December 31, 2012: Bright Idea Day, anniversary of Edison’s light bulb

December 31, 2012

Between Christmas and New Year’s Day, here at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub we celebrate a variety of historically holy days.  December 31, by tradition, is Bright Idea Day, the anniversary of the day Thomas Edison demonstrated for the public a working light bulb in 1879.

100,000 people gather in Times Square, New York City, tonight, and millions more around the world, in festivities for the new year made possible by the work of Thomas Alva Edison.

Here it is, the invention that stole sleep from our grasp, made clubbing possible, and launched 50,000 cartoons about ideas:

The light bulb Thomas Edison demonstrated on December 31, 1879, at Menlo Park, New Jersey - Wikimedia image

The light bulb Thomas Edison demonstrated on December 31, 1879, at Menlo Park, New Jersey – Wikimedia image (GFDL)

The light bulb. It’s an incandescent bulb.

It wasn’t the first bulb. Edison a few months earlier devised a bulb that worked with a platinum filament. Platinum was too expensive for mass production, though — and Edison wanted mass production. So, with the cadre of great assistants at his Menlo Park laboratories, he struggled to find a good, inexpensive filament that would provide adequate life for the bulb. By late December 1879 they had settled on carbon filament.

Edison invited investors and the public to see the bulb demonstrated, on December 31, 1879.

Thomas Edison in 1878, the year before he demonstrated a workable electric light bulb.  Library of Congress image

Thomas Edison in 1878, the year before he demonstrated a workable electric light bulb. CREDIT: Thomas Edison, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing left, 1880. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction number LC-USZ62-98067

Edison’s successful bulb indicated changes in science, technology, invention, intellectual property and finance well beyond its use of electricity. For example:

  • Edison’s Menlo Park, New Jersey, offices and laboratory were financed with earlier successful inventions. It was a hive of inventive activity aimed to make practical inventions from advances in science. Edison was all about selling inventions and rights to manufacture devices. He always had an eye on the profit potential. His improvements on the telegraph would found his laboratory he thought, and he expected to sell the device to Western Union for $5,000 to $7,000. Instead of offering it to them at a price, however, he asked Western Union to bid on it. They bid $10,000, which Edison gratefully accepted, along with the lesson that he might do better letting the marketplace establish the price for his inventions. Other inventive labs followed Edison’s example, such as the famous Bell Labs, but few equalled his success, or had as much fun doing it.  (Economics teachers:  Need an example of the marketplace in action?)
  • While Edison had some financial weight to invest in the quest for a workable electric light, he also got financial support, $30,000 worth, from some of the finance giants of the day, including J. P. Morgan and the Vanderbilts who established the Edison Light Company.
  • Edison didn’t invent the light bulb — but his improvements on it made it commercial. “In addressing the question ‘Who invented the incandescent lamp?’ historians Robert Friedel and Paul Israel list 22 inventors of incandescent lamps prior to Joseph Wilson Swan and Thomas Edison. They conclude that Edison’s version was able to outstrip the others because of a combination of three factors: an effective incandescent material, a higher vacuum than others were able to achieve (by use of the Sprengel pump) and a high resistance lamp that made power distribution from a centralized source economically viable.”
  • Edison’s financial and business leadership acumen is partly attested to by the continuance of his organizations, today — General Electric, one of the world’s most successful companies over the past 40 years, traces its origins to Edison.

Look around yourself this evening, and you can find a score of ways that Edison’s invention and its descendants affect your life. One of the more musing effects is in cartooning, however. Today a glowing lightbulb is universally accepted as a nonverbal symbol for ideas and inventions. (See Mark Parisi’s series of lightbulb cartoons, “Off the Mark.”)

Even with modern, electricity-saving bulbs, the cartoon shorthand hangs on, as in this Mitra Farmand cartoon.

Fusilli has an idea, Mitra Farmand, Fuffernutter

Brilliant cartoon from Mitra Farmand, Fuffernutter

Or see this wonderful animation, a video advertisement for United Airlines, by Joanna Quinn for Fallon — almost every frame has the symbolic lightbulb in it.

