The U.S. Geological Survey has a nice collection of photos from the national parks of the American West, including a bunch of images from the various surveys of Yellowstone National Park from late 1800s that eventually led to the land being protected forever by the government. These early black and white photographs capture the beautiful natural landscape of an area that has gone on to become one of the most celebrated and a widely visited places in America.
I came across an interesting article recently about the Phillips screw and its inventor Henry F. Phillips. It was surprising to learn that in a moment of innovation in the late 1930s, Cadillac was the first company to use the Phillips screw. As someone who has the collectively random interests of history, WWII and and U.S. manufacturing, this story is a gold mine.
My friend Mark was telling me the other day that his four-year old son is at the stage in his development that he is constantly asking questions about everything. Apparently, the most common query is — why? In a way, I think I never really grew out of that phase (and I’m sure many of you are the same way). I look at an everyday object and wonder what the story is behind it. What went into it becoming what it is? Because everything has a story, even something as simple as a Phillips screwdriver.
From the Wall Street Journal:
The screw was invented in the early 30’s by Henry F. Phillips, a Portland, Oregon businessman. He knew that car makers needed a screw that could be driven with more torque and that would hold tighter than slotted screws. Car makers also needed a screw that would center quickly and easily, and could be used efficiently on an assembly line. The Phillips screw was designed so that it could be driven by an automated screw driver with increasing force until the tip of the driver popped out without ruining the screw head. So what many consider a design flaw is actually a feature (at least if you’re a car manufacturer).
The Phillips screw first gained acceptance with Cadillac in the late 30’s. Although there is a Phillips Screw Co. today, the company never actually made Phillips screws or drivers. They were produced under license by other companies. Unlicensed knockoffs proliferated, so that in 1949, Mr. Phillips was stripped of his patent.
These photographs are interesting to me for a few reasons. 1. My grandfather grew up sailing skiffs like the ones you see below. We have a bunch of old photos of him on the water near Boston. 2. It is interesting to see that a lot of the style in these photos could very easily fit right in today even though most of these photos are very old. 3. DB sport coats and sneakers. 4. Bucket hats. 5. They remind me that good things are on the horizon.
Summer’s right around the corner and right about I’d like it if I were out to sea like these gentlemen. That means, Newport and other assorted nautical adventures with cocktails. Then finally this September are the America’s Cup finals in San Francisco which is going to be amazing. I’m making a point to be there for at least one weekend’s worth of it. I was in SF this spring for work and from my client’s office you could see the tall AC boats sailing by and it was pretty astonishingly beautiful.
Last month, CBS Sunday Morning did a piece on the history and dire current state of the SS United States, “the most famous ship that didn’t sink”. Even with that motto, the SS United States is relatively unknown by today largely because the popularity of jet travel made ocean liners unnecessary shortly after it first set sail. It remains obscure despite the fact that the S.S. United States still holds the record for the fastest ocean liner to cross the Atlantic. Obsolete almost from the minute the champagne bottle broke across her bow, the once great ship is now in danger of disappearing altogether.
First launched in 1952 after only two years of construction, the SS United States’s fanatical architect William Francis Gibbs had it built secretly, out of public view, on a dry dock in Newport News to strict U.S. Naval standards and his own obsessive guidelines. The glamorous ship had the capacity to hold 3,016 passengers, though it could be converted to carry 15,000 troops during wartime if the need arose. It was longer than the Titanic by 100 feet and faster by fifteen miles per hour, and completely fireproof on the interior (aside from a special fireproof mahogany used on the SS United States’s specially made Steinway pianos, no wood was used on the ship at all). Her famous passengers included John Wayne, Grace Kelly, Salvador Dalí, and John F. Kennedy. Seemingly every detail of the ship was meticulously planned and executed during construction to ensure that the SS United States would secure its place in history as the greatest passenger vessel of all time.
The Library of Congress: Everyday a new discovery and a new treasure. It’s not exactly easy to navigate, but it is amazing what shows up doing random keyword searches in the LOC archive. The “Bird’s Eye View” maps have long been a favorite, but a deeper dive into the maps pages with a Chicago search turned up all of these beautiful old maps.
The most intriguing of which is directly below, showing the sections of the city that fire destroyed because Catherine O’Leary left a lit lantern within leg-shot of her cow in 1871. The conflagration wasn’t actually her fault, but it did start in her barn. At any rate, the map shows the huge swath of the city that burnt in the blaze. The perspectives and design of this old ephemera, along with the LOC as a whole, continues to inspire.
What every happened to the iconic American brand Willis & Geiger? Vice Publisher John Martin tracks down the one man who knows the really story and what transpires is a no bullshit interview and thoroughly amazing read.
Burt Avedon (cousin of the famous fashion photographer Richard Avedon) revived the company two years after it went out of business in 1977 and helmed it until it was liquidated in 1999. Now 89 years old, Burt is one of the last remaining people to have hands-on experience with the brand. His bio reads like a Most Interesting Man in the World skit: He was a pilot by age 12, raced cars, played football for UCLA, fought at Iwo Jima, was awarded a Purple Heart in the Navy, went from Harvard Business School into cosmetics and fashion, married an Italian princess, and later led attempts to excavate downed World War II planes from Greenland ice. After a short search, I tracked him down at his home in Verona, Wisconsin, to find out what had happened to what many consider to be the greatest outdoor-clothing brand of all time.
There is a lot of that with the pace of media right now, where people are always looking to see who’s putting out the newest sneakers, but there are a few brands whose authenticity is paramount.
Yeah, but unfortunately good brands of heritage are a reflection of their original management; when they become professionally managed, they lose the spark that brought them to where they are today. I found that to be classic in the industry. Whenever they go into second- and third-generation management, they lose themselves. They no longer have the passion that was originally part of their DNA.
A fitting set of images and sentiments for today. The Boston Public Library has an incredible set of old-time winter scenes shot in and around Boston during the early 20th century. What’s piques my attention in these photographs is the fact that many of the pictured moments are so similar to those of today —from snow filled streets to a towering stack of Christmas trees— though the times are obviously vastly different. To see the packages piled high at the train depot (South Station I believe), the range of photos of people digging out from blankets of snow and the empty nighttime streets after what must have been cold hard days fill me with ideas about what life must have been like way back then.