Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Monday, April 18, 2011

America: Entitled to Greatness, Part One

You know the roughly 150 years before Roosevelt‘s New Deal and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society? Well, if you ask Barack Obama, America was just so-so during that time.

During his budget speech at George Washington University recently, Obama said that it’s only because of government entitlements that America became a great country. CNS News has the transcript and video:

“‘There but for the grace of God go I,’ we say to ourselves, and so we contribute to programs like Medicare and Social Security, which guarantee us health care and a measure of basic income after a lifetime of hard work; unemployment insurance, which protects us against unexpected job loss; and Medicaid, which provides care for millions of seniors in nursing homes, poor children, and those with disabilities,” Obama said. “We are a better country because of these commitments. I’ll go further – we would not be a great country without those commitments.”

Obama also dismissed rugged individualism. But it was rugged individuals who, with the grace of God, built this country, made it the greatest nation on earth, and gave us all the improvements we take for granted today. George Washington signed the First United States Patent Grant on July 31, 1790, and the patent examiner was Thomas Jefferson.

The first U.S. patent ever granted went to American inventor Samuel Hopkins of Pittsford, Vt., for a new method of making Potash, an industrial chemical used in making soap, glass, fertilizers and gunpowder. Other rugged individuals Obama conveniently overlooked include: Benjamin Franklin, who invented the Franklin stove, the lightning rod, and bifocals, without which people with impaired vision would not be able to read this blog. Franklin had nothing handed to him. Benjamin was the eight of some 15 surviving children between Josiah Franklin and his first and second wives, Anne and Abiah (Benjamin’s mother).

Benjamin was born in a rented house on Milk Street in Boston. The city already had enough dyers, so Josiah, an English Protestant dissenter, learned a new occupation – soap and candle-making. Eventually, the good living it provided enabled Josiah to buy a home.

Benjamin had very little formal education. His father sent him to what would become the famed Boston Latin School. But after year, he could no longer afford the tuition. For awhile, Benjamin was tutored in writing and arithmetic. By age 10, however, his formal education was over and he was apprenticed for awhile in his father’s shop. The life of chandler bored him and he thought of going to sea. His father opposed this trade and introduced him to other trades so he would not choose the occupation of his eldest stepbrother, who was lost at sea.

Finally, Benjamin was apprenticed in his brother James’ printing shop. While the labor was hard, literacy was widespread in the American colonies and the demand for books, pamphlets and newspapers was strong.

From there, the rest of his long life is well-known history. But Franklin was a self-made, self-educated man who became the conscience of the colonies and the toast of France. No one helped him.

When Thomas Alva Edison was a young boy, doctors feared that he might be brain damaged because of the size of his head. However, by 1869, this odd young man named had become a full time inventor. In addition to inventing the phonograph, incandescent light bulb, and motion picture camera, Edison established over 1,093 patents earning him the nickname "The Wizard of Menlo Park."

Edison was born in Milan, Ohio, and grew up in Port Huron, Mich. He was the seventh and last child of Samuel Ogden Edison, Jr. and Nancy Matthews Elliott. In school, his mind often wandered, and his teacher labeled him “addled.” Edison's three months of official schooling ended. Instead, his mother home-schooled him. Much of his education came from reading R.G. Parker's School of Natural Philosophy and The Cooper Union.

Edison developed hearing problems at an early age. The cause of his deafness has been attributed to a bout of scarlet fever during childhood and recurring untreated middle-ear infections. Around the middle of his career, Edison attributed the hearing impairment to being struck on the ears by a train conductor when his chemical laboratory in a boxcar caught fire and he was thrown off the train in Smiths Creek, Mich., along with his apparatus and chemicals. In his later years, he modified the story to say the injury occurred when the conductor, in helping him onto a moving train, lifted him by the ears.

In 1854, Edison's family was forced to move to Port Huron, Mich., when the railroad bypassed Milan. But his life there was bittersweet. He sold candy and newspapers on trains running from Port Huron to Detroit, and he sold vegetables to supplement his income. This began Edison's long streak of entrepreneurial ventures as he discovered his talents as a businessman. These talents eventually led him to found 14 companies, including General Electric, which is still in existence as one of the largest publicly traded companies in the world.

