Fist Of History

August, 2014Archive for

Friday Cartoons and Old Ads

Friday, August 29th, 2014


Source:  Life Magazine, 1902


Source:  Life Magazine, 1902


Source:  Life Magazine, 1887

Note – gender specific gifts are older rooted than some think, but not that much older


Source:  Life Magazine, 1901


Source:  Life Magazine, 1902

Note – now this one has a bit going on and I thought a longer note was useful.  I believe the eagle in this shot is wearing a Liberty Cap, a symbol semi-stolen from the French Revolution and a mark of the difference between the United States and Imperial Germany.  This stems off a major German push beginning in 1898 in the increased construction of German naval power, with a stated goal of matching the British navy in strength by 1915.  (Germany fell short of the mark.)  At the time the United States was a lesser naval power and Congress responded to the increasing naval actions of Germany by ordering its own series of fleet strength increases – mainly thanks to Teddy Roosevelt and his deep love for naval power and interest in intervening in the Caribbean.

World War II and Hersheys Chocolate

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014


World War II was a time of considerable logistical challenges, the United States had to develop entirely new methods of meeting the fuel, ammunition, clothing, and food needs for a larger field army than it had ever previously assembled as well as finding enough additional capacity in the economy to provide military supplies for its own Navy, Air Force, and the military forces of most of the other nations engaged in hostilities.  One of the challenges that the U.S. military in particular wanted to address was how to turn chocolate bars, produced by the Hershey corporation, from simply a dessert item into a special emergency food ration that could meet a soldiers daily caloric needs.  The U.S. military in the late 1930s anticipated a major conflict was coming and many of its branches began some quiet planning in anticipation of the conflict.  This pre-planning led to a key meeting in 1937 between Captain Paul Logan (U.S. Army Quartermaster General’s office), William Murrie (President, Hershey Foods Corporation), and Sam Hinkle (Chief Chemist, Hershey Foods Corporation.)  A series of specifications were developed for this new food, specifically:

  • The chocolate bar emergency ration must weigh a maximum of four (4) ounces
  • The chocolate bar emergency ration must have a high caloric value
  • The chocolate bar emergency ration must be able to withstand high temperatures
  • The chocolate bar emergency ration must have no more flavor than “a boiled potato”

The last requirement was considered absolutely vital so that the soldiers did not actually eat the emergency ration as a treat but instead saved it until they were ordered to consume it.  Hershey’s was proud to assist the U.S. Army in its planning and successfully developed this product, from a combination of:  chocolate liquor, sugar, skim milk powder, cocoa butter, oat flour, vanillin (an extract of the vanilla plant.)  Testing showed the product in its initial configuration met the first three requirements but not the last, so Hinkle kept cutting the sugar and replacing it with oat powder until the right lack of flavor was achieved.


The creation was listed as the D Ration Bar.  Hershey produced a limited stockpile of them for the Army and with the outbreak of war in 1941 the U.S. Army ordered a vastly expanded amount of these ration bars along with issuing extremely detailed instructions on how to package the rations against possible gas attack.  (Very detailed, it involved special wrapping, sealing, and shipping rules.)  This wonder of food could be used in almost any climate in the world, provided 600 calories per 4 ounce bar, and soldiers could eat three of them a day to meet their minimum caloric intake needs.  They even had a special vitamin shot of B1 worked into the formula to hold off certain tropical diseases.  There was only a couple of minor problems that the Army considered irrelevant, trivial matters.  Mainly, the average U.S. Army solder hated Ration D bars with a passion one normally reserved for someone actively shooting at you.

First the D Ration bars did not have the flavor level of a “boiled potato” but instead had a more nuanced flavor that soldiers described as “bitter.”  No additional words, just “bitter”, apparently a point many of them brought up in their post-war memoirs.  Another problem was the bars were extremely hard, to the point that soldiers with any sort of tooth issues simply couldn’t eat them and even soldiers with excellent teeth resorted to the “shaving off small bits of the bar to eat” solution to the problem.  When issued the D Ration bars soldiers often tossed them away rather than carry them or traded them to individuals unaware of their lack of flavor for more palatable foodstuffs.  Following traditional economic models apparently as knowledge of the D Ration’s unique flavor and mouth-feel spread the trade market for them would crash.

