By Ken Zurski
As famous brands go, it’s all in a name. Or it least that’s how it used to be. But while the name itself is famous, the person behind the name often is not.
Here’s three quick sketches of famous entrepreneurs whose names are well known but whose stories that led to the brand that bears their name is less remembered.
Pleasant Hanes was a tobacco man. After serving as a courier for General Robert E. Lee in the Civil War, Hanes returned home to Winston-Salem, North Carolina and delivered chewing tobacco door to door. He opened a tobacco plant in 1872, but sold it to rival R.J. Reynolds who was buying all the tobacco plants in town.
Hanes, however, had another idea: opening a knitting factory.
In 1902 he put his name on underwear instead.
Henry John Heinz wasn’t so lucky at first. In 1869, as the Heinz, Noble & Company (along with a partner named L. Clarence Noble), Heinz bottled and sold horseradish. It didn’t fire. They added pickles, vinegar and other spices to its repertoire, but still nothing. In 1875, the Heinz, Noble & Company stopped production and closed its doors. Frustrated, the next year, Heinz founded a new company, hired his two brothers, and while offering a variety of “57” food products, eventually focused on one tasty condiment, already known…ketchup.
At the Chicago’s World’s Fair, Heinz sold his brand of tomato ketchup to the masses.
Like Heinz, a man named James Spangler was also determined. Burdened by asthma, he built a machine that could collect dust off the floor. Spangler called it a sudden vacuum and started the Electric Suction Sweeper Company . Sales were slow so he showed the contraption to a cousin who brought it to her husband, a leather goods maker. His name was William Hoover. Hoover as it turned out had a better business sense. His idea was simple but effective: Send out salesman door to door and offer a 10-day free in-home trial.
In 1908, Hoover promptly bought the vacuum patent and changed the name.
By Ken Zurski
In Jill Lepore’s bold new 900-plus page tome titled “These Truths: A History of the United States,” the essayist and historian begins the incredible journey in the obvious year of 1492 and the discovery of a new land by a man named Christopher Columbus, an Italian-born Portuguese sailor, who was sent by the Spanish king and queen to sail across the Atlantic and spread Christianity, along with more financially rewarding reasons as well.
The name of this new land, Lepore points out was actually given by a German cartographer whose map of the world in four parts included a word, made up, to describe the fourth and newest part: America. But like most historians, Columbus gets credit for finding this new world, soon to be dubbed New Spain, a place where a place was not supposed to be.
Columbus found this new territory well inhabited by natives and resourceful to cultivating. Upon his return back to the homeland, he told the Spanish born Pope who in turn used only his divine powers to grant the land to Spain as if “he were the god of Genesis,” Lepore explains.
Not everyone agreed, but it didn’t matter. Columbus was already planning another trip to conquer and domesticate this New Spain. So in 1493 he led an armada of seventeen ships and 1200 men went back to America. This time on board the ships were an abundance of livestock and seeds, enough to start a small farm. It would not be long before the cattle, pigs, sheep and goats multiplied. There was an abundant food supply on this fertile land and no natural predators. “They reproduced in numbers unfathomable in Europe,” Leprore writes. “Cattle population doubled every fifteen months.”
Even more productive, the pigs who were notorious foragers and reproducers quickly outnumbered the cattle. “Within a few years,” Lepore expounds, ” the eight pigs he [Columbus] brought with him had descendants numbering in the thousands.”
Columbus also brought with him seeds of “wheat, chickpeas, melons, onions, radishes, greens, grapevines, and sugar cane.” He also brought diseases, which the European people were mostly immune, but carried unseen. This would wipe out most of the native population who had never been exposed to and therefore had no defense against malaria, influenza, small pox , whopping cough and yellow fever, among others. They died by the “tens of millions,” Lepore pointed out, and those left were usually rounded up and sold as slaves.
And while this conquer, pillage and plunder method by the Spaniards is fiercely debated, and is often roundly criticized, the legacy of Columbus and his men can also be found in many of the plants which dot the country’s landscape. For aboard the transport ships, hidden among the folds of “animal skins, blankets and clods of mud” came a seed, which Lepore points out were “the seeds of plants Europeans considered to be weeds.”
These wild plant seeds were inadvertently distributed in the soil and thanks to the constant moving of dirt by cattle, horses, and human digging and tilling, they spread across the ground like diseases did between the natives.
