Category Archives: The First

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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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.

 

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

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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.

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:
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.

The Cow and the Country Boy: The Story of the First Vaccine (The First)

THE FIRST PODCAST   Once upon a time there was a country doctor with a love of birds, a milkmaid with translucent skin, an eight-year-old boy with no idea what he’s in for and a wonderful cow that holds the secret to human immunity.

This is the story of the first vaccine, perhaps one of the greatest inventions in modern human history. Come listen to this remarkable story of risk and bravery which led to the eradication of one of the deadliest diseases in human history.

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:
06 THE COW AND THE COUNTRY BOY (THE FIRST VACCINE)

 

Courtesy National Library of Medicine

 

Image from page 280 of “Dr. Evans’ How to keep well;” (1917)

 

Image from page 430 of “History and pathology of vaccination” (1889)

 

BETTMANN/CORBIS

 

The First: New and Noteworthy on iTunes!

The Bowery Boys spin-off podcast series The First: Stories of Inventions and their Consequences has been featured on iTunes podcast page for the past couple weeks as a new and noteworthy selection. We thank them for their support of both The First and the Bowery Boys!

The First returns with a brand new episode this Friday, January 13. Catch up on the first five episodes by finding it on iTunes here, listening to it on Stitcher or other podcast aggregators, or downloading episodes directly from here.

And the Bowery Boys return with a brand new episode on Friday, January 20. Subscribe to both and get a new podcast episode to listen to every week!

Here’s the last episode of The First (on the Pledge of Allegiance) and of The Bowery Boys (on the Newsboys Strike of 1899).

 

 

 

The Making and Remaking of the Pledge of Allegiance

THE FIRST PODCAST   The Pledge of Allegiance feels like an American tradition that traces itself back to the Founding Fathers, but, in fact, it’s turning 125 years old in 2017. This is the story of the invention of the Pledge, a set of words that have come to embody the core values of American citizenship. And yet it began as part of a for-profit magazine promotion, written by a Christian socialist minister!

In this podcast listen to the Pledge wording evolve throughout the years and discover the curious salute that once accompanied it.

Featuring: Tom Meyers as the voice of Francis Bellamy, the inventor of the pledge!

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

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05 THE MAKING AND REMAKING OF THE PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE

Francis Bellamy, the author of the Pledge of Allegiance:

 

What the Bellamy salute used to look like

Other forms of the salute had students lift their hands palms up, not down.

San Francisco, California, 1942:  Flag of allegiance pledge at Raphael Weill Public School (Geary and Buchanan Streets). The original caption to this photo read:  “Children in families of Japanese ancestry were evacuated with their parents and will be housed for the duration in War Relocation Authority centers where facilities will be provided for them to continue their education.”

Department of the Interior. War Relocation Authority. Courtesy US National Archives

Young scouts on a hike. Photo by Roy Perry, 1940. Most people were saluting the flag in other methods than the ‘Bellamy salute’ which remained in the Flag Code until the 1940s.

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

Second graders pledge allegiance in an elementary school in Rockport, Massachusetts,  February 1973

Deborah Parks, photographer. Courtesy US National Archives

 

From the Youth’s Companion in September 1892, outlining the day’s ceremonies and the first use of the pledge.

A copy of the Youth’s Companion from 1899:

My beautiful picture

The Calling: Thomas Watson and the First Telephone (The First Podcast)

PODCAST You may know the story of Alexander Graham Bell and his world famous invention. You may know that Bell made the very first phone call. But do you know the story of the man who ANSWERED that call?

His name was Thomas Augustus Watson. He met Bell when he was just 20 years old, inventing the telephone just a couple years later.  Watson left the employment of Bell at age 27 a very rich man. What would you do with all that money? This is the story of the joyous and sometimes unusual consequences of being associated with an invention that changed the world.

Featuring: Seances, shipyards, Shakespeare, socialism and science! 

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:
04 THE CALLING: THOMAS WATSON AND THE FIRST TELEPHONE

The educational film that is featured in this week’s show.


The first telephone call was inspired, as legend goes, by Alexander Graham Bell spilling acid on his pants.

Credit: Antar Dayal Illustration Works Getty Images
Credit: Antar Dayal Illustration Works Getty Images

The voice of Thomas Watson

 

Watson in 1902

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Watson in 1930, holding the original Bell telephone

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Alexander Graham Bell in 1905

Museum of the City of New York
Museum of the City of New York

The First — Every Day is Thanksgiving: The History of the TV Dinner

03:  American eating habits were transformed in the early 20th century with innovations in freezing and refrigeration, allowing all kinds of foods to be shipped across the country and stored for long periods of time.

But it would actually be the television set that would inspire one of the strangest creations in culinary history — the TV dinner.

Inspired by airplane meals, the TV dinner originally contained the fixings of a Thanksgiving meal, thanks in part to a massive number of overstocked frozen turkeys.

The key to its success was its revolutionary heating process, allowing for all items on the tray to heat evenly. And the person responsible for this technique was a 22-year-old woman from Omaha, Nebraska named Betty Cronin, a woman later called ‘the mother of the TV dinner.’

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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Or listen to it straight from here:
03 EVERY DAY IS THANKSGIVING: THE HISTORY OF THE TV DINNER

 

Betty Cronin, from an 1989 article from the Chicago Tribune:

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Early TV Dinner advertisements including those that were featured on this weeks show:

 

 

The First Podcast: Miss Draper and the first portrait photograph

02: Dorothy Catherine Draper is a truly forgotten figure in American history. She was the first woman to ever sit for a photograph — a daguerrotype, actually, in the year 1840, upon the rooftop of the school which would become New York University..

The circumstances that got her to this position were rather unique. She was the older sister of a professor named John William Draper, and she assisted him in his success and fame even when it seemed a detriment to her. The Drapers worked alongside Samuel Morse in the period following his invention of the telegraph.

The legendary portrait was taken when Miss Draper was a young woman but a renewed interest in the image in the 1890s brought the now elderly matron a bit of late-in-life recognition.

FEATURING Tales from the earliest days of photography and walk through Green-Wood Cemetery!

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:
02 MISS DRAPER: THE FIRST WOMAN PHOTOGRAPHED

Dorothy Catherine Draper in the first portrait photograph ever taken and the first photograph of a female face.

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Draper in the 1890s, in a photograph taken by her nephew.

Courtesy MCNY
Courtesy MCNY

 

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The observatory attached to the Draper house in Hastings-on-Hudson.

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John William Draper

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Samuel Morse from an image taken of him in Paris.

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