Post World War II the D Ration was discontinued as the Army found it “obsolete” however I personally wonder if it was also just because too many serviceman complained about it.

In 1943 the Army also asked the Hershey corporation to develop a special “jungle chocolate bar” that could withstand higher temperatures but actually tasted like chocolate.  Hershey was successful however soldiers still found the hardness of the item a major challenge.  However the “Jungle Bar” has the distinction of getting to ride, in 1971, to the Moon with the Apollo landings.

Source:  Hershey Community Archives entry on World War II chocolate, Wikipedia entries on United States military chocolate and United States military rations

When New York burned for America

Monday, August 25th, 2014


The year 1776 was a critical one for the American Revolution and its center-point could be argued as the New York/New Jersey campaign, conducted by George Washington and opposed by British General Howe, in which the American army was driven from the city of New York and then further driven from most of New Jersey in a series of stinging retreats.  At the start of the campaign the American army was able to successfully occupy New York without any opposition, the British army having earlier evacuated Boston and formed up again in lower Canada.  However the British, heavily re-enforced and including detachments of professional German Hessian mercenary soldiers, successfully launched a new campaign and landed troops at multiple points in near Brooklyn, threatening the Americans ability to defend New York and the surrounding territory.  After a disastrous defeat in Brooklyn, Washington had to retreat from New York, but prior to that he had contacted the Continental Congress on a key question – what was he to do in the event New York had to be abandoned, burn it or leave it standing?


Nathanael Greene, one of Washington’s key secondary commanders, advocated that New York be burned to the ground in the event of a retreat to prevent it providing shelter and support to the British.  Washington felt the idea had merit, but he wrote to the Continental Congress to clear the plan, who in reply insisted that New York was to be left unharmed if it had to be abandoned.  Although in disagreement with the order, Washington obeyed, and New York was abandoned in good order by 16 September 1776, in the face of a broad British assault.


However on 21 September 1776 a fire broke out in New York, an eyewitness reported to have first seen the flames break out at a rough local tavern called the “Fighting Cocks Tavern.”  The flames spread rapidly and engulfed much of the city, the firefighters that normally would have battled the blaze had either fled the city with the invasion of the British or were in disorder as the post-battle chaos of the city had not been cleared up.  British soldiers attempted to fight the fire but the blaze was not controlled until much later, between 10% to 25% of the total city was destroyed in the fire.  This had a moderate impact on the course of the war, the British had to house their troops in the city in tents rather than in private dwellings and Loyalists fleeing to New York had to live in terrible conditions.  It also kept the city less healthy and the British maintained martial law rather than turning the city back to civilian rule.


It also lead to mass arrests of suspected possibly arsonists, although no one was found who was charged with starting the fires the British arrests did scope up an American spy, Nathan Hale (statue above), who was later hanged for espionage and possibly uttered the famous last words:  “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”  [Note future individuals may have edited his actual last words for brevity.]  Both the British and the Americans suspected the fire was the work of arson, for the British an act of criminal terror and for the Americans one of patriotic fervor, but in the end no evidence of arson has ever surfaced and testimony by witnesses states it was a simple coincidence the fire was as widespread and timely as it was.

Sources:  Wikipedia entries on the Great Fire of New York, Nathan Hale, and Nathanael Greene, City University of New York entry on the 1776 fire, 1776 by David McCullough [pages 221-223]

Operation Big Buzz, Big Itch, Drop Kick, Magic Sword, and May Day

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014


Ah the 1950s, specifically the Cold War of the 1950s, a time of experimentation, a time of national development, and a time also filled with a large mix of insanity inducing efforts to close the perceived power-gap and risks between the United States and its new rival the Soviet Union.  The 1950s in the United States were politically dominated by a period of anti-Communist “Red Scare” paranoia and concern that the Soviet Union was either pulling even to, or possibly pulling ahead, of the United States in the new race to command the forces of mass destruction.  This concern mainly focused on nuclear weapons, with the United States undertaking a large number of projects to enhance its capacity to deploy nuclear weapons and working to expand its limited nuclear arms arsenals, but it also involved more fringe research projects with a goal of ensuring the United States military dominance in all possible fields of struggle with the Soviet Union.  This lead to a large number of unusual projects, ranging from the sudden United States entry into the space race to research into fringe weapons programs and unusual warfare methods, such as doping random individuals with LSD to see if the drug made them more susceptible to brain washing.


