The “Daily Drift” on January 3, 1904

I have used newspapers and census records for family history research for a while, but haven’t used it for regular history research. I’ve started to do this now partly due to inspiration from one of my favorite blogs, Strange Company. In it, Undine (@HorribleSanity on twitter) uses newspaper articles and historical records to find some of the most fascinating stories and often mysteries. You should check it out, each week she has a story, a newspaper clipping, and a link dump of interesting posts.

In the mean time, here’s a newspaper clipping from the Nebraska State Journal on January 8, 1901, in what appears to be a regular feature called the “Daily Drift.” It comments on Nebraska weather, “looks like a short ice crop” this year, gives advice to a local man, mentions the “restoration” of a dead lobster, and comments on state politics.

There are two items which I found particularly interesting. One on Carry Nation, who I was researching at the time, and the other about the editor’s (I assume) opinion on women’s suffrage.

Nebraska State Journal article from Jan 8, 1901
Nebraska State Journal article from Jan 8, 1901

Carry Nation’s Motivations

“Mrs. Carrie Nation of Wichita justifies her recent act of destroying saloon furniture and fixtures by pointing to the sad fact that her first husband was much given to strong drink and died of delirium tremens instead of dying for her. She is not taking the most effective course that might be pursued in effecting the world’s salvation, but it may be worth something to her to know she is known.”

Carrie Nation had several motivations including a call from God and her hope to save women and children from the results of having alcoholic husbands and fathers.

But, yes she did marry Dr. Charles Gloyd, an alcoholic, who died just six months after Carrie gave birth to their daughter, in September of 1868. They had only been married since November 1867. For the rest of her life, Carrie also took care of Gloyd’s mother, Nancy.

Women’s Suffrage

“Man and woman are one and, politically, it seems to have been decreed that man is that one. You cannot change the eternal order of things without endangering the stability of social order, which is why our stentorian voice is raised against the proposition of giving women the elective franchise. If they needed it it would be different, but they do not. Let us therefore protect the republic by saving woman from herself.”

Do you really need to be told what I think of this as a 21st century woman? I’m sure you don’t, but one thing I do find interesting is that it’s not a big protest statement, but a statement of what the author seems to think is just common sense.


These items are interesting, but not particularly unexpected. There are a couple of other things here that I might have to investigate though, including the “restoration to life of a dead lobster” and the deadly Christmas carol of Major Langford.

The Pullman Strike

American Railway Union members confronting the Illinois National Guard in Chicago, 1894 (source)
American Railway Union members confronting the Illinois National Guard in Chicago, 1894 (source)

The Pullman Strike began May 11, 1894 when approximately 4000 factory employees of the Pullman Company went on strike in response to a reduction in wages. Many of the employees lived in the Pullman company town. When Pullman laid off workers and reduced wages, they did not reduce the rent in the town.

Eugene Debs brought in the American Railway Union, an organization for unskilled railroad workers, to sign up non-union employees. However, the Pullman company refused to recognize the ARU for negotiations. The ARU called for a boycott of all trains carrying Pullman cars, affecting rail lines west of Detroit, and involving close to 250,000 workers in 27 states.

After the strikers refused to end the strike in response to an injunction filed by the federal government, President Grover Cleveland sent in the Army to prevent obstruction of trains. Violence resulted in 30 deaths, 57 injuries, and up to $80 million in property damages. Debs was convicted of violating a court order and sentenced to prison.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, front page of The New York World on March 6, 1911
Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, front page of The New York World on March 6, 1911 (source)

On March 25, 1911, fire broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory which occupied the 8th, 9th, and 10th floors of the Asch Building in New York City. It took the lives of 146 people who couldn’t escape. Those who didn’t jump to escape the flames died of the fire or smoke inhalation. They ranged in age from 14 to 43 and were mostly immigrant working women. Many of them had taken part in the garment workers strike of the previous year, but the management of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory had refused to allow the unions into their shop.

The fire began on the 8th floor and an employee was able to warn the owners on the 10th floor via telephone, but there was no fire alarm in the building and no way to warn people on the 9th floor. By the time they realized the situation, the fire had already reached them. People escaped through the two freight elevators while they continued to operate, but the stairways leading from the building were blocked, one by the fire and the other by a locked door. Many people fell to their deaths when the fire escape pulled away from the building or when they jumped rather than burn to death. Although the fire department arrived quickly after being notified by a bystander, their ladders didn’t reach beyond the 6th floor.

In response to the tradegy, a Committee on Public Safety was formed, led by Frances Perkins, the Factory Investigating Commission created by the New York State Legislature, and the American society of Safety Enginners. Legislation followed to mandate improved labor laws, fireproofing, building access, as well as alarm systems, fire extinguishers and sprinklers. Over all, sixty new laws were put into place making New York “one of the most progressive states in terms of labor reform.”

Victims of the fire, George Grantham Bain collection, LOC (source)
Victims of the fire, George Grantham Bain collection, LOC (source)

Triangle Fire: An American Experience documentary

Glenn Curtiss Sells First Airplane in the United States

Curtiss at Grande Semaine d'Aviation in France in 1909
Curtiss at Grande Semaine d’Aviation in France in 1909

On June 16, 1909, Glenn Curtiss sold the first airplane in the US, the “Golden Flyer”, for $5,000 to the New York Aeronautic Society. He had other “firsts” to his name as well: first officially witnessed flight, first long-distance flight in the US, and he won at the world’s first international air meet in France. But, unlike the Wright brothers, he didn’t start out wanting to work with airplanes.

