A Communist in Terre Haute: Earl Browder and Free Speech

This video was originally published on the Hoosier State Chronicles blog.

Five men are sitting in a jail cell in Terre Haute, Indiana. The leader of the group—a middle-aged, mustached, and unassuming figure—had been arrested on charges of “vagrancy and ‘for investigation’,” according to the local police chief. But it wasn’t a drunk or an unlucky drifter sitting in the cell. It was the leader of an American political party and its nominee for President of the United States. He had tried to give a speech in Terre Haute when arrested by the local authorities. His case became a statewide and even national discussion on the importance and limits of free speech. Now, who could’ve caused all of this ruckus? It was Earl Browder, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the United States.

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Credits:

Written and produced by Justin Clark. 

Music: “And Then She Left” by Kinoton, “Echo Sclavi” by the Mini Vandals, “Namaste” by Audionautix, “Myositis” by the United States Marine Band, “Finding the Balance” by Kevin MacLeod, and “Dana” by Vibe Tracks

Continue reading “A Communist in Terre Haute: Earl Browder and Free Speech”

Dr. Scholl’s… or “Dr.” Scholl’s?: A Hoosier’s Empire Built on Advertising

50th Anniversary Advertisement, Life Magazine, June 14, 1954, 3, accessed Google Books.
50th Anniversary Advertisement, Life Magazine, June 14, 1954, 3, accessed Google Books.

This post was originally published on the Hoosier State Chronicles blog.

Many companies choose a face for their brand and then build a mythology around it. For example, the Converted Rice Company marketed their new parboiled, vacuum-dried rice as the homey-sounding “Uncle Ben’s Rice.”  The company used the racially charged nomenclature “uncle” and an image of a distinguished-looking African American man to imply that the product would be like a friendly servant for the housewife.  The company  has claimed at various times that “Uncle Ben” was a respected rice grower or a hotel maitre d’, but more likely he never existed — much like Mr. Clean, Sara Lee, or Mr. Goodwrench.

William M. Scholl, passport photo, 1921, accessed AncestryLibrary.
William M. Scholl, passport photo, 1921, accessed AncestryLibrary.

While there are plenty of questions surrounding his origin story, the man called “Dr. Scholl,” was not only the founder of one of the most famous companies in the world and the inventor of many of its products, but he was a master of the world of advertising — changing the business in innovative ways. Scholl may (or may not) have been a quack doctor, but he was a crackerjack businessman.

William Scholl, passport photograph, 1915, accessed AncestryLibrary
William M. Scholl, passport photograph, 1915, accessed AncestryLibrary.com

William Mathais Scholl was born on a farm in Kankakee, LaPorte County, Indiana in 1882.* According to the 1900 census, William spent his youth working as a laborer on his parents’ farm, along with many other siblings.  Sometime around 1900, Scholl moved to Chicago and found a job as a salesman at the popular Ruppert’s Shoe Store on Madison Street. Here, he encountered a variety of foot problems faced by his customers and became interested in podiatry. That same year, secondary sources claim, he enrolled in medical school at Loyola University. This has been hotly debated.

Dr. William M. Scholl, The Human Foot: Anatomy, Deformities and Treatment (Chicago: Foot Specialist Publishing Co., 1915), accessed Google Books
Dr. William M. Scholl, The Human Foot: Anatomy, Deformities and Treatment (Chicago: Foot Specialist Publishing Co., 1915), accessed GoogleBooks

Despite investigations beginning in the 1920s and continuing today, it is still unclear if Scholl graduated with a medical degree around 1904 as he claimed. The Scholl College of Podiatric Medicine in Chicago supports the Scholl Museum which is dedicated to memorializing his achievements and authoritatively refers to him as “Dr. William Mathias Scholl.” However, the records of the American Medical Association tell a different story.  According to Robert McClory’s investigative piece for the Chicago Reader in 1994:

“Visit the recently opened Scholl Museum . . . and you’ll find the doctor and his achievements raised to almost mythic levels . . . But check through the old AMA records and you’ll read about a man whose credentials are ‘entirely irregular,’ whose methods smack ‘strongly of quackery,’ and whose products ‘cannot be recommended’.”

There are also questions about his state medical license, as well as a later degree he claimed from the  Chicago Medical College, an institution described by the American Medical Association as “low grade.” The AMA described Scholl’s “whole record” as “entirely irregular.”

Instep-arch support patent [marketed as Foot-Eazer], Publication date April 25, 1911, accessed Google Patents
Instep-arch support patent [marketed as Foot-Eazer], Publication date April 25, 1911, accessed Google Patents.

Dr. Scholl, or “Dr.” Scholl,  built an empire which has made his name recognizable all over the world.  Degree in hand or not, at the turn of the twentieth century, young Scholl was busy inventing various devices intended to alleviate foot pain.  One such device was the “Foot-Eazer,” which was  a hit with the Ruppert’s Shoe Store customers. Supposedly one customer offered him several thousand dollars to start his business.  He declined the offer, but was inspired to start his own business.

Elevated Railroad Station at East Madison Boulevard and Wells Street [near Scholl's building] November 1, 1913, Chicago Daily News Photograph, Chicago History Museum, accessed Explore Chicago Collections, explore.chicagocollections.org/image/chicagohistory/71/qr4p14f/
Elevated Railroad Station at East Madison Boulevard and Wells Street [near Scholl’s first office] November 1, 1913, Chicago Daily News Photograph, Chicago History Museum, accessed Explore Chicago Collections.
In 1904, Scholl set up shop in a small office in a building at 283-285 E. Madison Street in Chicago – the first location of the Scholl Manufacturing  Company. By the next year, he began innovating new advertising techniques.  Scholl would purportedly travel to various shoe stores, ask for the manager, and take out a human foot skeleton and put it on the counter. He used the foot to show how complicated and delicate all of the tiny bones are that hold so much weight and take so much abuse.  He would demonstrate how supportive and comfortable his products worked.

Western Wheel Works, engraving, 1890, accessed chicagology.com/cycling/westernwheelworks
Western Wheel Works, engraving, 1890, accessed Chicagology.com.

Whether or not his products worked, his strategy of marketing directly to the store manager did. In addition to charging for the construction of the product, he also charged for consultations and fittings.  Business boomed and in 1907 he moved into five rooms in a building on Schiller Street which had been abandoned by Western Wheel Works, a bicycle company.  Almost immediately, he purchased the building and expanded the factory until it took up the entire block.  The building stands and is in use as the Cobbler Square apartment complex —  a nod to it’s former use.

By 1908, Scholl was using advertisements in trade journals to continue marketing his products directly to shoe store owners and managers.  His approach at this point was to set up a booth at various fairs and train these prospective clients on how to talk about the Foot-Eazer “from a scientific prospective.” The ad below addresses these shoe store managers with several lofty promises about the Foot-Eazer:

“It will pay you well to be an expert in correcting foot troubles. . . you can sell a pair to one customer out of every three. Your profit is a dollar a pair – if you have 3000 customers that’s a thousand dollars for you . . .You will understand the science of it the moment you see it . . . as I have been allowed sweeping patents on it no one else can make anything like it.”

Scholl explained to this clients that his product was backed by “science,”  would make them rich, and he was the only one who could provide it.

Advertisement for Shoe Fair by Scholl Manufacturing Co., The Shoe Retailer, August 22, 1908, accessed Google Books.
Advertisement for Shoe Fair by Scholl Manufacturing Co., The Shoe Retailer, August 22, 1908, accessed Google Books.
William Scholl, Practipedics : the science of giving foot comfort and correcting the cause of foot and shoe troubles (Chicago: 1917) accessed Archive.org
William Scholl, Practipedics : the Science of Giving Foot Comfort and Correcting the Cause of Foot and Shoe Troubles (Chicago: American School of Practipedics, 1917) accessed Archive.org

By 1909 he was recruiting teams of salespeople to approach the store owners for him.  He set up a correspondence course to teach them the anatomy of the foot and the “science” behind his products. The course was called “Practipedics” and was described as “The Science of Giving Foot Comfort and Correcting the Cause of Foot and Shoe Troubles Based on the Experience, Inventions and Methods of Dr. William M. Scholl.” The ads from this period show that he was marketing these classes and sales opportunities to both men and women, an interesting approach for a time when few women worked outside the home. The ad below shows a woman studying the Foot-Eazer and promises that “This Alone Should Pay Your Rent.”

