Quote of the day
09 Saturday Feb 2013
Posted Quote of the dayin
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09 Saturday Feb 2013
Posted Quote of the dayin
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09 Saturday Feb 2013
Posted Those we rememberin
≈ Comments Off on John E. Karlin, 1918-2013
I was having coffee with a friend from work the other day when we got on the subject of Steve Jobs. I posited that a great deal of the credit given to Jobs over the years, especially after his death, was misplaced. My intention was not to denigrate Steve Jobs but to emphasize that technological breakthroughs are not so much the products of any one man’s genius as they are the incremental advancements of our knowledge. In other words the iPhone did not spring fully formed from the mind of any one person, but was the product of many individuals working, often anonymously, to help reach a point where it could happen. I suppose the reason we don’t think of it this way is because it is easier–and lazier–to attach the name and face of one person to a product or idea and leave it at that.
One of those anonymous people died last month. John E. Karlin of Bell Labs died on January 28th at the age of 94. Among other things in his long and active life, he was the researcher in charge of developing the touch tone telephone.
I remember being a young kid and asking my dad, a mid-level manager at Ma Bell, why our new bush-button phone had the * and # symbols. He explained that in the coming years these features would allow us to use our telephone in ways we couldn’t just yet. They were there not for today but for future use. I was around five, which would make this about 1972. (The story has stuck in my mind for four decades, but my dad no doubt forgot it five minutes later. I guess that’s the nature of childhood memory.) Today we never think about them anymore because cell phones are ubiquitous, but the touch tone phone was part of American family life–at least my American family life–for decades. How many first dates were dialed on the family phone hanging in the kitchen? And you’d better use the egg timer if it’s a long distance call. In my teenage mind we “arrived” when we got one that had the long cord. Now we could leave one room and enter the adjacent one! The trouble was, if you walked too far you might dislodge the cord from the jack and disconnect. How long ago was that in the grand scheme of things?
It is interesting that its development was as much psychological as it was technological. One of the biggest obstacles was to develop the device in a way that people would easily remember the seven digit number. And yet we eventually carried dozens of such numbers in our heads and could dial them off whenever we wanted. Fittingly, 2013 is the 50th anniversary of the push button phone.
(images from top/Ben Schumin and Retro 00064)
07 Thursday Feb 2013
Posted New York City, Union League Clubin
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Here is the second in a two part series about the Loyal Publication Society of New York, which is part of a larger project I am working on about William E. Dodge Jr. and Theodore Roosevelt. Part one can be found here.
Soon after the founding of the Union League in February 1863 its Loyal Publication Society opened headquarters at 863 Broadway. Its mission was to counteract secessionist and Copperhead propaganda, bolster support in and for the Federal Army, and promote the Union cause among voters in the 1863 and 1864 elections. The reason it was necessary was because the Administration was not up to the task. Public outreach was a staple of the First and Second World Wars in the form of the Committee on Public Information and Office of War Information, but no such agencies existed during the War of the Rebellion. The Administration was just too overwhelmed with military and political matters to take on the added responsibility. Bolstering Union support was crucial in the early months of 1863, when the North was reeling from a string of military defeats and political crises, and the LPS wasted no time in getting down to business. The New York Loyal Publication Society was structured into three committees: a Publication committee that selected documents, an Executive that distributed them to the Army down south and to local communities in the north and west, and a Finance that collected the funds necessary to carry out these endeavors. Charles King was the Society’s first president but its driving force was Francis Lieber, the Society’s initial Publication Committee chairman, eventual chief executive, and overall driving force.
A great champion of human liberty, Lieber was born in Germany and had fought in the Prussian army against Napoleon at Waterloo. In 1829, after emigrating to the United States, the jurist became editor of the Encyclopedia Americana. Lieber had a deep understanding of the American South, having served as Professor of History and Political Economy at South Carolina College for twenty-two years before moving to Columbia University. In the months prior to the founding of the Union League and its Publication Society Lieber had authored General Order Number 100, or Instruction for the Government of Armies of the United States in the Field, the code that established laws for American soldiers during time of war. President Lincoln approved the Lieber Code on April 24, 1863.
