Saturday, December 31, 2011

Chester Arthur and Adam Goodheart's 1861: The Civil War Awakening

I finally got a chance to start Adam Goodheart's 1861: The Civil War Awakening. The author spent some time detailing the life of the young Colonel Elmer Ellsworth, the red-shirted Zouave killed in May 1861, as a focal point for his larger discussion on the ideals of the "generation of 1861." The young men who came of age just as the war began were an ambitious lot, full of ideals (thanks to Ralph Waldo Emerson), impressed by revolution and the possibility of war (thanks Kossuth and Garibaldi, etc.), willing to fight for their political beliefs, full of romantic notions (thanks to Sir Walter Scott), desirous to break with the older generation, and ardent to strike out in the world on their own and leave a personal mark. As I read through this chapter I couldn't help but think of our twenty-first president, Chester A. Arthur of New York.

Born in Vermont in 1829, Arthur was 31 years old when the war began, perhaps a little older than the generation Goodheart wrote about, but not by much. Arthur's biography confirms Goodheart's description of this cohort. Like his peers Arthur sought a clear break with his past. The son a Baptist preacher whose hot condemnations of slavery kept him on the move, Chet sought a life with more stability, greater wealth, and a lot less religion. It was a strong rejection of upbringing. He attended Union College in the 1840s and became a school teacher. This, however, only served to pay his bills while he prepared for a legal career. In 1854 he was admitted to the bar and moved to New York City, a place far removed from his old stomping grounds of small, poor towns of upstate New York and New England.

Arthur certainly left his father's religion in the dust. His mother complained about her sons's (both Chet and his brother William) lack of devotion, and the future president's own son Chester A. Arthur II believed his father possessed no religious convictions at all. On the other hand, some of the moralistic preaching sunk in. Chet considered slavery a moral wrong and did what he could to fight the evil institution. As a young attorney he worked on the Lemon Case, to free slaves who had escaped their Virginian master when he stopped in New York City on the way to Texas. Arthur also visited "Bleeding" Kansas in 1857 to get a better understanding of the violence and to show some support for the free-state forces. He did not stay in Kansas long, but his journey certainly represented a spirit of the times. Whether it was those of the Emigrant Aid Society who flocked to Kansas, filibusters who invaded Cuba, young men who set out to sea (like Herman Melville and Henry George), gold miners who travelled cross country, or countless other examples, Chet's ill-defined trip to Kansas was symbolic of the adventurous ambition of his generation.

Arthur had many other qualities that speak to Goodheart's description. The poor country bumpkin reinventing himself as a debonair, well-paid urban lawyer stands out. His willingness to fight for politics can be seen not only in his serving as quartermaster general of New York State during the Civil War, but in how he setup a maypole in 1844 to support the Whig presidential candidate Henry Clay. When some young Democrats came to knock it down, Arthur led a counterattack of young Whigs that resulted in a fistfight. Arthur joined the militia, like many of his generation. Unlike Ellsworth who took his pre-war militia duty seriously, Arthur seemed predominately interested in what we today call "networking." He built his list of legal clients and met other rising politicos. Finally, Arthur's break with the past and political convictions can be seen in how quickly he joined the brand new Republican Party. Like many of his cohort the war purged Arthur of his romantic idealism, much as World War I would do for a later generation.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Europe's Sewer

On page 146 of The Rhine: An Eco-Biography , 1815-2000, Mark Cioc writes, "One hundred fifty years of hydraulic tinkering had turned the Rhine into a soulless shadow of its former self. Once clean, it was now filthy; once broad, it was now narrow; once bursting with life, it was now half-dead." Cioc chronicles how the once mythical and enchanting Rhine was altered in the wake of Napoleon and industrial revolution to become nothing more than a canal. The Rhine Commission, created in 1815, took decisions out of the hands of politicians and placed them in those of engineers who cared little for their environmental impact. They narrowed and straightened the Rhine, removing its islands and shortening it. The tamed Rhine, confined to a single riverbed supplied water, waste removal, power, industrial processes, transportation, and recreation. This last was given least priority. The engineers minimized their handy work on some of more touristy lengths, but gave no consideration to birds, fish, and mammals. In altering the flood plain birds lost much of their habitat. By chopping up the Rhine into dammed segments, the engineers made it impossible for migrating fish to reach their habitats. If the engineers were uninterested in preserving nature, the statesmen were less so. Driven by the Prussians, the main political concern was to foster growth to Germany's economic and military power. The chemical, coal, and dye industries pumped millions of tons of waste in the Rhine. Instead of regulating these emissions, industrial and political leaders adhered to the discredited notion that significant water would dilute the toxic waste. The effect, however, was to kill off more wildlife habitat and to turn some of the feeder rivers into the foulest stretches of water in the world. Conservation came late in Germany, long after the United States. As Cioc chronicles, the first effective pollution controls were only implemented in the 1970s and 1980s. The good news is this new regime is working to vastly reduce pollution. Restoring wildlife is proving much more difficult. Although some of the damage can be mitigated, the Rhine will never be what it once was.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A private not a corporal

Although it falls on the tail end of the Progressive Era, World War I is one of my favorite historical topics. As I tell my students we are still living out the consequences of this momentous event. Today we see the effects most clearly in the Middle East where the borders were drawn when the victorious allies carved up the Ottoman Empire. The war left its lasting legacies on all the other participant nations as well. France was weakened, England confused, America disgusted, Russia communized, Germany punished, Italy betrayed, Austria-Hungary divided, Romania enlarged, Bulgaria reduced, and new states created. Tens of millions were killed, maimed, psychologically traumatized, and dehumanized. Civilians suffered atrocities and revolution followed in the wake of the war. It is hard to see how anyone of that generation was unaffected in someway.

Thomas Weber's Hitler's First War: Adolph Hitler, the Men of the LIst Regiment, and the First World War seeks to measure the impact of the First World War on the man most responsible for starting the even more terrible Second World War. I first got interested in this book when I read a summary of Weber's findings on a blog (HNN's Clio, I think). I admit I like books that spin conventional wisdom on its head. Later I heard Marshall Poe interview Weber on his excellent "New Books in History" podcast. It sounded like good historical grunt work and a window in to the life of front line soldiers. Weber chronicles the entire regiment in order to provide context for Hitler's experience. His primary theses is that the war did not make Hitler a Nazi. There was no outstanding sense of anti-semitism or proto-fascist/authoritarian sentiment in the unit. In fact, using the area the List veterans lived in (rural Bavaria), their religion (mostly Catholic), and individual accounts they were indeed less likely to become members of the Nazi party than other Germans. There were a few notable exceptions, of course, as some of Hitler's closest comrades took advantage of his rising power.

Weber finds that Hitler's ideology at the end of the war was a fuzzy fascination with the mixture of collectivism and nationalism, but few specific ideas. He first participated in the Bavarian Soviet which quickly collapsed. After the collapse of the revolutionary left, Hitler migrated to the revolutionary right. The mixture of collectivism and nationalism provided the bridge. Mein Kampf, therefore, was an attempt to cover up this left ward experience and root his ideology closely in a national experience that fit the tenets of his new party.

Weber makes many other arguments as well. Here is a sample.

*Hitler was not a frontline runner dodging machine gun bullets, but a "rear area pig" who had a comfy billet in the regimental HQ behind the lines.
*The regiment had few volunteers, it consisted mostly of reservists and high command considered it low quality unit to be used only when no other was on hand.
*His Iron Crosses owed much to this proximity to regimental officers.
*Hitler was only mildly injured from the gas attack of 1918 and that his injuries were psychosomatic, another fact of his past that Hitler wanted to conceal.
*An oddball loner from Austria with few social skills and no leadership abilities, he was promoted only one grade during the entire war. Never a corporal, he spent the whole war a private.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chester Arthur isn't worth a $1?

The Treasury Department announced that it will cease making $1 coins after minting one portraying our 20th president, James A. Garfield. Of course, his successor via assassination, Chester A. Arthur will not enjoy the honor of a presidential coin. Perhaps conspiracy theorists will

speculate that this is some sort of payback for Arthur's complicity in the questions raised over our current president's citizenship. But the simple fact is Americans don't use the $1 coin and it has no place in our pockets, change cups, and cash registers. I admit I am guilty of this myself. The metallic images of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, and Hayes have a permanent residence in my desk draw with a commemorative token from Buffalo Bill's grave in Golden, Colorado and some sort of Soviet coin with Lenin's image and the dates 1870-1970 that my uncle smuggled back from a 1980s trip to the USSR (and yes, that was during the height of the "spy dust" years, if one recalls that Cold War news nugget). They haven't even made their way to my modest coin collection to cozy up to Susan B. Anthony, yet another $1 coin fiasco. My Irish grandmother made sure I received a freshly minted one as my interest history was already evident in 1979. I added it to my currency collection which then consisted of a couple of buffalo back

nickels and a $2 bill that I received on my birthday and never spent. I still have the $2 bill and the Susan B. Anthony dollar, and right there you can see I have taken $6 whole dollars permanently out of circulation. As a tax payer I am glad that we will no longer waste money creating a product that the public-at-large does not want or use. The historian in me, however, wishes they would have realized this a bit later, after coins bearing the images of the Gilded Age presidents could be minted and, to use a not quite appropriate term, circulated. Perhaps it would have stimulated some interest among some Americans in the Gilded Age and its bearded and mustached chief executives. Theodore Roosevelt would have been a good breaking point. After all, I would think Mount Rushmore would more than compensate for his not being on a coin.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Decision Points

