Category Archives: The First

The Secret History of Soft Drinks: A Tale in Four Flavors

THE FIRST PODCAST There is something very, very bizarre about a can of soda. 

How did this sugary, bubbly beverage – dark brown, or neon orange, or grape, or whatever color Mountain Dew is – how did THIS become such an influential force in American culture?

This is the strange and inconceivable story of how the modern soft drink was created. It’s a story in four parts —

1) At the start of the 19th century, two dueling soda fountains in lower Manhattan would set the stage for a century of mass consumption.

2) Soft drinks weren’t just tasty. For over a century, many believed they could provide a litany of cures to some of man’s most vexing ills. It’s from this snake-oil salesmanship that we get many of today’s top soft-drink brands.

3) Coca-Cola may pride itself on its ‘secret formula’, but in fact that formula has frequently changed since the 1880s, when a Confederate war veteran first invented this magical brew mixing three exotic ingredients — cocaine, wine and kola nut.

4) Soft drinks have professed to relieve many physical ills. By the 1950s they even attempted to promote weight loss. But the rise of diet drinks sparked a marketing war with manufacturers of one of their most reliable (and delicious) ingredients.

To get this episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services.

Subscribe to The First here so that you don’t miss future episodes!

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio from your mobile device.

Or listen to it straight from here:
THE SECRET HISTORY OF SOFT DRINKS: A TALE IN FOUR FLAVORS

Joseph Priestley’s mechanism for artificially carbonating water.

For many decades Moxie advertisements featured a medical professional as the defining image of their product.

Dr. Pepper once proudly advertised that it was free from caffeine. This ad is from the 1910s in the wake of Coca-Cola’s battles with the federal government over caffeine.

Dr Pepper Museum

Picture at top is a detail from this great shot from Shorpy, circa 1920, of the People’s Drug Store, 14th & U Streets, in Washington D.C.

The inspiration for Coca-Cola — coca wine from coca leaves.

Internet Archive Book Images

In the 1890s there were reportedly more soda fountains than there were taverns in New York City. Below — a later fountain stocked with sodas in Staten Island

This unsuccessful campaign tried to convince people that hot soft drinks were also a taste treat.

Advertisements used on this week’s show:

A Coca-Cola advertisement from Australia!

 

 

 

The Devil and the First Broadway Musical (“The Black Crook”)

THE FIRST PODCAST The Black Crook is considered the first-ever Broadway musical, a dizzying, epic-length extravaganza of ballerinas, mechanical sets, lavish costumes and a storyline about the Devil straight out of a twisted hallucination.

The show took New York by storm when it debuted on September 12, 1866. This is the story of how this completely weird, virtually unstageable production came to pass. Modern musicals like Phantom of the Opera, Wicked, and Hamilton wouldn’t quite be what they are today without this curious little relic.

WARNING: You may leave this show humming a little tune called “You Naughty, Naughty Men.”

Featuring music by Adam Roberts and Libby Dees, courtesy the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

And the voice of Ben Rimalower reading the original reviews of the Black Crook

To get this episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services.

Subscribe to The First here so that you don’t miss future episodes!

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio from your mobile device.

Or listen to it straight from here:
THE DEVIL AND THE FIRST BROADWAY MUSICAL

With grateful thanks to Doug Reside whose online resources have been most invaluable with my research.

For more information, there’s an entire Bowery Boys podcast on the history of Niblo’s Garden:

The actress and dancer Pauline Markham, performing as Stalacta, Queen of the Golden Realm

NYPL

“Celebrated dancer and composer, David Costa, wearing tights, trunks, shirt and long cape with a satin sheen, and a crown on his head featuring horns. He has one foot on the seat of a round-seat chair with heavy fringe, his thigh resting on the back of the chair as he rests his elbow on his knee and his chin on his hand.”

La Biche au Bois from which sprung the Black Crook

From an 1867 book of songs from the Black Crook (although many of the songs were likely never in the show!)

