Battle on Bric-A-Brac: America’s Changing Views on Clutter

If you’ve been tuning in to the new Netflix series Tidying up with Marie Kondo or read Kondo’s bestseller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, you’re familiar with her war on clutter. As part of her KonMari Method, she famously encourages people to keep only possessions that “spark joy.”

But Kondo’s decluttering philosophy wouldn’t have been popular in the U.S. in the mid- to late 19th century. In fact, the opposite philosophy seemed to reign—the more objects on display in your home the better, particularly if you were wealthy or aspiring to be so.

The Rise of Bric-A-Brac

If you could peek into the home of a wealthy Victorian-era American family, it would probably look cluttered to our modern eyes. Bare rooms were equated with poor taste, low morals, and poverty, while displaying expensive objects was a sign of style, culture, and status. Vases, figurines, decorative boxes, fans, teacups, miniature paintings, curios, and much more filled nearly any flat surface, from mantles to tables to sideboards.

An 1891 showroom for home furnishings, demonstrating the popular Victorian "cluttered" look (The Times—Philadelphia, 10.03.1891)

An 1891 showroom for home furnishings, demonstrating the popular Victorian “cluttered” look (The Times—Philadelphia, 10.03.1891)

The Second Industrial Revolution (roughly 1870–1914) was creating an abundance of “nouveau riche” in America, people recently made wealthy by railroads, steel, and other new industries. Eager to imitate the aristocracy of Great Britain and Europe—and to showcase their new wealth and worldliness—they filled their homes with costly objets d’art. These decorative objects eventually came to be known as “bric-a-brac.”

  • Go here to read an 1887 newspaper article about bric-a-brac selling for insanely high prices

Though items sold as bric-a-brac supposedly had historical ties, antique origin, or exotic provenance, realistically it was a term for expensive items with no practical use—which is probably why an 1875 New York Times article defined bric-a-brac as “elegant rubbish.” Still, bric-a-brac was in such high demand that an industry sprung up to procure and sell it. Newspapers carried stories of people spending incredible sums of money to expand their collections, and ads for bric-a-brac sellers abounded in the papers.

Bric-a-Brac’s Decline

This “bric-a-brac mania,” as it was sometimes called, had its acme in the 1870s and 1880s. But as is the case with many expensive things, a knock-off market of cheaper, inauthentic bric-a-brac came into being. This affordable, mass-produced bric-a-brac allowed people of the middle and even working classes to embrace the trend and buy bric-a-brac for their own homes.

  • Go here to read about the knock-off market for bric-a-brac in an 1885 newspaper

The wide availability of inexpensive bric-a-brac meant it no longer implied social status and wealth, however, and its popularity among the upper class began to wane. Around the same time, attitudes about ostentatious displays of wealth began changing, and interior design preferences shifted toward simpler and more utilitarian styles. On top of that, late 19th-century America was hit by a series of economic panics—perhaps putting more nails in bric-a-brac’s coffin. Gradually, the term “bric-a-brac” began to take on the connotation that it has today—nearly synonymous with “knick-knack” rather than “objet d’art.”

The rejection of the bric-a-brac trend can be clearly seen in newspapers from the late 1880s through the early 20th century.

One Pennsylvania newspaper wrote in 1895:

And this 1906 article even provided questions to help the reader cut down on bric-a-brac:

20th-Century Clutter

The end of the 19th-century bric-a-brac craze wasn’t the end of indoor clutter, obviously. In fact, there seems to have been somewhat of a resurgence of bric-a-brac in the 1920s, though the onset of the Great Depression likely had a dampening effect.

  • Go here to read a 1926 article about bric-a-brac’s 1920s comeback

But America’s post-war economic boom in the late 1940s through the early 1970s gave people more discretionary income than ever before. Perhaps as a result of this new post-war buying power, home decor trends in the late 1950s swung back toward a “controlled clutter” look. And articles promoting “clutter rooms” (rooms devoted to odds and ends) ran in the papers in the 1960s. So is it any surprise that decluttering articles became increasingly ubiquitous in newspapers in the decades after the economic boom?

