December 2: Happy Guano Day! (Thank you, Millard Fillmore)

December 2, 2016

Why December 2?

(You couldn’t make this stuff up if you were Monty Python.)

English: Millard Fillmore White House portrait

Millard Fillmore’s White House portrait, via Wikipedia

President Millard Fillmore, in the State of the Union Address, December 2, 1850

Peruvian guano has become so desirable an article to the agricultural interest of the United States that it is the duty of the Government to employ all the means properly in its power for the purpose of causing that article to be imported into the country at a reasonable price. Nothing will be omitted on my part toward accomplishing this desirable end. I am persuaded that in removing any restraints on this traffic the Peruvian Government will promote its own best interests, while it will afford a proof of a friendly disposition toward this country, which will be duly appreciated.

Did any other U.S. President spend so much time thinking about guano?  Did any president ever mention it in a State of the Union Address?  The curious case of Millard Fillmore, Seer, just grows.

Guano, or bird poop (and its relative, bat poop), contains phosphorus, which is an essential element for life.  Consequently, it turns out to be a key ingredient in effective agricultural fertilizers.  In international competition for supremacy in farming and farm exports, guano became a key resource to fight over, in the 19th century.

It’s almost safe to say the fights were economic; but guano did play a key role in wars in South America (see Andrew Leonard’s article, noted below).

Fillmore figured out that the substance had great importance, coupled that with the rather esoteric knowledge that sea birds tended to deposit guano in great abundance on certain islands, often unoccupied, and ordered the U.S. Navy to claim islands found to contain guano deposits that were not claimed by other nations.

By the American Civil War, the importance of phosphorus to the production of gun powder became an issue for the armies of the North and South.  Millard Fillmore had set the stage for the North to win an important advantage in gun powder production, just one of many that led to the defeat of the South.

It’s one more thing we should thank Millard Fillmore for doing. Our study of history should inform us that it is, indeed, important for politicians to understand the importance of guano.

Fillmore knew his guano.

Take a moment on December 2 to toast Millard Fillmore’s prescience, on Guano Day!

More:  

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

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

Save

Save


July 15, 1848, economist Vilfredo Pareto born

July 15, 2016

Happy 80/20 Day!

Italian economist, engineer and political activist Vilfredo Pareto was born on July 15, 1848, in Paris, where his father had fled due to political difficulties.

Pareto should be more famous, for his explanation of the 80/20 rule, and for his contribution to making better things, the Pareto chart.  Many economic texts ignore his work almost completely.  Quality management texts ignore his life, too — generally mentioning the principles they borrow, but offering no explanation.

Vilifred Pareto, Wikipedia image

Vilfredo Pareto, Wikipedia image; why are there so few photographs of the man, who died in 1923?

His contributions, as accounted at Wikipedia:

A few economic rules are based on his work:

And now you, dear reader, having just skimmed the surface of the pool of information on Vilfredo Pareto, know more about the man than 99.99% of the rest of the people on the planet.  Welcome to the tip-top 0.01%.

A mystery I attribute to low readership: I’ve posted much of this information before. In several years, not once has anyone criticized these posts as supporting fascism, the most common mis-directed criticism of Pareto.

Resources:

Portrait drawing of Vilfredo Pareto, from one of the few photographs of the man available. Image at Alchetron. Artist?

Portrait drawing of Vilfredo Pareto, from one of the few photographs of the man available. Image at Alchetron, by Artigas at Deviant Art.


No, Earth Day 2016 does not celebrate Lenin, who was anti-environmentalist – annual debunking of the annual Earth Day/Lenin hoax

April 20, 2016

This is mostly an encore post, repeated each year for April 22 and Earth Day — sad that it needs repeating; anti-environmentalists don’t appear to learn much, year to year.  (Yes, some of the links may be dated; if you find one not working, please let me know in comments.)

You could write it off to pareidolia, once.

Like faces in clouds, some people claimed to see a link. The first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970, coincided with Lenin’s birthday. There was no link — Earth Day was scheduled for a spring Wednesday, when the greatest number of college students would be on campus.

Link to permanent Earth Day site, at EarthDay.org

Link to permanent Earth Day site, at EarthDay.org

Now, years later, with almost-annual repeats of the claim from the braying right wing, it’s just a cruel hoax.  It’s as much a hoax on the ill-informed of the right, as anyone else. Many of them believe it.

No, there’s no link between Earth Day and the birthday of V. I. Lenin:

One surefire way to tell an Earth Day post is done by an Earth Day denialist: They’ll note that the first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970, was an anniversary of the birth of Lenin.