NYPL

 

Versions of the show popped up across the country in almost every major city. There was no real consistency aside from Barras’ story.

NYPL

Thomas Baker wrote many of the songs in The Black Crook. He was also a song writer for Laura Keene whose show The Seven Sisters is sometimes noted as an early proto-musical.

NYPL

Each number was so elaborate that it would take several minutes to move scenery and get the cast into new costumes. This was one of the key reasons the show had so many unrelated songs which were sung as scenes were shifted.

NYPL
Operetta Research Center

 

Illustrations from Charles Barras novel The Black Crook: A Most Wonderful History, published in 1866

 

 

The audio of Leonard Bernstein was taken from this episode of Omnibus:

“You Naughty, Naughty Men” performed by Adam Roberts and Libby Dees

“Les Grelots d’amour” performed by Adam Roberts

Some intrepid theater folk brought back a version of The Black Crook and performed it last year at Abrons Arts Center. Hopefully they will remount the show in the future!

The Bowery Wizards: A History of 19th Century Tattooing in New York

PODCAST The history of tattooing in the late 19th century and the invention of a mechanical device still used in tattoo parlors around the world.

The art of tattooing is as old as written language but it would require the contributions of a few 19th century New York tattoo artists — and a young inventor with no tattoos whatsoever — to take this ancient art to the next level.

The first documented tattoo parlor (or atelier) in the United States was a small second-floor place near the East River waterfront and close to the site of the Brooklyn Bridge. But as more sailors and seamen — the principal customers for tattoo purveyors — came to New York, more would-be tattoo artists opened shops. By the 1880s, there were a great number of professional tattooists, scattered along the waterfront and up along the Bowery.

This is also the story of the electric tattoo machine, how it was first perfected in tiny tattoo parlors underneath a New York elevated train and how this relatively simple device changed the face of body art forever.

To get this episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services.

Subscribe to The First here so that you don’t miss future episodes!

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THE BOWERY WIZARDS: A HISTORY OF 19th CENTURY TATTOOING

 

“The Tattooing Fad Has Reached New York” — In fact tattoo artists had been in New York for over three decades by this time.

 

Bodies of Subversion/Powerhouse Books

 

Charles’ brother Stephen was a sideshow performer and a tattoo artist himself.

A tattoo parlor from the 1950s

Courtesy MCNY

 

Daredevil Tattoo, at 141 Division St in Manhattan, has a mini tattoo museum with artifacts mentioned in the show. Check them out!

The First Song Ever Recorded (Was Never Meant To Be Played Back)

THE FIRST PODCAST Imagine if we could hear the voices of Abraham Lincoln, Queen Victoria or Harriet Tubman?

Believe it or not, somebody was making audio recordings as far back as the 1850s. Had these techniques been widespread, we might have had the words of those famous people preserved, as well as recordings from the Civil War, the Crimean War and other tumultuous events.

The only catch — Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, the inventor of this audio recording process, never meant for his recordings to be played back! And yet today, thanks to modern technology, we can hear his work from the 1850s for the very first time.

This is the story of the first audio recordings ever made and the oldest song recording to ever be heard today, thanks to an intrepid group of tech-savvy historians.

This important musical piece may not sound like much — in fact, it sounds downright creepy! — but it marks the beginning of music as a cultural force. One that can be replicated, replayed and enjoyed by those who were not in the room when it was first made.

To get this episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services.

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THE FIRST SONG EVER RECORDED

Big thanks to First Sounds, the organization which helped bring the audio of Scott de Martinville to life. They have also generously offered their work for all to listen to on their website.

 

(Edouard) Leon Scott de Martinville’s invention went through several iterations. The image below illustrates one version from 1857. Tuning fork vibrated by bow or iron rod, and vibration traced on cylinder coated with lampblack (carbon). Engraving, 1872 (Photo by Universal History Archive/Getty Images)

A later version of the so-called phonautograph

 

The inventor himself Edouard Leon Scott de Martinsville. Also the singer of the first song!