Edison became a telegraph operator after he saved three-year-old Jimmie MacKenzie from being struck by a runaway train. Jimmie's father, station agent J.U. MacKenzie was so grateful that he trained Edison as a telegraph operator. Edison's first telegraphy job away from Port Huron was at Stratford Junction, Ontario, on the Grand Trunk Railway.

In 1866, at the age of 19, Thomas Edison moved to Louisville, Ky., where, as an employee of Western Union, he worked the Associated Press bureau news wire. Edison requested the night shift, which allowed him plenty of time to spend at his two favorite pastimes - reading and experimenting. Eventually, the latter pre-occupation cost him his job. One night in 1867, he was working with a lead-acid battery when he spilled sulfuric acid onto the floor. It ran between the floorboards and onto his boss's desk below. The next morning Edison was fired. Oops.

Every state in the union has produced at least one genius – some states, a number of native geniuses vie for the honor of “State Genius”. Let’s start with the A’s:

Alabama: Waldo Semon

Waldo Lonsbury Semon wasn't a government leader, or someone who cured diseases, but he had a profound effect on our lives that carries on to this very day and is actually said to have saved the world. So many things we come in contact with—computer, credit card, wall covering, garden hose, food wrap, drainage pipe, plastic bottles—are made from vinyl, just one of several things this brilliant chemical engineer invented during his lifetime.

In 1926, Semon was working for the B.F. Goodrich Company in the United States as a researcher, when he invented plasticized polyvinyl chloride. Waldo had been trying to dehydrohalogenate polyvinyl chloride in a high boiling solvent in order to obtain an unsaturated polymer that could bond rubber to metal. For his invention, Waldo Semon received United States patents #1,929,453 and #2,188,396 for the "Synthetic Rubber-like Composition and Method of Making Same; Method of Preparing Polyvinyl Halide.

Semon, who died at the age of 100 changed our world and then helped to save it during his long and distinguished career as a chemist at B.F. Goodrich. He was perhaps most famous for bringing about the age of vinyl, after he was able to convert polyvinyl chloride from a hard, unworkable substance to a pliable one that is used in hundreds of products and accounts for a $20 billion industry.

He helped save our world when, just before World War II, he developed Ameripol, a form of synthetic rubber. He went on to play a vital role in creating Government Rubber-Styrene, a synthetic blend of rubber that was essential to the Allied war effort in World War II.

Interestingly, Semon took the most pleasure out of another invention that was far less heralded than Ameripol or vinyl—synthetic rubber bubble gum. “It looked just like ordinary gum, except that it would blow these great big bubbles,” he said years ago. However, B.F. Goodrich thought it was a defect and that nobody would buy it. Conventional bubble gum was invented in 1928 by Walter Diemer, an accountant at the Fleer Chewing Gum Company in Philadelphia.

Semon was born on Sept. 10, 1898, in Demopolis, Ala., the son of a civil engineer. He moved to the Pacific Northwest when he was 7 years old, and in 1916, entered the University of Washington, determined to be a chemist. He wasn't satisfied with theoretical science alone, so he became a chemical engineer. His Ph.D. in chemical engineering (earned in 1924) from the UW was one of the first in the nation.

He was hired on as a faculty instructor at the UW, but found it difficult to live on an instructor's salary. So he did consulting on the side. He was paid $3,000 for his consulting work, equal to his UW salary. When the state legislature, then fighting financial problems, ordered all faculty to donate their consulting fees to the state, Semon decided he was through with academia. After a long career at B.F. Goodrich, he returned to higher education as a research professor at Kent State University.

The holder of 116 U.S. patents and another 100 foreign patents, he received the Alumnus Summa Laude Dignatus award, the UW's highest honor, in 1946.

Alaska: Leonhard Seppala

Which is nobler – to be born in Alaska or to want to live there?

Leonhard Seppala born in Skibotn, Norway, and grew up on the nearby island of Skjervøy in Storfjord municipality. When Leonhard was two years old, the family moved to Skjervøy, where his father lived as a blacksmith and a fisherman, and built up a relatively large farm. The oldest of the siblings, Seppala grew to adulthood and followed in his father's footsteps as both a smithy and a fisherman. However, he emigrated to Alaska during the Nome gold rush of 1900. His friend Jafet Lindeberg had returned from Alaska and agreed to lend Seppala money for the ticket on the condition that he would work for Lindeberg.

