Surname Saturday: Blood

Blood CrestThis surname was possibly derived from the Welsh name Lloyd.  The original form of the surname was “Ab-Lloyd” with the prefix “ab” meaning “son of”.  From “Ab-Lloyd” the name eventually evolved to “Blud” and then “Blood”.

Some sources suggest two additional theories for this surname’s origination:

  • The name is an affectionate term for a blood relative.
  • The surname may have derived from an occupational name for a physician, i.e., one who lets blood (“bloden” from Middle English)

The first recorded spelling of the surname was in 1256 during King Henry III’s reign for “William Blod”.  Other spelling variations of this surname include “Blud”, “Bludd”, “Bloode” and “Blood”.

While it is believed that the surname is more likely of Welsh origin, some members of the Blood family moved to Ireland in the 1590′s.  One member of this family branch, Thomas Blood, made a name for himself when he attempted to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London in 1671.

Thomas Blood

Thomas Blood had joined the Parliamentarians (or “Roundheads”) during the Irish rebellion which coincided with the English Civil War (1642-1651).  Their foes were the Royalists (or “Cavaliers”) and their conflicts arose over disagreements relating to governance, whether Parliamentary or directly through the monarchy.  The Parliamentarians were victorious and thereafter precedent was set for the monarchy to govern only with Parliament’s consent.

Members of the Parliamentary Army were rewarded with large estates.  However, when the monarchy was restored (with governing limits), Thomas lost his land.  Revenge was in order, so he organized a band of men in 1663 to overthrow Dublin Castle and capture a Royalist and supporter of King Charles II, James Butler, the Duke of Ormond.  Their plans were thwarted and exposed, however.  Thomas was able to escape to Holland, disguising himself both as a Quaker and a priest, but his accomplices were executed.  Obviously, there was a price on his head so he remained in Holland for a time.

ThomasBloodHe joined various dissident groups when he returned to England and even made another unsuccessful attempt to capture the Duke of Ormond in 1670.  Then came his bizarre plan to steal the newly-fashioned Crown Jewels from the Tower of London (following Charles I’s execution in 1649 the original jewels had been melted down).

In early 1671, Thomas disguised himself as a parson from a country parish accompanied by his wife.  While visiting Jewel House he made the acquaintance of the custodian, Mr. Edwards.  The wife was suddenly taken ill (perhaps feigned?) and Mr. Edwards took them to his own home where his wife attended the sick woman.  To thank them for their kindness, Thomas returned with a gift and made small talk.  Their conversation led to Mr. Edwards mentioning he had a daughter of marriageable age, wherein the “parson” remarked that he had a nephew that he would be happy to introduce her to at 7:00 the next morning.

On May 9, Thomas returned for the early morning introduction, or at least that was the pretense.   Instead he had three friends with him all carrying concealed weapons.  They bound Mr. Edwards and seized the jewels.  They took the crown, orb and scepter intending to conceal them in a bag, but Mr. Edwards’ son and brother-in-law unexpectedly arrived and interrupted the heist.  Thomas flattened the crown with a mallet, shoved the orb down his breeches and off they fled, only to be quickly captured and thrown into prison.

Again, Thomas Blood acted audaciously when he demanded the right to confess his crime to none other than King Charles himself.  Charles agreed to meet him.  Historic UK records their meeting as such:

Blood was taken to the Palace where he was questioned by King Charles, Prince Rupert, The Duke of York and other members of the royal family. King Charles was amused at Blood’s audacity when Blood told him that the Crown Jewels were not worth the £100,000 they were valued at, but only £6,000!

The King asked Blood “What if I should give you your life?” and Blood replied humbly, “I would endeavour to deserve it, Sire!”

Apparently, King Charles was sufficiently impressed by Blood’s audacity for he pardoned him and returned his Irish land to him – and granted him a yearly pension of five hundred pounds.  Some believe the king’s pardon came as a result of a reward for Blood’s services as a Secret Agent.

For years afterwards Thomas Blood was seen around London and at Court.  But in 1680 he became ill and died on August 24, 1680.  “His reputation for trickery was such that his body was later exhumed by the authorities to verify the fact that he had died.” (Clare County Library)

Robert and John Blood

Two members of the Blood family are recorded in Concord, Massachusetts during the seventeenth century, although probably not the first of the family to immigrate to New England.  Brothers John and Robert Blood were proprietors of an independent plantation, which was situated outside the limits of any town.  This was an unusual occurrence for that day since in Puritan New England settlements were organized and administered by members of the Church.

The property, referred to as Bloods Farms, was first occupied by the brothers before 1651.  They first paid taxes to nearby Billerica until Indian troubles arose and they decided Concord would provide better protection.  Billerica objected and had their money refunded by Concord.  Later their tax allegiance would return to Concord, but tax problems would continue and become a point of contention with the town governance.

Their property had steadily been increasing in value and thus far the Bloods had managed to pay only minimal tax rates since theirs was an independent plantation.  Still the town attempted to exact land taxes from the Bloods.  When their land tax bill continued to remain in arrears, Constable John Wheeler was dispatched to seize the property.  Arguments and “contumelious speeches” ensued as well as physical violence.

