December 31 is Bright Idea Day 2018, anniversary of the Day the Lights Went On

December 31, 2018

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 2 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 amusing 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, Fluffernutter (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.

Gee, I wonder who were the dignitaries to whom Edison demonstrated the electric light on that New Years Eve, in 1879. Anyone know? We can safely wager that there were representatives of the Vanderbilts and Morgans there, families who invested in Edison as an inventor.

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.

Even More:

This is an encore post.

Yes, this is an encore post. Defeating ignorance takes patience and perseverance.

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

December 31, 2017

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.

Gee, I wonder who were the dignitaries to whom Edison demonstrated the electric light on that New Years Eve, in 1879. Anyone know? We can safely wager that there were representatives of the Vanderbilts and Morgans there, families who invested in Edison as an inventor.

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.

Even More:

This is an encore post.

Yes, this is an encore post. Defeating ignorance takes patience and perseverance.


History in cartoons: Joseph Keppler on the need for the 17th Amendment

September 26, 2016

From the Historian of the U.S. Senate, a Joseph Keppler cartoon from Puck Magazine,

From the Historian of the U.S. Senate, a Joseph Keppler cartoon from Puck Magazine, “The Making of a Senator.” Print by J. Ottmann Lith. Co. after Joseph Keppler, Jr., Puck. Lithograph, colored, 1905-11-15. Image with text measurement Height: 18.50 inches (46.99 cm) Width: 11.50 inches (29.21 cm) Cat. no. 38.00624.001

This is a lithograph after a cartoon by Joseph Keppler in Puck Magazine, November 15, 1905. Keppler’s cartoons kept on the heat for some legislative solution to continuing corruption in state legislatures and the U.S. Senate, driven by the ability of large corporations and trusts to essentially purchase entire states’ legislatures, and tell legislators who to pick for the U.S. Senate.

Described by the Historian of the U.S. Senate:

The “people” were at the bottom of the pile when it came to electing U.S. senators, when Joseph Keppler, Jr.’s cartoon, “The Making of a Senator, ” appeared in Puck on November 15, 1905. Voters elected the state legislatures, which in turn elected senators. Keppler depicted two more tiers between state legislatures and senators: political bosses and corporate interests. Most notably, he drew John D. Rockefeller, Sr., head of the Standard Oil Corporation, perched on moneybags, on the left side of the “big interests. ”

This cartoon appeared while muckraking magazine writers such as Ida Tarbell and David Graham Phillips were accusing business of having corrupted American politics. The muckrakers charged senators with being financially beholden to the special interests. Reformers wanted the people to throw off the tiers between them and directly elect their senators–which was finally achieved with ratification of the 17th Amendment in 1913.

Recent scuttlebutt about repealing the 17th Amendment seems to me wholly unconnected from the history. The 17th Amendment targeted corruption in the Senate and states. It largely worked, breaking the course of money falling from rich people and large corporations into the hands of everyone but the people, and breaking the practice of corporate minions getting Senate seats, to do the bidding of corporations and trusts.

Anti-corruption work was part of the larger Progressive Agenda, which included making laws that benefited people, such as clean milk and food, pure drugs, and banking and railroad regulation so small farmers and businessmen could make a good living. Probably the single best symbol of the Progressive movement was “Fighting Bob” LaFollette, Congressman, Governor and U.S. Senator from Wisconsin. LaFollette was a great supporter of the 17th Amendment

Again from the Senate Historian:

Nicknamed “Fighting Bob,” La Follette continued to champion Progressive causes during a Senate career extending from 1906 until his death in 1925. He strongly supported the 17th Amendment, which provided for the direct election of senators, as well as domestic measures advocated by President Woodrow Wilson’s administration, including federal railroad regulation and laws protecting workers rights. La Follette worked to generate wider public accountability for the Senate. He advocated more frequent and better publicized roll call votes and the publication of information about campaign expenditures.

Criticism of the 17th Amendment runs aground when it analyzes the amendment by itself, without reference to the democracy- and transparency-increasing components from the rest of the Progressive movements’ legislative actions from 1890 to 1930.

No one favors corruption and damaging secrecy in politics. By pulling the 17th out of context, critics hope to persuade Americans to turn back the clock to more corrupt times.

