Category Archives: History

No Sliced Bread for You!

There was a time when the U.S. government banned sliced bread during World War II

 When we go to the store and purchase bread, it comes sliced. Yet that was not the case until the 1930’s. Bread was sold as whole loaves and you sliced them at home (or you made your own bread). Some bakers believed selling pre-sliced bread would hasten it becoming stale. While buying whole loaves meant you could slice to the thickness of your choice, it became a hassle when you had to get breakfast on the table and make sandwiches for lunch. The key to making commercially sliced bread feasible though was machinery to do this and that came about in 1928.

Public Domain (via Wikimedia Commons)

Otto Rohwedder designed a mechanical powered multi-blade slicer that his friend Frank Bench used at his Chillicothe Baking Company in Chillicothe, Missouri. It was a local hit since the bread was sliced better than done by hand. Some thought it was a fad, but other bakeries began to do the same. Soon it spread national and by the 1930’s just about all commercial bread sold came pre-sliced. It also was softer than homemade as well. The Continental Baking Company capitalized on this with their Wonder bread. It became one of the most popular brands in the country. Now everyone could reach for their bread and easily make toast and sandwiches without having to slice it. A famous phrase came out of it: “The best thing since sliced bread.”

World War II though meant everything had to be rationed for the war effort and food was as well. Flour, dairy products, sugar, and other things could only be purchased with a ration book to prevent stores from selling too much (and they had rigorous enforcement as well). Fewer coffee beans meant coffee had to be extended with things like chicory (which my mother hated). Margarine instead of butter and lesser cuts of beef became popular. And then  the Office of Price Administration (which oversaw the food rationing and other things) decided on 18 Jan 1943 to ban sliced bread. The agency explained that the bread required heavy wrapping compared to unsliced, Another likely reason was that the price of flour (like other items during this period) was starting to go up and banning sliced bread would keep the flour price low.

Steel was also rationed during this time, so availability of bread cutting machines was limited as well. This did reduce the supply of sliced bread as well during the war. If the machine broke down and could not be repaired, bakers had to revert to using whole loaves or other alternatives to sliced bread. The attempt to ban sliced bread meant with resistance. Mayor LaGuardia of New York said that bread-slicing machine should continue to be used by bakeries and delicatessens. It did not stop there as complaints rolled into newspapers from housewives, bakeries, and others. The government doubled down and warned bakeries, stores, and delicatessens to cease using they bread cutting machines arguing it was unfair to those who were manually slice their bread.

You can guess this did not go over well. With limitations on everything already in place, people were furious that sliced bread was being banned requiring everyone to slice themselves or make their own bread. Since flour was being rationed, baking bread from scratch was not practical for most. Due to the unpopularity of this rule, it was rescinded on 8 March 1943. Claude B. Wickard who had issued the rule, said the savings the order meant to occur were not as expected. And that there was sufficient wax paper to wrap the sliced bread existed. So ended a moment when sliced bread, by government edict, was banned.  Today sliced bread is still widely available through types of bread have expanded considerably since those times. Wonder Bread is still available though it was hiatus for a while when its owner went bankrupt. It was bought by another company that brought it back and adorns store shelves again.

Who Invented Sliced Bread? (History.com)
The US Tried to Ban Sliced Bread During WWII (TheHistoryCollection.com)
Ban on Sliced Bread (TodayinHistory.com)

Remembering History: Prohibition Ratified

Prohibition agents destroying barrels of alcohol.
Public Domain (via Wikipedia)

On 16 January 1919, the 18th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution was formally ratified. Under the 18th Amendment, the manufacture and distribution of alcohol in the United States (outside of industrial and sacramental use) was prohibited beginning a year later on 17 January 1920. Congress passed the Volstead Act to provide teeth to the law by allowing for enforcement of this law by the federal government, specifically a special unit of the Treasury Department. President Wilson vetoed the Volstead Act but overrode by Congress.