The Pendulum

America’s views on the use of clutter in home decoration seem to be a pendulum, swinging back and forth between embracing a cluttered look and its rejection. Right now, our society appears to be firmly rejecting it, as typified by the incredible popularity of Marie Kondo and her method. (Related examples of this desire for simplification are found in the “tiny home” movement and the backlash against the “fast fashion” industry.)

But as history has shown us, who knows when the pendulum will swing back the other way? So you might not need to throw out grandma’s antique tea set just yet.

Learn more about bric-a-brac by searching Newspapers.com. Or if you’re interested in reading some vintage decluttering articles, start with these:

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People Used to Believe Aliens Built Canals on Mars. Here’s Why You Should Care.

“Scientists now declare that the many lines and spots on Mars represent verdure along a most wonderful canal system, which the inhabitants of the planet have constructed for purposes of irrigation.”

No, it’s not the latest finding from NASA’s InSight Mars lander, which successfully touched down on the red planet last month. Instead, the quote comes from a 1907 article in the Los Angeles Times.

While the idea of a Martian-made canal system on Mars seems laughable today, around the turn of the 19th century there was a group of astronomers and scientists who took the idea seriously. In fact, they believed they had proof.

  • Read the full 1907 Los Angeles Times article about Martian-made canals here.

Why Did Astronomers Think Mars Had Canals?

The popularization of the idea of canals on Mars began with the observations of a 19th-century Italian astronomer named Giovanni Schiaparelli. Schiaparelli believed he saw a system of straight lines on the surface of Mars, which he called “canali” in 1877. Although the Italian word can be translated to mean “channels”—which is closer to what Schiaparelli intended—the word got translated in to English as “canals.”

Map of the Mars canals [The Review, 10.27.1898]

Map of the Mars canals (The Review, 10.27.1898)

A wealthy American astronomer named Percival Lowell then performed his own observations of Mars and saw the same type of lines that Schiaparelli saw. But Lowell went one step further than his Italian counterpart. Lowell concluded that if there were “canals” on Mars, they must have been constructed, which in turn meant there must be intelligent beings on the planet who built them.

In the 1890s, Lowell funded the building of the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, as a base for his intensive observations of Mars. He would remain convinced of the existence of artificially constructed canals on Mars for the rest of his life, even speaking about it a month before his death in 1916.

  • Read a Los Angeles Times account of one of Lowell’s last lectures about Mars here.

Did Everyone Buy This Theory?

While Lowell was far from the only astronomer to devote his time to the canals of Mars, not all astronomers agreed with his conclusions. A look through newspapers of the era shows a wide range of other theories.

Of the astronomers and scientists who believed there were canals on Mars, some were like Lowell and concluded the canals were made by intelligent beings. Others believed the so-called canals were actually fissures in the surface, perhaps caused by earthquakes or by collisions with Mars’ natural satellites.

Schiaparelli and Lowell (The Hartford Daily Courant, 08.24.1924)

Schiaparelli and Lowell (The Hartford Daily Courant, 08.24.1924)

Then there were those who didn’t believe there were canals at all. Some of these astronomers theorized that the lines were vegetation growing on the planet. Still others believed that the lines were merely an optical illusion. (This is optical illusion explanation is how the Mars canal phenomenon is most commonly explained today.)

  • Read a 1902 article from the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle about the Mars canal optical illusion here.

The idea of canals on Mars didn’t fade away with Lowell’s death. Well into the 1930s—and even the 1960s to some extent—there were still people who argued for the existence of the canals. It wasn’t until the Mariner 4 space probe sent back the first photos of Mars’ canal-free surface in 1965 that the canal idea truly began to die. (Subsequent missions to Mars would reveal that there are indeed channels and valleys on Mars, but these would not have been visible to the early astronomers.)

Why Should We Care?

The story of the Mars canals is more than just an interesting bit of historical trivia. Its legacy has had a very real effect in areas like pop culture. Author H.G. Wells, for instance, wrote his incredibly influential Martian-invasion novel The War of the Worlds during the height of the Mars canal craze.

The imaginary Mars canals may have even influenced modern space exploration. After all, the people who ran Mariner 4 and other early missions to Mars grew up in the Mars canal era, with all its debate about Mars’ topography and potential to host life. Is it any surprise that people who came of age in this era sent out the first spacecraft that documented the planet’s surface?