The Publication Committee met thirty-nine times and considered just over one hundred publications in the Society’s first year. The Executive Committee eventually chose forty three pamphlets and twelve broadsides for distribution. The Society printed and distributed 400,000 copies of these items. Subjects were chosen to focus on the concerns of soldiers, women, immigrants, working-class men, Democrats, Catholics, abolitionists, and Southern Unionists. A representative sampling of titles includes: “A few words in behalf of Loyal Women of the United States,” by One of Themselves; “No Party now, but all for our Country,” by Francis Lieber; “Address to King Cotton,” by Eugene Pelletan; “Emancipation is Peace,” by Robert Dale Owen; and “Letters on our National Struggle,” by Brigadier General Thomas Francis Meagher.” The Meagher pamphlet is especially noteworthy. Like Lieber, Meagher was an immigrant who had been active in European affairs as a young man before settling in the United States. Meagher was a well-known Irish nationalist who eventually became a high-ranking officer in the Union Army. He appealed to religious and ethnic constituencies in both the Union Army and public-at-large, and his inclusion was quite intentional.
The New York Loyal Publication Society existed for three years and published eighty-nine pamphlets, broadsides, and reports during its lifetime. It collaborated closely with similar organization in Boston and Philadelphia as well, and together they distributed hundreds of thousands of publications to soldiers in the field and civilians on the home front.. The Society was instrumental in the 1863 re-election of Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin, a key Lincoln supporter. In 1864 the Publication Society worked rigorously on behalf of Lincoln’s re-election. As the war wound down in 1865 the Society began publishing less and less. Lieber and his colleagues declared victory soon thereafter. At the annual meeting on February 27, 1866 the Society members voted to disband, secure in the knowledge that they had done their part for Union and Emancipation.
(image/Brady Studio, Library of Congress)
06 Wednesday Feb 2013
Posted New York City, Union League Clubin
≈ Comments Off on The Loyal Publication Society
A few weeks ago I mentioned that I will be attending the New York History conference in Cooperstown in early June. My talk is going to be on the professional relationship between William E. Dodge Jr. and Theodore Roosevelt. One of the many organizations in which they worked together was the The Union League Club of New York. The Union Club was founded on February 6, 1863–150 years ago today. To note the occasion here is a piece I have written about the Loyal Publication Society, the League’s public relations apparatus responsible for what we would now call public diplomacy.
The midterm elections of 1862 were all the proof Americans—Northern and Southern alike—needed that the Union war effort was not going well. The Republican Party maintained its majorities in the U.S. House and Senate, if just barely. Things were not so dire in the Senate; when the third of that body up for election submitted to the will of the people, the Party of Lincoln gained two seats. The House was a different story. After the country had gone to the polls to elect their local congressmen that fall the Republicans lost twenty-three seats while the Democrats picked up twenty-eight, a fifty-one count turn-around. Republicans fared no better in many state legislatures, losing either significant majorities or control outright of many Northern state houses.
The gubernatorial elections were no less alarming. Joel Parker, Democrat and vociferous Lincoln critic, won the New Jersey governor’s mansion. The most stinging defeat came in New York, the nation’s most populous state and the one providing the most men to the war effort. Horatio Seymour now controlled the executive mansion in Albany. Diarist George Templeton Strong captured that mood when he wrote on November 5 that “Seymour is governor. [and] Elsewhere defeat, or nominal success by a greatly reduced vote. It looks like a great, sweeping revolution of public sentiment, like general abandonment of the loyal, generous spirit of patriotism that broke out so nobly and unexpectedly in April, 1861.”
President Abraham Lincoln understood the magnitude of the Republican defeat, and its reasons, as well as anyone. Writing to General Carl Schurz on October 10 he averred that “Three main causes told the whole story. 1. The democrats were left in a majority by our friends going to the war. 2. The democrats observed this & determined to re-instate themselves in power, and 3. Our newspapers, by vilifying and disparaging the administration, furnished them all the weapons to do it with.” Lincoln was correct, but the causes of the Administration’s unpopularity ran even deeper. When the conflict began a year and a half earlier most expected a short war of perhaps three months. Union defeats–and casualties–were soon mounting. First and Second Bull Run, Ball’s Bluff, and other Confederate victories became synonymous in Northern minds with Union incompetence and futility. Even the victories were costly, as the reports from Shiloh and photographs from Sharpsburg illustrated.