In the 19th century, temperance movements arose to address the growing problem of families being damaged when a husband or relative became addicted to alcohol. Also it was a means of curtailing acts of public drunkenness and related problems with people gathering to drink (gambling, prostitution etc.) The movement, religiously based in many cases, gathered steam and became a political one where it campaigned the state level for abstinence laws. In December 1917 Congress passed the amendment and sent it to the states for ratification.

All but two states ratified, a few after it had met the requisite number needed to amend the Constitution. Connecticut and Rhode Island were the two that rejected the amendment. Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wisconsin all ratified after 17 Jan 1919.

Aftermath

Enforcement at national and state levels became an issue right away. Neither Canada or Mexico were dry and illegal importation was an issue. Also with Cuba 90 miles away from Florida, it would provide another avenue for rum and other alcohols to be smuggled in. Breweries switched to making non-alcoholic beverages during this time. Wineries could only produce wine for sacramental (religious use), so they too had to turn to things like grape juice or apple cider. The law was not popular in a lot of cities, resulting in the rise of illegal places (called speakeasies) where you could drink alcohol.

To meet this need, many organized crime syndicates and gangs would supply the alcohol either by owning their own breweries and/or smuggling it in from outside the country. These crime syndicates would become enormously wealthy and corrupt local governments (police, politicians, judges) in order to stay in business. Competing gangs would sometimes duke it out on the streets leaving bodies of their enemies (and sometimes the innocent as well). Chicago became particularly notorious, both for its gangs and the depth of corruption. This prompted the federal government to target the Chicago Gang run by Al Capone. While they would raid his operations (done by the famous Elliott Ness), the financial investigation would lead to a successful conviction of tax fraud.

By the end of the decade, support for Prohibition had ebbed considerably. The rise of the organized crime, the fact many flouted the laws in large and small ways, and the difficulties encountered in enforcing the law all led to is eventual demise. When the Great Depression hit in 1929, many argued the alcohol industry could provide jobs. Franklin Roosevelt added it to his campaign plank in 1932. In 1933, the U.S. Congress passed the 21st Amendment to repeal the 18th (the first such Amendment to do this) which was swiftly passed by most states. A few remained dry (under the provisions of the 21st Amendment, a state could decide to stay dry) after that but today states no longer ban its sale. There are still some counties that are dry, including the one where the Jim Beam distillery is located in Kentucky.

Sources:

 


Remembering History: Siege of Leningrad Broken (12 Jan 1943)

 

Anti-aircraft guns guarding the sky of Leningrad, 1 Oct 1941
RIA Novosti archive, image #5634 / David Trahtenberg / CC-BY-SA 3.0

After German troops invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, one of their top cities to take control of was Leningrad (former St. Petersburg, then Petrograd). As the second largest city in the Soviet Union (and its capital under the Tsar’s), it held significant importance. In August 1941, German troops surrounded the city so nothing could get in or out. This also cut off the Leningrad-Moscow railway. The residents built anti-tank fortifications and defended the city with the resources they had. Hitler decided to wait them out in a siege hoping to break down the will of the residents. Some limited supplies were able to get in but not enough for all its residents. Starvation, disease, and injuries mounted up. They did manage to evacuate about a million elderly and young people out of the city but that left 2 million to deal with the dire situation.

Food was rationed and any open space was used to plant food.  On 12 January 1943, Soviet troops punched a hole rupturing the German siege allowing supplies to come in one Lake Ledoga. A Soviet counteroffensive on 27 Jan 1944 brought the siege to a complete end after 872 days. The Russian army lost, captured or missing 1,017,881 and 2,418,185 wounded or sick. 642,000 civilians died during the siege and, 400,000 during evacuations.

Sources:

Soviet forces penetrate the siege of Leningrad (History.com)
Siege of Leningrad (WorldWar2facts.org)

 

 

 

 

Remembering History: Washington Crosses Delaware in Surprise Attack (Dec 25-26, 1776)

Washington Crossing The Delaware
Emanuel Leutze (1816–1868)
Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York)
Public Domain

By the winter of 1776, things looked bleak for the patriots fighting the British. They had suffered a string of defeats (New York and other places) that sapped the morale of many patriots. General George Washington’s leadership was being questioned by some leaders, and there was a general feeling that British were going to win unless things changed. The British by this time were of the opinion they were succeeding, though they found the Americans could put up a good fight. With winter upon them, the war paused as normally European armies did not fight during this time. Hessian troops, paid mercenaries hired by the British, were skilled professional soldiers raised nearly from birth to fight. A Hessian force was quartering in Trenton, New Jersey for the winter. General Washington decided to go on the offensive to win a battle and raise the morale of the troops who were suffering through the cold winter.

