December 31, 2014: Bright Idea Day, anniversary of the Day the Lights Went On

December 31, 2014

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.

Electrification of America, and the consequent spread of electric lighting and electrical machines to make domestic and industrial life more productive, and the spread of great public works to enable these and other inventions to spread, were made possible by a people roughly united in advancing progress, what historians now call “the progressive agenda” and the great advances of the Progressive Era.

Could we get such agreement among workers, corporate bosses and many levels of government today? When we celebrate anniversaries, like the demonstration of the light bulb, we celebrate the united polity that made such things possible, too.

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. ‘Tis the season for tradition, especially good, wise tradition.

Even More, in 2012 and 2013:


Want to do a good turn? Nothing But Nets needs you to save a kid from malaria. It’s cheap.

December 30, 2014

I get e-mail from the good people fighting malaria, those who can take your ten-spot and save an African kid from death by malaria.

Dear Ed,

We have 6,000 nets left to reach our 60,000 goal to protect refugee children and their families in Cameroon from malaria!

But I still need your last-minute help to hit our target before the December 31 deadline.

That’s why a generous donor has extended his extraordinary $500,000 matching gift campaign until midnight, December 31.

I can’t think of a more meaningful way to close out the year than by making a life-saving difference for $10.

Contribute now and your tax-deductible donation will have twice the life-saving impact and help Nothing But Nets and our UN partners protect refugees in Cameroon.

Doubled!

That means your year-end donation of $25 will be worth $50, and a generous gift of $50 will be worth $100.

Thank you for caring enough to help us defeat malaria and protect even more lives.

Chris Helfrich

Chris Helfrich
Director, Nothing But Nets

P.S. Please don’t wait another moment. Contribute now to our 60,000 net campaign for Cameroon and your donation will be matched by an extraordinary $500,000 matching gift provided by a generous donor—doubling the impact of your life-saving gift. Thank you for whatever you can afford.

Donate Now | View in browser

1750 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20006
© Nothing But Nets

$10 buys one net, delivered to a family in Africa, usually for a child. When the net is suspended over the bed of the child, mosquitoes cannot bite, and malaria transmission can be stopped. Nets help even if a kid already has malaria, because mosquitoes can’t bite him and get malaria parasites to spread.

Studies over the past 20 years show bednets alone are more effective than Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS), with DDT or any of the other eleven pesticides used.  To increase effectiveness, nets usually come impregnated with an insecticide, so mosquitoes that try to get to the sleeping people inside will die, too.

With the help of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, millions of nets stopped malaria in its tracks in several different African nations; since the campaign got underway in earnest in 1999, malaria deaths have been cut by 45%, from more than a million each year in 1999 to fewer than 610,000 in 2013, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Malaria deaths declined from the 4 million per year at peak DDT use, circa 1958-63, to about 1 million per year in 1999 — a reduction of 75% from peak DDT use. Malaria deaths today may be the lowest in recorded human history.

Got $10 to save a life? Cut that death toll even further.


December 30, Hubble Day 2014: Look to the stars for our future

December 30, 2014

[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. Wired caption: Photo: Edwin Hubble’s 1920s observations of Andromeda (whose ultraviolet spectrum is rendered here) expanded our notions of the size and nature of a universe that is itself expanding. Galaxy Evolution Explorer image courtesy NASA.

Ultraviolet image of the Andromeda Galaxy. Wired caption: “Photo: Edwin Hubble’s 1920s observations of Andromeda (whose ultraviolet spectrum is rendered here) expanded our notions of the size and nature of a universe that is itself expanding. 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.

90 years ago today.

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. (See J. B. S. Haldane’s “queerer” quote.) Hubble is the guy who opened our imaginations to the vastness of all creation.

Hubble’s work would have been impossible without the earlier work of one of the great, unsung women of science, Henrietta Leavitt, as Wired explained:

He trained the powerful new 100-inch telescope at Mount Wilson in Southern California on spiral nebulae. These fuzzy patches of light in the sky were generally thought to be clouds of gas or dust within our galaxy, which was presumed to include everything in the universe except the Magellanic Clouds. Some nebulae seemed to contain a few stars, but nothing like the multitudes of the Milky Way.