Other resources:

Patent drawing for Thomas Edison's successful electric lamp.  Library of Congress

Thomas Edison’s electric lamp patent drawing and claim for the incandescent light bulb CREDIT: “New Jersey–The Wizard of Electricity–Thomas A. Edison’s System of Electric Illumination,” 1880. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction Number LC-USZ62-97960.

Yeah, this is mostly an encore post.

Even More, in 2012:


December 30: Hubble Day, look to the stars for our future

December 30, 2012

[Today is actually the day!  You may fly your flag if you choose.  This is the traditional Millard Fillmore's Bathtub Hubble Day post.]

Lift a glass of champagne today in tribute to Edwin Hubble and his great discovery. Not sure what to call it — Hubble Day, Looking Up Day, Endless Possibilities Day — whatever, this is the anniversary of Edwin Hubble’s announcement that he had discovered the universe is much, much larger than anyone had imagined, containing far more stars than anyone had dared guess.

It’s a big universe out there.

Ultraviolet image of the Andromeda Galaxy, first known to be a galaxy by Edwin Hubble on December 30, 1924 - Galaxy Evolution Explorer image courtesy NASA

Ultraviolet image of the Andromeda Galaxy, first known to be a galaxy by Edwin Hubble on December 30, 1924 – Galaxy Evolution Explorer image courtesy NASA

So, today is a good day to celebrate the universe in all it’s glory – December 30.

On December 30, 1924, Edwin Hubble announced he’d discovered other galaxies in distant space. Though it may not have been so clear at the time, it meant that, as a galaxy, we are not alone in the universe (whether we are alone as intelligent life is a separate question). It also meant that the universe is much, much bigger than most people had dared to imagine.

I keep trying to get people to celebrate.

In 2008 for Hubble Day, Wired picked up on the story (with a gracious link to 2007’s post here at the Bathtub). Wired includes several links to even more information, a good source of information. See Wired’s 2009 post here.

Hubble was the guy who showed us the universe is not only bigger than we imagined, it’s probably much bigger and much more fantastic than we can imagine. Hubble is the guy who opened our imaginations to the vastness of all creation.

How does one celebrate Hubble Day? Here are some suggestions:

  • Easier than Christmas cards: Send a thank-you note to your junior high school science teacher, or whoever it was who inspired your interest in science. Mrs. Hedburg, Mrs. Andrews, Elizabeth K. Driggs, Herbert Gilbert, Mr. Willis, and Stephen McNeal, thank you.
  • Rearrange your Christmas/Hanukkah/Eid/KWANZAA lights in the shape of the Andromeda Galaxy — or in the shape of any of the great photos from the Hubble Telescope (Andromeda Galaxy pictured above; Hubble images here)

    A few of the images from the Hubble Telescope

    A few of the images from the Hubble Telescope

  • Go visit your local science museum; take your kids along – borrow somebody else’s kids if you have to (take them along, too); this year, in Dallas, you can visit the Perot Museum of Nature and Science – it’s a doozy
  • Spend two hours in your local library, just looking through the books on astronomy and the universe
  • Write a letter to your senators and congressman; tell them space exploration takes a minuscule portion of our federal budget, but it makes us dream big; tell them we need to dream big, and so they’d better make sure NASA is funded well.  While you’re at it, put in a plug for funding Big Bird and the rest of public broadcasting, too.  Science education in this nation more and more becomes the science shows on NPR and PBS, watched by kids who learned to read and think by watching Big Bird.
  • Anybody got a good recipe for a cocktail called “The Hubble?” “The Andromeda?” Put it in the comments, please.  “The Hubble” should have bubbles in it, don’t you think?  What was it the good monk said?  He was working to make great wine, but goofed somewhere, and charged the wine with another dose of yeast.  When he uncorked the very first bottle of what would come to be called champagne, Benedictine Monk Dom Pierre Perignon said “I am drinking stars!”  Only in French.  In any case, a Hubble cocktail should have bubbles, some of Perignon’s stars.

The encore post, from 2007:

December 30, 1924, Edwin Hubble announced the results of his observations of distant objects in space.