On the night of December 25, 1776, his army began moving across the Delaware River. The group led by Washington, 2,400 strong, made it to the other side but the other two divisions that made of 3,000 men did not get across at the right time. The Hessians had spent Christmas Day relaxing, eating, and drinking and did not believe the Americans were a threat. They had in fact dismissed warnings the Americans might attack. So, they were unprepared for what happened on December 26.  At 8 am, Washington attacked with two columns. By 9:30 am, the German defenses had crumbled, and the town was surrounded. While many Hessians did escape, they did capture several hundred and only lost four lives in the process. Unfortunately, since most of his troops had failed to cross, Washington was without any additional men or artillery to hold Trenton. He was forced to withdraw.

It was a minor battle that had no real strategic impact. The news of the successful attack though raised American colonialists’ spirits.  The initiative shown by Washington showed the Continental Army was capable of victory.

Sources:

History.com
MountVernon.org

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Remembering History: Boston Tea Party (16 Dec 1773)

Destruction of tea at Boston Harbor
Published: N. Currier, 1846.
U.S. Library of Congress, Control Number 91795889
Public Domain

In 1773, the British Parliament enacted the Tea Act to protect the East India Company, a company that though private had become important in Britain’s imperial designs in India. Not only did the act impose a monopoly for the company, but it could only be sold in the American colonies by those commissioned by the company. And that cut out the colonial merchants who had made money previously selling the tea. Since their ships no longer had to dock in England and be taxed, they came straight to America to be sold by the authorized agents at higher prices than before. The British had assumed the colonists, who liked tea, would pay the price. They were wrong.

Considerable resentment had built up in the colonies owing to the Sugar Tax (1764) followed by the Stamp Act (1765). The Sugar Act put duties on various items including tea while the Stamp Act required payment of fee for a stamp on official documents. Both laws were unpopular and seen as an attempt by the British Parliament to recoup the losses in the recent war between France and England. The colonists protested strongly about how bad these acts were and how, being distant from London, they seemed to have little representation. Demonstrations took place, some peaceful and some not, against the British. The Stamp Act was repealed but replaced with a new Townshend Acts (1767) that put import duties on essential goods. This caused even more resentment and anger in the American colonies as well.

When the Tea Act was passed on May 10, 1773, it angered people in England and America. British citizens now had to pay more for the East India Company tea. This led to the growth of smuggled tea (mostly Dutch) in both countries. Many made a small fortune with smuggled tea (like John Hancock). Protests and smuggling led the British to send troops to Boston. Rather than calming things down, the presence of the British troops made things worse. The Boston Massacre of 1770 was still in the minds of many. Adding to it was the feeling that the British were trying to undermine the col0nies. Many stopped drinking tea (although many drank the smuggled Dutch) which meant sales of the East India Company tea went down in the colonies. Attempts at curtailing the smuggling had not been wholly successful either by the British. The Townshend Acts, which imposed duties on many imported items, was rescinded in 1772 but not the duties on tea. The British dropped the price of the tea so that the smuggled tea was more expensive. Smuggling continued but as a protest for the citizen’s right not the be taxed without representation. Ships bearing tea to New York and Philadelphia were turned away by the colonists. Tensions had really reached a boiling point.