Robert was summoned to court for abusing the constable, his speeches and for vilifying the King’s authority.  He was fined and then retaliated by unsuccessfully counter-suing Constable Wheeler for coming to his house “with a great attendance and disturbing him with provoking speeches and striking him at his own house.”

The authorities tried again the following year to exact taxes and were again met with resistance.  Robert and his sons were again called to appear before the court, this time fined for “disorderly carnage towards the constables.”  A few months later Concord apparently decided the family had some justification for their protests as the fines were reduced.  On March 7, 1696, the two parties came to an agreement as to how taxes would be assessed and paid from that date forward.

Robert’s brother John apparently never married and not much is recorded about his life.  It is known they appeared together in Lynn, Massachusetts by 1647 and then in Concord by 1649.  On October 30, 1682 John was found dead with a gun in his hand, presumed to have accidentally killed himself while hunting.  Papers of Samuel Sewall record the following about his death:

Satterday night November 11, (1682) . . . One Blood of Concord about 7 days since or less was found dead in the woods, leaning his Brest on a Logg.  Had been seeking some Creatures.  Oh! what strange work is the Lord about to bring to pass.

Since John had never married, his estate was passed to Simon and Josiah Blood, Robert’s sons.   Two generations later the Bloods Farms had been split up among so many heirs that it ceased to exist.

The family history recorded in The Story of the Bloods is filled with many stories of this family.  Evidence exists that the family has contributed much to America through the years – as soldiers, farmers and ranchers, doctors, dentists, miners, oilmen, poets, inventors and more.  For example, in the 1860′s, a patent was issued to W.H. Blood for a “clothes-washing machine” and another patent to C F & F Blood for a “washing & wringing machine.”  Several members of the family contributed by inventing labor-saving farm equipment.

According to The Story of the Bloods, through the years Blood families used a variety of forenames which were traditional, Biblical, poetic, classic and fanciful.  Names like:  Aaron, Abel, Alfaretta, Arathusa, Bathsheba, Corvallis, Comfort, Ebenezer, Erastus, Drasella, Obed, Philanda, Submit, Thankful, Mehitable, Narcissa, Paschal and more.  The author of the book mused that the prize for the most impressive name was “Lois Jane Amanda Adaline Blood”.

As was the case long ago, family members often married other family members, even first cousins:

Susannah Blood of Carlisle (1776/1818) was born a Blood, died a Blood, was twice married, yet her name was never anything but Blood – Susannah (Blood) (Blood) Blood.  She married her first cousin Abel Blood (1771/1803) and when he died married his brother Elnathan Blood (1773/1818).

In that case, Blood was apparently thicker than Blood.

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
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Feisty Females: The Great Western

Sarah_A-BowmanToday’s “feisty female” has been described as “Amazonian” and a “buxom behemoth”.  Some believe she was born Sarah Knight, perhaps of Irish parentage, in 1812 or 1813 in either Tennessee or Missouri –  history is unclear as to exactly when and where.   She has been referred to variously as “Sarah Bourdett”, “Sarah Borginnis”, “Sarah Bourgette”, “Sarah A. Bowman”, and “Sarah Bowman-Phillips” – but she is best remembered by her nickname “The Great Western”.

The Great Western Steamship Company was formed in 1836 by a group of Bristol, England investors for the purpose of building a line of steamships which would travel between Bristol and New York.  Their theory was that “bigger was better” – in fact they believed that the larger the ship the more fuel efficiently it would run.

GreatWesternSteamshipWhen the Great Western made its maiden voyage across the Atlantic in 1838, it was the largest steamship afloat in the world.  The ship left Bristol on March 31, 1838 but a fire broke out in the engine room.  Although damage was slight, the ship still had to dock at Canvey Island.  Several passengers cancelled their bookings and when the Great Western started out again on April 8, there were only seven passengers on board.

The 235-foot long ship was wooden and iron-strapped with side paddle wheels and four masts for auxiliary propulsion and “balance” to keep the paddle wheels in the water and the ship traveling in a straight line.  To date it was the most modern technologically designed ship, also called a “floating palace.”  The ship caused a stir when it arrived in New York, and apparently not soon forgotten.

GreatWesternShipIn the spring of 1846, Sarah Bourdett (or Bourgette) drove her wagon loaded with cooking equipment into General Zachary Taylor’s army camp in Matamoros, Mexico.  She, being at least six feet tall and perhaps two hundred pounds, cut quite an imposing figure.  Possibly her impressive size reminded someone of the steamship Great Western, for thereafter that would be her sobriquet.

It is said that upon meeting General Taylor she loudly proclaimed, “If the general would give me a strong pair of tongs, I’d wade that river and whip every scoundrel that dared show himself.”  Although the phrase “strong pair of tongs” seemed a little odd, some historians believe that perhaps she was referring to a new style of men’s work pants which were called “tongs.”   Nevertheless, she was obviously loaded for bear and ready for action.

Sarah and her husband had first made an appearance in Corpus Christi in 1845 when her husband was part of the part of Taylor’s occupying force after enlisting in Jefferson Barracks, Missouri.  It was a common practice that wives were allowed to join the army as cooks or laundresses and accompany their husbands on their missions.

