By Aaron Boyes and Sean Graham
For the past 7 years, whenever we have convened for another installment of the Year in Review (100 Years Later)™, we have, for the most part, have enjoyed the process of selecting the top 16 items to include in the bracket. While most years have an easy top 10-12 things, there is always some debate surrounding the final few entries. In recent weeks as we put together the list from 1912, we were astonished at the magnitude of events that took place.
From influential international organizations to major legislation to technological innovations, 1912 has a depth that we haven’t seen before. The events included here touched the lives of millions of people and, for many of them, their ramifications can still be felt today. It came as no surprise to us that, when we had finished, that this was the most ‘thorough’ analysis we’ve done on any year, which we credit to the remarkable events of 1912.
As always, we have divided the events into 4 brackets. For 1912 they are AEROPLANES?!?!, Movin’ Movin’ Movin’, Eye Candy, and, of course, Potpourri. We welcome your thoughts on the matchups and hope that you enjoy these brackets in the lighthearted spirit with which they are written.
(1) First Successful Parachute Jump from Airplane
(4) First West to East U.S. Trans-Continental Flight
Sean: It finally happened – after 7 years of waiting and endlessly advocating for aviation, we have a full bracket devoted to all things aeronautics. I want to tell you all, with a tear in my eye, this is the greatest moment of my life.
(Nearly live look at Aaron)
As I’ve often pointed out in writing about aviation during these brackets, flying is painfully taken for granted in modern life. Sure, it can be annoying to be hit with baggage fees and the food doesn’t taste great (mostly because of the pressure), but the fact that we can get into a metal tube and a few hours later be on the other side of the world is bonkos.
To get to this point though, it took a lot of experimentation and, as we have discussed in the past, risk. A perfect example of that risk comes in the story of Robert Fowler, an aviation pioneer who throughout his life continued to push the boundaries of what was possible in a plane. He was passionate in his pursuit of flight, even founding what would become the Aviation Department at San Jose State University.
In late 1911, he climbed into his Wright Biplane in Los Angeles heading east with a final destination of Jacksonville, Florida. Today, that flight would take about 5 hours and the biggest concern for passengers would be jet lag and deciding which Waffle House they would go to from the airport. In 1912, though, the journey took 116 days, which included 66 stops. Not only did he need to regularly stop to refuel, but at this time planes did not have pressurized, or even enclosed, cabins. As a result, he was flying at an average altitude of around 3,500 feet, where the lower temperature and exposure to the elements made it dangerous to fly for too long.
On February 8, 1912, Fowler made his way to Jacksonville, where his arrival had been coordinated with the opening of the new racetrack. Prior to landing, Fowler put on a show for the crowd that had gathered by dipping, rising, and doing some spiral dives. At 4:47 pm, he landed on the racetrack’s infield, becoming the first person to successfully fly a west to east transcontinental flight. If that wasn’t enough, a year later Fowler became the first person to fly from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean over Panama, a risky proposition as the float plane he used could only land on water. In an era where engine trouble was a common occurrence, the trip could have gone very wrong. By being willing to take those types of risks, aviators like Fowler pushed the possibilities of what aircraft could do.
Full disclosure: I want to jump out of a plane someday. Preferably with a parachute. Back in 1912, when plane crashes were not uncommon, U.S. Army Captain Albert Berry became the first person to do such a thing. In a plane piloted by Tony Jannus, Berry looked down at St. Louis as they approached an altitude of 1,500 feet and spotted an insane asylum and reportedly said “that’s where we both belong.” He then climbed out of his seat and moved to a bar that had been affixed below the nose, attached the parachute to his harness, and jumped. As the crowd below watched, the parachute opened and Berry softly floated to the ground.
As he was congratulated by his peers, he was asked whether he would do it again and responded with a quite reasonable “never again!” Perhaps one of the reasons for that reluctance was the needed improvements to the parachute itself. The container he used to pack his chute was not particularly practical and the device needed to evolve before it could be used regularly. Regardless of the needed alterations, Berry had achieved something that years earlier was seen as, at best, impractical. Similar to the act of taking flight, this may not seem that remarkable today, but as with all things aviation, I think it’s important to remind ourselves that human beings don’t have wings and are not meant to fly.
This one is incredibly difficult to pick. Both are remarkable achievements that took an incredible amount of courage to complete. Between the two, though, I think I have to go with Berry. Even though he had parachuted from balloons, the additional speed that went with a jump from an airplane greatly increased the degree of difficulty and danger associated with the task. The transcontinental flight was pretty cool, but it did not have the same level of unknown as the jump, so for that reason, I’m going with the parachute in this one.
Aaron: I completely agree. The first transcontinental flight in the United States occurred the year previously in 1911, when Cal Rodgers flew from Brooklyn, New York, to Pasadena, California, which took 49 days and 77 stops. Therefore, the west-to-east flight, although important proving that it can be done, was not as spectacular as the first parachute jump. Since that first successful fall, jumping from planes has become much more common, both during times of war and peace. Daredevils from around the world regularly jump out of planes; skydiving has even become a successful business.
Here, Sean, this one’s for you: https://www.goskydive.ca/en/
First Successful Parachute Jump from Airplane Wins (77-53)
(2) Patent for the First Aircraft Stabilizer, or Autopilot
(3) Creation of the Imperial Russian Aviation Branch
Sean: As has been demonstrated in past brackets, I am not the most learned individual when it comes to science. Where I feel the most comfortable, though, is with the physics of flying. As someone who has struggled to overcome a fear of flying, I have spent a lot of time reading about how they work in an effort to quell any discomfort. In modern aircraft, the term stabilizer refers to the vertical and horizontal extensions at the back of the plane, to which the rudder and elevators are, respectively, attached. These are essential in controlling the plane’s pitch and direction.
Those two critical elements of flight were the focus of Elmer Sperry’s gyroscope, which combined electrical and mechanical elements to initially guide ships. A gyroscope features a spinning wheel or circulating beam of light through which it is possible to detect whether an object has diverted from its intended orientation. If this could be successfully t o aircraft, it had remarkable potential to not only improve safety within aviation, but also fundamentally change the role of aviators in the cockpit.
