Things You May Never Have Known
This limited series, evry Thursday, ending the last week in December, will bring to you events about people, places, and of how things came to be as we know it today.
We could dub this a “Hmm…” moment.
So, kick back and learn stuff you might be able to use if you ever appear on the game show Jeopardy.
It’s A Numbers Game
Let us start with John D. Sweeny. Mr. Sweeney was the son of a wealthy factory owner, and had grown up in a 15-room Westchester County home staffed with servants. In an effort to learn the family business, Mr. Sweeney was working as a shipping clerk for his father. In 1936, he became the first person to get the first Social Security number issued.
John Sweeney died of a heart attack in 1974 at the age of 61 without ever receiving any benefits from the social security program; however, his widow was able to receive benefits based on his work until her death in 1982.
Social Security numbers were grouped by the first three digits of the number (called the area number) and assigned geographically starting in the northeast and moving across the country to the northwest. But if you look closely at the distribution pattern you will see an apparent anomaly. The lowest area numbers are assigned to New Hampshire, rather than to Maine, even though Maine in the most northeasterly of the states.
This was apparently done so that SSN 001-01-0001 could be given to New Hampshire's favorite son, Social Security Board Chairman John G. Winant (Winant was the former three-time Governor of New Hampshire). Chairman Winant declined to have the SSN registered to him. Then it was offered to the Federal Bureau of Old Age Benefits' Regional Representative of the Boston Region, John Campbell, who likewise declined. It was finally decided not to offer this SSN as a token of esteem but instead to issue it to the first applicant from New Hampshire.
That person was Grace Dorothy Owen Muzzey of Concord, New Hampshire (April 16,1902- December 1,1975), who applied for her number on November 24, 1936, and was issued the first card typed in Concord, which, because of the area number scheme, also happened to be the card with the lowest possible number.
The above photo is Grace taken some time in 1936.
# 2: First One
How much do you know about weddings?
Just about every woman on the planet dreams of a church wedding, walking the aisle dressed in white to take vows of “to have and to hold” as the spoken words for a lifetime commitment.
But what of the first wedding ever to have taken place? Would you know where it took place? Who were the lucky bride and groom?
Well, the answer is half easy to answer.
The history behind weddings suggests that it’s about 4,350 years old. For thousands of years before that, most anthropologists believe, families consisted of loosely organized groups of as many as 30 people, with several male leaders, multiple women shared by them, and children. As hunter-gatherers settled down into agrarian civilizations, society had a need for more stable arrangements.
The first recorded evidence of marriage ceremonies uniting one woman and one man dates from about 2350 B.C., in Mesopotamia. Over the next several hundred years, marriage evolved into a widespread institution embraced by the ancient Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans. But back then, marriage had little to do with love or with religion.
Marriage’s primary purpose was to bind women to men, and thus guarantee that a man’s children were truly his biological heirs. Through marriage, a woman became a man’s property. In the betrothal ceremony of ancient Greece, a father would hand over his daughter with these words: “I pledge my daughter for the purpose of producing legitimate offspring.” Among the ancient Hebrews, men were free to take several wives; married Greeks and Romans were free to satisfy their sexual urges with concubines, prostitutes, and even teenage male lovers, while their wives were required to stay home and tend to the household. If wives failed to produce offspring, their husbands could give them back and marry someone else.
As the Roman Catholic Church became a powerful institution in Europe, the blessings of a priest became a necessary step for a marriage to be legally recognized. By the eighth century, marriage was widely accepted in the Catholic church as a sacrament, or a ceremony to bestow God’s grace. At the Council of Trent in 1563, the sacramental nature of marriage was written into canon law.
Church blessings did improve the lot of wives. Men were taught to show greater respect for their wives, and forbidden from divorcing them. Christian doctrine declared that “the twain shall be one flesh,” giving husband and wife exclusive access to each other’s body. This put new pressure on men to remain sexually faithful. But the church still held that men were the head of families, with their wives deferring to their wishes.
Later than you might think. For much of human history, couples were brought together for practical reasons, not because they fell in love. In time, of course, many marriage partners came to feel deep mutual love and devotion. But the idea of romantic love, as a motivating force for marriage, only goes as far back as the Middle Ages. Naturally, many scholars believe the concept was “invented” by the French. Its model was the knight who felt intense love for someone else’s wife, as in the case of Sir Lancelot and King Arthur’s wife, Queen Guinevere. Twelfth-century advice literature told men to woo the object of their desire by praising her eyes, hair, and lips. In the 13th century, Richard de Fournival, physician to the king of France, wrote “Advice on Love,” in which he suggested that a woman cast her love flirtatious glances—“anything but a frank and open entreaty.”
