Tuesday, 26 July 2016

How Andrew Carnegie Built the Architecture of American Literacy

"A library is the best possible gift to a community for it gives people a chance to improve themselves." (Andrew Carnegie)

The United States had 1689 of these buildings while Canada had 125.  They were known for their turrets, columns and arches, "the architecture of American literacy".  


Andrew Carnegie, an immigrant from Scotland to the United States, had been denied access to a Pittsburgh library was he was a boy (http://alinefromlinda.blogspot.ca/2014/06/andrew-carnegies-letter-to-editor.html).  After accumulating his wealth in the steel industry, he vowed to use it to educate those less fortunate.  Between 1893 and 1919, Andrew Carnegie donated $1.3 billion to finance the building of libraries dotting the American landscape.  Carnegie's legacy reached every state in the contiguous United States except Delaware and Rhode Island.  The majority, however, sat in what is now the Rust Belt (Indiana had the most at 165) and California.   

The castle like Carnegie Library in Braddock, Pennsylvania courtesy http://andrewcarnegie.tripod.com/photoalbumCL-AllegCo.htm.

"It was an expectation in communities across the country -- if you didn't have a library somehow you weren't supporting culture...What Carnegie did was simulated the desire for libraries in communities across the country," explains Wayne Wiegand, professor emeritus of library studies at Florida State University (http://www.citylab.com/design/2014/10/how-andrew-carnegie-built-the-architecture-of-american-literacy/381953/).

St. Pete Mirror Lake Library02.jpg

The St. Petersburg, Florida Carnegie Library reflects the local architecture courtesy https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Carnegie_libraries_in_Florida.

Many Carnegie libraries are known for their architecture.  While architects and librarians argued over the design of the buildings, Carnegie sided with the latter.  "Architecture was to be avoided.  Architecture was what was going to make the library expensive."  Like a true Scotsman, Carnegie wanted to preserve costs.

The plain design of the Ritzville, Washington Carnegie Library courtesy https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ritzville_Carnegie_Library.

Carnegie's secretary, James Bertram, sent a pamphlet to communities planning the construction of a Carnegie library titled "Notes on the Construction of Library Buildings".  The pamphlet contained a crude design for six different templates; built into every design was a community centre or auditorium.  Ironically, the growth of each library's book collection crowded out its community centre.

Greenville, Ohio Carnegie Library featured both an auditorium and a range of classrooms for the city's students courtesy https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenville_Carnegie_Library

Today, libraries are once again oriented around services to the community.  Close to 800 Carnegie libraries are still in use while 350 have been re-purposed as offices and cultural centres.  Sadly, 275 have been razed or destroyed.  Some, as in the case of the Cambridge Library in Southern Ontario, sit vacant, their massive columns standing testament to the Architecture of American Literacy.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Gone with the Wind Sat Under a Sofa in Atlanta

The apartment house where Margaret Mitchell stored her manuscript under the sofa courtesy https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gone_with_the_Wind#Reception

It sat under her sofa to replace a broken leg for years.  No one knew about it until the owner's friend scoffed at her that she had written a book.  "You, write a book?"  It was all the impetus the writer needed.  A man came through town looking for manuscripts to publish and she presented him with hers.  The man took it with him to read on the train to New Orleans.  At his next stop, he sent the 1000-page manuscript to New York City to be considered for publication.  Margaret Mitchell was promptly offered a contract for Gone with the Wind (http://alinefromlinda.blogspot.ca/2014/07/july-23.html).

Even after it was published, Mitchell's book had its fair share of detractors.  New York Times critic Ralph Thompson complained that it had an "absurd plot", that it was written from "no particular point of view" and that it should be cut down to 500 pages.  Other critics pointed to the book's portrayal of blacks "as creatures of small intelligence".  Think of the wide-eyed maid Mammy who seems to scream an awful lot in the movie (http://mentalfloss.com/article/30591/10-fascinating-facts-about-gone-wind).

Another obstacle facing Mitchell was the Great Depression.  The author was worried that the book's $3.00 price tag would discourage the average American from buying it.

