HistoryBuff.com January 2011 Newsletter
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Inventions by Celebrities Not Known for Inventing

An often-asked trivia question is: Only one United States President holds a patent. Which one? (The answer is Abraham Lincoln.) This got me to wondering if any other famous people, that inventing was NOT their primary occupation, held patents. A bit a research uncovered several instances.

The recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a prime example. After the leak was contained, the job of filtering the oil out of the seawater began. This is accomplished by what is called an Ocean Therapy Solution (OTS) oil separation turbine, which spins affected seawater to separate it from oil. BP ordered 32 of these devices. The fascinating part is that the actor Kevin Costner developed and holds the patent for this apparatus!

What do the dropping of the A-bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and one of the Marx Brothers (Chico, Harpo, Groucho, Gummo, and Zeppo) have in common? Zeppo Marx, invented a device for holding an A-bomb in place until released. Zeppo’s clamps held both A-bombs dropped on Japan to end World War II. Later, in 1969, Zeppo was part of a team that received a patent for a cardiac pulse rate monitor that was designed to let people with heart problems know if their pulse was shifting into a danger zone.

What do cell phones and the 1930s-1940s movie star Hedy Lamarr have in common? In 1942 Lamarr and composer George Antheil received a patent for a "secret communication system" that could use carrier waves of different frequencies to remotely control devices like zeppelins and torpedoes. The military used their invention extensively in World War II. It is this same technology, with minor modifications, that cell phones utilize today. Unfortunately, a patent is only good for twenty years, so the Lamarr estate did not benefit financially from her invention - but the cell phone inventors made a bundle off her invention.

What does fishing and the actor Gary Burghoff, the man who played Radar on M*A*S*H, have in common? Burghoff invented a device he calls "Chum Magic," a floating apparatus that fishermen can fill with chum to lure fish to their boats. He received a patent for the device in 1992.

What do Paul Winchell and open heart surgery have in common? Paul Winchell was famous in the 1950s and 1960s for being a ventriloquist. His two dummies were Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff. Believe it or not, he invented the artificial heart that is used to replace a defective human heart.

How about soft-serve ice cream and the former Prime Minister of Great Britain Margaret Thatcher? Yes, in the 1940s, she invented the first machine to produce soft-ice cream. Today, her invention is utilized at the local Dairy Queen and other ice cream parlors.


At the Risk of Being Redundant...
A Highly Unique and Early Map

As we have seen, producing movies in 3-D (Height, Width, and Depth) is making its way back into our everyday life. This spurred my memory to recall a highly unusual map I purchased at a mail-bid auction for really great price twenty or so years ago. I normally do not purchase maps, but this one was so unique, early, and a bargain price, I bought it anyway.

This map is known as the Turgot Plan de Paris (Plan of Paris.) The original was printed in 1739. Mine is a reprint produced in 1851. What makes this map so unusual? This map is not a traditional bird’s-eye view of a city, but rather a 3-D map showing every street, building, window, door, park, boat in the river, and even trees! Even the building names are given. The map consists of 20 plates, each being 25 inches wide and 15 ˝ inches in height. The assembled size is roughly 10 feet wide and just over 5 feet high.

This map was commissioned in 1734 by the then-mayor of Paris, Michel-Etienne Turgot. It is possibly the most ambitious urban mapping ever undertaken since the advent of satellite mapping. It took five years to complete.

Land surveys were done on literally every square foot of the city. In addition, a crew was hired to go to every building in the city and take outside measurements. Furthermore, several artists were hired to sketch every building from the front. The entire city was drawn this way. Several thousand sketches were utilized to make the map. Lastly, the entire map was engraved on twenty brass plates and then published in book form. The original plates still exist today and are housed in the Louvre. To view one of the plates, double-click the thumbnail image below. (The Louvre Museum is located beneath the large red X.)

HistoryBuff.com Statistics

I can hardly believe it myself, but HistoryBuff.com has now been online sixeen years! It first went online in October of 1994. In the beginning, the site only had twenty-five articles in the library and nothing else. At the end of six months, the site was receiving about 7,500 hits per month. Today the site receives in excess of 800,000 page views by over 85,000 unique visitors on a monthly basis. The site now has in excess of three gigabytes. As you are aware, the site is primarily an American history Web site. It amazes me that, on average, people from 38 different countries visit the site on a monthly basis.

