Category Archives: The First

Lightning Strikes: The Philadelphia Experiment of Benjamin Franklin

THE FIRST PODCAST How much do you know about one of the most famous scientific experiments in American history?

In 1752 Benjamin Franklin and his son William performed a dangerous act of experimentation, conjuring one of nature’s most lethal powers from the air itself. This tale — with the kite and the key — has entered American urban legend. But it did not happen quite the way you learned about it in school. (Did you know somebody died trying to duplicate Franklin’s astonishing feat?)

In this second chapter of The Invention of Benjamin Franklin, the inventor becomes an international celebrity thanks to his clear writing style and pragmatic outlook. Not only would he change the field of electrical sciences, he would even change the English language.

PLUS: London inspires the invention of a beautiful glass instrument, capturing the music of the 18th century.

To get this episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services. Check here for other ways to get the show.

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:
LIGHTNING STRIKES: BENJAMIN FRANKLIN’S PHILADELPHIA EXPERIMENT

 

The Invention of Benjamin Franklin Part One: Franklin Gothic (1706-1748)

THE FIRST PODCAST   Benjamin Franklin did more in his first forty years than most people do in an entire lifetime. Had he not played a pivotal role in the creation of the United States of America, he still would have been considered an icon in the fields of publishing, science and urban planning.

How much do you know about Benjamin Franklin the inventor? In this podcast (the first of three parts), Greg takes a dive into his early years as a precocious young inventor and writer, a witty and determined publisher, and a great mind in search of the natural world’s great mysteries.

FEATURING: The origins of the lending library, the Franklin stove, swim fins and even kite-surfing!

To get this episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services. Check here for other ways to get the show.

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

 

In a couple murals by Charles E. Mills, Benjamin Franklin 1) working hard at the printing press and  2) oversees the opening of the Library Company of Philadelphia.

 

The New-England Courant, where Franklin wrote as a teenager under the name Silence Do-Good:

From the Massachusetts Historical Society. Not to be reproduced without permission.

 

Ben Franklin in 1746 in a painting by Robert Feke. He’s very much emulating the style of a proper English gentleman in this image. He would later shed the finery and define his more personal, unwigged style.

A large Franklin stove although they would develop into different shapes and sizes in the hands of other inventors.

A Cabinet of Curiosities Awaits You — The First: Stories of Invention

Tom and Greg are on life-changing adventures this week so no new  episode of the Bowery Boys: New York City History. But there is something awaiting you in the Bowery Boys feed this week — one very New York City-centric episode of The First: Stories of Invention, the Bowery Boys spinoff hosted by Greg Young.

With 16 episodes now released, The First has become a sort of menagerie of innovation, a set of eureka! moments within a cabinet of curiosities, a collection of stories about the history of mankind’s most interesting inventions. As there’s no Bowery Boys episode week, why not dive into The First and give a couple past episodes a try?

From the automobile to the rocket ship, from chewing gum to the TV dinner, from the first face in a photograph to the first voice on the telephone, the world has been forever changed by impossible technologies and startling ideas. But these inventions do not always make the world a better place.

These are the stories of The First, a podcast exploring the history of human innovation, focusing less on iconic inventors and more on the forgotten geniuses and everyday people that were responsible for bringing us the tools of the modern world.

Episodes you may find interesting include (from the image at top, from left to right) the invention of recorded sound; Nikola Tesla‘s experiments with wireless power; Dorothy Catherine Draper, the first woman ever photographed; the creation of robot technology; Charlie Wagner‘s tattoo magic; the incredibly true story of a cow named Blossom and first vaccine; Alexander Graham Bell and the first phone call; and the Black Crook, considered the first Broadway musical. 

How to listen to The First podcast

Listen to episodes of both of our podcasts for free in any of the following ways:

1. The most popular way to listen to the show is through iTunes either played from your desktop or your mobile device:

The First on iTunes

2. However there are a great many ways to listen! Here are a sampling of streaming and downloading sites you can try. Most of these are for iOS and Android so search around to find the player that is right for you:

Cloud Caster —  The First

Google Play —  The First

Overcast —  The First

Player FM —  The First

Pocket Casts — The First

Podbay —  The First

ShortOrange —  The First

Stitcher —  The First

As well as DoggCatcher, Podcast & Radio Addict, Podcast Republic and AntennaPod on Android. If you have Chrome, you can also use SmarterPod.

3. In addition, you can stream the show directly through Libsyn, our podcast hosting service:

The First on Libsyn

New episodes of the Bowery Boys: New York City History return on July 21. And The First comes back with brand new episodes on July 28.

 

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!

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

Or listen to it straight from here:
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.

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 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.

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:
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.

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

Or listen to it straight from here:
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.