Category Archives: History

Looking behind us . . . the history of the rear view mirror

rvmirrorWhile I was waiting for my lunch yesterday at a popular country eatery with a store in front I found a nifty pair of sunglasses with built in rear view mirrors. What an interesting concept. Now with the way that my brain works, I couldn’t help but wonder how the concept of the rear view mirror came to be. Who was the amazing person who created such a simple concept that is so very useful? So I did some digging and here is what I found.

The earliest recorded use of any device that resembles a rear view mirror was in 1911 in raycarthe inaugural race of the Indianapolis 500, by Ray Harroun in his Marmon racecar. He mounted a mirror on one of the struts so that he could see behind him. This wasn’t as much a safety feature as it was to lighten the load. As was the custom of the day, a mechanic would ride along with the driver to among other things watch behind to see the position of the other racers. Harroun didn’t take the credit for himself though. He claimed that he had seen a similar mirror mounted on a horse drawn carriage in 1904.

While Harroun’s car was the first record of a mirror mounted on a motor vehicle, the first recorded mention of a mirror to look behind you while in a vehicle dates back to 1906 by author Dorothy Levitt in in her book The Woman and the Car which noted that women should “carry a little hand-mirror in a convenient place when driving” so they may “hold the mirror aloft from time to time in order to see behind while driving in traffic”, thereby inventing the rear view mirror before it was introduced by manufacturers in 1914 by Elmer Berger, the man usually credited with its invention.

No matter where it gets it’s origin, it is rather amazing that a small peice of reflective glass can allow us to look behind us and know what surrounds us. As simple an idea as it is, I wish I had thought of it.

Give me a black eye . . . pea that is.

So, it’s New Years Day. 2009 is here and 2008 is now the past. Hopefully you have had your greens for money and your black eye peas for luck. Not sure if this really works or not, but eating black eye peas for New Years is a tradition as old as Egyptian times.

bepeas2Interestingly, the belief that black-eyed peas are a symbol of good luck in the New Year originates in the Babylonian Talmud from the early centuries AD.  A Talmud is a compilation of rabbinical discussions outlining Jewish law.  There is evidence that Jewish immigrants to the American south were another source of proliferation of the black-eyed pea.

Also, let’s not forget the Union soilders. It was not uncommon for Union soldiers, after conquering an area of land, to destroy or steal the crops.  The Yanks however, considered common beans, peas and corn inferior products, suitable only for animal fodder.  Subsequently, these items were often sparred .  This oversight, in addition to helping sustain the southern population, allowed for the continued popularity of black-eyed peas. Many believed it “lucky” that these field peas or black eye peas were left behind, seeing it was about the only thing.

So make sure you eat your black eye peas for luck this year. If you don’t believe in that eat them anyway, if for no other reason because they sure are yummy.

10 Things you probably didn’t know about Thanksgiving.

Okay, so you probably already know that today is Thanksgiving day. You are probably also about to or haveturkey already stuffed yourself with turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce and all the other fixings that go along with it. You may have even watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or have the TV tuned to your favorite football game. We can probably all agree that these are all things that are associated with Thanksgiving. You probably didn’t know these ten things that are all about Thanksgiving.

