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The Second Chicago Fire

Three years ago, the Great Chicago Fire killed 300 people, left 100,000 homeless and destroyed 3.3 square miles of Chicago. The fire started in the O'Leary barn and was spread by the wind. The balloon wood-frame construction used in those days just about guaranteed that any fire would climb straight up the walls and into the attic. In the aftermath, changes were made in the building code... such as it was, but new construction is slow to begin in the midst of a world-wide economic depression. Two more fires break out this year. 812 buildings are destroyed including schools and churches. 47 acres just south of the Chicago business district go up in flames. Even though the loss of life was greater in the Great Chicago Fire, the insurance companies have been hit in the pocketbook harder because this time the fire has destroyed an established neighborhood with more expensive buildings. The Board of Underwriters makes demands on the city for major changes in fire regulations, enforcement of the building codes and the provision of fire hydrants, but the city seems to blow them off. The Underwriters resolve not to write another policy until the new fire regulations are implemented and enforced... not just changed in writing, but actually enforced. Have a nice day. [1] [2]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
The previous fire gets more attention in history due to the legend of Mrs. O'Leary's cow... an event that may or may not have happened. The fire also killed more people, but it was a poorer part of the city, so the insurance companies experienced what might be called "acceptable losses" in economic terms. The 1874 fires were in a more established part of town so the insurance losses really hurt the Underwriters. Wothout insurance coverage the building owners were forced to take future losses upon themselves. The owners put pressure on the city to give the fire department greater authority, and change building practices. Wood-frame construction can survive a fire, but it must be built properly. Those small horizontal cross members in the walls are fire blocks. Don't leave them out just to save money. They choke back the flames, delaying the spread of fire and give time for residents to flee. They also give time for the fire department to arrive. If the firemen can't save the building, they might prevent the fire from spreading to your neighbors. One day I turned down my block and saw smoke. I said a prayer asking God for help and for strength to handle whatever happened next. I did NOT say, "Dear God! Don't let that be MY house," because I would be asking God to set my neighbor's house on fire or to change reality. I try not to wish bad things for my neighbors and I've seen too many time travel movies to risk messing with reality. As it turned out, it wasn't my house. It was the house behind and the fire department was able to limit the damage. Our neighborhood was saved. [3] [4]

Dear Diary... How about a Zeppelin?

Ferdinand von Zeppelin scribbles his first ideas on the design of a new type of airship. It is a rigid-frame that holds together several balloon envelopes within itself. His inspiration has not come to him instantly. It has been a process. Von Zeppelin was an official observer for Germany during the War Between the States. Balloons were used by the Union Army to rise above the battlefield in order to judge the size and position of Confederate forces. In fact, General Armstrong Custer was one of the first to use this system, although not very successfully. As he went aloft, Custer asked the pilot if the balloon was safe. The pilot jumped up and down in the basket to assure the General that the balloon was quite sturdy. Custer stopped asking after that. Around that time Von Zeppelin took a balloon ride and that sparked his interest. Years later, while attending a lecture, the speaker suggested that the mail could be transported via balloons. The problem with that idea is that balloons only follow the winds. What is needed is a lighter-than-air vehicle with a rudder and propeller, like a ship at sea. Von Zeppelin writes down his initial thoughts in his diary. He is on his way to creating a lighter-than-air ship that can go where he aims it. [5]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
The word "dirigible" comes from the Latin word meaning "to direct". Thus "dirigible" means "steerable." Germany supported Von Zeppelin in his dirigible building program because he promoted it as a military necessity for the defense of Germany. But if helium is a safe, lighter-than-air gas, why did Nazi Germany fill the Hindenburg with hydrogen which is a highly flammable gas? The Hindenburg was the dirigible that suddenly burst into flames and collapsed onto a New Jersey airfield in 1937. The debate continues over how the explosion occurred and why the flames spread so quickly. Whatever the reason, hydrogen must have fueled the disaster at least partially. The question I had was why use hydrogen at all? The answer was difficult to find but the reasoning went like this: the main source for helium was (and still is) the USA. Congress noticed that German Zeppelins were used to drop bombs on Allied forces during World War 1, so Congress restricted the export of helium. The helium shortage forced Germany to substitute hydrogen which is a lot cheaper and easier to produce. The downside in using it was that if it caught fire it would burn really, really fast. (Don't try that experiment at home kids. Your Mom will kill you... if you live through it.) I saw a Mythbusters episode that made the case that the paint on the skin of the Hindenburg was the main source for the dramatic fire, but I think the use of hydrogen must have contributed to the disaster in a significant way. [6]

Tennis, Anyone?

There is this game where serious people swat a fuzzy green ball back and forth over a net while others watch and applaud. I'd tell you the name of the game but it is Greek to me and thus unpronounceable. (It's called: sphairistikè.) The English call it "Sticky" because they can't pronounce the Greek name either. The developer of this game is an Englishman and a good marketer (except for the name). He boxes a net, rackets, balls and a rulebook and ships several packages across the world to friends, officials and religious leaders. He encourages them to give it a try. An American woman spots the game being played and brings the idea to the United States. Now they call it lawn tennis and they follow the rules that came in the box. By 1877 the Wimbledon Championships will begin. [7] [8]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
I noticed in the news that certain tennis players have been using drugs that are normally banned. Exceptions had been made through official channels so I'm not sure what the complaint is here. What was implied in the reporting was that making an exception for these players was like cheating. As I listened to the reporter stumble through the list of drugs, they seemed like ones that a player would take after an injury. I know there is a lot of money riding on these games and people don't want the players to hurt themselves by taking drugs, but we don't want them to suffer by NOT taking drugs either. I assume that adults can make their own decisions. Part of the rules is a procedure to get an exception to the rules. Thus exceptions to the rules are also part of the rules. But when the system becomes so repressive that even following the rules is seen as wrong, then people will stop following the rules. Just don't act surprised when it happens. [9] [10]

Significant Births

  • Harry Houdini, the escape artist and illusionist. He will expose false mediums as he searches for proof of an afterlife. [11]
  • Robert Frost, the poet. "And miles to go before I sleep." [12]
  • Gertrude Stein, the author. She will say, "There is no 'there' there," referring to Oakland, California as a destination. [13]
  • G. Marconi, developer of the wireless telegraph. Using a copper antenna, spark-gap amplifier, and telegraph rig he will build the first radio transmitter. [14] [15]

This Year in Wikipedia

Year 1874, Wikipedia.

