History by Decades
by Larry Belling
Mountain men were fighting wars with Indians in places never before explored. Eli Whitney's cotton gin was on the market but its debut was heartily upstaged by the first Indian elephant to be seen in America. In Europe, Napoleon was creating his unholy Roman Empire and more than a million people in North Africa were dying of plague.
It was a modern era that would herald the predecessors to the New York Stock Exchange and Chase Manhattan Bank, the first mint in the US, the first tax on liquor and the first life insurance. Wealth began in the US in the 1790s.
At the recently completed White House at Washington D.C. President John Adams, wearing the latest in fashion - top hat, linen shirt and cravat - wondered if he were perhaps 'in a fool's paradise' (to use a recently-coined expression).
What teacher could resist this? What teacher could dispute a student's speculation that on New Year's Eve in John Adams's newly painted White House, his family was singing the new popular song "Auld Lang Syne." In the kitchen, bleaching powder and preserving jars for food would be in use, as would the cooking stove. Adams probably took new medication - pills - for his headache, and he would be reading the new "Farmer's Almanack."
I always wanted to be able to write paragraphs like these when I was in school, but I was lazy and probably started my term paper "John Adams was elected…blah de blah…" So when I discovered the world of HyperCard I thought that a program that combined historical, social and cultural information by decades could be a valuable resource.
The entries in this resource are far from detailed. They are really just shorthand listings to spark a writer's imagination to dig deeper. Using this program enables a student to pad the hell out of a term paper with interesting tidbits.
Advertising writers with clients who have been in business longer than last month could make good use of this material too. When is the last time you read an ad that was truly informative rather than obtuse, glitzy, fast-cutting, brazen sexist hype? I think it is fun to read:
We had just begun eating hamburgers and hotdogs. Newfangled tin cans with meats and salmon sealed inside had appeared on the shelves of neighborhood markets. The world needed something to wash 'em down with. Luckily John S. Pemberton was working on it. On March 29, 1886, he brewed up his first batch of a drink he called Coca-Cola after the cocoa bean and kola leaf. On May 8, 1886, a few bottles of the stuff went on sale at Jacob's Pharmacy in Atlanta Georgia. They contained a small amount of cocaine…(oops better strike that!)
The Decades program works hand-in-hand with Events Day-by-Day. The paragraph above uses material from both programs, since Decades contains no exact dates. By the way, Hires Root Beer and Dr. Pepper both came into existence in the 1880s as well as Coke. So did Listerine mouthwash and Smith Brothers and Luden cough drops.
Several well-known screenwriters, who bought Writer's Dreamtools when it was a series of HyperCard stacks, praised the Stack of Decades for the slang section. Knowing when particular slang expressions sprung into existence brought realism to dialogue for works set in a particular era. People in Pemberton's Atlanta in the 1880s probably thought he had 'a screw loose' when he invented Coke. Marketing a new drink was a 'hard nut to crack,' but, 'be that as it may,' when something is 'dead-on,' and he 'dotted his I's and crossed his t's,' he ended up living 'the life of Riley.' That's an 'incontrovertible fact.'
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An introduction to History by Decades by Larry Belling. More...