  1. The 1st Thanksgiving was not a feast – The first Thanksgiving was a time when Native Americans helped Pilgrims by bringing them food and helping them build off the land. The truth of the matter is that it was only dubbed Thanksgiving because the Pilgrims that survived the long journey to America were thankful to be alive. The entire event lasted three days.
  2. Thanksgiving wasn’t a National Holiday until 1863 – Sarah Josepha Hale (no relation to this author), a magazine editor, started a campaign to make Thanksgiving a National Holiday in 1827. It took her 36 years, but in 1863 Thanksgiving was recognized as a day for national Thanksgiving and prayer by Abraham Lincoln.gwbushturkey
  3. George H.W. Bush was the first President to “officially” pardon the White House Turkey – Each year since 1947, the National Turkey Federation and the Poultry and Egg National Board have given a turkey to the President of the United States at a White House ceremony. Since then, presidents have been more likely to eat the turkey rather than give it a reprieve. A notable exception occurred in 1963, when President Kennedy, referring to the turkey given to him, said, “Let’s just keep him.” It wasn’t until the first Thanksgiving of President George H.W. Bush, in 1989, that a turkey was officially pardoned for the first time.
  4. 65% of the 280 million U.S. Thanksgiving turkeys come from only 6 states 44.5 million is the number of turkeys Minnesota raised in 2005. The Gopher State is tops in turkey production. It is followed by North Carolina (36.0 million), Arkansas (29.0 million), Virginia (21.0 million), Missouri (20.5 million) and California (15.1 million). These states account for 65% of the United States Thanksgiving turkeys.
  5. Jingle Bells was originally written as a Thanksgiving song The author and composer of Jingle Bells was a minister called James Pierpoint who composed the song in 1857 for children celebrating his Boston Sunday School Thanksgiving. The song was so popular that it was repeated at Christmas, and indeed Jingle Bells has been reprised ever since. The essence of a traditional Christmas is captured in the lyrics of Jingle Bells and the sound effects using the bells have become synonymous with the arrival of Father Christmas or Santa Claus to the delight of children of all ages.
  6. More than 40 million green bean casseroles are served on Thanksgiving – Believe it or not, according to research by the Food Network green bean casserole is the number one side dish on thanksgiving after dressing and cranberry sauce.
  7. Canada also celebrates ThanksgivingAlthough, Thanksgiving is widely considered an American holiday, it is also celebrated on the second Monday in October in Canada.Canadians often refer to the American Thanksgiving holiday as “Yanksgiving” so as not to confuse it with the Canadian holiday.
  8. In 1939 Thanksgiving was moved to November 23rd to help the economy and extend the Christmas shopping seasonIn 1939, President Roosevelt proclaimed that Thanksgiving would take place on November 23rd, not November 30th, as a way to spur economic growth that year and extend the Christmas shopping season. This proclamation only applied officially to the District of Columbia, but was  observed by the rest of the country as well amid much debate.
  9. The tradition of pro football being played on Thanksgiving started in 1920 – It was recommended in 1920 by President Woodrow Wilson that professional football be played on Thanksgiving day to give people something to do after they ate a big meal. The games that year were:
    AKRON PROS 7, Canton Bulldogs 0
    Decatur Staleys 6, CHICAGO TIGERS 0
    ELYRIA (OH) ATHLETICS 0, Columbus Panhandles 0
    DAYTON TRIANGLES 28, Detroit Heralds 0
    CHICAGO BOOSTERS 27, Hammond Pros 0
    All-Tonawanda (NY) 14, ROCHESTER JEFFERSONS 3
  10. Macy’s was not the first department store to hold a Thanksgiving parade – The parade is billed as the oldest Thanksgiving Day parade in the country, having started in 1920. Like other parades of its type, it features balloons, floats, high school marching bands, and celebrities. When the parade first started out it was called the Gimbels Thanksgiving Day Parade. It was called this because Ellis Gimbel, one of the founders of Gimbels Department Stores, wanted his toyland to be the destination of holiday shoppers everywhere. He dressed up over 50 store employees and sent them out on their first Thanksgiving day parade. Another big part of the parade was seeing Santa Claus arrive. Gimbels created the Thanksgiving Day Parade here in America and there example has caused others to continue in there tradition. This tradition still occurs today. It is now called the 6abc IKEA Thanksgiving Day Parade.

So, that’s that. hopefully you now know more about Thanksgiving than you did before you read this. Not that you wanted to know, but now you do.

Shave and a haircut, and a tooth extraction, and some bloodletting

I would venture to say that most people probably know what a barber pole looks like. You may even still have one hanging outside the local barber shop in your town. But, do you know what the barber pole represents? It’s history is quite shocking. The local barber shop hasn’t always been just a place for a shave and a hair cut.

In the Middle Ages barbers also performed surgery, tooth extractions, and bloodletting. French authorities drew a fine distinction between academic surgeons (surgeons of the long robe) and barber surgeons (surgeons of the short robe), but the latter were sufficiently accepted by the fourteenth century to have their own guild, and in 1505 they were admitted to the faculty of the University of Paris. As an indication of their medical importance, Ambroise Pare, The father of modern surgery and the greatest surgeon of the Renaissance, began as a barber surgeon.

The barber pole as a symbol of the profession is a legacy of bloodletting. The barber surgeon’s necessities for that curious custom were a staff for the patient to grasp (so the veins on the arm would stand out sharply), a basin to hold leeches and catch blood, and a copious supply of linen bandages. After the operation was completed, the bandages would be hung on the staff and sometimes placed outside as advertisement. Twirled by the wind, they would form a red white spiral pattern that was later adopted for painted poles. The earliest poles were surmounted by a leech basin, which in time was transformed into a ball.