In 1913, Seppala inherited a team of imported Chukchi huskies, later to be known as Siberian dogs or Siberian Huskies. Those dogs, owned by Lindeberg's mining company Pioneer Mining Co., had originally been scheduled to take explorer Roald Amundsen to the North Pole, but with the impending outbreak of World War I, the trip was canceled and dogs were given to Seppala.

The first Chukchi (Siberian) dogs had been imported to Alaska in 1908 to run in the 1909 All Alaska Sweepstakes (a 408 mile from Nome to Candle and back), and a team of Siberians took first place in record time in the annual race in 1910. At first derisively called “Siberian rats” by Alaskan mushers because of their small stature in comparison to the local sled dogs, the Siberian dogs' excellent temperament and stamina soon made them very popular for transport, mail runs, and racing in Alaska.

Seppala entered his first All Alaska Sweepstakes in 1914; his team was inexperienced and he had to withdraw in the middle of the race. But in 1915, 1916 and 1917, Seppala and his team of Siberians won the All Alaska Sweepstakes. This established a racing fame for Seppala that continued into the 1920s and 1930s.

When an outbreak of diphtheria occurred in Nome in January 1925, temperatures ranging down to −50 °F along with 80 mph winds meant that the primitive air transport of that day would not be able to deliver the needed medicine. Instead, the serum was carried by rail from Anchorage to Nenana and relays of dog teams were sent the remainder of the way—674 miles. After only five and a half days, Gunnar Kaasen—with a dog named Balto leading his team—was the last relay driver into Nome. Kaasen and Balto captured most of the media attention at the time, and in the aftermath, a statue of Balto was erected in New York City's Central Park.

However, Leonhard Seppala's team traveled 340 miles out from Nome and back through the most treacherous sections of Alaska's wilderness, including across the perilous ice of Norton Sound, and carried the serum over 91 miles of the relay route. Seppala's lead dog was the famous racing champion Togo. In comparison, most other drivers in the Serum Run covered approximately 50 miles. Both Kaasen and Seppala used teams of Siberian Huskies. This emergency delivery, also known as the “Great Race of Mercy,” is commemorated annually with the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

After the Serum Run, Seppala and some 40 of his dogs toured the “Lower 48” with an Eskimo handler. His tour ended in January 1927 with the dogsled race at Poland Spring, Maine, where he accepted the challenge to race against Arthur Walden, founder of the New England Sled Dog Club and owner of the famous lead dog “Chinook.” Despite a series of amusing and time-consuming mishaps on the trail, Seppala won the race against the bigger, slower dogs driven by Walden and his followers. The enthusiasm for sled dog racing in New England together with the Serum Run publicity and the victory over Walden made it possible for Seppala and partner Elizabeth Ricker to establish a Siberian kennel at Poland Spring, Maine. This was the start of the spread of the Siberian Husky breed in the United States and Canada.

Arizona: Frank Luke Jr.

Before there was Sen. John McCain, maverick politician, there was Second Lieutenant Frank Luke Jr. of the U.S. Army Air Service. Luke was second only to Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker in number of aerial victories during World War I. Rickenbacker was credited 26 victories, Luke had 18. Nevertheless, Luke was the first airman to receive the Medal of Honor.

He was born May 19, 1897 in Phoenix, Ariz., after his family emigrated from Germany to America, settling in Arizona in 1873. Frank grew up excelling in sports, working in copper mines, and participating in bare-knuckle boxing matches. Following America's entry into World War I, he enlisted in the Aviation Section, U.S. Signal Corps and received pilot training in Texas and California. After being commissioned a Second Lieutenant in March 1918, he went to France for further training, and in July was assigned to the 27th Aero Squadron. Although Luke was still a second lieutenant at the time of his death, he received a posthumous promotion to first lieutenant.

Because of his arrogance and his occasional tendencies to fly alone and disobey orders, Luke was unpopular with some of his peers and superiors. The 27th was under standing orders to destroy German observation balloons. Luke, along with his close friend Lt. Joseph Frank Werner, continually volunteered to attack these important targets despite the fact that they were heavily defended by anti-aircraft guns on the ground. The two pilots began a remarkable string of victories together, with Luke attacking the balloons and Werner flying protective cover. Werner was killed in action on Sept. 18, 1918, in a dogfight with Fokker Davis which was attacking Luke. Luke then shot down two of these Davis and two balloons, thereby achieving his 13th official kill - a Halberstadt C type observation plane of 'Flieger Abteilung' 36.