Theodore Roosevelt created the modern presidential autobiography. He stressed his accomplishments, minimized his setbacks, and offered insight to his decisions. In the years after 1913 it might have seemed Roosevelt's reflection on his life and presidency was a product of his own prolific authorial nature and not a new trend for former chief executives. William Howard Taft did not want to relive his unhappy four years in office, nor did he have a history of writing. Stricken with a stroke Woodrow Wilson could not write an autobiography. What a shame! His sense of history, writing ability, and professorial bent, could have produced a standout among presidential memoirs, even if it would have been burdened by his self-righteousness. Warren Harding died in office, but one wonders if he would have written one had he lived. Calvin Coolidge revived the memoir,

although it was not very informative. I remember reading Allen Nevins once wondered aloud why on earth Coolidge even bothered to write it. Herbert Hoover left a much more detailed, informative, and lengthy contribution. In this highly defensive work, Hoover sought to vindicate his reputation and offer his version of history. He divided the depression down to a number of smaller segments that he dealt with. Throughout he stuck to the narrative that he thoroughly understood what was going on and acted appropriately. Obviously, it all went to hell with the New Deal Democrats. Thereafter, all presidents who survived their terms wrote autobiographies or memoirs, mostly with the help of ghost writers. Each one has its own character and offers an insight to the presidents who wrote them. For example, Harry Truman's is homey, Dwight Eisenhower's is professional if bland, Nixon's is defensive and consumed by Watergate, and Clinton's is verbose.

Like his predecessors George W. Bush seeks to minimize his defeats and accent his Triumphs in his Decision Points. Skipping detailed discussion of individual policy, I will only offer a couple of general comments on the structure of the book.

1. I sensed that there were two myths Bush consciously sought to confront without mentinoing. First, Dick Cheney's name appears sporadically in the policy discussions. In other words, the Vice President does not appear to exert the same level of influence in Bush's account of his years in office as the media depicted. Second, it was largely reported during his administration that the president avoided internal discussion and debate. In his memoir, Bush recounts many debates within the administration and with allies on important policy matters. Of course, the gate swings both ways. If the president consulted many advisors then they must also take some of the blame for failed policies.

2. The organization of the book works well. It is thematic, not chronological. Nevertheless, I was disappointed that there was no discussion on environmental policies. No one is going to rank Bush as a great environmental president, but that still doesn't mean that Clear Skies, the protected zone in the Pacific, emissions standards, Global Warming, etc., were not worth more mention.

3. I liked the sense of humor. There are many serious topics and having a little humor (largely absent in most other presidential autobiographies) helps to cut some of Bush's defensiveness.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Nature of New York

In my "The Ides" posting I noted how good intentions can sometimes boomerang with devastating effects. One example is an 1879 New York State law that required all apartment rooms to have a window. The idea behind the law was to bring light and fresh air to the overcrowded city tenements. This good sounding law had the unintended consequence of inspiring landlords to construct the infamous "dumbbell" apartment design (see picture to right). This odious

construction only made the problem worse as the windows in the "air shafts" between the buildings filled with rotting garbage and refuse. Instead or bringing fresh air and light, this law ironically created dank apartments infused with noxious fumes. I learned about this law in David Stradling's The Nature of New York: An Environmental History of the Empire State (Cornell, 2010).

As Stradling demonstrates, New York state played a pivotal role in the history of the American environment. Just to name some of the most important events and ideas emanating from the Empire State that inspired the nation: the Erie Canal, Niagara Falls tourism, Central Park, Adirondack State Park, Levittown, and Love Canal. Important individuals such as James Fenimore Cooper, the Hudson River School, the Roosevelts, Robert Marshall, and Robert Moses, to name a few, came from New York but impacted attitudes and policies throughout the United States. Being so focused on William Hornaday, I would argue that Stradling could have emphasized the role of the New York Zoological Park (a.k.a Bronx Zoo) in revolutionizing the concept of the zoo much more than he did, but I admit this falls in the category of basing criticism on how I might have written the book which is not always fair.

There are many more common environmental issues in New York State that could be used to make comparisons to other localities, states, and systems. Examples include, How to supply cities with water? Where to build infrastructure? Who should be held responsible for misdeeds and damage that harms other people? How to adapt to changes in the environment? What is the difference between genuine natural space and managed space? Throw in NIMBY, polluters, and larger trends like the decline of agriculture or the rise of the urban population and this book speaks across the Empire State's borders.

I really enjoyed The Nature of New York, especially because Stradling gives a lot of attention to the urban environment. He successfully argues that use of urban space is as legitimate topic for environmental history as forests, mountains, prairies, and tidal lands. New York City's pioneering 1916 zoning law stood out for me. I was surprised it took so long for such a code, and thought it more than coincidental that it was implemented only 4 years before the census revealed that the population of the country was equally divided between urban and rural dwellers. It is almost as if cities only then earned some respect as more than a dumping ground. Second, I just about forgot how much I enjoyed place histories. Whether it is a discussion on the history of the environment or politics, I do so enjoy this type of study.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Hot Time in the Old City

I recently reviewed Edward Kohn's Hot Time in the Old Town on H-Net's SHGAPE network. Here is the link if you are interested: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=33113.

Hot Time in the Old Town covers New York City's killer heat wave of 1896. Over 1200 people by the author's account. It reaches a little bit in claiming that the heat wave killed William Jennings Bryan's campaign and inspired Theodore Roosevelt's progressivism. Otherwise, this is an enjoyable and interesting read. The best part was in how it connected the lives of individuals, especially

tenement dwelling immigrants with the urban environment. Although I reviewed this for the Gilded Age and Progressive Era network, this book could work well for an environmental history course.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Before Earth Day

Another one of those books I bought at ASEH and am just finishing is Before Earth Day: The Origins of American Environmental Law, 1945-1970 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2009) by Karl B. Brooks.

Brooks argues that historians have placed too much emphasis on the environmental laws of the Johnson and Nixon Administrations. Instead, Brooks studies the period between the end of World War II and Earth Day and finds many important precedents. Little credited federal laws (the Administrative Procedure Act of 1946 and the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act of 1946, for example) and numerous state laws enacted in the late 1940s and early 1950s formed the foundation of post-war environmental law. Two things happened in this early period. First, states enacted many laws, proving the theory that they were the laboratories of reform. While some of these laws pushed the federal government to take a more aggressive stand on some issues, many made their way to the court and judicial review. Second, executive agencies empowered to administer environmental laws (on both state and federal levels) received greater authority to make changes and new regulations without having to go back to the legislative bodies. Thus, laws begat more laws, more judicial review, and more regulations. The process repeated itself until the accumulation of new codes required some adjustment. This is where Brooks sees the important legislation of the 1960s and 1970s coming in. They were not revolutionary responses to Rachel Carson, but critical clarifications to an existing body of law. As a byproduct, he makes a case that Eisenhower was good president on environmental matters.

My biggest question for this book is why start in 1945? As James Tober argues in Who Owns the Wildlife (1981) a substantial body of law related to wildlife developed in the late 19th century. There was a Supreme Court case, Geer vs. Conntecticut (1896) that ruled wildlife essentially belonged to the state. The decision of Missouri vs. Holland (1920) upheld the federal power to enforce wildlife regulations. And there were important laws throughout the early twentieth century affecting the environment and wildlife in particular, many of which empowered the executive agencies to form regulations. What affect did these laws have on the post-war evolution of environmental law?

Monday, November 21, 2011

William Temple Hornaday and the Progressive Era Nature Study Movement

Finally clearing out some of the books I bought at the ASEH conference in April, and just finished Kevin Armitage's The Nature Study Movement: The Forgotten Popularizer of America's Conservation Ethic (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2009).

Armitage examined the Progressive Era nature study movement and concluded that it was a primarily a romantic movement (not a scientific one), that questioned modernity. I see that this is especially true of men like Thornton Burgess, William Temple Hornaday, and Ernest Thompson Seton, just to name some of those I am more familiar with. Although Hornaday was the dean of American zoologists during the thirty years he served as director of the Bronx Zoo (1896-1926), he was hardly a devoted scientist. In fact, he waged a personal war against what he considered the corrupting influences of the Teutonic scientific method. He criticized the academic scientists for removing nature study from the field and taking it to the laboratory, and for replacing buckskins and guns with lab coats and microscopes. Hornaday's scientific ideal was more grounded in a 19th century generalist movement. He felt the proper experience of wildlife took place in the outdoors where one observed animals whole, not in parts.

Yet, Hornaday had a very quirky attitude. While denying a certain fashion of science, he still maintained he followed the scientific principles and methods. He strongly criticized Reverend William Long and the nature fakers for ascribing unnatural skills to animals. But, no one anthropomorphized animals more than Hornaday himself. He ascribed a wide variety of human emotions to animals. Wolves were criminals, for example. Read his Wild Animal Interviews (1928) for a series of fictional conversations he had with animals. It is great stuff, and quite humorous (he was a funny man, a trait often overlooked in accounts of him), but it is not science. In Minds and Manners of Wild Animals (1922) he attempted to rate animal intelligence. Although maintaining he followed the scientific method, it is obvious that his data resulted not from verifiable tests, but from a lifetime of accumulated observations and anecdotes repackaged as objective truth. All this could be overlooked more easily if he had not spent much of his career attacking other people's views of science.

Hornaday's entire wildlife conservation program was based on the assumption that modernity, through improved firearms (pump and automatic shotguns) and transportation (automobiles) improved humanity's killing exponentially, while animals breeding remained an arithmetical calculation. Yes, that was a Malthusian view. Hornaday believed there would be no wildlife by 1950 at the rate at which human killing capacity improved.