From Scientific American 1877 — an illustration of what the inventor hoped to achieve with his device. The noted vibrations could be translated into words. Thus the first audio recording device was really a dictation of machine of sorts.

 

This is what First Sounds technicians were working with — a page from the inventor’s phonautograph. The vibrations proved too small to work with the human eye but a computer could identify the detailed ridges much more effectively.

Josephine Cochrane and her Dazzling Dish-Washing Machine

THE FIRST PODCAST Of the tens of thousands of U.S. patents granted in the 19th century, only a small fraction were held by women. One of those women — Josephine Cochrane — would change the world by solving a simple household problem.

While throwing lavish dinner parties in her gracious home in Shelbyville, Illinois, Cochrane noticed that her fine china was being damaged while being washed. Certainly there was a better way of doing the dishes?

Cochrane’s extraordinary adventure would lead to places few women are allowed — into gritty mechanical workshops and the exclusive corridors of big business. Nobody could believe a woman responsible for such a sophisticated mechanical device.

In her own words: “I couldn’t get men to do the things I wanted in my way until they had tried and failed on their own.  They insisted on having their own way with my invention until they convinced themselves that my way was the better.”

FEATURING: The voice of Beckett Graham from the History Chicks podcast, portraying the actual quotes of Mrs. Cochrane (or shouldn’t that be Cochran)?

To get this episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services.

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JOSEPHINE AND THE DISH-WASHING MACHINE

 

“The Garis-Cochran Dish Washing Machine having been in competition with both foreign and home inventions at the World’s Fair received a diploma and medal for best mechanical construction, durability and adaptation to its line of work and unrivaled for quantity and quality of work.”

Mrs. Cochrane in her later years:

 

Nikola Tesla and the Wireless World: The Invention of Remote Control

THE FIRST: STORIES OF INVENTIONS AND THEIR CONSEQUENCES  The Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla is known as one of the fathers of electricity, the curious genius behind alternating current (AC), the victor in the so-called War of the Currents. But in this episode of The First, starting in the year 1893, Tesla begins conceiving an even grander scheme — the usage of electromagnetic waves to distribute power.

Today we benefit from the electromagnetic spectrum in a variety of ways — Wi-Fi, X-rays, radio, satellites. One of the roads to these inventions begins with Tesla and his experiments with remote control, using radio waves to operate a mechanical object.

But you may be surprised to discover Tesla’s initial application of remote control. Far from inventing an children’s toy, Tesla’s remote controlled device would be used as a weapon of war.

To get this episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services.

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11 NIKOLA TESLA AND THE WIRELESS WORLD

 

Below — A sampling of newspaper headlines involving Nikola Tesla, specifically from the mid and late 1890s (when he first began thinking and experimenting with wireless) and one from 1901.

 

HE LIVES ON ELECTRICITY

Nikola Tesla Acts Like a Broken-Hearted Man, and Hasn’t a Definite Opinion Upon Anything

Electricity is Nikola Tesla’s life. Without it he is as miserable as Paul Verlaine and his absinthe stomach would be in a Maine temperance town.

July 18, 1895, The Morning News (Wilmington, Delaware)

 

DEATH LURKS IN LIVE WIRES

A Famous Electrician Discusses a Vital Topic

CHIEF POINTS OF PERIL

Nikola Tesla Tells the Non-Expert How to Avoid Dangers — Metallic Paint is a Conductor — Scienties Seeking to Save Life

August 5, 1898, Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York)

 

TO USE THE EARTH’S FORCE

Nikola Tesla’s Amazing Plan to Harness Free Currents

March 15, 1896, St. Louis Post Dispatch (St. Louis, Missouri)

THE FUTURE BATH

Nikola Tesla has invented a way of cleaning the skin

Electricity a Substitute for Soap and Suds — Before and After Pictures — What He Calls the Busy Man’s Bath — More Invigorating Than Hot Water

October 25, 1898, The Plain Speaker (Hazleton, Pennsylvania)

 

TESLA’S SHIP DESTROYER

Invention for Directing Movements of Torpedo-Boats, Etc.

