Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Historical Brief on Bowling

“I don’t see pins, I see particles waiting to explode”
- Albert Einstein

A 300 game is as coveted a prize as Lord Stanley’s Cup, and yet these perfect games go unnoticed almost everyday in bowling. Twelve perfectly placed balls thrown in any number of different lane conditions; a bowler has 3 minutes of practice to find the perfect throw and placement. The game was once played over any number of frames, and it wasn’t until September 9, 1895 that the game of bowling was standardized to ten frames by the newly formed American Bowling Association. It is widely believed that Leo Bentley Lorain of Rome, Ohio bowled the first perfect game on March 26, 1908, beating Flinders Petrie, four-time American champion, in head to head play. The honors had previously been thought to belong to Ernest Fosberg of East Rockford, Illinois, who first achieved the feat in 1894, however this was later ruled invalid by the ABA (although still viewed by professionals as the first). It was indeed the highest score of the time, but the score was most likely the result of 15 frames, which was standard for Illinois at the time. Each of these achievements may be a matter of record, as recent evidence of ten-pin bowling has been discovered in Germany, dating as far back as 300 A.D. William Pehle, a German archeologist, unearthed a monastery containing wooden pin shaped carvings, small six pound stones and ledgers containing notes about these purity rituals. The game determined the absence of sin for the converted; the more pins falling, the more faithful. And while there were no clear scores kept by the monks, Fosberg, a German immigrant no less, may one day have his place in history ‘striked’ from the record books.

Monday, March 30, 2009

A Historical Note on the First Water-to-Water Flight

“One cannot truly admire God as an artist, until they have seen the earth from 30,000 feet.”
- Charles Lindbergh

The water as runway has captivated many aeronautical engineers. But sustained flight with a pontoon legged twin-engine propped aircraft was simply out of the question. An emergency landing over land was a sure death sentence to any brave pilot. Enter M.A. Rydell, a test pilot for Meyers Aircraft, based in Allenhurst, New Jersey. Fresh out of the Army, young Rydell tested the first pontoon aircrafts that Allen H. Meyers and his apprentice Glenn Martin built in the early 1950s. Most flights originated from Point Pleasant Beach and landed in nearby Sandy Hook Bay. But if these water-to-water aircraft were to be manufactured in bulk to the Navy (which was in need for long flight water-to-water aircraft to deliver supplies to battleships in the Pacific), a sustained flight with ample fuel reserves had to be tested. Meyers took on this challenge and created the PK-3600, a long range water-to-water aircraft that could fly across the US without refueling and carrying one metric tonne of cargo. In April of 1952, Rydell took off from Point Pleasant and sustained the longest water-to-water flight in history; he landed some 2,800 miles in Dana Point, CA. The flight was a success and Meyers was contracted to provide the Navy with 186 aircraft.

Friday, March 27, 2009

A Historical Brief on the Origins of the Sidecar

"The only thing worth drinking is a Sidecar."

-Ernest Hemingway, on Harry's Bar

During World War I, a small group of French soldiers walked into a little bistro on the edge of Paris looking for a meal. The Bistrot de Jean wasn’t a lavish establishment, and the outbreak of fighting had diminished their clientele, so the owner, Jean, was pleased, if ill-prepared, for the arrival of the soldiers. Already weary of the fighting at the front, the soldiers gathered around a table in the corner of the bistro, and ordered a hearty meal as they talked about strategies for pushing back the German assault. Most finished and left, but two stayed behind for dessert, with one nameless soldier ordering his favorite cognac to accompany it. The owner, Jean, glanced at his dusty shelves and pulled down the only bottle of cognac at the restaurant, an unknown brand that was probably cognac in name only, and poured a small glass for the soldier, with his apologies. The soldier glanced at the aperitif, swirled it impatiently, and took a swig. Just then, to the northeast, faint gunshots rattled, and the soldiers knew they had to return to their command. Not wanting to abandon his cognac, but finding another sip unpalatable, the soldier poured the sauce from his dessert, a crepe suzette, into his drink, jumped into the sidecar of the motorcycle his companion drove, and rode off with both the glass and the drink in it. His restaurant now empty, the owner poured himself a glass of the same cognac, and finding it equally unpalatable, tried it with some of the leftover sauce, and so the sidecar was born.

