Blog

The Race of the First Kentucky Derby

By Rick Chromey | May 17, 2021 |

Today is the 146th anniversary of America’s most storied horse race: the Kentucky Derby. The winning jockey was Oliver Lewis aboard a horse name Aristides.

We have forgotten how black Americans, in the beginning, not only ran these thoroughbreds but also cared for them. In this first running of the Kentucky Derby, thirteen out of fifteen jockeys were black. In fact, of the first 28 derby winners, more than half of the jockeys (15) were black. However, by the early 20th century, black jockeys faded from view. In fact, a black jockey would not ride a horse in the Kentucky Derby for 79 years when Marlon St. Julien jockeyed a horse in the 2000 running of the roses.

The irony is black American has a storied past with horses and horse racing that dates to the colonial era. Many founding fathers loved the track, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Andrew Jackson actually relocated his stables to DC (along with his black jockeys) when he became president in 1829.

The popularity of horse racing in the South meant that many slaves raised, cared and jockeyed their owners stock. As one historian noted, “For blacks, racing provided a false sense of freedom. They were allowed to travel the racing circuit, and some even managed their owners’ racing operation. They competed alongside whites. When black riders were cheered to the finish line, the only colors that mattered were the colors of their silk jackets, representing their stables. Horse racing was entertaining for white owners and slaves alike and one of the few ways for slaves to achieve status.”

It’s a story that needs to be told. In many ways it was a sport that brought America–black and white–together. Ironically, the horse race lost its luster in the early 1900s because a new race was tearing up the track: automobiles and motorcycles. For racing enthusiasts, the sport is about speed and the motor proved a faster thrill.

America Embraces Debt

By Rick Chromey | May 13, 2021 |

“Put it on my card!”

It’s the American way. We buy now, pay later. 

The history for card purchases is nothing new. In fact, it was first described in an Edward Bellamy utopian work titled Looking Backward (1887). Bellamy employed the term “credit card” in his work as a way for a person to spend what the government had portioned to him.

In reality it was less a “credit card” and more a “debit card.”

In the early 20th century various technology emerged to make Bellamy’s idea a reality. Initially, every store and restaurant had it’s own “credit” card (or tab). But then, on this date (May 13) in 1950, a new concept emerged. Why not have ONE card to pay multiple merchants? Ralph Schneider and Frank McNamara led the way and the “Diners Club” credit card was born.

It proved a popular buying strategy.

Eight years later, American Express would issue the first general credit card.

And we’ve been indebted ever since.

The Golden Spike Connects a Nation

By Rick Chromey | May 10, 2021 |

It was one of the most significant transportation projects in U.S. history: the transcontinental railroad. Over six years (1863-1869) in the making, this railroad project joined the eastern states with the western frontier.

The golden spike (or “The Last Spike”) was a ceremonial 17.6-karat gold spike driven by Leland Stanford to connect the rails of the Central Pacific Railroad (Sacramento, CA) to the Union Pacific Railroad (Omaha, NE) at Promontory Summit in Utah Territory. The golden spike is now displayed at Stanford University.

The labor for this transcontinental rail project came primarily from the Chinese, many of whom were recent immigrants to California. Over 12,000 Chinese built the rail line (80% of the work force). Originally considered too weak and small for this dangerous work, but the lack of labor forced the Central Pacific owners to take a flyer on them. Ultimately, the Chinese work ethic, tenacity and fearlessness helped the Central Pacific to blast through the rugged Sierra Nevada mountains in the west, despite snowbound, sub-freezing winter and blast furnace hot summer conditions. Hundreds of Chinese were killed in this project by explosions, landslides, accidents and disease.

Sadly, despite their significant contribution of the Chinese, nearly all were excluded from the Golden Spike ceremony in 1869. Only in recent decades has their story, achievement and legacy been honored and celebrated.

The “Golden Spike” moment was not just a technological achievement but a huge win for a young nation still leaning into its future.

With a transcontinental railroad available, the westward migration increased, new boom towns sprouted and the way to ship goods (including western cattle to eastern meat markets) grew.

The new railroad sparked additional east-west lines like the Northern Pacific, Southern Pacific and Atlantic Pacific…sparking a new industry: tourism. Yellowstone National Park (1872) and Yosemite National Park (1890) were the benefactors of railroad tourism.