PBS

In 1924, he announced the discovery of a Cepheid, or variable star, in the Andromeda Nebulae. Since the work of Henrietta Leavitt had made it possible to calculate the distance to Cepheids, he calculated that this Cepheid was much further away than anyone had thought and that therefore the nebulae was not a gaseous cloud inside our galaxy, like so many nebulae, but in fact, a galaxy of stars just like the Milky Way. Only much further away. Until now, people believed that the only thing existing outside the Milky Way were the Magellanic Clouds. The Universe was much bigger than had been previously presumed.

Later Hubble noted that the universe demonstrates a “red-shift phenomenon.” The universe is expanding. This led to the idea of an initial expansion event, and the theory eventually known as Big Bang.

Hubble’s life offered several surprises, and firsts:

Hubble was a tall, elegant, athletic, man who at age 30 had an undergraduate degree in astronomy and mathematics, a legal degree as a Rhodes scholar, followed by a PhD in astronomy. He was an attorney in Kentucky (joined its bar in 1913), and had served in WWI, rising to the rank of major. He was bored with law and decided to go back to his studies in astronomy.

In 1919 he began to work at Mt. Wilson Observatory in California, where he would work for the rest of his life. . . .
Hubble wanted to classify the galaxies according to their content, distance, shape, and brightness patterns, and in his observations he made another momentous discovery: By observing redshifts in the light wavelengths emitted by the galaxies, he saw that galaxies were moving away from each other at a rate constant to the distance between them (Hubble’s Law). The further away they were, the faster they receded. This led to the calculation of the point where the expansion began, and confirmation of the big bang theory. Hubble calculated it to be about 2 billion years ago, but more recent estimates have revised that to 20 billion years ago.

An active anti-fascist, Hubble wanted to joined the armed forces again during World War II, but was convinced he could contribute more as a scientist on the homefront. When the 200-inch telescope was completed on Mt. Palomar, Hubble was given the honor of first use. He died in 1953.

“Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure Science.”

That news on December 30, 1924, didn’t make the first page of the New York Times. The Times carried a small note on February 25, 1925, that Hubble won a $1,000 prize from the American Academy for the Advancement of Science.

(Does anyone have a suitable citation for that video? Where did it come from? Who produced it? Is there more somewhere?)

Happy Hubble Day! Look up!

Resources:

Hubble Space Telescope - NASA image

Hubble Space Telescope, working homage to Edwin Hubble – NASA image

Even More Resources:


Remember: December 30 is Hubble Day

December 29, 2012

Get ready to look up!

Edwin Hubble.

Edwin Hubble. (Photo credit: snaphappygeek)

At Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub, for several years we’ve celebrated Hubble Day on December 30.

On December 30, 1924, Edwin Hubble announced he’d discovered other galaxies in distant space. Though it may not have been so clear at the time, it meant that, as a galaxy, we are not alone in the universe (whether we are alone as intelligent life is a separate question). It also meant that the universe is much, much bigger than most people had dared to imagine.

December 30, 2012 is the 82nd anniversary of the announcement.  When dealing with general science illiteracy, it’s difficult to believe we’ve been so well informed for more than eight decades.  In some quarters, news travels more slowly than sound in the vacuum of space.

I find hope in many places.  Just a few weeks ago the Perot Museum of Nature and Science opened in downtown Dallas.  It’s the old Dallas Museum of Science and Natural History, once cramped into a bursting building in historic Fair Park, now expanded into a beautiful new building downtown, and keeping the Fair Park building, too.  Considering the strength of creationism in Texas, the mere fact that private parties would put up $185 million for a museum dedicated to hard science.

Displays in the Perot border on brilliance at almost every stop.  Stuffy museum this is not — it’s designed to spark interest in science and engineering in kids, and I judge that it succeeds, though we need to wait 20 years or so to see just exactly what and who it inspires.

We visited the Perot last night.  As I was admiring a large map of the Moon, a family strolled by, and a little girl I estimate to be 8 or 9 pointed to the Moon and asked her maybe-30-something father where humans landed.  I had been working to see whether the very large photo showed any signs of activity — but the father didn’t hesitate, and pointed to the Sea of Tranquility.  “There,” he said.  The man was not old enough to have been alive at the time; I’d wager most of my contemporaries would hesitate, and maybe have to look it up.  Not that guy.

