Category Archives: Historical

In Praise of Unsung Heroes

A major problem with studying history is you have to dig to get the real story.  So much gets left out of the standard history books. One of my favorite examples is Rosalind Franklin, whose pioneering work in X-ray crystallography enabled James Watson, Francis Crick, and their colleague Maurice Wilkins to discover the structure of

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A Reminder of the Automobile’s Impact

Yesterday my hometown of Pleasant Hill, Ohio celebrated its sesquicentennial. (Actually I grew up on a farm five miles from the nearest town, but this is where I went to school, so close enough.)  Looking at old pictures on display, some from over a century ago, brought back a lot of memories… and some surprises.  

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Happy Birthday, Niccolò Machiavelli

Somehow in this political year it seems fitting to write about Machiavelli, famously the author of The Prince.  He was born in Florence, Italy, on May 3, 1469, into one of the prominent merchant families of this city-state.  However, the family was not wealthy, and financial worries would dog Niccolo throughout his life.  He became

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How Many Slaves Tried to Run Away?

I was in the classroom earlier this week as an aide in some middle school social studies classes, and they were studying the Underground Railroad.  All this week they were watching a movie entitled Race to Freedom about slaves trying to make it to Canada.  We hear so much about the Underground Railroad, and movies

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A Visit to Hiroshima

As a history nerd, I jumped at the chance to visit Hiroshima during my recent trip to Japan. Today, Hiroshima is a modern, vibrant city. But the past is being brought to vivid reality by the Peace Memorial Park, which is on an island  between the Honkawa and Motoyasu-gawa Rivers, and the Atomic Bomb Dome

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Who’s First? (Seriously)

Were the Wright Brothers really the first to fly an airplane?  They’re given credit, and they certainly advanced aviation, forming their own company and continuing their research.  But there are other claimants.  (A good article summarizing those claims is at http://www.airspacemag.com/history-of-flight/who-flew-first-290750/?no-ist.  And I still consider the Wright Brothers to be first.) James Watt is associated with

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Unsung Heroes — Mary Edwards Walker

If you are looking for a hero, especially if you’re a girl, you might consider Mary Edwards Walker.   Born on November 26, 1832, in Oswego, New York,  she was a nurse, doctor, woman’s rights activist, abolitionist, prohibitionist, alleged spy, and prisoner of war during the American Civil War.  She became the first, and as

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Belated Thoughts on MLK Day

Has Martin Luther King, Jr. Day become just another holiday? I suppose it depends on one’s perspective.  I’ve occasionally been asked about the civil-rights era when I substitute teach, and during the 1960s I was always on the sidelines.  I grew up in an area that was almost exclusively white, and had no real exposure

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When Henry Ford Paid a Living Wage

If you like obscure anniversaries, on January 5, 1914, Henry Ford announced he would start paying his workers $5 for an eight-hour workday, an increase from an average of $2.34 for a nine-hour workday. The resulting reaction was not what you might expect.  Some thought he was crazy.  The Wall Street Journal editorialized that he

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