By 1912 there was a sense among some inventors and engineers that recent crashes could have been avoided if automatic or semi-automatic controls had been installed. In the fall of 1912, Sperry was ready to test his device in flight and had his son Lawrence participate in the initial testing. Despite the ‘puffy winds’ during the test flight, the device worked well and Sperry agreed to continue development. In 1914 he won the Collier Trophy, which is awarded annually for the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America, for the gyrostabilizer and continued to work on aeronautics, including the turn and bank indicators and an optical drift indicator. It wasn’t until after the First World War that the autopilot, based on the original gyroscope, was fully developed, but the steps that Sperry had taken to that point improved the capability and safety record of aircraft around the world.
As we regularly note in these reviews, events directly associated with the First World War are not eligible. You could argue that the establishment of the Imperial Russian Air Service falls into that category, but, to me, it is more of an aviation story than a purely military story. Russian leadership had long been interested in aviation as scientists in Russia were experimenting with designs as early as the 1880s and used aerostats for reconnaissance and defense during the first decade of the 20th century. In 1910, the country sent pilots to France for training and the first Russian biplane was constructed in Saint Petersburg. Over the next couple of years, the pilots trained abroad trained others and by August 1912 the country was ready to establish the Imperial Russian Air Service.
By the outbreak of the First World War, Russia had the world’s second largest air fleet, although some of the planes were already out of date. Regardless, the country used its Air Service first for reconnaissance, although all its aircraft were fit with semi-automatic pistols. Perhaps the Air Service’s most significant legacy is not mechanical but a person, as Pyotr Nesterov flew in the early days of the war. He was the first pilot to perform a loop and died when he was the first to perform an aerial ramming, a tactic which was used to great effect by the Soviet Union during the Second World War. By that time, however, the Imperial Russian Air Service was no more, as it was replaced following the 1917 Russian Revolution by what would become the Soviet Air Forces.
In this contest, I have to give the edge to the stabilizer. Anything that improves safety within aviation is laudable and what Sperry was able to do was nothing short of remarkable. It has gotten to the point today where people have suggested that planes can fly themselves, and that evolution is traced back to that initial patent in 1912. Aviation experts always say that every plane crash improves safety measures because we learn about the physics involved in flying, and Sperry was able to take an existing experiment and apply it in an effort to prevent future incidents. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a major step forward.
Aaron: Although I normally defer to your judgement on all things planes related, Sean, I have to respectfully disagree on this one. At the turn of the 20th century Russia was very much seen as “backwards” compared to the other major world powers. It was extremely behind in terms of industrialization and military. It was a significant embarrassment for Russia that it lost its war with Japan in 1905 – keeping in line with racist ideology at the time, Europeans believed that they were far superior to every other “race” and thought it unimaginable that a lesser “race” of Asians could win a war. This backwardness severely hampered Russia during the First World War, which can be seen as a cause of it suing for peace in 1917. The fact that Russia had a large air force, however, is a big accomplishment for the old Empire. In almost everything else it was behind, but seemingly not in terms of aviation.
Sean: That’s all well and good for Russia, I suppose, but it doesn’t come anywhere close to the significance of the stabilizer. A European nation attempting to uphold some misguided ideological principle is relevant only to that nation, whereas the successful implementation of the gyroscope for aviation was an absolute game-changer for the industry. And besides, after 1917, in Soviet Russia, planes flew pilots. And how’d they do that – autopilot.
Aaron: I concede based on your Soviet Russia logic.
Patent for the First Aircraft Stabilizer, or Autopilot wins (90-80)
Movin’, Movin’, Movin’ Bracket
(1) Titanic Sinks on Maiden Voyage
(4) The Trans-Continental Australian Railway Breaks Ground
Aaron: Sea voyage across the Atlantic Ocean is fraught with peril. To be perfectly honest, I am amazed that humans were able to figure out a way to sail the length of the Ocean from Europe to North and South America. When I read anything that takes place in the 17th-19th centuries, when sea travel was made by wooden ships with sails, I can’t wrap my mind around the reality that people actually traveled this way. While recently reading a book on a US President, it was revealed that he and his family made the trip from New York to Le Havre in 29 days – which in the 1790s was fast! TWENTY-NINE DAYS! I don’t want to be on a boat longer than a few hours! As with most things, advancements in technology made the trans-Atlantic crossing shorter and safer, especially with the advent of steel ships which used coal-fired engines. At the dawn of the 20th century, massive ocean liners were under construction, ready to ferry people and goods between North America and Europe. Arguably the most famous of these, of course, was the RMS Titanic. Of course, it’s fame is due to the fact that it sank on its maiden voyage on April 15, 1912, in the North Atlantic.
The RMS Titanic was owned by the White Star Line and was one of three Olympic-class ocean liners – its sister ships were the RMS Olympic and the HMHS Britannic. Upon completion it was the largest ship afloat, measuring 882 feet and 9 inches long, and 104 feet tall, displacing 52,310 tons. It was powered by three main engines; the two reciprocating engines had a combined output of 30,000 horsepower, of which the steam turbine produced 16,000. The engines were manually fed with coal by “firemen”, who worked around the clock. The Titanic was a luxury liner that had 10 decks, 8 of which were accessible to the passengers, including exquisite first class accommodations – I highly recommend Googling images of Titanic’s first class rooms and amenities, most of which are pictures from the Olympic, but they were, supposedly, twins.
On April 10, 1912, the Titanic set sail from Southampton on its maiden voyage en route to New York. Four days later, disaster struck. At 11:40 pm, the lookout spotted an iceberg directly ahead of the ship. Officers tried to steer around the berg, but it was not possible. The starboard side of the ship struck the ice, causing a series of holes below the waterline. Five of its watertight compartments were filled; it could not survive with more than four breached. The ship was doomed. It slowly started to sink bow first. Both the crew and passengers were ill-prepared for such an emergency. No one seemingly knew what to do. Many lifeboats were launched only half full, most of which carrying first class passengers, and the famous “women and children first” policy was mostly followed. Shortly after 2 am, the Titanic began sinking much quicker. Although distress signals were made – both through wireless messages and rocket flares – no ship was close enough to reach the Titanic. Around 2:20 am, the ship – by this time nearly vertical – submerged into the ocean. Those not aboard a lifeboat and who had not already perished, found themselves in lethally cold water (-2 degrees Celsius). Most died from cardiac arrest brought on by the bitter cold. Of the more than 2,000 people on board, only 710 survived. At the time, and until 1948, the sinking of the Titanic was the worst peace-time maritime disaster in human history.