Armitage does an excellent job of tying together various strands of the nature study movement. Back to rural living, bird day, gardening, woodcraft, etc., all receive their due. And he also explains how this nature study movement fit so well with the new curriculum of progressive education, as developed by John Dewey and others. Our generation is not the first to feel their children do not spend enough times outdoors. Hornaday had little interaction with Dewey or the progressive educators, but followed some of their ideas. Over 44 million people visited the Bronx Zoo during Hornaday's tenure as director. Many of them were school children who came on field trips. In this way Hornaday's zoo was one of the greatest contributors to the nature study movement.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Review of Wind Across the Everglades (1958)

In Wind Across the Everglades a game warden named Walt Murdock (played by Christopher Plummer) confronts plume hunter Cottonmouth Smith (played by Burl Ives) in early 1900s Florida. It is based loosely on the experiences of Guy Bradley, an Audubon warden who was killed by a plume hunter (also named Smith) in 1905. The Smith in the movie does not kill the game warden, although he made several failed attempts to rig a "natural" death. The cinematic game warden differed from the real one in ways other than that he survived his confrontation with his Smith. As where Bradley was a native Floridian familiar with the 'glades, Murdock is well educated northerner (often referred to as a "Yankee" when not called "Bird Boy") who came to Miami to teach natural history at the high school. He was fired literally as soon as he gets off the train because he pulled some plumes off one a woman's hat. This immediately draws him to the one Audubon representative in Miami who convinced the judge to release Murdock to serve as a warden in the Everglades. The views of the business community are crystallized in two individuals. One wants to profit from the plume trade, the other wants to drain the Everglades to make room for development. In contrast, Murdock becomes instantly infatuated with the swamps and rejects both of these positions.

In many ways I find the market hunter Smith the more interesting character. He leads a colony of violent outlaws, the misfits of society who believe their lifestyle is both the ultimate expression of individualism and a form of protest against modern society. Smith holds sway over this community as a sort of king. He is lord of nature and man in the swamp. He dispenses justice as he sees fit, punishes transgressions, and holds the power over life and death. In the end he miraculously decides to bring the "Bird Boy," as he calls Murdock to Miami and risk prosecution, but as he went to grab his hat he was bit by a snake and died with a buzzard circling overhead. This is a Hollywood movie after all!

Having read a great deal on the Progressive Era wildlife conservation movement, I really enjoyed this film. I think it captures a lot of the indifference that existed to the plumage issue at the time as well as the crusading spirit that motivated the early conservationists. By casting Murdock as a "Yankee" in the south, it also captured some of the conflict between local and outside values over nature that exist in conservation battles. But, I think the depiction of the market hunters is a little off. Many were family men following a tradition of their fathers and who shot game (for plumes or meat) to make extra money. This is not  to defend them, but by and large they were much more ordinary than Smith's counter-cultural Robin Hood's band of the Swamps.

If I was teaching an environmental history class I think I would try to incorporate this film into the syllabus somehow. It could be a good vehicle for discussion on the points I enumerated above. As far as the film is concerned, the cinematography is phenomenal, especially given the date. There are many great scenes of wildlife and swamps, and there are no computer generated heron flocks in this movie.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Ides: Caesar's Murder and the War for Rome

As they say in Monty Python, "And now for some thing completely different." I do teach a course on Western Civilization I every spring and do devote a considerable amount of reading time to that subject. I recently completed Stephen Dando-Collins, The Ides: Caesar's Murder and the War for Rome. Earlier I read and posted on his book concerning the great fire of Rome during Nero's reign. Dando-Collins is an engaging writer who draws the reader into the Ancient Rome.

There are two points Dando-Collins makes in The Ides I wish to call attention to in this posting. First, Julius Caesar was not a benevolent dictator out improve the lives of the poor. He was, instead, and accurately, a power hungry dictator who played the politics of class with the best of them. One of the many mistakes his assassins made was their failure to win over the populace, something Caesar excelled at. In fact, it was his ability to win over the populace at the expense of the senatorial class that motivated his assassins. Personally, I think this message needs to be amplified. If there is one thing I fear about our current political situation is that I really do hear people (including friends) say we need a benevolent dictator. It is my belief that there is no such thing as a benevolent dictator.

Second, Caesar's assassins had no real post-assassination plan. It appears they put absolutely no thought into it. Their largest concern was in not being charged with murder. For this reason they focused on tyranicide, which was not a crime under Roman law. Cicero, who was not part of the plot, felt they should have knocked off Mark Anthony as well. Undoubtedly he was correct, but to kill Anthony would have been murder. The assassins made no provisions for amassing troops and had no real plans to restore the Republic. Anthony walked into this void and showed them to be, in the vernacular of my students, total noobs. When Octavian entered the scene it further complicated the lives of the assassins. Now there were two men vying for Caesar's dictatorial legacy. And both parties wanted to punish the assassins. There is a real message here: Think out your actions! History is full of such examples. Please feel free to share your favorite example of an action driven by the best motives that totally backfired.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Colonel Roosevelt

Ever since my father took me to the TR birthplace when I was 10 or 11 the Rough Rider has been my favorite American historical figure. Frequent trips to Sagamore Hill, about a 20 minute drive from our house on Long Island, fostered my growing interest with TR. Naturally, I turned to biographies which in turn led me to the study of the Progressive Era.

Theodore Roosevelt has had his fair share of biographers, ranging from flat out hagiograpies to the far less flattering variety. I just finished Colonel Roosevelt, the third and final installment in Edmund Morris's expansive biography of Theodore Roosevelt. I really wish I could turn a sentence like Morris. He has a great style and wit. Yes, wit, not snark. I know some historians have criticized him for not providing enough historiographical context, a fair comment, but he more than compensates in my opinion by drawing such a vivid human portrait. The Roosevelt I came away with from the book is a man very much lost in the world, uncertain of his place, and struggling to remain relevant.

I think Roosevelt redefined the post-presidency. Prior to him past presidents led fairly quiet lives out of the public eye. Roosevelt, on the other hand, continued to publish books, essays, op-ed pieces, and reviews. He made his opinions known on a wide variety of topics. He traveled the world, going on safari in Africa, hobknobing with European royalty, and exploring the Amazonian jungles. Heck, he even ran for president on a third party. Grover Cleveland, of course, ran for president, but he did that on a major party ticket, and had intended on running from the moment he left the White House in 1889. Ulysses Grant unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination in 1880. TR may have lost the 1912 election, but he did change the political landscape. Woodrow Wilson abandoned many of his own New Freedom ideas in favor of TR's New Nationalism.

In one other important way, TR served as a harbinger for future post-presidents. He spent a significant amount of time managing his legacy. In some ways his battle with his hand picked successor, William Howard Taft, was as much about legacy as any thing else. In reversing part of his predecessor's conservation policy, Taft was also attacking that cherished legacy. Roosevelt defended his legacy with a his Autobiography, another trend he established for post-presidents. Beyond that TR used his other writings to support and re-interpret his positions and attack his detractors. He even sued a newspaper writer who alleged he drank too much.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Wild Horses of the American West

Here is a link to my review of J. Edward de Steiguer's Wild Horses of the West: History and Politics of America's Mustangs on the Colorado Book Review website.



http://coloradowest.auraria.edu/?q=node/195

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Gilded Age lesson about the Flat Tax

I was sitting at dinner with my family the other night and the I overheard a discussion about the flat tax at the next table. My mind drifted back to another era, the Gilded Age and the contentious issue of the tariff.

In the presidential election of 1880, the Democratic candidate, General Winfield Scott Hancock, uttered a gaffe when he called the tariff a local issue. Republican opponents seized on this statement as an example of the General's obvious ignorance in economic policies. How, they asked, could the the trade policy that drove the national economy, contributed so much to the federal coffers, and protected the jobs of millions of workers be remotely considered local? Well Hancock might not have been clear in his meaning, but the historian can see much accuracy in his statement. The tariff was the sum of many rates on thousands of items, which was the product of political deals to that often had the goal of satisfying local constituencies. In other words, no matter how much the Democrats of Louisiana supported a tariff on principle - as sound Democrats were expected to do - they inevitably opposed lowering the rates on sugar imports from the Caribbean or the Philippines out of fear it would damage their local economies. In other words, local political considerations trumped ideals.

The tariff, however, did not exist in a vacuum. As American industry grew in the late 1880s and early 1890s a new economic concern developed. Instead of fearing competition from cheap markets, American industries had so dominated the home market, that they became troubled by the idea that would build up an excess of product they could not sell. They not only feared the loss of revenue and economic decline from a shut down, but also the attendant social unrest, especially after the Haymarket Square riot of 1886. Moreover, they were concerned about another type of surplus, too much money in the federal treasury. In a deflationary period, having money collecting dust in a federal vault was a net loss to the economy.

To deal with this the Republicans came up with one novel idea and one not so new one. The novel idea was to reform the tariff to include a reciprocity agreement clause. This would allow the president to negotiate trade deals outside the normal tariff rules. It was you scratch my back and I will scratch yours kind of arrangement. I always considered this a really clever way of dealing with a real policy conundrum. How to keep a protectionist tariff (increasingly sold as a jobs saving measure) and lower the rates at the same time? Reciprocity provided the answer. At the same time, the McKinley Tariff of 1890 (named after then Congressman and future president William McKinley) lowered or eliminated rates on consumer items to reduce the surplus. Exports significantly increased as President Benjamin Harrison negotiated agreements with other countries to exchange specific items at lower rates. The less novel approach was the old fashion idea of lets eliminate the surplus by spending it. In this case, increasing payments to Civil War pensioners and the Sherman Silver Purchase Act that had the United States government purchasing nearly all the silver mined in the country. How is that for a subsidy! Such lavish spending earned the 51st Congress the sobriquet, the Billion Dollar Congress.

