150 years ago today, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, a document that set in motion a series of laws, and a Constitutional Amendment, that ended slavery in the United States. I have attached high definition images from the National Archives.
Category Archives: History
The first man to walk on the moon, Neil Armstrong, has passed away at the age of 82. Armstrong was a part of a generation of astronauts that were attempting feats that had not been thought possible only a decade before. When President John F. Kennedy proclaimed that America would send a man to the moon by the end of the 1960s, NASA was still in its infancy and had just begun sending humans into space. Although Kennedy would not live to see the challenge met, America did beat the Russians to the moon on July 20, 1969. With Apollo 11, Armstrong became the first human being to step foot on a surface that was not Earth. It was a truly historic moment. Millions watched around the world as Armstrong famously said, “This is one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Those watching the broadcast on CBS, heard Walter Cronkite narrate the events as he too was in awe of the events he was witnessing. This broadcast has become one of the defining moments of the 20th century. It was on that night in 1969 when Armstrong’s immortality was assured.
Today, NASA no longer directs manned space missions, and it is not likely they will resume any time soon. A man has not walked on the surface of the Moon since 1972, but the images of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s Apollo 11 mission will remind us of what is possible when we try. When we work hard, we can accomplish anything, no matter how impossible it may seem. Neil Armstrong will always be a symbol for what the United States is capable of, and that is one hell of a legacy.
Did you watch last night’s episode of History Detectives on PBS? If not, you missed an incredible story.
As a historian, I have watched History Detectives for years. This season, its 10th, History Detectives has undergone a refresh, but the central theme remains: investigating history. For those not familiar with the show, the public is encouraged to submit stories and objects related to history that they are unsure about. The show sends an expert to research the story/object. Sometimes the story is confirmed and sometimes it is not, but either way, the public is educated about historical events through the show’s research.
History Detectives has found some incredible objects in the past including an original signature from Abraham Lincoln and a piece of Amelia Earhart’s airplane (the Electra she crashed in Hawaii on her first attempt to circumnavigate the globe). Last night, History Detectives may have found one of the most interesting pieces history.
The story began with as simple picture frame and competing family stories. The frame is carved from wood from a shipwreck, but two cousins could not agree on which shipwreck. They both knew grandfather was an engineer aboard a transatlantic cable laying vessel, but they agreed on little more. One believed that their grandfather was aboard a vessel that came to rescue of the Lusitania and the other believed he was a part of the recovery effort following the sinking of the Titanic. It was up to History Detectives to see who, if either, was correct.
Elyse Luray was sent to investigate. She began by having the wood examined by and dendrochronologist. Dendrochronology is the use of tree rings to date wooden objects. The tree rings in the frame were measured and compared to samples of wood from Ireland (where Titanic was built) and Scotland (where Lusitania was built). The piece matched the patterns of Ireland, and it appeared the Titanic was more likely.
History Detectives was able to prove that the cousins’ grandfather was aboard the Minia from January to June 1912 and would have taken part in the recovery effort after the Titanic disaster. They were also able to locate a relative of another member of the Minia‘s crew who had a similarly carved frame (although not nearly as large and likely from a different type of wood). A visit to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, Canada sealed the deal. They had another frame on display and could prove that it was carver aboard the Minia that likely carved both frames from wood off the Titanic.
So what part of the ship was the wood from? The incredible suggestion came from Titanic historian and artist Ken Marcshall. Marschall noticed the slight arc of the wood and the groves on its underside. He suggested that this piece of wood was likely from a bannister of the Grand Staircase. But the Titanic had two Grand Staircases. History Detectives did not explain this fact well enough, but was likely a piece of the bannister from the Aft Grand Staircase because it was near the section of the ship that split in two.
I was exciting by this episode and found myself staring at this piece of the Titanic and imaging what it would have been like for Titanic‘s passengers that night. This is an important find because no pictures of Titanic‘s Grand Staircases exist. All the images of the Grand Staircase that are available are of the Olympic’s Grand Staircase. Because of this find, we now know how the bannister was carved, the type of wood used (Oak), and the color of the wood. This is truly an incredible find, and the episode reminded me of why I became a Historian.