The monthly HistoryBuff.com newsletter now has over 9,230 opt-in subscribers. The first issue was in February of 2004. In one month, the newsletter will have been issued every month for seven years! (I've always wondered why, if there are almost 10,000 opt-in subscribers, that only around one-hundred people enter the trivia contest each month. That's only about one-percent!)


As a result of my appeal for donations in the previous issue, William Murphy, Marconi Inc, and Beryl Frank made one-time donations. Thank you.

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December Contest

CONTEST ONE QUESTION: What long-term professional basketball team has Sweet Georgia Brown as their theme song?

ANSWER: The Harlem Globe Trotters.

CONTEST TWO QUESTION: How many time zones are there in the world?

ANSWER: One thing I have learned about my trivia contest questions, it that a cut and dry answer may not be the only correct answer. Such as my question for the last issue's second question, I was assuming that since there are 24 hours in a day, the answer would be 24 time zones - one for each hour. With different answers coming in I did some research. If you assume that each time zone was one hour, there would be 24. However, it was also pointed out that there are 25 time zones. Time is established at Greenich, England. Time is either -1 or + 1 hour of Greenich time, depending on time zone. Greenich is neither minus or plus. It is 0. Thus, 25 time zones could be correct. Furthermore, not all time zones are exactly one hour apart. There are sixteen time zones that only vary by fifteen or thirty minutes. This makes the answer forty or forty-one time zones in the world. Thus, I accepted all the answers submitted as being correct.

One-hundred-twenty-two people entered the contests. Seventeen people had an incorrect subject heading. For some reason, thirty-one entrants failed to select a prize if they won. Three people selected a prize from Contest One prize list but answered the Contest Two question. Five people sent the answers for both contests in one email and failed to select a prize if they won. Four people sent their entry a week after the deadline. One prize was not claimed. (No one selected that prize if they won.)

The December Contest Winners Were:
  • Scott Dickinson - Virginia
  • Christopher Harner - California
  • Mike Rogers - Missouri
  • Carla Stevenson - Nevada
  • Rick Moore - California
  • Patti Watkinson - Virginia

This Issue's Questions:

To enter Contest One, answer the question: Only one United States President actually wore a Nazi uniform. He did not do this in private or secret. The way he did it, millions of people could see him wearing the Nazi uniform. Which president did this?

To enter Contest Two, answer the question: What California city was the last stop for the Pony Express?

Contest Rules

  • Contest entry deadline is Thursday, January 20, 2011. Later entries will be disqualified. Winners will be notified by email within 72 hours after the contest deadline. Winners' names and states will be published in the next issue of the HistoryBuff.com newsletter.

  • To enter Contest One or Contest Two, email your answer to curator at historybuff.com

  • To enter Contest One, use "Contest One Entry" for the emailed contest entry subject heading and answer the Contest One question. Any other subject heading will be disqualified.

  • To enter Contest Two, use "Contest Two Entry" for the emailed contest entry subject heading and answer the Contest Two question. Any other subject heading will be disqualified.

  • Subscribers may enter both contests, but only win one prize.

  • If entering both contests, entries must be sent in separate emails.

  • If answering the Contest One question, select your prize from the Contest One prize list.

  • If answering the Contest Two question, select your prize from the Contest Two prize list.

  • From subscribers entering the contest, submitting the correct answer, correct subject heading, submission received by the deadline, as well as advising which ONE contest prize they want to win, SEVEN will be selected to win ONE of the contest prizes below.

  • Subscribers to this newsletter that won a prize in my trivia contests in the last 90 days are ineligible to win.
January Contest One Prize List
(Select ONE of the two prizes below if enterering Contest One)

Authentic WWII
Souvenir Satin Pillow Cover
Washington, DC

Authentic Historic Newspaper

Chicago Daily Tribune
Death of FDR
April 13, 1945

January Contest Two Prize List

(Select ONE of the prizes below if enterering Contest Two)

DVD Movie

Oliver Twist (1933)

Staring Jackie Moore

DVD TV Episodes

Flash Gordon
Episodes of This Classic 1950s TV Show

National Intelligencer (Washington, DC) historic newspaper from 1822

New York Times historic newspaper from May 1864

Original New York Tribune historic newspaper from 1880
That's it for this issue.

Rick Brown

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