History

When We Were Shorter: How 19th-Century Furniture Was Made To Size

Posted on Updated on

t11By Ken Zurski

If there is one distinctive feature about furniture in the early to mid 1800’s, especially the parlor chairs, it is the height of the legs. While many leg posts are decoratively ornate, they are also quite short, and certainly much lower than what is considered standard today.

The history of furniture is a bit sketchy on this dissimilarity, preferring to focus on style, fabrics and materials to tell the story of furniture.  But speculation is – backed up by good statistics – that we as humans were just smaller in height back then and therefore furniture was made to reflect that.

Basically the lower we stood, the lower we sat.

t11

The Civil War is a good example.  Statistics were actually taken for large groups of men. For instance, in the 44th Massachusetts Infantry, of the 98 soldiers between the ages of 17 and 40, the average soldier’s height was 5-foot 7- inches. The shortest man in the regiment was 5-foot 3-inches and the tallest 6 -foot 1-inch. The most surprising stat is on the higher end where based on the average, very few men were six-feet and above and no one was more than one-inch over the six-foot threshold.

Today nearly 15-percent of all men are over six-feet tall, with the average height of a American male at  177 cm, or 5-feet 10-inches. The average height of an American women is 164 cm, or approximately 5 –foot tall.  Only statistics based on race changes this slightly.

So why did we get taller? Evolution is the simple answer, but even that is convoluted, as development suggests a reversal in size.  “The average population should have become shorter because the shorter individuals in the population were, from an evolutionary fitness perspective, more successful in passing on their genes,” wrote Scientific American in 1998.  “But this did not happen. Instead, all segments of the population–rich and poor, from small and large families–increased in height.”

Scientists claim better nutrition especially in children is the reason we got taller since the rise in height began to take root in the later half of the  19th century when there was an emphasis on living longer. It has since leveled off.

Regardless of the reason, the low profiled furniture of the 1800’s was quite comfortable for the average person.

t11.jpg

A man of Abraham Lincoln’s stature, however, was the exception.

Standing at 6 ft 4 in, Lincoln towered over Civil War generals like Ulysses S. Grant, who was above average at height for the time at 5 ft 8 inches. Pictures confirm this discrepancy in height.  The stovepipe hat certainly adds to Lincoln’s size, but there is no doubt the 16th President stood unusually high.

This means Lincoln must have been an uncomfortable guest in most Victorian-style residences of the era where ceilings were built lower and door frames tighter. Except in his own home which was modified to accommodate his tallness, Lincoln did a lot of ducking.

But his biggest obstacle may have been trying to find a suitable place to sit.

However, one permanent seat, made of marble, is the perfect size.

vaca2

Why This Obscure 19th Century Painting Is Worth a Closer Look…

Posted on Updated on

 

By Ken Zurski

A3

In 1833, an Irish-born English artist named William Collins exhibited an oil on wood painting he appropriately titled, Rustic Civility. In the colorful image, three children are seen near a wooden gate that blocks the path of a dirt road. Collins shows the gate has been opened, presumably by the children.  A boy is propped up against the open gate securing it’s place. Another smaller child cowers by the boy’s side and yet another looks straight ahead from behind the gate.

But why and for whom did the children open the gate?

Well, that’s just a part of the painting’s mystique or as one art connoisseur wisely describes, “its puzzle.”

Upon closer inspection, however, the “puzzle” is solved.

In the shadow near the children’s feet is a partial outline of a horse and upon its back a rider in a brimmed hat.  The children have opened the gate to make it easier for the rider, probably a stranger to them, to pass. “People are amused at having to find out what is coming through the gate, which few do, till the shadow on the ground is pointed out to them,” the sixth Duke of Devonshire noted after buying the curious painting for his collection.

album3-1

The work in some circles has been wrongly classified as a children’s picture. True, Collins would specialize in putting children in his paintings, but they were not specifically made for children. “Rustic” was part of his repertoire and a theme for several paintings including Rustic Hospitality, where friendly villagers welcome a wayward traveler who has stopped to rest near their cottage.

Today, most of Collins works are in London museums. His representations of English countryside charm in the early 19th century were very popular. Rustic Civility, however, seems to be remembered for more significant and historical reasons. The young boy in the painting is holding his hand to his head in a gesture that closely resembles what we know today as a military salute.

A gesture not yet so easily defined at the time.

According to various sources, the origins of the hand salute goes back to medieval times when knights would salute one another by tipping their hats. Since their heads were covered with heavy and cumbersome armor, oftentimes they would just raise the visor in recognition.