Advertisement for Salespeople, Boot and Shoe Recorder, April 8, 1916, 52, accessed Google Books
Advertisement for Salespeople, Boot and Shoe Recorder, April 8, 1916, 52, accessed GoogleBooks

From here, Scholl’s business expanded even more quickly.  By the time the U.S. entered World War One, Scholl was marketing to three different audiences — managers and owners of shoe stores, retail customers, and potential sales recruits — all through extensive advertising.  Hoosier State Chronicles has a wealth of examples of ads for Scholl’s products, for stores selling them, and even for the Practipedics course. Indiana shoe stores often advertised special days where Scholl’s salespeople, presented as medical experts in foot care, would be at the store for personal fittings. In a 1917 issue of the Indianapolis News, the New York Store advertised their latest shoe styles and noted that they carried “A Complete Line of Dr. Scholl’s Foot Comfort Appliances.” In 1920, the South Bend Shoe Company advertised in the South Bend News-Tribune: “Foot Expert Here . . . A specialist from Chicago loaned to this store by Dr. Wm. M. Scholl the recognized foot authority.” This “expert” was most likely trained via correspondence course or week-long class and almost certainly never met Scholl.

Indianapolis News, May 10, 1917, 8, Hoosier State Chronicles.
Indianapolis News, May 10, 1917, 8, Hoosier State Chronicles.
South Bend News-Tribune, October 1, 1920, 2, Hoosier State Chronicles.
South Bend News-Tribune, October 1, 1920, 2, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Sometimes all three of Scholl’s audiences were targeted in one message, such as in the advertisement below from the Indianapolis News.  First, the ad promises foot comfort to the average reader and pedestrian and  explains to them the product while emphasizing the availability of “medically” trained dealers. Second, it advertises Marott’s Shoe Shop on East Washington who’s owners will have to stock up on Scholl’s products and provide the  “foot expert.”  Finally, the ad explains to the shoe dealers and other potential Scholl’s salespeople how to register for the next Scholl’s training course in Indianapolis. Additionally, Marrott’s Shoe Shop was a “Dr. Scholl’s Foot Comfort Store” which was supposed to consistently staff such  “trained” foot experts — not just for special events.  In Marrott’s advertisement which ran below the Scholl’s advertisement, the store claims that “Dr Scholl’s Foot Appliances are handled exclusively in Indianapolis by Marott’s Shoe Shop.”  However, a search of Hoosier State Chronicles shows several other Indianapolis stores schilling for Scholl — including the New York Store from the advertisement above.

Indianapolis News, March 27, 1918, 9, Hoosier State Chronicles
Indianapolis News, March 27, 1918, 9, Hoosier State Chronicles

Another  Indiana “Dr. Scholl’s Foot Comfort Store” was the Lion Store in Hammond.  They were one of many stores around the country to participate in Scholl’s marketing plan for “Foot Comfort Week.” They advertised their participation and “foot expert” in the Hammond Times on June 12, 1917. Even general clothing stores participated in the marketing scheme.  On June 21, 1917, the E. C. Minas Company, which called itself “Hammond’s Greatest Department Store,” advertised “Foot Comfort Week” in the Hammond Times which the ad claimed was happening “throughout the continent.”  They noted that their store carried “the complete line” of Scholl’s appliances and “experts at fitting them to individual needs.”  Later ads for the week-long event had more outrageous marketing schemes such advertisements for “Prettiest Foot” contests. Search Hoosier State Chronicles for more.

Hammond Times, June 12, 1920, 7, Hoosier State Chronicles.
Hammond Times, June 12, 1920, 7, Hoosier State Chronicles.
Dr. William M. Scholl, The Human Foot: Anatomy, Deformities and Treatment (Chicago: Foot Specialist Publishing Co., 1915), accessed Google Books
Dr. William M. Scholl, The Human Foot: Anatomy, Deformities and Treatment (Chicago: Foot Specialist Publishing Co., 1915), accessed Google Books

By the end of the war, Scholl’s company was established across the U.S, Europe, Egypt, and even Australia.  He had also established a Podiatry College and written a text book. However, medical doctors working in the field were quick to criticize Scholl’s entangled business and medical operations and began to publicly question his qualifications. In 1923, the National Association of Chiropodists passed a resolution condemning Scholl’s work and banning him from advertising in their publications. Again, Robert McClory’s investigative article is the best source for more information on the controversy stirred up around Scholl’s standing in the medical community.

Toe-Straightening Device, US1055810, Publication Date March 11, 1913, accessed Google Patents
Toe-Straightening Device, US1055810, Publication Date March 11, 1913, accessed Google Patents

Scholl was not slowed down by the nay-saying in the least. He continued to invent, patent foot products, and open new stores around the world.  According to McClory:

“In his lifetime Scholl would create more than 1,000 patented ointments, sprays, cushions, pads, supports, shields, springs and other mechanical and chemical gizmos for the feet. Eventually the Scholl empire would include more than 400 outlet stores and employ some 6,000 people worldwide.”

According to a short essay by Fred Cavinder in Forgotten Hoosiers (2009), during World War II, the Scholl plant in England made surgical and hospital equipment while the Chicago plant converted to the manufacture of military equipment. Cavinder writes, “As Word War II ended, Dr. Scholl invented the compact display fixture with the familiar blue and yellow colors.”

Advertisement, Life Magazine, Jun 12, 1939, 41, accessed Google Books
Advertisement, Life Magazine, Jun 12, 1939, 41, accessed Google Books

Scholl remained connected to the northwest region of Indiana throughout his life.  He resided primarily in a single rented room at the downtown Chicago Illinois Athletic Club.  However, later in life he purchased a home in Michigan City, Indiana, where he had moved  his side business, Arno Adhesive Tapes. This company made all of the plaster and tape for the Dr. Scholl products. In the 1960s, Arno also expanded greatly and Scholl, now in his seventies, remained just as active in its management.

Greencastle Daily Banner, November 30, 1954, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.
Greencastle Daily Banner, November 30, 1954, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Scholl died in 1968 and is buried in Pine Lake Cemetery in La Porte Indiana.  His family sold the Scholl’s brand to a large pharmaceutical company in 1979 and it remains successful to this day. So whether we remember him as “Dr.” or Dr. Scholl, he created an empire, changed an industry, and invented new ways to market and advertise.  Search Hoosier State Chronicles for the many more advertisements.

Richmond Daily Palladium, April 26, 1922, 6, Hoosier State Chronicles.
Richmond Daily Palladium, April 26, 1922, 6, Hoosier State Chronicles.

* The 1900 census gives his birth year as 1884, but all other records including passport applications, WWI draft card, and death records cite 1882 as the correct year.

For further information, especially on the controversy surrounding Scholl’s medical qualifications see:

Robert McClory, “Best Foot Forward,” Chicago Reader, January 13, 1994,  accessed ChicagoReader.com

THH Episode 50: Giving Voice: Allison Perlman

Jump to Show Notes

Transcript for Giving Voice: Allison Perlman

Beckley: Hi, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this is giving voice and I’m here today with Dr. Allison Perlman, associate professor of Film and Media Studies at UC Irvine. Thank you so much for joining us today, Dr. Perlman.

Perlman: Oh, thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to talk with you.

Beckley: Course, and I obviously brought you on because you are interested in film, media studies, the history of television and broadcasting. And we definitely touch on, obviously, the history of the technological side of TV in our episode about Philo Farnsworth, and we also talk about some of his expectations for the television, he kind of had these lofty ideals that he wanted television to be able to meet. And we kind of talked about the idea of television giving us a way to share human moments in a way that we never could before, or at least not in the same way with newspapers and radio and things like that. We touch on that. And we talk about the Vietnam War and the Beatles Ed Sullivan appearance, things like that were really moments in time that kind of brought Americans together. And I was wondering if you could kind of talk about other ways that broadcast and television has have shaped our society?

Perlman: Sure, I think there are certainly events like you’ve described of moments of celebration, or trauma or rupture that allowed people especially in the mid decades of the 20th century, to collectively feel a sense of shared community through simultaneous viewing practices. And this is something quite extraordinary. So one of the events that often is a hallmark of TV history, and especially its national importance, is the television coverage of the assassination of President John Kennedy, which happened in November 1963. And that’s important from the history of televisions perspective, because by the early 1960s, over 90% of American households had television sets. And most communities would have maybe two to three television channels. Larger cities might have somewhere between four to seven, potentially in really large cities like LA or New York. And so when people were sitting down in their living rooms at night, they had few options about what to watch if they wanted to watch television. And most of those stations were affiliated with national networks. And so when something like a presidential assassination happens, all television channels are trying to report as quickly as they can to their viewing public what’s going on. And so everyone simultaneously, is receiving similar news and then experiencing a shared grief. And this is somewhat remarkable, because even though I think there had been a strong sense of nation and national identity before the emergence of radio and TV, one of the things that the medium does, is it connects people who might never meet, who might live in very different regions who might have very different politics, in a shared collective memory of these tremendous traumatic events like an assassination. We also, you know, have celebratory events that television can bring into household simultaneously – inaugurations of new presidents, Royal weddings in the 1980s, in particular, with the marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. And so on the one hand, one of the things that TV can do is in these moments of anomaly, you know, something really wonderful, something really tragic, can bind a shared national and sometimes even global community through a shared viewing practice. But one of things that’s always been interesting to me about television, especially in this period, it also creates a sense of collective identity through shared experiences of entertainment texts, in a way that I think would be almost inconceivable to us today. But a show like I Love Lucy was viewed by over half of the country simultaneously. And so if you grew up in Indiana, if you grew up in Maryland, if you grew up in California, you would have had the experience of watching Lucille Ball’s antics each week and would have been exposed to the comedy that she and her husband Desi Arnez is put together about this couple in New York and the antics of a wife being frustrated was staying at home all the time. And so even just the quotidian aspects of television, they everyday viewing of it helped to bring together a sense of collective identity through the consumption of shared narratives.

