History

The U.S. Navy’s Oldest Ship is Being Restored

One of my favorite tourist attractions in Boston is Old Ironsides, drawing more than 500,000 visitors a year. Officially named the USS Constitution, the world’s oldest commissioned warship still afloat is a major attraction to anyone visiting Boston and for very good reasons. It gives visitors a great insight into the history of the United States and the hardships faced by the brave men who served on board. However, it will no longer be at the Navy Yard pier in Charlestown for a few years.

Built in Boston and launched in October 1797, the USS Constitution was among the first warships of the new nation. It was commissioned by the U.S. Navy following the Revolutionary War in order to protect American merchant ships off the northern coast of Africa. The three-mast frigate earned its nickname after winning battles during the War of 1812 against Great Britain.

Tine has taken its toll (again) and the USS Constitution was towed across Boston Harbor Friday to a drydock where it will undergo repairs. It is expected to be back in the water by 2017.

A Prediction That Didn’t Work Out

Predicting the future is always a questionable idea. Even the experts can get it wrong.

Television at the 1939 World’s Fair

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the world’s first television broadcast. RCA televised the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. Few people could afford TV sets at the time and many predicted that the new-fangled invention would never catch on.

The New York Times wrote, “The problem with television is that the people must sit and keep their eyes glued to a screen… the average American family hasn’t time for it.”

It strikes me that television indeed has become a success, despite the predictions from “experts.”

Multispectral Imaging Decodes a Burnt Magna Carta for First Time in 283 Years

Click on the above image to view a larger version.

More than 280 years after it was damaged in a fire, one of the original copies of the Magna Carta is legible again. There were four copies of the document created at the time. One, held by the British Library, was badly damaged in a fire in 1731. That copy can now be read on a computer screen after scientists used multispectral imaging to decipher the text of the “Burnt Magna Carta” without touching or further damaging the delicate parchment.

Multispectral imaging is a process that photographed the burnt parchment, using a variety of LED lights, spanning the spectrum from ultraviolet to infrared, outside the range of human vision. The various images each produces a few clues to the original ink. By combining the multiple images, text that is invisible to the naked eye is suddenly visible.

Here is a Chance to Own a Piece of Computer History: an Original Apple 1 Computer

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The upcoming History of Science auction at Bonhams New York could provide fine opportunities for investments in rare collectibles, including a 1976 Apple 1 motherboard. According to Bonhams, around 200 Apple 1 computers were built and were the first pre-assembled personal computers to hit the market. This particular model is believed to be part of a first batch of 50 and was sold for US$666.66 at the time. It is said to be in working order and, complete with vintage keyboard, Sanyo monitor and owner’s manual, is expected to attract bids between US$300,000 and $500,000.

Orphan Train Conference set for October 11

Between 1854 and 1929, more than 250,000 children were placed on orphan trains from the East Coast of the U.S., venturing into unknown territory in the West by train, to settle with unfamiliar families across America. The transfer was the first emigration plan and largest mass migration of children ever to take place on American soil, formulating the country’s first child welfare system.

Descendants and interested persons gather annually to celebrate and discover the saga of those little pioneers drawn into a social experiment spanning more than 75 years. There are fewer than 50 surviving orphan train riders in the U.S. today.

Photographs of Citizens of London in 1877

Click on the above image to view a larger version.

Life was often difficult for our ancestors, as shown in pictures of Dickensian poverty on the streets of London. The images show the grim reality of life in Victorian London.

The photographs of working class people, captured by photojournalist John Thomson in 1877, show the backbreaking daily grind which was a reality for the capital’s citizens. You can read more and view the pictures at http://goo.gl/7sjLG5.

Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies Now Online

Fold3.com has added a new title: the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies. Like its name suggests, this collection contains the two navies’ official reports, orders, and correspondence from the Civil War. If you’re interested in the Civil War, this is the go-to title for contemporary, first-hand information about the Northern and Southern navies.