Bluegrass, daises, and ferns were among them. Thistles and nettles also stayed and thrived.
And one – the mighty dandelion – just never seems to go away.
Ask your local library to get it …give the book title and the author. Available on Ingram, Baker & Taylor and Amazon http://a.co/d/iteJoll
Ken Zurski, author of The Wreck of the Columbia and Peoria Stories, provides a fascinating collection of once famous people and events that are now all but forgotten by time. Using a backdrop of schemes and discoveries, adventures and tragedies, Zurski weaves these figures and the events that shaped them into a narrative that reveals history’s many coincidences, connections, and correlations.
We tumble over Niagara Falls in a barrel, soar on the first transcontinental machine-powered flight, and founder aboard a burning steamboat. From an adventurous young woman circumnavigating the globe to a self-absorbed eccentric running for President of the United States, Unremembered brings back these lost stories and souls for a new generation to discover.
Isambard K. Brunel
Annie Edson Taylor
Father Louis Hennepin
William B. Ogden
George Francis Train
Arthur Whitten Brown
By Ken Zurski
On September 29 1789, President George Washington commissioned James Wilson as an associate judge to the first United States Supreme Court. The Scottish born Wilson, who immigrated to Philadelphia in 1766, joined five other estimable men also appointed by Washington. Like the others, Wilson was an inspired choice with a formidable record: a founding father, signer of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and a representative of Pennsylvania in the first Continental Congress.
After Washington’s nomination, Wilson was confirmed by the Senate in just two days.
“When I deliver my sentiments from this chair,” Wilson said in a lecture. “They shall be my honest sentiments: when I deliver them from the bench, they shall be nothing more.”
Because the constitution pretty much set the early ground rules of laws, there wasn’t much for the first U.S. Supreme Court to do. In fact during Wilson’s appointment in 1789 and through most of the next decade, only nine cases were heard. Wilson kept busy in the private sector teaching and lecturing at the College of Philadelphia, as that institution’s first professor.
He also spent a couple of stints in prison.
His downfall was bad debts. Thanks to the Panic of 1796-1797, Wilson accrued heavy losses due to bad land deals and was briefly jailed in debtor’s prison, first in Burlington, New Jersey, and then again in North Carolina, where he moved to avoid more creditors. He son ended up paying off his father’s debts.
While serving time, albeit in short stretches, Wilson continued his duties as a Supreme Court justice without contention or debate. This is likely to inaction more than anything else. In fact, the only established way Wilson could leave his post is by quitting, through retirement, sickness or worse, by death.
Less than a year after his short imprisonments, however, Wilson was indeed dead.
Following a bout of malaria, Wilson suffered a stroke and never recovered. He was 55.
Of the six original Supreme Court justices, Wilson ended up being the second to serve the longest (Justice William Cushing remained on the Court until 1810) and had become the first to end his term by death.
By Ken Zurski
Herbert Buckingham Khaury didn’t come from a musical family.
His parents, both immigrants, worked in textile factories. But even at an early age Herbert knew he could sing, especially a high falsetto. “It just seemed more natural to me,” he later explained in an interview.
In 1962, Khaury adopted a stage name, Tiny Tim. The moniker stuck after others like Justin Foxglove did not. Tim’s first big break came on the popular TV variety show Laugh-In. Tim sang “On The Goodship Lollipop” while strumming a ukulele. The audience was stunned. It wasn’t just his singing, which was unique enough, but his appearance – long shaggy hair, a beak nose and shocking plaid suit.
The performance drew a mixed, mostly negative, response.
It got better.
Tim gained a following as a regular on the Tonight Show. In 1968, his only hit, “Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” a remake of a song from the 1920’s, reached #17 on the pop charts.
His popularity waned In the 70’s, but Tim continued to perform right up to his death in 1996 at the age of 64. After suffering a heart attack earlier that year, Tim refused to follow doctor’s advice to slow down. Several weeks later, while finishing a performance of “Tulips,” he collapsed on stage and never recovered
“The last thing he heard was applause.” his third wife and widow explained. “He went out happy.”
By Ken Zurski
In 1902, a Standardbred racer named Prince Alert became the first “hobbled” horse to pace a mile in under two-minutes, a benchmark that harness horses break today in nearly every race. But times have changed, and horses run faster today thanks to advancements in breeding and training. However, in Prince Alert’s time, breaking a two-minute mile was a big deal indeed.
