Category: american history

The St. Petersburg–Tampa Airboat Line, which w…

The St. Petersburg–Tampa Airboat Line, which was founded in 1913, is considered the world’s first commercial airline to offer scheduled flights. The airline offered regular flights from St. Petersburg, Florida to Tampa, Florida. It used a two-seat airboat called the Lark of Duluth which flew just 1.5 meters (5 feet) above the water. It was a glorified commuter’s ferry.

The St. Petersburg–Tampa Airboat Line was a success because it made the 29-kilometer (18 mi) flight in just 23 minutes. At the time, steamships covered that distance in two hours, trains in 4–12 hours, and cars in 20 hours. Passengers paid $5 (or about $129 in today’s money) to save 1.5 hours in travel. The airboat service, unfortunately, lasted just a year before closing.

Thanks to a small stick with two cactus needle…

Thanks to a small stick with two cactus needles on its end, we know that Native Americans in the southwest USA were tattooing each other as early as 2,000 years ago. Which is much, much earlier than previously believed. The artifact in question is made of a sumac twig handle, two small prickly pear cactus spines, and yucca-leaf trips to hold the spines on the handle.

If you look closely you can see that the tips of the needles are stained with a black pigment. Analyses show the pigment matches the proper depth to pierce and stain the epidermis. This was not a first, fumbling attempt but a workable tool, one that was used before it was eventually thrown away.

The artifact comes from a midden heap at the Turkey Pen site near Bear Ears National Monument, which was occupied by the Ancestral Puebloan civilization from roughly 50 BCE to 200 CE. It is the first evidence that the Ancestral Puebloan peoples practiced tattooing.

Elsewhere in the world, the rise of tattooing is associated with agriculture and increases in population. Ancestral Puebloans were undergoing just such a population increase when the tool was made. Archaeologists on the project speculated, therefore, that community members’ tattoos may have strengthened a sense of social identity, as the world quickly changed around them.

The Fosbury Flop

A little dramatization of how one high school track team walk-on changed the high jump forever.

The Great Diamond Hoax

Inspired by the 1870 diamond rush in South Africa, the Kentucky-born cousins Philip Arnold and John Slack came up with a plot to “find” a diamond mine in the United States. They settled on the frontier territory of Colorado. So later in 1870s, Philip and John tried to deposit a bag of uncut diamonds at a San Francisco bank. But upon questioning, they quickly left.

The director of the bank, William Ralston, heard about this. And he got exactly the idea the cousins wanted him to get: Ralston decided to buy the “diamond mine” that must have produced those uncut diamonds. To help convince Ralston, the cousins salted (placed diamonds inside) a Colorado mine, then pretended to dig the diamonds up.

Convinced by their trickery, Ralston founded the New York Mining and Commercial Company and invested $600,000 in the cousins. This company was comprised of prominent individuals such as the founder of Tiffany & Co., a former commander of the Union Army, and a US Representative. In total, New York Mining Commercial Company ended up selling stock totaling $10 million. And diamond fever spread, too. Convinced that the American West must have many other major deposits of diamonds, at least 25 other diamond exploration companies formed in the subsequent months.

In 1872, things fell apart. A new-to-the-scene geologist Clarence King began to investigate, first finding the secret mine, then going through its deposits. King noticed that the seemingly random layout of diamonds and rubies was too neat to be natural. Plus, the jewels were only found in areas where the ground had previously been dug. No diamonds or rubies were found in untouched parts of the mine. Those two factors, put together, were enough to convince King that he had uncovered a hoax.

Apparently the cousins could not buy King off, because on November 26, 1872, The San Francisco Chronicle published a letter from King, explaining his findings. King became the first director of the United States Geological Survey thanks to his part in uncovering the hoax, so things turned out well for him.

But Ralston was only able to return $80,000 to each investor in the company, and the cousins disappeared with the $600,000 down payment the company had paid for the mine. Arnold lived out the few remaining years of his life in luxury in Kentucky before dying of pneumonia in 1878. Slack apparently squandered his share of the money, for he was last reported working as a coffin maker in New Mexico.

The Failed Periodic Tables of Chemistry

On May 15th, 1976 this photograph was taken by…

On May 15th, 1976 this photograph was taken by Robin Hood. It shows Vietnam War veteran Eddie Robinson, sitting in his wheelchair with his son on his lap, watching the Chattanooga Armed Forces Day Parade. The Vietnam War had ended almost exactly 1 year earlier.

The photograph won the Pulitzer Prize for photography in 1977.


The first automated car wash was – where else – in Detroit. It opened in 1914 with the imaginative name of “Automated Laundry.“ It was a luxury service for a luxury good, because the process took all day! The car had to be pushed, by hand, through brash wash components. It was not until the 1950s that the conveyor belt was added.


Aftershocks from Hawaii Island’s largest earthquake, in 1868, continue to the present day.

It was estimated to be a 7.9 on the Richter scale and the earthquake and resulting tsunami caused 77 deaths.

Both British and American sailors have worn be…

Both British and American sailors have worn bell-bottom trousers. Named for the wide flare at the bottom, they were introduced in Britain in 1857, with the justification that it allowed men in the water to kick them off over their boots. 

Although its unclear when the US navy introduced them, they were first recorded as being worn by US sailors in 1813. The American justification for the weird pants was that they could be easily rolled up and kept dry when sailors scrubbed the decks.

By the way, picture is from the World War II hit song, “Bell Bottom Trousers.”

In 1995, the Latina pop superstar Selena, just…

In 1995, the Latina pop superstar Selena, just twenty-three years old, was murdered. The same year Warner Brothers and the Quintanilla family began production of a biopic about Selena’s life. Over 21,000 people auditioned for the title role, making it the second-largest audition since the search for Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind in 1938.

Salma Hayek was eventually offered the role in 1995, but turned it down, because she said she felt it was “too early” to base a movie on Selena and that it would be emotional because Selena’s death was still being covered on U.S. television. Jennifer Lopez was then cast in the starring role. The film, released in 1997, was a critical and box-office success.