You have to give credit to the concept of romantic love with giving women greater leverage in what had been a largely pragmatic transaction. Wives no longer existed solely to serve men. The romantic prince, in fact, sought to serve the woman he loved. Still, the notion that the husband “owned” the wife continued to hold sway for centuries. When colonists first came to America—at a time when polygamy was still accepted in most parts of the world—the husband’s dominance was officially recognized under a legal doctrine called “coverture,” under which the new bride’s identity was absorbed into his. The bride gave up her name to symbolize the surrendering of her identity, and the husband suddenly became more important, as the official public representative of two people, not one. The rules were so strict that any American woman who married a foreigner immediately lost her citizenship.
But all this changed women won the right to vote. When that happened, in 1920, the institution of marriage began a dramatic transformation. Suddenly, each union consisted of two full citizens, although tradition dictated that the husband still ruled the home. By the late 1960’s, state laws forbidding interracial marriage had been thrown out, and the last states had dropped laws against the use of birth control. By the 1970’s, the law finally recognized the concept of marital rape, which up to that point was inconceivable, as the husband “owned” his wife’s sexuality. Within the past 100 years, marriage has changed more than in the last 5,000.
Now, other than Adam and Eve, who were never married in a church but for the sake of biblical readings were married, the first two people married in a church were the Goddess Inanna, who was encouraged to marry the successful farmer god Enkimdu but loved the shepherd god Dumuzi and so chose him.
# 3: I Don’t Drive
Robert Moses (December 18, 1888 - July 29, 1981), arguably the most powerful municipal official in New York history, also gave the city the congested Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, the choked Bruckner, and Cross Bronx expressways, and the jampacked Tri-Borough and Verrazano bridges.
Over a 44-year career, he built more than 400 miles of highways and 13 bridges that bulldozed through slums and vibrant neighborhoods alike. A new book even blames him for driving baseball’s beloved Dodgers out of Brooklyn.
But traffic jams were not Moses’s only legacy. He was the force behind such well-received projects as the United Nations building and plaza, the Lincoln Center arts complex, the New York Coliseum, and more than 600 city playgrounds. He virtually invented the idea of state parks; perhaps his finest is the seaside wonderland of Jones Beach on Long Island, whose wide stretches of sand have beckoned sweltering city dwellers for years.
But Moses is also blamed for having destroyed more than a score of neighborhoods by building 13 expressways across New York City and by building large urban renewal projects with little regard for the urban fabric or for human scale.
Yet, for all the highways built, bridges that spanned hitherto; he never drove a car or had a driver’s license.
# 4: The First Ever
We have all had a "first"in our life. Our first baby steps, first word spoken, first girl or boyfriend, first job, and so forth. But there are certain "firsts" that could be considered different from the norm, or unheard of because of its time. Herein, is a sampling of those firsts.
Susanna Madora Salter (née Kinsey; March 2, 1860 – March 17, 1961) was an American politician and activist. She served as mayor of Argonia, Kansas, becoming the first woman elected as mayor in the United States and one of the first women to serve in any political office in the U.S.
At Sing Sing Prison, Ossining, New York, U.S. Martha M. Place (September 18, 1849 – March 20, 1899) was an American murderer and the first woman to die in the electric chair. She was executed on March 20, 1899, at Sing Sing Correctional Facility for the murder of her stepdaughter Ida Place.
On May 3, 1946, Willie Francis survived an attempt at execution by the electric chair. The portable electric chair, known as "Gruesome Gertie," was found to have been improperly set up by an intoxicated prison guard and inmate from the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.
The first possible appearance of a stunt-double was Frank Hanaway in The Great Train Robbery, shot in 1903 in Milltown, New Jersey. The first auditable paid stunt was in the 1908 film The Count of Monte Cristo, with $5 paid by the director to the acrobat who had to jump 200 feet upside down from an open breezeway/balcony into the sea, or more well known as the La Jolla coast, near San Diego.
Helen Gibson (born Rose August Wegner; August 27, 1892 – October 10, 1977) was an American film actress, vaudeville performer, radio performer, film producer, trick rider, and rodeo performer; and is considered to be the first American professional stunt woman.
# 5: Just How Big or Small Is It
For years so it seems,the age-old question "Does size matter" actually comes into play this time around. And no, this has nothing to do with sex. Let us proceed.