Also being “hobbled” didn’t mean that Prince Alert was limp or disabled. It meant he wore hobbles or leather straps on its legs to help maintain a smooth gait.
Prince Alert was considered the ‘Undisputed King of Hobbled Pacers,” but wearing the straps also carried a tag in the horse’s record. Other horses were winning big races without “hobbles,” including one of the greatest Dan Patch, who is considered even to this day as the most popular race horse of all time.
That’s because at the turn of the 20th century, harness racing was the country’s most popular sport and Dan Patch was its undisputed star. Patch captured a nation with his rags to riches story and his uncanny ability to win, a lot, wherever he went and on any number of off-surface, in the middle of nowhere, tracks. Where Dan Patch went, large crowds followed. Soon, his likeness appeared on everything from cereal to cigar boxes to washing machines. He was, as one writer noted, “the first celebrity endorser.” By default horses that ran against Patch also became news, like Prince Alert, who wore the hobbles, while Patch did not.
But Prince Alert’s legacy is different than Patch’s in this regard:
Prince Alert was a “hop horse.”
In today’s lexicon a “hop horse” or a horse who is “hopped up” means they were deliberately doped to win. Back then, this affirmation didn’t come with the same stigma as it does in today’s era of synthetic performance enhancers. In the early 20th century, “hopping” a horse meant something else entirely. Mainly the use of stimulants like alcohol or caffeine to boost a horse’s confidence or endurance.
In Prince Alert’s case, it wasn’t even a secret. Alert’s trainer Matt Demarest openly acknowledged giving his horse “extra strong coffee and whiskey” to beat the great Dan Patch. “If I thought the horse would be improved by champagne,” he told the Chicago Tribune,” I would see he got it.”
In the end, however, it was Dan Patch who got the last laugh. Not only did he soundly defeat horses like Prince Alert, but the irony in victory was farcical.
Even if the horses were “hopped up” on whiskey, as many apparently were, it was Dan Patch, the horse and the brand, that was featured on the bottle’s label.
By Ken Zurski
As rock n roll trivia goes this one is divine…
It begins when a rock singer named Ian Gillan joined an emerging progressive music group called Deep Purple. Gillan, who to this point was a journeyman vocalist for other bands, had no idea where his rock swagger might take him.
To the very top it would seem.
It was the summer of 1969 and Deep Purple had a hit with the trippy “Hush.” While the single’s success was welcoming, the band members were looking to add a harder edge to their sound and in turn find a more permanent lead singer. Gillan’s vocal range fit right in. The English-born Gillan had fronted a few groups, wrote some songs, but none failed to ignite. The Deep Purple gig was a godsend…literally. That’s because also paying attention to the band’s progress were a gaggle of theater producers who were looking to put on a musical based on the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. They were searching for a singer with a strong vocal range who could handle the demands of the rock tinged, almost heavy metal like passages, in the score. If all went as planned, an album would likely be followed by a theatrical version, and possibly a movie.
The musical’s composer Andrew Lloyd Webber had previously attended a Deep Purple concert (without Gillan) and was unimpressed. Once Gillan was on board, however, Webber gave the band’s manager another call. “The moment I heard Ian’s primal scream was the moment I found my Jesus,” Webber would later remark in his 2018 memoir, Unmasked.
Gillan recorded the album under the watchful ear of Webber and lyricist Tim Rice. His version of “Gethsemane” was a highlight for Webber who called it “extraordinary.”
As a concept album and rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar” was a big hit. Gillan was slated for an arena tour and ultimately considered to reprise his studio role on Broadway, but rock n roll intervened. His commitment to Deep Purple came first and in 1973 in casting for the movie version, Gillan who was top on the director’s list, refused the role due to salary demands and conflicts with the band’s touring schedule. Jeff Fenholt eventually took on the role of Jesus for the arena tour and Ted Neeley in the movie. Unlike some of the other singers on the original album, including stage and movie star Yvonne Elliman as “Mary Magdalene,” Gillan would never reprise the role of “Jesus.”
Gillan likely had no regrets. After a successful stint with the band including several radio singles like “Smoke on the Water” and “Woman from Tokyo,” Gillan left Deep Purple in 1973, later fronted Black Sabbath for spell and eventually returned to Deep Purple in the 90’s.