In the Revolutionary War, British soldiers would remove or raise their hats in the presence of a ranking officer, an easy task since head gear at the time was used as decoration only and made of lighter material.

cross

In subsequent wars, when soldier’s helmets became more protective the act of actually removing the head gear was too risky. A simple hand raise to the brow would suffice.

By the 20th century and during the two World Wars, saluting became more streamlined and distinctive, with the hands either palm out (the European version) or palm flat and down, the American preference.

Regardless of its history, Collins  is credited at least with featuring a salute, albeit slyly, in his painting Rustic Civility. The boy appears to be “tugging his forelock,” an old-worldly expression that suggests a purposeful sign of high regard and is considered an early incarnation of the modern day gesture.

This inclination of course is a matter of opinion. Perhaps, as others might suggest, the boy is just shading his eyes. After all, the location of the shadowed horse and rider puts the perspective of the sun’s light directly in the boy’s path.  However, in close up, it does appear as though the boy is grabbing a lock of hair. This clearly supports the salute theory.

A3

Unfortunately, by the time any serious debate was raised, many years later, Collins, the artist, was dead.

So in historical context, let’s give the painter his due: To open a wooden gate while on horseback is a difficult thing to do. The children helped the man by opening the gate. The boy then saluted in deference – or civility as the title suggests. 

A sign of a respect for an elder in need, Collins likely implied.

And respect is what the “salute” stands for today.

cross

 

When The World Met Marie, The Saucy Queen of Romania

Posted on Updated on

By Ken Zurski

u27
Queen Marie of Romania

In the summer of 1919, and because of her stance against the Central Powers, King Ferdinand of Romania sent his British born wife Queen Marie to Paris to attend the Treaty of Versailles, a historic meeting of allied leaders designed to form a peace treaty and draw a new map of Europe at the end of the First World War.

“My God, I simply went wherever they called me,” the Queen said, stating the obvious.

The glamorous Marie did more than just attend. She hobnobbed with the press, flirted with world leaders, including the Big Four (Italy, England, France and the U.S.), and although she had an important job to do for her country, found time to go on lavish shopping sprees too.

By the time the historic Treaty was over, everyone knew a little bit more about the outlandish Queen Marie. And thanks in part to her unorthodox efforts, Romania, at least on paper, had doubled in size.

Born into royalty as Princess Marie of Edinburgh in 1875 in Kent, England, Marie was the eldest daughter of her mother also named Marie, the only surviving child of Tsar Alexander II of Russia, and Alexander, the second son of Queen Victoria and a naval officer who moved the family extensively throughout her childhood.  The Princess was a good catch, even as a youth, and gentleman came calling for her including a first cousin George (later George V of England) who professed his love for Marie, but was turned away.

In 1893, at the age of 18, Marie married Ferdinand, a third cousin, who by default, was the heir to the Romanian throne. King Carol I, Ferdinand’s uncle, and his wife had only one daughter so the succession fell to his brother Leopold, who renounced his rights in 1880. Leopold’s son did the same in 1886. So even before the turn of the 20th century, Ferdinand was the heir-presumptive.  In 1916, when Carol died, Ferdinand became the King and Marie the Queen of Romania.

ferdinand-marie

Marie was a different kind of Queen, less submissive and daringly independent. During the start of World War I, Marie spent time with the Red Cross in hospitals tending to the sick and wounded and risking her own life in the disease filled tents. Although she was British, she had great respect for the Romanian people and would venture into the countryside unaccompanied by guards to greet them. Many villagers crowded her in adulation; kissing her hands and falling down at her feet. “At first it was difficult unblushingly to accept such homage,” she wrote, “but little by little I got accustomed to these loyal manifestations; half humbled, half proud, I would advance amongst them, happy to be in their midst.”

In contrast to Marie’s adventurist spirit her husband, the King, was a dud; dull, shy and as one writer described “stupid” too. His most enduring feature was his ears which stuck out the sides of his head like a teddy bear. He said little and mattered even less.

Marie, however, was the complete opposite. Pretty and intelligent she spoke out when asked and seemed to have a good knowledge of foreign affairs. She also had little interest in being a committed wife. Blaming a loveless marriage, she was boldly unfaithful and found multiple lover’s in dashing figures like a Canadian millionaire miner from the Klondike.  (In her later years, rumors abounded that one of her longstanding paramours, the nephew of Romania’a Foreign Minister  Ion I. C. Brătianu, was the father of her children (six in all, three girls) except for the one that eventually became a bad King. That one was Ferdinand’s, went the biting accusation.)