Encompassing an estimated 1,218.37 acres (1,904 square miles), the Grand Canyon is capable of holding 1 – 2 quadrillion gallons of water. If you poured all the river water on Earth into the Grand Canyon, it would still only be about half full.
The smallest thing that we can see with a 'light' microscope is about 500 nanometers. A nanometer is one-billionth (that's 1,000,000,000th) of a meter. So the smallest thing that you can see with a light microscope is about 200 times smaller than the width of a hair. Bacteria are about 1000 nanometers in size.
The Michigan Micro Mote is currently the world’s smallest computer at just 2mm x 4mm and requires an average of just 500 pico watts in operation and just 35 pico watts in standby or about a millionth of the power of a mobile phone on standby.
For a computer to be classed truly as a computer it must have an input, a processor to handle the data from the input and then output the results somehow. The Michigan Micro Mote has a processor, a radio for wifi communications, a solar cell and battery for power, a photocell for communications and can have a variety of sensors like pressure, temperature, imaging etc making the Micro Mote a fully self-contained computer that can run on just the normal lighting in a room.
With the largest telescope ever, The Arecibo Observatory should look familiar even if you’re not an internationally renowned scientist. It’s appeared in a handful of fairly popular movies, most famously in Golden-Eye and Contact. In the real world, it’s located in Puerto Rico and is the largest radio telescope on Earth. In fact, it’s so big it was easier to turn an existing limestone sinkhole into a telescope than to build one completely from scratch. The telescope’s main function is to track planets and asteroids passing Earth, with the latter focusing on those that could potentially damage our planet, though it’s also been used as a broadcasting station. In 1974, scientists used the facility to translate and send pictures to M13, a cluster of stars 21,000 light years away.
Sequoia trees are the biggest living things on this planet (by volume). They can grow up to 275 feet tall and 26 feet in diameter.
Manmade, Three Gorges Dam, this dam spans the Yangtze River in China and was built at the cost of $37 billion (U.S.). Considered the biggest hydroelectric dam ever built, it displaced 1.3 million people. It even has the capacity to slow the very rotation of the earth by strategically shifting significant masses of water.
# 6: What Language Would You Love To Learn
Language. We all use it, or how else would we ever be able to communicate with people. Roughly 7,000 languages, including dialects are spoken around the world today. Each and every one of them make the world a diverse and beautiful place. Sadly, some of these languages are less widely spoken than others.
But her are the 12 most widely used languages:
Language family: Germanic, a sub-family of Indo-European
Related to: German, Dutch, Frisian
Language family: Sino-Tibetan
Related to: Cantonese, Tibetan, Burmese
Language family: Indo-Aryan, a sub-family of Indo-European
Related to: Bengali, Punjabi, Marathi, Kashmiri, Nepali
Language family: Romance, a sub-family of Indo-European
Related to: French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian
Language family: Romance
Related to: Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian
Language family: Semitic, a sub-family of Afro-Asiatic
Related to: Hebrew, Amharic, Aramaic
Language family: Indo-Aryan, a sub-family of Indo-European
Related to: Hindu, Punjabi, Marathi, Kashmiri, Nepali
Language family: East Slavic, a sub-family of Indo-European
Related to: Ukrainian, Belarusian
Language family: Romance, a sub-branch of Indo-European
Related to: Spanish, French, Italian, Romanian
Language family: Austronesian
Related to: Malay, Javanese, Sundranese, Madurese etc.
Language family: Indo-Aryan
Related to: Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Kashmiri, Nepali
Language family: West Germanic, a sub-family of Indo-European
Related to: English, Frisian, Dutch
Surprisingly, Italian did not make this list, although it is related to Spanish, French, and Portuguese.
Regarding the English language, not only is Shakespeare widely considered as one of the greatest dramatists of all time, but over his lifespan he added an incredible amount of about 1,700 words to the English language by changing nouns into verbs, verbs into nouns, connecting some words with each other and adding prefixes or suffixes to others.
Regarding Mandarin. The language has over 50,000 characters, making it the hardest language in the world to master.
The Bengali alphabet is particularly interesting. Every consonant has a vowel sound built in, which is quite unusual for Westerners.
You probably know that Portuguese is the official language of Brazil, but it also has the sole official status in: Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Macau, Cape Verde, and São Tomé and Príncipe.
The first modern novel and the second most translated book after the Bible was written in Spanish. Which novel? It’s Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes.
