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Posts Tagged ‘History’

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.

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— 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.

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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…

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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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Demagoguery

Not long after Donald Trump became President (I pause to choke back the bile), he hung a portrait of Andrew Jackson in the Oval Office.

ap_17073650295814

No surprise there. Jackson, the seventh President, was a decidedly Trump-like guy. As history shows, he was as deplorable, personally and professionally, as Donald himself.

“Old Hickory” was a self-proclaimed People’s President. He railed against political elites and the establishment. He was vain, arrogant, egotistical, and perpetually angry.

Trump (“Old Bone Spur”) denigrates immigrants and minorities to keep his looney tunes supporters in a lather. Jackson, once a slave trader by profession, vilified Native Americans and confiscated their land to gain the support of European whites coming to America.

The fact is, most Americans of Jackson’s time were okay with systematically removing the tribes and taking their land. It was our “Manifest Destiny.” People admired Jackson for what became known as “rugged individualism.”

With the exception of Donald Trump (“Old Grab ‘Em”), no American President has been a total loser, with a record of all negatives and no positives (“Old Zero”). Jackson was as odious and contemptible as Trump, but still competent as a soldier and politician.

Further, unlike Trump, Jackson was a patriotic American. If Jackson were here today, he would be outraged over Trump’s traitorous collaboration with Russia and kowtowing to Putin. He probably would challenge Trump to a duel.

Jackson beats Trump easily in the competence department, but it is undeniable that a pall of hatefulness and cruelty hangs over his life and career.

(I was referring to Jackson, but okay, Trump too.)

The Slave Trade

Andrew Jackson was born in 1767 to a poor Scotch-Irish family on the border between North and South Carolina (both states claim him). As a young man, he became wealthy as a slave trader. He specialized in purchasing slaves in the upper South and selling them at a profit to the plantations of the lower South.

In 1804, Jackson purchased The Hermitage, a large Nashville cotton plantation that, of course, relied on slave labor. When he bought the property, he owned nine slaves. As he acquired more land, he procured more slaves. By 1829, he owned about 100. By the time he died, he owned 150.

Records show that Jackson beat his slaves regularly. He once had a woman whipped in public for “putting on airs.” Also on record are newspaper ads Jackson placed seeking the return of runaway slaves.

One ad offered an extra $10 for every 100 lashes administered to a 30-year-old runaway named Tom, should he be found. In other words, Jackson offered extra money to have the man killed.

The Native Problem

Jackson was equally harsh with Native Americans. As a major general during the War of 1812, he led a lengthy campaign in Alabama against rebellious Creeks (the Creek War, 1813-14).

The Creek Nation was divided. Many believed resisting the U.S. was futile, but hardliners known as “Red Sticks” allied themselves with the British and fought American expansion.

Jackson defeated the Red Stick faction in 1814 and, citing national security, proceeded to confiscate the land of all Creeks without exception, Red Stick or otherwise.

He became a national hero in 1815 when he led American forces to victory over the British in the Battle of New Orleans.

In 1817, supposedly without orders from his superiors, Jackson led his forces in an invasion of Florida, which was under Spanish control. His pretext: the Seminoles were giving refuge to escaped slaves. He captured several Spanish forts and claimed the surrounding territory for the United States.

The Spanish government strongly objected, and many in Congress wanted Jackson to be censured. But the hubbub soon died down, and the U.S. acquired Florida in 1821.

In 1824, Jackson ran for President, but lost to John Quincy Adams. In 1828, he ran against incumbent Adams and won.

The Removal

1828 also was the year gold was discovered in Georgia, much of it on tribal land. That discovery sealed the fate of the tribes in the Southeast. Congress immediately drafted the Indian Removal Act, which Jackson signed in 1830.

Under the act, 46,000 people of the Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, and Seminole nations were removed from their homelands. Most were force-marched 1,000 miles to Oklahoma. At least 6,000 died of exposure, starvation, and disease.

After the removal, the United States turned over about 25 million acres of confiscated Native American land to white settlers. It was a textbook case of ethnic cleansing.

According to Jackson, the removal was fitting and proper. He said this in a speech to Congress in 1833:

That those tribes cannot exist surrounded by our settlements and in continual contact with our citizens is certain. They have neither the intelligence, the industry, the moral habits, nor the desire of improvement, which are essential to any favorable change in their condition.