Related image

In November of 1918, when war activities ended, Marie was the outspoken one not her husband, who remained mostly silent during the war. Sending her to the Treaty in Paris was an obvious choice, if unprecedented.

So Marie went and brought her three daughters along with her. Together they shopped, dined and were generally the life of any party they attended. The Queen wore out those who tried to follow her. She charmed her way to negotiations and gained admirers along the way. “She really is an unusual woman and if she was not so simple you would think she was conceited,” chimed the British Ambassador to France. David Lloyd George, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, was just as forthright: “{Marie] is a very naughty, but a very clever woman.” he professed.  Edward House, an American diplomat and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s chief adviser on European diplomacy and politics, was even more complimentary, calling her, “one of the most delightful personalities of all the royal women I have met in the West.”

Instead of being intimidated, which many had predicted, Marie intimidated others with her saucy looks, manners and speech. In one instance of sheer brashness, she invited herself to lunch with President Wilson, then showed up fashionably late with an entourage of ten in tow. “I could see from the cut of the President’s jaw,” one guest noted, “that a slice of Romania was being looped off.”

According to reports, Marie dominated the conversation.  “I have never heard a lady talk about such things.” remarked Wilson’s traveling doctor. ” I honestly do not know where to look I was so embarrassed.”

In the end, Romania grew in size and population. In fact, of all the contributors at the conference, Romania is widely considered to have picked up the greatest gains, including Transylvania which became – and still is – a part of “Greater Romania.” King Ferdinand could only wait for word back home. He sent letters of encouragement and advice to his wife, which she mostly ignored.

“I had given my country a living face,” she said about her visit.

Clearly an understatement.

(Sources: Paris 1919 by Margret MacMillian;  My Country by Queen Marie; various internet articles)

George Perec: The Author Who Left Out The Letter ‘E’

Posted on Updated on

By Ken Zurski

Perec1
George Perec

Beginning with the first line of the first chapter, “Incurably insomniac Anton Vowl turns on a light,” and in every sentence thereafter, nearly 300 pages in all, there are no words with the letter “e” in the French novel, A Void.

Not just words that start with the letter “e,” mind you, but any word with the letter “e” in it.

Therefore, while words with an “e” are consciously left out, in the context of the text, they don’t actually exist.

…A rumour, that’s my initial thought as I switch off my radio, a rumour or possibly a hoax.
Propaganda, I murmur anxiously—as though, just by saying so, I might allay my doubts—typical politicians’ propaganda. But public opinion gradually absorbs it as a fact.

A Void was the brainchild of author George Perec, who wrote La disparition (disappearance) in 1969, and was later translated to English in 1994.

Why a writer would take on such an unusual challenge defies explanation. A good author should add to his repertoire of tools, not subtract them, right? So leaving out a vowel, especially the most popular one, just doesn’t make any sense.

To clarify, according to the book “From Cryptographical Mathematics,” the letter “e” is the most commonly used letter in the English language and nearly 13-percent of all words contain it, at least once.

For example, the first sentence of this very article has nearly 40 words in it; sixteen words containing at least one “e,” for a total of 22. So excluding it, even in French, which uses the same English letters, seemed to be an insurmountable task. (The French or Latin alphabet is similar to English and vowels are the same, expect written with accents like ê. So the prose is somewhat disjointed, especially in translation.)

But this is exactly the kind of discourse Perec reveled in.

Perec was born to Polish Jew immigrants, both victims of the war– his father died a soldier and his mother likely perished at Auschwitz.  He started writing at the University of Paris and joined a fringe literary group named Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle or “Oulipo,” for short.

The name means “literature potential,” but certainly not potential in the practical sense.  “[We] seek new structures and patterns which may be used by writers in any way they enjoy,” the group described. To achieve this, constraints (in writing) were encouraged, which was far more challenging.  The group also included mathematicians since problem-solving was part of the writer’s methodology and often involved works that delved in complicated mathematical patterns.  Suddenly Perec had a mission, as did the group, to experiment and twist the conventional rules of fiction.

A Void, therefore, is a lipogram, meaning a single letter is left out.

Perec2.jpg

The protagonist of Perec’s story is a detective named Anton Vowl (Voyl in French) who must confront a missing void, possibly his own, in a world of impending doom. “I must admit right away that its origin was totally haphazard,” Perec writes in the book’s postscript, perhaps tongue in cheek. “I had no inkling at all, as an acorn contains an oak, that anything would come out of it.”