Of particular interest was the United States research into entomological warfare, specifically the use of insects as delivery vectors for biological agents, and the United States military undertook a series of feasibility tests to determine if this sort of program could be implemented, could be effective, and if it was cost effective.

Operation Big Itch – a 1954 test in Utah in which fleas were deployed by air in a series of carefully designed custom bombs to test the insects spread patterns for delivery of infectious agents.  The fleas did perform successfully although it was discovered that one design of bomb “leaked” and the fleas were able to escape and bite the airplane crew.

Operation Big Buzz – a 1955 test in Georgia in which several hundred thousand uninfected mosquitoes capable of carrying yellow fever were dispersed in swampy terrain to determine how far they would spread in a fixed length of time.  This test was successful in proving the fleas would disperse and would seek out fresh meals.

Operation Drop Kick – a 1956 and 1958 test of mosquitoes again, and once more in Georgia, this time using uninfected insects released in an inhabited area of Georgia to see how many would enter individual homes and bite citizens.  The test results proved successful and data was gathered showing that mosquitoes dropped in residential areas by bomb would indeed enter homes and bite people.

Operation May Day – another 1956 test, in Georgia once more, that showed mosquitoes put into a stupor with dry ice would awaken upon being dropped in urban areas and bite humans successfully.

Operation Magic Sword – a 1965 test, off the coast of the southeastern United States, that mosquitoes could be preserved for ocean deployment and could be relied upon to fly inland and bite humans.

Overall the tests showed that using these techniques would provide a “cost per death” of $1.21 per kill (2014 dollars) which was considered quite competitive with other means of deployment and fifty percent mortality rate was possible.

Of course one of the challenges of researching early Cold War operations is many of them are still classified, and I personally as a historian look forward to more such interesting discoveries as archives are declassified.

Sources:  Wikipedia articles on Operating Big Buzz, Big Itch, May Day, Magic Sword, Drop Kick, US Cold War Entomological Warfare, and a confirming entry in Chemical and Biological Warfare, a Comprehensive Survey…

The Frenchmen who were the last defenders of Hitler’s bunker

Monday, August 18th, 2014


World War II was a complex conflict – although portrayed by the modern media as a war of the Allies (Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union) against the Axis (Germany, Italy, and Japan) the war also featured a core ideological struggle that stretched easily back to the 1930s, the struggle between Fascism and Communism, and both of those extremes against the idea of representational Democracy as a model of government.  One of the countries most fiercely divided on this issue, that remained a semi-functional democracy up to 1940, was France.  When France was defeated in 1940 by a German invasion a significant minority of the French population actively welcomed the invasion, and France’s defeat, as heralding an end to earlier (and perceived) weaker French governments dominated by leftist forces and their replacement by more conservative, dictatorial, and controlling forms of government.  These extreme right-wing figures in French politics, and their supporters, provided the fodder for French recruits to fight in 1941 in the German invasion of the Soviet Union.

Russland-Mitte, Soldaten der französischen Legion, Fahne

As you will notice in the first picture above, the two soldiers are wearing German uniforms but there is a tricolor decoration on the foremost soldiers sleeve, that is because he is serving in the 33rd Waffen Grenadier Division, one of several “nationality” SS divisions created by Germany as the war against the Soviet Union turned against Germany.  (The divisions alternative name was the “Charlemagne Division.”)  Initially the Fascist-friendly French volunteers fought in a special volunteer unit, the Legion of French Volunteers Against Bolshevism (LVF for short) fought from 1941 till 1944 on the Eastern Front, taking part in the attack on Moscow and later in anti-partisan actions in the rear of the conquered Soviet territories.  (This was due to the LVF getting a hellish drubbing in front of Moscow by Soviet forces and not having sufficient manpower, even with additional recruiting, to return to full front-line service.)  The unit in 1944 was merged with other French right wing military fragments fleeing the Allied invasion of France into the Charlemagne Division which fought in numerous holding actions in Eastern Germany.