Sarah was an admirer of Zachary Taylor, confident of his leadership skills.  President James K. Polk, anticipating problems with the annexation of Texas, sent Taylor to make a stand.  When the troops moved to Matamoros to hastily construct Fort Texas, Sarah accompanied them.  Supplies had been left behind at Point Isabel so Taylor had to march back and retrieve them.  Fort Texas, although well-defended, was lacking supplies.

The 7th Infantry was left behind at the fort.  This regiment had earned the nickname of the “Cotton Balers”.  During the War of 1812 these troops had made an heroic defense behind cotton bales in the Battle of New Orleans.  Major Jacob Brown was the regiment commander.  Camp women, including Sarah, remained with the regiment.  So Far From God: The U.S. War With Mexico, 1846-1848 describes Sarah:

A strapping, muscular woman six feet in height, she reputedly could trounce any man in the regiment, and once had nearly done so when an unwary soldier made an untoward remark to her back at Corpus Christi.  At the Arroyo Colorado she had reportedly offered to cross the stream herself and “straighten out” the entire Mexican army.  But despite her strength and pugnacity, she was physically attractive, with dark hair and gray-blue eyes, and she could be tender of heart when the situation called for it….Though officially a noncombatant, she and her like shared the hardships and the dangers of the troops.

General Taylor departed for Port Isabel on May 1, 1846, leaving five hundred soldiers at Fort Brown.  On the morning of May 3, the Mexicans began firing upon the fort.  Rather than retreat to safe quarters, as would be expected of the women, Sarah continued to serve meals, dress wounds and load rifles.  Sarah was said to have been an excellent shot, often seen carrying pistols, and at least one source suggests that she joined in the battle.

The battle continued for seven days and Major Brown was killed.  Sarah would be lauded for her heroic efforts in the face of battle.  In honor of Major Brown, the fort was renamed to “Fort Brown” and Sarah, a.k.a. “The Great Western” would also become known as “the Heroine of Fort Brown”.

Heroine_of_Fort_Brown_SaraBourdettHer story of bravery in the face of danger would be told in newspapers across the country.  Some newspaper articles would refer to her as “a queer old woman”, but most lauded her.

GreatWesternArticleAfter Matamoros, General Taylor crossed the Rio Grande into Mexico and Sarah followed.  The Mexicans and Americans clashed in Monterrey, both sides inflicting heavy casualties, but in the end the Americans occupied the city.  Sarah set up a restaurant in one of the buildings and called it “The American House.”

Taylor soon moved on to Saltillo and Sarah followed, re-establishing The American House there.  She gained a reputation of a willingness to fix meals at any hour of the day or night if a soldier was hungry.  The American House would become a “headquarters for everybody” – and not just a restaurant but a bordello as well.

Another battle would soon take place in nearby Buena Vista.  For two days the battle raged and Sarah again fed and nursed the troops.  One account relates that she had briefly returned to Saltillo when a private from Indiana ran into her restaurant and declared that General Taylor was whipped.  Sarah, who practically worshiped Taylor, decked the young man and declared, “There ain’t Mexicans enough in Mexico to whip old Taylor.  You just spread that rumor and I’ll beat you to death.”  The rumor turned out to be untrue as Taylor was victorious.

At some point Sarah’s husband was perhaps killed, as some accounts have suggested.  When the Mexican War ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, troops were next dispatched to defend travelers heading to the gold fields of California.  Sarah wanted to accompany them but her husband was gone now, and the rule had been as long as the husband was a soldier the wife could travel with his regiment.

To circumvent the regulations, Sarah proclaimed, “Who wants a wife with $15,000 and the biggest leg in Mexico?  Come, my beauties, don’t all speak at once.  Who is the lucky man?”  A dragoon by the name of Davis stepped forward.  According to More Than Petticoats:  Remarkable Texas Women:

One brave private came forward and said, “I have no objections to making you my wife, if there is a clergyman here who would tie the knot.”  To which The Great Western replied, “Bring your blanket to my tent tonight and I will learn you to tie a knot that will satisfy you, I reckon!”

For two short months, she would be Sarah Davis, until she met another man who caught her fancy.  Davis was dispensed with and, for several months she presumably lived with the other man.  Sarah made her way to El Paso in 1849 where she briefly ran a hotel for travelers heading to California.  Then, with another man, possibly Juan Duran, she went to Socorro, New Mexico, as evidenced by the 1850 census (Sarah had reverted to her first husband’s name apparently, listed as “Sarah Bourgette”).  Also listed with them are five young girls which some believe might have been frontier orphans.  Nancy Skinner, two years old in 1850, would remain with Sarah as an adopted daughter.

Less than two years later Sarah married Albert Bowman and moved to Fort Yuma.  Sarah worked in the hospital and served as a cook for the officers.  Later she and Albert would continue to move with troops throughout Arizona.  When gold was discovered in Fort Yuma the two returned.  Albert was several years younger than Sarah and in 1864 he ran off with a younger woman.  Now Sarah was left alone with several adopted Mexican and Indian children to raise.

SarahABowmanGraveHistorical facts are unclear as to when or how Sarah died, but some accounts say she died of a tarantula bite.  She was buried in the Fort Yuma cemetery on December 23, 1866 with full military honors.  Twenty-four years later all bodies buried in the cemetery were exhumed and moved elsewhere.  Sarah’s body was sent to The Presidio in California – her tombstone lists her name as “Sarah A. Bowman”, but to so many who knew her throughout her illustrious life, she would always be known as “The Great Western.”

 Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
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Book Review Thursday: Operation Paperclip

OperationPaperclipThis was a fascinating book and well researched by author Annie Jacobsen.  She had been researching material for another book and came across the name Siegfried Knemeyer numerous times.  Knemeyer worked with a Nazi aircraft design company, but more notably he was a technical adviser to Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring, the second most powerful man in Nazi Germany and founder of the Gestapo.  She discovered that Knemeyer was brought to America shortly after the war and worked for the United States Air Force, earning a Distinguished Civilian Service Award by the Department of Defense.

Knemeyer was part of a United States intelligence program that was instituted following Germany’s surrender in 1945.   The contracts were top secret since they involved recruiting German scientists who were former Nazis – the program was code-named Operation Paperclip.  It had first been named Operation Overcast, but after the name was compromised and Army Intelligence ran into some problems with Nazi scientists who were “troublesome”, i.e., they were found to be participants in some of the more heinous crimes committed against humanity, the name was changed.  For those troublesome cases, a paperclip would be discreetly attached to those folders, thus the new code name.

Concurrently with the institution of the intelligence operation, teams of investigators were being sent to Germany to uncover the horrors the Nazis had perpetrated.  Dr. Leopold Alexander, one of the many team members sent to Germany to investigate after Germany’s surrender concluded that German science under Hitler and the Nazis had become quite grim.  He remarked that doctors were not practicing science, but rather “depraved pseudoscientific criminality.”  Dr. Alexander was a former German (and Jewish) doctor who had fled to the United States after Hitler came into power.

One of the interesting concepts adopted by the Nazis was that while they were working on biological warfare they simultaneously worked on epidemic control – a “sword and shield” concept.  The book relates some of the intricate, minute details that were undertaken to ensure both secrecy and Third Reich domination.

The book is very detailed, so it might be somewhat overwhelming to follow every single detail.  However, I learned some stunning details about the history of post World War II.  It is a bit of a conflict to think that the American government would risk national security, in the name of national security, to hire Nazis.  But, then again, they probably felt that if they didn’t snatch them then the Russians would (and the Russians did).  The Cold War started not long after the end of the war.

In her prologue, Jacobsen writes:

This is a book about Nazi scientists and American government secrets.  It is about how dark truths can be hidden from the public by U.S. officials in the name of national security, and it is about the unpredictable, often fortuitous, circumstances through which truth gets revealed.

If you’re interested in post-World War II and Cold War history, I’m sure you would find this a fascinating read.

Rating:  ★★★★★

 Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
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Ghost Town Wednesday: Fordlandia (Part Two)

GhostTownWednesdayAfter Willis Blakeley finally arrived at the camp, he began the process of hiring laborers.  Keeping a stable labor force was a problem, however.  The locals had grown accustomed to their own way of life where they would work during the season when rubber was harvested, sell that and live off their earnings until the next season.  Blakeley and his successors all encountered the same problem — after a worker had accumulated some savings he would go home to his family.

Back in Dearborn one company official, Ernest Liebold, thought that perhaps “there was nothing down there to absorb their earnings”.  The project was run from Michigan and one glaring issue was that they tended to solve problems with Michigan logic.  They simply thought that what was missing was one important aspect of “Fordism” and that was something to buy.

To ensure a more stable work force, Henry Ford ordered the administrators in Brazil to pay 25 to 35 percent above the local wage.  It really was a losing proposition, however, and not one that could really be won – pay too little and they wouldn’t be able to attract as many workers; pay too much and the workers would just work until they had enough to live on for awhile and then return home.

One of many Blakeley’s missteps occurred when he decided to begin clearing the jungle for planting during the wet season.  Ideally the trees needed to be burned and, of course, that wasn’t really possible when it was raining.  So, what does an inexperienced manager do?  He poured on copious amounts of kerosene, and then had a fire that burned out of control for several days.  Even after seeds were planted, the plants failed to thrive.

FordlandiaBarrenIncreasingly so, Dearborn grew suspicious of Blakeley.  He was becoming resentful that he wasn’t being paid well enough and began to pocket money meant for the operation and the workers (quinine for the sick, gas for the power saws and tractors).  By October 1928, Dearborn had enough and dismissed Blakeley.  Einar Oxholm, a Norwegian sea captain would be his replacement.

Dearborn was still providing the plans and management of the project, but no one seemed to understand jungle conditions.  For instance, instead of thatch for roofs, builders used metal which, of course, turned the houses into ovens.  Oxholm didn’t fare much better than Blakeley.  He knew nothing about agriculture, rubber or the tropics.  As Bill Bryson put it in his book One Summer: America, 1927, “he was a better human being than Blakeley, but not a more competent one.”  Oxholm was an honest man, however, and that was important to Henry Ford.

The climate and the harsh conditions were devastating to Oxholm and his family – three of his four children died and were buried there.  Sickness and disease were rampant and the Tapajós River was extremely dangerous.  Oxholm’s maid bathed in the river one evening and emerged with one arm missing.  A caiman had attacked her and she bled to death.  By the end of 1929 there were already ninety people buried in the company cemetery.