Coincidentally, yes, Lenin was born on April 22, on the new style calendar; it was April 10 on the calendar when he was born — one might accurately note that Lenin’s mother always said he was born on April 10.

It’s a hoax. There is no meaning to the first Earth Day’s falling on Lenin’s birthday — Lenin was not prescient enough to plan his birthday to fall in the middle of Earth Week, a hundred years before Earth Week was even planned.

About.com explains why the idea of a link between Earth Day and Lenin is silly:

Does Earth Day Promote Communism?
Earth Day 1970 was initially conceived as a teach-in, modeled on the teach-ins used successfully by Vietnam War protesters to spread their message and generate support on U.S. college campuses. It is generally believed that April 22 was chosen for Earth Day because it was a Wednesday that fell between spring break and final exams—a day when a majority of college students would be able to participate.

U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, the guy who dreamed up the nationwide teach-in that became Earth Day, once tried to put the whole “Earth Day as communist plot” idea into perspective.

“On any given day, a lot of both good and bad people were born,” Nelson said. “A person many consider the world’s first environmentalist, Saint Francis of Assisi, was born on April 22. So was Queen Isabella. More importantly, so was my Aunt Tillie.”

April 22 is also the birthday of J. Sterling Morton, the Nebraska newspaper editor who founded Arbor Day (a national holiday devoted to planting trees) on April 22, 1872, when Lenin was still in diapers. Maybe April 22 was chosen to honor Morton and nobody knew. Maybe environmentalists were trying to send a subliminal message to the national subconscious that would transform people into tree-planting zombies. One birthday “plot” seems just about as likely as the other. What’s the chance that one person in a thousand could tell you when either of these guys were born.

My guess is that only a few really wacko conservatives know that April 22 is Lenin’s birthday (was it ever celebrated in the Soviet Union?). No one else bothers to think about it, or say anything about it, nor especially, to celebrate it.

Certainly, the Soviet Union never celebrated Earth Day. Nor was Lenin any great friend of the environment.  He stood instead with the oil-drillers-without-clean-up, with the strip-miners-without-reclamation, with the dirty-smokestack guys.  You’d think someone with a bit of logic and a rudimentary knowledge of history could put that together.

Gaylord Nelson, Living Green image

Inventor of Earth Day teach-ins, former Wisconsin Governor and U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson

The REAL founder of Earth Day, Wisconsin’s U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, usually recognized as the founder and father of Earth Day, told how and why the organizers came to pick April 22:

Senator Nelson chose the date in order to maximize participation on college campuses for what he conceived as an “environmental teach-in.” He determined the week of April 19–25 was the best bet; it did not fall during exams or spring breaks, did not conflict with religious holidays such as Easter or Passover, and was late enough in spring to have decent weather. More students were likely to be in class, and there would be less competition with other mid-week events—so he chose Wednesday, April 22.

In his own words, Nelson spoke of what he was trying to do:

After President Kennedy’s [conservation] tour, I still hoped for some idea that would thrust the environment into the political mainstream. Six years would pass before the idea that became Earth Day occurred to me while on a conservation speaking tour out West in the summer of 1969. At the time, anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, called “teach-ins,” had spread to college campuses all across the nation. Suddenly, the idea occurred to me – why not organize a huge grassroots protest over what was happening to our environment?

I was satisfied that if we could tap into the environmental concerns of the general public and infuse the student anti-war energy into the environmental cause, we could generate a demonstration that would force this issue onto the political agenda. It was a big gamble, but worth a try.

At a conference in Seattle in September 1969, I announced that in the spring of 1970 there would be a nationwide grassroots demonstration on behalf of the environment and invited everyone to participate. The wire services carried the story from coast to coast. The response was electric. It took off like gangbusters. Telegrams, letters, and telephone inquiries poured in from all across the country. The American people finally had a forum to express its concern about what was happening to the land, rivers, lakes, and air – and they did so with spectacular exuberance. For the next four months, two members of my Senate staff, Linda Billings and John Heritage, managed Earth Day affairs out of my Senate office.

Five months before Earth Day, on Sunday, November 30, 1969, The New York Times carried a lengthy article by Gladwin Hill reporting on the astonishing proliferation of environmental events:

“Rising concern about the environmental crisis is sweeping the nation’s campuses with an intensity that may be on its way to eclipsing student discontent over the war in Vietnam…a national day of observance of environmental problems…is being planned for next spring…when a nationwide environmental ‘teach-in’…coordinated from the office of Senator Gaylord Nelson is planned….”