Electrical Device for Controlling Speed, Direction and Explosive Power at Any Distance Through Natural Media of Space

November 8, 1898, The Indianapolis News (Indianapolis, Indiana)

 

NAVAL WARFARE TO BE REVOLUTIONIZED

Wizard Tesla’s Brain Has Given Birth to a Device That Will Sweep the Seas of Battleships

ELECTRICAL CURRENT SENT THROUGH SPACE

November 8, 1898, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, Missouri)

 

 

NIKOLA TESLA’S LATEST INVENTION

“We have recently been informed by the public press in flamboyant rhetoric that Nikola Tesla has devised a boat which is destined to revolutionize the art of warfare.”

Scientific American, November 19, 1898

 

THAT MESSAGE FROM MARS

Scientific American, January 19, 1901

The Big Story Of Old Bet, America’s First Circus Elephant

PODCAST Before the American circus existed, animal menageries travelled the land, sometimes populated with exotic creatures. This is the story of the perhaps the most extraordinary wandering menagerie of all.

This year marks the end to the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus and, with it, the end of the traditional American circus. Once at the core of the American circus was the performing elephant. Today we understand that such captivity is no place for an endangered beast but, for much of this country’s history, circus elephants were one of the centerpieces of live entertainment.

This is the tale of the first two elephants to ever arrive in the United States. The first came by ship in 1796, an Indian elephant whose unusual appearance in the cattle pens at a popular local tavern would inspire one farmer to seek another one out for himself.

Her name was Old Bet, a young African elephant at the heart of all American circus mythology. She appeared in traveling menageries, equestrian circuses and even theatrical productions, long before humans really understood the nature of these sophisticated animals.

Find out how her strange, eventful and tragic life helped inspire the invention of American spectacle and how her memory lives on today in one town in Upstate New York.

To get this episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services.

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10 THE BIG STORY OF OLD BET: THE FIRST CIRCUS ELEPHANT

 

 

 

The circus comes to town: The banner on the elephant says Old Bet was “the first elephant to tread American soil.” In fact she was most likely the second.

 

The Bull’s Head Tavern on the Bowery. Recently a building excavation discovered the foundations of the Bull’s Head. Read all about it here.

Some images from the Somers Historical Society and their marvelous museum to the early American circus.

Chains which purportedly bound Old Bet.

Old Bet’s collar, which she wore from town to town.

At the right is Old Bet’s buckle.

 

Unimate and the Rise of the Robots (The First Podcast)

THE FIRST PODCAST This is the history of the future.

Robots conjure up thoughts of distant technological landscapes and even apocalyptic scenarios, but the truth is, robots are a very old creation, tracing back to the ancient world.

We can thank science fiction writers for inventing new serious ideas about robots, automatons previously relegated as mere amusement. But they remained an unimaginable concept — rendered in a corny, campy fashion in the 1940s and 50s — until the development of computing and cybernetics.

In 1961 the first industrial robot named Unimate not only changed the automobile industry, but it opened the door for the vast, realistic possibilities of robotics in our everyday lives.

To get this episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services.

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Or listen to it straight from here:
09 UNIMATE AND THE RISE OF THE ROBOTS

A scene from Karel Capek’s 1921 play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots)

Electro the Robot with his companion Sparko the Dog.

George Devol and Joseph Engelberger, enjoying a cocktail served by their invention.

The Estate of George Duvol

 

This is Unimate, the robot which changed automation.

Audio from these clips was featured on this week’s show:

And other videos relating to this topic that you might enjoy:

Another promotional video about Unimate:

The introduction of Robbie the Robot, a popular character in the 1950s and 60s:

Another goofy robot from the 1950s

Robots can help you do household chores!