Please take the time to watch the episode and witness this find for yourself (it is the first story on the episode). I am unable to embed the episode into this post, but you can watch the full episode HERE.
The Space Shuttle Discovery was moved to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near the Dulles Airport outside of Washington, DC. I had a chance to visit the Air & Space Museum in May and thought I would share my photos of the shuttle.
I realized that I went this whole semester without writing about my courses from my final semester of grad school. As always I will describe each course, list the professor, and provide a book list with links to the book’s Amazon.com page. I will write a separate post in which I will discuss the past two years and my thoughts on grad school. For now, here are the courses from Spring 2012:
The United States, 1960 – 1980 met three times per week with a mix of grad students and undergrads. As with all 500 level courses, we have a separate fourth hour meeting with the professor to discuss our addition work/readings. For this course, we used fourth hour to watch various documentaries and for grad-only book reviews. The course had 12 books, but they were optional. We took a midterm and a final, both of which could be easily taken as long as you attended the lectures. The course is taught by Dr. Steve Guerrier, who was recently named one of the 300 best professors in the country by The Princeton Review. His teaching style centers around lectures, a skill at which he is highly adept. His lectures are extraordinary detailed. A course that was supposed to cover events through 1980 only got through the 1968 election, but I learned more in his class than in most seminar style classes. I took this class because I had worked with him on History Day last year and had heard he is a great professor. I certainly recommend Dr. Guerrier to any JMU student with an interest in History.
Books: The Movement an the Sixties, ‘Takin’ it to the Streets:’ A Sixties Reader, Dispatches, America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s, Where the Domino Fell: America and Vietnam, 1945-1995, The Struggle for Black Equality, Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream, The Presidency of John F. Kennedy, The Presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, The Presidency of Richard M. Nixon, The Presidency of Gerald R. Ford, and The Presidency of James Earl Carter, Jr.
The Seminar in Recent American History. HIST 605 changes from year-to-year depending on who teaches it. This year the course was taught by Dr. Kevin Borg and focused on his area, industry, consumption, and the environment. The reading list for this course was pretty extensive with one book per week. A few weeks we had breakout books where the class was divided in half, or, for one week, into fourths. The course began with the Industrial Revolution and trace the development of American business, environmentalism, and Liberalism. The course was setup in a seminar style with each of us taking turns leading class discussion. I led the discussion for Nancy Cohen’s The Reconstruction of American Liberalism, 1865-1914. For this course we had to write a book and a synthetic book review in which we compared and reviewed two to three books. We also wrote two 7-10 page historiographical essays on a topic of our choosing. I really enjoyed the discussions in this course. The strength of this course was certainly its reading list.
Books: The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business, Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West, Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America, Electrifying America: Social Meanings of a New Technology, 1880-1940, Mass Destruction the Men and Giant Mines That Wired America and Scarred the Planet, The Reconstruction of American Liberalism, 1865-1914, Labor’s Great War: The Struggle for Industrial Democracy and the Origins of Modern American Labor Relations, 1912-1921, Advertising Progress: American Business and the Rise of Consumer Marketing, A Living Wage: American Workers and the Making of Consumer Society, Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939, The War in American Culture: Society and Consciousness during World War II, A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America, The Bulldozer in the Countryside: Suburban Sprawl and the Rise of American Environmentalism, Environmental Inequalities: Class, Race, and Industrial Pollution in Gary, Indiana, 1945-1980, The UAW and the Heyday of American Liberalism, 1945-1968, The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit, and Pivotal Decade: How the United States Traded Factories for Finance in the Seventies.