Hubble not only found a number of stars in Andromeda, he found Cepheid variable stars. These stars vary from bright to dim, and a very smart Harvard computationist named Henrietta Leavitt had discovered in 1912 that you could measure distance with them. Given the brightness of the star and its period — the length of time it takes to go from bright to dim and back again — you could determine how far away it is.

Hubble used Leavitt’s formula to calculate that Andromeda was approximately 860,000 light years away. That’s more than eight times the distance to the farthest stars in the Milky Way. This conclusively proved that the nebulae are separate star systems and that our galaxy is not the universe.

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

Edwin Hubble

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:

Andromeda as we can see it today. Wikimedia image: The Andromeda Galaxy is a spiral galaxy approximately 2.5 million light-years away in the constellation Andromeda. The image also shows Messier Objects 32 and 110, as well as NGC 206 (a bright star cloud in the Andromeda Galaxy) and the star Nu Andromedae. This image was taken using a hydrogen-alpha filter.

Andromeda as we can see it today. Wikimedia image: The Andromeda Galaxy is a spiral galaxy approximately 2.5 million light-years away in the constellation Andromeda. The image also shows Messier Objects 32 and 110, as well as NGC 206 (a bright star cloud in the Andromeda Galaxy) and the star Nu Andromedae. This image was taken using a hydrogen-alpha filter.


Time lapse of latest eruption of Mexico’s Popocatépetl Volcano

December 30, 2014

It’s a 17-second video, a compilation of photos (over how much time?) showing the December 29, 2014 eruption of Popocatépetl.

Published on Dec 29, 2014

Eruptions are captured by webcamsdemexico, which is another indication that good, inexpensive electronic imaging devices change the way we study and experience natural events in the world today.

17 seconds of great drama. Are there other good images from this eruption?

Satellite photo of Popocatepetl, earlier. Image via CNN/Mexico

Satellite photo of Popocatepetl, earlier. Image via CNN/Mexico

More:


Texas Statehood, December 29, 1845 – 169 years ago

December 29, 2014

It’s Texas Statehood day, the 169th anniversary of Texas joining the Union — or as some Texans prefer, the anniversary of Texas’s making America great.

According to the U.S. flag code, people should fly their U.S. flags on their state’s statehood day.

Not many Texans are, if any. Can you find someone honoring statehood day?

texas our texas

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

169 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:

The Texas Ranger Museum took note of the day (no, not the baseball Rangers):

Yes, this is mostly an encore post.  Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. It is an annual event, after all. And, fighting ignorance requires patience and persistence.

 


Iowans fly flags: Iowa Statehood, December 28, 1846

December 27, 2014

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.

“Millions of acres. Iowa and Nebraska. Land for sale on 10 years credit by the Burlington & Missouri River R. R. Co. at 6 per ct interest and low prices.” Poster advertising land in Iowa, circa 1872, from the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad Co. – Library of Congress Printed Ephemera Collection; Portfolio 134, Folder 13; via Wikipedia

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

More:

Yes, this is mostly an encore post.  Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.


Smashing December 27: Carry Nation’s “temperance” campaign came to Wichita, 114 years ago

December 27, 2014

Carry Nation is a character Texas students should be learning about, but there is rarely more than a paragraph’s mention of her in the usual high school history texts.  Students guided by smart teachers might find more about Ms. Nation, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the Temperance Movement in general as it played out against the Progressive era, the creation and passage of the 16th Amendment to the Constitution, authorizing an income tax, and the imposition of Prohibition after the passing of the 18th Amendment.

They’re all linked together in what I regard as a fascinating series of stories.

Two days after Christmas 1900, Carry Nation attacked the bar at the Carey Hotel in Wichita, Kansas, the town she was living in at the time, and exploded into history.

