Thursday, March 17, 2011
Saturday, March 5, 2011
1963 : Hula-Hoop patented
On this day in 1963, the Hula-Hoop, a hip-swiveling toy that became a huge fad across America when it was first marketed by Wham-O in 1958, is patented by the company's co-founder, Arthur "Spud" Melin. An estimated 25 million Hula-Hoops were sold in its first four months of production alone.
In 1948, friends Arthur Melin and Richard Knerr founded a company in California to sell a slingshot they created to shoot meat up to falcons they used for hunting. The company's name, Wham-O, came from the sound the slingshots supposedly made. Wham-O eventually branched out from slingshots, selling boomerangs and other sporting goods. Its first hit toy, a flying plastic disc known as the Frisbee, debuted in 1957. The Frisbee was originally marketed under a different name, the Pluto Platter, in an effort to capitalize on America's fascination with UFOs.
Melina and Knerr were inspired to develop the Hula-Hoop after they saw a wooden hoop that Australian children twirled around their waists during gym class. Wham-O began producing a plastic version of the hoop, dubbed "Hula" after the hip-gyrating Hawaiian dance of the same name, and demonstrating it on Southern California playgrounds. Hula-Hoop mania took off from there.
The enormous popularity of the Hula-Hoop was short-lived and within a matter of months, the masses were on to the next big thing. However, the Hula-Hoop never faded away completely and still has its fans today. According to Ripley's Believe It or Not, in April 2004, a performer at the Big Apple Circus in Boston simultaneously spun 100 hoops around her body. Earlier that same year, in January, according to the Guinness World Records, two people in Tokyo, Japan, managed to spin the world's largest hoop--at 13 feet, 4 inches--around their waists at least three times each.
Following the Hula-Hoop, Wham-O continued to produce a steady stream of wacky and beloved novelty items, including the Superball, Water Wiggle, Silly String, Slip 'n' Slide and the Hacky Sack.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Guthrie Writes "This Land is Your Land"
Folk singer Woody Guthrie writes one of his best-known songs, "This Land is Your Land."
Born in Okemah, Oklahoma, in 1912, Guthrie lived and wrote of the real West, a place of hard-working people and harsh environments rather than romantic cowboys and explorers. Though he was a son of a successful politician and businessman, during his early teens his mother fell ill and the family split apart. For several years, Guthrie spent his summers working as a migrant agricultural laborer. When he was 15, he left home to travel the country by freight train. Among his meager possessions were a guitar and harmonica. Guthrie discovered an eager audience among the hobos and migrant workers for the country-folk songs he had learned in Oklahoma.
In 1937, he traveled to California where he hoped to become a successful western singer. He appeared on several West Coast radio shows, mostly performing traditional folk songs. Soon, though, he began to perform his own pieces based on his experiences living among the vast armies of the poor and dispossessed created by the Great Depression. While in California he also came into contact with the Communist Party and became increasingly sympathetic to its causes. Many of his songs reflected a strong commitment to the common working people, and he became something of a musical spokesman for populist sentiments.
"This Land is Your Land," reflected not only Guthrie's support for the common folk, but also his deep love for his country. The verse celebrated the beauty and grandeur of America while the chorus drove home the populist sentiment that the nation belonged to all the people, not merely the rich and powerful. Probably the most famous of his more than 1,000 songs, "This Land is Your Land" was also one of his last. Later that year Guthrie moved to New York where his career was soon after interrupted by World War II. After serving in the Merchant Marines, he returned to New York, where he continued to perform and record his old material, but he never matched his earlier prolific output.
Guthrie's career was cut short in 1954, when he was struck with Huntington's Disease, a degenerative illness of the nervous system that had killed his mother. His later years were spent in a New York hospital where he received visitors like the adoring young Bob Dylan, who copied much of his early style from Guthrie. Guthrie died in 1967, having lived long enough to see his music inspire a whole new generation and "This Land is Your Land" become a rallying song for the Civil Rights movement.
Friday, February 4, 2011
February 4, 1974 : Patty Hearst Kidnapped
On February 4, 1974, Patty Hearst, the 19-year-old daughter of newspaper publisher Randolph Hearst, is kidnapped from her apartment in Berkeley, California, by two black men and a white woman, all three of whom are armed. Her fiance, Stephen Weed, was beaten and tied up along with a neighbor who tried to help. Witnesses reported seeing a struggling Hearst being carried away blindfolded, and she was put in the trunk of a car. Neighbors who came out into the street were forced to take cover after the kidnappers fired their guns to cover their escape.
Three days later, the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), a small U.S. leftist group, announced in a letter to a Berkeley radio station that it was holding Hearst as a "prisoner of war." Four days later, the SLA demanded that the Hearst family give $70 in foodstuffs to every needy person from Santa Rosa to Los Angeles. This done, said the SLA, negotiation would begin for the return of Patricia Hearst. Randolph Hearst hesitantly gave away some $2 million worth of food. The SLA then called this inadequate and asked for $6 million more. The Hearst Corporation said it would donate the additional sum if the girl was released unharmed.
In April, however, the situation changed dramatically when a surveillance camera took a photo of Hearst participating in an armed robbery of a San Francisco bank, and she was also spotted during a robbery of a Los Angeles store. She later declared, in a tape sent to the authorities, that she had joined the SLA of her own free will.
On May 17, Los Angeles police raided the SLA's secret headquarters, killing six of the group's nine known members. Among the dead was the SLA's leader, Donald DeFreeze, an African American ex-convict who called himself General Field Marshal Cinque. Patty Hearst and two other SLA members wanted for the April bank robbery were not on the premises.
Finally, on September 18, 1975, after crisscrossing the country with her captors--or conspirators--for more than a year, Hearst, or "Tania" as she called herself, was captured in a San Francisco apartment and arrested for armed robbery. Despite her claim that she had been brainwashed by the SLA, she was convicted on March 20, 1976, and sentenced to seven years in prison. She served 21 months before her sentence was commuted by President Carter. After leaving prison, she returned to a more routine existence and later married her bodyguard. She was pardoned by President Clinton in January 2001.