And it all started on this date (May 10, 1869), when two railroads connected, in northwest Utah.

The Hindenburg Disaster

By Rick Chromey | May 6, 2021 |
Nobody knew it at the time, but the Hindenberg disaster was the beginning of the end for air travel by blimp. For decades, the rich used blimps to travel to new locales, still somewhat faster than the automobile of that day. But as the airplane–a new air tech–found its wings, old-school blimps no longer held their air. The future was faster, higher and farther. And the beginning of the end happened on this date in 1937.

The Monkey Trial of the Century

By Rick Chromey | May 5, 2021 |

It was one of the most influential, transformative court cases of the 20th century.

The Scopes Trial–or “Monkey Trial” as some called it–focused on a Tennessee high school teacher named John Scopes. He was charged with teaching evolution. The only problem? He didn’t know if he actually taught the origins theory. Nevertheless, to force a case against the Tennessee Butler Act that prohibited teaching evolution, Scopes incriminated himself.

The July 1925 trial was a media circus in small town America (Dayton, TN). The whole point was to stage a trumped up “injustice” to show how backward folks (like small town, rural Tennesseans) were holding back the progress of true science. Never mind that much of the science used by Scopes’ attorney Clarence Darrow to defend evolutionary theory was later found to be erroneous. For example, the introduction of “Nebraska Man” was later discovered to be built entirely from the tooth of an extinct pig.

In the end, famed celebrity prosecutor William Jennings Bryan persuaded the jury to convict John Scopes and he was fined $100 (about $1500 today). Later that guilty verdict was overturned.

Ultimately, this famous trial positioned the religious right (creationists) against the secular left (evolutionists) in an ongoing battle that remains to this day. In fact, today the origins position is almost entirely reversed. And while not illegal, it’s creationism and “creation science” that’s censored, dismissed and not taught in our nation’s public schools.

Nevertheless the whole controversy started 96 years ago, on this date, in 1925.

Network News is Born!

By Rick Chromey | May 3, 2021 |

If your over 40, you remember a day when the three big networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) dominated the television news landscape.

Indeed, the 1960s and 1970s were the “golden age” of network news, featuring personalities like Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley and Howard K. Smith. There were also new emerging (and future) stars like Dan Rather (CBS), Tom Brokaw (NBC) and Peter Jennings (ABC).

The list of news anchors for CBS News is a rather short one for 57 years (or until 2005): Douglas Edwards (1948-1962), Walter Cronkite (1962-1981) and Dan Rather (1981-2005). Since 2005, there have been five anchors: Bob Schieffer (2005-2006), Katie Couric (2006-2011), Scott Pelly (2011-2017), Jeff Glor (2017-2019) and Norah O’Donnell (2019-present).

It was Walter “That’s The Way It Is” Cronkite who broke the news on John F. Kennedy’s assassination and was the guide to man’s landing on the moon. In many ways, these two events sandwiched the Vietnam era of the 1960s. And network news carried it all. In the 1980s, with the advent of the Cable News Network (CNN), news moved from a daily half-hour “magazine” to 24/7/365.

Suddenly, news was NOW…or really the NOWS.

And it all started on this date 73 years ago today.

The Age of Television is Launched!

By Rick Chromey | April 30, 2021 |

In the course of human history, there are few technologies that significantly reimagine everything and move culture forward exponentially. Fire. Gunpowder. The Printing Press. The Internet.

And television.

The world before television–the projection of visuals into the private home–reimagined how we lived. It proved, in the end, more than just an entertainment evolution. In the 1940s, radio was the king of home entertainment. By 1960 the new king was television (and radio was gasping to survive).

The American family home fixated and centered on television. The box in the corner controlled our “prime time” schedules. Between 8 and 11 p.m. eastern time, television lit up American evenings with dramas, westerns, sitcoms, variety shows, sports, music, movies and other visual entertainment. Our news shifted to create new visual stars like Murrow, Cronkite, Brinkley, Smith and Huntley. Billy Graham reimagined church from a chapel to a stadium, the steeple to an antenna. Sports moved from local favorites to national commodities. Even education shifted thanks to television, the new teacher, mentor and babysitter.