Photos of Mars sent back by Mariner 4 (Casper Star-Tribune, 07.20.1965)

Photos of Mars sent back by Mariner 4 (Casper Star-Tribune, 07.20.1965)

The influence of the Mars canals also stretched beyond the red planet into other parts of the solar system. Remember how Percival Lowell built the Lowell Observatory in his quest to study the “canals” on Mars? In 1930, Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto at that same observatory.

  • Read an Arizona Republic article about the discovery of Pluto at Lowell Observatory here.

The story of the canals on Mars is also particularly relevant now, right as NASA’s InSight lander begins gathering new types of data from the planet. It prompts the question: Will InSight make a discovery about Mars that will turn our current understanding of the planet on its head? And if it does, will we look any different to people in the future than those Mars canal astronomers look to us?

Perhaps this advice by a respected astronomer and Mars-canal critic in 1904 still holds true today:

Quote by E. Walter Maunder (The Pittsburg Press, 07.15.1904)

Quote by E. Walter Maunder (The Pittsburg Press, 07.15.1904)

Learn more about the supposed canals on Mars by searching Newspapers.com. And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more interesting historical content like this!

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Cowabunga! 8 of the Biggest Bovines to Udderly Amoose You

Have you been as fascinated as the rest of the internet with Knickers, the giant steer in Australia? Then do we have a blog post for you! We’ve gathered photos of some of the biggest bovines we could find in the newspapers from the last 100 years. How do these cows, steers, and bulls measure up to Knickers, who stands nearly 6 feet 4 inches and weighs more than 3,000 pounds? Read on to find out! We won’t “steer” you wrong!

If we start from the shortest of the bunch (which is still amazingly tall), first is Big Jim, who was once owned by Will Rogers. In this photo from 1936, the steer was 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighed 3,100 pounds.

Next is this giant Holstein bull from Kentucky in 1960. The newspaper didn’t report how tall he was, but he weighed in at a whopping 3,126 pounds and was the largest at the Kentucky State Fair!

From 1925, we have a Shorthorn-Hereford from Nebraska. The newspaper was unclear about whether it was a steer or a bull, but either way it stood 5 feet 7 inches high and weighed 3,200 pounds.

From 1930 comes this photo of a cow named Texas Pride. Though nearly 6 feet high at the shoulders, its horns added another foot and a half. The offspring of a Jersey cow and a Brahma bull, Texas Pride weighed in at 1 ton. [Read more about Texas Pride here.]

In 1933, you could’ve earned $500 if you managed to find a cow bigger than Lone Star, from Texas. Another Jersey-Brahma mix, this cow was 6 feet and 1 inch high and weighed 2,800 pounds. The distance from its nose to the tip of its tail was 15 feet! [Read more about Lone Star here.]

Then we have this giant steer from Kentucky, apparently also named Big Jim like the first steer on our list. This Big Jim stood 6 feet 2 inches and weighed 4,026 pounds.

Last up, we have two bovines that tie in height with Knickers. First is this Brahma-Shorthorn steer from 1973 named Satan. Though tying with Knickers in height, this steer outweighed him, weighing in at 2 tons.

The other 6 foot 4 inch bovine we found is Blosom, a cow from Illinois. In 2014, Blosom made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for her height. [Read more about Blosom here.]

Find more photos and articles about giant cows by searching Newspapers.com. And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more interesting historical content like this!

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How Did Black Friday Become an American Tradition?

Black Friday shopping is a Thanksgiving tradition for most Americans. In 2017, more than two-thirds of American adults went shopping on Thanksgiving weekend, either in stores or online. But do you know how the tradition of Black Friday began?

Black Friday crowds in Philadelphia in 1968 (Philadelphia Inquirer, 11.0.1968)

Black Friday crowds in Philadelphia in 1968 (Philadelphia Inquirer, 11.0.1968)

The Early Years

In the decades after President Abraham Lincoln established Thanksgiving as an annual holiday in 1863, it developed into the unofficial beginning of the holiday season. Then, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, various department stores began sponsoring parades on Thanksgiving, such as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Known as “Santa parades” because they ended with the arrival of Santa Claus, these parades were used by the department stores to launch their Christmas campaigns and increase excitement for holiday shopping. It eventually became an unwritten rule that retailers wouldn’t begin their holiday sales until after Thanksgiving.

First Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, 1924 (Daily News, 11.28.1924)

First Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, 1924 (Daily News, 11.28.1924)

Thanksgiving became so intertwined with the holiday shopping season that in 1939, a year when Thanksgiving fell late in the month, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week, lengthening the holiday shopping season but also causing a major public uproar.

  • Go here to learn the full story of what happened when FDR moved Thanksgiving

Black Friday Is Born

Before “Black Friday” came to refer to the busy shopping day after Thanksgiving, it had long been used in other ways—such as to refer to the Panic of 1869 and as a name for Friday the 13th. How it shifted to its current meaning is a bit unclear.

It seems to have begun in the 1950s and ‘60s in Philadelphia, where the police used “Black Friday” to refer to the terrible traffic conditions after Thanksgiving caused by people coming to the city to shop and attend the Army-Navy football game.

  • Go here to see a 1967 Philadelphia newspaper using “Black Friday” to refer to bad traffic

Complicating this explanation, however, is the fact that the Philadelphia Inquirer reporter who helped popularize the term remembers first hearing it in Boston. And to make its origins even muddier, the term was also used in Rochester, New York, around the same time as in Philadelphia.

But despite the ambiguity of the term’s origins, one thing is clear: retailers hated the term “Black Friday.” They felt it had negative connotations, and, in Philadelphia at least, retailers tried to promote the term “Big Friday”—but it never took off.

“Black Friday” Spreads

For a while, “Black Friday” remained a regional term. In 1985, the Philadelphia Inquirer even ran a column discussing how “Black Friday” wasn’t used in other parts of the nation. But by the late 1980s, the term began seeing wider acceptance and was in use around the country in the 1990s.

  • Go here to read an excerpt from the 1985 Philadelphia Inquirer Black Friday column

By the time the term became popular, however, the story around its origins had shifted from the negative connotations of heavy traffic to the more positive explanation—pushed by retailers—that it referred to the day businesses turned a profit and went from being “in the red” to “in the black.”

Learn more about the history of Black Friday by searching Newspapers.com. And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more interesting historical content like this!

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Hometown Tour Guide: Exploring Your Ancestors’ Hometown Through Newspapers

Ever wish you had a time machine so you could travel back in time to see what your ancestors’ lives were like? While we can’t give you a time machine, we can give you what may be the next best thing: the ability to visit your ancestors’ hometown without leaving your couch. How can you do this? With newspapers!

If you’ve already searched for your ancestors’ names in the papers, fleshing out what their lives may have been like is the next step in discovering their story. And since the place a person lived often had a big impact on what their daily life was like, it’s worth putting in some time to learn about it.

This is where newspapers come in, because they are a nearly bottomless resource for finding out what life was like in the towns and cities they served. The added benefit to this approach is that even if you can’t find your ancestors mentioned by name in a newspaper, you can still use the paper to help you piece together the details of their lives.

For your journey, we’ve put together a “tour guide” of sorts to help you use newspapers to explore your ancestors’ hometown and learn more about their lives in the process. Check it out!

A street scene in St. James, Missouri, in 1915. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1957)

A street scene in St. James, Missouri, in 1915. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1957)

HOMETOWN TOUR GUIDE

Step 1: Find your paper

In many cases, Newspapers.com will have a newspaper (or more than one!) from the town or city your ancestors lived in. But if we don’t, here are some tips for locating other papers that may be useful in your research.

  • Use the Newspapers Map on our site to find the paper closest to the town or city where your ancestors lived. Zoom in on a specific geographical region to find out which papers were being published in the area. Adjust the date slider to see papers from a particular time frame (such as the years your ancestor lived there).
  • Find out which county your ancestors’ hometown is in, and then look for a paper from the county seat. Newspapers from the county seat often contain news from surrounding towns. You can see which papers from a particular county are on Newspapers.com by using the advanced search. Just enter the county name into the Place/Paper Location field, and hit the search button.
  • Look at papers from similar-sized towns or cities in the same part of the state. While each community has its differences, life was probably fairly similar in towns of the same size from the same region.
  • Use the date and location filters on the Papers page to find papers in the state your ancestors lived in that were published while they lived there.

