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razor_blade_020Men have shaved their faces for thousands of years. Some of the earliest materials for razors were clam shells, flint, shark’s teeth and pumice stones, all of which were sharpened on rocks. Though they worked, they certainly didn’t leave men’s cheeks feeling smooth as a baby’s bottom. There was also a danger of slicing your throat or your palm while getting rid of your five o’clock shadow.

Clean-shaven men were seen more commonly in the 11th Century. At that time, not only were people focusing more of personal grooming with things like perfumes, but the Roman Catholic Church began urging its men to shave as way to distinguish themselves from men of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The two churches had separated in 1054.

When men began working with metals, bronze razor blades appeared. However, it was the age of steel that allowed razor blades to make their greatest advances. As blacksmiths created sharper knives and axes with more-durable edges, it was only logical that they also use those skills to create better razors.

What has become known as the first modern razor was created by Benjamin Huntsman in the 1740. Huntsman worked in Sheffield, England, which would eventually give its name to the Sheffield Razor. Between 1740 and 1830, these blades were often marked as “cast steel” or “warranted.”

Huntsman used a special process to create steel with superior hardness so that it could hold a thin, sharp edge. These blades were easier to sharpen and held their edge longer. When these early blades did lose their edge, they were sharpened like knives were. Razor-Blades__74514_zoom

The next improvement to razors was to hollow grind them and replace the wedge-shaped edge with a concave, bevelled edge. Hollow-ground razors began showing up around 1825, though the process wouldn’t be fully refined until the end of the century.

As razors became sharper, some inventors began turning their eyes to increasing the safety of razors. The first safety razor was developed in 1770 by Jean-Jacques Perret of France. It was a straight razor with a wood guard. The Kampfe Brothers patented their safety razor in 1880. This razor had a removable handle, a head that caught excess lather and a wire guard along the blade.

King Gillette started developing his innovations to the safety razor in 1895. His idea was to use cheap, disposable blades in a safety razor. Producing this razor was still impossible until 1903 when MIT graduate William Nickerson helped Gillette develop the disposable blade.

Shaving now became convenient and easy. Gillette provided razors to the U.S. military, which allowed him to introduce millions of men to the new technology, which they then went on to use once they left the military.

Jacob Schick followed a different direction for improving the razor. He patented an electric razor in 1923.  However, the design was unwieldy and Schick continued to refine it until he began selling them in 1931.

The Gillette company also introduced the first cartridge razor in 1971. The cartridge had two fixed blades in it and could be easily attached to a handle.

Companies still continue to look for new innovations and refinements to help men and woman find the way to get a closer shave.

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This is a wonderful story about a heroic and humble man.

Pacific Paratrooper

William J. Crawford William J. Crawford

During every intermission I include at least one story from the European Theater.  This following article showed me once again the honor and humility that was common to the Greatest Generation.

Perhaps it was the way he carried himself in an unassuming and humble manner, but day after day hundreds of Air Force Academy cadets would pass this janitor in the hall oblivious to the greatness that was among them.

In the mid-1970s, William Crawford might spend one day sweeping the halls and another cleaning the bathrooms, but it was a day approximately 30 years prior that would create for him a special place in the history of war. In 1943 in Italy, the only thing  Private William Crawford was cleaning out was German machine gun nest and bunkers.

William Crawford – Medal of Honor recipient

Under heavy fire and at great risk to himself, his gallantry…

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Here’s a good post about the war of 1812. Make sure to listen to the Battle of New Orleans song. I loved it as a kid.

History Imagined

The War of 1812 stands out in American history as a disappointment to most, a forgotten war as soon as one managed to finish 8th grade history class. It doesn’t have the same fervor as the Civil War, nor does it have the same righteous outcome as the Revolutionary War.

But June marked the anniversary of the start of the war, so now is a perfect time to open those history books again and explore what and why this war happened. It’s a bit confusing, involves Canada to some extent, the British, of course, and a lot of other elements that led to its inconclusive outcome. It gave rise to some commanding officers who later helped mold the country by taking the reins of the presidency–Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison and James Madison.

340px-James_Madison James Madison, president of the United States in 1812, who signed the document declaring war on…

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Benjamin_Franklin_by_Joseph_Siffrein_Duplessis.jpgBenjamin Franklin is well known as a publisher, statesman, scientist, and inventor, but he was also a musician who created the first American musical instrument.

Benjamin Franklin invented the glass armonica in 1761. Three years earlier he had seen Edmund Delaval play water-filled wine glasses. He worked with glassblower Charles James to build his instrument.

The name comes from the Italian word for “harmony.”

The First Armonica Performance

The glass armonica had its world premiere in February 1762. Marianne Davies in London. She gave a concert in which she not only played the armonica, but sang and played the German flute as well.

The armonica gained enough popularity in its day that both Mozart and Beethoven, as well as more than 100 composers, wrote music for the instrument. GHmains

What is a Glass Armonica?

The glass armonica is a set of 37 glass bowls mounted on a spindle. Each bowl is slightly smaller than the preceding one and they are mounted so that the bowls sit inside of each other. The spindle has a flywheel mounted on one end of it that is rotated by a foot treadle.

To play the armonica, the musician moistens his or her fingers and rubs the rims of the bowls as they rotate on the treadle. Each bowl vibrates at a different note. The resulting sound has an almost ethereal quality to it. Franklin also recommended using a small amount a chalk on one’s fingers to ensure a clear note.

The armonica is based on the same idea that causes sound when someone rubs their finger around the rim of a wine goblet.

Problems with the Armonica

Many people believed that playing the glass armonica led to health problems. This is due to both the lead in the glass bowls in the 18th Century and the lead in the paint used to mark the notes that each bowl played.

