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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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ea18d83eeba50026386b8feea2d24a1eFebruary 24, 1857, was a special night for Adelaide Gordy. It’s not known whether it was her first ball or not, but it was a night that would change her life. From this night would come a story that would show that fairy tales can come true.

Upon hearing a tale that would enchant generations, her descendants would look at each other and smile, knowing, yes, it could happen. It had happened to Adelaide.

Reviving Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras first came to America in 1699 before there even was a New Orleans. On March 3, French Explorer Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville set up camp on the Mississippi River 60 miles south of present-day New Orleans. Iberville named the site of the celebration Point du Mardi Gras.

Under French rule, masked balls and festivals were common for Mardi Gras. That ended under Spanish control. That masked ball ban lasted even when New Orleans became part of the U.S. in 1803.

That changed in 1823 when the residents petitioned the governor to allow the masking. The first Mardi Gras parade happened in 1837.

However, the masks also allowed violence to grow during the festivals because it hid the criminals as well as the revelers. It became so bad that public opinion began turning against continuing Mardi Gras.

The 1857 Mardi Gras was the first one held by the Comus organization, a group of six New Orleaners who were determined to bring beauty and style back to a celebration that had become known for its violence. Comus started the traditions of having a secret Carnival society, a theme parade with floats and a ball after the parade. Their efforts not only saved Mardi Gras but created a night of magic for Adelaide.

Dressing for the Ball

The 16-year-old attended the ball looking like a princess dressed in a gown made of tarlatan with silk in satin stitch. Amid all the guests, the young lady caught the eye of 27-year-old John Blount Robertson. The two danced, talked and ignited a spark. However, during the evening, Adelaide left the ball hurriedly; so much so she left behind one of her slippers.

Recovering the Slipper

John saw the stray slipper and retrieved it. Later he would write on the inside a memory of the night and the girl who wore it:

“Slipper of Adelaide Gordy

Worn at Ball of Mystic – I saw

Mardi Gras 1857 [illegible] Street. By JBR”

John pursued Adelaide in a whirlwind courtship that culminated in their marriage on April 15, not even two months after they had met.

Dream Come True

On that special day, Adelaide enchanted John again, wearing the dress that had first caught his eye as her wedding dress, and he returned to her the slipper she had left behind at the ball.

She and John were married 13 years and had seven children, although only four lived to adulthood. Adelaide died of accidental poisoning at age 29, according to the U.S. Census Mortality Schedules. She is buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Nashville, Tennessee.

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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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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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einstein_brain.png

Albert Einstein died on April 18, 1955. President Dwight Eisenhower said of him, “No other man contributed so much to the vast expansion of 20th Century knowledge. Yet no other man was more modest in the possession of the power that is knowledge, more sure that power without wisdom is deadly.”

Einstein was cremated the day of his death in Trenton, New Jersey. It was a low-key service with only a dozen people in attendance and his ashes were scattered so that his final resting place wouldn’t become a tourist attraction or scientific Mecca.

But one part of his body was not burned and did not end up in the four winds. Some would argue it was the most important part of Einstein…his brain.

During the routine autopsy of Einstein’s body at Princeton Hospital, Pathologist Thomas Harvey removed the brain and decided to embalm it.

The removal was discovered the next day when Harvey’s son let the secret slip in his class.

Harvey said his reason was that he believed there was scientific value in studying the brain.

When word of the existence of the brain became known, Harvey was inundated with calls from people who wanted Einstein’s brain or at least a piece of it.

He eventually allowed friends at the University of Pennsylvania to create microscope slides of different areas of the brain.

Harvey then began a process of sending the slides off to random researchers.

In 1978, a reporter for New Jersey Monthly was allowed to see the remnants of the brain. They were stored in a Mason jar in a cardboard box in a corner of Harvey’s office behind a picnic cooler.

The story of Einstein’s brain even became a bestselling book called Driving Mr. Albert by Michael Paterniti.

In 1998, Harvey was 86 years old and had been caring for Einstein’s brain for half his life. He decided it was time to pass on the responsibility. He returned the brain from where he had gotten it. Not from Einstein but from Princeton Hospital.

Over more than four decades, research into Einstein’s brain shed little light on the man.

Because of the way the brain had been embalmed, it yielded no viable DNA that could have been used to show whether Einstein’s adopted daughter, Evelyn, was in actuality his biological daughter.

One study showed that part of Einstein’s parietal cortex had a higher ratio of glial cells to neurons. Researchers hypothesized that this might show the Einstein’s neurons needed and used more energy. There were some questions raised about the study, however, which have thrown some doubts on the theory.

Another study said Einstein’s cerebral cortex was thinner than in other sample brains. This study had the same problems a large enough sampling of brains to draw the broad conclusion.