More:

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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:


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:


Joseph Keppler’s cartoon on why we need the 17th Amendment

April 4, 2014

This is the cartoon:

“The Bosses of the Senate,” by J. Ottmann Lith. Co. after Joseph Keppler Puck Lithograph, colored, 1889-01-23 From the collection of the U.S. Senate

One of my old high school classmates, Shaun McCausland, ran for the U.S. Senate in Utah in 2012, on the Constitution Party ticket.  Nice kid, I felt an obligation to pay attention to what he was trying to do, even with his running against my old boss, Orrin Hatch.

I was surprised to find in his campaign materials he e-mailed me, a call for the repeal of the 17th Amendment.

What?  That’s the amendment that gives us direct election of U.S. senators, instead of letting the state legislatures select them.   Why repeal?

Shaun sent along an explanation, from Constitution Party materials, as I recall, claiming that the 17th Amendment was a “power grab” by industry and other oligarchist groups, to take power from the states.  It was a move towards corruption, the material explained.

Seriously?  People think that today?

History takes a different view.

Prior to the 17th Amendment, state legislatures selected the U.S. senators.  Big corporate interests — the monopolists — figured this out in spades, and proceeded to buy state legislatures, thereby getting the right to name their friends to the U.S. Senate, in the perfect picture of a corrupt bargain (the charge originally aimed at the supposed deal between John Quincy Adams and Daniel Webster Henry Clay, in which it was alleged Webster Clay got the House of Representatives to name Adams president, and Webster Clay was in turn appointed Secretary of State, the president-in-waiting post of that day).

Look at the cartoon.  You’ll see the fat “bosses” sitting around the back of the senate chamber labeled, “Copper Trust,” “Steel Trust,” “Oil Trust,” and so on.

Consider Montana, Utah and Arizona.  In each of those states, huge copper mines were among the leading businesses.  The domes of the Arizona and Utah capitol buildings are capped with copper, in honor of the leading role the ore and mineral played in early state history.

Who got elected to the state legislatures in those states?  Copper company-approved and -supported candidates won.

So, who was elected to the U.S. Senate, by the state legislatures?  Copper company-approved senators.

In 1913, when Arizona joined the union, one could make a case that copper controlled at least 6 senators out of 96.

And so it was for other trusts, in other states — or a mixture of trusts in some states. Think of the trusts of the time — the copper trust, the steel trust, the steel beam trust, the nail trust, the coal trust, and many others.

The rich guys ruled.

While this system technically violated no laws in those campaign-contribution-limit-free days, it clearly affected legislation.  The Progressive Movement arose as a grassroots movement, from farmers and laborers, from downtrodden immigrants, from the prairies, mines and mills.  When enough people got involved, they could out vote the trusts in a few things — but it still took more than a quarter century to change the election process for the U.S. Senate, to keep the corruption out.

Politics of the times from 1900 to 1920 were complex, and can be oversimplified easily.  Running that risk, let us note that by the time Woodrow Wilson took over the White House, reformers were maneuvering to fix problems in lots of areas, sometimes with great overreaches like the 18th Amendment and Prohibition, but also with long-needed reforms, and reforms headed in the right direction but not strongly or fast enough, like the creation of the Federal Reserve.

The 17th Amendment was intended to get corruption out of the U.S. Senate, especially the senator selection process.  Instead of leaving the selection in the hands of corporation-captive state legislatures, the 17th Amendment expanded democracy, making the selection of U.S. senators a choice of the people of the state, at the ballot box.

Keppler’s cartoon, originally published in Punch Magazine, tells the story in one panel.  It shows the U.S. Senate — very astute historians may be able to pick out and identify particular senators — with the chief door labeled “Monopolists’ Entrance.”  Coming through the door, and lining the back of the Senate, are the “Bosses of the Senate,” moneybags with legs, or in one case an oil barrel with legs, and with the name of the trust written across the front of their nattily-dressed girths.

The senators turn to their bosses, awaiting instruction.

Inscribed on the wall at the back of the chamber is a twisted rendition of Lincoln’s stirring description of the government intended by the Constitution:  “This is the Senate of the Monopolists by the Monopolists and for the Monopolists!” (Compare Keppler’s cartoon drawings of the U.S. Senate Chamber with photographs and drawings, if you can find them.)

There is a door to the galleries of the Senate, labeled “The Peoples’ Entrance.”  It is barred, bolted and nailed shut, keeping out the American people.