Some literary critics, however, have established a deeper implication. After all, Perec was a Holocaust orphan. Perhaps the loss of his mêre (mother), pêre (father) and familie, one modern day writer surmised, are words he cannot repeat. All have the letter “e” in them. The missing “e,” therefore, is his personal void.

“The absence of a sign is always the sign of an absence, and the absence of the E in A Void announces a broader, cannily coded discourse on loss, catastrophe, and mourning,” author Warren Motte speculates in an article about Perec written in 2104.

Perec’s later work would be equally complicated and puzzling. He even wrote a novel where ê was the only vowel used.

Many feel his greatest literary contribution is a 700-page book titled Life a User’s Manual, another exercise of intricacies. “The sequence of chapters in the novel is determined by a figure from chess known as the “Knight’s Tour,” in which a knight visits every square of the chessboard once and only once,” Motte writes.

And If that wasn’t interesting enough, there is the constraint: ‘Perec used an algorithm, “orthogonal Latin bi-square order 10,’ to elaborate pre-established lists of the 42 different elements (objects, characters, situations, literary allusions and quotations, and so forth), that would figure in each of the ninety-nine chapters of Life.”

In 1982, at the age of 45, Perec, a chain smoker, died of lung cancer.

Even sick, Perec continued to work at a feverish pace. “There was not a day gone by that he didn’t write,” a friend ascribed. Shortly before his death, Perec sent a letter to his publisher.  It was reported to be a list of works he wanted to complete.

Sadly, we will never know what else he had in mind.

Perec

THE SENECA FALLS CONVENTION: Not Just a Right to Vote, But A Right to Be Heard

Posted on Updated on

 

By Ken Zurski

album2In July of 1848 a teenager named Charlotte Woodward read an announcement in a local newspaper about a group of women who would be meeting at a Methodist Church in Seneca Falls, New York, a modest wagon ride from her family’s farm near Syracuse. “A convention to discuss the social, civil and religious condition and rights of woman, “ the ad read. Woodward was intrigued.

Woodward had been a school teacher at age fifteen but mostly worked at home, sewing gloves for merchants to sell. The work was long and the pay nearly nonexistent. This was the role of a woman at the time, no identity and no apparent social status other than tending to her family or husband’s needs and eventually having babies, oftentimes lots of them. A woman’s wages, if she worked, belonged to her spouse. She had no rights, no advantages. “She was her father’s daughter,” one writer stressed about the role of women in the mid 19th century, “until she became her husband’s wife.”

She was, however, protected by law against physical abuse, but only with “a stick bigger than a man’s thumb.” A punishment would be imposed, but no damages were ever awarded for injuries since no woman had the right to sign any legal documents.

Woodward was unmarried and feared no man, but she fumed at the prospects of working the rest of her life for others and eventually to a man she might be forced to wed, but did not love. “Every fiber of my being reveled, although silently, for all the hours that I sat and sewed gloves for a miserable pittance which, after it was earned, could never be mine.” Her interest in the women’s rights convention was more a revelation than a curiosity. “I wanted to work, but I wanted to choose my task and I wanted to collect my wages.”

So she went to Seneca Falls.

imottlu001p1
Lucreita Mott

The convention was the brainchild of two women, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who attended the World’s Anti-Slavery Congress in London in 1840 as part of a women delegation, four in fact, and first of its kind. Their voices were mostly silenced. Some reports had the women turned away at the hall entrance. Returning home, Mott and Stanton gathered a lively group of women who discussed equality behind closed doors. In 1848, they felt it was time to take their case public. So they announced the convention’s date and invited anyone, even men, to come. Men could be part of the  second day’s activities, the ad implied. “The first day would be exclusively for women.”.

Apparently, men didn’t care for rules not imposed by men. So on the first day, more than 50 lined up in front of the church. Some women were appalled, but Woodward recalls the men as “uncommonly liberal,” apparently meaning they had open, not closed minds. One man was proof of that. His name was Frederick Douglass.

But it wasn’t just men who were outside of the church that day. It was the women too. The church doors were locked and only the minister had a key. Apparently, the minister, who earlier approved the conference, had changed his mind after talking to the elders of the church, all men of course. As one story goes, the women stood on each other’s shoulders, managed to open a window shutter, climb inside, and open the doors. Nothing more was reported of the minister’s emphatic reversal after that.