Originally compiled by the Navy Department, the Official Records of the Navies are organized into two series: Series I, with 27 individual volumes, and Series II, with 3 volumes and an index. Series I documents all wartime operations of the two navies, while Series II deals with statistical data of Union and Confederate ships, letters of marque and reprisal, Confederate departmental investigations, Navy and State department correspondence, proclamations and appointments of President Davis, and more.

You can read more in an article by Trevor Hammond in the Fold3 Blog at http://blog.fold3.com/official-records-of-the-union-and-confederate-navies.

Your Picture in an Automobile

Sometimes we take certain things for granted. We often don’t stop to realize what life was like for our ancestors. We may have skills that our ancestor did not possess. Today I stumbled across some old photographs that made me stop and think.

In 1905 the automobile was a novelty. Very few people had ever driven one, much less owned one. After looking at a couple of photographs, I realized that most people did not know how to drive in those days.

Today most adults are familiar with driving automobiles. However, 100 or more years ago, that was not true. In fact, the idea of someone driving an automobile was so unique that commercial photographers of the time often took advantage of the automobile to sell more photographs.

Library of Congress Offers a New Collection of Depression Era Photographs

The Library of Congress has a great collection of photographs from the Great Depression that has recently been updated. The collection now contains more than 175,000 portraits of America between the years 1935 and 1945, taken by photographers of the government’s Farm Security Administration. The photographs also include all known data about the subject(s) in each photo, including the date and location of the photograph and also the name of the photographer.

Click on the images to view larger versions.

Thanks to a new project known as Photogrammar from Yale University, viewers will have a much easier time exploring the photographs. There’s a map that displays the images by county and another that shows where each picture was taken and by which photographer. There’s also an interactive that allows viewers to sort the photos by theme (e.g. “war” or “religion”) and then browse from there. Other tools are still in the works.

On This Day in History: Japan Surrenders on September 2, 1945

Click on the above image to view a much larger version. Photograph from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

The surrender of the Empire of Japan on September 2, 1945, brought the hostilities of World War II to a close. The surrender marked the end of one of the biggest hostilities in history, one that altered the lives of millions of people.

You can find details about the surrender on dozens of web sites, including on Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surrender_of_Japan.

Archive of pre-Holocaust Jewish Images in Eastern Europe Digitized

A vast archive of photographs of pre-Holocaust Eastern European Jewish life is being made available to the public and researchers. The International Center of Photography in New York and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., announced the joint creation of a digital database to facilitate access to photographer Roman Vishniac’s archive.

Vishniac was a Russian-born Jew who moved to Berlin in 1920. He documented the rise of Nazi power and its effect on Jewish life in Central and Eastern Europe. The International Center of Photography said it believes the project “represents a new model for digital archives” and it’s excited to bring Vishniac’s collection to a wider audience.

Mapping Migration in the United States

The New York Times has published an interesting series of maps of the United States showing where the residents of each state were born. It shows the percentage of natives of each state, along with the other states where people were born and also the percentage of residents who were born outside the U.S. Within a state, larger shapes mean a group makes up a larger share of the population. The map shows data from 1900, 1950, and 2012.

Those born in Louisiana must really enjoy living there as 79% of the Louisiana residents of 2012 were also born there. Only 36% of the Floridians are native born, which should surprise no one.

700+ Hours of Moving Film Footage from the Great War Now Online

More than 700 hours of moving film footage from the great war has been newly released online for the first time, in a joint European project involving the UK’s Imperial War Museum. The footage, available on the Imperial War Museum website, has been released online for the first time. You can learn more at http://www.iwm.org.uk/exhibitions/iwm-london/first-world-war-galleries and in a video at http://bcove.me/hfedsjvf.

The Great Colonial Hurricane of August 1635

As we enter the hurricane season in the Northern Hemisphere, perhaps we should stop and think a bit about hurricanes that affected our ancestors. They had no Weather Channel, no special live reports from the scene and, indeed, no advance warning at all. In fact, for centuries nobody knew that storms moved. The transplanted Europeans of the 1600s knew almost nothing of hurricanes, an entirely foreign phenomenon. They thought storms happened in only one place and were caused by an angry God. Their fears of approaching death were reinforced when a lunar eclipse followed the natural disaster.