From Kansas Memory:  A photograph showing the Carey Hotel Bar in Wichita, Kansas after Carry Nation threw rocks to break the mirror during a temperance protest, December 27, 1900.  Kansas Historical Foundation

From Kansas Memory: A photograph showing the Carey Hotel Bar in Wichita, Kansas after Carry Nation threw rocks to break the mirror during a temperance protest, December 27, 1900. Kansas Historical Foundation

(Did I mention she was a school teacher at the time?)

Dickinson, Kansas Marshal Benham escorting Carry Nation out of a saloon, or fight, probably in 1901.  Photo from the Dickinson County Historical Society

Dickinson, Kansas Marshal Benham escorting Carry Nation out of a saloon, or fight, probably in early 1901, a few days after her attack on the saloon in the Carey Hotel in Wichita. Photo from the Dickinson County Historical Society

This part of the story below is completely cribbed from the Library of Congress’s “Today in History” feature, which you should be reading at least daily (Those guys do great work, and I usually can’t top it):

Temperance

From the Library of Congress:

From the Library of Congress: “Strike for the Cause of Temperance,” Words by A.W. Carr, music by W. F. Heath, 1878. Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music 1870-1885

Strike For The Cause Of Temp’rance,
Wield In Your Mightiest Blow…”Strike for the Cause of Temperance,”
Words by A.W. Carr, music by W. F. Heath, 1878.
Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music 1870-1885

On December 27, 1900, Carry Nation brought her campaign against alcohol to Wichita, Kansas, when she smashed the bar at the elegant Carey Hotel. Earlier that year, Nation had abandoned the nonviolent agitation of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union in favor of direct action that she called “hatchetation.” Since the Kansas Constitution prohibited alcohol, Nation argued that destroying saloons was an acceptable means of battling the state’s flourishing liquor trade.

Born in Kentucky in 1846, Carry Amelia Moore accompanied her family to Missouri in the 1850s. Her first husband, a physician, died of alcohol-related illness early in their marriage, leaving her to support herself, her young daughter, and her mother-in-law. Carry earned a teaching certificate and taught primary school for four years, before losing her position. At this point, according to her autobiography, she prayed that she would find a suitable husband. In 1877, she met and married David Nation–in just six weeks.

Arriving in Kansas in the 1890s, she became active in mainstream temperance organizations. The failure of Kansas authorities to enforce the ban on alcohol initially rallied some support for Nation’s attacks. However, her extreme methods and unladylike behavior ultimately distanced Nation from state and national temperance societies.

Eventually, state fairs and medicine show tours became Nation’s pulpit and source of financial security. Dressed in stark black and white, she promulgated her equally unambiguous views against liquor, tobacco, fraternal orders, and excessive fashion. Freeman Willis of New Hampshire encountered her on the state fair circuit. He later recalled the incident for a WPA interviewer:

The Belknap County Fair at Laconia was a great time for Dr. Greene. He had Carrie Nation…yes, hatchet and all…out there, once, for advertising. He spent a pile of money on advertising. And while Carrie was there the town was hers…as much of it as Dr. Greene’s money could buy.”An Old Yankee Innkeeper; His Story,” New Hampshire
Henry H. Pratt, interviewer, ca. 1938-39.
American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940

Yet, Nation’s celebrity was based more on her notoriety as a hatchet-wielding saloon buster than for an appreciation of her cause. Willis recounts that he saw Nation a second time at the Buffalo State Fair. There, she complained, “they don’t believe…a lot of them don’t…that I’m the real Carrie Nation. They think I’m a fake…dressed up to imitate Carrie. I wish you’d tell them I am the real Carrie.”

Many nineteenth- and early twentieth-century reformers supported the prohibition of alcohol. Suffragists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton often urged adoption of temperance legislation. Lacking legal rights to their property, their wages, and even their children, women’s lives in the nineteenth century were easily devastated if the men they depended on “took to drink.”

Learn more about Carry Nation and the movement to prohibit alcohol in the United States:

More:

Carry Nation and her hatchet. Photo from the Kansas Historical Society

Carry Nation and her hatchet. Photo from the Kansas Historical Society


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