For my thesis, this semester was the most stressful. I wrote chapters 1, 2, and 3 before the beginning of the semester. In fact, I wrote chapter 2 while I was at home over Christmas break. The only things I had to finish after Christmas break was chapter 4, my introduction and conclusion, the abstract, table of contents, and I had to think of a title for the damn thing. My thesis adviser, Dr. Christopher Versen, was very helpful and very detailed in his feedback and was very helpful. I finished the rough draft of my a week before spring break. Dr. Versen read and commented on the draft, and I spent Spring Break rewriting, revising, and conducting some additional research. It was a nightmare! But I submitted the thesis to my committee before the deadline.
As with last semester, I meet weekly with Dr. Versen, and we discuss what I had read, what I had written, and where the project was going. The members of my thesis committee, Dr. Chris Arndt and Dr. John Butt, provided excellent feedback, and I submitted my thesis to the graduate school a week before the due date.
After leaving the site of the sinking of the Titanic, the Carpathia carried the 705 survivors to New York. They arrived on April 18, 1912. Immediately following their return, an inquiry was held in the United States. The US Inquiry lasted from April 19 – May 25. At the same time, a British Inquiry into the sinking was held from May 2 – July 3. It was determined that the ship was traveling too quickly, ignored several important ice warnings, and was not carrying enough lifeboats for the passengers and crew. White Star Line owner, Bruce Ismay, was criticized for being among the survivors of the sinking. It was also determined that the Californian was in the area of the sinking, but the wireless operator had gone to bed after being told to “Shut-up” by the wireless operators on the Titanic.
The loss of life was 1,517. The fact that the ship did not carry an adequate number of lifeboats for all on board was to blame. There are a number of other contributing factors including: weak steel, calm sea, lack of moon light, the loss of the lookouts’ binoculars, the water-tight bulkheads only extending to E-Deck, and the lack of lifeboats. The important thing to understand, however, with all these weaknesses, the ship met every safety standard of the day. The sinking of the Titanic led to the creation of the Ice Patrol and changes in passenger liner regulations. The Titanic disaster is the greatest ever recorded in peace time and could have been prevented had the regulations for passenger liners been tougher.
Today, the Titanic is resting on the ocean floor, slowly decomposing. The site is a grave site and should be left alone. Dr. Robert Ballard has repeatedly presented his arguments for leaving the Titanic alone, and I could not agree more. It is a sacred site and should be left alone. RMS Titanic, Inc. has opened the Titanic to salvagers and I refuse to visit any of their sponsored events or exhibits. Leave the wreck alone and allow those who parished on that April night rest in peace.
By: Susan Gibbs
Originally published in the USA Today, April 13, 2012
As we approach the Titanic’s 100th anniversary on Sunday, the doomed luxury liner seems to be sailing across every television and computer screen. Amidst the rapt attention paid to a British ship’s tragic end, the most famous ocean liner that never sank still bears the proud name United States. Though sadly overlooked by most Americans, our nation’s flagship still serves as an enduring symbol of American postwar power, pride and innovation.
There are many measures of a vibrant society — the freedom it guarantees its citizens, its technological advancement and the opportunities it affords its people, to name just a few. An advanced society is also one that appreciates its own history. As the red, white and blue funnels of the SS United States fade in Philadelphia, this storied ship, once a metaphor for American strength and ingenuity, risks becoming a tragic symbol of our nation’s decline. We cannot allow that to happen.
While the Titanic carried more than 1,500 passengers to a watery grave on her first Atlantic crossing, the SS United States barreled across the ocean on her record-breaking maiden voyage averaging 35.59 knots— or more than 40 miles per hour. On that historic trip in 1952, America’s answer to Europe’s dominance of the seas sped through the water with such force that bow waves blasted the paint off her hull. She became the fastest ocean liner ever built using only two-thirds of her power and still holds the trans-Atlantic speed record for a passenger ship, nearly 60 years after her launch. The SS United States could go faster in reverse than the Titanic could travel forward.
After a ticker tape parade up the Canyon of Heroes in New York honoring her crew, the “Big U” went on to serve for 17 mishap-free years, carrying more than a million passengers across the sea, including four U.S. presidents, business moguls, movie stars, military personnel and immigrants beginning new lives on our shores.