Badly mauled in late 1944 again in a battle with the Soviet Union the remnants of the Charlemagne Division was assigned to the 1945 Defense of Berlin, where they fought with distinction against the Soviet Union’s forces and were the last unit still fighting to defend Hitler’s bunker in the heart of the city.  The few remaining soldiers of this division finally surrendered on 2 May 1945 and were later taken before the Free French military for trial.  A few were imprisoned and some were shot.


The name of the division, and its badge (seen above) were nods to earlier Medieval history when both France and Germany were territories that made up part of Charlemagne’s Frankish empire, the eagle on the left represents Germany while the fleurs-de-lys on the right represent France.

More broadly this unit was part of a larger trend by 1944 undertaken by Nazi Germany, and specifically Himmler in the SS, of trying to shift the nature of the war from a German war to a pan-European war against Bolshevism.

Sources:  Wikipedia entry on the 33rd Waffen Grenadier Division, Jewish Virtual Library entry on the 33rd Waffen Grenadier Division, and passage from Surrender Invites Death on the 33rd Waffen Grenadier Division

Old Cartoons and Old Ads Friday

Friday, August 15th, 2014


Source:  Life Magazine, 1892

Note – nothing like a bit of jingoism to sell products


Source:  Life Magazine, 1887

Note – the method of the pitch may change but the heart of the sell remains the same


Source:  Life Magazine, 1901

Note – I shall investigate the story of this shoe riot as the ad alludes, however note jingoism again and a lovely stereotypical image of a German


Source:  Life Magazine, 1893

Note – indeed it was used to smooth down silk hats by middle class individuals who wanted to look styling but may have lacked the necessary domestic help.  Steampunk enthusiasts might want to bring these back.


Source:  Life Magazine, 1892

Note – yes the past was really horrible at times

Sanitation and Surgery

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014




This entry leads off with three images of surgical instruments from the United States Civil War, used from 1861-1865, and beyond causing readers to cringe when they remember these items were usually used without benefit of anesthesia on the patients there is another reason for the large images, if you look at them closely you will notice a key similarity, specifically in the grips on each instrument.  Notice the carefully inscribed cross-hatch pattern in the instrument, included to provide the surgeon with a more sure grip when working with the tool, in case of blood or other fluids coating the instrument.  It was also there to ensure the surgeon could maintain his grip when working quickly, again due to the lack of anesthetics.  The other problem though was that grip pattern provided an excellent niche for the growth of bacteria, which during the U.S. Civil War was a singularly significant problem due to the scale of operations being conducted.

The average battlefield surgeon on both sides of the conflict had to work fast to process a previously unprecedented level of injured men from combat, as such they would process the wounded in an assembly line mentality, moving from each injured individual to the next, on the same table, and with the same tools, only stopping to sharpen blades as needed.  Cross-contamination was a major problem and many soldiers on both sides died due to post-operation infections.  Surgeons during this period saw it as a source of pride and professional skill to be able to do this, working fast, some even bragged about the level of stains on their operating garments as proof of their skill and years of experience.  Germ theory did not impact their work because it simply was not widely accepted.


Enter Joseph Lister, who in England was working on the practical application of germ theory to modern surgical practices, based on the work of Pasteur, Lister worked on developing chemical methods for sterilizing wounds, bandages, and instruments as well as proper washing techniques for surgeons to avoid spreading infection.  In testing Lister discovered that a 5% solution of carbolic acid was excellent for the purpose, he tested it on one surgery on an eleven year old who had suffered a compound fracture from an accident with a cart.  Using carbolic acid to clean the wounds, and surgical instruments, Lister discovered that weeks later not only were the wounds still uninfected but they were healing better than previous efforts.  Lister was able to spread the practice, as a professor of surgery at the University of Glasgow Lister was able to get surgeons under his authority to use the new technique.  Results impressed and Lister’s new technique slowly but surely spread throughout Europe and to the United States, regrettably for many Civil War veterans years or decades after its discovery.  (President Garfield was one such victim, after being shot his wound was explored by an on-site doctor who just shoved his finger into the hole, followed by further doctors after the incident who probed the wound with non-sanitized fingers and instruments.)

bone saw satterleeLister had one more major impact as well, he was successful in getting the design of surgical instruments changed to use non-natural/porous materials for the handles and to bring about an end to the original cross-hatch designs to ensure a grip.  If you take a look at the modern amputation saws above you’ll notice the saw part of it is functionally very similar to the past, but the handles, now they have a far less pronounced grip design and one that can be cleaned properly.