FordlandiaCemeteryEinar Oxholm returned to the United States in early 1930 – he had had enough after losing three children.  He would later remark that Fordlandia was ‘the hardest proposition I have ever tackled in my life.”  Victor Perini was Henry Ford’s next choice to head operations at Fordlandia.  Perini was planning to leave his wife Constance behind in Michigan, but was overruled by Dearborn.  They believed that the presence of women would help alleviate some of the problems they had experienced with gambling and drinking.  But, Victor Perini didn’t last long either – he couldn’t endure the Amazon heat.  He was replaced by John Rogge.

Workers were expected to eat American foods, like oatmeal, canned peaches and Jell-O which were distasteful to the workers, mostly because it was regimented by none other than Henry Ford. They also became increasingly disenchanted with their compensation, or lack thereof.  In America, Henry Ford had famously decided to pay his workers $5 a day, so his workers in Brazil expected the same.  They were paid considerably less, about 35 cents a day, and from those wages was deducted the cost of their meals (whether they ate them or not).  There was also the restriction on alcohol consumption.  Plantation managers asked a Catholic priest to preach against drinking.  The priest remarked, “For heaven’s sake, I’m not a Baptist.”

Other changes were instituted which further inflamed the situation in Fordlandia.  In addition to having the cost of their meals deducted from their pay, management decided to try a cafeteria line to serve workers.  Previously, workers had been seated at tables and waited on by servers.  One day workers had enough – no longer wanting to be “treated like dogs”, plus the heat in the metal-roofed mess hall was unbearable.

One disgruntled laborer was tired of standing in line and pushed his way inside to speak with one of the managers, Kaj Ostenfeld, who was in charge of payroll.  Ostenfeld’s flippant response set off a riot.  The clamor began with dishes, pots, chairs, and glass being smashed.  Workers came into the mess hall armed with knives, pipes, hammers, machetes and clubs.  One worker cried “Let’s break everything, let’s get hold of Ostenfeld.”  But Ostenfeld had already fled the scene.

FordlandiaRiotWorkers weren’t content with smashing up the mess hall; they proceeded to destroy every piece of machinery they could find on the plantation.  Time clocks were smashed to bits.  John Rogge tried to intervene, but after some workers showed up with liquor, the riot escalated.  Rogge decided to leave with his staff after drunken workers began to chant “Brazil for Brazilians.  Kill all the Americans.”

Labor unrest was nothing new to Henry Ford, and he was strongly opposed to unions.  Ford officials were determined that workers, should they decided to strike, would not dictate how the company ran its business.  The military was called upon to intervene.  The aftermath of the riot was that most of the work force, after being paid for all time worked up until December 22, was fired.  Fordlandia was in ruins with damages estimated to be over twenty-five thousand dollars.

Henry Ford later sent yet another manager to run the operations of Fordlandia.  Scottish-born Archibald Johnston was finally able to get a handle on the situation and make the necessary repairs and improvements.  Better housing, a school, shops and a clean water supply brought more stability to Fordlandia.  Even though by this time there were around seven hundred thousand rubber trees growing, the cost of keeping them protected from insect infestation seriously eroded the possibility of profit.

The aftermath of the riot and successions of poor managers was beginning to become apparent to the rest of the world outside of Dearborn.  Henry Ford began a public relations campaign to repair his and the Ford Motor Company’s reputation.  Instead of abandoning Fordlandia at that time, he decided to pour even more resources into the project, determined to make it work.  As it turns out, it was money ill-spent.

FordlandiaAbandonedThe effects of the Great Depressions were not immediately felt in Brazil, but eventually demand for rubber subsided.  During World War II, synthetic rubber, something Ford’s friend Thomas Edison was never able to produce, was developed.  Finally, after almost twenty years of essentially pouring money down the drain, Henry Ford gave up his Utopian/Amazonian dream and abandoned Fordlandia.  The land was given back to the Brazilian government and later purchased by another American company, Cargill.

FordlandiaAbandoned2When Henry Ford first conceived the idea of Fordlandia, he no doubt envisioned a sort of American “midwestern dream” in the Amazon jungle.  With all the regimentation and attempted “Americanization” of workers, not to mention his insistence on tee-totalism in light of America’s own Prohibition, in the end his vision was a colossal failure.  Henry Ford never once stepped foot in Fordlandia and in the end it would cost his company millions.

Greg Gandlin, author of Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City, summed it up best:

Rather than a midwestern city of virtue springing from the Amazon green, local merchants set up thatched bordellos, bars and gambling houses, turning Fordlandia into a rain forest boomtown.  Managers eventually established sovereignty over the settlement and achieved something approaching their boss’s vision.  But then nature rebelled.

Hubris seems the obvious moral attached to Fordlandia, especially considering not just the disaster of its early years but also, even once order was established and the city was more or less functional, rubber’s refusal to submit to Ford-style regimentation.

This wasn’t the only time that Henry Ford’s “hubris” would play a role in his business dealings, however.  Tune in for next Monday’s article and more about other Henry Ford missteps as well as his social and political views.