Following the sinking, inquiries were held in both the United States and Britain to determine what had happened and what could be done to prevent a repeat of the disaster. However, both the American and British inquiries determined that all involved – the crew and White Star – were not responsible; the US even declared the disaster an act of God. Thankfully, both inquiries did produce mandatory changes to maritime travel, such as more lifeboats, 24-hour a day radio operation, an International Ice Patrol, and better designed hulls.
Australia is massive. I mean, truly massive. Looking at it all tucked away down there (wait, that’s Canada) it’s true size is somewhat distorted, especially on maps that expand the size of the northern hemisphere. Thankfully, the Australian government has provided some size comparisons to appreciate the continent/country’s size. And so moving goods and people across such a large landmass requires a lot of work. The Commonwealth of Australia was born in 1901 with the federation of six Australian colonies. As you can see on the map below, Sydney on the east coast and Perth on the west are separated by just under 4,000 kilometres, most of which is barren desert. At the turn of the century, the easiest method of connecting the two cities was by sea, which was costly and inefficient. In 1907, a proposal was introduced to connect Post Augusta and Kalgoorie, a distance of 1,711 km. Like many massive projects, it took time for the government to pass legislation and it was not until December 1911 that the bill authorizing construction was passed.
In 1912, the Commonwealth Railways was created to oversee the planning and implementation of the railway, and on September 14 Governor General Lord Denman turned the sod at a ceremony at Port Augusta, officially beginning construction. Workers began laying the line from both directions, but with the outbreak of war in 1914 many men and materials were redirected to the war effort. After five grueling years, workers had laid 2.5 million hardwood sleepers and 140,000 tonnes of rail. The last spike was hammered into place on October 17, 1917. On October 22, the first passenger train left Port Augusta en route to Kalgoorie, arriving 42 hours and 48 minutes later. The railway greatly increased the efficiency of travel across Australia as, compared to travelling by sea, mail delivery improved by two days and passenger travel decreased by as much as three days. In 1969, the railway was extended between Port Augusta and Sydney in the east, and Kalgoorie and Perth in the west, making the railway a truly continental rail line.
I think that the winner of this matchup is pretty obvious. The sinking of the Titanic had worldwide repercussions and has had an immeasurable impact on our collective memory and on popular culture. I know it’s early on, but I am thinking that we may be seeing a powerhouse on its way to the Enrico Polazzo championship game.
Sean: So you’re “amazed” by sailing but flying leaves you underwhelmed?!?!
I get that Titanic has a rather mythical status today, but in terms of significance I’m not so sure it matches with the railway – and it’s definitely not an open-and-shut case. As you mention, the ability to more efficiently transport people and materials across Australia provided untold economic opportunities in an era of expansion for the country. Given its location, which could be viewed as a geographic disadvantage within the global trade community, growth had to come from internal sources, and the railway was key to that. As a result I’m going to have to go with the practical significance of the railway over the cultural significance of the Titanic.
Aaron: Re: ships and planes and me being underwhelmed
I guess the reason why I see the Titanic as the winner here is because of its international impact, and not just the cultural aspect. There were many different nationalities on board when the Titanic sank, which devastated families in numerous countries. Also, the mandatory changes to trans-Atlantic shipping were huge. Please don’t let your bias towards planes impact the significance of an ocean liner.
Titanic Sinks on Maiden Voyage Wins (44-43)
(2) Theory of Continental Drift
(3) First Radio Signals from Antarctica
Sean: In 1912, German geophysicist Alfred Wegener created a firestorm within the geological community when he presented his theory of continental drift. This was not the first time that this type of idea had been presented, but previous iterations had not received much attention within the field. Wegener was more comprehensive in his study, however, and published his paper in 1912 suggesting that continental landmasses were drifting across the earth.
Wegener suggested that all continents had once been connected as part of Pangaea and used fossils of reptiles found in southern Africa and South America as part of his evidence. The reptile mesosaurus would not have been able to swim across the Atlantic Ocean, which is evidence of a single habitat. Similarly, he discovered tropical plant fossils in northern Norway, which suggested that it once had a tropical climate.
To put it kindly, his fellow scientists did not take kindly to Wegener’s theory. One of the criticisms they used was that he did not know how it worked: why did the continents drift? Is there a pattern? Wegener wrongly suggested that the earth’s rotation caused the movement and hypothesized that the continents moved through the oceans’ crust like an icebreaker. As a result, the totality of his theory was disregarded by the scientific community, but his introduction of the idea that the continents moved was significant to geoscience. Some of his ideas were later confirmed, including the existence of a supercontinent, which resolved some major debates within the field. Even though the theory was not 100% correct, Wegener was able to inject new ideas into a field that was not particularly welcoming of them.
In 1907, Australian geologist Douglas Mawson was part of the 1907 Nimrod expedition that reached the magnetic South Pole. From the moment he returned he was fixated on the idea of going back and four years later organized his Australasian Antarctic expedition. It left in 1911 and successfully established a base along the Shackleton Ice Shelf, exploring the coast and claiming the area for Great Britain. The expedition is widely lauded for the courage of its crew and credited with acquiring valuable scientific information.
Of its scientific projects, one of the most interesting to me is the installation of a wireless radio station. Given the geographic isolation, the crew had to establish two stations, the first a main base at Cape Denison while the other was a relay station on Macquarie Island. Without the relay station, the signal would not have reached Australia. Powered by a De Dion engine housed a short distance transmitter, the station made its first successful outside communication in February 1912 when it connected with the SS Ulimaroa. On the Shackleton Ice Shelf, the crew built a receiving-only transmitter, but missing detector parts rendered it useless.
Over at Commonwealth Bay, it took a little longer to establish a connection, owing to the hurricane force winds and sub-zero temperatures. A year after the successful transmission at Macquarie Island, the transmitter at Commonwealth Bay established communications with Australia. The challenging atmospheric conditions meant that the signal was not particularly reliable, but the crew had done what had previously been thought impossible by establishing a communication link to one of the most remote places on earth.
In this contest, I have to go with the successful transmission of radio from Antarctica. The revolutionary aspect of the continental drift theory did change the field, but Wegener’s inability to address the concerns of his critics, plus the things that were wrong, compromise its legacy. The technological achievement of successfully transmitting a radio signal from such an isolated location is remarkable. Even today, communication to and from Antarctica is not always reliable, so that they were able to establish a connection using rudimentary equipment puts it ahead in this match.