Sources:  Daily Mail article on U.S. Civil War surgery, Wikipedia article on Joseph Lister.


Competing Submachine Guns – the Grease and the Burp Gun

Monday, August 11th, 2014

Submachine_gun_M1928_ThompsonOne of the more interesting ordinance challenge that the United States faced during World War II was providing its infantry with a working sub-machine gun in sufficient quantities to make a major battlefield difference.  At the start of the war the main sub-machine gun available for use by the U.S. was the Thompson sub-machine gun, a powerful, well-made, and highly reliable weapon.  Unfortunately it was also difficult to manufacture, expensive, and a bit delicate in the battlefield due to its firing mechanism.  Several different approaches were taken to the problem, including a simplified redesign of the Thompson and a rival design.  The winner in the contest though, was the M3 sub-machine gun, otherwise known as the “grease gun.”


Firing a .45 caliber round, the same sized round as the Thompson, the M3 was a far cheaper, and far simpler to manufacture weapon, that was widely used in the U.S. military from 1943 to 1945.  (Around 600,000 individual weapons were distributed to the U.S. military during the war.)  A variant that used 9mm cartridges was also developed and used in far more limited quantities, including as a weapon for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the U.S. “spy” branch in the war.  The M3 got its nickname of “grease gun” by U.S. troops due to its more than passing resemblance to the oiling tool used by mechanics.  The M3 was designed as a disposable gun, only a few parts were precision made and if it ended up damaged soldiers were expected to get rid of it and replace it with a reissued weapon.  Made of thin metal and quickly assembled it was prone to jamming problems but proved useful in the war.  As an interesting aside, it also did not feature an integrated safety feature for the gun, once loaded it was “live” until unloaded.


Opposing the U.S. forces were German sub-machine guns, nicknamed “burp guns” by the U.S. military due to their distinctive sound when firing rapidly, often described as “ripping canvas” it inspired the nickname mainly due to the huge burst of fire the weapons produced.  Of interest though is the fact that two very different weapons got the nickname “burp gun” – the above pictured MP 40, a German manufactured high-firing rate weapon with a 9mm cartridge.  This weapon has been burned into the modern American movie and television audience because it often appears in television shows or films as a “default” German weapon carried by infantry that looks appropriately bad ass.


(You’ll notice in the above image from Raiders of the Lost Ark three of the four armed Nazi soldiers are carrying MP 40 looking guns)

The reality though was production numbers on the MP-40 were far too low to meet German needs and the weapon was usually only issued to squad leaders, paratroopers, and later more troops as the war continued.  However the Nazi government was able to deploy in larger quantities another sub-machine gun, the PPSh-41, a Soviet weapon which was captured in large quantities during the 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union, a gun that sounded similar when fired to the MP-40 and that was also nicknamed a “burp gun” by the U.S.


Made by the U.S.S.R. after their disastrous 1939-1940 war with Finland as a means to rapidly increase the average Soviet infantry units firepower, the German military came into possession of large numbers of these weapons as they swept through the Soviet Union through 1941.  German industry undertook a major project to shift the gun from its Soviet ammunition, at 7.62mm, to the larger 9mm German cartridge.  The German army also, in a confusing move, kept some of these at the 7.62mm cartridge and issued their forces with special ammunition to use it.  U.S. forces faced off against this weapon several times from 1944 to 1945 and even used some that had been captured from retreating German units as supplemental sub-machine guns.

On a odd side-note the PPSh-41 was provided after World War II in large quantities by the U.S.S.R. to the People’s Republic of China and the North Korean military, both of which put the weapon to use against the U.S. and allies in the Korean War.  It was during this war its nickname as a “burp gun” was cemented in the common image of the weapon.