Step 2: Find representative issues of the paper

Once you’ve found the newspaper you want to use, pick some issues of the paper to look at. We recommend you pick a few issues from a variety of years in your ancestor’s life. (You could even pick significant dates in their lives, such as the day they were born, started school, got married, passed away, and so on.) The more issues you look at, the more detailed your understanding of the town will be. But if you feel overwhelmed, start by looking at just one!

A business in Fremont, Ohio, in 1933. (Fremont Messenger, 09.18.1933)

A business in Fremont, Ohio, in 1933. (Fremont Messenger, 09.18.1933)

Step 3: Browse the paper

You might be surprised at how much you can learn about a town from seemingly unimportant newspaper sections. We’ve come up with 15 parts of the newspaper we suggest you look through, but the possibilities are nearly endless. We’ve also included some questions to ask yourself to help guide your journey.

  1. Ads/classifieds – What businesses were in town? Where did people shop? What products were available? How much did things cost? What services were individuals offering? What types of jobs were being advertised?
  2. Train & ship ads/schedules Which places could people from the town or city easily travel to? Was their hometown a travel hub? (If it was, this probably meant increased exposure and access to outside fashions, trends, lifestyles, etc.)
  3. Weather reports What was each of the four seasons like? If it was a farming area, did it receive enough rain for a good harvest? Were there any big weather events (blizzards, tornadoes, hurricanes, etc.) that would’ve affected the townspeople’s lives?
  4. Photos What were people wearing? What were the hairstyles? What did the town itself look like (buildings, scenery, etc.)?
  5. Local news Was there anything noteworthy going on? Was there any breaking news that would’ve been the talk of the town?
  6. Party/reunion/event descriptions What types of activities were planned? What games did they play? What food was served? What kinds of people were invited?
  7. Entertainment sections What entertainment options were available? Was there a theater or cinema? If so, what plays or movies were out? Was the local sports team doing well? Does it seem like a lot of people attended local sports matches?
  8. Crime reports/police blotters Did the town or city seem safe? What kind of crime was happening?
  9. Holiday celebration descriptions Were there any big holiday celebrations that happened in town every year? How did individual families celebrate holidays on a smaller scale? (Descriptions of private celebrations may alert you to common local traditions.)
  10. Vacation/travel notices Are there any places people from the town commonly traveled to? If it’s a small town, which bigger city did most people visit for shopping, entertainment, etc.?
  11. Obituaries/death notices What illnesses were common in the area? Did a lot of people die of the same illness around the same time? (If so, this may indicate there was an epidemic.)
  12. Local election/political news What were the big political issues in the area? What local laws and ordinances were being passed or repealed?
  13. Letters to the editor/op-eds/editorials What were some of the opinions in town? What issues did people seem divided on and on which did most people seem to agree?
  14. Recipes & grocery store ads What ingredients and food items were available? Which foods seem common and which seem like items for special occasions? Do some ingredients seem preferred over others?
  15. Articles with addresses – Are there any mentions of the neighborhood your ancestors lived in? What about the street they lived on? (Or even their specific house?) Who else lived in the area? Do there seem to be a lot of people in the neighborhood from the same family? Or immigrants from the same country? What were the neighbors up to? What was going on in the neighborhood?

What do you think? Did we miss any newspaper sections that may be helpful? Let us know in the comments! And happy travels on your hometown newspaper tour!

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Going Beyond Birth, Marriage & Death Announcements

(Click image to view full-size version. Or click here.)

Newspapers can be a treasure trove of information about your ancestors. Unlike government records, which are often limited to forms, newspapers typically include a wide variety of different types of information about the people who live in the towns and cities they serve.

So don’t stop once you’ve found their birth, marriage, and death announcements in the newspaper. That’s just the beginning of discovering your ancestor’s story. For more ideas, check out our list of 20 sections in the newspaper to look for your ancestors in.