Keppler’s cartoon was published January 23, 1889.  Earlier reform attempts failed, in 1828, 1829 and 1855. Progressives including William Jennings Bryan, George Frisbie Hoar and Elihu Root pushed for reform in the 1890s.  By 1910, some 31 states had passed resolutions asking for reform; some of them initiated direct primary elections, though that didn’t generally affect the selections by the legislatures.  Partly to avoid a states-led convention to amend the Constitution, which could easily run rogue, critics feared, Congress took up the issue.  Congress passed the amendment, submitting it to the states on May 13, 1912.  By April 18, 1913, three-fourths of the states had ratified the proposal, and it was declared the 17th Amendment.  Ironically, by that time Bryan had assumed the office of Secretary of State, and it fell to him to proclaim the amendment adopted on May 31, 2013.

The fat cats lost.

Please remember that.

More:

Another cartoon, by Spencer, for the Omaha (Nebraska) World, poking fun at the time required to get the 17th Amendment; from the U.S. National Archives, collected by Robert C. Byrd, Senate Majority Leader:

Cartoon portraying the time needed to pass the 17th Amendment allowing the direct election of U.S. senators By Spencer, for the Omaha World Herald, 1912 Reproduced from Robert C. Byrd, The Senate, 1789­1989

Cartoon portraying the time needed to pass the 17th Amendment allowing the direct election of U.S. senators By Spencer, for the Omaha World Herald, 1912 Reproduced from Robert C. Byrd, The Senate, 1789­1989

Nota Bene: Oh, to have a good copy editor. Clay, not Webster. How many years, how many thousand readers, before anyone read it as it was, and not as we expected it to be?

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Nathan Bigelow on Woodrow Wilson, TODAY (March 5), at Austin College

March 5, 2014

Too late for most of us, but history teachers near Sherman, Texas, ought to zip out as soon as school is out this afternoon, and head over to Austin College.

From North Texas e-News:

Nathan Bigelow, Professor of Political Science at Austin College in Sherman, Texas; Bigelow will present

Nathan Bigelow, Professor of Political Science at Austin College in Sherman, Texas; Bigelow will present “The Evolving Political Thought of Professor [Woodrow] Wilson,” March 5, 2014.

Bigelow to share insight on political evolution of Woodrow Wilson

SHERMAN, TEXAS — Nathan Bigelow, Austin College associate professor of political science and chair of the Department of Political Science, will present “The Evolving Political Thought of Professor Wilson” on March 5 at 4:30 p.m. in Wright Campus Center, Room 231. A 4 p.m. reception in nearby Johnson Gallery precedes his presentation, which highlights his recent sabbatical study. The event, free and open to the public, is hosted by the Johnson Center for Faculty Development and Excellence in Teaching.

Bigelow said his talk will focus on the bookends of Woodrow Wilson’s academic career: Congressional Government (1880), in which he made a broad critique of the American constitutional system, and Constitutional Government (1908), written just before he left academia for a career in politics, in which he reassessed many of his original positions. “I contend that his evolving thought can be traced to changes in the political environment during this time – specifically, increased party discipline and invigorated presidential leadership,” Bigelow said.” I will use newly available quantitative measures of this time period to help support my argument.”

The Robert and Joyce Johnson Center for Faculty Development and Excellence in Teaching, is directed by Bernice Melvin, Margaret Root Brown Chair of Foreign Languages and Literatures and professor of French. Within the mission of the center is the encouragement of ‘bold exploration of intellectual frontiers” and “fostering lively intellectual dialogue within and across academic disciplines.”

Austin College is a leading national independent liberal arts college located north of Dallas in Sherman, Texas. Founded in 1849, making it the oldest institution of higher education in Texas operating under original charter and name, the college is related by covenant to the Presbyterian Church (USA). Recognized nationally for academic excellence in the areas of international education, pre-professional training, and leadership studies, Austin College is one of 40 schools profiled in Loren Pope’s influential book Colleges That Change Lives.

Texas history and social studies teachers have been working to bolster teaching of the Progressive Era, Imperialism, and important figures of those times including Woodrow Wilson, after testing indicated Texas students are too often unfamiliar with the times and events.  Sherman area history teachers are lucky to have this close by.

I’ve been unable to discover whether professional education credit will be offered.


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