When a shipment of tea reached Boston on 29 November 1773, they were unable to unload the tea as the dock workers refused to unload. Thomas Hutchinson, the royal governor, refused to send the ships back and demanded the workers unload the tea and duties paid. After a meeting with the governor failed to take place on 16 December, many decided to take it into their own hands. Although the numbers vary, it is believed 100 men (mostly of the Sons of Liberty group but there were others) dressed in Indian garb (not as Indians as some suggest but rather garb worn during the French and Indian War that soldiers wore that were ponchos and soot streaks) boarded the three ships. They were armed with hatchets, axes, and pistols. And their outfits helped conceal their identities. They had formed into three groups, boarded the ships, and demanded the key to the hatch. Tea chests were then torn open and most of their contents dumped into Boston harbor. In total about 100,000 pounds of tea was dumped, worth about 9,000 pounds sterling making it one of the most expensive tea dumps in history.

Aftermath

The British government was enraged and responded with the Coercive Acts of 1774. They would become known by the colonists as the Intolerable Acts. It created a series of measures that resulted in the closing of Boston harbor until the cost of the destroyed tea was made. Other things such as repealing the colonial charter of Massachusetts occurred. General Thomas Gage was sent in to command the British forces in North America. Up until the imposition of the Coercive Acts, many had stayed neutral or on the sidelines waiting to see what would happen next. This action made many moderates realize that something was very wrong and looked like Britain was usurping their rights as British subjects. It became about sovereignty, that they had a right to have a voice on whether to tax themselves or not. It became clear to many the British were becoming a tyranny they had to oppose. Colonial resistance was made stronger leading to the American Revolution.

Sources

The Boston Tea Party: Why Did It Occur and Who Was Involved? (Revolutionary-war.net)
The Boston Tea Party (History.com)
Tea Act (History.com)


Today is Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day-“A Date That Will Live In Infamy”

Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

On this date in 1941, Japan launched a carrier based strike on U.S. military forces based in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Their strategy was to use this attack to convince the country and its leaders that war with Japan would be futile. They achieved tactical surprise as no warning of an attack had yet been received. While decryption of their codes had revealed their intent, the warning did not reach Pearl Harbor until after the attack had begun. The Japanese legation in Washington did not deliver their government’s official response to a recent diplomatic exchange until after the attack due to problems in transcribing the message. The attack began at 07:55 local time (12:55 p.m. eastern standard time). It was early afternoon when President Roosevelt was notified by Secretary of War Henry Stimson of the attack. There was some doubt among some staff as to the validity of the report but President Roosevelt believed it. And subsequent reports would show it was true. Radio was soon reporting on it as well and the entire nation soon learned of the shocking event that had taken place in the faraway location.

The purpose of the attack was to seriously cripple the U.S. naval and air operations (both the Navy and Army Air Corps). The surprise was effective and sank or crippled numerous American ships. However the jewels of the fleet were the aircraft carriers and they were not there. And the Japanese had no idea where they were. After conducting the first two strikes, a third strike was considered to more completely wipe out the storage, maintenance and dry dock facilities. Captain Minoru Genda, who helped in the planning, argued for invasion to maximize American losses. Admiral Nagumo decided to retire because of deteriorating weather, the unknown location of the American carriers, the long turnaround time required for a third strike that would allow American forces to gather and counterattack, and the fact the Nagumo’s strike force was at the extreme limit of logistical support. They were low on fuel and another strike would require them to travel at reduced speeds to conserve fuel. So he headed home. Much later Admiral Yamamoto, who supported the decision at the time, would in retrospect say it was a mistake since it allowed the U.S. to come back quickly.

The USS Arizona (BB-39) burning after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941 Image: Public Domain (National Archives and Records Administration,ARC Identifier#195617)

The USS Arizona (BB-39) burning after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941
Image: Public Domain (National Archives and Records Administration,ARC Identifier#195617)

Most of those who died at Pearl were sailors aboard the ships that were damaged or sunk. Of the 2,008 sailors killed, 1,177 were killed when the forward magazine on the USS Arizona exploded. Eighteen ships were sunk, beached, or run aground. 188 aircraft (mostly Army Air Corps) destroyed, 159 damaged. Most of the planes were destroyed on the ground. Only eight pilots got airborne and did attack Japanese aircraft but only one was shot down. Some pilots were killed or shot down later by friendly fire. Five inbound planes from USS Enterprise were shot down. The Navy lost 24 of its PBY planes. Additional casualties came from when Japanese attacked barracks. 2,403 Americans killed and 1,178 others were wounded. Since the U.S. was not at war, they are all classified as non-combatants. The Japanese lost 55 airmen, nine submariners and one captured. They lost 29 planes in battle and 74 were damaged by antiaircraft fire.