After having let the Republicans take a whack at the problem of surplus, the public turned to the Democrats. Grover Cleveland, elected in 1892, then entered one of the most miserable terms of office experienced by any president, as the economy crashed within months of his having taken office. Cleveland lowered spending, by eliminating the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, and attempted a tariff reform. His proposal called for replacing revenue lost from general rate reductions with an income tax. Congress, however, proved incapable of producing the reform he demanded. Instead, it was a case of each member of Congress protecting the interest of their district. Cleveland was disgusted, but there was little he could do. In the end the Wilson-Gorman Tariff became law without the president's signature.

Why did a nearby discussion on the flat tax make me think of the tariff as an issue over one hundred and twenty years prior? I think it is because of the one striking similarity between today's tax code and the tariff of those days. It is no coincidence that as the tariff faded away the income tax replaced it. Not only as the government's source of revenue, but also as one of the chief means in which lawmakers can encourage local businesses. Instead of raising the rates on their foreign competitors, we give them a tax break as an incentive. I am little bit more of a loss to explain how the tariff was used to encourage people to engage in certain behaviors, in the way that the current tax code promotes home ownership and higher education, and, for whatever reason, corporate jets, but I might think of one if I was not so tired at the moment :-)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Wild Horses

A few notes about horses in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era I learned in J. Edward De Steiguer's Wild Horses of the West: History and Politics of America's Mustangs (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2011).

During the mid-19th century the wild horse population numbered about 2.5 million animals. They descended from Spanish horses that escaped the missions in the 17th and 18th Century either on their own or with the aid of Native Americans. Combined with millions of buffalo and cattle, the hoofed animals did significant damage to the fragile ecosystem. During the Gilded Age their range shrunk as cattle ranches and farms moved further west. One of the forces protecting the wild horses was the great open breeding programs. Cowboys preferred to send their horses out to the wild herds to breed. But a series of disasters decreased the demand for new horses. Although De Steiguer does not mention it, I think the Blizzards of 1886-88 had to have had some effect on the horse population. Not so much from the snow itself, but the effect it had on the cattle industry and thus the need for mounts. De Steiguer does attribute a decline in horse demand to the depression of 1893 and the automobile, which seem reasonable enough. What remained of the wild horses were sold off in several large shipments, mainly to the British Army during the Boer War and later during World War I. Those animals not shipped off to war, fared no better. Although the total horse population in American reached its zenith in 1920 at 20 million head, the wild percentage of the total would shrink even more dramatically. As prosperity spread, people purchased homes and pets, wild horses were round up and slaughtered for pet food and glue, made into baseball covers, and canned for food to be sold in overseas markets. The Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 with its fencing provisions vastly compounded the ill fortunes of the wild horse. By channelling horses off of farm land and funneling them into an increasingly narrow area, they became easier prey for the slaughterers. By 1940 they were about gone.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

William T. Hornaday and the Uses of Personal Papers

Just getting back from a week in Washington spent in the manuscript collections of the Library of Congress's Madison Building. Unlike the absolutely stunning (and distracting, I would argue) main reading room in the Jefferson building, the manuscript room in the Madison building is

functional and plain. The staff was very helpful and knowledgable. I worked my way through two collections. First, the William T. Hornaday Papers, and, second, a much smaller piece of the Irving Brant Papers. Although remembered mostly for his authoratative biography of James Madison, Brant began his writing career as a free lance journalist. While researching an article on the Audubon Society he met Hornaday, fell under the older man's sway, and served as his lobbyist in Washington for several years in the early 1930s. Brant also wrote pamphlets for the Emergency Conservation Committee (ECC), an organization directed by Rosalie Edge specializing in radical conservation pamphlets. The ECC echoed Hornaday's philosophy and he provided advice, moral support, and money. He also gave them information, something they as relative newcomers desperately needed.

And this leads me, by way of lengthy preamble, to the main point of this posting. As much as anyone possibly could, Hornaday consciously constructed a personal archive with the intent of influencing future generations. He genuinely believed that by 1950 only the English sparrow would survive and he wanted to record his efforts at trying to save wildlife, while, at the same time, finger the short sighted conservationists who refused to heed his warnings. Along the way he constructed many scrapbooks of letters, newspaper clippings (he hired a service to send him clippings from all over the country, an early version of RSS), magazine articles, congressional hearings and bills, etc. The most telling portions of the scrapbooks, are his hand written comments in the margins and along the tops of pages to inform intended readers of important developments. He found use of them in his own lifetime, such as when the young journalist Irving Brant needed information on the Audubon Society for an article he was writing. Hornaday essentially said, "You want information. I have plenty." All of it, of course, was damning evidence of how the Audubon Society betrayed the conservation movement in 1911 by accepting money from gun makers (see my posting here) and throughout the 1920s by supporting a migratory bird refuge bill that contained a provision for adding public shooting grounds to the refuges. Brant read the scrapbooks and became a lifelong convert to conservation. A couple of years later, in 1929, Horndaday shared his scrapbooks with Rosalie Edge, who, too, became an instant ally, fellow traveler, and critic of the Audubon Society. Hornaday shared his scrapbooks and documents with others, and his papers served as the archives for a militant, radical, and anti-establishment brand of conservation in the late 1920s and early 1930s. As he approached dotage and failing health, he made provision to send this archive of scrapbooks and personal letter books to the archives of the New York Zoological Park. Currently, it is the Wild Life Conservation Society, and that is where you will find his choicest conservation writings.

What about his private papers, the 39,000 other documents, now in the Library of Congress (LOC)? Here, too, one sees conscious effort to shape a view of the past. He annotated some letters with block lettering with messages for others. Other materials have notes relating on how he wanted to incorporate information into his autobiography. The LOC contains the total mess known as Eighty Fascinating Years, his unpublished autobiography, where several drafts are thrown together with different chapter headings, pagination, etc. Then there is lots of stuff he probably never wanted any historian to see. Amid the superfluous items (old car repair bills, heating bills, and thousands of pages of petty and routine correspondence) there were some real gems for the biographer. He gave advice to his daughter, some of which goes a great way to explaining his paradoxical behaviors. For example, how was some one so gregarious and friendly also so prickly and quick to cast off friends? There were many letters to his wife (some of them surprisingly bawdy) that shed light on his marriage. His personal letterbooks say a lot about his family relations, friendships, and commitments outside of work and conservation. I have always been impressed with Hornaday's appetite for work, but now I am even more impressed given his social commitments. Most heartbreaking of all is a letter from his mother, sick and dying in Indiana, writing to say she could actually brush her hair that day, even though someone had to write the letter for her. It was probably the last one he received from his mother and he kept it his entire life.

The Brant Papers were also interesting, and helped me explode one lie, but you will have to wait for the book to hear about that one!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

July 2, pt 2

On July 2, 1881 Charles Guiteau shot President James A. Garfield in the back at a Washington DC

train station. Guiteau has been described as a disgruntled office seeker who felt he deserved an ambassadorship for his work on behalf of Garfield's presidential campaign of 1880. Classifying Guiteau as a disgruntled officer seeker overstates the case. His "contribution" to Garfield's razor thin victory consisted of written speech he rarely delivered. Guiteau skulked around the Republican campaign headquarters where his disheveled appearance stood in stark contrast to the Garfield's dapper running mate and New York State campaign manager, Chester A. Arthur. Eventually, Arthur dispatched Guiteau to talk to a small group of African American Republicans in Harlem. After the inauguration, Guiteau lobbied for a patronage position, but none was forthcoming and he decided to shoot Garfield. Ostensibly he wanted to empower the Stalwart faction of the Republican Party. Presumably, his job prospects would improve with them. After shooting Garfield Guiteau, exclaimed, "I am a Stalwart, and Arthur will be president!" He told his arresting officer on the way to the police station, "Arthur and all those men are my friends, and I'll have you made Chief of Police." Such talk certainly did not put Arthur in a good light.

Garfield had no police protection as he waited for a train north to meet his wife in New Jersey. He was accompanied by Secretary of State James G. Blaine and Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln. Under such conditions it was not at all difficult for Guiteau to walk up and shoot the president. Garfield lay for several minutes before regaining consciousness. As Guiteau was carted off to jail, the wounded president was taken to the White House.

Garfield suffered the treatment of incompetent doctors who did more harm to their patient than Guiteau's bullet had done. They forced painful treatments and unsanitary exploratory surgeries on poor Garfield. The government ground to a halt and the stricken president signed only one official document during his period of prostration. He finally succumbed to death on September 20, 1881.

Guiteau stood trial and was sentenced to death. He was hanged on June 30, 1882, almost one year to the day of having shot President Garfield.