Glenn Curtiss (1878-1930) started out as a bicycle messenger for Western Union. He began racing bicycles, opened his own shop and eventually became interested in motorcycles. Glenn was good with machines and manufactured his first motorcycle in 1902. Riding the motorcycle himself, the next year he set a land speed record, 64 miles per hour for one mile.

He even set an unofficial world speed record in 1907 on a 40 horsepower, V8-engine motorcycle that he had designed and built. Called “Hell Rider” Curtiss and dubbed “the fastest man in the world” by the newspapers, his record wasn’t beaten until 1930.

Curtiss on his V8-engine motorcycle (Originally published in the February 1907 issue of The Motorcycle Illustrated)
Curtiss on his V8-engine motorcycle (Originally published in the February 1907 issue of The Motorcycle Illustrated)

Curtiss was invited to join the Aerial Experiment Association, founded by Alexander Graham Bell in 1908. Over several years, they produced four aircraft. The third, called “June Bug”, was the plane Curtiss flew on July 4, 1908 to win a Scientific American Trophy and $2,500. This was the first pre-announced flight of a “heavier-than-air” machine in the US.

Also in 1908, he was issued the first license by the Aero Club of America, but only because they were given in alphabetical order. (Orville Wright received license #5.)

Curtiss flying the "June Bug" on July 4, 1908 (Photo courtesy Library of Congress)
Curtiss flying the “June Bug” on July 4, 1908 (Photo courtesy Library of Congress)

The first long-distance flight between Albany, NY and New York City occurred on May 29, 1910 and came with a $10,000 prize from Joseph Pulitzer. Curtiss also gave a simulated bombing demonstration to the Navy around this time. He continued to work with the US Navy developing ways to use aircraft, training the first Naval Aviator, Lt. Theodore Ellyson, as well as developing and flying the first seaplane.

His company, The Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company, was very successful with large government contracts during WWI. But after the war ended, the contracts dried up and the company was reorganized. In 1920, Curtiss cashed out his stock for $32 million and retired to Florida. He continued establishing corporations and stayed involved in civic groups and activities until his death. In 1930, on a trip to New York, he became ill with appendicitis. He died from complications after his appendectomy. He was buried in the family plot in Hammondsport, New York.

The first pilot's license issued in the US was to Curtiss.
The first pilot’s license issued in the US was to Curtiss.

Famous Daily: First Airplane Sold
Wikipedia: Glenn Curtiss

The American Plague – A Review

The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, the Epidemic that Shaped Our HistoryThe American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, the Epidemic that Shaped Our History by Molly Caldwell Crosby

I debated between a 3 and 4 rating for this book and in all fairness, I must tell you that one of my favorite non-fiction books is The Great Influenza by John Barry. The American Plague doesn’t meet that standard, but it is still worth reading. It’s quick and an easy read and the history is excellent. The science is where it falls short.

The book is divided into 4 sections. Part 1 is very short and primarily explains how the yellow fever virus gets to the western hemisphere. Part 2 tells the story of the 1878 yellow fever epidemic in Memphis, TN, describing how it drastically changed the city. Part 3 takes you to Cuba in 1900 where experiments, led primarily by Walter Reed, prove that the mosquito Aedes aegypti transmits the disease. And Part 4 takes us back to Africa and the discovery that the disease is caused by a virus.

In parts 2 and 3, Crosby’s research is obviously excellent. She lays a foundation for understanding what Memphis was like before the epidemic and how it was changed. You get a sense of the fear that the words “yellow fever” created in the population, and her descriptions of the disease let you know why people were afraid. She also introduces us to people who might have been forgotten, but shouldn’t be because of the sacrifices they made for other people. She obviously cares about telling their stories.

Crosby’s telling of the story of Walter Reed and the others in Cuba is very similar. I was familiar with Walter Reed’s name of course, but couldn’t have told you why he was important, and that is a shame because he made a tremendous contribution to science. Yellow fever is a terrifying disease. But Reed wasn’t the only one responsible and she tells their stories also.

As I said the only area where I feel the book falls short is in the discussion of the science, primarily in Part 4. There were times where Crosby’s literary flourishes were annoying earlier in the book, but they were just out of place when discussing science. For example, “It seems only natural that a virus should fight for its own survival, and yellow fever had been hunting down and killing the scientists attempting to destroy it.” Or “The scientist becomes God and the virus his subject. The danger comes in the fact that a virus, ever mindful of evolution and its survival, has its own methods of defense. If man can manipulate the virus, the virus can manipulate man.” (emphasis mine) Personally, assigning human motivations to a virus bothers me.

There were also times when it seemed that she just wasn’t very comfortable with the science and rushed it. Writing about science for laypeople isn’t easy and Crosby missed the mark in my opinion. That being said I did enjoy the book and would recommend it especially if what you are looking for is a good history book about the impact of yellow fever on the United States.

View all my reviews