Beckley: That’s so interesting, I never really thought of television as a tool of nation building, and that way of like, creating a national identity almost, especially I think that looking at it through a modern lens. I think it’s not controversial to say that television is at least a factor in some of the divisions that are kind of racking our nation right now. It seems like we’ve kind of run the gambit of it bringing us together, and then maybe now with 24 hour news coverage and things like that, that it’s kind of bringing us apart a little bit now, which I think we hit on a little bit in the episode as far as, yes, it’s created unity and also created division. Just think that’s an interesting dichotomy that has been created through one medium.

Perlman: Yeah, well, a TV itself has changed so dramatically from when it first emerged as a mass commercial device, right after World War Two, to what we think of as this thing called television today, which is diverse and capacious and can be watched on a computer or a smartphone or a television set. And so in this earlier period of what we will think of as broadcasting, where television meant sitting in front of a box, plugged into an electrical outlet, in your home with an antenna on your roof to be able to get a broadcast signal, there were far fewer, far fewer options than what we had today. And there was primarily stations that were affiliated with national networks that were trying to bring in the largest possible audience. And so there’s a, I think, a certain nostalgia that we can have for a period of almost consensus values that were being being disseminated through television, because there was this desire not to offend anyone to be able to articulate viewpoints or perspectives that most people would see as intellectually or politically defensible, to try to attract the largest audiences, in particular, to be able to charge the highest advertising rates to sponsors that are allowing the shows to come on the air. And so I think there there was a way that television could act as a unifying device. There are a number of TV historians whose work I admire and in whose work I affirm that also see that moment as building consensus through moods of exclusion as well, right. So television networks, and television stations were overwhelmed well, and television stations in particular, were almost exclusively run by white controlled entities, exclusively run by men. Their imagined audience tended to be a white middle class family. And so how they imagined what are the values? What are the politics, what are the issues that matter to this audience, were based on a collective sense of the nation that was tethered to a very particular understanding of the TV viewer. So if you were a poor person, if you were a socialist, in particular, if you were a worker who was active in your union, if you were a Black citizen seeking certain kinds of civil rights that didn’t line up with sort of a consensus views of what legitimate forms of civil rights activism took, your perspective, your values, your stories, would be somewhat invisible on on television, and so when cable expands in the 70s, and especially in the 1980s. And then when we get the capacity for over the top streaming video in the 21st century, and we have this diversity of options, there is this hope that this will lead to a diversity of stories, diversity of perspectives, and a sort of better understanding of the diversity of the national community through different people being able to create different stories and share different perspectives. But I think what happened that might have been unanticipated in these utopian discourses about how expanding our viewing options is going to make everything better, was the way that it could foster political polarization, informational and opinion silos and that in fracturing, the collective community that broadcast television brought together it wasn’t that we started to know each other better and all of our complexity and diversity, it’s that we started to understand each other less because we were anchoring ourselves in particular ideological or political viewing habits.

Beckley: Yeah, that’s so interesting that like, almost by diversifying the, you know, options for viewers, you kind of, it’s so easy to find yourself in a silo and an information silo now that all of the media I consume, whether it be television, or the websites I go to, the YouTube videos I watched, they all affirm my own beliefs. So it’s very easy to believe that everybody holds those beliefs and therefore any beliefs that aren’t my beliefs are crazy because, of course, everybody that I know thinks this way. And I think that it’s easy to forget that when you’re caught up in your own silo.

Perlman: Yeah. And it’s what’s fascinating to me is it in some ways, we’ve returned to a 19th century model of media, where, you know, through much of the 19th century newspapers were explicitly partisan, you know, so you had no expectation of norms of journalistic objectivity when you read a newspaper, because they were run by political parties, or they were run by businessmen who had strong ties to political parties. And so, so there was this very robust news environment, but it was explicitly partisan and explicitly ideological. But I think most of us grew up in a period where norms of journalistic objectivity, the sense that there was, like news to be reported, or sets of opinion that could be discussed that most people would agree upon, or had a shared sense of their veracity of that that was presumed to be the norm, I think from I would say, for most of my, you know, lived lived history. And what we’re seeing now is a really different paradigm. You know, it’s one that has a historical precedent, but it can feel a little bit disconcerting if you had grown up in an era of broadcast television, broadcast radio, nationally circulating newspapers that in some ways have similar political, but not so much political perspectives as similar commitments to notions of journalistic objectivity and producing news for an ideologically neutral audience.

Beckley: Yeah, and I think that yeah, it seems I’ve noticed the similarities between politically driven media, you know, newspapers, outright, like this is the Post Democrat or the Monthly Republican or you know, what have you. And then now we have, it seems like political parties have their own news stations, or somewhat, at least, to some extent, I suppose. But kind of circling back around to Farnsworth kind of ideal for television, I just want to get your impression of if you think that any of his ideals were met. And so basically, he has a quote, where he’s saying that he believes that television could increase literacy, facilitate the sharing of cultures and even prevent wars through global discourse. And obviously, that last one especially is quite a quite a big ask, but I was wondering if you could, like, just kind of evaluate if you think any of that has been met in any way? Or if we’ve kind of like, totally missed the mark.

Perlman: Yeah, well, certainly I think one of the successes of public television has been its role in providing early childhood education, to children who otherwise might not be able to go to a pre-k program. And really historically, like whenever PBS’s budget has been threatened by members of Congress who no longer see a need for federally supported broadcasting, Sesame Street is always the best way to mobilize people to say, actually, television and public television is really crucial, because of how crucial a show like television, excuse me, like Sesame Street is to enabling all children that have access to TV to get this form of early childhood education that will set them up for success as they enter into their formal schooling. And there had been just so many experiments with educational television prior to Sesame Street, that similarly were trying to use the medium as a way, for example, to supplement curriculum in schools to provide subjects to students that school districts didn’t have sufficient teachers to provide. There’s a long history of thinking about television as a way to democratize access to certain forms of cultural expression, that either by location or by income, you might not have the ability to access, Symphony, opera, theatre, and so on. And the public television sector, historically, there’s always been a segment of that community that’s been very invested in those values of seeing television as primarily an educational medium, that can use its technological capacities to be able to give people access to teachers to forms of cultural expression, that otherwise would be inaccessible to them. So I think it’s it’s always been an element of US television history. It’s never been, like blockbuster rating. Lots of people. Were excited to watch, you know, the opera on PBS and to watch you know, The Love Boat on ABC, but, but it’s always been, I think, for folks who, who desire that kind of programming. There’s always been a community of people who have been very intent to try to provide it to them. There was an early experiment in the 1960s that I’m very interested in, called inter tell, which was a transnational television consortium of five broadcasting companies from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. And their very goal was exactly what Farnsworth was intending. These were people who in the early 1960s, were very concerned about the Cold War and this global cleavage between communist and capitalist nations. They were especially concerned that a Cold War was taking place, and the nuclear age where combatants had the capacity to, you know, basically devastate human life. And they were concerned about just the uneven effects of World War II and nations across the world. And they thought that if you could create television programs, especially public affairs, documentaries, that explained national cultures of different countries across the world, and if you distributed them globally, you would create shared cultural understanding. And this would be to world peace, you know, and so there was a sense that the problems of the world are based in people not knowing about one another, not being able to apprehend or appreciate cultural difference. And so if you could just use television, to make people legible to each other, there’d be no more war, you know, and we could solve global problems. And it didn’t work. But it was a very utopic understanding of how television as a technology could work.

Beckley: Absolutely. And I must say that Sesame Street, I have a seven-month-old at home, big hit in our house still so still going strong, which actually kind of leave then to my last kind of question, with like, streaming, I know that you’re a historian, so this might be out of your wheelhouse. But with streaming and the Internet, and all these other ways to access what used to be only accessible through broadcast, including Sesame Street now being owned by HBO, things like that. Do you see an ongoing need for broadcast television? Do you think that that is something that is kind of going by the wayside? Or do you think that there is that niche niche or people that still need access to that, and will continue driving enough demand to keep it around?