Visitors to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Dallas

On 32 flat-panel video displays hooked together to make one massive display, visitors to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science view Mars as our new Mars Rover’s friend might see it, in a section of the museum devoted to astronomy, physics, astronomy and planetary exploration. Photo by Ed Darrell; use encouraged with attribution.

Still, kids today need this museum and the knowledge and excitement it imparts.  Last July I accompanied a group of Scouts from Troop 355 to summer camp in Colorado, to Camp Cris Dobbins in the foothills just east of Colorado Springs.  Near lights out one night I hiked the half-mile to our campsite admiring the Milky Way and other bright displays of stars that we simply do not get in light-polluted Dallas County.  I expected that our older Scouts would have already started on the Astronomy merit badge, but the younger ones may not have been introduced.  So I asked how many of them could find the Milky Way.  Not a hand went up.

“Dowse the lights, let’s have a five minute star lesson,” I said.  we trekked out to a slight opening in the trees, and started looking up.  I had just enough time to point out the milky fog of stars we see of our own galaxy, when one of the Scouts asked how to tell the difference between an airplane and a satellite.  Sure enough, he’d spotted a satellite quietly passing overhead — and just to put emphasis on the difference, a transcontinental jet passed over flying west towards Los Angeles or San Francisco.

Then, when we were all looking up, a meteoroid streaked from the south across almost the whole length of the visible Milky Way.  Teenaged kids don’t often go quiet all at once, but after the oohs and aahs we had a few moments of silence.  They were hooked already.  Less than five minutes in, they’d seen the Milky Way, found the Big Dipper, seen a satellite, a jet, and a shooting star.

Perfection!

Edwin Hubble’s discovery can now be the stuff of elementary school science, that the blobs in the sky astronomers had pondered for a century were really galaxies like our own, which we see only through a faint fuzz we call the Milky Way.

Do kids get that kind of stuff in elementary school?  Not enough, I fear.

We named a great telescope after the guy; shouldn’t we do a bit more to celebrate his discovery?

More:


Texas Statehood, December 29, 1845 – 167 years ago

December 28, 2012

texas our texas

U.S. and Texas flags at the Texas Capitol – photo: jmtimages

167 years ago today: Rub your pet armadillo’s belly, slaughter the fatted longhorn, crank up the barbecue pit with the mesquite wood, put Willie Nelson and Bob Wills on the mp3 player, put the “Giant” DVD on the television, and raise your glass of Big Red, Dr. Pepper, or Lone Star Beer (or Pearl, or Shiner Bock, or Llano Wine).

U.S. Flag Code rules urge flying the U.S. flag on the anniversary of a state’s joining the Union — even as much as that will frost the tiny band of desperate Texas secessionists.  (Will the secessionists fly the Texas flag at half-staff?)

Texas was admitted to the union of the United States of America on December 29, 1845.

President Polk's authorization to affix Great Seal of the U.S. to Texas Statehood documents

President Polk’s Authorization to Affix the Great Seal to Texas Statehood documents – Texas Memorial Museum, University of Texas at Austin

The text of Polk’s message:

I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of State to affix the Seal of the United States to an authenticated copy of “an act to extend the laws of the United States over the State of Texas and for other purposes” approved Dec. 29, 1845 dated this day, and signed by me and for so doing this shall be his warrant.

James K. Polk
Washington, Dec. 29, 1845

Seal of the U.S. affixed to Texas Statehood Proclamation

Great Seal of the United States of America, affixed to the Texas Statehood Proclamation – image from State Archives Division, Texas State Library

Resources:

More:


Iowa Statehood, December 28, 1846 – Iowans, fly your flags today

December 28, 2012

Iowans may fly their flags today in celebration of the anniversary of Iowa statehood.  Iowa’s admission to the Union came on December 28, 1846; Iowa was the 29th state admitted.

The Flag Code, 4 USC §6 (d), notes that the U.S. flag may be flown on “the birthdays of States (date of admission),” in addition to the other score of dates specifically written into law.