Happy Independence Day, July 2

"The second day of July 1776 will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America," John Adams wrote to his wife. "I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival." July 2, after all, was the day that the colonies voted for independence. There was plenty of drama that day. Caesar Rodney of Delaware rode 80 miles through the night to arrive in time to vote (this is the depiction on the state quarter). His appearance shocked the hall. John Dickinson, the most forceful voice in opposition to independence, and Robert Morris sat out the day, leaving the Pennsylvania united for a break with England. South Carolina announced it was off the fence and stood firmly for independence. Following a unit rule 12 states voted in favor and 1, New York, abstained. The official declaration, however, caused more discussion, primarily over Thomas Jefferson's language condemning slavery. On July 4, by the same vote, the revised Declaration of Independence received approval and that is the day we celebrate with fireworks and BBQs. Although it is easy to mock Adams for making such an emphatic statement that has proven emphatically wrong, he was a a great patriot and champion for American independence who worked as hard, if not harder, than anyone to produce the glorious results of July 2.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

"J'Accuse"

"J'Accuse"....No, I am not thinking of Emile Zola's famous 1898 newspaper editorial in which he charged an anti-Semetic French government of having railroaded army officer Alfred Dreyfus through a courts martial and to Devil's Island. Instead, I refer to Abel Gance's silent classic, which has nothing to do with the aforementioned, infamous Dreyfus affair. I love silent movies, and like all films, they can provide an excellent window into the time they were made. J'Accuse was filmed in 1919, shortly after the conclusion of the First World War and captures clearly the post-war disillusion and loss felt in France. Everyone's life is changed in some deep way and the image of dancing skeletons constantly reminds viewers of war's deadly choreographed nature. Uttered by one the film's central characters, Jean Diaz, the phrase J'Accuse resonates throughout the film. He uses to allege that the government prolongs the war, grounding down and killing an entire generation, for no real reason. He also uses the phrase to tell those who remained on the home front that while their sons, husbands, and fathers fought, they did not do honor them enough. This comes out vividly in a great and bizarre scene at the end of the movie when the dead rise up from their graves and march into the village where their presence terrorizes their guilty family and friends. This was some great cinematography. Finally, Diaz uses J'Accuse to call the survivors to make the post-war worthy of those who died in the titanic and tragic war by ushering in a new era of peace. Too bad there was a veteran of the German Army who had quite other ideas. One of the best features of the film is that incorporates authentic battlefield footage Gance shot on the front during combat.

I have seen a spate of World War I movies recently and J'Accuse stands out in my mind as the best. Dawn Patrol (1938) was interesting, especially as it was filmed on the eve of the second global conflict. What I found interesting about this film is that each succeeding commanding officer of the high casualty British flying corps squadron depicted in the film did exactly what they criticized the previous commander of doing. So, I wonder if this was just a statement on the nature of command during war, or some comment on a future conflict. Meaning, "Even though we thought, like Jean Diaz, that we could institute a new era of peace, we have to fight a war anyway, just like the previous generation we called butchers." I also recently saw All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) again. Another excellent movie, but I always find the ending depressing. One poingaint similarity to J'Accuse. In both cases soldiers on leave go back to their towns and are surprised by the attitude of the old men who seem to think the front lines have fossilized not from trenches or machine guns, but from a want of courage and determination. Finally, King and Country (1964). A British soldier played by Dirk Bogarde (who I always mix up with Roddy MacDowell for some reason) gets shell shock and just walks away. He is eventually sentenced to death. I found the psychology of the movie intriguing. So much of military training is based on getting the soldier to act without thinking, to obey and to do, to pull the trigger. In this sense, Bogarde's character follows an automatic impulse as soldiers are required to do, but just the wrong one. And he is at a loss to explain it, as he might be at a loss to explain how he can charge a trench through a hail of machine gun bullets.

Back to silent movies. I would also recommend Miss Mend (1926). A Soviet film, it captures their paranoia about being attacked. In this case by evil capitalists (who else would be the villain in a communist movie) who want to test their war making product with terrorist attacks inside the Soviet Union. And last but not least, Metropolis (1928). This film captures the corporatist spirit that resonated in the late 1920s. The workers are mere extensions of machines, slaves living in a dank subterreanen world while the rich elites live in the fresh air with all the amenities and luxuries money, light, and fresh air can provide. A crisis threatens to destroy both worlds which creates the spirit of corporate cooperation. In a sense it is like Gabriel over the White House (1933) -- which is a must see -- in that it recommends a panacea in the form of a governmental and social system strongly resembling fascism. Of course, we know what happens after 1939 to discredit the disasterours systems lauded in these films, but for a time they seemed like the solution to the great problems of the day.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Audubon Society Crisis of 100 Years Ago this Month

One hundred years ago this month a crisis rocked the headquarters of the National Association of Audubon Societies. On June 2, 1911 the Audubon Board of Directors agreed to accept a $25,000 annual subscription from Winchester Repeating Arms Company. The next day the New York Herald published the story on the front page. William T. Hornaday, director of the Bronx Zoo, leaked it to the press in order to embarrass Audubon. It was not a gratuitious action on his part, he rejected in principle that a conservation organization should accept such a large sum of money from company that profited from the death of wildlife. Hornaday had his own prior dealings with Winchester. The gun maker approached him in March, but he would only to accept the money on his own terms. Having campaigned vociferously against the use of pump and automatic shotguns for nearly a decade, Hornaday would not take the gun maker's blood money unless they voluntarily limited the capacity of those weapons they manufactured to two rounds, exactly what he was attempting to do through legislation. Winchester could not abide to Hornaday's terms and turned to T. Gilbert Pearson, the Audubon Secretary. Hornaday knew of Winchester's discussions with Audubon, gauged that the Board would accept based on the membership, and waited to pounce. And pounce he did. For the two weeks after the Audubon Board voted to accept the money he kept up an unrelenting public and private attack. He successfully appealed to Gifford Pinchot, the most famous conservationist of the period, who threatened to resign his Audubon membership if the situation was not made right. Under such pressure a stunned Pearson second guessed the wisdom of accepting the money and began to lobby the Audubon Board to reverse itself.

The publicity did not trouble everyone. George Bird Grinnell, an Audubon Board member, considered it a tempest in a teapot created by a mere three people with only two newspapers. Despite his impeccable conservation credentials which included co-founding the Boone and Crockett Club, organizing the original, short-lived Audubon Society, and editing the influential Forest & Stream magazine, Grinnell proved unable to stem the tide against rescinding the vote to accept the money. Perhaps his own history as a sportsman blinded him to how bad the deal smelled to the larger public. Grinnell proved unable to steal Pearson's resolve. Instead, Pearson found a way out of the crisis. Frank Chapman, an influential Audubon member and editor of their journal, Bird-Lore, had been out of the country when the vote was taken on June 2. Despite telling the press that Winchester had offered the money without any strings attached, Pearson told Chapman that there were strings attached and he no longer considered it possible to comply with them. Predictably, Chapman entered the anti-gun money camp. With Chapman, reversals, and absenstions, Pearson obtained the desired result; two weeks after accepting the money, the Audubon Board rejected it.

Hornaday achieved a victory for having embarrassed Audubon, but he failed in his larger purpose of using this publicity to gain passage of pump and automatic shotgun regulations in New York State. Pearson survived the incident and served over 20 more years as the Audubon Secretary. Hornaday never trusted Pearson, and, although the worked together on occasion, he considered the Audubon Secretary to be a weak leader, easily swayed, and wrong on most wildlife protection measures. Having failed with Hornaday and then with Audubon, Winchester decided it was best to form their own organization. In the summer they created the American Game Protection and Propagation Association (AGPPA) and hired John B. Burnham, an associate of Grinnell, as president. Hornaday and Burnham spent the next two decades fighting over every wildlife conservation issue that came up. Theirs was an epic struggle that fractured the progressive wildlife conservation movement in the 1920s over a series of issues.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Recent Reads

As I am devoting maximum labor to finishing my biography of William Temple Hornaday, I am behind in both my blogging and reading. But here are three recent reads:

Timothy Egan, The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America.



The Big Burn covers the massive forest fires that struck the northwest in 1910. Prolonged dryness and lightening storms produced several large fires that converged into a single mega-fire that scorched over 3 million acres and several towns. As in his history of the Dust Bowl, Egan does an excellent job of portraying the drama of the moment through the eyes of the common people who lived through it. Without a doubt, that is the strength of the book. He also explains the conservation policies of Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, as well as the attitudes of those powerful western Senators who represented the timber interests. In the end, the arch anti-conservationists were discredited. Egan emphasizes the words of those Forest Service officers who realized that had this fire occurred a few years earlier, the entire conservation program might have been destroyed. Those few years bought the Forest Service some time to win over local populations and prove a valuable asset, even if this was a slow and difficult process. President Taft, as always seems to be the case, comes off as bumbling, indecisive, and on the wrong side of the event. And, yes, his weight is lampooned. If the fire wrecked the lives of thousands of people, it at least saved the conservation movement in Egan's eyes. Even if a stingy Congress would not reimburse the hospital bills for those badly burned Forest Rangers, the lawmakers passed the Weeks Act to acquire forests in the East and generally accepted the utility of what the little GPs (Gifford Pinchots) did.

H.W. Brands, American Colossus.

In American Colossus Brands turns his attention to the Gilded Age where, during a short time, modern, industrial America emerged. It was an ugly birth. The positive is that he paints vivid portraits of many different types of people from immigrants to robber barons in a way that grants insight into their daily lives. He is really very good at this. The negative is that it

seems dated to me. The theses is not particularly new nor is the bibliography. I have no doubt that Wallace Stegner's biography of famed explorer John Wesley Powell was the best ever at one point, but Donald Worster's more sophisticated and detailed work, which has the hindsight of some great environmental historiography, a field that was, at best, vaguely defined when Stegner first put pen to ink in the 1950s, would better serve anyone studying the time period, western development, exploration, or water. There are other examples of this sort of thing. I was also a bit disappointed by Brands's lack of manuscript sources. I have always enjoyed his work and found his use of primary sources, quite frankly, comforting in books written for a larger audience.