See Also


  1. Chicago Fire of 1874 - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 20 September 2016. “Many insurers did halt their activities in Chicago, and only returned to issuing policies in the city after the municipal government adopted many of the suggested reforms.”
  2. Chicago: its history and its builders; a century ... v. 2. - Full View - HathiTrust Digital Library - HathiTrust Digital Library. babel.hathitrust.org (2016). Retrieved on 20 September 2016.
  3. McBride, Elyse Gundersen (2013). "The Changing Role of the Architect in the United States Construction Industry, 1870 - 1913". Construction History (The Construction History Society) 28 (1): 121-140. http://www.austinlibrary.com:2138/stable/43856031. 
  4. Alex Shrugged notes: In my younger days I was schooled in wood-frame construction and worked within the construction industry as a soils inspector. My opinion is informed by my experience and learning.
  5. Ferdinand von Zeppelin: Airships - Wikipedia, 2014 [last update]
  6. The Hindenburg. u-s-history.com (2016). Retrieved on 20 September 2016. “The United States possessed the only natural deposits of helium in the world. That factor caused U.S. government officials to become wary of Adolph Hitler and his growing Third Reich because of prior rigid German aircraft used in bombing raids during World War I. Following a meeting with President Theodore Roosevelt and the Zeppelin Company, the U.S. Congress passed The Helium Control Act, which denied the Zeppelin Company U.S. helium for their new ship. Instead, the Hindenburg's cells were inflated with the explosive gas, hydrogen.”
  7. Tennis - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 20 September 2016. “In December 1873, British army officer Major Walter Clopton Wingfield designed and patented a similar game ;– which he called sphairistikè, and was soon known simply as 'sticky' – for the amusement of guests at a garden party on his friend's estate of Nantclwyd Hall, in Llanelidan, Wales. According to R. D. C. Evans, turfgrass agronomist, 'Sports historians all agree that Wingfield deserves much of the credit for the development of modern tennis.' According to Honor Godfrey, museum curator at Wimbledon, Wingfield 'popularized this game enormously. He produced a boxed set which included a net, poles, rackets, balls for playing the game – and most importantly you had his rules. He was absolutely terrific at marketing and he sent his game all over the world. He had very good connections with the clergy, the law profession, and the aristocracy and he sent thousands of sets out in the first year or so, in 1874.' The world's oldest tennis tournament, the Wimbledon Championships, were first played in London in 1877. The first Championships culminated a significant debate on how to standardize the rules.”
  8. Walter Clopton Wingfield - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 20 September 2016. “Major Walter Clopton Wingfield MVO (16 October 1833 – 18 April 1912) was a Welsh inventor and a British Army officer who was one of the pioneers of lawn tennis. Inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1997, as the founder of Modern Lawn Tennis, an example of the original equipment for the sport and a bust of Wingfield himself can be seen at the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum.”
  9. Top US athletes deny cheating after hackers show usage of banned substances — RT Sport. rt.com (2016). Retrieved on 20 September 2016. “Williams was allowed to take oxycodone, hydromorphone, prednisone and methylprednisolone in 2010, 2014 and 2015, despite the substances being placed on WADA’s list of banned substances. However, the documents released also showed that Williams had been given special permission to take some of the drugs. The authorization was given by Dr. Stuart Miller from the International Tennis Federation (ITF).”
  10. "Russian Hackers Draw Attention to Drug-Use Exemptions for Athletes - The New York Times", September 14, 2016. Retrieved on 20 September 2016. “Antidoping authorities, who have faced scrutiny this year related to the doping scandal emanating from Russia, said that increased funding for WADA would also translate into more careful policing of therapeutic exemptions. WADA is jointly funded by sports federations and the Olympic committee, and national governments, of which Russia is a top contributor.” 
  11. Harry Houdini - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 20 September 2016. “While many suspected that these escapes were faked, Houdini presented himself as the scourge of fake spiritualists. As President of the Society of American Magicians, he was keen to uphold professional standards and expose fraudulent artists. He was also quick to sue anyone who imitated his escape stunts.”
  12. Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost - Poetry Foundation (1923). Retrieved on 20 September 2016. “
    The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
    But I have promises to keep,
    And miles to go before I sleep,
    And miles to go before I sleep.”
  13. Gertrude Stein - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 20 September 2016. “Two quotes from her works have become widely known: 'Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose' and 'there is no there there', with the latter often taken to be a reference to her childhood home of Oakland, California.”
  14. Guglielmo Marconi - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 20 September 2016. “Guglielmo Marconi, 1st Marquis of Marconi was an Italian inventor and electrical engineer known for his pioneering work on long-distance radio transmission[1] and for his development of Marconi's law and a radio telegraph system. He is often credited as the inventor of radio, and he shared the 1909 Nobel Prize in Physics with Karl Ferdinand Braun 'in recognition of their contributions to the development of wireless telegraphy'.”
  15. NAB Marconi Radio Awards - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 20 September 2016. “The Marconi Radio Awards are presented annually by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) to the top radio stations and on-air personalities in the United States.”

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