Randy Olson photo of flags at rodeo in Spencer, Iowa, 1996

American Flag, Spencer, Iowa, 1996caption from the National Geographic Society: A man rolls up U.S. flags at the end of the Clay County Fair in Spencer, Iowa. “Although the population of Spencer is only about 12,000, the fair draws some 300,000 visitors. Once a year, rising from the endless flatness of the Iowa countryside, a crowd forms—to stroll, to hear big country music acts like the Statler Brothers, to sell a grand champion boar, to buy a new silo.” (Photographed on assignment for, but not published in, “County Fairs,” October 1997, National Geographic magazine) Photograph by Randy Olson; copyright National Geographic Society


A neglected 95th anniversary of Mencken and Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub – National Bathtub and Presidential Obscurity Day

December 28, 2012

A Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub December 28 tradition; mostly encore post, but worthy of note on National Bathtub and Presidential Obscurity Day

95 years ago today, on December 28, 1917, this column by H. L. Mencken was published in The New York Evening Mail:

Portrait of H. L. Mencken

1927 Portrait of H. L. Mencken by Nikol Schattenstein; Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore

A Neglected Anniversary

On December 20 there flitted past us, absolutely without public notice, one of the most important profane anniversaries in American history, to wit, the seventy-fifth anniversary of the introduction of the bathtub into These States. Not a plumber fired a salute or hung out a flag. Not a governor proclaimed a day of prayer. Not a newspaper called attention to the day.

True enough, it was not entirely forgotten. Eight or nine months ago one of the younger surgeons connected with the Public Health Service in Washington happened upon the facts while looking into the early history of public hygiene, and at his suggestion a committee was formed to celebrate the anniversary with a banquet. But before the plan was perfected Washington went dry (This was war-time Prohibition, preliminary to the main catastrophe. — HLM), and so the banquet had to be abandoned. As it was, the day passed wholly unmarked, even in the capital of the nation.

Bathtubs are so common today that it is almost impossible to imagine a world without them. They are familiar to nearly everyone in all incorporated towns; in most of the large cities it is unlawful to build a dwelling house without putting them in; even on the farm they have begun to come into use. And yet the first American bathtub was installed and dedicated so recently as December 20, 1842, and, for all I know to the contrary, it may still be in existence and in use.

Curiously enough, the scene of its setting up was Cincinnati, then a squalid frontier town, and even today surely no leader in culture. But Cincinnati, in those days as in these, contained many enterprising merchants, and one of them was a man named Adam Thompson, a dealer in cotton and grain. Thompson shipped his grain by steamboat down the Ohio and Mississippi to New Orleans, and from there sent it to England in sailing vessels. This trade frequently took him to England, and in that country, during the ’30s, he acquired the habit of bathing.

The bathtub was then still a novelty in England. It had been introduced in 1828 by Lord John Russell and its use was yet confined to a small class of enthusiasts. Moreover, the English bathtub, then as now, was a puny and inconvenient contrivance — little more, in fact, than a glorified dishpan — and filling and emptying it required the attendance of a servant. Taking a bath, indeed, was a rather heavy ceremony, and Lord John in 1835 was said to be the only man in England who had yet come to doing it every day.

Thompson, who was of inventive fancy — he later devised the machine that is still used for bagging hams and bacon — conceived the notion that the English bathtub would be much improved if it were made large enough to admit the whole body of an adult man, and if its supply of water, instead of being hauled to the scene by a maid, were admitted by pipes from a central reservoir and run off by the same means. Accordingly, early in 1842 he set about building the first modern bathroom in his Cincinnati home — a large house with Doric pillars, standing near what is now the corner of Monastery and Orleans streets.

There was then, of course, no city water supply, at least in that part of the city, but Thompson had a large well in his garden, and he installed a pump to lift its water to the house. This pump, which was operated by six Negroes, much like an old-time fire engine, was connected by a pipe with a cypress tank in the garret of the house, and here the water was stored until needed. From the tank two other pipes ran to the bathroom. One, carrying cold water, was a direct line. The other, designed to provide warm water, ran down the great chimney of the kitchen, and was coiled inside it like a giant spring.