Then there is one you will probably not be aware of—Busuu, named after a language, spoken by only eight people. What makes Busuu more interesting, it is also the name of an App that is used as a learning tool to master different languages.
There is a vast amount of online resources where you can learn at least the basics of almost any language other than your own. If interested, start using Google.
And there is one other language that is universal around the globe. The language of love.
# 7: The Actress and Actor You Never Knew About
Florence Lawrence (born Florence Annie Bridgwood; January 2, 1886 – December 28, 1938) was a Canadian-American stage performer and film actress. She is often referred to as the “first movie star”, and was thought to be the first film actor to be named publicly until evidence published in 2019 indicated that the first named film star was French actor Max Linder. At the height of her fame in the 1910’s, she was known as the “Biograph Girl” for work as one of the leading ladies in silent films from the Biograph Company. She appeared in almost 300 films for various motion picture companies throughout her career.
Her death was rather gruesome. She ingested rat poison with two bottles of cough syrup. She did leave a note to a man named Bob Brinlow, her “house-mate. It stated:
Call Dr. Wilson. I am tired. Hope this works. Good bye, my darling. They can’t cure me, so let it go at that.
Lovingly, Florence – P.S. You’ve all been swell guys. Everything is yours.
You can Google her to find out other interesting details on her life. One being, she is responsible for something you use on your car she invented in 1914 which has since been modified as we know it today.
The windshield wiper.
Gabriel Leuvielle (16 December 1883 –1 November 1925), known professionally as Max Linder (French: was a French actor, director, screenwriter, producer, and comedian of the silent film era. His onscreen persona “Max” was one of the first recognizable recurring characters in film. He has also been cited as the “first international movie star” and “the first film star anywhere”.
Born in Cavernes, France to Catholic parents, Linder grew up with a passion for theater and enrolled in the Conservatoire de Bordeaux in 1899. He soon received awards for his performances and continued to pursue a career in the legitimate theater. He became a contract player with the Bordeaux Théâtre des Arts from 1901 to 1904, performing in plays by Molière, Pierre Corneille, and Alfred de Musset.
From the summer of 1905, Linder appeared in short comedy films for Pathé, at first usually in supporting roles. His first major film role was in the Georges Méliès-like fantasy film The Legend of Punching.
During the following years, Linder made several hundred short films portraying “Max”, a wealthy and dapper man-about-town frequently in hot water because of his penchant for beautiful women and the good life. Starting with The Skater’s Debut in 1907, the character became one of the first identifiable motion-picture characters who appeared in successive situation comedies. By 1911, Linder was co-directing his own films as well as writing the scripts.
Linder enlisted at the outbreak of the World War One, and worked at first as a dispatch driver and entertainer. During his service, he was injured several times, and the experiences reportedly had a devastating effect on him both physically and mentally. It was during this time he suffered his first outbreak of chronic depression.
He, along with his wife, actress Martha Mansfield, were found dead, side by side from an apparent suicide which was deemed suspicious at the time.
(Above photo shows Max on the left with his wife in “Max Wants A Divorce” – 1917)
It would seem celebrities, known or unknown, over the last hundred plus years still can discover a happy medium with career and private life—well, sort of.
# 8: So who Said …
Ever wonder who came up with certain phrases we tend to use in our everyday lives? Here are a few.
To coin a phrase means to invent a new saying or idiomatic expression that is new or unique. However, the term to coin a phrase is most often used today in a sarcastic or ironic fashion, in order to acknowledge when someone has used a hackneyed phrase or a cliché.
The first use of the word coin as a verb occurred during the 1300′s, referring to the process of stamping metal coins with a die. The verb coin then evolved into describing other things that were newly made, and by the 1500′s the term to coin a word came into being. Shakespeare wrote in his play Coriolanus, produced in 1607: “So shall my Lungs Coine words till their decay.” The expression to coin a phrase didn’t appear until the mid-1800′s, and seems to have been an invention of American English.
24/7: It lists its first reference to 24/7 as from US magazine Sports Illustrated in 1983.
The man to use it was basketball player Jerry Reynolds and he was talking about his jump shot. This is when a player releases the ball in mid-air and Reynolds said his was “good 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year”.
Off with his head (Richard III) -Green-Eyed Monster (Othello) – Love is Blind (The Merchant of Venice) – The game is afoot (Henry V) – Wild Goose chase (Romeo and Juliet) - Seen better days (As you like it) – Good riddance (Troilus and Cressida() – Lie low (Much Ado About Nothing). You may have guess by the plays in parentheses, the coiner is none other than William Shakespeare. He also coined another 56 phrases that are randomly said to this day.
