Machine Age Bromance

The great American inventor Thomas Edison was a hero to the young Henry Ford, who grew up to become something of an inventor himself with his pioneering development of the assembly line and mass production techniques. Over a matter of decades in the late 19th and early 20th century these two men would utterly transform the American landscape and our way of life.

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January 21, 1928 cover by Constantin Alajalov.

Ford would first meet Edison in August 1896, at a convention of the Association of Edison Illuminating Companies held at the Oriental Hotel in Brooklyn—it was just two months after the 33-year-old Ford had finished work on his first car—a “quadricycle”—consisting of a simple frame, an ethanol-powered engine and four bicycle wheels. In contrast, by 1896 the 49-year-old Edison was a worldwide celebrity, having already invented the phonograph (1877), the incandescent lamp (1879), public electricity (1883) and motion pictures (1888).

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WHAT NEXT, A CAR STEREO?…Thomas Edison (left) with his second phonograph, photographed by Mathew Brady in Washington, D.C., April 1878. At right, Henry Ford sits in his first automobile, the Ford Quadricycle, in 1896. (Wikimedia Commons)
By 1907 the two had forged a close friendship that would endure the rest of their lives. So it was no surprise that these two giants of the machine age would show up together at the New York Auto Show at Madison Square Garden and take a gander at the latest technical marvels, including Ford’s new “Model A.” The New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town” was on hand as witness:

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MORE FUN THAN CONEY ISLAND…Thomas Alva Edison and Henry Ford observe an electric welding process at Ford Motor Company’s 1928 New York Auto Show. (AP Photo)
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IT SOLD LIKE HOTCAKES…Henry Ford and son Edsel introducing the 1928 Ford Model A at the Ford Industrial Exposition in New York City, January 1928. (thehenryford.org)

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E.B. Drives the ‘A’

In the same issue (Jan. 21, 1928) E.B. White told readers how to drive the new Model A—in his roundabout way. Some excerpts:

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No doubt White was feeling a bit wistful with the arrival of the Model A, which supplanted its predecessor, the ubiquitous Model T. White even penned a farewell to the old automobile under a pseudonym that conflated White’s name with Richard Lee Strout’s, whose original submission to the New Yorker inspired White’s book.

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FAREWELL TIN LIZZIE…White driving his beloved Model T in the 1920s.

In Farewell to Model T White recalled his days after graduating from college, when in 1922 he set off across America with his typewriter and his Model T.  White wrote that “(his) own vision of the land—my own discovery of it—was shaped, more than by any other instrument, by a Model T Ford…a slow-motion roadster of miraculous design—strong, tremulous, and tireless, from sea to shining sea.”

The Eternal Debate

In his “Reporter at Large” column, Morris Markey commented on the execution of former lovers and convicted murderers Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray, noting that once again the debate over the death penalty had been stirred, but as usual there was no resolution in sight. Little could Markey know that we would still be holding the debate 89 years later, with no resolution in sight.

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END OF THE LINE…Mugshots of Ruth Snyder and Henry Judd Gray taken at Sing Sing Prison following their conviction for the murder of Snyder’s husband. They were executed Jan. 12, 1928. (Lloyd Sealy Library, CUNY)

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Ahoy there

The New York Boat Show was back in town at the Grand Central Palace, enticing both the rich and the not-so-rich to answer the call of the sea. Correspondent Nicholas Trott observed:

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An advertisement in the same issue touted Elco’s “floating home”…

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But if you aspired to something larger than a modest cruiser, the Boat Show also featured an 85-foot yacht…

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But for the rest of the grasping masses, Chris-Craft offered the Cadet, an affordable 22′ runabout sold on an installment plan. Another ad from the issue asking those of modest means to answer “the call of freedom!”

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For an affordable boat, the Chris-Craft was really quite beautiful—its mahogany construction puts today’s fiberglass tubs to shame…

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PRETTY SWEET…A 1928 Chris-Craft Cadet. (Click to enlarge)

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Odds & Ends

The boat show was one indication that spring was already in the air. The various ads for clothing in the Jan. 21 issue had also thrown off the woolens, such as this one from Dobbs on Fifth Avenue, which featured a woman with all the lines of a skyscraper.

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And to achieve those lines, another advertisement advised young women to visit Marjorie Dork…

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…who seemed to do quite well for herself in the early days of fitness training…

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THOROUGHLY MODERN MARJORIE…New York beauty specialist Marjorie Dork, with her Packard, in New York’s Central Park, 1927. Original photo by John Adams Davis, New York. (Detroit Public Library)

And then there was a back page ad that said to hell with healthy living…

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The actress featured in the advertisement, Lenore Ulric, was considered one of the American theater’s top stars. Born in 1892 as Lenore Ulrich in New Ulm, Minnesota, she got her start on stage when she was still a teen, a protégé of the famed David Belasco. Though she primarily became a stage actress, she also made the occasional film appearance, portraying fiery, hot-blooded women of the femme fatale variety.