Nelson, a veteran of the U.S. armed services (Okinawa campaign), flag-waving ex-governor of Wisconsin (Sen. Joe McCarthy’s home state, but also the home of Aldo Leopold and birthplace of John Muir), was working to raise America’s consciousness and conscience about environmental issues.

Lenin on the environment? Think of the Aral Sea disaster, the horrible pollution from Soviet mines and mills, and the dreadful record of the Soviet Union on protecting any resource. Lenin believed in exploiting resources and leaving the spoils to rot in the sun, not conservation; in practice there was no environmental protection, but instead a war on nature, in the Soviet Union.

So, why are all these conservative denialists claiming, against history and politics, that Lenin’s birthday has anything to do with Earth Day?

Can you say “propaganda?” Can you say “political smear?”

2015 Resources and Good News:

2014 Resources and Good News:

2013 Resources and Good News:

Good information for 2012:

Good information from 2011:

Good information from 2010:

2014’s Wall of Shame:

2013 Wall of Shame:

Wall of Lenin’s Birthday Propaganda Shame from 2012:

Wall of Lenin’s Birthday Propaganda Shame from 2011:

Wall of Lenin’s Birthday Propaganda Shame from 2010:

Spread the word. Have you found someone spreading the hoax, claiming Earth Day honors Lenin instead? Give us the link in comments.


Democratic socialism’s darkest secret: More democracy than socialism

January 26, 2016

Fans of irony will find interesting this depiction of the of the greatest achievements in history of democratic socialism: The U.S. National Defense Highway System, better known as the Interstate Highway System.  Irony is that it is a key driver of the U.S. economy and has made possible great economic expansion that enriches capitalists greatly.

Fans of irony will find interesting this depiction of one of the greatest achievements in history of democratic socialism: The U.S. National Defense Highway System, better known as the Interstate Highway System. Irony is that it is a key driver of the U.S. economy and has made possible great economic expansion that enriches capitalists greatly. From the Online Atlas.

Stunning how some people will say Bernie Sanders makes sense in one breath, then when hearing he calls himself a socialist, claim Bernie is nuts and a threat to America.

Sanders’s supporters fight back, some. The phenomenon I describe is strongest among self-proclaimed extreme conservatives, and so is not such a huge issue in the primaries as it would be in the general election, if it is an issue at all.  A wise political strategist would not wait to confront the issue. It’s not an argument that can be answered with a bumper sticker.

Right wing publications take great pains to link any use of the word “socialism” with the now-repulsive violence of the Bolshevik Revolution and the autocratic nightmares of bureaucracy under the old Soviet-style government system, that even the Soviets abandoned. Right wingers don’t even pause to avoid saying socialism cares for people over corporations, in their blind striking out to smear anyone brave enough to take on the name.

We shouldn’t be surprised if Democrats generally defend the philosophy of democratic socialism from such demonizing.

This Tweet from one of Bernie’s guys offers to define democratic socialism rather as mother’s milk, apple pie and saluting the flag.

Is it correct? Does it persuade you?

The poster says*:

Democratic Socialism

Of the People, By the People, For the People

A political ideology which balances a democratic political system alongside a socialist economic system, involving a combination of political democracy with social ownership fo the means of production, free-market capitalism in the form of business receiving reasonable profits for goods and services while at the same time providing fair compensation to labor with a shared responsibility for civil societal needs such, but not limited to, emergency services, military, publicly-owned utilities and services, and infrastructure in the form of maintenance and management of public roadways, providing water and waste-water treatment, public parks and recreation, resource management and wildlife conservation, public ports, airports, rail lines and interstates, and in providing programs within a publicly elected representatives state and federal government.

Were I advising the Sanders campaign, I’d advise that the language in that statement be made much more reader friendly, and formatted to aid reading. But in the main, it doesn’t differ much from the Wikipedia definition.  See if you can find any critical differences:

Democratic socialism is a political ideology advocating a democratic political system alongside a socialist economic system, involving a combination of political democracy with social ownership of the means of production. Although sometimes used synonymously with “socialism”, the adjective “democratic” is often added to distinguish itself from Leninist and Stalinist brand of socialism, which is widely viewed as being non-democratic. In all, democratic socialists don’t support single-party system and centralism.[1]

