Sunday, September 30, 2012


In 1849, Zachary Taylor began his term as President of the United States.   Elizabeth Blackwell became America’s first woman doctor.  Stagecoach service began between independence, Missouri, and Santa Fe in the Southwest.  And the steamship California arrived in San Francisco with the first gold seekers from the East.  

The great California gold rush was onl

Actually the precioius metal had been first discovered in California a year earlier on January 24, 1848.   At John Sutter’s sawmill on the American River, a worker named James Marshall found a yellow nugget of what he thought was gold.  He showed it to Sutter, who said, “Well, it lks like gold.  Let us test it.”   The nugget passed all the tests.   There was gold in California =- mre  gold than anyone had ever imagined.

The news was slow to reach the rest of the US, but by 1849 people by the thousands were hurrying to California from every corner of the country.     They came by ship and they came by wagon train, and they were called forty-niners.  Gold was found all thrugh the mountains and many forty-niners     Gold was found all through the mountains and many forty-niners became rich.   But not James Marshall.  His search for more gold failed and he died a poor man. 

In 1849, when the gold rush began, there were 14,000 people in California.  Three eyars later there were 250,000.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Edgar Allan Poe

“Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore.’”

That line from Edgar Allan Poe’s, “The Raven” is one of the most famous in American poetry.  Poe is also well known for his short stories, many of them tales of terror and suspense.  He has been called the father of modern mystery and horror stories.

Poe led a short and tragic life.   Orphaned before he was three, he was raised in Virginia by foster parents.  His failure to complete his education and his self-destructive behavior infuriated his foster father, who disowned him.  Penniless, Poe eaked out a meager living as a writer and magazine editor.   In 1836, he married his cousin, Virginia Clemm.  He was devoted to her, but their life was a constant struggle for survivial. 

In the 1840s, Poe won recognition for poems such as “The Raven,” the story of a lost love, and for chilling stories such as “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Pit and the Pendulum.”

“The Murders in the rue Morgue” was the forerunner of later detective tales.  But despite his growing reputation, Poe earned little.  After his wrife died in 1847, he was plagued by depression and ill health.  He died when only 40 years old. 

To earn money, Poe editied a gossip column for a woman’s magazine in 1846.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Peter Cooper's Steam Locomotive

On September 16, 1830, a crowd gathered in Baltimore, Maryland, to watch a most unusual race.  A spirited gray horse was pitted against a tiny steam locomotive, the Tom Thumb.  The owners of a stagecoach line had challenged the locomotive’s maker, Peter Cooper, to prove his “iron horse” could pull passengers as well as a real horse could. 

Cooper was an inventor from New York.  He had built Tom Thumb to convince officials of the Baltimore and Ohio Railraod that steam locomotives were practical.   Iron pipe was not available in the US so he used old musket barrels for boiler tubing.   A mechanical blower ssupplied air to the fire that boiled water and produced steam.  The locomotive weighed one ton, but had less hosepower than most modern lawn mowers.

In a preliminary demonstration, Tom Thumb pulled a car with 36 passengers over a 13 –mile  track at an average speed of 10 miles an hour.  Then came the actual race.  The horse was fastest off the mark, but the little locomotive soon took the lead.  Victory seemed assured – until the boiler developed a leak.   Tom Thumb chugged to a halt as the horse galloped ahead.  Nevertheless, Peter Cooper’s demonstration concvinced the railroad officials that steam locomotives were practical, as the railroads began to prepare for the Age of Steam.

Among Cooper’s inventions were a washing machine and a a compressed-air engine for ferryboa

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Miss America Pageant

It began in 1921 as a gimmick to attract tourists to Atlantic City, New Jersey, at the end of the summer season. 

Today, it is a national institution.  Millions watch on television each year as the judges’ decision is announced, a winner is crowned, and a tearful but radiant young woman walks down the runway to the strains of a familiar song, “Here she is, Miss America…”

The first Miss America, Margaret Gorman was just 16 years old when she won the contest in 1921.  In the early  days, the contestants often represented cities rather than states.  Not until 1959 was there a contestant from each state.  Originally just a swimsuit contest, the pageant later added a talent contest and interviews designed to reveal  the personalities and opinions of the women.

Beginning in 1945, winners received college scholarships along with other prizes.  The pageant became a truly national even in 1954, when television first beamed the show across the country. 

The Miss America Pageant has been criticized by people who feel that beauty contest are insulting to  women.   But supporters point out that the contest stresses intelligence and talent as well as beauty.  And the pageant  has survived the criticisims to win a lasting place in American popular culture.

The use of live animals in the Miss America talent competition was banned in 1940, afer Miss Montana and her horse almost fell off the stage.