Sources:  Wikipedia articles on the M3 sub-machine gun, the PPSh-41, the MP 40 and a section in The Crash of Ruin on the “burp gun

Friday Old Comics and Old Ads

Friday, August 8th, 2014


Source:  Life Magazine, 1890

Note – because any of you wimpy nonathletic types wouldn’t be able to appreciate the wonder of spicy plaster of paris


Source:  Life Magazine, 1883

Note – I’m not sure but if I’m right and “Lithia” covers lithium it would make a post drinking bout happy for anybody


Source:  Life Magazine, 1892


Source:  Life Magazine, 1892

Note for both cartoons – the past is hilarious because it was so horrifying sometimes


Source:  Life Magazine, 1903

Note – a reference to the impending 1904 Presidential election – the lady is the United States and the gentleman are various potential Democratic candidates.  Teddy was a vigorous President.


Source:  Life Magazine, 1903

Note – not only do I like the slogan, “Boss of the Road” but also this represents a bit of a gem for me to find, it ran in the early July 1903 edition of Life Magazine.  Henry Ford incorporated the Ford Motor Company in June 1903.  It is possible this is one of the first automobile ads they ever ran.  If you note the address, 696 Mack Avenue, it was Ford’s first factory for that company and featured small skilled artisan craftsmanship of cars.

Nazi’s Anti-Smoking Campaign

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014


From its initial rise to power in 1933 through its collapse in 1945 the German Nazi government supported an aggressive anti-smoking campaign through a process of legislation and restriction, combined with state-support for scientific research into the impact of smoking on individual health.  The research was probably the most interesting aspect of the campaign, in 1939 and again in 1943 Nazi sponsored scientists discovered causal links between smoking and lung cancer, as well as linking smoking to a higher risk of cardiac disease.  Furthermore Nazi scientists were the first to discover the idea that second-hand smoke could have negative health impacts upon other individuals.  This research, due to the stigma upon German science during this period for its illicit and immoral research upon human subjects and high levels of human-focused cruelty, was ignored and simply forgotten until American and British scientists discovered the same connection again in the 1950s.


Hitler himself was a strong anti-smoking supporter and provided personal funding to the Institute for Tobacco Hazards Research at the University of Jena, he had been a heavy smoker himself in the 1920s but abandoned the habit out of personal distaste.  Hitler encouraged his close associates not to smoke and rewarded those who gave up smoking, he also instituted laws to impose a stigma upon tobacco, including prohibitions against German police and postal workers smoking in uniform, prohibitions smoking on public transportation, prohibitions on smoking in cafes and restaurants, and later laws against smoking in bomb shelters.  The Nazi government also imposed heavy taxes upon smoking, causing an increase up to 95% above the retail cost due to taxation.  Tobacco taxes in turn became a major source of government revenue, during the war providing about eight percent of the total income to the government.  Finally Hitler took personal steps as the commander-in-chief of the German military to combat tobacco use by soldiers, including cutting the average soldiers tobacco ration and blocking tobacco consumption in members of the Hitler Youth on military duty in the later stages of the war.  (They were given candy instead.)


Of course, being Nazi’s, nothing can ever be entirely free of ideological weirdness and the inherent urge to tinker with humanity to “improve it” based on a complex created system of racial purity and morality.  The Nazi government imposed sharp laws prohibiting access by women under twenty-five and over fifty-five from being able to buy cigarettes in popular public venues like cafes, prohibited access to cigarettes for youths under eighteen, and launching strong propaganda efforts to convince women to give up smoking.  This was based on the theory that smoking would make German women less attractive and less physically fit for breeding, a goal that was counter to the Nazi government’s reproductive policies designed to encourage German/”Aryan” women to breed often and with gusto.  Although German scientists also argued that nicotine could get to infants through their mothers milk if the mother smoked, an argument apparently later backed by science, the rest was focused on German racial philosophy.


Also because they are Nazis they had to turn Germans smoking into yet another example of how Jews were trying to undermine German morality and culture.  I would like to say I’m personally shocked the Nazi government would do so but I’d be lying.

Sources:  Wikipedia entry on Nazi anti-smoking campaign, Atlantic Monthly article on the Nazi anti-smoking campaign