Defeat was one thing, treachery another. When Lincoln released the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, days after the slim Union victory at Antietam, many Northerners felt betrayed. The proclamation played into the hands of Lincoln’s detractors, who used the document to stoke the fears of the many Northerners who had supported the cause of Union not emancipation. Two days later, on September 24, 1862, Lincoln issued another, equally controversial proclamation, suspending the writ of habeas corpus. Such was the milieu when Northerners began going to the polls one month later.
Loyal unionists also grasped the seriousness of the Union plight. In the summer and fall of 1862 citizens organized into Union Leagues throughout the mid-West to assist in the war effort. Such grassroots organizations were not new in American society. The Sons of Liberty were active during the colonial era, and Hickory Clubs were common in the Age of Jackson. Now, as the crisis intensified after the Union defeat at Fredericksburg in December 1862, the wealthy Northeast establishment organized Union League clubs as well. The Union League Club of New York was officially founded on February 6, 1863. On February 14 members of the nascent organization met in the home of the attorney and co-founder of Union Theological Seminary Charles Butler, 13 East 14th Street, to form a Loyal Publication Society. In its own words the object of the Society was “the distribution of journals and documents of unquestionable and unconditional loyalty throughout the United States, and particularly in the armies now engaged in the suppression of the rebellion, and to counteract as far as practicable the efforts now being made by the enemies of the Government and the advocates of a disgraceful Peace.”
“Advocates of a disgraceful Peace” was a reference to August Belmont, Samuel F. B.Morse and other Northerners with Southern sympathies who had founded the Society for the Diffusion of Political Knowledge the very evening before just down the street at Delmonico’s. This society’s purposes were to oppose Lincoln, his party, and emancipation, the Emancipation Proclamation having gone into effect just the month before. With Morse as president the Society soon began publishing pieces defending its Southern allies. One representative tract asked, “Who has constituted the two races physically different? There can be but one answer, it is God. To attempt, therefore a removal of this corner-stone . . . is of so presumptuous a character, that few should be rash enough to undertake it.” Corner-stone was an allusion to Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens’s March 1861 speech explaining that slavery and racial inferiority were the corner-stones upon which secession lay.
Tomorrow, Part 2: The Loyal Publication Society begins its work
(image/daguerrotype of Samuel Morse by Macbeth Gallery, Smithsonian)
02 Saturday Feb 2013
In October-November 1989 my brother and I took a month long tour of Europe. It was an organized affair with a European-based company in which there were many well-educated and well-travelled people from around the world. We were by far the youngest ones along for the ride, which gave us a sense of gravitas and cachet among the older crowd. People enjoy being around the young. Many of the people from that tour are gone now, which fills me with sadness. The trip started in London, continued by ferry to the Continent, on through Holland, into Germany, Poland, the Soviet Union, FInland, Sweden, and back to Britain. We had the good fortune of seeing the Berlin Wall the week before it came down. I remember getting the news from one of our fellow travelers (no pun intended) that they were tearing it in the lobby of our St. Petersburg hotel. Who could have known just the week before that such events were about to take place?
The most lasting impression of the trip was the ubiquity of the WW2 memorials seemingly present in every town along the way. This was nearly a quarter century ago, and for many WW2 was still as much current events as it was history; the candle laid on a Warsaw street corner to remember a loved one on All Saints Day might have been placed for a sister or father, not some distant ancestor never met. Seeing hundreds of such candles clustered together where some massacre had taken place was something I will never forget. In the Soviet Union memorials to the Great Patriotic War were equally ubiquitous. We saw them in Minsk, Smolensk, Moscow, St. Petersburg, and every other stop along the way. So much has happened in the world between 1989 and today. The Berlin Wall. The end of the Soviet Union in 1991. The 50th anniversary of the Second Word War. The rise of the internet and digital technology. These moments from the late fall of 1989 are embedded in my memory not just because they were turning points in 20th century history–which of course they were–but because they coincided with my own rise to adulthood. It is very much a before and after. We remember most what happens when we were young.
I have mentioned many times that I no longer recognize the anniversaries of Second World War the way I once did because the WW2 generation has all but stepped off the stage. Today the WW2 anniversaries commemorate historical, not current, events, which is not to say there are not many in the world for whom the events of 1939-1945 are not still deeply personal and individual tragedies. That’s something to think about when we throw around phrases like “fifty million people were killed in the war.” February 2 is on of the most meaningful dates of the conflict. Seventy years ago today the Battle of Stalingrad ended after 200 bloody days and two million individuals perished.
(image/German Federal Archives)