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Portrait of Lenore Ulric by New York’s Vandamm Studio. (broadway.cas.sc.edu)

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And we close with this post with a peek into the into upper class social scene, courtesy of Barbara Shermund…

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Next Time: Distant Rumblings…

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Electric Wonders

While Europeans in the 1920s dealt with frayed economies and political strife in the wake of World War I , Americans enjoyed a period of relative peace and prosperity along with an array of new electrical gadgets people didn’t even know they needed.

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October 22, 1927 cover by Julian de Miskey.

In the column “About The House,” the New Yorker wryly warned “timid souls” about the new push-button world they would encounter at the Electrical and Industrial Exposition at Grand Central Palace…

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Poster advertising the Electrical and Industrial Exposition. (public domain image)

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WILL WONDERS NEVER CEASE?…The New Yorker marveled over the latest electrical appliances on display at the Electrical and Industrial Exposition at Grand Central Palace including, clockwise from top left, the Toastmaster automatic toaster (which the magazine noted resembled an armored car), an electric washing machine, and the mighty Kitchen Aid mixer, which is still going strong in American kitchens today.

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THE ICEMAN COMETH NOT…A saleswoman shows off the features of a GE Monitor Top Refrigerator on display at a product exhibition in the late 1920s. (rtp3.com)

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Nan’s No No

The New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town” featured one of the Roaring Twenties big scandals–Nan Britton’s affair with U.S. President Warren G. Harding (who died at age 57 in 1923) and the debate over the paternity of their love child, Elizabeth Ann. Britton had just published a “tell all” book, The President’s Daughter, which was bringing out the worst in a lot of people…

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LIFE WITHOUT FATHER…Nan Britton with her 8-year-old daughter, Elizabeth Ann, in 1927. (New York Times)

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Although at the time Britton was denounced by many (including the Harding family) as a liar who was only out to get money from the President’s estate, genetic tests conducted in 2015 have confirmed that Elizabeth Ann was indeed Harding’s daughter. Britton died in 1991 at the age of 94. Elizabeth Ann would follow in 2005, at age 86.

Porgy Hits the Stage

Porgy: A Play in Four Acts opened at the Guild Theatre, and New Yorker reviewer Charles Brackett was there to witness perhaps the first attempt at an authentic presentation of black culture on a Broadway stage. Based on a play by Dorothy and DuBose Hayward, the production was unusual for its time in featuring a cast of African American actors. The play would provide the basis of the libretto for the 1935 folk opera Porgy and Bess, which would feature George Gershwin’s famous score including the popular song “Summertime.” An excerpt from Brackett’s review, which included some unfortunate stereotypes…

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SOMETHING NEW ON BROADWAY…Percy Verwayne (Sporting Life), Frank Wilson (Porgy) and Evelyn Ellis (Bess) in Porgy: A Play in Four Acts. (Wikipedia)

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Same to You, Fella

In his “Reporter at Large” column, Morris Markey sounded off on the rude behavior he had observed of late among his fellow New Yorkers. In relating a story about the crude behavior of a building’s security guard, Markey pondered the old nature vs. nurture question…

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Aw, Shucks…

Not all New Yorkers were acting rudely. Some were even treating visiting rodeo cowboys with the utmost courtesy, as noted in the “Talk of the Town,” although others found the sport to be brutal and unnecessary…

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GIDDYAP…Program from the World Series Rodeo at Madison Square Garden, 1927. (Rare Americana)

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1927 World Series Rodeo was produced by famed sports promoter, Tex Rickard, in Madison Square Garden as a benefit for the Broad Street Hospital.

The other World Series, the one concerning baseball, was still absent from the pages of the New Yorker, even though the 1927 Yankees would win a record 110 games and sweep the Pittsburgh Pirates in four games to win the World Series title. Oh, and Babe Ruth would hit a record 60 home runs.

As I’ve noted before, there was a lot of sports coverage in the early issues of the New Yorker, everything from polo to college football. As for the omission of the Yankees and baseball in general from the pages of the magazine, perhaps the editors felt the game was still tainted by the Black Sox scandal of 1919 and was not worthy of coverage.

How’s the Weather Up There?

The city’s “heat affect” was another “Talk” topic, with editors noting that the city’s buildings and streets not only affected temperatures in the city, but also its air quality…

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IN HIS ELEMENT…Futurist poet Vladimir Mayakovsky amid the dusty haze of New York City in 1925. (thecharnelhouse.org)

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In “Of All Things,” Howard Brubaker chimed in on the New Yorker’s continuing criticism of Hollywood films, especially in the age of Will Hays and his continued attempts at film censorship…

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Finally, a couple of comics from the Oct. 22 issue, including this one by Barbara Shermund that explores one of the magazine’s continuing themes regarding life among the portly, middle-aged sugar daddies and their ditzy young mistresses…

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…and this jab at the dim-witted, idle rich by illustrator Ed Graham…

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Next Time: You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby…

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A Castle in Air

Withering under a July heat wave, The New Yorker editors turned their thoughts to the cooling breezes that could be found blowing across the penthouse garden of real estate developer Robert M. Catts.