Mott was a very good speaker, a rarity for a woman. Not that she was well-spoken, many were, but that she had the natural ability to express her views in front of a large audience. Public speaking was not something a woman could practice at the time. James Mott, her husband would hold order since by law, women could not. The ladies were there to change the laws, not break them.

Elizabeth_Cady_Stanton
Elizabeth Cady Stanton

By the end of the two days  and nearly 18 hours of speeches, debates and readings, most of the women including Woodward signed a document  titled “Declaration of Sentiments,” similar to the Declaration of Independence.   The 1000 word document began with an opening statement that revised text from Thomas Jefferson’s original declaration and first sentence. It read: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal.” The two added words were obvious.

The statement ended this way:

“The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpation on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.”

And then came the point of the conference, the sentiments, or “facts.” These were the rules that must change. Among them were disapproval’s of common law, mostly taken for granted by men. “He has taken from her all right in property, even to the wages she earns,” read one. “He has compelled her to commit to laws in the formation by which she had no voice,” went another. “He has made her, in marriage, in the eyes of the law, civilly dead.”

Only one sentiment was a sticking point for the women. It read: “He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.” This was a social decalration, some argued, not a political one. The right to vote would likely get the least support from men. And besides, it might be the one sentiment that men were so strongly against that they would ignore all the others. After much debate, most of the women wanted the voting rights stricken from the document.  But Frederick Douglass, a self-educated former slave, spoke in favor of its inclusion. “In this denial of the right to participate in government,” he eloquently stated, “not merely the degradation of woman and the perpetuation of a great injustice happens, but the meaning and repudiation of one-half of the moral and intellectual power of the government – of the world.”

Later, Susan B Anthony, who was not at the conference, would make voting rights the cornerstone of the suffragette movement, a debate that became more contentious after the Civil War ended and freed slaves also demanded the right to vote. Once again, Douglass was at the forefront.  But it was not an easy sell, especially for women whose efforts to that point had been one frustrating roadblock followed by another.

album2.jpg
Frederick Douglass

In 1866, Anthony’s mouthpiece, the outspoken Stanton, went too far. She called former slaves “ignorant(s) and foreigners,” and chastised Douglass and others for putting blacks rights before a woman’s. Douglass, who to that point supported suffrage, angrily countered: “When women, because they are women, are hunted down…when they are dragged from their houses and hung upon lampposts, when their children are torn from their arms, and their brains dashed upon the pavement, when they are objects of insult and outrage at every turn, when they are in danger of having their homes burnt down over their heads…then they will have the urgency to obtain the ballot equal to our own.”  In the end, the Fifteenth Amendment was passed which included race, but not gender. In principle, blacks could vote, but not black women.

But that fight would come much later. In 1848, Douglass’ words about women being “one-half of the moral and intellectual power of government” rang true. The call for men to integrate women in elections was included in the “sentiments” and the resolution passed.

When it was over, most men were apathetic. Some sarcastically called the two days of meetings a “Hen Convention” and mocked the proceedings. “If there is one characteristic of the sex which more than another elevates and ennobles it,” one newspaper editor, obviously a man, wrote, “it is the persistency and intensity of a woman’s love for man. The ladies always had the best place and choicest tidbits at the table.”

But despite the protests, the convention sparked more debates, more meetings and a movement which would last for years.

Woodward had no idea how that day would change her. She eventually joined Anthony’s suffrage camp and spent the rest of her life fighting for the right to vote.

Finally in 1920, after the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment,  she had the chance.

Sadly, though, she never got to cast that first – or any – ballot.

Charlotte Woodward Pierce, her married name, was the youngest to sign the “Declaration of Sentiments” and now some seven decades later, of the 68 women who participated in Seneca Falls, she was the sole survivor.

On election day 1920, she fell ill and stayed home. The next year, her eyesight went bad. “I’m too old,” she said. “I’m afraid I’ll never vote.”

That same year she died at the age of 92.

album2
Charlotte Woodward Pierce in 1920

(Sources: Judith Wellman, Historian Historical New York; “The Scarlet Sisters: Sex, Suffrage, and Scandal in the Gilded Age” by Myra MacPherson)

UNREMEMBERED MISTAKE: The Poll That Picked FDR To Lose

Posted on Updated on

By Ken Zurski

In 1920, starting with the election of President Warren G. Harding, a weekly magazine called The Literary Digest correctly picked the winner of each subsequent presidential election up to and including Franklin D. Roosevelt’s decisive victory over Herbert Hoover in 1932.

album1.jpg

Quite an impressive track record by a magazine founded by two Lutheran ministers in 1890.  The Literary Review culled articles from other publications and provided readers with insightful analysis and opinions on the day’s events.  Eventually, as the subscriber list grew, the magazine created its own response-based surveys, or polling, as it is known today.