One Interpretation of the colors of the barber pole was that Red represented the blood, Blue the veins, and
White the bandages. Which has been retained by the modern Barber-Stylist.There are others that hold the position that barber poles were originally red and white, and that the blue was added by Americans to match the colors of the American Flag and to quell it’s gruesome symbolism. Regardless of which is true, the barber pole today is representative of the tradition of going to get a haircut, a shave and good conversation.

Unfortunately, the barber pole has begun to slowly disappear into oblivion as we see the influx of quick cut joints, specialty salons and spas. So, if there is still a barber pole in your town, cherish it, for tomorrow it may be gone as are the roots of the barber pole itself.

The Barber Pole – TheVillageBarber.com

Barber’s Pole – Wikipedia.com

Horray for SPAM! (the meat)

SPAMToday is a big day for birthdays in the food business. On May 16th, 1832, Philip Danforth Armour, the founder of Armour Foods was born. This also marks the birthday of every ones childhood favorite, Spaghetti-O’s. But the one birthday that stands out today is the birth of the food that everyone loves to hate, SPAM. On May 16, 1891, the canned bliss was born. I remember my first SPAM experience, and I remember saying to myself “what a great idea”. Who would have ever thought to chop up a ham into little pieces and then glue them all back together and put them in a can. Well, let’s look at that for a moment.

George A. Hormel created SPAM the same year that he founded his meat processing empire. The original name for SPAM was Hormel Spiced Ham. Up to this point it was very difficult to manufacture canned meat. Because of the breakdown of cell walls, canned meats would tend to come out dry  because the water would separate from the meat. This would leave the meat floating in a can full of water. Hormel realized that if he packed meat in geletin that it would keep its moisture and that the water would not separate. Hormel Spiced Ham did very well for a number of years, however in the 1930’s the gelatin encased meat started to lose market share. Hormel decided that Spiced Ham needed a facelift.

In 1937 Hormel decided on the name SPAM. The name SPAM was chosen as part of a contest. There is some debate as to why the name SPAM was chosen, but the most popular theories are based on the classic name Spiced Ham or possibly because the canned pork product is made of shoulder pork and ham. Well that and some salt for flavoring and preservation and geletin to suspend the product and to keep the meat moist. Contrary to popular belief, SPAM is made of only prime cuts of shoulder meat and ham and contains only wholesome meat. Well that and some salt for flavoring and preservation and geletin to suspend the product and to keep the meat moist. Nothing from the parts of a pig that a pig doesn’t want to admit a pig has. 

SPAM was 52 years old before the name was first used to describe unwanted email. Sean Radford, Hormel’s archives manager and SPAM museum curator says that this wasn’t easy for the company to handle.

“We have a product we really believe in, a product with a long and interesting history, and that product’s name was co-opted for something that a lot of people really hate — spam e-mails. So, sure, there was a lot of debate about how the whole situation should be handled,” said Radford.

“But Hormel decided pretty quickly that it was best to be dignified and gracious about the entire issue,” he said. “The company decided that instead of turning the lawyers loose we’d just assume that people can tell the difference between good canned meat and bad e-mail and that people wouldn’t confuse the two. All Hormel asks is that people not use uppercase letters when referring to spam e-mail. Spam — all uppercase letters — is our product.”

Regardless of your opinion of SPAM (the canned meat), there are millions of people who eat the product. Amazingly, over 150 million cans sold worldwide per year. And whether you like it or not, Hormel has a pretty good sense of humor about it’s product, as is evident by their web site. A joke to some and a delicacy to others, SPAM is a stapel in many households. Is it in yours?

Hormel’s Official SPAM Website – SPAM.com

SPAM Museum– RoadSideAmerica.com

My Mom Invented the Chocolate Chip Cookie!

When I arrived home last night from picking up sushi for my wife and I for dinner, I was informed that there was chocolate chip cookie dough in the refrigerator. As if one of Pavlov’s dogs, my mouth began to water just thinking about the moist, flavorful cookies to come with their melted chocolaty morsels. I could literally eat my weight in them, and probably did. The chocolate chip cookie is the shining example of comfort food. Many can remember their mothers chocolate chip cookies, and will swear that their mom made the best or even invented the cookie itself. The reality is though that as good as mom’s chocolate chip cookies are, she didn’t invent them. That distinction belongs to an Inn Keeper from Whitman, Massachusetts.