Aaron: I concur, the radio signals from Antarctica was a game-changer. As Sean pointed out, the remoteness of Antarctica and the difficulty in hauling the necessary equipment and constructing the towers required makes this an incredible feat. And that it was done using technology from 1912 is even more incredible.
First Radio Signals from Antarctica Wins (66-40)
Eye Candy Bracket
(1) Nabisco Introduces the Oreo
(4) Cracker Jack Puts Toy in Box for First Time
Aaron: Since 2010, I join a group of friends for a weekend of camping at Wellesley Island State Park in New York during the May long weekend – except, of course, this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the things I most look forward to every year is enjoying several bags – yes, several – of the one and only Oreo cookie! I don’t know why, but Oreos taste different in the United States; they don’t taste better, they don’t taste worse, just different. And every camping weekend my friends and I polish off at least 3 bags without breaking a sweat. I have been eating Oreo cookies for as long as I can remember, and I’m sure that millions of people are the same. Taking the top off of one and eating the creme filling first then the biscuits, or taking the tops of two and making a double Oreo cookie! Excuse me a moment, I need to eat some Oreos.
(Nearly live look at Aaron)
Much better. Now, where were we? Oh, right! The Oreo! The first Oreo cookie was produced by Nabisco in 1912. Taking an idea for a new cookie – that really wasn’t its own – Nabisco took two decorated chocolate biscuits and sandwiched creme between them – they suspiciously looked like the Hydrox cookie manufactured by Sunshine Biscuits, which was invented in 1908. To ensure its supremacy, Nabisco requested a trademark on the Oreo, which was granted in August 1913. As for the name “Oreo”, no one, not even Nabisco, knows where it came from. Some think that it is in reference to the French word or, gold; others have said it gained its name because it’s short and easy to pronounce. Personally, I like this explanation:
Since it was introduced, the Oreo has become the best selling cookie in the United States. Although the iconic cookie remains, numerous special editions have been introduced, such as:
- Fudge covered
- Birthday cake
- Pie filling
- Peanut Butter
- Root Beer Float
- Red Velvet
- Cinnamon bun
There’s even a breakfast cereal Oreo-Os! True story, I bought a box of Oreo-Os and the cashier said, “Oh, my kids love those!” I replied, “This is for me” with a big grin on my face.
Take me out to the ball game
Take me out with the crowd
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack
I don’t care if I never get back
Let me root, root, root for the BLUE JAYS (or home team, but I like this one)
If they don’t win it’s a shame
For it’s one, two, three strike you’re out
At the old ball game!
No, this match up is not about the old ball game, it’s about Cracker Jack. First introduced in 1896, Cracker Jack is caramel-coated popcorn and peanuts. Some food historians consider it the first junk food. The same year that it was introduced, its famous slogan followed: “The More You Eat, the More You Want.” In 1907, Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer wrote their famous song, Take Me Out to the Ball Game, which includes the reference to Cracker Jack; this was free advertising for the food, all but unheard of nowadays.
(Short aside: the Chicago Cubs have a tradition of singing Take Me Out to the Ball Game during the seventh inning stretch, and have had numerous celebrities and baseball personalities sing the song over Wrigley Field’s intercom. This here is my favourite of them all:
While Cracker Jack is delicious on its own, most people think about the prize that was included in every bag. Well, that began in 1912. Starting in 1910, Cracker Jack included a coupon in each box which could be collected and then redeemed for goods such as watches, silverware, and sewing machines. The company, however, decided to shift its focus toward children and began inserting a small toy in every box. Unlike today where prizes are sealed and kept separate from the food, the prizes in Cracker Jack were mixed into the popcorn and peanuts. The original toys were small trinkets, but over the years the prizes were temporary tattoos, stickers, and even decoder rings.
In 1914, Cracker Jack put a series of baseball cards which featured players from the major leagues. The prizes became collector’s items, and some old toys can be found at antique shops. Unfortunately, in 2016 Frito-Lay, which now manufactures Cracker Jack, discontinued the prize in every box. Instead, they replaced them with codes that can be used online to play games.
For this match up I am all about the Oreo. Both the Cracker Jack prize and the Oreo cookie are iconic American treats, I think that the Oreo is more universally known, especially since it is produced around the world. Cracker Jack seems, to me, to be a uniquely North American treat, and its connection with Major League Baseball, which is a North American league, makes it more important here than elsewhere.
This accurately portrays how good Oreos truly are.
Sean: I just…just can’t anymore. I put up with the disrespect towards Cy Young last week and to Babe Ruth in December, but this is a bridge too far. As someone who has seen a game at all 30 active Major League stadiums (until the Rangers play a game in their new park, this remains an accurate statement), Crackerjack is the only thing that is universal across the league – other than, you know, baseball. It’s become ingrained in the sport’s fabric and has a cultural significance that goes beyond the product itself. Plus, you mentioned the 7th inning stretch tradition in Chicago, which was started by the great Harry Carey, who gave us this absolute gem of broadcasting.
After you listen to that, I have no idea how you can argue for anything other than the Crackerjack to move on.
Aaron: As someone who has only seen a game at two Major League Parks (Toronto and Boston), Cracker Jack simply does not have the same importance in my life. Oreos, on the other hand, have been a significant part of my snack food life, especially with the camping trips mentioned above. Also, I am the first to buy a new flavour of Oreos when they hit the shelves. And as I said before, the universality of Oreos makes it a more impactful invention from 1912 compared to Cracker Jack, which is a North American treat. But, yes, this is personal and I am only picking Oreo to make your life miserable Dr. Graham.
Nabisco Introduces the Oreo Wins (100-90)
(2) Harry Houdini Performs his Chinese Water Torture Trick
(3) Universal Pictures incorporated
Aaron: When you think of magic and stunts, you immediately think of this man:
No, not him; although I am a fan of his illusions.
I am, of course, talking about the great Harry Houdini. He was born Erik Weisz in Budapest, Austria-Hungary, on March 24, 1874. He moved with his family to the United States in 1878, originally settling in Wisconsin. As a youth, Houdini showed an early interest in performing; at the age of 9 he performed as a trapeze artist under the name “Ehrich the prince of the Air”. He became a professional magician in 1891, although his skills required some fine tuning.