In the 1960s, live television feeds (thanks to satellites in space) and cable television evolved. Three decades later satellite and streamed television would emerge. Television introduced innovations like the remote control, video cassette recorder, DirecTV/Dish, TiVo/DVR Blockbuster/Redbox movie rentals, video gaming, HD and flat screens, Roku/Sling/Apple TV.

Today, many American households have televisions in multiple rooms, including the bathroom, patio and garage. The average channel lineup is in the hundreds. What’s changing now is how we consume our televised programming. The Big Three networks–thanks to cable–are no more. In fact, cable and satellite are dying. Most viewers now watch television via the stream and store their favorite shows in the cloud.

Television changed the world.

And it all started on this day in 1939.

The First Family of Radio

By Rick Chromey | April 29, 2021 |

You’ve probably heard of the radio shows “The Shadow,” “Abbott and Costello,” “Amos ‘n Andy” or “Ozzy and Harriet,” but what about One Man’s Family?

This popular American radio soap opera broadcasted from 1932 to 1959. Developed by Carlton E. Morse, One Man’s Family was the longest-running uninterrupted dramatic serial in the history of American radio. One Man’s Family also had the rare distinction to air both in prime time and daytime television (1949 – 1952).

In many ways it set the stage for family dramas in the 1950s and 1960s, from Father Knows Best and Leave it to Beaver to The Andy Griffith Show and Bonanza.

One Man’s Family was the template for the all-American television family.

And it debuted on this date in 1932.

LISTEN TO AN EPISODE

The Mouse Hits the Big 4-0!

By Rick Chromey | April 27, 2021 |

On April 27, 1981, I was a senior in high school. In six weeks I would graduate and leave home for good. At the time I was typing my papers on an electric typewriter. In graduate school I bought my first desktop computer and learned the misery of early MS-DOS computing. In the mid-1990s I bought my growing family a Windows desktop computer that featured something new: a mouse. 

Suddenly computing was fun…just move and click! But was that a left or right click?

The history of “mousing” actually goes back to the 1940s through primitive trackball devices. However, it was Xerox that introduced the modern mouse on this date four decades ago. In a strange twist, however, it wasn’t Xerox that popularized its use on computers but rather Apple. That’s right, in 1984 the Apple MacIntosh was released with a mouse. Other computer companies followed suit and by the mid-1990s the mouse was a common feature in computing.

How did the “mouse” get its name? Actually because it resembled a mouse with its tail (to early designers). Computer mice also spawned the mousepad…a rubber backed surface on which to roll the mouse effectively. Anybody remember banging your mouse when the track ball gummed up? Guilty! Some people even named their computer mouse. Mine was “Mickey.”

Since the advent of touch technology (tracking pads and screen), the mouse isn’t as popular nor necessary. Laptops and tablets proved poison for this non-furry computer additive. Nevertheless, the mouse remains a hot commodity, especially among gamers. In fact, some mice can cost a pretty piece of cheese today…like this one for over $900!

So today we celebrate the computer mouse…turning the big 4-0 today

Boomers The First To Get the Point on Polio!

By Rick Chromey | April 26, 2021 |

Polio was a feared disease in the early and mid-1900s. The crippling disease had disabled Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s. But, even more so, polio was epidemic among children (who saw the lion share of the cases). In 1952 there were 58,000 new cases of poliomyelitis (with 3000 deaths). The worst part was polio was a virus. Consequently, quarantines were common, as well as a device known as the “iron lung” (to help respiration).

Enter Jonas Salk.

In March of 1953, Dr. Salk announced he had cracked the code to an “anti-polio” vaccine. A year later, on this date in 1954, the first shot of polio vaccine was administered in a series of clinical trials. In 1955, the vaccine was considered safe and children were openly inoculated. Studies showed Salk’s vaccine was four times as effective in preventing polio. Consequently, within just two years the cases were down to 6000 annually.

In 1962 a Polish-American named Al Sabin developed an oral vaccine that was routinely administered in a sugar cube. For the Television, Space and Gamer generations (born between 1940 and 1980), Salk’s vaccine eradicated the dreadful disease of polio. Today, only a handful of children are stricken with its crippling and deadly grip.

It’s one of the most, if not most successful, wholesale vaccinations against a virus in the history of mankind.