A Historical Brief of the Anthora

“First the light of dawn, then coffee. Last comes gunfire.”
-General John J. Pershing, 1918

In 1952 Leo Hulseman, a Swedish immigrant and avid tea drinker, worked on an assembly line at Munter’s Chemical Physics Lab, at that time a leading producer of dye in New York City. Hulseman’s duties, among other strenuous tasks, was to empty the dyeing vats each morning, where large quantities of a bi-product called polystyrene would build up. Bleached and discarded into large drums, Hulseman noticed that once cleaned with lye, the resulting chemicals and acids created a foamy, buoyant white material. Savvy and full of ideas, Hulseman made a list of all the chemicals involved in the dying and cleaning process, save the coloring, and brought it to his coworker, fellow Swede Carl Georg. Over the next few years, Georg perfected his formula, noting that this new material could not only be shaped and molded, but that it insulated heat. Hulseman and Georg worked nights molding their foam over coffee cups, and selling them to street vendors on the way to work as a cheap alternative to the paper cup. In 1955, Leslie Buck of the Sherri Cup Co approached Georg and Hulseman to buy their formula as an insulator to their coffee cup. Partnered and geared for success, Buck launched the new, cheap insulated paper coffee cup, selling primarily to Greek and Chinese restaurants on the Lower East Side district of New York City. The blue and white, insulated cup was named the Anthora, derived from the Greek Word amphora, meaning a handle-less vase. The Anthora has become a staple amongst NYC street vendors and marketers, and has seen several changes in the course of its fifty some years of existence, most notably the words, “We are Happy to Serve You” written across the cup.

A Historical Note on Roller Derby

“If we can’t put people in cars, then put them on wheels.”
-Bill Veeck

Wild man Bill Veeck was widely known for his antics off the field as much on the field. Possibly his most flamboyant attempt to filling seats at old Sportsman park in St. Louis was parading midget Eddie Gaedel in 1951 and having him bat clean-up. But, Veeck played a larger role in the establishment of another sport. During his tenure as owner for the Chicago White Sox, Veeck was widely critized for planning his now infamous Disco Demolition Night that caused a riot on the field of Comiskey Park. His shareholders would not let him hold another one (there were record ticket sales for that game) so Veeck came up with another plan – let’s put the drivers on wheels. A banked track was constructed in center field and 15 men were instructed to race, no-holds-barred around the track on roller skates. The men took off and chaos broke out on the track (many of the men had never been on skates before). But the collage of violence and racing captivated the audience and Veeck decided to hold five more roller derby nights that year. The exhibitions grew and soon small pockets of Roller Derby fanciers started their own leagues in and around Chicago. It wasn’t until the early 80’s that a clear set of rules for the sport was intact, but its popularity grew and even spawned a television show, Roller Wars, in 1987. Currently there are over 52 Roller Derby leagues in the US, headed by the most popular outfit in Los Angeles, the LA Roller Derby Dolls - http://www.derbydolls.com/la/index.html.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Wordsmith: The Etymology of "Hustle"

“Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.”
-Abraham Lincoln

Loosely defined as energetic movement toward a goal, sometimes with an aim to deceive, ‘hustle’ has become a mainstay of the American sporting vernacular, now typically referring to the admirable quality of playing a game with scrap and urgency (see: Derek Jeter, David Eckstein). Through this modern meaning, ‘hustle’ has drifted far from its historic origins as a derivative from the name of 15th-century Czech heretic Jan Hus and his followers. Among other things, Hus was a vocal proponent of John Wycliffe’s teachings and freedom of preaching, also criticizing the Catholic Church’s use of indulgences a century before Martin Luther. Hus was excommunicated in 1411 and burned at the stake in 1415. While alive, Hus was noted for the energy with which he preached and attracted followers—called ‘Hussites’—to his heresy. The term ‘huseln’ developed in German describing enthusiastic movement or recruitment toward a malicious end, soon finding its way into English as ‘husel’ or, based on prevailing orthographic convention, ‘hustle.’