  1. Advertisements & classifieds
  2. Church news, events & activities
  3. Court dockets & jury lists
  4. Disaster victims lists
  5. Entertainment sections
  6. Gossip columns
  7. Land/home/farm sales
  8. Legal notices
  9. Letters to the editor
  10. Local election news & political events
  11. Military service news
  12. Local news stories
  13. Ship & train passenger lists
  14. Personal notices
  15. Police blotters
  16. School news
  17. Social news & events
  18. Sports sections
  19. Unclaimed letters lists
  20. Group photos
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The Forgotten Technology that Changed the News Forever

Many Americans were shocked by Ryan Kelly’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photo when it appeared in newspapers around the nation after the racially charged 2017 rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia. But they weren’t surprised that there was a photo.

In today’s world, we’re used to photos accompanying breaking news stories. We’re used to seeing as well as reading our news. In fact, we expect it. But this wasn’t always the case.

Before 1935, photos that accompanied breaking news stories—if there were photos at all—were rarely of the event itself, unless the event had happened locally. American newspapers had been able to quickly receive news stories via telegraph for nearly a century; but because images of a faraway event had to be sent by mail, train, or (later) plane, they wouldn’t arrive until days, possibly weeks, later.

In 1935 that all changed with the introduction of the AP Wirephoto. The way Americans consumed news would never be the same.

Wirephoto receiving machine (Hartford Courant, 01.13.1935)

Wirephoto receiving machine (Hartford Courant, 01.13.1935)

What Was AP Wirephoto?

The AP Wirephoto process involved using light and telephone wires to send and receive photos across long distances. The process is described in the following newspaper excerpt:

The introduction of AP Wirephoto was not the first time photos were transmitted via wire, but it was faster than previous attempts and the results were higher quality. No longer did newspapers have to wait days for photos of events from the other side of the country; instead they could receive a photo via the AP Wirephoto network 8 minutes after it was sent—an extraordinary advancement. For the first time, someone in Iowa could see a photo of a baseball game in New York before the game was even over.

Map of original AP Wirephoto map (Dayton Daily News, 12.19.1934)

Map of original AP Wirephoto map (Dayton Daily News, 12.19.1934)

The adoption of AP Wirephoto was not without opposition, however. Early detractors argued against the high cost of the necessary machinery, and some believed there weren’t enough important photos to justify the expense. As it turned out, they were quickly proven wrong.

Just days after the introduction of Wirephotos, the network was used to distribute photos of the Lindbergh baby murder trial—one of the most sensational trials of the time. This timely publication of the trial photos cemented the public’s appetite for photos of news events as they happened.

AP Wirephoto coverage of the Lindbergh kidnapping trial (Minneapolis Tribune, 01.05.1935)

AP Wirephoto coverage of the Lindbergh kidnapping trial (Minneapolis Tribune, 01.05.1935)

How Wirephoto Changed Everything

AP Wirephotos (as well as competing photo distribution wire services) changed the way Americans understood and consumed the news. It wasn’t just that photos of an event across the country could now be published alongside news of that event, as groundbreaking as that was. But for the first time in history, millions of people were seeing the same photo of the same event on the same day.

As photos came to dominate newspaper front pages—in some cases overshadowing the headlines—Wirephotos also helped evolve the idea that photos could be news in and of themselves. No longer were photos seen as merely an addition to the news story—they increasingly were the story. Many now-iconic photos—such as the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima—began as AP Wirephotos.

But part of the power of Wirephotos was that inconsequential photos—as well as the iconic ones—were now being published in cities on the opposite side of the country. Before Wirephoto, it likely would not have been worth the cost and effort to send a photo of a champion hog caller—for example—across the country by train or plane. But the ease of sending that same picture through Wirephoto meant that Americans could now see photos of relatively trivial events from around the country, helping to build a sense of national community.

Typical Wirephoto newspaper page (Elmira Star-Gazette, 03.11.1955)

Typical Wirephoto newspaper page (Elmira Star-Gazette, 03.11.1955)

The End of Wirephoto

Wirephotos dominated newspapers from 1935 to the mid-1970s, when papers began adopting new types of photo technology, eventually leading to the digital world we live in today. Now, photos of a newsworthy event are often published online before the story is even written. But although there have been advancements in news photo technology over the years, few compare to the indelible impact that Wirephotos had on the news industry.