John Gaddis, The Cold War: A New History.

I know this is out of place in my Gilded Age/Progressive Era blog, but I read this in part as a refresher for a US Survey II class I will teach in the fall. This is a very top level view of the Cold War with a emphasis on ideas, not events. Thus Truman, Eisenhower, Nixon, and Reagan get significant coverage because of their ideas, while Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, and Bush receive much less attention. In fact, Johnson and Kennedy are mentioned only in passing and

Carter and Bush come off as out-of-touch. Gaddis incorporates the non-aligned powers into the picture. As most of my Cold War reading tends to focus on the USA, this provided me with some excellent perspective on the role of China without overloading my brain with details I really do not need. It may be silly, but I still get chills thinking back to 1989. I was in college and, as a young cold warrior, quite absorbed with the downfall of Eastern Europe. Gaddis's handling of that event certainly bought back memories.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

ASEH 2011 Conference Review, Day 3: Friday April 16

Sorry for the long delay in posting the final installment of my account of the ASEH conference, but here it is.

I struggled picking out which morning session to attend. There was a panel on militarized nature and I find the intersection of warfare and the environment an interesting one, as well as one modestly growing as a topic of study. On the other hand, there was a roundtable on Aldo Leopold, a favorite topic of mine. Go with something new or something familiar? The feather that tipped the balance in favor of Leopold was simply that I planned to mention him, even if only in passing, in my own presentation later in the day.

Julianne Lutz Warren focused on how much of Leopold's work sought to bridge the gap between private and public land, thus redefining conservation. Dan Schilling studied Leopold's experience in the southwest between 1909 and 1924 as a member of the US Forest Service and sees some definite Native American imprints on Leopold's later thoughts. Even the concept of "thinking like a mountain" is Native American. Bryann Norton examined Leopold from the perspective of an intellectual historian, concluding Leopold was a moral pluralist who ascribed to many ideas. In other words, he was a well and widely read man, familiar with ideas, and clearly influenced by pragmatism. Finally, Susan Flader focused on Leopold's legacy within the Forest Service. Ironically, he was not well received by his peers or the generation that followed. They considered him, in Flader's words, "a flakey idealist." Leopold's stock did not improve until historian Roderick Nash's classic Wilderness and the American Mind (1967) put him in line with such great naturalists as Thoreau and Muir. Then Earth Day came and Leopold truly joined the pantheon of great environmental thinkers. It is important to realize, of course, that thoughts form slowly. Flader reminded us that as slowly as it took for Leopold's ideas to gain credence among the mainstream was about the same length of time between the moment he famously saw the green light go out in the wolf he killed and when he wrote about it in Sand County Almanac.

Because I enjoyed the roundtable so much I decided to stay for the session following, which was a screening of "Green Fire," a bio documentary of Aldo Leopold narrated by his biographer Curt Meine. I thought it was a superb film for several reasons. First, his daughter's presence gave it a very personal touch. As an historian I always try to emphasize to my students that historical actors are people just like us with all that humanity entails. This captures that. Another aspect I enjoyed was the piecing together of Leopold's life in progression. If nothing else, his ideas evolved. Who knows what might have come after Sand County Almanac had he lived. Static he certainly was not. Finally, in her Aldo Leopold's Odyssey, Julianne Lutz Nelson (now the aforementioned Julianne Lutz Nelson of the earlier session) called attention to Leopold's great, almost poetic, writing ability. Using some great Leopold quotes read out by Peter Coyote captured that important aspect of Leopold very well, I thought.

I skipped the early afternoon session to work on some powerpoints for my upcoming late afternoon presentation. Nothing like waiting for the last moment!

Because I posted my paper on this blog on April 17th, there is no need for me to go into anymore of my presentation. But I did want to give a brief synopsis of the work of the other two panelists on the Print Culture of the Environmental Movement. Andrew Case presented on the Rodale Press, a magazine publisher dedicated to organic farming. Andy argued that the magazine (which had several names over the years) started as information sharing, but evolved into a forum to discuss larger environmental issues and later coordinate political action. Honestly, I have to admit, I never heard of Rodale before. An embarrassing admission as I worked for five years at Wild Oats, a largely organic natural foods grocer bought out by Whole Foods. Cheryl Knott Malone's paper covered Stuart Udall's classic The Quiet Crisis. Cheryl argued that Udall's book was an important contribution at a critical time in the development of the environmental movement. It differed from its contemporary, Silent Spring, in some important ways. Namely, it was less a scientific treatise, a more an intellectual endeavor drawing on history and biography to demonstrate the necessity for humans to revise their relationship to the earth. I was much more familiar with Udall and The Quiet Crisis, having written an article on him for the the Modern American Environmentalists: A Biographical Encyclopedia edited by George Cevasco and Richard Harmond and published by the Johns Hopkins University Press. What I found interesting in Cheryl's discussion, and what I had not really considered in my own brief article on Udall, was that he was writing something of an environmental history long before there was even such a field.

I finished the day with a short walk to catch the Diamond Backs and Giants.

I thoroughly enjoyed the ASEH conference and want to thank Cheryl for organizing our panel. I hope to see everyone I met next year in Madison.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

ASEH 2011 Conference Review, Day 2: Friday April 15

For the first session, 8:30-10:00, I attended a panel entitled, "The European Experience with Sustainable Practices in the Later Middle Ages." Not exactly Gilded Age or Progressive Era material, but I do teach a Western Civ I class and we just covered the Middle Ages, so this panel grabbed my interest. Richard Hoffman covered the ecological crisis of the 14th century and argued that we should drop the use of crisis and use the concept of a tipping point instead as a descriptive term. He further argued that much of the reason for famine and disease in the awful 14th century had less to do with overuse of land, as has been supposed by historians, and more to with climate change, rainfall pattern changes, and volcanic activity. In other words, factors well beyond anyones control. There is much here I can use in my class next time I teach it. The other panelists focused on the medieval laws regarding land use and the sustainability of the use of woodlands. Taken together they argue that there were some sustainable values, both enshrined in law and through popular practice. Thus, the panel can be said to have collectively argued that Middle Age era Europeans were better stewards of the land than previously thought.

For the second session, 10:30 to noon, I attended a panel entitled, "Protestantism and Environmental History." I selected this session for two reasons. First, Mark Stoll was presenting a paper and I find his study of the relationship between religion and environmentalism to be quite interesting. Second, in my dissertation on William Temple Hornaday (and the same will be true in my upcoming biography) I make the case that his religious upbringing left an indelible stamp on his worldview which, in turn, had a profound effect on his conservation ideology. Susan Bratton showed how both pioneer churches and more modern mega churches in Texas shaped their land. Neal Pogue described how the environmental movement lost the conservative Protestants (who leaned towards moderate conservation)in the early 1970s with neo-Malthusian calls for birth control and neo-pagan worship of the earth (as church going Christians often perceived it). Mark Stoll examined the religious roots of John Burroughs, Henry David Thoreau, and Walt Whitman to determine if there was a connection between their sect and nature philosophy. He concluded, yes, there is a strong connection. Burroughs the Baptist, for example, was not a conservationist largely because his religious heritage was one of individualism. The Baptist tradition did not look favorably to government or to collective action.

Then it was off to the bird watching tour of south mountain and Audubon Rio Salado Bird Preserve. We saw lots of things. Being partial to small songbirds, I think my favorite was a verdin.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

ASEH 2011 Conference Review, Day 1: Thursday April 14

I departed Denver in a snow storm and left barely enough time to get to the gate. It was only the start of a very hurried day.

The first panel I attended was "Science, Knowledge, and Nature." Panel is perhaps a misnomer because there was only one presenter, Michael Rawson. The other panelist had to cancel. If Rawson's name looks vaguely familiar, it might be because he was a Pulitzer prize finalist for his book, Eden on the Charles. His paper focused on the utopian works of the scientific revolution. He also focused on the lunar utopian books. That stunned me. I had no idea such a genre existed in the 17th century. But after the invention of the telescope imaginations turned to the moon which became a convenient location to displace visions of an ideal society. As I rushed to check into my room I wondered if this classifies as a form of science fiction, but I did not see Rawson for the remainder of the conference and thus could not ask his opinion.

After Rawson's panel, I attended the president's luncheon where Harriet Ritvo gave her outgoing address entitled, "Where the Wild Things Were." There was a controversy within ASEH when Arizona passed its immigration bill. Some members wanted to cancel or move the conference. As president Ritvo made the decision to stay in Phoenix, and this is probably why her address focused on immigrants. She did not speak of people, but of animal immigrants and their reception. It was very interesting and she has a very wry style packed with humor surrounding word play and usage. She covered such animal immigration issues as the English sparrow in the US and rabbits in Australia. She also compared and contrasted the experiences of camels in Australia (they flourished and are an enormous wild herd) and the US (they did not survive in the wild). In the end she concluded that there is a connection between the attitudes towards animals and such things as the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882) and National Origins Act (1924). I agree and have thought so for a long time. Although Ritvo does not mention him, no one better exemplifies the connection between nativism and conservation as Madison Grant, author of racist books and wildlife protection legislation. There was something about purity that crossed the line for both humans and animals to many of these early wildlife conservationists.