Perlman: Yeah, it’s a really good question. I mean, local broadcast stations are often the conduits, or the historically had been the conduits for national network programming. And although certainly almost all of the national networks have their own streaming apps now, right, so So obviously, you can access NBC programming through peacock or CBS programming through Paramount plus, often the argument on behalf of local broadcasting has been focused on local news reporting. And I think that there’s been such a seduction of being able to access programming from across the globe. And anytime you want. And sites like Netflix, or Hulu have these vast, incredible libraries, where there’s so much content you can view at all times. That’s an incredibly seductive model of what we ought to be using our televisions for. But for many people, local news from local TV stations is still a pretty important way for them to learn about their communities. And in a moment where newspapers are folding left and right, and we do see a few newspaper chains owning many of the local newspapers that still exist. There’s a, I think, a legitimate anxiety over who is going to support the journalists that are reporting on local school board issues that are following local municipal decisions about you know, how to regulate public utilities, or how to deal with concerns over housing or how to support unhoused people or you know, or whatever issue is, is very live and urgent for local communities. And that’s a topic that Netflix is not going to fund, you know, or that Hulu is not going to support or that HBO is really not very interested in. And so there is, I think, a civic need for local broadcasting. Whether there’s an economic model to make sure that those stations survive is a bigger question that we probably collectively have to think about, along with trying to figure out the best way to support local journalists who might want to write for local newspapers and, you know, have beats that they’re experts in and they know the local officials and they know the local community leaders to be able to inform people citizens about what’s happening in their own communities. And so while there’s so I’m I myself am so enraptured by Just the tremendous range of content is accessible to me all the time. The local aspect of broadcasting, which has always been central to its public service obligations is the one facet of the local station that I think we need to be really focused on in terms of the future of broadcasting.

Beckley: Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for joining us today. Allison. I really appreciate your time. And I am sure listeners will as well. Thank you.

Perlman: Great. Thanks so much, Lindsay. It was great.

Show Notes for Giving Voice: Dr. Allison Perlman

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Learn more about Dr. Perlman’s work here.

“Unswerving Integrity”: The Radical Friendship of Eugene V. Debs and Robert Ingersoll

This post is dedicated to Tom Flynn—freethinker, friend, and keeper of the Ingersoll flame.

On July 22, 1899, Hoosier Eugene Victor Debs, a radical labor organizer and the future socialist party candidate for president, published a tribute to one of his biggest influences and close friends—the orator and freethinker Robert Green Ingersoll. Known as the “Great Agnostic” for his decades-long public critique of organized religion, Ingersoll became the leader of the “Golden Age of Freethought” in the United States, a movement dedicated to secularism that began after the Civil War and ended around World War I. His death on July 21, 1899, at the age of 65, left an irreplaceable void in the hearts of many who saw Ingersoll as the leader of a new rationalist awakening in America.

Eugene V. Debs, 1897. Library of Congress.

In his tribute to Ingersoll, printed in the Terre Haute Gazette and later in the Social Democratic Herald, Debs reflected on their decades-long friendship and the lasting impact the freethinker had on his life. He wrote:

For 23 years it has been my privilege to know Colonel Ingersoll, and the announcement of his sudden death is so touching and shocking to me that I can hardly bring myself to realize the awful calamity. Like thousands of others who personally knew Colonel Ingersoll, I loved him as if he had been my elder brother. He was, without doubt, the most lovable character, the tenderest and greatest soul I have ever known.

He also noted the amount of charity work Ingersoll did, both for organizations and for individuals, such as a woman he aided after the financial collapse of her father and abandonment by her church. “Such incidents of kindness to the distressed and help to the needy,” Debs observed, “might be multiplied indefinitely, for Colonel Ingersoll’s whole life was replete with them and they constitute a religion compared with which all creeds and dogmas become meaningless and empty phrases.”

Robert Ingersoll portraits. Library of Congress.

Later, on January 17, 1900, Debs wrote to Ingersoll’s publisher C.P. Farrell that “I have never loved another mortal as I have loved Robert Ingersoll, and I never shall another.” While this language may seem a bit saccharine for us today, Debs meant every word of it. From his initial meetings with Ingersoll as a young man in Terre Haute, Indiana to the Great Agnostic’s defense of him during the Pullman railroad workers strike of 1894, Eugene Debs always felt a deep kinship with the heretical orator. While they took different spiritual tracks—with Ingersoll a dedicated agnostic and Debs a social-gospel Christian—both saw the importance of caring for others in this life, despite what might come after, and believed in the power of human reason as a vehicle for transcending outmoded superstitions. Debs learned the power of effective oratory from Ingersoll, routinely citing him as one of his biggest rhetorical influences. Ingersoll also had views on labor and capital that went far beyond the traditional liberalism of his day, something that likely played a role in the radicalization of Debs. As such, their unique friendship left a lasting imprint on American life during the turn of the twentieth century.

They first met in the spring of 1878, after Debs invited Ingersoll to give a lecture to the Occidental Literary Club in Terre Haute, an organization that the former helped organize. The Terre Haute Weekly Gazette reported on May 2, 1878 that Ingersoll’s oration the previous evening was on the “religion of the past, present, and future” and noted that “Mr. Ingersoll was introduced by Mr. E. V. Debs, in well chosen and well delivered words.” Years later, in his “Recollections on Ingersoll” (1917), Debs reflected on his first encounter with the legendary orator. In fact, the lecture that Ingersoll gave that evening, according to Debs, was one of his most important, “The Liberty of Man, Woman, and Child.” In it, Ingersoll excoriates those who held humanity in the bondage of superstition and called for freedom of intellectual development. As he declared, “This is my doctrine: Give every other human being every right you claim for yourself. Keep your mind open to the influences of nature. Receive new thoughts with hospitality. Let us advance.” Debs was amazed by this speech. Writing decades later, “Never until that night had I heard real oratory; never before had I listened enthralled to such a flow of genuine eloquence.” Ingersoll’s words, which “pleaded for every right and protested against every wrong,” galvanized the budding orator and political activist.

Robert Ingersoll addressing an audience. Peoria Magazine.

Also in 1878, Ingersoll used his considerable speaking talents towards another issue of grave importance: the condition of labor. While it would be too much to say that Ingersoll was a socialist like Debs, he was nevertheless a socially-conscious liberal Republican who understood the inequities between workers and owners in a capitalist society. In a speech entitled “Hard Times and the Way Out,” delivered in Boston, Massachusetts on October 20, 1878, Ingersoll laid out his views on the subject. While he reiterated his belief that “there is no conflict, and can be no conflict, in the United States between capital and labor,” he nevertheless chastised the capitalists who would impugn the dignity and quality of life of their laborers. “The man who wants others to work to such an extent that their lives are burdens, is utterly heartless,” he bellowed to the crowd in Boston. He also called for the use of improved technology to lower the overall workday. Additionally, in a passage that could’ve been composed by Eugene V. Debs decades later, Ingersoll declared:

I sympathize with every honest effort made by the children of labor to improve their condition. That is a poorly governed country in which those who do the most have the least. There is something wrong when men are obliged to beg for leave to toil. We are not yet a civilized people; when we are, pauperism and crime will vanish from our land.

This speech left a lasting impression on Debs, so much so that he quoted it at length in an 1886 article in the Locomotive Firemen’s Magazine calling for the eight-hour workday. It is safe to say that Ingersoll’s own progressive views on labor influenced Debs’s own labor advocacy, especially during his time leading the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and co-founding the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W).

Eugene V. Debs, 1897. Indiana Memory.

Years later, in 1894, Eugene V. Debs and the American Railway Union (ARU) led a massive labor strike against the Pullman Palace Car Company in the outskirts of Chicago. Approximately 2,000 employees walked off the job in May, demanding an end to the 33 1/3% pay cut they took the year prior. When the strikes escalated into violence, largely due to the aggressive tactics of the Chicago police, the United States Court in Chicago filed an injunction against Debs and the ARU. The injunction claimed that Debs, as head of the ARU, violated federal law by “block[ing] the progress of the United States mails,” the Indianapolis Journal reported. Debs was later arrested for his actions, using legendary civil rights attorney Clarence Darrow for his defense. Some speculated at the time that Robert Ingersoll, himself a lawyer, would defend Debs in court, but that never came to pass. Instead, Ingersoll defended Debs in the court of public opinion, when the press reported his previous treatment for alcoholism in an effort to discredit his cause.

Workers leaving the Pullman Palace Car Works, 1893. Wikimedia Commons.

An article in the July 9, 1894 issue of the Jersey City News reported that Dr. Thomas S. Robertson treated Debs in 1892 for “neurasthenia” and “dipsomania,” terms used in the era to describe anxiety due to spinal cord injury and alcoholism, respectively. To help his friend, Ingersoll had written a letter of introduction for Debs to Dr. Robertson, as he had used the physician’s services before. The article quotes Dr. Robertson at length, who claimed that Debs suffered from exhaustion, which had been exacerbated by drinking, but he had improved in the two years since. When asked if Debs was of sound mind, Dr. Robertson said, “in ordinary times, yes, but he is likely to be carried away by excitement and enthusiasm.” In essence, Debs suffered from what today we might call stress-induced anxiety, which became more pronounced by substance abuse. However, it is important to note that charges of alcoholism were common in this era, and Debs might have exhibited symptoms of it without ever being intoxicated.