Most Americans were enjoying a pleasant Sunday. Secretary of State Cordell Hull met with the Japanese ambassador around 2:30 p.m., just when the first reports were coming in about the attack. Popular Sunday afternoon radio shows were interrupted with the stunning news about the attack on Pearl Harbor. From coast to coast, Americans were riveted to their radios listening to the latest updates. Lines of volunteers began forming outside military recruitment centers. The isolationist sentiment was ushered to the rear while most of the nation united against the Japanese. On 8 November before a joint session of Congress, President Roosevelt asked for a declaration of war.

Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, members of the Senate and the House of Representatives:

Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

The United States was at peace with that nation, and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.

Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And, while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.

It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time the Japanese Government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Yesterday the Japanese Government also launched an attack against Malaya.
Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.
Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam.
Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.
Last night the Japanese attacked Wake Island.
And this morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

Japan has therefore undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.

As Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense, that always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.

No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people, in their righteous might, will win through to absolute victory.

I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph. So help us God.

I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt Signing Declaration of War Against Japan 8 Dec 1941
National Archives and Records Administration

And a hour later Congress officially declared war on Japan. Far from causing the U.S. to cower, it brought Americans together like never before. Hitler’s decision to join with Japan on 11 Dec was somewhat of a surprise-to his German High Command! They had not planned with war with the United States so soon and now they faced a two front war with an highly industrialized power against them. Mussolini foolishly committed Italy to the war with the U.S. as well.

For Japan they had control of the Pacific until June 1942. That is when the U.S. Navy engaged the Japanese at the Battle of Midway. At the end of the battle, four Japanese aircraft carriers were sunk to our one (the Yorktown). It was a shocking loss to the Japanese (and one they kept secret for as long as possible). The Doolittle Raid had convinced them to take on the American Navy directly. They did and lost spectacularly. And it shifted the balance of power in the Pacific. Admiral Yamamoto had been correct in his assessment of how the war with America would go:“I shall run wild considerably for the first six months or a year, but I have utterly no confidence for the second and third years.”

Yamamoto would not survive the war. President Roosevelt ordered that he be taken care of for his part in planning the Pearl Harbor attack. Thanks to the work of U.S. Naval Intelligence that had broken Japanese codes (code named Magic), his travel plans to the South Pacific in April, 1943 were learned. Orders were given and select pilots were used to target a very important high officer but were not told who it was. On 18 April 1943, a squadron of Lockheed P-38’s were assigned to intercept and bring down his transport being escorted by Japanese zeroes. There were two Japanese transports. After a dogfight with the Zeroes and transports, the transport with Yamamoto’s plane crashed into the jungle north of Buin, Papua New Guinea. Japanese search parties found his body, thrown from the aircraft and under a tree. He had two .50 caliber bullet wounds, one in his left shoulder and the other that had exited through his right eye. The true manner of his death was hidden from the Japanese public and not revealed until long after the war had ended. He was cremated, given a state funeral, and given posthumous titles and awards. Today the place where his plane crashed is a tourist attraction.

For more information:
Home of Heroes
Pearl Harbor Remembered
The History Place
Pearl Harbor Attack(Naval Heritage & History Command)
Battleship USS Arizona History

 

Remembering the Winter War of 1939

Fire at the corner of Lönnrot and Abraham Streets after the first bombing of Helsinki during the Winter War
30 Nov 1939
Source:Military Museum,Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture

On 30 November 1939, in what later be called the Winter War, the Soviet Union invaded neighboring Finland. The objectives were both strategic and territorial. Under the (secret)terms of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact signed in August, Finland was placed into their sphere of influence. Prior to the invasion, the Soviet Union wanted Finland to cede land that would provide more security for Leningrad (formerly known as St. Petersburg, changed to Petrograd during World War I, and renamed Leningrad in 1924 after Lenin’s death).