Next I attended back-to-back panels on "Biography's Role in Environmental History." As a biographer myself, this topic strongly appealed to me. The individuals covered were Mira Lloyd Dock (a progressive era forester from Pennsylvania), Terry Tarleton Hershey (a Houston socialite and NIMBY activist), Bob Marshall (founder of the Wilderness Society), Ynes Mexia (botanist and explorer), Mary Treat (late 19th century nature education advocate), and the Romero family (early Hispanic pioneers in the Southwest). Of this group, Marshall was the only one I had heard of before. Barry Muchnick argued that too much attention has been given to Marshall's extreme physicality at the expense of fully exploring how other factors shaped his environmentalism. Also, that it puts some distance between Marshall and the average person who cannot relate to Marshall's legendary hiking ability. I think he has a good point, but he needs a good alternative, and, I imagine, one cannot escape Marshall's physicality entirerly. I was amazed by the works of Dock and Mexia because they achieved such success as women in male dominated fields. Discussions on sources was equally interesting. It left me wondering about many people are off the record so to speak because they did not leave enormous collections of documents behind. Then I think of William T. Hornaday (the subject of my biography) who created an enormous collection, but did so less for posterity and more for the younger of his contemporaries. In other words, as he nurtured and educated a younger generation of wildlife conservationists (Irving Brant and Rosalie Edge to name two) he used his scrapbooks and letters as an archive of sorts.

After this panel, it was off to the Cronon presentation that I covered in the last posting. All in all it was a busy, but enjoyable and enlightening day.

Monday, April 18, 2011

William Cronon's "The Riddle of Sustainability"

On Thursday evening (April 14) William Cronon gave a plenary address at the ASEH conference entitled, "The Riddle of Sustainability: A Surprisingly Shorty History of the Future." A professor at University of Wisconsin, Madison, Cronon is one of the most distinguished figures among environmental historians. In fact, he is the incoming president of the American Historical Association. Despite the fact that he has written several historical classics, such as Changes in the Land (1983) and Nature's Metropolis (1991), many people today might recognize him more for his recent political travails. He has been at the center of controversial political situation in Wisconsin and has been critical of the Republican Party. After he wrote an editorial for the New York Times, the Wisconsin Republicans filed a FOIA to obtain his e-mails. You can followup if you are interested, on Cronon's blog, Scholar as Citizen (http://scholarcitizen.williamcronon.net/). This most recent history was alluded to, but not dwelled upon.

In his lecture, Cronon opened up with a discussion of sustainability. The word sustain, has very deep roots, but sustainability does not. It is a very recent world. He discovered this through a search of Project Gutenburg. I think this is a great assignment for the Culturnomics team that I wrote about in an earlier posting. Cronon then addressed why it emerged so suddenly in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He concludes that there were several factors. On the political level the Republicans ceded the environment and most conservation policies to the Democrats. Polls show Americans don't identify as environmentalists, even if they overwhelmingly support National Parks and clean water. In other words, there is something divisive about the term. Sustainability provides a bridge around that troublesome word and identification. Both right and left can meet in the sustainable middle. Second, rising concerns on global warming and the a 1987 UN report led many to look for a formula for having our cake and eating it too. Sustainability became a method to maintain prosperity while also avoiding resource depletion. It offers a very rosy scenario where it appears to be more a matter of tinkering than of really radical changes. Cronon cited Walmart's sustainability plan as an example to keep profits while still addressing resource use.

A couple of the audience members asked if corporate and political interests could really be trusted to carry on a socially just version of sustainability. Cronon seemed very optimistic. But on the way home I pondered less the questions than the direction of the questioners. They were on the left and critical of the corporate side of sustainability. On the other side, I recalled a recent National Review article referring to hybrid cars as "vanity" cars. It was a harsh criticism, but there is some justification in it to the extent that one can put solar panels on their roof, but one has to have a lot of money to lay out in order to do it. Not everyone can afford it, even with a credit and even if it will pay for itself in the end. This to me suggests that sustainability might not hold the edges. The left fears heartless corporatism, and the populist right perceives it as elitist feel goodism.

After this lecture the conferences panels tended to focus more on sustainability. I did not. Hornaday was so convinced that most American wildlife directly faced mass extinction that any discussion of ecology (or proto-sustainability) was way too premature. The slaughter of wildlife had to stop or there would be nothing to sustain or manage. It was that simple to him.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Our Vanishing Wildlife, 1913


I just returned from the American Society of Environmental History in Phoenix, Arizona, where I delivered a paper on William Temple Hornaday's Our Vanishing Wildlife. As you may recall from my last posting, Hornaday was the director of the Bronx Zoo. But, he was also a very influential wildlife conservationist. I will post more about the conference throughout this week, but will begin by posting my paper. I did not go crazy with sourcing, let me know if you have any questions!



Gregory J. Dehler, Our Vanishing Wildlife: William T. Hornaday’s Case for Wildlife Protection. Delivered at the American Society of Environmental History, Phoenix, Arizona, Saturday April 16, 2011.

Throughout the Fall of 1912 William Temple Hornaday, whose day job was director of the Bronx zoo, labored his nights away on a conservation book that became Our Vanishing Wildlife. “As a matter of fact,” he wrote to fellow conservationist Henry Shoemaker of Pennsylvania in September 1912, “I am tired enough all the time but after I have written at my game protection book as long as I can keep awake, I am too tired to do anything but to go to sleep.” (Hornaday Papers, Widlife Conservation Society) The book that the sleep deprived Hornaday produced was a unique contribution to the literature and print culture of the progressive era conservation canon. His book differed widely from any existing work on the subjects of conservation or wildlife. Previous books by wildlife conservationists, like T. Gilbert Pearson’s Stories of Bird Life (1901), to cite one example, sought to gain sympathy for animals with sentimental portraits. Books that mentioned wildlife conservation more directly tended to incorporate the advocacy material into texts focused more broadly on the larger topics of hunting or zoology. An excellent model of this style is American Duck Shooting by George Bird Grinnell (1910). Despite the fact that he was a forceful advocate of conservation for over thirty years, Grinnell buried the subject of conservation at the end of his book. One has to wade through 582 pages of material on ducks, geese, swans, and how to hunt them until getting to the twenty page conservation section where he championed many of the same laws Hornaday would demand three years later. Our Vanishing Wildlife differed even more sharply from the generalized conservation works. Gifford Pinchot’s Fight for Conservation (1910) and the Charles Van Hise’s Conservation of Natural Resources (1910), for example, do not mention wildlife at all. Although this is a small sample of its contemporary literature, it is representative and demonstrative of the uniqueness of Our Vanishing Wildlife as a book devoted exclusively to wildlife and its conservation. Hornaday’s book also differed markedly in tone and style, resembling more the voice and techniques of the muckraking journalist than the conservationist or scientist.

In this paper I will examine the message of this unique contribution to the print culture of the environmental movement and the techniques used to convey it.

He told his readers in the very first sentence of the book: “The writing of this book has taught me many things. Beyond question we are exterminating our finest species of mammals, birds, and fishes according to the law!” (Hornaday, Our Vanishing Wildlife, ix) His first sentence and the first of many exclamation points. As much as he might have claimed to have learned during the research of the book, the truth is that he formed most of his underlying arguments and theses as to the causes of wildlife decline, the seriousness of the situation as he saw it (which was apocalyptic in nature), and the reforms he deemed necessary to reverse it, all formed in his mind long before he sat down to write the most famous of his one dozen books. As early as his 1887 monograph, “The Extermination of the American Bison”, published as part of the Smithsonian Institution’s Annual Report, Hornaday studied the deadly forces driving the buffalo to extinction. He concluded that the forces behind extermination were the demands of the market and the constantly improving firearms and transportation technologies. The difference between Our Vanishing Wildlife and “Extermination of the American Bison,” is that Hornaday applied the same formula to every species, not just one, in 1913. This rationale for the decline of wildlife cast Hornaday in a decidedly Malthusian frame of mind, complete with the requisite gloom and doom pessimism that forecast mass extermination. He explained it in Our Vanishing Wildlife thusly: “There is not a single state in our country from which the killable game is not being rapidly and persistently shot to death, legally or illegally, very much more rapidly than it is breeding, with the extermination for the most of it close in sight. The statement is not open to argument; for millions of men know that it is literally true. We are living in a fool’s paradise.” (Hornaday, Our Vanishing Wildlife, p. ix)

Hornaday wrote Our Vanishing Wildlife to raise the alarm and awaken his fellow citizens from their fool’s paradise. To do this, he appealed to both the heads and hearts of his readers with a blistering barrage of facts, page after page, in a strident and moralistic prose, laden with exclamation points. A Sierra Club reviewer wrote, “Its burning and indignant pages remind me of the zeal of the old anti-slavery days when the force of great moral convictions won the day against greed and wrong.” (quoted in Stephen Fox, The American Conservation Movement, 150) No one who read this book would be able to claim they did not know the nature and scope of the danger facing American wildlife.

When it came to dealing with facts, Hornaday was in his element. To use the parlance of the 21st century, he was a policy wonk fully at home in the details of issues. Now he unleashed his encyclopedic store of information on a hitherto unexposed public. He hit his readers with the official number of game killed in Louisiana over a the course of a year, states that allowed the eating of wood duck, the number of hunting licenses issued in 1911 (1,486,228), the amounts of money each of the states spent on enforcement and propagation, copies of commendable wildlife laws, detailed accounts of feather sales figures from the London market, numbers of shotgun shells sold annually (775 million), just to illustrate with a small sample the type of data he employed to make his case for conservation. Then there were a variety of lists, including lists of extinct species, endangered species broken down by state, birds around the world being exterminated for the millinery industry, magazines and newspapers friendly to conservation, compilations of laws needed by state, etc. All of these precise numbers supported his argument that market forces and technology were driving wildlife to extinction with all the power and certainty of an enormous and amoral killing machine.