Sensing the intention of the press with this story, Ingersoll released a statement to the Philadelphia Observer, later reprinted in the Unionville, Nevada Silver State on August 27, 1894. In it, he stood up for his friend and the causes he fought for. “I have known Mr. Debs for about twelve years,” Ingersoll said, and “I believe, [he] is a perfectly sincere man—very enthusiastic in the cause of labor—and his sympathies are all with the workingman.” When asked about Debs’s drinking, Ingersoll pushed back on the claims, saying “I never met him when he appeared to be under the influence of stimulants. He was always in good health and in full possession of his faculties.” He also commented on the attempts at scandal in the newspapers, adding that his “testimony is important in view of gossip and denunciation that everywhere attend the public mention of the strike leader.” In one of Debs’ darkest hours, when his character and cause came under fire, Ingersoll publicly defended his friend and challenged the claims made against him. Such was the nature of their bond.

Harper’s Weekly, July 14, 1894. Library of Congress.

While Robert Ingersoll certainly influenced Debs on the importance of oratory and the cause of labor, he also left a profound intellectual influence on the future socialist. Early in his life, Debs developed an iconoclastic view of religion, which primed him for a rewarding relationship with Ingersoll. In conversations with Larry Karsner, published in book form in 1922, Debs reflected on the event that made him weary of organized religion. At the age of 15, Debs attended a sermon at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Terre Haute. The priest’s vivid descriptions of hell, with a “thousand demons and devils with horns and bristling tails, clutching pitchforks, steeped in brimstone,” completely soured him on institutionalized Christianity. “I left that church with rich and royal hatred of the priest as a person, and a loathing for the church as an institution,” Debs said, “and I vowed that I would never go inside a church again.” Furthermore, when asked by Karsner if he was a disbeliever at that time, Debs replied, “Oh yes, a strong one.”

He furthered his views on hell in a February 19, 1880 article in the Terre Haute Weekly Gazette. “I do not believe in hell as a place of torment or punishment after death,” he wrote, “. . . the hell of popular conception exists solely in the imagination.” He further argues that while the idea of hell may have served a beneficial function in the past, “as soon, however, as people become good enough to be just and honorable for the simple satisfaction it affords them, and avoid evil for the same reason, then there is no further necessity of hell.” With these words, Debs actually echoed much of what Ingersoll said on the subject in an 1878 lecture. “The idea of a hell,” Ingersoll noted, “was born of revenge and brutality on the one side, and cowardice on the other. In my judgment the American people are too brave, too charitable, too generous, too magnanimous, to believe in the infamous dogma of an eternal hell.”

Robert Ingersoll pamphlet on Hell, 1882. Google Books.

While the doctrine of hell and the strictures of the church left Debs cold, he nevertheless adopted a liberal, nondenominational form of Christianity later in his life, one molded by his exposure to Ingersoll and freethought. In a 1917 article entitled “Jesus the Supreme Leader,” published in the Call Magazine and later reprinted in pamphlet form, Debs shared his thoughts on the prophet from Nazareth. Debs saw Christ not as a distant, ethereal presence, but rather as a revolutionary figure whose own humanity made him divine. “Jesus was not divine because he was less human than his fellow-men,” he wrote, “but for the opposite reason, that he was supremely human, and it is this of which his divinity consists, the fullness and perfection of him as an intellectual, moral and spiritual human being.” He placed Jesus in the same pantheon of transformative figures as abolitionist John Brown, President Abraham Lincoln, and philosopher Karl Marx.

For Debs, Christ’s appeal to “love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” was the same in spirit as Marx’s famous dictum in the Communist Manifesto: “Workers of all countries unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains. You have a world to win.” Both statements are about solidarity—of people coming together, helping one another, and fighting for a better world. In this sense, Debs interpreted Christ like many humanists and non-sectarian Christians do today—as a deeply human figure that preached love, peace, and harmony with others.

Eugene V. Debs and Jesus of Nazareth pamphlet. Internet Archive.

While Debs and Ingersoll did not share the exact same views on Christianity, they did share a commitment to secularism, tolerance, freethought, and social justice. Debs would parlay his knowledge from Ingersoll and others into a successful political career, running five times on the socialist party ticket and earning nearly a million votes in 1920 while imprisoned for speaking out against America’s involvement in WWI. As Ingersoll was the leader of the “Golden Age of Freethought,” Debs was the leader of the “Golden Age of American Socialism,” with thousands attending his speeches and joining socialist organizations. Despite their friendship being tragically cut short by Robert Ingersoll’s death in 1899, Debs honored the legacy of the Great Agnostic for the rest of his life. Writing in his “Recollections of Ingersoll” in 1917, Debs said:

He was absolutely true to the highest principles of his exalted character and to the loftiest aspirations of his own unfettered soul. He bore the crudest misrepresentation, the foulest abuse, the vilest calumny, and the most heartless persecution without resentment or complaint. He measured up to his true stature in every hour of trial, he served with fidelity and without compromise to the last hour of his noble life, he paid in full the price of his unswerving integrity to his own soul, and each passing century to come will add fresh luster to his immortal fame.

In studying their lives and their friendship, one might say these words for Robert Green Ingersoll could equally apply to Eugene Victor Debs.

Eugene V. Debs standing by pillar. Indiana Memory.

Vesto Slipher: Uncovering the Cosmos

The Andromeda Galaxy. Courtesy of NASA.
The Andromeda Galaxy. Courtesy of NASA.

This article was originally published on the Hoosier State Chronicles blog on August 26, 2016.

The known universe is big; insanely big! At a staggering age of 13.8 billion years, our observable universe has a diameter of 92 billion light-years. Over the last century, astronomers, physicists, and mathematicians have helped us understand a more precise measurement of the size of the universe and how it has changed over time. The prevailing theory is the “Big Bang,” which, “At its simplest, [it] talks about the universe as we know it starting with a small singularity, then inflating over the next 13.8 billion years to the cosmos that we know today.” A key component of Big Bang cosmology, “Expansion Theory,” stipulates that the universe is expanding, rather than a static state, which accounts for the changing distances of stars and galaxies. So, how did we come to this conclusion?

Red and blue shift. Courtesy of Caltech.
Blue and red shift. Courtesy of Caltech.

Part of our understanding of the expanding universe has benefited, in no small part, to an Indiana farmer’s son named Vesto Slipher. Slipher developed spectrographic methods that allowed researchers to see a Doppler effect in the distances of what were then called “spiral nebula,” what we today call galaxies. Simply put, by measuring the longer wavelength red shift (objects moving away) and shorter wavelength blue shift (objects moving closer), Slipher demonstrated that the universe was not static. In fact, it was expanding and often pushing objects towards each other. Slipher’s name doesn’t get regularly name-checked as one of the greatest scientists of all-time, but his contributions helped to establish our current view of the cosmos.

Vesto Melvin Slipher. Courtesy of the National Academy of Sciences.
Vesto Melvin Slipher. Courtesy of the National Academy of Sciences.

Vesto Melvin Slipher was born on November 11, 1875 on the family farm in Mulberry, Indiana. As biographer William Graves Hoyt noted, Slipher’s early life on the farm “helped him develop the strong, vigorous constitution that later stood him in good stead for the more strenuous aspects of observational astronomy.” Slipher received a B.A. (1901), M.A. (1903), and Ph.D (1909) in Astronomy from Indiana University. His Ph.D. dissertation paper, The Spectrum of Mars, which tentatively identified atmospheric characteristics (namely, water vapor) on the red planet.

The Indianapolis Journal, June 19, 1901. Courtesy of Hoosier State Chronicles.
The Indianapolis Journal, June 19, 1901. Courtesy of Hoosier State Chronicles.
The Indianapolis Journal, June 8 1903. Courtesy of Hoosier State Chronicles.
The Indianapolis Journal, June 8 1903. Courtesy of Hoosier State Chronicles.

Slipher’s professional career in science began in August of 1901, when he moved to Flagstaff, Arizona to fill a vacancy at the Lowell Observatory. Founded by the idiosyncratic Dr. Percival Lowell, Lowell Observatory became one of the foremost institutions of astronomy during the early 20th century. As the Coconino Sun put it, the observatory, “is known and recognized all over world for its discoveries and correct calculations.”

Dr. Percival Lowell, founder of the Lowell Observatory. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Dr. Percival Lowell, founder of the Lowell Observatory. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Lowell Observatory. Courtesy of the Wall Street Journal/State of Arizona.
Lowell Observatory. Courtesy of the Wall Street Journal/State of Arizona.

