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.