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
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Tombstone Tuesday: Texas City, Texas Devastated on April 16, 1947

TexasCityExplosionSome had survived the horrors of World War I and World War II only to return home and meet their demise in one of the most devastating disasters in American history.  Some were immigrants from Mexico, Ireland and Czechoslovakia who worked as laborers, longshoremen, warehousemen and stevedores.  One was just sixteen years old, working as a truck driver for his family’s business and another lingered for two months before succumbing to his grave injuries.


The day was April 16, 1947 and it began as a cool, beautiful and clear morning with no warning of an event that would change the landscape and history of Texas City, Texas.  Just ten miles from Galveston, the town had burgeoned after World War II with returning veterans seeking employment.  The Texas City Chamber of Commerce had used the slogans “Texas City: Port of Opportunity” and “Texas City: Heart of the Greatest Industrial Development in the Country” to attract businesses and workers.

Monsanto Chemical Company manufactured styrene, an essential ingredient for the production of synthetic rubber.  They had also discovered a way to use petroleum to make plastic.  Union Carbide, the Humble, Amoco and Republic oil refineries, the Texas City Terminal Railway Company were in need of both skilled and unskilled laborers.  So many came seeking employment that housing became scarce so some lived in surrounding towns, while Mexican and Negro laborers were confined to an area of Texas City near Monsanto called The Bottom.  It was nothing more than a shanty town consisting of unpaved streets and poorly constructed shacks.

The April 8 issue of Time Magazine had trumpeted “the burgeoning Age of Chemistry,” with Texas “well on its way to becoming the chemical capital of the world.”  Just a few years prior, a group of scientists had worked in secret to combine chemistry and physics, creating a powerful weapon which ended World War II.  Following the war, scientists who had worked for Hitler were being brought to America, mostly to prevent them from being recruited by the Russians.  The Cold War had already begun.

Europe needed to be rebuilt after the war.  Not only had cities and villages been devastated but fields had been bombed and trampled by soldiers and heavy machinery.  The land would need to be restored and nurtured so it could again produce food to feed the masses in Europe.  The most promising and efficient way to accomplish that was to ship massive amounts of ammonium nitrate and other nitrogen compounds to Europe.  Texas City was the port where all manufactured and stockpiled quantities of ammonium nitrate were shipped to be loaded on to European ships.

That day the Grandcamp, a re-commissioned Liberty ship flying under the French flag, was in the port awaiting the final load.  Approximately 2,300 tons had already been loaded and longshoremen descended into Hold 4 to await the last pallets containing one hundred pound packages of ammonium nitrate.  The ship’s other cargo consisted of peanuts, cotton, tobacco, large balls of sisal wire and cases of small ammunition.

After smoke was detected, officials managed to summon the fire department in spite of a telephone strike.  Instead of using water to put out the fire, officials elected to use steam to prevent the cargo from being ruined.  By 8:30 a.m., however, the compressed steam had built up enough pressure to blow the hatch off of Hold 4.  From there came an orange-colored billow of smoke which began to attract onlookers near the ship.

HenryBaumgartnerAt 9:00 a.m. flames began to shoot out of the open hatch accompanied by smoke which was described as “a pretty gold, yellow color” or as “orange smoke in the morning sunlight…beautiful to see.”  Twelve minutes later the Grandcamp exploded with such force that it was heard 150 miles away.   Nine hundred miles away in Denver, Colorado a geologist noticed activity on the seismograph.  He was sure a massive explosion has occurred somewhere in southeast Texas.

As you can imagine the explosion and its aftermath were extremely devastating.  In just a matter of seconds, almost 600 people were killed, some confirmed dead and some never found but presumed dead.  Those who managed to avoid death fled the scene covered in a mixture of mud, oil and molasses.  Caucasians, assumed to be Negroes because they were covered in the black muck, were taken to the “colored wards” of the hospital.  Many had their clothing blown off of them.  It would take years for survivors to remove minute pieces of glass that had been embedded in their skin.

Early on the morning of April 17, just hours after the first explosion, another explosion occurred –  more powerful than the first, but only two more people were killed.  It would take weeks for bodies to be processed and identified.  Death records weren’t certified until much later.

TexasCity_JesusLopez_DeathCertThe aftermath of the explosions and the rebuilding of Texas City would take years to resolve and complete.  Survivors filed suit and took their case all the way to the United States Supreme Court, suing the federal government for neglect in failing to inform workers of the dangers of ammonium nitrate and its explosive capabilities.  Court after court had been reluctant to set a precedent whereby the federal government could be held culpable for disasters like the Texas City explosions.

In 1955 the Texas City Claims Bill was finally ushered through Congress by Senator Lyndon B. Johnson and signed by President Dwight Eisenhower.  On average each person eligible to file a claim received just over $12,000.00.

The story made headlines around the world and the aftermath lingered for years with the lawsuits, survivors filing life insurance claims and getting on with their lives without their loved ones.  There are many historical sources on the internet and in libraries if you want to read more.  Here are some links to view pictures of the devastation:

Houston Fire Department Pictures

Recovery and Memorials

Extensive documentation and photographs

I read one book, City on Fire, which chronicles the events and circumstances leading up to and following the explosions.  The book, by Bill Minutaglio, was an engaging read.  There have been other recorded accounts through the years; here are some additional internet sources if you’d like to read more:

List of books on the Texas City Disaster

Brief history from Texas State Historical Association

Description of the disaster with pictures website

NOTE:  I briefly mentioned that following World War II Nazi scientists were recruited by the United States.  This Thursday I will review the book Operation Paperclip, the code name given to the project which brought some of the most notorious scientists in the world to live among the people they sought to destroy in World War II.