The tub itself was of new design, and became the grandfather of all the bathtubs of today. Thompson had it made by James Cullness, the leading Cincinnati cabinetmaker of those days, and its material was Nicaragua mahogany. It was nearly seven feet long and fully four feet wide. To make it water-tight, the interior was lined with sheet lead, carefully soldered at the joints. The whole contraption weighed about 1,750 pounds, and the floor of the room in which it was placed had to be reinforced to support it. The exterior was elaborately polished.

In this luxurious tub Thompson took two baths on December 20, 1842 — a cold one at 8 a.m. and a warm one some time during the afternoon. The warm water, heated by the kitchen fire, reached a temperature of 105 degrees. On Christmas day, having a party of gentlemen to dinner, he exhibited the new marvel to them and gave an exhibition of its use, and four of them, including a French visitor, Col. Duchanel, risked plunges into it. The next day all Cincinnati — then a town of about 100,000 people — had heard of it, and the local newspapers described it at length and opened their columns to violent discussions of it.

The thing, in fact, became a public matter, and before long there was bitter and double- headed opposition to the new invention, which had been promptly imitated by several other wealthy Cincinnatians. On the one hand it was denounced as an epicurean and obnoxious toy from England, designed to corrupt the democratic simplicity of the Republic, and on the other hand it was attacked by the medical faculty as dangerous to health and a certain inviter of “phthisic, rheumatic fevers, inflammation of the lungs and the whole category of zymotic diseases.” (I quote from the Western Medical Repository of April 23, 1843.)

The noise of the controversy soon reached other cities, and in more than one place medical opposition reached such strength that it was reflected in legislation. Late in 1843, for example, the Philadelphia Common Council considered an ordinance prohibiting bathing between November 1 and March 15, and it failed of passage by but two votes. During the same year the legislature of Virginia laid a tax of $30 a year on all bathtubs that might be set up, and in Hartford, Providence, Charleston and Wilmington (Del.) special and very heavy water rates were levied upon those who had them. Boston, very early in 1845, made bathing unlawful except upon medical advice, but the ordinance was never enforced and in 1862 it was repealed.

This legislation, I suspect, had some class feeling in it, for the Thompson bathtub was plainly too expensive to be owned by any save the wealthy; indeed, the common price for installing one in New York in 1845 was $500. Thus the low caste politicians of the time made capital by fulminating against it, and there is even some suspicion of political bias in many of the early medical denunciations. But the invention of the common pine bathtub, lined with zinc, in 1847, cut off this line of attack, and thereafter the bathtub made steady progress.

The zinc tub was devised by John F. Simpson, a Brooklyn plumber, and his efforts to protect it by a patent occupied the courts until 1855. But the decisions were steadily against him, and after 1848 all the plumbers of New York were equipped for putting in bathtubs. According to a writer in the Christian Register for July 17, 1857, the first one in New York was opened for traffic on September 12, 1847, and by the beginning of 1850 there were already nearly 1,000 in use in the big town.

After this medical opposition began to collapse, and among other eminent physicians Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes declared for the bathtub, and vigorously opposed the lingering movement against it in Boston. The American Medical Association held its annual meeting in Boston in 1849, and a poll of the members in attendance showed that nearly 55 per cent of them now regarded bathing as harmless, and that more than 20 per cent advocated it as beneficial. At its meeting in 1850 a resolution was formally passed giving the imprimatur of the faculty to the bathtub. The homeopaths followed with a like resolution in 1853.

But it was the example of President Millard Fillmore that, even more than the grudging medical approval, gave the bathtub recognition and respectability in the United States. While he was still Vice-President, in March, 1850, he visited Cincinnati on a stumping tour, and inspected the original Thompson tub. Thompson himself was now dead, but his bathroom was preserved by the gentlemen who had bought his house from the estate. Fillmore was entertained in this house and, according to Chamberlain, his biographer, took a bath in the tub. Experiencing no ill effects, he became an ardent advocate of the new invention, and on succeeding to the Presidency at Taylor’s death, July 9, 1850, he instructed his secretary of war, Gen. Charles M. Conrad, to invite tenders for the construction of a bathtub in the White House.