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The July 31, 1926 cover by Victor Bobritsky offered its own commentary on the heat wave that gripped the city.
The State Capitol Building, Lincoln, With people in street clothes asleep on the lawn during hot days of the 1930's, Picture July 25, 1936
In case you were wondering, city folk (especially apartment dwellers) actually did sleep on the ground in the days before air conditioning. This photo was taken on July 25, 1936, on the lawn of the Nebraska State Capitol Building in Lincoln (Nebraska State Historical Society).

Catts erected the 20-story Park-Lexington office building at 247 Park Avenue in 1922, topping the building with his own penthouse apartment. Located near Grand Central Station, the building was innovative in the way it was built directly over underground railroad tracks leading into the station. The editors of The New Yorker, however, were more impressed by what was on top:

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The “Chinese Library” in the apartment of Robert M. Catts atop the Park-Lexington Building. (halfpuddinghalfsauce.blogspot.com)
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Penthouse apartment of Robert M. Catts atop the Park-Lexington Building. (halfpuddinghalfsauce.blogspot.com)

It was the rooftop garden, however, that sent the editors into a swoon:

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Before World War II the apartment would have other notable tenants who would succeed Catts, including the violinist Jascha Heifitz. The apartment, and the building beneath it, were demolished in 1963 along with the adjoining Grand Central Palace building, which was replaced in 1967 with 245 Park Avenue:

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In other news, Arthur Robinson wrote a somewhat sympathetic profile of Babe Ruth, observing that Ruth’s “thousand and one failings are more than offset by his sheer likableness.”

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Illustration for the “Profile” by Johan Bull.

Curiously, the Yankees were having a better year in 1926, but there was scant mention of baseball in the pages of The New Yorker, the magazine preferring to cover classier sports such as golf, polo, tennis and horse racing. Another sport of interest was yacht racing, with Eric Hatch covering the races at Larchmont augmented by Johan Bull’s illustrations:

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The magazine continued to have fun with the androgynous fashion trends of the Roaring Twenties. This appears to be an early Barbara Shermund cartoon:

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Next Time: The Lights of Broadway…

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Car Talk: 1926

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Jan. 23, 1926 cover by James Daugherty (aka Jimmie-the-Ink)

As if covering the nightclub scene and the fashion set wasn’t enough, Lois (“Lipstick”) Long found the time to attend the National Automobile Show at the Grand Central Palace and offer her insights and criticisms on the latest in automotive design.

The show featured more than 500 new models, bigger and more powerful cars mounted on new-fangled balloon tires. There were also cheaper cars available–GM introduced the Pontiac line to appeal to the mass market, and other manufacturers lowered their prices in an effort to lure customers. Visitors packed the show despite the fact that the city streets were already hopelessly clogged with traffic and navigating them was difficult and often perilous. Al Frueh offered his take on the traffic situation with a little doodle in “The Talk of the Town” section (featured above).

Lois Long gave readers her usual straightforward assessment of the show (her Danish pastry metaphor in the first paragraph is spot on). Note her list of American car companies, many of which are long gone:

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No doubt Lois Long walked by this Packard special sport phaeton, prominently displayed at the 26th National Automobile show. (Wayne State University)
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The 26th National Automobile Show was at the Grand Central Palace, which occupied the block of Lexington Avenue between 46th and 47th Streets. It was razed in 1963. A 44-story office tower, 245 Park Avenue, took its place. (New York Times)
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A Cleveland auto manufacturer, Chandler, took advantage of the moment by placing this ad in the Jan. 23 issue of The New Yorker.
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ZOOM ZOOM…A blue-and-white 1926 convertible Chandler. The company folded in 1929. (Steve Brown, Flickr)

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“The Talk of Town” editors were bemused over the news that artist Maxfield Parrish had received “a check in six figures” following his first-ever exhibition. It was reported that Parrish received $80,000 (roughly equivalent to $1 million today) for a single painting, which the editors suggested made him “the highest paid artist living.” They also wondered “if he gets amusement out of being the highest paid painter,” since Parrish was known for wanting to be left alone, and until recently was “not well off” because no one “could persuade him to the sell the pictures with which he lined his house.”

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A 1926 Edison MAZDA calendar featuring artwork by Maxfield Parrish. (icollector.com)

In a previous issue (Dec. 12, 1925), New Yorker art critic Murdock Pemberton wrote a dismissive critique of the young Parrish’s work and noted that the artist was largely glorified in American advertising and not in serious art circles. This was followed by another “Talk” item in which the editors sneered at the trade calendar market that fed the popularity of artists like Parrish:

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Thomas Kinkade Painter of Light 2015 Day-to-Day Boxed Calendar
Another “Painter of Light”…I add this for comparison. Thomas Kinkade made a lot of money off the calendar trade until he died in 2012.

And to close, this message (illustrated by Peter Arno) from Miltiades Egyptian cigarettes. Apparently they empower you to call your non-smoking friend “fatso.”

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Next Time: Cuban Idyll

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