In 1893, Houdini met Wilhelmina Beatrice “Bess” Rahner while performing at Coney Island, and they married in 1894. Bess became his stage assistant for the rest of Houdini’s career. In the early 1890s, Houdini began experimenting with escape acts, which, of course, became his his trademark. In the early 20th century, Houdini travelled around the world performing his variety of magic and slight of hand tricks, but he was best known for his escapes. He was especially good at escaping from handcuffs, much to the delight of audiences.
On September, 21, 1912, Houdini revealed one of his most famous escapes: the Chinese Water Torture Cell. For those that haven’t seen it before, the illusion is performed as follows:
- Houdini’s feet are locked in stocks;
- Houdini is then suspended in mid air by his ankles using a restraint brace;
- Houdini is lowered into a glass tank filled with water;
- Houdini has to escape from the tank holding his breath.
Now, audiences in the early 20th century may not have been as discerning as we are now, because Houdini performed the illusion behind a closed curtain. After a few nerve-wracking minutes, once the curtain opened Houdini always appeared standing beside the contraption. The escape was an instant success, and Houdini continued to perform the Chinese Water Torture Cell until his death in 1926 at the age of 52.
In the early days of the 20th century, motion picture technology was continually improving. With better technology, more and more people began making films and showing them at local nickelodeons. One of the early pioneers of the film industry was Carl Laemmle. Born in the German Confederation (today part of Germany), he moved to the United States when he was 17 and settled in Chicago where, in 1906, he started a motion picture theatre. He even challenged Thomas Edison’s monopoly on moving pictures under the Sherman Antitrust Act (this act was discussed in 1911’s bracket, which you can read about here).
Laemmle eventually moved to New York to produce movies, forming the Independent Moving Pictures company. Laemmle was also unique in that he billed his stars, including Mary Pickford and Florence Lawrence, which greatly increased audience attention. In April 1912, Laemmle organized a meeting of some of the industry’s leaders, a group that included:
- Pat Powers of Powers Motion Picture Company
- Mark Dintenfass of Champion Film Company
- William Swanson of Rex Motion Picture Company
- David Horsley of Nestor Film Company
- Charles Baumann and Adam Kessel of the New York Motion Picture Company
Laemmle’s goal was to merge these five studios with his Independent Moving Pictures; the result was the birth of the Universal Film Manufacturing Company.
This is a tough match up and both events are worthy of moving on. But since only one can, I am going to argue in favour of Universal. Since its founding in 1912, the studio has been become a giant in the entertainment industry, having produced incredible films, television shows, and even two theme parks – I have visited the park in Florida and it was amazing. The name Universal seems almost synonymous with the movie industry, and for that reason I feel as though its impact is much greater than Houdini’s Chinese Water Torture escape. I recognize that for most magicians and illusionists Houdini was likely their inspiration, and that the Chinese Water Torture escape is one of the most famous stunts in the magic industry. I just feel that more people have been impacted by Universal Studios than this one, albeit awesome, escape act.
Sean: As much as it pains me, I think I have to agree with you on this one Dr. Boyes. I love magic – being wowed or awed by something that I can’t figure out how it happened is a lot of fun and when I see a really good magician there is a childlike wonder that goes along with it. In terms of universal impact, though, I have to agree that the studio has been more significant. And as Aaron mentioned, it’s a major force in the theme park world as Universal Studios Orlando was, for a brief period, seen as a potential threat to Walt Disney World when it opened its Harry Potter attractions. That level of cultural relevance outpaces Houdini. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go lament the fact that, because of this, we will never be welcome to the Magic Castle.
Aaron: How about a turn on the bouncy castle we got my daughter for her birthday?
Universal Pictures incorporated Wins (68-65)
(1) Australia Passes Maternity Allowance Act
(4) United States Passes Radio Act
Sean: Around the turn of the 20th century, infant mortality in Australia was around 70 deaths per 1,000 births. This number had been falling since the middle of the 19th century, but as the country entered the 1900s it became a political issue that forced government action. The principal reason for this was that women had won the right to vote in national elections in 1902. As women exercised that right, they became a powerful electoral force, pushing to have their concerns included in party platforms. One of these was maternity benefits and protections, as not only was infant mortality a concern, but the cost of giving birth could put a significant strain on a family’s finances. As a result of women’s lobbying efforts, the Labour Party included maternity benefits as part of its 1910 election platform.
When the Maternity Allowance Act passed in 1912, it provided every woman who had given birth, regardless of marital status, £5. This amount was the equivalent of around two weeks wages for unskilled labourers and would allow low-income women to have a doctor or midwife present while also leaving some for immediate expenses. The program’s goal was to both improve infant mortality rates while also reducing the economic strain associated.
The program was not without its problems, though, as only white women were eligible. Indigenous or those of Asian or Pacific Islander heritage were excluded from the program. In addition, anyone who claimed the allowance while ineligible was subject to a £100 fine or a year in jail. This was yet another discriminatory practice adopted as part of the White Australia Policy that had been put in place in 1901.
On the other side of the world, the United States was passing its own piece of legislation that it hoped would save lives. Following the sinking of the Titanic in April, the American government revisited the Wireless Ship Act of 1910. That had required all ships to be equipped with radio equipment, but it did not allocate frequencies, which resulted in interference. At the same time, the Titanic’s radio equipment was primarily used to transmit telegrams to New York, which led operators to ignore warnings from other ships, even telling them to stop communicating with the Titanic as it was disrupting their telegrams. So when the Titanic was sending out its distress calls a few hours later, most of them went unheard.
Following the tragedy, the American government, feeling that the technology had surpassed the existing regulations, wanted to ensure that a similar situation would not be repeated. The resulting legislation allowed the federal government to seize control of the broadcast spectrum and assume responsibility for its allocation. It also required licences for radio operators, a separate frequency for distress calls, and 24-hour service for ships at sea. While some in the United States argued that these regulations were in violation of the First Amendment, the government used the relative scarcity of frequencies and the need for public safety to justify its actions.
Between these two, I have to go with the Maternity Allowance Act. Despite being part of a larger racist agenda, it was an early example of maternity benefits and a legal recognition of women’s political power. Infant mortality rates continued to decrease through the 20th century with improved medical facilities and the more political and medical institutions addressed the risks associated with childbirth, the better the conditions. As with the Maternity Allowance Act, this was the direct result of women advocating and using their political agency. Where the Radio Act is a milestone in radio regulation and something that someone like me, as a historian of radio, finds fascinating, it was quickly out of date and completely replaced in 1927.