A final paper showed that Einstein’s brain had a shorter groove in the inferior parietal lobe, which is believed to be related to mathematical thinking. The brain was also wider in this region. It was suggested this might mean Einstein had more integrated brain functioning.

While the research is interesting, biographer Walter Isaacson wrote, “The relevant question was how his mind worked, not his brain.” He then quotes an explanation Einstein himself gave, “I have no special talents, I am passionately curious.”

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350px-Alcatraz_Island_photo_D_Ramey_LoganToo costly to repair, the U.S. government decided to close the famed prison in 1963.

On March 21, 1963, the last 27 prisoners were removed from Alcatraz Penitentiary with “their heads bowed and their bodies chained,” according to the Oakland Tribune.

Prisoners Leave Alcatraz

Prison officials and reporters watched the final prisoners leave the prison nicknamed “the Rock” because it was the only building on a 12-acre island in San Francisco Bay.

“The closing was abrupt and final. The prisoners, dressed in new, dun prison garb for the occasion, were taken by boat in two trips from the island. Guards and their families — some on the island for as long as 20 years — went in a third crossing to San Francisco. Only a few will remain on the island to prepare for formal abandonment June 30. The rest will either retire or be re-assigned,” reported the Oakland Tribune.

Warden Olin Blackwell gave the newsmen a final tour of the prison. At one point, he stopped and chipped away plaster with his hand to show one of the reasons why the facility needed to be closed.

“It seems sinful that this famous prison, the impenetrable rock which stood in defiance to such men as Al Capone, should die such a slow death,” reported the Tribune.

The Escape-Proof PrisonAlcatraz_sewing_room

Alcatraz became a civilian prison in 1934. During its 29 years of service, 40 prisoners made 13 escape attempts.

The most famous escape attempt was in 1962. Frank Morris and brothers John and Clarence Anglin, all bank robbers, dug their way out of the prison using sharpened spoons. Their bodies were never found and they were believed to have drowned in the bay.

The only escapee known to have made the swim from prison to shore was John Paul Scott. Though he made the swim, he was found unconscious on the shore and near death from his efforts.

Renovation or Closure

While the water of San Francisco Bay contained the prisoners on the island, the sea air in San Francisco Bay ate away at the prison, corroding metal and weakening concrete.

“It would pay us and would pay the government in the long run to replace Alcatraz with an institution more centrally located.” Federal Prison Director James Bennett said. “Perhaps in the Midwest.”

Besides the crumbling concrete and rusting steel, electrical and water conduits were rusting through. In some places, the steel girders were rusted through and had been replaced with wooden timbers.

It had been known that massive repairs were needed since 1954. At that time, needed renovations were estimated at $4 million. By 1963, the repair costs had risen to $5 million and the cost to keep a prisoner was the highest in the country.

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Though the City Fathers of Baltimore, Maryland, were counting on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad to keep them a viable port city, railroads were still a relatively untested technology in 1838. Not only that but it seemed that the rival Chesapeake and Ohio Canal would capture the land needed to build the railroad.

51CBWAtpQ-L._SX425_Making the Survey

In early 1838, Maryland Governor T. W. Veazey directed Col. J. J. Abert, chief of the U.S. Corps of Topographical Engineers to survey a route for C&O Canal to connect to the City of Baltimore. Because of all the public backing, the city had given the railroad effort, the document was not made public until 1874 long after the railroad had proven its worth to the city and country.

The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad

The B&O Railroad had broken ground on July 4, 1828, with much hoopla and an hours-long parade. Charles Carroll, the last living signer of the Declaration of Independence, helped lay the cornerstone.01_rail_canal

However, the railroad was not without competition. The C&O Canal broke ground on the same day and had the backing of the federal government. To make matters worse, both projects sought to reach Cumberland, Maryland, and capture the lucrative coal trade.

Conditions of the Survey

Abert was told to look for “the most northern practicable route of the routes by the valleys of the Monocacy and the Patapsco, or by a route diverging from said Chesapeake and Ohio Canal at the mouth of the Seneca River.” The chosen route needed to be entirely in Maryland and have an ample supply of water.

Some earlier surveying had been done and Abert was able to narrow the possible routes down to three:

  • The Westminister Route
  • The Linganore Route
  • The Seneca Route

4a10999rThe Report on Canal Routes

Abert submitted his report in April 1838. He found that the Westminister Route was so poor a choice that it didn’t merit further consideration. The Linganore Route lacked water, but it had some possibilities. The Seneca Route was a stronger possibility, though.

In surveying the route, a better choice presented itself and was called the Brookeville Route. It had adequate water and could be built.

Canal Becomes a Moot Point

Whether the governor gave the canal serious consideration is unknown. Four years later, the B&O reached Cumberland and proved itself all that the city had hoped four in making Baltimore a viable port city. The C&O Canal did not reach Cumberland until 1850, eight years later.

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