Learn more about the history of AP Wirephoto by searching Newspapers.com. And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more interesting historical content like this!

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The Amazing Real History Behind “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society”

What’s the true story of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society?

Behind the fictional tale of Juliet, Dawsey, and the rest of the Society lies the very real history of the German occupation of Guernsey and the other Channel Islands during World War II. The history is just as fascinating as the fiction, and this gripping true story can be discovered with the help of newspapers of the time.

The Invasion

Located in the English Channel, Guernsey and the other Channel Islands have long been self-governing possessions of the United Kingdom. But with the onset of World War II, the British government concluded that the islands weren’t strategically valuable enough to defend and so decided to demilitarize them on June 15, 1940.

Demilitarization of the islands meant an increased threat of German invasion, so about a quarter of the population left the Channel Islands, including many school-age children, who were evacuated to the United Kingdom without their parents.

Then on June 28, about two weeks after demilitarization, the Germans invaded, killing dozens of civilians in an air raid.

The Occupation

Life in the Channel Islands during the German occupation was far from easy, but it was manageable for most residents—at least at first. The German occupiers were described by some as well-behaved, and there was little open resistance to the occupation.

However, island residents faced confiscation of property, restrictions on certain activities, rationing, censorship, curfew, limited communication with the outside world, and other hardships.

In addition, more than two thousand Channel Island residents were deported to internment camps in Germany, where most remained until the German surrender in 1945.

As the occupation dragged on (it would ultimately last almost 5 years), goods and food became increasingly scarce. The winter of 1944-45 was especially difficult, as the Allied invasion of France meant the Channel Islands were cut off from supplies from France and Germany. Residents were saved from impending starvation by a Red Cross ship bringing supplies beginning in December 1944.

With the German occupation came a buildup of military fortifications on the islands. The Germans used thousands of foreign laborers (many of them slave workers) to build bunkers, air raid shelters, and gun emplacements as part of the Germans’ “Atlantic Wall.” The laborers were held in work camps on the Channel Islands, including in concentration camps on the island of Alderney.

The Liberation

The liberation of the Channel Islands began on May 9, 1945, the day after islanders were informed that the war with Germany was over. Guernsey and Jersey were the first islands to be liberated, and British forces landing there on the 9th were met by cheering crowds. The King and Queen visited just a month later.

Learn more about Guernsey and the other Channel Islands during World War II by searching Newspapers.com. And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more interesting historical content like this!

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4 Daring Wildfire Rescue Stories You Won’t Want to Miss

Wildfires are devastating, but they can also be scenes of amazing bravery and heroism. Check out these 4 incredible wildfire rescue stories:

Train Engineer Saves Hundreds from Forest Fire

In 1894, a massive forest fire burned through the pine forests of Minnesota, engulfing the town of Hinckley and other nearby settlements. Though more than 400 people perished in the fire, the death toll could have been higher if it weren’t for James Root, a train engineer.

Root’s train was headed south from Duluth toward St. Paul, and as it drew nearer the fire, it became increasingly filled with heavy smoke, making it difficult to breathe. Nevertheless, when desperate townspeople flagged down the train near Hinckley, Root stopped to get them on board. With the fire quickly approaching, Root began backing the train down the track.

Although Root increased the train’s speed, the fire finally caught up to them and surrounded the train. Still, he pressed on through the flames, until finally, they reached Skunk Lake, where the passengers were ordered to abandon the train and take refuge in the water. About 250 people were saved by the bravery of Root and the other train crew. [Read the newspaper account]

Forest Ranger Protects His Crew During Wildfire

Forest ranger Edward Pulaski was overseeing fire crews in the mountains of northern Idaho when one of the biggest wildfires in U.S. history burned through parts of the northwest in August 1910. Once the fire in his area had grown too dangerous to fight, Pulaski evacuated all the fire crew he could find.

He gathered 45 men and led them through the fiery, mountainous terrain to an old mine tunnel, where he ordered them to lie on the ground. When one panicked man attempted to rush out of the tunnel, Pulaski pulled his gun on the man and threatened to kill the first person who tried to leave.