Democratic socialism is usually distinguished from both the Soviet model of centralized socialism and social democracy, where “social democracy” refers to support for political democracy, regulation of the capitalist economy, and a welfare state.[2] The distinction with the former is made on the basis of the authoritarian form of government and centralized economic system that emerged in the Soviet Union during the 20th century,[3] while the distinction with the latter is made in that democratic socialism is committed to systemic transformation of the economy while social democracy is not.[4] That is, whereas social democrats seek only to “humanize” capitalism through state intervention, democratic socialists see capitalism as being inherently incompatible with the democratic values of freedom, equality, and solidarity; and believe that the issues inherent to capitalism can only be solved by superseding private ownership with some form of social ownership. Ultimately democratic socialists believe that reforms aimed at addressing the economic contradictions of capitalism will only cause more problems to emerge elsewhere in the economy, so that capitalism can never be sufficiently “humanized” and must ultimately be replaced by socialism.[5][6]

Democratic socialism is not specifically revolutionary or reformist, as many types of democratic socialism can fall into either category, with some forms overlapping with social democracy.[7] Some forms of democratic socialism accept social democratic reformism to gradually convert the capitalist economy to a socialist one using the pre-existing political democracy, while other forms are revolutionary in their political orientation and advocate for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the capitalist economy.[8]

Few people want to debate what “democratic socialism” really means, chiefly because socialism is such a loaded word and concept. There are two camps, one which wants people to rationally look at cooperative activities of the world’s great democratic republics and smile at their virtues, and continue them, the Bernie Sanders camp. The other camp holds strictly to the philosophy expressed in Friedrich von Hayek’s cartoon of socialism in The Road To Serfdom**, which indicts authoritarianism, and makes an unevidenced claim that any move towards socialism inherently leads to dictatorship.

We should give Sanders and his supporters credit for trying to open discussion. But we should be ready with first aid kits when they discover it’s not an open door to discussion with conservatives, but a tempered glass window posing as a door — and administer to their contusions as they smash into it.

If you find a tempered discussion of modern democratic socialism anywhere, will you let us know?

In comments, let us know what you think even if you don’t find the perfect, tempered discussion.

Matt Wuerker's classic cartoon from the 2008 campaign, when Barack Obama was accused of socialism for proposing to increase health care coverage. Perhaps ironically, Obama's plan ended up with powerful capitalist institutions entrenched in it. Critics of socialism sill haven't noticed.

Matt Wuerker’s classic cartoon from the 2009 campaign for the Affordable Care Act, when Barack Obama was accused of socialism for proposing to increase health care coverage. Perhaps ironically, Obama’s plan ended up with powerful capitalist institutions entrenched in it. Critics of socialism sill haven’t noticed.

More:

_____________

* I list the text here to aid in indexing for search sites.

** Link is to the version at the Mises Institute, which is generally a biased source; in this case, their biases help to make sure the cartoon version presented is faithful to Hayek’s original; otherwise, discussion there on “democratic socialism” is probably fruitless.


Should teachers make videos for classroom use? Economics edition

January 15, 2016

Mary McGlasson teaches economics at Chandler-Gilbert Community College in Arizona.

She makes videos for use in class, and out of class, and by others, on key economic concepts. I’ve used her videos in economics with great results.

Recently she was recognized with a teaching excellence award; she wrote: “The kind folks at the League for Innovations at the Community College asked each Roueche Award recipient to create a 1-minute video, so here it is. Mine’s a bit of a fail, because it’s 1:25… hope they like it anyway!”

Good on Mary McGlasson.

You want to see the real stuff? It’s all there on McGlasson’s YouTube channel. Here are a couple of examples.

Scarcity and Choice

Resources

Congratulations to Mary McGlasson — and thanks! Economics teachers, go see what she’s got.

Can you do better? Can you adopt these methods for different subjects? Please try.


January 5, 1949: Truman launches the “Fair Deal”

January 5, 2016

Front page of the New York Times on January 6, 1949, with news of President Truman's State of the Union message. Oddly, via Conservapedia

Front page of the New York Times on January 6, 1949, with news of President Truman’s State of the Union message. Oddly, via Conservapedia

President Harry Truman delivered his State of the Union address to Congress on January 5, 1949, the first after he’d won election to the presidency in his own right (he succeeded to the presidency on the death of Franklin Roosevelt on April 12, 1945, remember).

Campaign button from the 1948 presidential campaign; on January 5, 1949, Truman presented a more detailed program backing the slogan, in his State of the Union Address

Campaign button from the 1948 presidential campaign; on January 5, 1949, Truman presented a more detailed program backing the slogan, in his State of the Union Address

Not a barn-burner of a speech, but an important one.  He appealed to history and the Square Deal of Teddy Roosevelt and the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt; he appealed to Americans’ innate patriotism, and he appealed to a nation grateful to the soldiers who had defended freedom and democracy in World War II.  Truman called for a Fair Deal for all Americans, because they’d earned it, and it was the American thing to do.