Despite the apparent obstacles it faced, Gone with the Wind was an immediate success.  Within the first six months, the book had sold 1 million copies.  In 1937, the manuscript that collected dust under Mitchell's couch for years, earned her the Pulitzer Prize.

Gone with the Wind, still in print after 80 years, has been translated into 30 languages courtesy https://www.pinterest.com/pin/273171533618183061/.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Babe Ruth: An American Icon

German soldiers of 150 Panzer Brigade with captured American armored car courtesy https://warisboring.com/fighting-in-plain-sight-impostors-on-the-battlefield-d1d8bb0ef12f#.my03dtnq1.

For decades, baseball was as American as apple pie.  The story goes that in the closing months of the Second World War, German soldiers, flying American flags and wearing American uniforms, were impersonating American soldiers in order to infiltrate enemies.  Therefore, American soldiers started asking questions that only other Americans know the answers to.  When Brigadier General Bruce Clarke incorrectly stated that the Chicago Cubs were in the American League, he was held at gunpoint for five hours (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Greif#Commandos).

If anyone represented baseball, it was Babe Ruth.  "The Great Bambino" played professional baseball for 22 years, from 1914 to 1935.  While he started his career with the Boston Red Sox, he spent most of his career playing for the New York Yankees.  Ruth was not afraid to take a risk.  While he was the home run king, he was also the strike out king.  Ruth was not afraid to take a risk; he refused to let anything deter him.  In 1924, after running into a wall during a match against the Washington Senators and being knocked unconscious, he insisted on staying in the game.  On his next time up to bat, suffering a bruised pelvic bone, he hit a double.  Babe Ruth won the World Series three times with the Red Sox and four times with the Yankees.

In 1936, Ruth was one of the first five baseball players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Babe Ruth has only grown in popularity since his death in 1948.  According to one collector, his earliest baseball card now rivals the famous Honus T. Wagner card in value (http://www.deanscards.com/Babe-Ruth-Baseball-Cards).

9795 - Framed Postage stamp art - Babe Ruth - Baseball - United States - Notable - Sport:

Friday, 22 July 2016

For a More Beautiful America

"Where flowers bloom so does hope." (Lady Bird Johnson)

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Yellow & blue wildflowers along a highway courtesy

It was just over 50 years ago that the Lady Bird Bill was signed.  President Eisenhower had overseen the building of the Interstate Highway System.  Now, President Johnson, with his wife leading the effort, would oversee the beautification of those highways.

The Highway Beautification Act of 1965 called for the control of outdoor advertising, for the removal of junkyards along the highways and for "scenic enhancement and roadside development" (https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/infrastructure/beauty.cfm).

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Daffodils along the Potomac River courtesy 

Lady Bird concentrated not only on beautifying the nation's highways, but also cities.  Focusing on the Washington DC, which in the 1960's was in a dilapidated state, she hoped to set an example for other cities in the United States.  She believed that the state of America's cities was reflected in the state of the nation's minds.  In January 1965, Lady Bird wrote in her diary:

"Getting on the subject of beautification is like picking up a tangled skein of wool. All the threads are interwoven -- recreation and pollution and mental health, and the crime rate and rapid transit and highway beautification, and the war on poverty and parks -- national, state and local.  It is hard to stitch the conversation into one straight line, because everything leads to something else." (http://www.pbs.org/ladybird/shattereddreams/shattereddreams_report.html)

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Pink & red azaleas and white tulips in front of the Capitol courtesy http://about.usps.com/news/national-releases/2012/pr12_117.htm.

The Beautification Act faced fierce opposition:  the billboard industry, which had sprung up under Eisenhower, would have no part of it.  The President and the First Lady, who made frequent road trips from their Texas ranch to Washington DC, had tired of the endless advertisements along America's highways.  

Lady Bird Johnson would not not give up the fight.  The First Lady was so involved in the beautification effort that Kansas Representative Robert Dole, who is still alive today, suggested an amendment to the bill which would replace the title "Secretary of Commerce" with Lady Bird, but lost by a voice vote.