With the fire raging outside, Pulaski hung wet blankets over the entrance and used his hat to scoop up water from the mine to throw on burning timbers inside the tunnel. His men eventually lost consciousness from the heat and smoke, and Pulaski finally did as well. When they came to, they discovered that although five of the men had died inside the tunnel during the fire, Pulaski’s strong leadership had saved the majority. [Read the newspaper account]

Hermit Leaves Fortune to Man Who Rescued Him from Fire

Around 1910, a young piano salesman named Eber Smith got on the bad side of a recluse named “Old Tom” Simpson, who lived in the mountains near San Bernardino, California. However, Eber eventually managed to befriend Old Tom by repairing his violin, and Eber began visiting Tom whenever he passed through.

When a wildfire swept through the area in 1914, Old Tom was laid up in bed with a broken leg. The firefighters were not willing to take the risk to reach Tom’s remote mountain cabin, but Eber braved the flames and carried Old Tom to safety above the timberline. About two years later, when Old Tom passed away, he left Eber his fortune of $500,000 (about $12 million today). [Read the newspaper account]

Sheepdog Proves Wildfire Hero

During a 1929 forest fire in southern Washington, a flock of sheep got trapped by the flames. The sheep panicked, and no attempts by the herders could get them out, so the sheep were finally abandoned. But they weren’t abandoned by a sheepdog named Laddie.

All on his own, Laddie herded the sheep to safety, and when the fire subsided the following day, the herders returned to find that not a single sheep was missing or injured. [Read the newspaper account]

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Beyond Shark Attacks: 3 Unusual But True Shark Stories

Take a break from the typical shark attack stories with these 3 unusual—but true—shark encounters!

Sailor Says Shark Saved His Life
When a seaman is forced to jump from a sinking ship into shark-infested waters during World War II, you don’t normally expect his story to end with a shark saving his life. But that’s what happened to Charley Matthews.

After a series of explosions sank his ship, 17-year-old Matthews hit the water only to hear others shouting “Sharks! Sharks!” He was about a block-and-a-half’s distance from a lifeboat, which he managed to reach despite torn ligaments in his knee. But when he reached the lifeboat, it was already overcrowded, and the man in command refused to let him on. That’s when Matthews noticed a shark approaching him.

But before the shark could reach him, a bigger shark blocked it. Matthews gave up hope, believing that the big shark would attack him itself, but instead he felt hands dragging him into the lifeboat. The big shark that had unintentionally saved him (which Matthews named Wilbur) and other sharks followed the lifeboat until the men were rescued 5 days later.

Shark Eats the Evidence
Important evidence for a trial can be found in all manner of unexpected places, including the belly of a shark.

It was 1915, relatively early in World War I, and officials of the Hamburg-American Steamship Line were set to go on trial in the United States for violating American neutrality laws.

Important to the government’s case were the ships’ clearance papers, but there was a problem. When one of the Hamburg-American ships had put in to port in Brazil, the captain dropped the papers overboard in a waterproof bag and then claimed they were lost.

But luckily for the U.S. government, a shark happened to eat the papers when they were tossed overboard. Then that same shark was later caught by the crew of a Brazilian warship, who, when they opened up the shark, discovered the papers in its stomach. This chain of events might sound a little too convenient, but nevertheless, there was a government witness prepared to testify to it under oath at the trial.

Bitten by a Dead Shark
You might think that if a shark is dead, it no longer poses a danger, but in 1950 23-year-old Lola Allison of Australia learned differently.

The daughter of the proprietor of a “man-eating sharks” sideshow, Lola was trying to pry open the jaws of a 7-foot nurse shark when the stick she was using snapped. The shark’s jaws clamped down, and she suffered deep puncture wounds to her right hand.

Similarly—and also in Australia—9-year-old Leonard Balmer was taking a shark’s jaw to school in 1961, when he slipped, and the shark’s teeth gashed him on the leg.

And lest you think these things only happen in Australia, in Florida in 1935, a county commissioner was prying open the jaws of a dead shark for a photograph, when the jaws snapped shut and caught the man’s finger.

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