This was barely eight weeks since Truman pulled out a stunning re-election win against the “do-nothing Congress.”  In many, many ways, the problems of 1949 look stunningly familiar to us today.  He spoke of the successes of the country in World War II, and the successes in business and finance since the war.  Truman said:

Reinforced by these policies, our private enterprise system has reached new heights of production. Since the boom year of 1929, while our population has increased by only 20 percent, our agricultural production has increased by 45 percent, and our industrial production has increased by 75 percent. We are turning out far more goods and more wealth per worker than we have ever done before.

This progress has confounded the gloomy prophets–at home and abroad who predicted the downfall of American capitalism. The people of the United States, going their own way, confident in their own powers, have achieved the greatest prosperity the world has even seen.

But, great as our progress has been, we still have a long way to go.

As we look around the country, many of our shortcomings stand out in bold relief.

We are suffering from excessively high prices.

Our production is still not large enough to satisfy our demands.

Our minimum wages are far too low.

Small business is losing ground to growing monopoly.

Our farmers still face an uncertain future. And too many of them lack the benefits of our modern civilization.

Some of our natural resources are still being wasted.

We are acutely short of electric power, although the means for developing such power are abundant.

Five million families are still living in slums and firetraps. Three million families share their homes with others.

Our health is far behind the progress of medical science. Proper medical care is so expensive that it is out of the reach of the great majority of our citizens.

Our schools, in many localities, are utterly inadequate.

Our democratic ideals are often thwarted by prejudice and intolerance.

Each of these shortcomings is also an opportunity-an opportunity for the Congress and the President to work for the good of the people.

Hello, boy howdy!  Prices aren’t so stifling as they were considered to be, then, and inflation is far from the plate of problems we face.

But the rest?

Perhaps we should look back to see what Congress, and the nation, did in 1949, as instructive to us in 2014.  Did Americans get a Fair Deal then?  Do they deserve one now?

From “Today in History” at American Memory, the Library of Congress:

On January 5, 1949, President Harry Truman used his State of the Union address to recommend measures including national health insurance, raising the minimum wage, strengthening the position of organized labor, and guaranteeing the civil rights of all Americans. Referencing the popular “New Deal” programs of his predecessor, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Truman styled his reform package the “Fair Deal.”

A few months earlier the president’s career seemed over.  Political pundits of the time agreed that Truman needed a miracle to win his 1948 bid for reelection against the popular Republican governor from New York, Thomas E. Dewey. Adding to the incumbent’s troubles, a revived Progressive Party attempted to attract left-leaning Democrats, while segregationist “Dixiecrats” broke with the Democrats to run South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond for president. Responding to the competition, Truman embarked on a campaign tour by train, delivering “whistle-stop” speeches to thousands of voters in small communities throughout the United States. This tactic proved effective, and President Truman was reelected by a slim margin. Still, the Chicago Daily Tribune was so confident of the president’s defeat it went to press with the November 3, 1948 headline “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN.”

Truman had begun to push for Fair Deal-type legislation following the end of World War II in 1945. However, Congress resisted his plans for the extension of federal social and economic programs. Concerned about the transition from a wartime to a peacetime economy, lawmakers ultimately accepted the role of government in maintaining full employment and stabilizing the economy, but rejected Truman’s proposals for national health insurance, educational aid, and federally-supported housing programs. Even after Truman’s successful 1948 campaign, the mandate for expanded social programs remained weak. The minimum wage rose and social security coverage broadened, but few Fair Deal programs were enacted.

On July 26, 1948, President Harry Truman issued two executive orders. One instituted fair employment practices in the civilian agencies of the federal government; the other provided for “equality of treatment and opportunity in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin.”

Gib Crockett cartoon on Truman's Fair Deal, 1949. May still be under copyright

Gib Crockett cartoon on Truman’s Fair Deal, 1949. May still be under copyright

We could use a Fair Deal for America today, in 2016. GOP wouldn’t stand for it, though.

More:

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

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience. Heaven knows this nation needs good news of great turnarounds in history.


December 31, 2015: Bright Idea Day, anniversary of the Day the Lights Went On

December 31, 2015

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 (surely not the 1 million predicted by NBC!) 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 (regrettably, we note this site is no longer there; but with some hope, we find a new site here)

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:


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