Everyone, including the Russians, believed it would be easy. The Soviet Union had more troops and aircraft. It was expected the Finns would easily surrender. It did not turn out that way at all. After the initial attack and bombing of Helsinki where 61 would die, the Finns instead showed remarkable resistance. The Finnish government used pictures of the raid showing women with dead babies and those crippled by the bombings to engender sympathy from the outside world and to generate the Finnish resistance to the Russians. The Soviet Army, dressed in summer clothing as winter started to set in, quickly realized they were facing stiff opposition. President Roosevelt extended $10 million in credit to Finland (they paid it back after the war). The League of Nations expelled the Soviet Union for its invasion.

The Soviet Union though reorganized and came with different tactics in February 1940. Finnish defenses were overcome and resistance, though still strong, was up against a better organized Soviet Army this time. In March 1940 the Moscow Peace Treaty was signed. The Soviet Union got what it initially demanded and more as well. Finland’s sovereignty was preserved but it came at a cost for the Soviet Union. Most Western governments considered the Soviet Red Army as poorly led.

Aftermath

Hitler and his generals viewed the Red Army as weak and that an attack on it would be successful. They would invade Russia in June 1941. Finland though would go to war with the Soviet Union. as well. There are different views as to why but generally it was to get back the land lost in the peace treaty of 1940. Unfortunately, a faction of Finnish military and political leaders decided to work closely with the German Wehrmacht for a joint attack. While never signing formally the Tripartite Pact that made them an ally of Nazi Germany, the did sign the Anti-Comintern Pact. This pact signed by Germany, Japan and other countries created an alliance against the Soviet Union.

Finland would retake the territories given to Russia but continued on. They participated in the siege of Leningrad by cutting its northern supply. The Soviet Army would eventually push them back and a ceasefire was called on 5 September 1944. The resulting agreement would require the expulsion or disarming of German troops in their territory. Under pressure from the Soviets to expel German forces, Finnish troops fired on German soldiers resulting in exchanges between the two. By November 1944 nearly all German troops had withdrawn. With the end of the war in 1945, the borders were restored to the 1940 treaty. Finland had to pay war reparations to the Soviet Union. Since they fought with Germany, they had to accept responsibility for their part in the war and acknowledge they had been a German ally.

Sources:
Russo-Finnish War (Britannica.com)
Winter War (History.com)
Winter War, Continuation War & Lapland War (Wikipedia.com)


How Did Black Friday Come to Be?

Black Friday
Image: Petr Kratochvil/publicdomainpictures.net

The day after Thanksgiving in the United States has been called Black Friday for quite a long time, yet its origins are somewhat confusing owing to some clever remaking of the day by the retailers.

Its historical origins had nothing to do with Thanksgiving but a financial crisis in 1869. On 23 September 1869 a crash occurred in the U.S gold markets that was likely triggered by the actions of Jim Fisk and Jay Gould who tried to buy up as much gold as they could. In doing so, it drove the price of gold sky-high allowing them to sell at a huge profit. When their actions became known, it sent the gold market crashing down but also spread to the stock market resulting in bankers and farmers losing substantial sums of money. Thus, that date on a Friday became known as Black Friday.

The link to retail appears to come from a story about making huge profits on the day after Thanksgiving. In origin story, retailers lived on or near the infamous red line. That red line means they are operating at a near loss or in fact “in the red” meaning they were not making profits. The day after Thanksgiving brought in so many shoppers that they went into the black (meaning making profits), so it became known a Black Friday. While this version is somewhat accurate in that many retailers looked forward to the start of the Christmas season to generate high revenues, it is not the origin of Black Friday either.  Shopping on the day after Thanksgiving, often considered the start of the Christmas season in the United States, does give an indicator as to what consumers are willing to spend If the economy is good. On the other hand, if the economy is not doing well people may not spend much and only buy things they need and items on sale.