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Cherry trees in blossom by the Jefferson Memorial courtesy

Robert Dole may have lost the battle, but Lady Bird won the war.  Her husband, who had just gotten out of the hospital for gall bladder surgery, signed the bill on October 22, 1965.  Commenting on his drive from Bethesda Naval Hospital to the White House along George Washington Memorial Parkway, he said:  

"I saw Nature at its purest.  The dogwoods had turned red.  The maple leaves were scarlet and gold.  And not one foot of it was marred by a single unsightly man-made obstruction -- no advertising signs, no junkyards.  Well, doctors could prescribe no better medicine for me."(http://www.pbs.org/ladybird/shattereddreams/shattereddreams_report.html)

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Rows of crab apple trees along a suburban road courtesy

For more information, read A White House Diary by Lady Bird Johnson at https://www.amazon.ca/White-House-Diary-Lady-Johnson/dp/0292717490.

Lady Bird Johnson circq 1963 courtesy http://tti.tamu.edu/about/hall-of-honor/inductees/yr2012/

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Centennial of Engineering

They are responsible for some of the great American landmarks:  the San Francisco Bay Bridge, Hoover Dam and the Empire State Building.  They design roads, bridges , dams and similar structures, along with a good dose of "courage and inspiration".  They are America's engineers.

In 1952, the U.S. Post Office designed a stamp to celebrate the Centennial of Engineering.  A century before in New York City, twelve engineers and architects assembled to form the American Society of Civil Engineers and Architects.  While the architects formed their own society in 1857, the engineers remained.  Their purpose of the society is "to provide essential value to its members and partners, advance civil engineering, and serve the public good" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Society_of_Civil_Engineers).

Today, the American Society of Civil Engineers oversees 36 peer reviewed journals including the Journal of Architectural Engineering, the Journal of Bridge Engineering and the Journal of Aerospace Engineering.

In 1999, with the century drawing to a close, the ASCE selected Monuments of the Millenium, the top ten civil engineering feats of the 20th Century that demonstrated a "combination of technical engineering achievement, courage and inspiration, and a dramatic influence of the development of their communities."  They are:

  • Kansai International Airport, Osaka, Japan
  • Hoover Dam
  • Interstate Highway System (under President Eisenhower)
  • Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California
  • Eurotunnel Rail System 
  • sanitary landfills & solid waste disposals
  • Empire State Building, Manhattan, NYC
  • Chicago Wastewater System
  • California State Water Project
  • Panama Canal

Construction of the Hoover Dam circa May 1935 courtesy https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoover_Dam.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Enrico Fermi: Chicago Pile 1

Stagg Field reactor.jpg

What do you get when you combine 45,000 graphite blocks, 6 short tons of uranium metal and 50 short tons of uranium oxide?  A big reaction.  In 1942, Enrico Fermi supervised the first man made, self sustaining nuclear chain reaction,  describing the apparatus as "a crude pile of black bricks and wooden timbers."  Chicago Pile 1 was the world's first nuclear reactor.

No stranger to success in the scientific field, Fermi had won the 1938 Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of nuclear reactions caused by slow neutrons.  Fermi taught at the University of CHicago all the while contributing to the nuclear experiments, all part of the Manhattan Project which would produce the atomic bomb in 1945.

Enrico Fermi passed away in 1954, but other scientists, such as his manhattan Project colleague Robert Wilson, took up his cause.  It was Wilson who made sure that Fermilab took on the name of his late colleague.  Dedicated in 1974, Enrico's widow, Laura Fermi, who had fled Fascist Italy in 1939 with her husband, was present at the ceremony.  Comparing particle accelerators to Egypt's pyramids Laura Fermi explained:  "Both were tangible victories of men over the brute power of nature."

Note:  For more information visit Einstein's Letter to FDR sparks Manhattan Project at http://alinefromlinda.blogspot.ca/2015/09/einsteins-letter-to-fdr-sparks.html.

The Enrico Fermi stamp.

Enrico Fermi explains a model of the carbon atom circa 1948 on the 100th anniversary of Fermi's birth courtesy https://www.fnal.gov/pub/ferminews/ferminews01-02-02/p3.html.