Built as part of a top-secret Pentagon project to create the safest and fastest ocean liner ever constructed, the 1,000-foot-liner is 100 feet longer than the Titanic. The size of the Chrysler Building, the SS United States served as both a luxury liner and Cold War weapon, capable of transporting 15,000 troops, 10,000 miles without refueling.
Like the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building and the Washington Monument, there is only one SS United States.
Thanks in part to lessons learned from the Titanic’s tragic demise, the SS United States was designed for safety. The ship’s dual engine rooms ensured that she could still make port even if one of them flooded. The ship’s aluminum superstructure eliminated the need for “expansion joints” — small seams in the steel superstructure that contributed to the Titanic’s breakup.
Major safety precautions
The “Big U” was completely fireproof. Her designer, my grandfather William Francis Gibbs, took this mandate to an extreme. He demanded that Theodore Steinway customize the ship’s baby grand pianos in aluminum. Mahogany pianos were permitted only after Steinway offered to douse one in gasoline and ignite it to illustrate its fire-retardant qualities. The wooden shuffleboard discs were replaced with plastic alternatives, and the conductor’s baton was rendered in aluminum. However, as one magazine noted wryly after the vessel’s debut, they had “devised no way of rendering the musicians incombustible.”
Rather than resting some two-and-a-half miles below the ocean’s surface off the coast of Newfoundland, the SS United States still floats at a Philadelphia pier. Decommissioned in 1969, she has passed through the hands of a number of owners over the decades. The non-profit SS United States Conservancy saved the ocean liner from certain scrapping last year by purchasing the vessel, thanks to a grant from a patriotic philanthropist named H. F. “Gerry” Lenfest.
This irreplaceable piece of American engineering is now poised to serve our nation and the world yet again. Partners and supporters from across the country are needed to help redevelop the vessel as a mixed use destination featuring a museum, educational programs and other uses in an urban waterfront setting. The ship’s more than 650,000 square feet of interior space offers unique opportunities to explore and celebrate everything from American technological innovation, engineering, and postwar history to sea-going travel and the Mad Men era.
In response to the Titanic’s sinking, the bishop of Winchester stated: “The Titanic, name and thing, will stand for a monument and warning to human presumption.” The SS United States also stands as a monument and also issues a warning. Today, the Big U quietly warns us that time, tide and complacency can threaten even our most awe-inspiring patriotic symbols.
The Titanic and the SS United States both embodied their nation’s loftiest aspirations. But only one of these legendary vessels can still be saved for future generations. Once the Titanic memorials, movies and television shows become a memory, we have a chance to save our own history.
Susan Gibbs is the executive director of the SS United States Conservancy and the granddaughter of William Francis Gibbs, the designer of the SS United States.
This post picks up the timeline of the sinking of the Titanic, one hundred years ago today (and early tomorrow, April 15). Here is the timeline (in local time):
12:00 AM – Captain Edward J. Smith gives the orders to call for help over the raido
12:05 AM – Captain Smith order the lifeboats be prepared for the passengers, knowing full well there would not be enough for everyone aboard
12:25 AM – Lifeboats loading begins, women and children only
12:25 AM – Carpathia responds to distress calls, but is 58 miles from the scene
12:45 AM – The first lifeboat is lowered from the ship
2:05 AM – The final lifeboat is lowered from the ship
2:17 AM – Last distress call is sent
2:20 AM – Titanic splits between the third and fourth funnels and sinks
3:30 AM – Carpathia‘s rockets are spotted by the survivors
4:10 AM – First lifeboat reaches Carpathia
8:50 AM – Carpathia leaves the area for New York City
One hundred years ago today, the unsinkable Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic on its maiden voyage. What happended over the next two and a half hours has been retold countless times. Here is a timeline of the evening (local time):
11:40 PM – Titanic strikes an iceberg at latitude 41-46N, longitude 50-14W
11:50 PM – Inspections show 14 feet of water in the forward sections of the ship
To be continued…