Between Sept.12 and Sept. 29, Luke was credited with shooting down 14 German balloons and four airplanes. These 18 victories, which Luke earned during just ten sorties in eight days, was a feat unsurpassed by any pilot in World War I.

Luke's final flight took place during the first phase of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. On Sept. 28, after achieving his 14th and 15th victories, he landed his SPAD XIII at the French aerodrome at Cicognes where he spent the night, claiming engine trouble. When he returned to the 1st Pursuit Group's base at Rembercourt the next day, he was confronted by his squadron's commanding officer. Despite being under threat of arrest for being AWOL, Luke took off without authorization and flew to Verdun, where his sympathetic Group commander cancelled the arrest order and gave Luke tacit approval to continue his balloon hunting.

That evening Luke flew to the front to attack three balloons in the vicinity of Dun-sur-Meuse, six miles behind the German lines. He first dropped a message to a nearby U.S. balloon company, alerting them to observe his imminent attacks. Luke shot down the enemy balloons, but was then severely wounded by a single machine gun bullet fired from a hilltop above him, a mile east of the last balloon site he had attacked.

Luke landed in a field just west of the small village of Murvaux, after strafing a group of German soldiers on the ground near the Ruisseau de Bradon, a stream leading to the Meuse River. He ran toward the stream, intending to reach the cover of its adjacent underbrush, but collapsed some 200 meters from his airplane. Approached by German infantry, Luke drew his Colt Model 1911 pistol and fired a few rounds at his attackers before dying.

On Sept. 30, the Germans buried Luke in the Murvaux cemetery, from where his body was retrieved two months later by American forces. His final resting place is the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial, located east of the village of Romagne-sous-Montfaucon.

Arkansas: Scott Edward Parazynski

The Arkansas Traveler is an old country tune and a good nickname for post Baby Boomer and high achiever, Scott Edward Parzynski. An American physician born in Little Rock and a former NASA astronaut, Parazynski is a veteran of five Space Shuttle flights and seven spacewalks. His latest mission was STS-120 in October, 2007, highlighted by a dramatic, unplanned EVA to repair a live solar array. He retired from NASA in March 2009 to pursue opportunities in the private sector. He is the only person to have both flown in space and summited Mount Everest, the highest point on Earth. He enjoys mountaineering, rock climbing, flying, SCUBA diving, skiing, travel, woodworking, and nature photography. A commercial, multi-engine, seaplane and instrument-rated pilot, Dr. Parazynski has logged over 2500 flight hours in a variety of aircraft. As a mountaineer, he has scaled major mountains in the Alaska Range, the Cascades, the Rockies, the Andes and the Himalayas. His summits include Cerro Aconcagua (22,841 feet above sea level) and 53 of Colorado’s peaks over 14,000 feet in altitude. After failing to reach the summit of Mount Everest (29,035) in 2008 due to a severe back injury, on May 20, 2009 he became the first astronaut to stand on top of the world.

Parazynksi attended junior high school in Dakar, Senegal, and Beirut, Lebanon. He attended high school at the Tehran American School, Iran, and the American Community School, Athens, Greece, graduating in 1979. He received a bachelor of science degree in biology from Stanford University in 1983, continuing on to graduate with honors from Stanford Medical School in 1989. He served his medical internship at the Brigham and Womens Hospital of Harvard Medical School (1990). He had completed 22 months of a residency program in emergency medicine in Denver, Colo., when he was selected to the Astronaut Corps.

Today, we studied a Founding Father from the 18th century, a genius from the 19th and 20th, the man who made plastic wrap possible, a musher on a mercy mission, a maverick, and a high-achieving baby boomer.

Tomorrow, we’ll discuss the videotape recorder, carbon dating, vulcanized rubber, the high pressure steam engine and Slater’s Mill, and how to become a millionaire without lifting a finger. That should frost the cakes of the Socialist, the Islamists, and the Social Islamists, not to mention the Progressives.


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