Established in the midst of another and superior race, and without appreciating the causes of their inferiority or seeking to control them, they must necessarily yield to the force of circumstances and ere long disappear.

“Alarmed at the Prospect”

Jackson was popular among the common folk, but many of his political contemporaries were concerned about his extremism. During the 1824 election, Thomas Jefferson expressed his misgivings in a letter to Daniel Webster:

I feel much alarmed at the prospect of seeing General Jackson President. He is one of the most unfit men I know of for such a place. He has had very little respect for laws and constitutions, and is, in fact, an able military chief.

His passions are terrible. When I was President of the Senate, he was Senator; and he could never speak on account of the rashness of his feelings. I have seen him attempt it repeatedly, and as often choke with rage. His passions are, no doubt, cooler now; he has been much tried since I knew him, but he is a dangerous man.

During his term as President, Jackson opposed efforts to outlaw slavery in the western territories. He also banned the distribution in the southern states of printed material opposing slavery. He said the abolitionists spreading the material were monsters who should “atone for this wicked attempt with their lives.”

100 Duels

A biographer quoted Jackson as saying, “I was born for a storm, and a calm does not suit me.” As evidence of that, Jackson challenged more than 100 men to a duel.

In Jackson’s time, most duels were a show of bravado and bluster that resulted in no bloodshed, although deaths and wounds certainly occurred. But Jackson did kill one man, Charles Dickinson, a rival plantation owner with whom he had feuded for years.

Allowing Dickinson to shoot first, Jackson suffered a serious chest wound. But he stayed on his feet, took careful aim, and returned fire. Dickinson was mortally wounded.

The Death of Rachel Jackson

If being in a constant state of rage was Jackson’s default condition, the death of his wife Rachel in 1828 certainly amplified it.

The elections of 1824 and 1828 were especially nasty on both sides. Adams supporters liberally publicized Jackson’s unsavory record as a slave trader. The Adams campaign accused Jackson of cannibalizing enemy corpses, called his mother a common prostitute, and claimed his father was a mulatto.

Further, Rachel was attacked as a bigamist based on questions about the legality of her divorce from her first husband. An introverted person, she struggled to hold up under the stress of the campaigns.

Shortly after Jackson was elected President, but before he took office, Rachel began having sharp, recurring pains in her arm and shoulder. They were symptoms of a heart attack that killed her a few days later.

Reportedly, when the undertaker came to prepare Rachel for burial, aides had to pull the grief-stricken Jackson from her body.

Jackson blamed his political opponents for hastening Rachel’s death. At her funeral at The Hermitage on Christmas Eve, he told the mourners, “May God Almighty forgive her murderers. I never can.”

Rachel Jackson

Rachel in 1823.

Lack of Reverence

Some years earlier, Jackson had given Rachel a parrot named Poll. Poll was an African Grey Parrot, an intelligent bird noted for its ability to learn words and mimic sounds. They lack vocal chords, but create sounds by controlling the air they exhale.

After Rachel died, Poll became Jackson’s pet and companion. Poll was said to have an extensive vocabulary.

Jackson served two terms as President and retired to The Hermitage in 1837. He remained influential in national politics, but his health steadily declined. He died in 1845 of heart failure and other ailments.

Poll attended his master’s funeral, but only briefly. Reverend William Norment, the clergyman who presided at the funeral, later wrote:

Before the sermon and while the crowd was gathering, a wicked parrot that was a household pet got excited and commenced swearing so loud and long as to disturb the people and had to be carried from the house.

Norment said the parrot “let loose perfect gusts of cuss words” that left people “horrified and awed at the bird’s lack of reverence.”

I wonder whether Poll learned his pottymouth ways from Rachel or Andrew.

African Grey Parrot

A male African Grey Parrot.

Understandably, the word “demagogue” came to mind as I was writing this post. The website Vocabulary.com defines the word thusly:

Demagogue — A political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular passions and prejudices.

The website’s definition of the word “demagoguery” is masterful.

Demagoguery is a manipulative approach — often associated with dictators and sleazy politicians — that appeals to the worst nature of people. Demagoguery isn’t based on reason, issues, and doing the right thing; it’s based on stirring up fear and hatred to control people. For example, a politician who stirs up a fear of immigrants to distract from other issues is using demagoguery. Demagoguery is one of the most negative aspects of politics, but it’s also one that’s all too common.

Andrew Jackson and Donald Trump: two demagogues at the top of their game.

Trump-Jackson-2

 

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