On a bit of a different note, the word “hello”.
What do you say when you pick up the phone?
You say “hello,” of course.
What do you say when someone introduces a friend, a relative, anybody at all?
You say “hello.”
Hello has to have been the standard English language greeting since English people began greeting, no?
The Oxford English Dictionary says the first published use of “hello” goes back only to 1827. And it wasn’t mainly a greeting back then. Ammon says people in the 1830′s said hello to attract attention (“Hello, what do you think you’re doing?”), or to express surprise (“Hello, what have we here?”). Hello didn’t become “hi” until the telephone arrived.
The dictionary says it was Thomas Edison who put hello into common usage. He urged the people who used his phone to say “hello” when answering. His rival, Alexander Graham Bell, thought the better word was “ahoy.”
“Ahoy,” it turns out, had been around longer — at least 100 years longer — than hello. It too was a greeting, albeit a nautical one, derived from the Dutch “hoi,” meaning “hello.” Bell felt so strongly about “ahoy” he used it for the rest of his life.
And so, by the way, does the entirely fictional “Monty” Burns, evil owner of the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant on The Simpsons. If you watch the program, you may have noticed that Mr. Burns regularly answers his phone “Ahoy-hoy,” a coinage the Urban Dictionary says is properly used “to greet or get the attention of small sloop-rigged coasting ship.” Mr. Burns, apparently, wasn’t told.
Why did hello succeed? Aamon points to the telephone book. The first phone books included authoritative How To sections on their first pages and “hello” was frequently the officially sanctioned greeting.
In fact, the first phone book ever published, by the District Telephone Company of New Haven, Connecticut, in 1878 (with 50 subscribers listed) told users to begin their conversations with “a firm and cheery ‘hulloa.’” (I’m guessing the “a” is silent.)
Whatever the reason, hello pushed past ahoy and never looked back. The same cannot be said of the phonebook’s recommended Way To End A Phone Conversation. The phonebook recommended: “That is all.”
# 9: I Love You
Other than usage in the Bible to love thy neighbor, love thy brother, love thy mother and father and so forth, the term or phrase, “I Love You” goes back to the very roots of the English language. Old English lufu is related to Old Frisian luve, Old High German luba, Gothic lubo. There is a cognate of in early forms of the Scandinavian languages. The Indo-European root is also behind Latinlubet meaning it is pleasing and lubido meaning desire. The word is recorded from the earliest English writings in the 8th century.
Not to take away from the I Love You, but there 10 much stronger words to show and express love that it shows just how much you value spending time with them.
They are Faith, dedication, devotion, commitment, cherish, respect, adore, treasure, trust, and ally, although I suspect no one would even begin to say “I Ally You”.
# 10: Who Was the First Teacher in America
On April 23, 1635, the first public school in what would become the United States was established in Boston, Massachusetts. Known as the Boston Latin School, this boys-only public secondary school was led by schoolmaster Philemon Pormont, a Puritan settler.
The Boston Latin School was strictly for college preparation. It was modeled after the Free Grammar School of Boston, England. The English school taught Latin and Greek and was centered on the humanities. Some of the Boston Latin School’s most well-known alumni include John Hancock and Samuel Adams. Benjamin Franklin was a dropout!
The Boston Latin School is still a fully functioning public school, with students enrolled in grades 7-12. However, it has changed with time, becoming coeducational in 1972 and moving locations several times. It is now in Boston’s Fenway neighborhood. Admission to Boston Latin is very competitive, and is limited to residents of the city.
According to the book written by James Otis, ‘Ruth of Boston: A Story of the Massachusetts Colony’, Philemon Pormont would inflict severe punishments to students who either misbehaved in class or failed in their studies. Here is a brief excerpt:
It was not always that Master Portman used a switch upon a child who had been foolish enough to speak with their neighbor, for he had what were called whispering sticks, which were most disagreeable to wear, and caused a great deal of pain. So said Susan; but as for myself. I w3as never forced to bear such a punishment.
These whispering sticks were stout bits of wood from the oak tree, which could not be readily broken by the teeth, and were put in the child’s mouth as you would thrust a bit into a horse’s mouth, after which the two ends were bound securely behind the neck. Thus, the unfortunate one’s jaws were stretched wide open, oftentimes for an hour or more.
The neighbor for reference is to another classmate.
(There no known pictures/paintings of Philemon Pormont, hence no photo this time.)