Despite his criticism of some of the latest firearms technology Hornaday was no Luddite. On the contrary he employed the latest publication techniques, Our Vanishing Wildlife included dozens of photographs to accompany the text. He further advanced his case for conservation with cartoons charts, graphs, and maps to demonstrate and visualize his arguments. In a way it was as close to a powerpoint presentation as one could get in January 1913.

Reviewers attributed the successful appeal of Our Vanishing Wildlife to this powerful use of his graphic material. The reviewer for The Auk wrote: “It is gratifying therefore at a time when the support of the entire country is necessary to the success of this movement to find a work such as Dr. Hornaday’s which in originality of illustrations and method of presentation, compels the attention of everyone whose hands it finds its way.” (W.S. “Hornaday’s ‘Our Vanishing Wildlife’” The Auk 30 (July 1913 443) In a more popular periodical, American Review of Reviews, George Gladden wrote of Our Vanishing Wildlife, “It is by all odds the most comprehensive and convincing presentation and discussion of the subject that has ever been produced.” (GG, “A Champion of WL” ARoR 48 Dec 1913 p. 698)

Hitting his readers with page after page of facts, graphs, charts, and graphic photographs he presented a forceful argument for the conservation of wildlife on moral grounds, which is to say humanity had a moral responsibility to protect wildlife from wanton destruction and unnecessary extinction. Not content to rest on emotional and moral strictures alone, Hornaday threw in the kitchen sink and appealed to the pocket book of every single American with a critical chapter dedicated to the amount of noxious insects birds consumed. Hornaday outlined his reasoning thusly: “The logic of the situation is so simple a child can see it. Short crops mean higher prices. If ten percent of our vegetable food supply is destroyed by insects, as certain as fate we will feel it in the increased cost of living.”(Hornaday, Our Vanishing Wildlife, p. 208) Citing the 1904 Department of Agriculture Yearbook, he claimed that waste from insects cost the economy over $750 million at a time when the GDP was a little over $33 billion. He used this line of reasoning to argue for support of the Weeks-Mclean bill, a sweeping proposal that would grant federal protection to all migratory birds. Of course, Hornaday had not discovered the connection between birds and insects. Like all the other facts in Our Vanishing Wildlife he pulled it from another source. In this case, pamphlets produced by the Biological Survey, but his genius was using it as a key message of Our Vanishing Wildlife and as the central point on which to rally the broad support of farmers, hunters, nature lovers, scientists, and urban consumers in favor of a controversial conservation measure.

The Weeks-McLean law was only one of many sweeping legal reforms he proposed in Our Vanishing Wildlife. Some aimed at hunting practices, such as an end to spring shooting and limitations on the use of pump and automatic shotguns. Other suggested reforms targeted the deadly grip of the market. He advised states to adopt New York’s model laws to prohibit the sale of game meat and plumage feathers, for example. To improve the chances of these laws being adopted the New York Zoological Society, who printed Our Vanishing Wildlife, sent copies gratis to important lawmakers. As Hornaday recounted to his friend former President Theodore Roosevelt: “The book has now gone to every member of every legislature now sitting in the United States, and every member of Congress. It will also go to every governor, Supreme Court Judge, game commissioner and state game warden.” (WTH to TR, 2/3/13, Theodore Roosevelt Papers) When Hornaday testified before the House Ways and Means Committee at the end of January 1913 on behalf of clause banning the importation of plumage for upcoming tariff revision, he referred Congressmen to specific pages in Our Vanishing Wildlife so they could read along in their copies. Wildlife protection advocates in the Congress appreciated the assistance they received from Hornaday. Senator George McLean, who led the successful fight in the Senate for the Weeks-McLean migratory bird protection bill that passed in March 1913, wrote to say: “The book arrived in the nick of time, and it put a fourteen-inch hole through the hull of the enemy side to side.” (Hornaday, Thirty Years War for Wildlife, 164)

Hornaday did not believe statutory solutions were enough to achieve the total reform he sought, especially considering the low level of enforcement of existing laws. He reminded readers in both the photographs and the text of Our Vanishing Wildlife that many of the seemingly excessive kills were indeed legal. He targeted the consciences of every American, aiming to instill a sense of moral responsibility in each of his fellow citizens. He wrote in the introduction, “We are weary of witnessing the greed, selfishness, and cruelty of ‘civilized’ man toward the wild creatures of the earth. We are sick of tales of slaughter and pictures of carnage. It is time for sweeping Reformation; and this is precisely what we demand.” (Hornaday, Our Vanishing Wildlife, p. x) Because he considered the market to be the decisive force driving wildlife towards extinction, more than hunters bore responsibility for the results. Anyone who ate game meat, wore feathered hats, or purchased fur products shared equal responsibility with the greediest market hunter. It is hard to gauge the effect this moral scolding had on his readers. Hornaday received letters from readers of all his books and there is nothing exceptional to suggest Our Vanishing Wildlife had a disproportionate impact on his readers. On the other hand, there are a few notable individuals. The most influential of whom a young forester recovering from Nephritis on his parent’s farm in Iowa named Aldo Leopold. Although his biographers disagree to the extent Hornaday’s moral message impacted Leopold, they do agree that it was an important, if immeasurable, influence upon the man who shaped the entire post-Word War II attitude toward the environment. (see for example, Curt Meine, Aldo Leopold and Julianne Lutz Nelson, Aldo Leopold’s Odyssey)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The First Escaped Snake

The recent escape of the Egyptian Cobra from the Bronx zoo certainly captured the attention of the newsmedia. Frankly I was surprised that this story would have so much appeal considering the multiple catastrophies in Japan and the kinetic military action in Libya. Maybe the idea of a killer snake lose in the nation's largest city had a suitably Biblical echo. Or, maybe, it was just a fun story, a break from the more serious stuff. Whatever it was, the story took on a life of its own as someone even tweeted as the snake. In the end it will probably turn out to be good for business at the zoo as seeing the prodigal snake might be the little extra incentive to boost gate receipts this summer.

The first thing I thought about when I heard of the escape was the story of the very first snake escape at the Bronx Zoo. Having written a masters thesis and PHD dissertation (and currently working on a biography for a university press) on William Temple Hornaday, the first director of the Bronx Zoo, I recalled the account from 1899, before the zoo even opened to visitors. Hornaday arrived at work in the morning to discover that a very long black python had escaped. With so many animals arriving on a daily basis to prepare for the grand opening, it was no surprise that there would be a few mistakes. In this case some carpenters inadvertently left a hole in the python crate. (Duh!) Hornaday, who had a nose for news, ordered the staff to keep quiet. It neither inspired confidence in the management of the zoo, nor a feeling of safety in local residents to have a 16 foot deadly snake on the prowl. Instead of informing the newspaper men, he organized his staff into a grand snake posse and searched the grounds of the zoo high and low. Fortunately, they recovered the snake later in the day under one of the buildings. Only later, did he share this account with the public.

Friday, March 25, 2011

$75 dollars a person: The 100th Anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire



Today marks the 100th Anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, an industrial disaster that claimed the lives of 146 workers. Most of the workers were immigrant women; some were mere teenagers. Ida Brodsky, for example, was a 15 year old Jewish girl from Russia who was only in the United States for 9 months. Jennie Stellino was a 16 year old Italian girl who immigrated four years before. Lizzie Adler was a Romanian of 24 years of age in the United States for less than four months. She must have arrived around Christmas. This is just a small sampling. There were married women, some men, and even native born Americans, but the majority were single, young, immigrant women. They were there to collect their pay on a Saturday when the fire struck. In only took 18 minutes for the fire to to sweep through the factory with its devastating fury. Those who survived suffered injuries, some of which were severe. And, since the company burned, they were all out of work.

The fire was so deadly because the workers could not escape the building fast enough. Doors and windows were locked contrary to New York City ordinance. It was a truly horrific scene.

The most immediate impact was the snuffing out of young lives not yet lived and the loss of family supportive family members at a time when many struggled to make ends meet in a way imperceptible to the middle class in America today. Teenagers like Ida Brodsy should have been in school, not working in the Triangle Shirtwaist Company. Then there were the married workers killed. Now their spouses and children would have to struggle without them. Unions and the Red Cross stepped in to assist the injured, unemployed, and shocked.

There were also deeper effects of the fire. New York City adopted a series of regulations, including banning smoking in factories. The New York State Legislature, which just suffered a fire of its own when the their library burned down a week later, created a Factory Investigating Commission (FIC) to examine working conditions throughout the state. Over time the FIC would recommend a long list of regulations ranging from smoking in factories to the size of windows to sprinklers that the State adopted, thus creating a comprehensive code of safety. As an aside, the New York State Legislature of the time was perhaps the most talented state legislature of all time. Its members included Franklin D. Roosevelt, Alfred E. Smith, and Robert Wagner, just to name the three most illustrious members.

What about he factory owners who locked their doors in clear violation of New York City code? They were acquitted. It could not be proven they had knowledge of the locked doors. They were sued in civil court where they could not escape so easily. And the outcome of that? They paid $75 for each death!


I strongly recommend the commemoration site created by Cornell University. It has some great documents, links, photographs, etc. Here is the link: http://www.ilr.cornell.edu/trianglefire/index.html