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.


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Motoring History: Henry Ford (Part I)

HenryFord_youngHenry Ford was a lot of things: industrialist, self-made man, wealthy and successful, maker of men (as he liked to say).  His business philosophy became known as “Fordism” – mass produce inexpensive goods and pay high wages.  It seemed he had an opinion on just about everything in the world.  After he became successful, he printed his own newspaper espousing those (often controversial) views and opinions.

Henry Ford was born on July 30, 1863 to parents William and Mary (Litogot) Ford in Wayne County, Michigan not far from Detroit.  His father was born in Cork County, Ireland and his mother was the daughter of Belgian immigrants.  Henry was their eldest and four children followed him.  William, a farmer, expected his children would contribute by working on the family farm.  But, Henry was different – he was a tinkerer.

Rather than forcing him to perform chores he despised, his parents instead set up a work bench in the kitchen.  He repaired watches and studied every piece of machinery he encountered.  His ideas centered around making machinery that would make farm work easier.  After his mother died in 1876, farm life became even more tedious and tiresome.

When Henry turned sixteen, his father arranged for him to live with an aunt in Detroit and helped him secure a job as an apprentice machinist at James F. Flowers & Brothers.  Later he returned to the family farm and learned to operate a steam engine.  During the winter season he attended Goldsmith, Bryant & Stratton Business University in Detroit, studying mechanical drawing, bookkeeping and business.

In 1888 Henry married Clara Bryant and together they had one child, a son named Edsel, born in 1893.  In 1891 he was hired as an engineer at Edison Illuminating Company and by 1893 he had been promoted to Chief Engineer.  The main purpose of the Edison Company was to provide electricity to American cities, but that wasn’t what fascinated Henry Ford – he was determined to build a horseless carriage.

The idea of a horseless carriage was being discussed and Henry and his engineer buddies read all the magazine articles and books they could find on the subject.  He and his friends worked late at night and on weekends to build their first motorized carriage.  On June 4, 1896, Henry Ford took his horseless carriage for a drive around Detroit for the first time.

QuadricycleThe quadricycle, as it was called, had twenty-eight inch bicycle wheels, could reach a speed of twenty miles per hour and had no brakes – and it could only be driven forward and was prone to overheating.  It was definitely an oddity and attracted a lot of attention – even the mayor wanted to invest in Henry Ford and his ideas.

Three years later, Henry quit his engineering job, assembled a team of engineers and incorporated his own car manufacturing company on August 5, 1899.  The Detroit Automobile Company was one of fifty-seven other companies founded that year.  The horseless carriage was catching on.

The company rolled out their first product in January of 1900, a delivery truck which a company spokesman said was “near perfect”.  In reality it looked like a “horse drawn delivery wagon without the horse.”  It was top heavy, and with ignition and engine problems, could only run a few minutes at a time.  To enable him to open his first car company, Ford had taken on investors and the investors wanted something more appealing and reliable.

FordFirstTruckHenry was determined to perfect the first one before designing another model.  Being the tinkerer he was, he would move parts, test and re-test.  Still his investors pressed him for another model.  To satisfy their demands and buy himself some time, he had his employees make parts for cars that would never be built.  His investors were not pleased and would no longer provide capital.

He would blame the investors, something that would be repeated later in his career — for you see, Henry Ford despised the wealthy.  According to historian Douglass Brinkely, investors “were the scum of America, to Henry Ford.”  He held this sentiment even though he himself would later become fabulously wealthy.  The Detroit Automobile Company closed its doors in January of 1901.

With the help of another engineer, he built a 26-horsepower automobile and entered a race sponsored by the Detroit Driving Club.  In the annals of Ford Motor Company history, they call it “the race that changed everything” (see last week’s article here).   Henry won that race, besting one of the most skilled race car drivers of the day, Alexander Winton.

On June 16, 1903 the Ford Motor Company was incorporated after investment offers poured in following his unexpected victory in October of 1901.  Within a short period of time, the first model was ready to be marketed – a two-seat vehicle with an eight-horsepower engine.  The first order cam from a Chicago dentist, followed by several more.  In less than two years the Ford Motor Company was building twenty-five cars a day, having already sold over one thousand.

Henry Ford was still not satisfied, however.  He walled off one corner of his factory and set his top engineers and mechanics to work behind locked doors.  He suggested ideas for design, engine function, body type and was eager to plunge himself into the process and get his hands dirty.

The company began to produce a new model every few months, naming their way through the alphabet: Model A, and so on.  After two years of tinkering and development (and nearing the end of the alphabet!), Ford introduced the Model T.  The car had a four-cylinder, 20-horsepower engine, a generator that provided enough power for the ignition and lights, and an improved transmission.

Model_TThe Model T came in green (later black) with an open top and optional cover.  It weighed about twelve hundred pounds and could go 40 miles per hour on a well-maintained and straight road.  The T’s were both durable and reliable, rarely breaking down.  When a breakdown did occur they were easy to repair.  The price of the average car at that time was over $2,000.  The Model T sold for $850 and later the price would drop.