The presidential races were the perfect example of this system.

So in 1936, with a subscriber base of 10 million and a solid track record, the Digest was ready to declare the next president: “Once again, [we are] asking more than ten million voters — one out of four, representing every county in the United States — to settle November’s election in October,” they bragged.

album1
Alfred Landon

When the tallies were in, the Digest polls showed Republican Alfred Landon beating incumbent Roosevelt 57-percent to 43-percent. This was a surprise to many who thought Landon didn’t stand a chance.

He didn’t.

Roosevelt was a progressive Democrat whose New Deal policies, like the Social Security Act and Public Pension Act, passed through Congress with mostly bipartisan support. Soon, millions of Americans burdened by the Great Depression would receive federal assistance.

Landon, a moderate, admired Roosevelt but felt he was soft on business and yielded too much presidential power. “I will not promise the moon,” he exclaimed during a campaign speech and warned against raising payroll taxes to pay for benefits. It didn’t work.  Roosevelt won all but two states, Maine and Vermont,  and sailed to a second term with 60-percent of the popular vote.

Even Landon’s hometown state of Kansas, where he had been Governor since 1933, went with the President.  In the end, Landon’s 8 electoral votes to Roosevelt’s 532 – or 98-percent – made it the most lopsided general election in history.

In hindsight, poor sampling was blamed for the Digest’s erroneous choice.  Not only were subscribers mostly middle to upper class, but only a little over two of the ten million samples were returned, skewing the result.

album1
George Gallup

The big winner, however, besides Roosevelt, was George Gallup, the son of an Iowa dairy farmer and eventual newspaperman, whose upstart polling company American Institute of Public Opinion correctly chose the President over Landon to within 1 percent of the actual margin of victory.

In 1948, the validity of public opinion polls would be questioned again when Gallup incorrectly picked Thomas Dewey to beat Roosevelt’s successor by death, Harry S.Truman.

Since it was widely considered Truman would lose his reelection bid to a full term, Gallup survived the scrutiny.

Even the Chicago Tribune got it wrong, claiming a Dewey presidency was “inevitable,” and printing an early edition with the now infamous headline of “Dewey Defeats Truman.” A humiliation that Truman mocked the next day.

The Literary Digest, however, had no say in the matter.

In 1938, the magazine merged with another review publication and stopped polling subscribers.

album1

The Bee Man

Posted on Updated on

By Ken Zurski

Untitled 21
Amos Root

When Amos Root was a boy growing up on a farm in Medina, Ohio, instead of helping his father with the chores he stuck by his mother’s side and tended to the garden instead.

Root was small in size (only five-foot-three as an adult) and prone to sickness. The garden work suited him just fine. But in his teens, for money, Root took up jewelry as a trade and became quite good at it.

Then in 1865, at the age of 26, he found his calling – bees.

Root had offered a man a dollar if he could round up a swarm of bees outside the doors of his jewelry store. The man did and Root was hooked. But Root didn’t want to just harvest bees, he wanted to study them.

Eventually his work led to a national trade journal titled Gleaning’s in Bee Culture. Bees became his business and profitable too, but Root had other interests as well, specifically mechanical things, like the automobile, a blessing for someone who hated cleaning up after the horse. “I do not like the smell of the stables,” he once wrote.

But the automobile was different. “It never gets tired; it gets there quicker than any horse can possibly do.”

R4.jpgHe bought an Oldsmobile Runabout, “for less than a horse” he bragged, and happily drove it near his home. Then in September 1904, at the age of 69, Root took his longest trip yet, a nearly 400-mile journey to Dayton, Ohio. Root had heard a couple of “minister’s sons” were making great strides in aviation, so he wrote them and asked if he could take a look. His enthusiasm was evident.

The two brothers granted his wish, but only if he promised not to reveal any secrets. In August of 1904, Root set off for his first trip to Dayton and the next month did the same. The first visit he watched in awe, but revealed nothing. The second time he was given permission to write about what he had seen. It was the first time the Wright brothers and their flying machine appeared in print.

“My dear friends,” Root gleefully wrote in his bee publication, “I have a wonderful story to tell you. “

R4