Some armonica musicians complained of the loss of feeling in their hands and some even suffered nervous breakdowns.

img-20150305194205Armonica Falls into Disuse

This fear led people to stop playing it and by 1830, it was no longer played for the most past.

Armonica Revival

After 30 years of experimentation, Gerhard Finkenbeiner, a Boston glassblower, is credited with reviving interest in the armonica. In 1984, he made an armonica using quartz rather than glass to make the bowls. The bowls also had gold bands on them that served the same purpose as black keys on a piano.

You can hear an armonica being played here.

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alexandria-canal-and-wharf_12659630893_o.jpgIn C&O Canal National Historical Park Librarian Karen Gray’s study of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, she divides the canal’s existence into the three periods. The first period is the time up until the canal opened to Cumberland. During this time, the canal was being built, but it had partial operations for different types of boats. From 1850 to the turn of the century, the canal operated independently for the most part and also had its golden age. From the turn of the century until the canal closed, it operated primarily under the Canal Towage Company at a reduced capacity. The research has even turned up a couple mysteries that have yet to be solved.

Before the canal was fully completed to Cumberland in 1850, flatbed riverboats used to travel the Potomac River and enter the partially open canal at the dam near Williamsport. From there, they could continue their journey to Georgetown.

The question is how did they continue their journey? Riverboats were carried by the current with the crew using poles to guide the boat. Poles could not be used on the canal, though, or the clay berm would have been damaged. So how were the boats moved through the canal?

“Most likely, someone rented mules at Williamsport, but we don’t know for sure,” Gray said.

Perhaps the biggest mystery is how canal boats that were supposed to be 92-feet long fit into some locks that could hold boats no longer 85 to 90 feet. The 92-foot boat length comes from a single boat that was used to make drawings from. At the time the drawings were made, the boat had been out of the water for years so it is probable that frame may have loosened somewhat, adding length and width to the dimensions. This is only a guess at this time, though.

“All of this information is a great resource that we’ve been able to make available to the world so that future researchers and future students can dig down and do deep analysis,” Bill Holdsworth, president of the C&O Canal Association, said.

He said that since much of the current beliefs about the canal come from oral histories of canallers and information from the canal’s last days, this new information is changing people’s impressions of the canal. canal-boat-crossing-aqueduct_12256215046_o.jpg

Catherine Bragaw, chief of interpretation for the C&O Canal, said that rangers are always looking for stories that people can relate to and that as more research becomes available, it may change the stories.

“It’s not unusual for history to change,” Bragaw said. “Some history stays consistent. Some is dynamic as more is uncovered.”

She said that interpretation is an art because different people can focus on different aspects of the subject. That, in turn, affects, the stories and information they incorporate into their presentations.

“It’s fascinating to unlock the mysteries,” Bragaw said.

That’s just what this new research continues to do. It is unlocking the mysteries of the early days of the canal and discovering new ones that need to be solved.

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51CBWAtpQ-L._SX425_The old saying goes, “You can’t fit a square peg in a round hole.” Yet for more than 90 years, historians have said that somehow 92-foot-long canal boats on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal fit into locks that could hold boats no larger than 90 feet and probably less.

It’s just one of the many questions that modern researchers are finding need to be answered about the C&O Canal. Some have easy answers that go against the accepted history of the canal. Others, like the question of canal-boat length, are still being researched.

Both have historians and National Park Service staff rethinking how the C&O Canal operated.

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal ended business operations in 1924. Since then, books have been written about the canal, historians have researched the lives of canallers and lock tenders, and the National Park Service has documented the life of the canal. You would think that in that time, all that could be known about the canal had been discovered. It turns out that that’s not the case.

“New information available and things are happening remarkably quickly,” said Karen Gray, C&O Canal National Historical Park Librarian. 51sSEDsB2mL

The work being done is the transcription of canal records, historic newspaper articles, and other canal documents, primarily by William Bauman, a member of the C&O Canal Association. Gray vets a lot of the information. Some pieces are posted on the C&O Canal NPS site, but she puts most of the information on the C&O Canal Association web site in the “Canal History” section. The section includes oral histories, newspaper reports from long-forgotten newspapers along the canal, books, reports, payroll records, canal boat registration documents, and family histories.

“William Bauman has done a lot of terrific work collecting and transcribing records and articles to give everyone a flavor of how the canal operated,” said Bill Holdsworth, who is both the president and webmaster for the C&O Canal Association.

The C&O Canal Association is a volunteer organization that promotes and advocates for the canal.

“There’s so much available, but it needs to data mined,” Gray said.

A careful reading of this new information has turned some long-held beliefs about the canal on their heads.

For instance, it has been written that canal boats in the 1800s were privately owned and often operated by a family. While they often were privately owned, “It was written into the boat mortgages that the boat needed to operate 24 hours a day,” Gray said. “A family is not going to be able to do that.”

Holdsworth said this is the most-surprising thing that he has learned from the new information. “Canal work was not this leisurely, bucolic life of strolling along the towpath,” he said. “Those people were working hard and moving fast along the towpath.”

Records show canallers were making the trip along the canal in roughly four days.

Gray explained that the idea of family run boats comes primarily from a 1923 U.S. Department of Labor study that was conducted at a time when 60 percent of the canal boats were run by a family.

In addition to boats not being family run, there is evidence that a single captain might have been in charge of up to four boats. What is not certain at this time is whether those boats moved together or one towed another boat or some other variation, but the records don’t support the one boat – one captain idea.

“It’s really clear that we need to rethink our original beliefs of how the canal operated,” Gray said.

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