There are some who believe it has ties to racism on Southern plantations in the 1800’s. According to this story, it is claimed that owners would buy slaves at a discount on the day after Thanksgiving. This has led to some in the African American community to call for the boycott of stores on Back Friday. Except there appears to be no basis for this story. So far nothing has been found to show that slave auctions of this kind took place the day after Thanksgiving in that era. Like misinterpreting the word picnic as racist (picnic comes from a French word about eating outside and has nothing to do with race), this appears to have been created to fit someone’s perspective on the origins of the day.

The modern use of the term in fact comes from the 1950’s and from the city of Philadelphia. Police called it Black Friday to describe all the chaos that ensued from shoppers racing to shop before the Army-Navy game that was held on Saturday. The bedlam was so bad that no day off was granted to police on this day to deal with the hordes of cars and people in the city. Another factor was that criminals would take advantage of the large crowds to steal wallets, purses, and of course shoplift as well. Retailers were not happy with this connotation and tried unsuccessfully to change it to “Big Friday.” This was unsuccessful, so they tried to remake the day by saying this was the day retailers needed to make a profit. This appears to have worked and the darker roots from Philadelphia have been largely forgotten.

Black Friday Shopping
Photo: Public Domain

By remaking the day using sales to drive people into stores, it became an event on its own that spawned other major retails days. Black Friday was marketed as a day to get great bargains and all the major retailers jumped aboard. People began lining up early and some retailers decided to open on Thanksgiving (usually in the evening) to take advantage of the desire to buy discounted items. Ironically it then created things that harkened back to Philadelphia. In recent years when stores opened to the throngs waiting outside, chaos ensued when people raced into the store to grab what they wanted. People got trampled, fights broke out between adults bickering over who was entitled to the product. Many stores started to regulate the number of people in their store at any given time. This has been somewhat successful but when a surge of people all stampede at the door, the best the security guards can do is jump aside or be trampled on.

While Philadelphia is rarely mentioned, the chaos outside usually hearkens back to it. Mall parking lots are jammed, streets are full of cars trying to get in or out, and even freeways near those shopping malls are impacted as well. Up in the air, helicopters fly overhead filming the chaos below. And in major cities or areas where crowds are enormous, the police are often around to manage as best they can the traffic and crime that is going on. The Internet has made a dent, but you must wait for the product to arrive, so it is off to the store! In recent years retailers had started opening on Thanksgiving so people could get in early. Some like Target have rethought that and now are closed for Thanksgiving Day. And that is a good sign. Thanksgiving is a special holiday that should be treated on its own. And Black Friday is all about the shopping.

Sources

What’s the Real History of Black Friday? (History.com)
Black Friday History and Statistics  (BlackFriday.com)
Black Friday (Wikipedia)

 

Remembering Britannic (21 Nov 1916)

HMHS Britannic seen during World War I.
Image:public domain

On 21 November 1916, HMHS Britannic was sunk by mine near the island of Kea in the Aegean Sea. The ship sank in 55 minutes and 1,035 people were rescued, only 30 perished. Britannic was the third and last ship of the Olympic class liners built by White Star Line. The other two were Olympic and Titanic. Britannic was launched in February 1914. Many design changes were made prior to launch due to lessons learned from Titanic. Those changes were:

  • Double hull along the engine and boiler rooms raising six of the watertight bulkheads up to B deck.
  • More powerful turbine installed due to increase in hull width.
  • Watertight compartments were enhanced so that the ship can stay afloat with six compartments flooded.
  • Motorized davits to launch six lifeboats (only five out of eight were installed before war service). Manual operated davits were used for the remaining lifeboats. The new design also allowed all lifeboats to be launched even if the ship was listing. There were 55 lifeboats with capacity for 75 each so that 3,600 people could be carried.

When World War I broke out, the ship had to be retrofitted as a hospital ship. Most of the furnishings were stored in a warehouse to be placed back aboard after the war. The Britannic began service as a hospital ship on 12 December 1915. She was sent to the Aegean Sea to bring back sick and wounded soldiers. Her first tour of service was ended on 6 June 1916 and she was sent back to Belfast to be refitted back as a passenger liner. As this was underway, the ship was again recalled to military service on 26 August 1916 and was sent back to the Mediterranean Sea.