Lowell’s chief pursuit with the observatory was to prove that there were inhabitants on Mars, and hired young Slipher to help him. As early as 1908, Slipher found evidence through his spectroscopic techniques that Lowell may be on to something. The Washington Herald reported that V. M. Slipher (newspaper articles almost always identified him in print with just his initials) and his brother, Earl C. Slipher, “discovered evidences of the presence of water in the atmosphere of Mars. . . .” Sometime later, on May 20, 1909, the Hopkinsville Kentuckian noted that Slipher’s observations, “favor the view that the whitecaps about Mars poles are composed of snow rather than of hoarfrost,” and that “prevalent conditions of Mars . . .are those of a mild but desert climate, such as Professor Percival Lowell has asserted exists there.”

The Washington Herald, April 05, 1908. Courtesy of Chronicling America.
The Washington Herald, April 05, 1908. Courtesy of Chronicling America.

Lowell’s interest in Mars, emboldened by Slipher’s results, intensified. In 1912, Slipher helped install a 13,000 feet high telescope in the San Francisco Mountains so as to refine his measurements. Slipher’s efforts culminated in a 1914 announcement of further confirmation to his Water Vapor hypothesis. The Washington, D.C. Evening Star wrote that, “while the amount of water is difficult to determine, the estimates placed it at about one-third that of the atmosphere of the earth.” While Slipher and Lowell never found Martians on the red planet, their findings established atmospheric models that are still corroborated by scientists to this day.

The Los Angeles Herald, November 24, 1909. Courtesy of Chronicling America.
The Los Angeles Herald, November 24, 1909. Courtesy of Chronicling America.

With his research on Mars, Slipher was only getting started. His real passion was observing the position and velocities of “spiral nebula,” and he used his spare time away from his Mars projects to advance his research. His early successes convinced Dr. Lowell to give him time devoted to this research. It came with spectacular results. In 1912, Slipher began recording spectrographic results of the Andromeda Nebula (now known as the Andromeda Galaxy) and found that they were blue-shifting, which indicated that the nebula was “not within our galaxy.” “Hence we may conclude,” Slipher observed in his published findings, “that the Andromeda Nebula is approaching the solar system with a velocity of about 300 kilometers per second.” Within the next couple of years, Slipher also discovered that the Andromeda Nebula was also rotating as it traveled, and published these results in a subsequent article. From there, the results went to the press; the Daily East Oregonian published the findings in its November 15, 1915 edition. The Caldwell Watchmen in Columbia, Louisiana also reported that the Nebula was traveling at an unprecedented speed of “186 miles a second.” Similar articles were published in the Ashland, Oregon Tidings and the Albuquerque Evening Herald.

The East Oregonian, November 25, 1915. Courtesy of Chronicling America.
The East Oregonian, November 25, 1915. Courtesy of Chronicling America.

Slipher eventually observed the speeds of 15 nebulae, shared his findings at the 1914 American Astronomical Society meeting, and “received a standing ovation.” His results were then published by the society in 1915, demonstrating that the average velocity of these nebulae at 400 kilometers a second. A few years later, in 1921, Slipher found a record-breaking nebula called Dreyer’s Nebula (known today as IC 447) that was traveling away from our galaxy at 2,000 kilometers a second! With nebulae moving at varying velocities and in varying directions, Slipher’s research had started a conversation about the need to reevaluate the static theory of the universe. Why were these nebula acting like this?

The Washington, D.C. Evening Star, January 17, 1921. Courtesy of Chronicling America.
The Washington, D.C. Evening Star, January 17, 1921. Courtesy of Chronicling America.
Edwin Hubble. Courtesy of Sonoma State University.
Edwin Hubble. Courtesy of Sonoma State University.

In comes Edwin Hubble, the lawyer-turned-astronomer with the dashing looks of a movie star who pushed our understanding of the universe even further (Like Slipher, Hubble also had an Indiana connection as he taught and coached basketball at New Albany High School during the 1913-14 academic year) . As physicist Lawrence Krauss noted, Hubble used Slipher’s data on spiral nebula, combined with new observations he obtained with colleague Milton Humason, to postulate a new cosmological law. This new theorem, called “Hubble’s Law,” argued that there was a direct “relationship between recessional velocity and galaxy distance.” In other words, the farther away a galaxy is, the faster it is moving. These results flew in the face of both Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein’s notions of the universe, which argued for a static universe. If Hubble was right, the universe was actually expanding.

To test this idea, Hubble began a new series of spectrographic experiments in the 1930s. The Muncie Post-Democrat reported on one of these experiments on November 25, 1938:

The answer [to the expansion theory], they said, may be found when the new 200-inch reflector, cast in Corning, N. Y., glassworks, is completed. If the universe is expanding, the giant reflector being built on Mt. Palomar, in California, may indicate the type of expansion. The new mirror will collect four times as much light as the 100-inch Hooker reflector now in use at Mt. Wilson.

The Muncie Post-Democrat, November 25, 1938. Courtesy of Hoosier State Chronicles.
The Muncie Post-Democrat, November 25, 1938. Courtesy of Hoosier State Chronicles.

These further experiments reaffirmed Hubble’s earlier conclusions and the expansionary model of the universe became the standard-model. The evidence was so overwhelming that Einstein changed his mind and accepted the expansionary theory. Like with his work on Mars, Slipher’s early observations helped to uncover a field-altering discovery, and as biographer William Hoyt concluded, his research “enabled astronomers to gauge the approximate age and dimensions of the known universe.”

Clyde Tombaugh, the discoverer of Pluto. He was assisted by Slipher in his discovery. Courtesy of NASA.
Clyde Tombaugh, the discoverer of Pluto. He was assisted by Slipher in his discovery. Courtesy of NASA.

Even after his momentous research on spiral nebula, Slipher continued to be involved in key discoveries. For example, Slipher assisted in the discovery of the planet (now dwarf planet) Pluto! A January 2, 1920 article in the Coconino Sun recalled that, “Dr. Slipher said he believes it is true that there is an undiscovered planet. This belief is due to peculiar actions of Uranus, who gets kind of wobbly sometimes in her course around the sun.” To confirm these claims, Slipher brought young scientist Clyde Tombaugh onto the project in 1928. After many attempts of photographing the unknown body, and Slipher even missing it in some telescopic photographs, Tombaugh finally discovered Pluto on February 18, 1930. The New York Times later reported the discovery on April 16, 1930. “Denial to the contrary,” the Times wrote, “Dr. V. M. Slipher, director of the Lowell Observatory [here], believes evidence indicates that the recently discovered “Planet X” is the long-sought trans-Neptunian planet, and is not a comet.” While Tombaugh rightfully gets the credit for the discovery, Slipher’s hard work in assisting the young scientist should count as one of his accomplishments.

The Coconino Sun, January 2, 1920. Courtesy of Chronicling America.
The Coconino Sun, January 2, 1920. Courtesy of Chronicling America.
Slipher in his later years. Courtesy of the New York Times.
Slipher in his later years. Courtesy of the New York Times.

Slipher retired from the Lowell Observatory in 1952 and spent the remaining years of his life involved in minor astronomical work and community affairs before he passed away in 1969, at the age of 94. While not a household name, Slipher’s achievements in astronomy are legendary, from his discovery of the atmospheric conditions of Mars and assisting with the discovery of Pluto to his ground-breaking research on spiral nebulae that led to our understanding of the expanding universe. In short, he helped science, and in turn humanity, further uncover the mysteries of the cosmos. Pretty good for a farm boy from Mulberry, Indiana.

THH Episode 49: Philo T. Farnsworth: Father of Television

Jump to Show Notes

Transcript for Philo T. Farnsworth: Father of Television

Mans’s voice: High speed facsimile transmission and reception of both words and pictures…

[Click]

…planned research to anticipate the demands of a growing nation…

[Click]

Here in this modern workshop of science can be found some of the true pioneers of our time…

Beckley: Sitting on a desk in an office in Fort Wayne, Indiana was a small plaque that read, “Men and trees die – Ideas live on for the ages.” The slightly built man with dark hair and a thin mustache in the chair behind the desk, knew this better than most. At the age of 14, he had an idea that would, in time, change the world in innumerable ways. His idea would bring people together and cause divisions. It would influence national and international politics, introduce people around the world to new cultures and viewpoints, change how businesses make money…and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

That man? Philo T. Farnsworth. And his idea?

Man’s voice: Television. An unparalleled blending of science and art.

Beckley: I’m Lindsey Beckley and this is Talking Hoosier History.

Inventors often hold lofty ideals for their inventions. Eli Whitney invented the Cotton Gin in 1793 with the hope of relieving the poverty in southern states. Instead, the Cotton Gin increased the need for enslaved labor and is considered one contributing factor of the American Civil War. Othmar Zeidler invented DDT in 1873 to rid the world of insect-borne diseases like malaria. But widespread use of the chemical has caused cancer, infertility, and has devastated ecosystems. Tim Berners-Lee had visions of a free information utopia when he invented the World Wide Web in 1989. Yet, many point to the internet as one of the driving forces of misinformation in modern society.