The most famous robots from television are probably the Daleks from Dr. Who.

 

 

The Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Revolution: The Story of the First Bikini

THE FIRST PODCAST In 1907, the professional swimmer Annette Kellerman was arrested on a Massachusetts beach for wearing a revealing bathing suit — a skin-tight black ensemble which covered most of her body.

Less than forty years later, in 1946, the owner of a Parisian lingerie shop named Louis Réard invented the bikini, perhaps the smallest amount of fabric to ever change the world, courtesy Micheline Bernardini, the young woman who debuted this scandalous outfit.

In this podcast, I’ll tell you what happened to change people’s perception of public decency in those forty years and explain how the bikini represents the best — and the worst — instincts of modern American culture.

To get this episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services.

Subscribe to The First here so that you don’t miss future episodes!

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio from your mobile device.

Or listen to it straight from here:
08 THE ITSY BITSY TEENY WEENY REVOLUTION: THE STORY OF THE FIRST BIKINI

Images from the show:

The bizarre contraption known as the bathing machine:

Courtesy Messy Nessy Chic

 

The glorious Annette Kellerman in one of her swimming outfits

Courtesy Library of Congress

 

Women in Chicago being arrested for indecent exposure in 1922

Jean Harlow in a stylish bathing suit from the 1930s.

 

Coco Chanel, with the Duke of Westminster, most certainly honing her suntan.

The world’s most famous pin-up — Betty Grable in a bathing suit

The song from this episode was Grable singing “You’re My Little Pin-Up Girl”:

The Parisian fashion designer Louis Reard who brought the world the bikini

 

Reard with women wearing his invention:

 

Video of the bikini’s first appearance — as well as the smashing debut of the Parisian beauty Micheline Bernardini:

 

Bernardini with her bikini — and her match box!

 

Ladies in beautiful bikinis on Coney Island 1965:

(Dan Farrell/New York Daily News

 

That picture and this one (also courtesy New York Daily News) are part of a terrific layout of vintage bathing suits. Check it out.

This Morbid Invention: The Terrible Story of the First Electric Chair

THE FIRST PODCAST The story of how electricity became a tool of death for the state of New York and the strange circumstances behind the invention of the electric chair.

The harnessing of electricity by the great inventors of the Gilded Age introduced the world to the miracle of light at all hours of the day. But exposure to electricity’s raw power was dangerous to man.  Awful deaths of men on electrical wires terrified New Yorkers. A few thought this might be useful in the employment of the state’s darkest responsibilities — capital punishment.

This is the story of the first electric chair, the peculiar rivalry which helped create it — an epic feud between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, between DC and AC — and its fateful effects upon the life and punishment upon a man named William Kemmler, the first to be killed in this morbid seat.

To get this episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services.

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You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio from your mobile device.

Or listen to it straight from here:
07 THE MORBID INVENTION: THE STORY OF THE FIRST ELECTRIC CHAIR

 

The horrors of the modern world — New York electrician John Feeks is killed on the electrical wires as hundreds watched.

1891 book Physique Populaire by Emile Desbeaux, drawn by D. Dumon.

 

Harold Pitney Brown, who secretly assisted in diminishing the reputation of alternating current (AC) power on behalf of Edison, who was promoting direct current (DC).

 

Brown’s bizarre and cruel experiments — proving the dangers of AC — involved killing animals by electrocution. One such experiment at Edison’s lab in New Jersey slaughtered calves and horses to demonstrate his theories. 

The mechanism of the first electric chair at Auburn Prison. You can see some of these components in the photo below.

 

A picture of the notorious first electric chair, used in the execution of William Kemmler

 

An illustration from Scientific American, June 30 1888, showing an ‘ideal’ depiction of electric-chair functioning.

An illustration (not very accurate) of the execution of William Kemmler.