On the morning of 21 November 1916, the Britannic under the command of Captain Alfred Barnett was steaming into the Kea Channel when at 8:12 am a loud explosion shook the ship. The explosion, unknown at the time whether it was a torpedo or mine, damaged the first four watertight compartments and rapidly filled with water. Water was also flowing into the boiler room. Captain Bartlett ordered the watertight doors closed, sent a distress call, and ordered the lifeboats be prepared. Unfortunately, while they could send messages, damage to the antenna wires meant they could not hear the responses back from ships responding to their SOS.  Britannic was reaching her flooding limit and open portholes (opened by nurses to ventilate wards) were bringing more water in as well.

As the ship was still moving, Bartlett did not order lifeboats be lowered but two lifeboats were lowered anyway. They were sucked into the ships propellor and torn to bits killing everyone in those two lifeboats. Bartlett ordered the ship stopped to assess the damage. The ship was listing so badly that the gantry davits were inoperable. Thinking the sinking had slowed, he ordered the engines back on to try and beach the ship. The flooding increased as more water was coming in aided by the open portholes the nurses had opened to air out their wards early in the morning. Bartlett ordered the engines stopped and to abandon ship. She would sink at 9:07 am, 55 minutes after the explosion. Thankfully the water temperature was high (70 F), they had more lifeboats than Titanic, and rescue came less than two hours. Nearby fisherman were able to help and at 10:00 am, the HMS Scourge arrived and later the HMS Heroic and later the HMS Foxhound.

1,035 survived. Of the 30 lost, only five were buried as their bodies were not recovered. Memorials in Thessaloniki and London honor those lives lost. Survivors were housed on the warships and the nurses and officers were put into hotels. Most survivors were sent home, and some arrived in time for Christmas. Speculation about whether it was a torpedo or a mine was resolved when it was learned that a German submarine (SM U-73) had planted mines in the Kea Channel in October 1916. The loss of two Olympic class ships was a major blow to White Star Line. They would get, as a result of the Treaty of Versailles, the German ocean liner Bismarck (renamed Majestic), which replaced Britannic. They also got Columbus which was named Homeric.

Britannic has been largely forgotten except when news of expeditions were made to the wreck site over the years. The wreck itself was bought by noted author Simon Mills, who has written two books on the ship. An expedition in September 2003 located by sonar mine anchors confirming German records of U-73 that Britannic was sunk by a single mine. The expedition found several watertight doors open making it likely the mine strike was during a watch change on the ship. One notable survivor was Violet Jessop. She had been on Olympic as stewardess when it collided with the HMS Hawke, aboard Titanic in the same capacity when it sank, and then aboard Britannic as a stewardess with the Red Cross.

Sources:
Britannica
Thoughtco.com
Wikipedia

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Remembering the Gettysburg Address

Photo: Public Domain (U.S. Library of Congress, digital id# cph.3a53289)

On 19 November 1863 President Abraham Lincoln delivered what would be the most memorable speech given by a president in U.S. history. He was attending the dedication of the Soldier’s National Cemetery (now called Gettysburg National Cemetery) in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Four and a half months prior the Battle of Gettysburg had taken place resulting in a major victory for the Union armies. The casualties to both sides were considerable. It also had the highest number of Confederate and Union generals who died in battle as well.

Edward Everett, the best orator of the time, delivered a two hour speech preceding Lincoln’s. When Lincoln spoke, it was only for a few minutes. His speech was only 271 words long after the long speech of Everett’s, so it could have been easily forgotten. People attending gave different accounts of how it was received. Some said a dignified silence, others polite applause. Edward Everett thought it was well done and said so to Lincoln in a letter. Once the text got out to the general public, Democrat leaning newspapers derided it while Republican ones praised. The Times of London thought it a ludicrous speech.

Yet this speech would become famous. It would become oft quoted and praised by many as time went on. Far from being ludicrous, as the Times of London thought it was, it became a standard for other orators to try and emulate. And his eloquent words: “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, shall not perish from the earth,” are still stirring to this day.

The Gettysburg Address

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln
19 November 1863

Sources:
Abraham Lincoln Online
Britannica
Wikipedia