Similarly, Philo T. Farnsworth believed that the television could prevent wars through global discourse, increase literacy and facilitate the sharing of cultures. And it has.

Fred Rogers: You make each day a special day. You know how? By just being yourself. That’s right…there’s only one person in this…

Beckley: That was, of course, Fred Rogers, of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. Educational programming like Mr. Rogers Neighborhood and Sesame Street, as well as documentaries have gone a long way to democratize knowledge. Shows like Modern Family have increased acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community in recent decades. Television also drives socialization, with friends gathering to watch the “big game” or joining forums to discuss their favorite shows. But, as is usually the case, there is another side of the coin.

[clips from the Jerry Springer Show]

Experts have linked watching reality TV with an increase in aggression in real life. And television in general has been shown to cause everything from a rise in childhood obesity to a decline in quality family time.

Of course, when Philo Farnsworth dreamed up electronic television as a teenager, he could hardly have predicted these disparate outcomes.

[Music]

Beckley: Farnsworth was born and spent his early life in Utah. When he and his family moved to a potato farm in Rigby, Idaho in 1918, eleven-year-old Philo was delighted to find that their new home was powered with a Delco system, the first time the budding scientist had ever lived with electricity. In the attic of the farmhouse, he found a stash of scientific magazines and ravenously consumed anything he could find about electricity. One idea contained within the pages of those magazines was “Pictures That Could Fly Through the Air,” a concept that captured young Farnsworth’s imagination and started him on a journey that would last decades and culminate in modern television.

Man’s voice: Here is the ultimate in television…let me do it again, right now, keep rolling…

Beckley: Farnsworth dove into the existing work on the technology, learning all there was to know about experiments in the field, which stretched back to the 1870s. Early experiments in television relied on a mechanical method of producing and disseminating images. This used a spinning disc called a Nipkow disc. After reading everything he could about this technology, Farnsworth deduced that it could never produce a high-quality image. And he was right – even the very highly engineered mechanical televisions that were made in the 1930s were only capable of 60 lines per frame. To put that into perspective – modern televisions have over 1000 lines per frame.

Farnsworth became obsessed with finding a solution to this problem. He began meeting with a high school chemistry teacher named Justin Tolman after school to ask questions and discuss possible answers. In this relentless pursuit of knowledge, he hit on three topics – electrons, magnetic deflection, and cathode ray rubes – that, when put together, he thought would present an answer to what he was looking for. Finally, everything he had been thinking about crystalized into a profound idea in a most unlikely place – on a horse drawn plow in the middle of a potato field.

[Music]

Beckley: As Farnsworth surveyed the work he was doing – turning over the earth row by row – it dawned on him. Farnsworth biographer Paul Schatzkin noted:

Clark from Schatzkin: “He suddenly imagined trapping light in an empty jar and transmitting it one line at a time on a magnetically deflected beam of electrons.”

Beckley: And so the initial conception for modern electronic television came into the world in the middle of an Idaho potato field from the mind of a 14 year old boy.

Man’s voice: Silent. Invisible. Instantly. Human speech, movement, and appearance invade the airways together, to be received in magic boxes for distant reproductions.

Beckley: Philo shared his idea with the only person he thought might be able to understand and confirm his theory – Justin Tolman.

While Tolman couldn’t grasp every facet of the intricate electronic scheme, he knew enough to encourage the young inventor in his work. At the end of their discussion, Philo jotted a simple sketch of his brainchild on a small piece of notebook paper and handed it to Tolman, who tucked it away for safekeeping. Little did he know just how important that scrap of paper would become.

[Music]

Beckley: Farnsworth nurtured his idea through his teen years and as he attended Brigham Young University.  While working for a fundraising organization, the Community Chest Campaign in 1926, he secured financial backing for his idea. With the support of fundraisers George Everson and Leslie Gorell, he moved to California and eventually established a lab on Green Street in San Francisco. It was here that he, his new wife Pem, and his brother-in-law Cliff set about building the first prototype of an electronic television.

Man’s voice: Television. The newest miracle of modern electric engineering.

Beckley: It wasn’t an easy road to travel. While Philo had a clear vision of what needed to be done to make electronic television a reality, actually accomplishing it was a different story altogether. Each step of the way, Farnsworth and the Green Street crew were inventing new techniques and tools, any one of which would have been an impressive accomplishment on its own. When Cliff was told it was impossible to create a glass tube built to the specifications required by Philo, Cliff developed his own technique of glass blowing that allowed him to create exactly what was needed. While working on techniques to amplify their image, Philo developed what he called the Image Analyzer, and laid the groundwork for the electron microscope, one of the most important tools in laboratories to this day.

Finally, on September 7, 1927, countless experiments and twelve-hour workdays paid off. Farnsworth and his staff stood with bated breath in front of a receiver in one room. In another, Cliff inserted a slide with a thick black line painted on it in front of a device Farnsworth called an “Image Dissector.”

Man’s voice: Mr. Philo T. Farnsworth is working on the Image Dissector tube.

Beckley: The image on the receiver flickered and bounced for a moment before a line became visible on the screen. As Cliff rotated the slide, the line on the screen rotated. The first electronic television picture had been transmitted. In his journal, Farnsworth noted this breakthrough with the reserved tone of a scientist;

Clark as Farnsworth: “The received line picture was evident this time.”

Beckley: Financial backer George Everson had no such reserve. He wired fellow backer Leslie Gorrell;

Clark as Gorrell: “The damned thing works!”

Beckley: But transforming this historic achievement into a commercial product involved years of technical, legal, and financial problems.

While Farnsworth had proved that his idea worked and applied for a patent for his design, he struggled to refine it – those first transmissions were plagued with shadowy double images, black smudges, and amplification problems. Farnsworth accepted these complications as simply part of the process, but it was more difficult to convince his financial backers of that, and many withdrew their support. Looking for alternate funding, Farnsworth invited Russian scientist Dr. Vladimir Zworykin to the Green Street lab to see a demonstration of the Image Dissector. Zworkyin had been working on electronic television just as long as Farnsworth. In fact, he submitted a patent application for an electronic television in 1923, although he was unable to prove that it worked, and the patent was not granted.

As far as Farnsworth knew, Zworykin worked for Westinghouse, a Pittsburgh-based electronic manufacturing company. The hope was that Zworykin would be impressed by what he saw and convince Westinghouse to provide some much-needed funding.

However, Zworykin was not visiting with the interests of Westinghouse at heart –he had travelled to San Francisco on a circuitous route to his new employer – the Radio Corporation of America, something he had neglected to tell Farnsworth.

The Radio Corporation of America, better known as RCA, had established a virtual monopoly on radio technology throughout the early 20th century.

Man’s voice: Nowhere did the challenge provoke more unending experiment and research then at RCA.

Beckley: They bought up what patents they could and sued the holders of others out of business and then acquired the patents in settlements. Looking forward, the behemoth of a company was hoping to establish a similar strangle hold on television, and they recognized Farnsworth’s patent as a potentially important step in that direction.

Zworykin was tasked with finding out if the work being done on Green Street was indeed something RCA would need to try to acquire. And apparently he decided it was. Directly after leaving the lab, he dictated a 700-word telegram to his colleagues – instructions for building an Image Dissector of their very own. Weeks later, when he showed up at RCA to report for duty, he brought with him a replica of the piece of equipment Farnsworth had been working on for four years.

Man’s Voice: The turning point came in 1923 when Dr. Zworykin invented the iconiscope.

Beckley: After the pretense of offering to buy out Farnsworth’s lab for the paltry sum of $100,000, RCA began claiming that Zworykin’s 1923 patent filing was for a device similar enough to the Image Dissector to claim priority of invention. When Farnsworth realized that they were maneuvering into position to launch a lawsuit, he went on the offensive and launched his own claim with the U.S. Patent Office. What followed was described by Philo’s wife as a “David and Goliath confrontation.”

The respective lawyers representing Farnsworth and RCA interviewed key players and collected reams of testimony. RCA focused on the claim that Farnsworth had dreamed up electronic television when he was barely even a teenager. It seemed absurd, not to mention impossible to prove. That was, until they tracked down a now retired Justin Tolman.

When Tolman was asked if he remembered a student by the name of Philo Farnsworth he replied,

Clark as Tolman: “I surely do . . . he was the brightest student I ever had.”

He went on to recount in detail the day a fourteen-year-old Philo had described his idea for electronic television. At the end of the interview, in a scene reminiscent of a dramatic TV procedural, Tolman pulled from his pocket Philo’s sketch of an image dissector, drawn one year before Zworykin’s patent claim. The U.S. Patent Office ruled in favor of Philo T. Farnsworth as the inventor of electronic television.

However, that ruling didn’t mean that RCA was thwarted – they still had appeals to make. The appeal process would drag out for years, causing massive amounts of mental stress for Farnsworth, who struggled with bouts of depression and alcoholism as a result. The stress was also financial – each appeal would need to be defended on Farnsworth’s part by costly patent attorneys. Luckily, Farnsworth had secured financial backing by one of RCAs biggest rivals – Philco.