The Great Colonial Hurricane of August 1635 most likely was a category 3.5 hurricane that probably stayed off the Atlantic coast, causing little damage, until it got to New England. Colonists often wrote about weather in their journals. The first recorded mention of the Great Colonial Hurricane was on August 24, 1635, at the Virginia Colony at Jamestown. It was mentioned as a big storm in journals of the early residents but no major damage was reported. Today’s historians are guessing that the eye of the hurricane probably passed east of Jamestown, well out to sea. It then most likely passed over uninhabited easternmost Long Island before moving north into New England.

Are These YOUR Ancestors? Faces of Medieval Scots Digitally Reconstructed.

The skeletons of almost 400 men, women and children from between the 15th and the 18th century, whose remains were unearthed in a cemetery five years ago, have been brought back to life thanks to digital faces created by forensic artists. By examining the remains, experts from the University of Dundee have revealed how the individuals lived and died, as well as what some of them would have looked like.

Scientists used forensic modelling to work out the shape of facial muscles and tissues, before using a computer programme to rebuild three of the people’s faces, which look strikingly modern.

The World’s First Mobile Phone?

According to an article in The Daily Mail, Philadelphia experimenter W W McFarlane invented a mobile telephone in 1920 that required three pieces of stove pipe stuck to a board as an aerial. It reportedly worked over a range of up to 500 yards.

I find it interesting that the person talking on the “telephone” in the above picture was not driving. I wish people today would not drive and talk on the phone simultaneously.

Child Migrants Have Been Coming to America Alone Since Ellis Island

Barry Moreno, a librarian at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum and author of the book Children of Ellis Island, is quoted in an article about unaccompanied children who immigrated to America. The Immigration Act of 1907 declared that unaccompanied children under 16 were not permitted to enter in the normal fashion. But it didn’t send them packing, either. Instead, the act set up a system in which unaccompanied children — many of whom were orphans — were kept in detention awaiting a special inquiry with immigration inspectors to determine their fate. At these hearings, local missionaries, synagogues, immigrant aid societies and private citizens would often step in and offer to take guardianship of the child, says Moreno.

One of these children may have gown up to become your ancestor. You can read the interesting story, written by Tasneem Raja, in the Moyer & Company web site at http://goo.gl/rhGBRx.

Looking for Descendants of a World War I Glasgow Kilt Maker

Economic historian Dr Helen Paul, of the University of Southampton, found a hand-written message when she was removing the packing stitches from a kilt that has been passed down in her family for decades. The message reads: “I hope your kilt will fit you well, & in it you will look a swell. If married never mind. If single drop a line. Wish you bags of luck, & a speedy return back to Blighty.” Underneath was the name of Helen Govan, of 49 Ardgowan Street in Glasgow.

Dr. Paul reports, “This garment has been in our family for a number of decades, and until recently, we were completely unaware there was such an intriguing secret hidden in its folds. It was a real surprise when the note fell out.

“My father tried to trace any relatives of the note’s author a few years ago, but his efforts failed and I’m hoping to pick up where he left off.”

How They Made Books in 1947

Back before ebooks, printing was a time-comsuming laborious process. Once the author finished the writing tasks, teams of people working together were required to produce just one book. An Encyclopaedia Britannica Films documentary created in 1947 is available on YouTube that shows the process.

Johnny Appleseed Exhibit to Hit the Road

If you picture Johnny Appleseed as a loner wearing a tin pot for a hat and flinging apple seeds across the countryside, experts say you’re wrong. A traveling exhibit funded by an anonymous donation to the Johnny Appleseed Museum at Urbana University will help clear misconceptions about the folk hero and the real man behind the legend.

John Chapman, known as Johnny Appleseed to generations of Americans, was a pioneer nurseryman in the late 18th and early 19th centuries credited with introducing apple trees to portions of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and West Virginia. While it’s probably true that he lived outdoors and wore ragged clothes, at least sometimes, researchers doubt he wore a pot on his head or just gave his seedlings and nurseries away.

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