Orders came pouring in from people from all walks of life.  According to historian Greg Grandin, “The Model T changed everything.  It gave people a new sense of power and authority and control over their lives.”  In a sense, Henry Ford became a hero of sorts.  One woman, a farm wife from Rome, Georgia, wrote him a letter:  “Your car lifted us out of the mud.  It brought joy into our lives.”

Even with all the accolades he and his company received, Henry Ford still strived to find a way to make his automobiles better while increasing daily production.  His goal was to sell an inexpensive product, and to keep them affordable he had to find a way to produce more of them in a shorter period of time.  Next week’s article will focus on Henry Ford’s production and business innovations (and missteps), as well as delving into some of his controversial social and political philosophies.

NOTE:  A related series on Ghost Town Wednesday continues this week with Part Two of Fordlandia (read Part One here).

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
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Hymnspiration: Stand Up! Stand Up For Jesus!

DudleyTyngThe story of this hymn, the words penned by Reverend George Duffield, Jr., arose out of tragic circumstances.  The person who inspired the hymn was Reverend Dudley Atkins Tyng.

Dudley Tyng was born in 1825 to parents Stephen Higginson and Anne (Griswold) Tyng.  His father Stephen was a prominent minister and leader in the evangelical movement within the Episcopal Church.  In 1829 Stephen Tyng moved with his family to Philadelphia to become the Rector of St. Paul’s.  In 1832 Anne Tyng died and in 1834 Stephen became Rector of the Church of the Epiphany.

At the age of 14, Dudley entered the University of Pennsylvania and in 1841 he was converted.  In 1843 Dudley graduated with honors and then proceeded to the Theological Seminary in Virginia.  Following a succession of pastoral appointments, Dudley returned to Philadelphia and became Rector of the Church of the Epiphany where his father had once served.

Perhaps the church believed Dudley would be like his much-beloved father, but Dudley was cut from a different cloth and focused on the issues of the day.  As a committed abolitionist, he was quite vocal in his views regarding the issue of slavery.  On June 26, 1856 he delivered a sermon, entitled “Our Country’s Troubles”, decrying the blood already spilled, both in the Senate chamber when Senator Charles Sumner was attacked by Senator Preston Brooks and the bloodshed in Kansas which became known as “Bloody Kansas”.

Later that year Dudley Tyng was forced to resign due to his strong abolitionist leanings.  Accompanied by a group of loyal followers, he founded the Church of the Covenant.  By 1858 a revival was occurring in Philadelphia, sparked by mid-day prayer meetings at the YMCA which were led by Dudley.  George Duffield, Jr., a Presbyterian minister, was one of his close friends and associates.

One rally was held on March 30, 1858 with five thousand men, fathers and sons, in attendance.  As many as one thousand were said to have been converted that day.  His text was Exodus 10:11 – “Ye that are men, go and serve the Lord.”  So intense was his belief in God and the ministry he was called to, Dudley Tyng declared, “I must tell my Master’s errand, and I would rather that this right arm were amputated at the trunk than that I should come short of my duty to you in delivering God’s message.”

Two weeks later on April 13, Dudley was back home on his farm.  He went to the barn where corn was being shelled (by mule-driven machinery).  When he reached out to touch the animal, his sleeve was caught in the machine cogs, severely injuring his arm.  His arm was amputated, and just a few days later he died.

Before Dudley Tyng died, he was asked for his parting words.  He first answered, “Not now; I am too much exhausted.”  After a few moments he opened his eyes and declared loudly and distinctly, “Now father, I am ready.  Father, stand up for Jesus.  Tell them, let us all stand up for Jesus.  Let us all stand in Christ Jesus in prayer; accepted in Christ, having no other claims than his righteousness, that Christ may be glorified forever.”  (Stand Up For Jesus! – A Christian Ballad, p. 17).  Those were the final words spoken by Dudley Atkins Tyng, and shortly afterwards he passed away on April 19, 1858.

GeorgeDuffieldJrHis friend George Duffield, Jr. delivered a sermon the next Sabbath day, preaching from the text of Ephesians 6:14 – “Stand, therefore, having your loins girt about with truth.”  To close his sermon, he read a six stanza poem he had written to sum up his message, the poem inspired by his friend Dudley Tyng.  The poem was printed in a Baptist publication and George James Webb would later compose the tune which is still sung today.

StandUpForJesusThe hymn’s popularity began to spread, picked up by various denominational hymn publishers.  It also, like Onward Christian Soldiers, became a popular hymn sung by Civil War soldiers – an anthem.  In 1857 the country was hit with a wave of bankruptcies and business failures.  Between 1857 and 1859 when the economy recovered, businessmen responded by conducting lunchtime prayer meetings.  The movement, widely known as the “Businessmen’s Revival”, was led mostly by laymen and one of the hymns which rallied them was “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus”.

The death of Dudley Tyng had a profound effect on those whose lives he had touched.  Many tributes, memorials and eulogies followed.  He was outspoken in his convictions and in the end he would uncannily predict his own demise.  But with the words penned by his friend, his life, legacy and convictions live on today through this great hymn of the Church.  His gravestone stands as a tribute to his dying words.

TyngGraveEveryone have a great day — someday it will be history!

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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
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