancient Mayan and Aztec societies of Mexico/Central America used cocoa beans as currency. Cultivation of the beans was controlled to maintain its value as money, and the practice endured for centuries. In Nicaragua in the 1800s, about 100 cocoa beans would buy you a serviceable slave.

In the early 1960s, at age 14, singer-songwriter Billy Joel dropped out of high school and began performing with various bands in New York City. In 1970, before his career took off, he landed a gig in a TV commercial for Bachman Pretzels. Joel played piano in the background while Chubby Checker sang “There’s a new twist in Bachman!” to the tune of his hit song “The Twist.”

All 10 of the highest mountain peaks in the United States are in Alaska. Of the 50 highest U.S. peaks, 14 are in Alaska, 28 are in Colorado, seven are in California, and one is in Washington.

The only known warm-blooded fish is the opah or moonfish. The ability to regulate their bodies at a favorable temperature (about nine degrees warmer than the environment) makes them active predators that can chase down squid and other agile prey.

Opah

In 1877, President Rutherford B. Hayes had a telephone installed in the Telegraph Room adjacent to his office. His successors used a telephone located in a foyer just outside the Oval Office. In 1929, Herbert Hoover became the first President to have a phone on his desk.

The Serengeti or Serengeti Plain is a 12,000-square-mile ecosystem in west-central Africa noted for being a relatively undisturbed animal habitat. It is home to over two million wildebeest, half a million gazelles, 5,000 elephants, 4,000 hyenas, and 3,000 lions.

In 1996, Larry Page and Sergey Brin began developing an internet search engine called BackRub. In 1997, they changed the name to Google, a word inspired by the term Googol, which is a name given in the late 1930s to the number 10¹ºº. The term came from the nephew of mathematician Edward Kasner, who was asked for a word to describe an enormous number.

Griffey mania was rampant in 1989 as 19-year-old Ken Griffey, Jr. began his rookie season with the Seattle Mariners. Simultaneously, a marketing firm unveiled the Ken Griffey, Jr. Milk Chocolate Bar, over a million of which were sold in the first year. Ironically, Griffey was allergic to chocolate.

01162321.JPG

The Library of Congress was founded in 1800 inside the U.S. Capitol in Washington. Today, it occupies three buildings on Capitol Hill, plus massive storage facilities in Maryland and Virginia. The LOC houses about 186 million books, maps, films, sound recordings, etc. on 830 miles of shelves. It is the world’s largest library.

St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, was a 5th-Century bishop and missionary who is credited with converting Ireland from a Celtic pagan religion to Christianity.

According to Patrick, he was born in Britain and kidnapped by Irish pirates at age 16. He was held in slavery for six years, but escaped and returned to Britain, where he was reunited with his family and became a cleric. Later, after a falling-out with the family, he returned to Ireland.

Baseball great Babe Ruth came up with a novel way to keep cool during the hot summer months: he chilled cabbage leaves in a cooler of ice and put a leaf or two under his baseball cap. The leaves would last a couple of innings before he had to replace them.

Until 2017, the last word in the Oxford English Dictionary was zythum, defined as an unfermented malt beer made in ancient Egypt. The new last word is zyzzyva, a genus of South American weevils. Actually, the word zyzzyva dates back to 1922, so Oxford seems to have dropped the ball here.

Zyzzyva

 

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Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.

— Seneca the Younger

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There is no charm equal to tenderness of heart.

— Jane Austen

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I have steadily endeavoured to keep my mind free so as to give up any hypothesis, however much beloved (and I cannot resist forming one on every subject) as soon as facts are shown to be opposed to it.

— Charles Darwin

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People speak sometimes about the “bestial” cruelty of man, but that is terribly unjust and offensive to beasts. No animal could ever be so cruel as a man, so artfully, so artistically cruel.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

« Portrait de Sénèque d'après l'antique » (le Pseudo-Sénèque), b

Seneca

Dostoyevsky F

Dostoyevsky

 

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