I am honestly stunned, Ladies and Gentlemen. I was convinced that Dr. Sean “The Reason Why I have a PhD in the First Place is Because of the History of Radio” was going to choose the Radio Act as his choice for winner. This is so unexpected. I’m almost at a loss… While I am bothered by the overt racist underpinnings of the Maternity Allowance Act, I agree that it is the more significant event.
The passage of this law is yet another example of women demanding a say and respect from their male-dominated society. In 2020, it’s incomprehensible that women would not have work coverage while on maternity leave – personally, my family benefited from it with the birth of my daughter and both my wife and I were appreciative that she was able to stay home and care for our newborn while not having to stress about work. The Maternity Act aligns with other important milestones of the 1910s, such as women gaining the right to vote and safer and better working conditions for women.
Australia Passes Maternity Allowance Act Wins (101-57)
(2) John Flammng Schrank Attempts to Assassinate Theodore Roosevelt
(3) Girl Scouts of America Founded
Aaron: Attempts to assassinate a US president are more common than we think. Of the 45 men who have held the office, 17 have been the target of at least one assassination attempt; and 4 – Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, William McKinley, and John F. Kennedy – were killed. On October 14, 1912, Theodore Roosevelt was the target of one of those attempts.
If the name Roosevelt seems familiar, that’s because Theodore was the uncle of Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of President Franklin Roosevelt. Born in New York in 1858 to a wealthy family, Roosevelt was a sickly child, which greatly influenced his attitude toward life as an adult. He attended Harvard College, where he continued his passion for the natural world, a passion he kept until his death.
In 1882, Roosevelt was elected to the New York State Assembly, and in 1884 he ran, unsuccessfully, for president. Following the loss, he moved to the Dakota Territory where he spent his days as a rancher. During the administration of William McKinley, Roosevelt held the post of Assistant Secretary of the Navy – much like nature, the navy fascinated him.
Following the sinking of the USS Maine in the harbor of Havana, Cuba – there is still some doubt as to how the ship exploded – the United States declared war on Spain, thus beginning the Spanish-American War. Roosevelt resigned his post in the Naval department and helped to form the First US Volunteer Cavalry Regiment – famously dubbed the “Rough Riders”.
Roosevelt saw combat during the War, and was involved in the famous Rough Rider charge up Kettle Hill in July, 1898. After his time with the armed forces, Roosevelt became the Governor of New York and eventually Vice President to McKinley during the 1900 election. On September 6, 1901, President McKinley was shot while in Buffalo, New York; on September 14, McKinley died, making Roosevelt, only 42 at the time, the youngest person to become president in American history.
Unfortunately, there is not enough space in this bracket to describe the Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt. Some highlights, however, are his foreign policy, which he succinctly described as: “Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick”. Essentially, the policy meant that the United States should seek peaceful resolutions with all nations of the world, but if its interests could not be satisfied through negotiation, then the use of military force must be followed.
The other legacy, this one more gentle, is the teddy bear. While on a hunting trip in Mississippi in 1902, some of Roosevelt’s aides had cornered and tied up a black bear; they insisted that the President get the kill. Roosevelt refused, stating that it was not sportsmanlike. A cartoon of the incident appeared in the Washington Post, which influenced the creation of the “teddy bear”, named after the President.
His presidency ended in 1909, but in 1912 he decided to run again, this time the leader of the Bull Moose Party – he once stated that he felt as fit as a bull moose, hence the name. He wasn’t wrong. In October 1912, Roosevelt was out campaigning in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, when John Flammang Schrank shot him. The bullet lodged in the former president’s chest…after passing through his glasses case and his 50-pages speech!
The most incredible part about the episode, however, is that Roosevelt continued to deliver his speech, in its entirety, for over 90 minutes! Blood was seeping through his shirt, but he refused to seek medical attention until he had delivered his speech. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he declared, “I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot, but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.” The bullet was lodged in his chest and doctors determined that it was safer to leave the bullet alone than to attempt to remove it.
Since its founding in March 1912, millions of young girls across the United States have joined the Girl Scouts of the United States of America. As part of the group they have learned essential life skills – community service, first aid, active citizenship – and character building – compassion, courage, confidence, leadership, and entrepreneurship. For this, they can thank the group’s founder, Juliette Gordon Low.
Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low was born on October 31, 1860, in Savannah, Georgia. Her parents raised her in line with traditional Southern values – duty, obedience, loyalty, and respect. In the 1880s, she met William Mackay Low and they began courting in secret. Four years later, she moved to Europe where she learned several useful new skills, such as shorthand, horseback riding, and hunting partridge. In 1886, Juliette and William married; it was, however, an unhappy marriage as William was often absent. During his absences Juilette started painting, woodworking, and metalworking; she also devoted a lot of time to helping charities, despite her husband’s objections. In 1905, William Low died, ending more than a decade of legal proceedings as he and Juliette worked on obtaining a divorce.
Living in Scotland at the time, Gordon Low became involved with the Girl Guides and, upon her 1912 return to the United States, wanted to bring the scout movement with her. At home in Savannah, Gordon Low called her cousin Nina and said, “I’ve got something for the girls of Savannah, and all America, and all the world, and we’re going to start it tonight.” Shortly thereafter, Gordon Low formed the first two American patrols, enrolling 18 young girls.
Using her extensive social connections, Gordon Low spread the word about the Girl Scouts, even writing the first manual, How Girls Can Help Their Country. Over the next decade Gordon Low tirelessly promoted the scouting movement and stressed the importance of including young girls. She died of breast cancer in Savannah on January 17, 1927. She was buried in her Girl Scout uniform with the following note in her pocket: “You are not only the first Girl Scout, but the best Girl Scout of them all.” Today, there are approximately 1.8 million members of the Girls Scouts in the United States.
As for the winner of this match up, I think it’s pretty clear that it should be Gordon Low’s founding of the Girl Scouts. Since its founding in 1912, millions of young girls have had the opportunity to learn new skills, gain confidence in their abilities, and make lifelong friends. As with every organization, the Girl Scouts is not without controversy, and I’m sure there are women today who do not look back fondly on their time with the Scouts; but I would like to think that there are many, many more women who would credit their time with the Scouts with positively influencing the person they are today.
