HistoryBuff.com October 2011 Newsletter
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A Most Shocking Bit of History

Most of us know that Thomas Edison is credited with inventing the light bulb. When I first heard about the background of this invention, I was totally shocked! (No pun intended.) This spurred me to conduct some research into the matter and I found the results to be almost unbelievable. How could this happen?

At the same time that Thomas Edison was inventing his light bulb, George Westinghouse was also working on his version of the light bulb. Westinghouse was using AC (alternating current using a generator - the same form of electricity used in our homes today.) and Edison was using DC (direct current using a battery) Of course, each inventor wanted his invention to be the winner. In addition to royalties on the light bulb themselves, money would be made from selling of generators and motors. There was lots of money to be made by the winner.

Edison was aware of Westinghouse being his competitor and decided to take drastic matters to discredit the Westinghouse light bulb. Both were competing to obtain franchises to provide lighting to communities.

Edison knew that people using Westinghouse’s light bulb were in great danger of being electrocuted by potentially having thousands of watts being run through them. However, Edison’s battery operated light bulb, if misused, would only send minor wattage through the user. At most, they would only receive a tingle for a short period.

Edison took this disadvantage as the pathway to discredit Westinghouse. He hired a man buy the name of H. P. Brown to travel around the Eastern United States and put on demonstrations of how dangerous AC was. Brown would gather reporters and proceed to electrocute dogs and cats to tout the dangers of Westinghouse’s light bulb. (Where was the ASPCA then?)

The governor of New York read of these accounts in the newspapers. Edison contacted the governor and suggested that he could invent a humane method of killing convicts. He made the first electric chair and took it to the penitentiary in Albany for the next scheduled execution. Up to this point in time, hanging was the preferred method of execution. If the noose was too loose it caused slow strangulation. If the noose was too tight , it could tear the prisoner’s head right off. Edison was consulted and he advised the state to utilize "those alternating current machines" -- Westinghouse’s method of producing electricity. As one can image, Edison packed the witness room with the press. The first jolt of current lasted 17 seconds. A second jolt lasted almost a full minute. It was turned off when the convict’s body began smoking. Edison took full advantage of this and related to countless reporters that it was Westinghouse’s method of producing the electricity for the chair and that his method was much more gentle and couldn’t even kill a person if used incorrectly. With this, Edison’s light bulb gained wide acceptance and Edison got the contracts to light dozens of cities.

DC had it’s faults. DC had the disadvantage of being able to provide service for only a few miles from the generator and required thick copper wire that was expensive. AC could be transmitted over long distances and it was cheaper to string power lines. Edison knew, and admitted many years later, that AC was superior. The irony is that Edison ended up utilizing Westinghouse’s AC method -- the same method he lobbied as being dangerous to use!


A Single Word That Made a BIG Difference

By July 1944, it was apparent that World War II was coming to an end. The Potsdam Declaration, which spelled out the terms of surrender, was presented to premier Suzuzki and his cabinet. At a press conference, shortly after receiving the Declaration, reporters asked what his thoughts were. Suzuzki, unfortunately, used a Japanese word that has two meanings. He told the reporters that his cabinet was adopting of position of mokusatsu.

The word mokusatsu can mean "withhold of comment for the moment." It can also mean "ignore." The Japanese News Agency mistakenly translated it the second way. Radio Tokyo flashed the mistake to the world. Headlines in the United States blared that Japan was ignoring the declaration and rejecting the surrender terms.

The results were VERY tragic. President Truman, based on the false information, decided that he had no choice but to go ahead and drop the atomic bomb. More than a hundred thousand people were killed and the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki virtually destroyed - in part because of one leader that chose the wrong word to use.


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September Contest

CONTEST ONE QUESTION: Who was the first president that was inaugurated in Washington, DC?

ANSWER: Thomas Jefferson

CONTEST TWO QUESTION: Where and when was the first World's Fair held in the United States?

ANSWER: The first World's Fair held in the United States was in New York City, from July 14, 1853 through November 1, 1854. (There was also a fair held in New York in 1829 but it was an annual event, unlike other World's Fairs.)

Fifty-two people entered the contests. Twenty-one entries were disqualified due to an incorrect subject heading, incorrect answer or failed to select the prize they wanted if they won. (Most did not indicate which prize they wanted if they won.) All prizes were awarded.

The September Contest Winners Were:
  • Chris Salamone - New York
  • Michael S. Genovese - New York
  • David Arendsen - Illinois
  • Joyce Hoff - Florida

This Issue's Questions:

To enter Contest One, answer the question: Which of the original thirteen colonies refused to send delegates to the Convention that drew up the Constitution of the United States?

To enter Contest Two, answer the question: In what city did the first Continental Congress meet?

Contest Rules

  • Contest entry deadline is Monday, October 17, 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 historyreference.org

  • 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, there is no need to specify the prize you want if you win.

  • If answering the Contest Two question, select one prize you want if you win 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.
October Contest One Prize

Collection of 25 Mystery Movies

Nick Nolte, Basil Rathbone, Bela Lugosi
Eli Wallach, Richard Denning, & More

October Contest Two Prize List

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

National Gazette historic newspaper from 1824

The Daily Madisonian (Washington City) historic newspaper from 1842

The Sun (New York City) historic newspaper from 1871
That's it for this issue.

Rick Brown

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