A Historical Note on GI Joe

“In times of peril, look to youth for inspiration”

-Franklin Delano Roosevelt

In April of 1941, the United States was on the cusp of unknown warfare. Frank Barton, an engineer stationed in Pearl Harbor, was tasked with surveying the surrounding waterways from Hawaii to Midway and Guam. While aboard the USS Nero en route to Midway, Barton met a physician named Yamaguchi Motoomi, who was sanctioned by the United States Navy to aid in the development of modern field surgery aboard warships. Motoomi used small model men to show incoming medical recruits the proper procedure for the caring of wounds. Barton was awed by the detail and flexibility of Motoomi’s model men, which were clothed in make shift uniforms and showing battle scars and wounds. Motoomi gave Barton a case of his discarded models upon request, which he then brought home to his wife Mary, a nurse stationed at Fords Hospital on Kauhua Island. Mary Barton distributed these ‘dolls’ in the children’s ward, and reported the children’s immediate enthusiasm to her husband; the children soon began making toy weapons and outfits to supply their own toy soldiers. After the bombing in December, Vice President Wallace visited Fords hospital and was overwhelmed by the patriotism and spirit the children displayed. Wallace was quoted, calling the children, “not your average Joes.” Barton began calling his dolls “Joe’s,” and continued to supply children’s hospitals with the dolls for the remainder of the war. Barton sold his idea for a soldiers toy line to Hasbro in 1947. Backed by a grant from the Board of Economic Warfare, which was then chaired by Wallace, Hasbro changed the name from ‘Joe’ to ‘G.I. Joe’, which stood for General Infantry Joe. The first GI Joe action figure hit stores on May 6th, 1950.

A Historical Note on Los Angeles’ Miracle Mile

“When my life is overcast, it’s shopping that brings me the sun.”
-Truman Capote

The stretch of Wilshire Blvd. that was sandwiched between La Brea Blvd. to the east and Fairfax to the west was a desolate stretch of unusable land. The La Brea Tar Pits left seeping pools of tar and noxious gas scattered along the thoroughfare. It was long determined that oil could be pumped in the area and Howard Hughes was one of the first to tap the empty ground. When the ground refused to cooporate, Hughes had decided to sell the land. Just north on Fairfax and Third a burgeoning group of farmers set up shop to sell their fruits and vegetables every weekend. This lead to flocks of urbanites from the east to drive Wilshire and north on Fairfax to the market. Hughes had an idea; he would lease the land to the best department stores in NYC to open a West Coast version of Fifth Avenue. Soon Art Deco behemoths created a corridor of shopping delights and Hughes reaped the benefits. Hughes brought in small planes to awe shoppers as they marched from store to store and the stretch of Wilshire was a complete success. Hughes’ doubters dubbed the shopping venture a “miracle,” and Hughes ran with it, coining the section, the Miracle Mile.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Historical Note on the Origins of Tapdancing

"Tap dancing is the highest form of expression."
-Gene Kelly

The year was 1930, and Charles Grapewin was down on his luck, having lost his Vaudeville fortune in the Crash. His life no longer enriched with residual vibrance from the gay song-and-dance spectacles he once produced, Grapewin began to fill the now-silent minutes by thumping his feet in a percussive manner on the bare floor of his humble Manhattan loft as he struggled to think of his next big idea. One day, on Thursday, August 14, 1930, a nail on the bottom of his oxfords came loose, producing metallic “tapping” sound as his feet met the floor. Grapewin found the new sound especially pleasing, and he knew he’d soon return to the big time.