Historically, the founding of the Girl Scouts of the United States also aligns well with the advancing of women’s rights around the world. As we have seen in other brackets, women were slowly gaining the right to vote, gaining protections in factories, and even celebrating women for being women. I do, though, want to say that I am utterly fascinated by the fact that Theodore Roosevelt not only survived the assassination attempt but also continued to deliver his 90-minute speech with a bullet lodged in his chest. If Roosevelt had been killed, this may have changed my mind on the winner.
Sean: Well, we are very much a results-based bracket.
I completely agree with this assessment. Personally, my only interaction with the organization has been through the cookie fundraiser during my year in the United States. And while I realize that it is somewhat of a stereotype to talk about the organization in relation to the cookies, they’re really good. And, frankly, I don’t have the same affinity for Roosevelt, so definitely have to go with the Girl Scouts to move forward.
Girl Scouts of America Founded Wins (90-70)
(1) First Successful Parachute Jump from Airplane
(2) Elmer Sperry files his Patent for the First Aircraft Stabilizer, or Autopilot
Sean: I don’t know if it counts as ironic, but in this match we have something that can save you as you jump from a plane against a thing that makes flying safer, thereby reducing the potential that you would want to jump. As always, my love of all things aviation clouds my judgment, but in this case I think I have to go with the stabilizer.
Prior to 1912, parachute jumps had been successfully completed from balloons and while the additional speed that comes from an airplane complicates things, the advance in technical ability is not as great as the introduction of the stabilizer. Human error will always exist – our flaws are part of what make us human – but when at 35,000 feet, the romance of imperfection is rather diminished. As a result, anything that helps overcome the inevitable mistakes we will make is a welcome addition.
Aaron: Technology is only so good, which is why the parachute is much more important. When the stabilizer fails at 35,000 feet, you want something to get your safely to the ground. True, the parachute can – and has – failed, but it is a much less complex piece of equipment, making it safer in the long run. I would much rather know that there are parachutes on board a plane than autopilot.
Sean: Do you know why they don’t have parachutes on planes? Because the weight, and subsequent fuel used, is not worth it. Plus, not enough people know how to use them, so in the event of an emergency, it might go a little something like this:
Aaron: I don’t want to be a falling turkey. I concede.
Elmer Sperry files his Patent for the First Aircraft Stabilizer, or Autopilot Wins (107-104 2OT)
Movin’, Movin’, Movin’ Bracket
(1) RMS Titanic Sinks on its Maiden Voyage
(3) First Radio Signals from Antarctica
Aaron: I wasn’t expecting a challenge from Sean on Titanic’s win in the last round, but he managed to do it. In the interest of being proactive, here is even more justification for why he was wrong.
Before its discovery in 1985, many believed that the Titanic sank in one piece, which led to speculation that the wreck could be found and salvaged – this includes the Cliver Cussler novel, and later movie, Raise the Titanic! (I haven’t seen the movie but the novel is actually quite good and an interesting read). However, when the wreck was located it was revealed that it had actually split in two. Since it was first found in the 1980s, numerous expeditions have occurred trying to find out more about the famous wreck. James Cameron’s 1997 feature film Titanic contains actual footage of the famous ship.
Lifeboats: this is something that I found fascinating. At the time, the British Board of Trade regulated that ships over 10,000 tons had to carry a minimum of 16 lifeboats. The Titanic actually carried 20 lifeboats, which could hold up to 65 passengers at a time. Thus, contrary to the popular myth that Titanic did not have enough lifeboats, it actually had more than was legally required. Still, those 20 lifeboats could only fit just over 1,100 passengers, despite the fact that more than 2,300 people were aboard. However, the lifeboats were actually meant to ferry passengers from the sinking ship to its rescuing counterpart.
The Titanic’s importance on history is truly incredible, especially in popular culture. More than one hundred years later people are still fascinated with the ship and the disaster. Numerous books, movies, songs, poems, and documentaries have been produced about the ship. In fact, a mere 29 days after the sinking, the first disaster film was released, Saved from the Titanic – starring Dorothy Gibson who survived the actual disaster!
James Cameron’s 1997 version became the highest grossing feature film in history and at the time was also the most expensive film ever made with a $200 million budget. From the imprint on the popular mind, to the changes in laws regarding shipping, the sinking of the Titanic is one of the 20th century’s most important events.
Sean: If You Asked Me To, I could Just Walk Away, but When I Fall in Love, I have to Think Twice. Sure, a radio signal is ephemeral, but How Does a Moment Last Forever? Immortality. Radio Loved Me Back to Life and I may be All By Myself in this debate, but That’s the Way It Is. As I think about that first radio signal coming from Antarctica It’s All Coming Back to Me Now and reminds me that I’m Alive. If Walls Could Talk they would say that we should accept the Imperfections of that first signal as it means that A New Day Has Come. The system may not have been pretty, but it was a Beauty and the Beast that answered The Prayer of the expedition.
Sean: I Surrender.
Titanic SInks on Maiden Voyage Wins (120-75)
Eye Candy Bracket
(1) Nabisco introduces the Oreo
(3) Universal Pictures Incorporated
Maybe it’s because I am not much of a movie guy – much to the chagrin of my wonderful wife who loves movies – that I am biased toward the Oreo. When it comes to finding something to watch, I am likely the worst person in the world as I am ultra picky and, I admit, not that helpful. Megan will suggest several movies – many, I’m sure, produced by Universal Pictures – but I find a way to pooh-pooh 99% of them.
I am not this way with cookies. If I’m asked what cookie I want from the store I immediately say, “Oreo”. I know exactly what I’m getting every time – except when it’s a new special edition, at which point I am SUPER excited to try something new. Movies, on the other hand, are hit and miss. Universal is a popular movie studio and its reputation of producing solid films is well-earned. However, nowadays movies are so expensive that it requires several studios to combine resources to get a blockbuster made. The Oreo, on the other hand, has remained relatively the same for over 100 years: delicious.
Sean: Yeah, why would you want to go and have a cultural experience when you can sit at home and eat pre-packaged cookies? This is a terrible take Dr. Boyes. Films offer an outlet into different worlds, provide a voice to the voiceless, and allow us to escape in difficult times. Plus, there are always new ones and even though some of them are not great, that’s part of the excitement. The unknown is part of what makes being a human being fun. Could you imagine doing the same thing over and over again, day after day, without any variation? It would be like only eating Oreos for the rest of your life.