Ruth Graves Wakefield (1907-1977) graduated from the Framingham State Normal School Department of Household Arts in 1924. She was a dietitian and food lecturer until she and her husband purchased a travel lodge in Plymouth County Massachusetts, The Toll House Inn. Ruth Wakefield would prepare the recipes that would be used to feed the guests of the inn and had gained much notoriety for herRuth Graves Wakefield desserts. Her very favorite cookie recipe was for Butter Drop Do cookies which required baking chocolate. One day when Ruth was out of baking chocolate all she could find to use was a bar of semi-sweet chocolate. She cut the bar into bits and added them to the cookie dough. To her surprise, the semi-sweet chocolate did not melt completely like the baking chocolate did. The chocolate pieces only softened and somewhat stayed intact. She served the cookies as they were and it was a hit. Interestingly enough, the chocolate bar that was used in the first batch of chocolate chip cookies was a gift from Andrew Nestle of the Nestle Chocolate Company, who just happened to have been a guest at the inn a few weeks earlier.

As the sales of the Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie began to increase, so did sales for the Nestle’s semi-sweet chocolate bar. Ruth Wakefield soon struck a deal with Andrew Nestle to include her recipe on the back of the chocolate bars. In return she received free chocolate for life. Still to this day, the recipe is found on the back of Nestle chocolate, specificaly chocolate chips.

There have been a number of famous chocolate chip recipes over the years, but none so famous as the Toll House recipe. Though your mother may have added her own special touch or have her own secrets for making chocolate chip cookies, you can thank Mrs. Wakefield for her accidental discovery of what has become a favorite today. And just to note, my Mom and Wife make the best chocolate chip cookies ever. Their secrets are safe with me (mainly because the couch isn’t very comfortable to sleep on).
The History of the Chocolate Chip Cookie– kitchenproject.com   

The Original Nestle Toll House Recipe– allrecipes.com

Holy smoke – How premium cigars are made

There is nothing better after a long, hard day at work than a great cigar. Though cigar smoking is a modern method of relaxation and a social activity, its origin dates back over 1000 years. It was started by the original native population of the islands in the Caribbean as well as the rest of Mesoamerica in as early as 900 AD. In fact, a ceramic vessel at a Mayan dig site in Uaxactun, Guatemala has been found, which was painted with the likeness of a man smoking a cigar. But just how are those little “sticks” of tobacco made. Though many cigars available today are machine made, the finest cigars are still rolled by hand. Cigars hail from many places around the globe, though mostly from places with warmer climates such as Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. The most famous, and hardest to obtain, is the Cuban cigar. 

The hand rolled Cuban cigar is the benchmark of all cigars. It is made up of three components derived from two varieties of tobacco plants: the criollo and corojo. The components that make up the cigar include the tripa or filler in the center and a capoteor binder around the tripa, both of which are taken from the criolla plant. A cappaor wrapper is then stretched and rolled around the outside; this is taken from the corojo.

To begin with, tobacco leaves are stacked in three-feet-high pilones. The leaves are stored at temperatures not exceeding 95ºF (35ºC). The fermentation breaks down the resins and creates a uniformity of color. Leaves are then graded for size and color before a second fermentation.

After three weeks, the leaves are placed into bundles called tercios. They are put aside for a few months in cigar factories in order to age. Prior to rolling, the leaves are gently separated and lightly moistened with high-pressure water. The stems are removed and the remaining leaves are graded into size, color and texture.

The cigar filler is made up of three leaves – volado, seco and ligero, and throughout the process the progress of each is monitored. Once they have reached perfection, they are taken to the blending room, known as the liga. Great secrecy surrounds individual cigar blends.

The rollers known as torcedores sit at benches, seven or more to a row. They use a half-moon blade and a wooden board. Two to four leaves are combined with the binder and rolled into bunches, according to blend. After they are pressed in a wooden mold, they are wrapped and trimmed. They are then capped using leaf and a natural gum.

An expert torcedore can roll around 150 cigars per day. These are placed into bundles of 50 and checked for quality. The cigars are then placed in conditioning rooms for up to three weeks for the flavors to gel. The most respected and highest paid cigar factory workers are called escogedores, or color graders. They work at incredible speeds, grading the cigars according to color and texture.

There are 65 different shades in the cigar making process. Other workers arrange the cigars into boxes from dark on the left to light on the right. The cigars are then removed from the boxes and banded. The women who band the cigars are called anilladoras, and they use a simple measuring rule and gum. The cigars are then ready to be exported all over the world. Well not to the US (at least not legally) because of an embargo placed on Cuba.

To read more about the fascinating process of cigar rolling or the history of cigars, check out the links below.

The History of Cigars – TomTom Cigars (London)

Cigar Production Methods – about.com