Grapewin quickly shared his discovery with dancer friend Frederick Austerlitz, who scrounged a couple of pieces of loose sheet metal lying in the street from the recently-finished Chrysler Building that he trimmed to fit the toes and heels of his shoes. Suddenly, Austerlitz found his dull ballet steps transformed into rhythmic dynamism that many would later consider music in its own right. Grapewin sold his new dance shoe to prominent Little Italy cobbler Salvatore Capezio for the handsome sum of $2,500, while Austerlitz promptly changed his surname to Astaire and founded the New York Tap Dance Society devoted to the dissemination of the percussive arts among children young and old. Since 1930, the NYTDS has buffaloed for six presidents, three prime ministers, four popes, and many convalescing elderly.

A Historical Brief on Napa Valley Wine

"Will there be wine?"
-Henry Chinaski

There wasn’t much discussion about wine circulating in San Francisco at the turn of the 20th century. That changed dramatically after the 1906 quake when thousands of residents fled the city and settled in the neighboring Salinas and Napa Valleys. It wasn’t until a bright eyed Italian, Calvo Bartozzi, left North Beach for firmer ground that he saw the potential of the alluvial fans that bled from Napa Valley’s north hills. Bartozzi, a fisherman by trade and by way of Ancona, Italy, took his limited knowledge of Tuscany’s rolling hills and imagined the same vineyards stretched across the Valley’s floor. He purchased 10 acres of land west of the Napa River and planted his first Sangiovese grapes (later to be renamed the California Zinfandel). His first harvest was a disaster; the fruit flourished and produced overripe, sugary and highly alcoholic wine. By 1909, Bartozzi had figured it out. He did not need his vines to flourish; he needed them to compete for resources making the exact fruit desired for the Sangiovese he wanted. By planting each row one meter from the next, the vines competed for the rich nutrients that the alluvial fan provided. Along with the cool fog that the bay brought in at night, the combination lead to Bartozzi’s first vintage in 1910. His experiments went on to be standard practice in the Valley leading it to become the greatest wine producing region in the world by 1978.

A Historical Note on the L.I.E.

“Where there is hope, there is industry, and where there is industry, there will be roads”
Frances Wolcot-1865

After the collapse of the south in 1865, a man from West Virginia made the eight day trip from Washington D.C. to what is now Staten Island on horseback. His name was Robert Julian Moses. A devout Catholic and family man, Moses set out to find his fortune in the Tea trade. His reputation as a fair and just Captain in the Civil War enabled him to establish himself quickly amongst southern transplants, as well as northerners, and soon after taking up residence, opened the first trade routes on the then desolate island of what would become Long Island. First opening trade with the outcast Irish Immigrants on the north shore and then Italian migrants on the south shore, Moses was able to bridge lines of commerce stretching as far east as Montauk, and accumulate vast wealth which he used to further branch both his business and the infrastructure of Long Island. For the next twenty some years, Moses’ exclusive trade route from the tip of Brooklyn to the end of Montauk became know as the Long Island Express Trading Route. This Trading Route was annexed by New York State in 1887, and laid with concrete by William Vanderbilt from 1888-1890. The route was changed to the Long Island Expressway in 1915 to accommodate inhabitants of New York City, as more settlers moved out of the city to the island. Before his death, Moses oversaw the creation of both the Southern State and Northern State parkways. After his death in 1931, Queens Beach was renamed Robert Moses in his honor.

A Historical Note on Bocce

“The world is at its most civilized when it is playing bocce.”
- T.S. Eliot

During WWII when T.S. Eliot was the warden at St. Stephen’s on the Gloucester Road he would lock and check the premises each night during the Blitz. During the day, as he wrote, he would take a light constitutional to Kensington Square where we happened upon a game of bocce that the workers of La Strada (the most famous Italian restaurant on Kensington High Street) would relax in between shifts. During these afternoons, Mr. Eliot formed a sporting bond with these men. He was a starch Anglican and in practice would have never been associated with Catholic fascists. But in bocce he found a place to put aside his differences, especially during these most trying times.