This action, for a moment, revived the old controversy, and its opponents made much of the fact that there was no bathtub at Mount Vernon, or at Monticello, and that all the Presidents and other magnificoes of the past had got along without any such monarchical luxuries. The elder Bennett, in the New York Herald, charged that Fillmore really aspired to buy and install in the White House a porphyry and alabaster bath that had been used by Louis Philippe at Versailles. But Conrad, disregarding all this clamor, duly called for bids, and the contract was presently awarded to Harper & Gillespie, a firm of Philadelphia engineers, who proposed to furnish a tub of thin cast iron, capable of floating the largest man.

This was installed early in 1851, and remained in service in the White House until the first Cleveland administration, when the present enameled tub was substituted. The example of the President soon broke down all that remained of the old opposition, and by 1860, according to the newspaper advertisements of the time, every hotel in New York had a bathtub, and some had two and even three. In 1862 bathing was introduced into the Army by Gen. McClellan, and in 1870 the first prison bathtub was set up at Moyamensing Prison, in Philadelphia.

So much for the history of the bathtub in America. One is astonished, on looking into it, to find that so little of it has been recorded. The literature, in fact, is almost nil. But perhaps this brief sketch will encourage other inquirers and so lay the foundation for an adequate celebration of the centennial in 1942.

(Text courtesy of Poor Mojo’s Almanac(k))

The entire history was a hoax composed by Mencken.

Even conservative wackoes appreciate the column.

Content with his private joke, Mencken remained silent about the hoax until a follow-up article, “Melancholy Reflections,” appeared in the Chicago Tribune on May 23, 1926, some eight years later. This was Mencken’s confession. It was also an appeal for reason to the American public.

His hoax was a joke gone bad. “A Neglected Anniversary” had been printed and reprinted hundreds of times in the intervening years. Mencken had been receiving letters of corroboration from some readers and requests for more details from others. His history of the bathtub had been cited repeatedly by other writers and was starting to find its way into reference works. As Mencken noted in “Melancholy Reflections,” his “facts” “began to be used by chiropractors and other such quacks as evidence of the stupidity of medical men. They began to be cited by medical men as proof of the progress of public hygiene.” And, because Fillmore’s presidency had been so uneventful, on the date of his birthday calendars often included the only interesting tidbit of information they could find: Fillmore had introduced the bathtub into the White House. (Even the later scholarly disclosure that Andrew Jackson had a bathtub installed there in 1834—years before Mencken claimed it was even invented—did not diminish America’s conviction that Fillmore was responsible.)

(No, dear reader, probably not correct; surely John Adams brought a bathtub with him when he moved into the White House, then called the President’s Mansion.  Plumbing, hot water, and finally hot water to a bathtub in the president’s residence, were installed between 1830 and 1853, as best I can determine.)

Mencken wrote an introduction to the piece in a later bookA Mencken Chrestomathy (Alfred A. Knopf, 1949):

The success of this idle hoax, done in time of war, when more serious writing was impossible, vastly astonished me. It was taken gravely by a great many other newspapers, and presently made its way into medical literature and into standard reference books. It had, of course, no truth in it whatsoever, and I more than once confessed publicly that it was only a jocosity… Scarcely a month goes by that I do not find the substance of it reprinted, not as foolishness but as fact, and not only in newspapers but in official documents and other works of the highest pretensions.

There’s a moral to the story:  Strive for accuracy!

So, Dear Reader, check for accuracy, and question authority.

Fact checks — what else might need to be corrected in this story?

Resources:

Finally, Dear Readers — have you noticed someone falling victim to the hoax of Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub recently?  Give us details in comments, please.


Are you sure you’re seeing reality? (Richard Wiseman)

December 27, 2012

Brilliant Richard Wiseman short.

TAM London 2009: Richard Wiseman's tricks

TAM London 2009: Richard Wiseman’s tricks (Photo credit: prokrastinuft)

In a time when about half of Americans incorrectly believe the national government is “broke,” and a similar number believe that government should aid rich people but not poor people, and an astonishing number believe that Americans will stop working if they don’t get tax breaks fast, we might want to question whether we’re seeing things realistically.

Wiseman shows how our view may be distorted:

So, we should wonder:  How can we tell whether our views are distorted?

And:  Are our views distorted?  How can we account for that, or amend it?

More:


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,269 other followers

%d bloggers like this: