Monday, April 21, 2008

The Early Movies

In the early 1900s, all you needed was a projector, a sheet to use as a screen, some chairs, and an empty storefront. Then you could open up a “nickelodeon” and collect five cents apiece from all the people who wanted to see the newest form of popular entertainment, the movies.

The first movies, just a few minutes long, showed everyday scenes: a sneeze, a kiss, a train. But then the “flickers” began to tell stories. In 1903, crowds flocked to see the Great Train Robbery, which tells, in 12 minutes, the story of a gang of outlaws who rob a train and are then chased and gunned down by a posse. By 1908, there were more than 10,000 nickelodeons in the U.S. alone, serving more than 25 million customers each week. Movies grew longer and more ambitious. And ornate theaters called “picture palaces” were built to show the expensive dramatic epics created by D.W. Griffith and others.

People went to the movies for thrills and laughter. Audiences especially loved the slapstick comedies produced by Mack Sennett at the Keystone Studios in Hollywood beginning in 1912. Those films featured the wacky “Keystone Kops,” and always included a wild chase during which everything that could go wrong did. Audiences didn’t care that the films were silent; they often laughed too loud to hear dialogue.

Charlie Chaplin, the great comedian began his career in Sennett’s Keystone comedies.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Wright Brothers Learn to Fly

On the morning of December 17, 1903, on the windy dunes at Kitty Hawk in North Carolina. Orville Wright made the first manned and powered flight.

Orville and his brother Wilbur operated a bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio. They had been dreaming about flying since the 1890s. They were not trained scientists or engineers, but they made a scientific study of the problems of flight. They built and tested gliders to understand the principles of flying. They created a wind tunnel in the bicycle shop to test wing designs, and they studied propeller designs, and control mechanisms. Their machinist built a 12-horsepower gasoline engine for them. By 1903, the brothers had built a twin-winged airplane, the Flyer, and they felt confident it would fly.

At Kitty Hawk, they constructed a wooden track down a hill to provide a smooth surface for takeoff. With Orville at the controls, Wilbur guilded the plane down the track, and it bounded into the air. After covering 40 yards in 12 seconds, it landed gently in the sand. Before the day was out, the brothers had made three more flights, one of which lasted almost a minute. Man, at last, had learned to fly.

The Wright Flyer had twin pusher propellers drive by two bicycle chains from the brother’s shop.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Early Days of Golf

Golf began in Scotland hundreds of years ago, but it did not begin to interest Americans until the 1880s. Golf clubs sprang up in Foxburg, Pennsylvania; Yonkers, New York; and elsewhere. And in 1894, these early clubs banded together to form the United States Golf Association (USGA), which established rules for the game and organized official tournaments. The first men’s tournament was played at the Newport (Rhode Island) Country Club in 1895.

At first, golf was a game only for the wealthy. But in 1913, a young sporting-goods salesman and former caddy named Francis Ouiment beat the best British golfers in the U.S. Open tournament. Ouiment’s surprise victory brought new attention to the sport. Soon there were golfing “duffers” across America, playing on private and public courses. Prizes were offered at major tournaments, and professional golfers could earn a living by competing. Gradually, Americans cam to dominate th game.

Why did golf become so popular in the United States? Because, said one humorist, it combined “two favorite American pastimes: taking long walks and hitting things with sticks,”

Golf was an official event at the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, Missouri. But it was dropped from later competitions because it was not considered an “ideal” Olympic sport.