Aaron: You say that like eating Oreos for the rest of my life is bad… While there are many different film studios competing with each other, there is only one Oreo. The no-name versions of the iconic cookie are not the same, and I have tried several over the years. Universal is but one large fish in a vast ocean; Oreo is a blue whale in a koi pond.
Nabisco Introduces the Oreo Wins (2-1)
(This guy was the ref in the last match up)
(1) Australia Passes Maternity Allowance Act
(3) Girl Scouts of America Founded
Sean: This is a tough match up as both were influential as part of a larger push for women’s rights and a greater recognition by established organizations of women’s political and social agency. Between the two, I’m going to go with the Maternity Allowance Act. While it certainly had its flaws, the improvements to infant and maternal mortality that resulted were much needed and long overdue. And when women have those resources available to them, it’s a benefit to everyone.
Aaron: I disagree. I feel that the Girl Scouts of the United States is more impactful as it is inclusive of all girls. It teaches girls and young women to be resourceful, strong, and independent. While the Girl Scouts may have been discriminatory in some ways, it did not have the same systemic racism that is present in the Maternity Allowance Act and its direct ties to the White Australia Policy. For this alone, I have to think that Girl Scouts should move on.
Sean: While I appreciate the advocacy that led to the Maternity Allowance Act, I think I have to concede that it’s inclusion in the White Australia Policy, which meant that thousands of women were excluded from the benefits, puts the Girl Scouts ahead in this match.
Juliette Gordon Low Founds the Girl Scouts of America (88-82)
Elmer Sperry files his Patent for the First Aircraft Stabilizer, or Autopilot
Nabisco introduces the Oreo
Sean: Planes, the answer is planes. Seriously, why are we talking about this. Flying – FLYING – is something that 99.9% of the human beings who have walked on this planet were never able to do. Think of all those luminaries who were wealthy and powerful – Queen Victoria, Shakespeare, Cleopatra, Hannibal – none of them flew. You know what they did have access to? Cookies. And a lot of them. Especially some of those emperors, who definitely had an early start on the eat-whatever-you-want-whenever-you-want-and-physical-fitness-doesn’t-matter social distancing policies that I have since adopted in my house.
Aaron: You made my point for me, Sean. You are able to purchase and enjoy bags and bags of Oreos during this pandemic, while you cannot jump on a plane, or at least not as easily as before. Besides, Oreos are available to way more people since a bag will cost you $3.50 at the grocery store, less if they are on sale. Flying, however, is super expensive and many people will never be able to experience it because of the cost restriction. Oreos don’t care if you’re rich or poor; planes, and the companies that operate them, surely do.
Sean: Your circular logic is exhausting, sir. I’m going to eat some Rainbow Chips Ahoy (official cookie of the Year in Review (100 Years Later)) to give me a needed energy boost to get through these last couple matches.
Titanic Sinks on Maiden Voyage
Juliette Gordon Low Founds the Girl Scouts of America
Aaron: For this match up, I have to side with the international impact of the sinking of the Titanic. As mentioned earlier, people from numerous nationalities were on board the Titanic, while the Girl Scouts were localized to just the United States. Yes, the Girl Scouts are part of the wider scouting movement around the world, but we’re talking here of just the American one. Even today, the Titanic likely has more word recognition than the Girl Scouts, unless it’s during cookie sale times…
Sean: I’m sorry, but are cookies currently banned in your house? Why is everything coming down to cookies and the availability of cookies?
Sure, the Titanic had a large international cultural presence, but what if there were more people on board who had the skills that people learn in the Girl Scouts? Maybe they would have been more prepared.
Aaron: No, cookies are not banned in my house; although with how this quarantine has been going they probably should be. Is it possible to put on a freshman-fifteen when you’re many years away from being a freshman?
Sean: Have your daughter join the Girl Scouts – they’ll have a fitness regime for you to get back in shape. Yet another reason for that to advance.
Aaron: That would be the Canadian branch and we are talking about the American one, so boom goes the dynamite. Seriously, though, international disaster, particularly one with such a strong cultural legacy, against national organization, we have to go with scale.
Titanic Sinks on Maiden Voyage Wins (58-57)
The Enrico Palazzo Pre-Memorial Championship Game
Nabisco Introduces the Oreo
Titanic Sinks on Maiden Voyage
Aaron: Now I know how Sean must have felt all those times while writing these brackets. I have been so focused on the Oreo and making sure that it made it to the final, but at what cost? Did I really write that many words expounding on the benefits of a cookie? Was I so blinded by my own hubris that I was willing to stop at nothing to ensure that the Oreo, however delicious it may be, was in the Championship match?
So just to be clear, your desire to sit around and eat cookies all day has caused you to overlook the significance of airplanes, national organizations, and basically anything that’s not a cookie?
Aaron: That is a truthfact.
Sean: In all seriousness, though, I think when we saw the list of events for 1912, it was going to be hard to surpass the significance of the Titanic. Not only does it remain culturally relevant on an international scale – including in tours of Ottawa when discussing the Chateau Laurier – but the disaster prompted significant changes to the transportation industry, including with the Radio Act of 1912. The way in which ships were built and the manner in which captains navigated icy waters were altered to ensure maximum safety. So while the disaster still looms large in the popular imagination, the lessons learned led to improvements from which we still benefit today.
Aaron: I have had some fun promoting the Oreo, but the Titanic is the clear winner of 1912. The sinking of the Titanic fascinates me, and has for as long as I can remember. I have a fond memory of watching a documentary about the Titanic with my dad when I was about 8 years old, and since that day I have tried to learn more about it. I find it somewhat hard to imagine that so many people could perish in a peacetime accident. I know that part of my curiosity is due to my own irrational fear of drowning. Whatever the reason, the Titanic’s sinking is still relevant in 2020.
That being said, I will not be a passenger on the proposed Titanic II when it sets sail, possibly in 2022.
Sean: Why, what could possibly go wrong?
Titanic Sinks on Maiden Voyage Wins (93-29)
1910: Binder Clip Patented
1913: Zipper Patent
1917: Russian Revolution
1918: Spanish Flu Pandemic