Who Was “Smart Alec”?

Turns out, the term “Smart Alec” almost certainly exists because of a real life man named Alec Hoag. He was a crafty criminal who was a little too clever for his own good.

Hoag and

His usual method of thievery is described in the clipping above, but the “smart” part of Alec’s con was that he got the police in on it too, bribing them with shares of the stolen goods if they looked the other way. Of course, working out a way to cut the police out of their shares was probably not so smart, but that’s exactly what Alec did. The police eventually figured it out, and thus came the downfall of the original Smart Alec.

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The Patriotic Deaths of Adams and Jefferson

On July 4, 1776, the founding fathers scratched their names onto parchment (and into history) as they signed the Declaration of Independence. Fifty years later, on a day of fireworks and celebration of the anniversary of that historic day, both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams took their final breaths.

Jefferson took the lead, reportedly happy to go once he had seen the morning of the 4th.

Thomas Jefferson Death

Thomas Jefferson

Adams succumbed about five hours later, unaware that Jefferson had preceded him in death.

Death of Adams

John Adams

Adams and Jefferson were the last living members of the original group of revolutionaries who fought for freedom from the British Empire. As death dates go, this seems a fitting one for two of the men who drafted the declaration which the United States celebrates every year on this day.

The striking coincidences of life

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The Radium Girls

Today we take a look at the frustrating and jaw-dropping history of the “Radium Girls.”

Radium Girl Awaits Death

If you’ve never heard of this particular incident before, the “Radium Girls” were factory workers who had the joy of unknowingly contracting radiation poisoning while doing the seemingly innocuous task of painting watch dials. This work was done in three United States factories—one in New Jersey, one in Illinois, and one in Connecticut—who used radium in their paint to make it self-luminous, and all the while the women were led to believe the paint was harmless.

The Girls' Work

They were paid per dial so time was of the essence, and the quickest way to get those paintbrushes pointed enough to paint such fine lines was by shaping the tip with one’s lips—a method encouraged by the instructors to avoid wasting excess time with other methods such as wet rags or a rinse in water.

Used their lips to point the brushes

Death of a young girl factory worker

It’s not known exactly how many women were affected by the radiation poisoning that soon spread through their systems, but as the death toll began to rise the connection between the radium paints and the deaths became more and more clear. Meanwhile, factories like the U.S. Radium Corporation maintained that the girls had died from unrelated causes. They insisted that the amount of radium used in the paint was so small as to be harmless, which was true—for the finished watches. Not so for the factory girls exposed to the dangerous substance day after day, stroke after stroke.

Many Deaths

In New Jersey, five women who worked at the United States Radium Corporation sued the company for the health problems—and, quite bluntly, the certain death—that they would suffer because of the factory’s negligence. These five were called the “Radium Girls” in the news stories that sprung up over the next several decades.

Radium Girl fourth to die of poisoning

Five Women sued, known as the

They eventually won, though the money was often used to pay for their funerals. The last of the five women died two years after their case was settled.

Some good did manage to come from the horrific and avoidable fates of these women. Laws regarding compensation for disease or injury from occupational hazards were improved, and the window of time in which an employee could collect such compensation was extended. The nation’s understanding of the dangers of radium increased exponentially, and within a decade new precautions had been put in place to avoid a slow-building disaster like this one from ever happening again—at least, not from radium.

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Berlin Airlift

On this day in 1948, the first U.S. and British pilots fly to Berlin bearing food, medicine, water, clothing and fuel in response to the Soviet Union blockade of the western section of the city.

Berlin Airlift

Eight-minute intervals

Blockade Motivations

U.S. Air Force C-47 cargo planes

Known as the Berlin Airlift, the operation brought around 2500 tons of supplies daily and continued to do so for four months after the blockade was lifted in May 1949.

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Horseback Librarians

Don’t have a library? Never fear—the library will come to you. Such was the thought in eastern Kentucky, 1935, when the Pack Horse Library initiative began.

Pack Horse Library

Book Woman during Great Depression

The job was no walk in the park. The lack of library access was often due to how remote these places were, and access to them was found through stony creeks, mud-caked footpaths, and on the skirting edges of cliffs. The librarians often had to walk on foot, leading their horse behind them, for the safety of themselves and their mounts. Library headquarters would be set up in the various counties in whatever building would offer room, and from here the librarian would stock up, travel with a pocket-full of adventures or recipes or romances, and later return to get a fresh batch to circulate.

Librarians bring the books

“She” in this instance is Grace Caudill Lucas, who worked as a pack horse librarian

Pack Horse Librarian

The Pack Horse Libraries lost their funding in 1943 and were forced to close up shop. Fortunately, bookmobiles were not far behind and took the reins—so to speak—in 1946 as a modernized version of the “horsemobile” libraries of the Great Depression. But for a decade, thousands of Kentucky residents had these brave women to thank for caring enough about literacy, education, and imagination to traverse the craggy Kentucky countryside with their bags full o’ books.

horseback librarians

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Ratification of the Constitution

On this day in 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth state to vote “yea” on the debate of ratifying the U.S. Constitution, officially making it law.

Constitution Ratified 21st June

More states would follow suit later, but only nine of the thirteen existing states had to accept for the Constitution to become valid.

Fun fact: While the United States is a fairly young country compared to others worldwide, it has the oldest written constitution still in use today.

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Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Today in 1967, the Beatles release their album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, generally considered the first “concept album.” The album marked a shift in the group’s career as they moved from being crowd-pleasing stage performers to more studio-focused artists.Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

The album got a pretty decent reception, receiving mostly positive reviews to match its commercial success. It topped the US Billboard 200 charts for 15 weeks after release.

Sgt. Pepper review

Same Reverence as Beethoven and Brahms

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