Man’s voice: Just an example of what’s in store for you right now at your Philco dealer. Another example of quality first by Philco!

Beckley: His partnership with the electronic engineering giant necessitated a move to Philadelphia where Farnsworth and his team continued to refine their technology until finally it was ready for public demonstration.

On August 24, 1934, the doors of the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia opened, and Farnsworth watched as the public poured in for their first glimpse of the long dreamed of television. As visitors entered the building, they were immediately confronted with what must have been a truly astonishing sight – themselves, caught on camera and broadcast to a screen. In the auditorium, they were treated to a wide variety of programming, which was being filmed and transmitted from the roof of the Institute. Vaudeville acts, political speeches, popular athletes, and other local celebrities were featured in those early television transmissions. Thousands of Philadelphians attended the demonstrations and an exhibition that was supposed to last 10 days stretched into three weeks.

The phenomenal success of that exhibition proved what the Farnsworth team had suspected for years – the public was ready for television.

Man’s voice: Technicians at Farnsworth’s Philadelphia laboratory have helped make television, the dazzling dream of the decade, a practical reality for today . . . you are about to witness the most excitingly different concept in the history of television.

Beckley: Farnsworth himself was sure that a fortune lay in television broadcasting rather than manufacturing. To this end, he established W3XPF, an experimental TV station which blanketed Philadelphia with some of the earliest electronic television signals. As television sets were still not commercially available, very few residents had receivers. Those who did, mostly engineers who were working for Farnsworth, became very popular with their neighbors.

While Farnsworth’s work with W3XPF was promising, the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, was slow to allocate air space and create other institutional standards that would need to be in place before commercial broadcasting was feasible. In the meantime, Farnsworth reluctantly turned to manufacturing. Investors looked for a suitable plant to purchase and eventually landed on a building in Fort Wayne, Indiana once occupied by the Capehart Phonograph Company. According to Schatzkin, the location was chosen because,

Clark from Schatzkin: “the company’s plant was an ideal facility, and the name ‘Capehart’ was expected to lend a certain cachet to the eventual Farnsworth product line.”

Beckley: The Farnsworth Television and Radio Corporation, or FTRC, opened shop on Pontiac Street in Fort Wayne in 1939 and launched into production of television, radio, and phonograph equipment.

Man’s voice: …that’s where Hoosier ingenuity took over…

Beckley: FTRC wasn’t the only company producing commercial televisions – companies such as RCA and International Telephone & Telegraph, or ITT, had established licensing agreements with Farnsworth and were also working to bring the new technology into American homes. However, just as the commercialization of the television was starting to take off, yet another obstacle presented itself – World War II.

Man’s Voice: New weapons of war add to the increasing thrills captured by intrepid cameramen.

Beckley: During the war, FTRC, along with most of American industry, turned to wartime production. While a blow to commercial TV, this was a boon for FTRC. During the war years, the company expanded greatly. Farnsworth himself spent much of his time at his home in Maine, working in a home laboratory and allowing others to run the day-to-day operations of the plants – that’s plants plural, as FTRC operated seven factories – four in Fort Wayne and one each in Marion, Huntington, and Bluffton – by the end of the war in 1945.

Much of this expansion was achieved with the help of loans that came due a year after the end of the war, just as the company was struggling to shift back to peacetime operations. Farnsworth and his shareholders did everything they could to remain an independent company – even going so far as to offer RCA use of Farnsworth’s patents “in perpetuity” for two and a half million dollars, an offer which RCA declined. In the end, to avoid bankruptcy, FTRC was sold to ITT for the rather meager sum of $1.7 million.

Despite losing independence, the company continued to produce televisions and Farnsworth continued to conduct research and experiments, although by this time he had shifted his focus from television to his next obsession, one that was equally forward thinking in the 1950s as television was in the 1920s – Fusion.

Man’s voice: Today atomic scientists produce radioactivity in large amounts . . .

Beckley: Philo’s interest in fusion, which is an experimental form of power that harnesses the energy of nuclear reactions, began to develop while he was working in his home laboratory in Maine during the early 1940s, and he continued to work on it in a basement laboratory in Fort Wayne.

After the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of WWII, interest in fusion went into overdrive. Farnsworth, like many others, including Hoosier physicist and former THH podcast topic Melba Phillips, wanted to see the peaceful application of the science used to power our cities. He dreamed of harnessing fusion to power the nation cheaply and, more importantly, cleanly.

In 1947, a mutual friend set up a phone call between Farnsworth and Albert Einstein. Einstein had worked on Fusion during the war only to vow never again to revisit it after his work contributed to the development of nuclear weapons. Pem, Farnsworth’s wife, later said that he found Einstein to be a

Clark: fellow traveler in the rarefied regions of the physical universe where his mind now dwelt.

Beckley: Einstein asked Farnsworth to send him the math behind his theories once he had worked it out. This conversation bolstered Farnsworth’s inventive energy– after a lifetime of being surrounded by people who just didn’t understand how his mind worked and suffering from loneliness and depression because of it, here was an equal. Much like he did with television back in Rigby, Idaho, he set about learning all he could about the budding field of fusion.

By 1953, the father of television felt on the brink of a new discovery. One summer day, the whole Farnsworth family was piled into a Cadillac on their way to Utah for a banquet. Schatzkin describes the scene as told by Farnsworth’s son and namesake Philo Farnsworth III:

Clark: “Pem was driving, with four-year-old Kent asleep with his head in her lap. Phil was slumped in the front seat, his head down, his fedora pulled down over his eyes. All of a sudden, ‘Dad practically jumped out of his seat in one fluid movement and punched his fist forward, saying ‘I’ve got it.’”

Beckley: The feat had been repeated – just like in that potato field in Idaho all those years ago, in an instant, everything he had been studying suddenly came into focus. And Philo T. Farnsworth was off on yet another years-long quest for scientific invention. One that would eventually produce the Farnsworth-Hirsch fusor. This was the first device of its kind in the world, and it continues to be the most widely used type of fusor in experimentation today.

In 1957, Farnsworth made his one and only television appearance on a gameshow called “I’ve Got a Secret.” At the end of his appearance, he talks about where he sees television going in the future;

Man’s Voice: This is the famous Dr. Philo T. Farnsworth, the inventor of the television.

[Applause]

Man’s Voice: Let’s go from the past – the not too distant past – to the future. What are you working on now?

Farnsworth: Well, in television, we’re attempting to make better utilization of the bandwidth because we think we can eventually get in excess of 2000 lines instead of 525 and do it on an even narrower cannel, possibly, than we’re doing it today, which would make for a much sharper picture. Then we hope…we believe in the picture frame type of television where the visual display will be just a screen. Then we hope for a memory so that the picture will be just as it was pasted on there, and many different improvements will result in a camera when you use such devices because part of the scene that you can remember, and you practically have a memory card of it, and it will simplify production of it.

Beckley: In that one-minute clip, he outlines HDTV, Flatscreen televisions, and digital video cameras decades before any of those technologies would be developed – the very definition of a visionary.

Man’s voice: Converting the dreams of yesterday into the reality of tomorrow . . . here is a look into the future of communication . . .

Beckley: It would be an understatement to say that the world has embraced Farnworth’s creation. Globally, 79 percent79 percent of households have at least one television set. That’s astounding. People from around the world are able to share experiences in a way that newspapers, radio, and even motion pictures could never rival and those shared experiences have shaped our society in huge ways. The Vietnam War was the first war to be covered on television and coverage of the conflict – the images of the dead and injured contrasted with the lack of progress being made – sparked an antiwar movement in the United States which eventually shifted public opinion.

The Beatles’ 1964 appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show created a craze in America which would change the music scene forever. It inspired countless young people to start bands and went a long way to unify a generation we now call the Baby Boomers.

Nearly every American of a certain age can clearly remember where they were on September 11, 2001 when we watched the Twin Towers fall. And we continued to watch as that day changed our society – we watched as the United States went to war, as Congress passed the Patriot Act, and as Islamophobia spread like wildfire.

Television has brought us together in good times and in bad. This was the promise Farnsworth saw for the television. True – he would likely have been disappointed seeing his invention used for misinformation and reality television. But he would have reveled in seeing the world sharing in our triumphs and tragedies – in fact, he and Pem watched the 1969 moon landing, after which Philo declared,

Clark at Farnsworth:  That has made it all worthwhile.

Talking Hoosier History is a product of the Indiana Historical Bureau, a division of the Indiana State Library. If you would like to see my sources for this episode, visit blog.history.in.gov and click “Talking Hoosier History” at the top to see a full transcript and show notes. Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this has been Talking Hoosier History. Talking Hoosier History is a product of the Indiana Historical Bureau, a division of the Indiana State Library. If you would like to see my sources for this episode, visit blog.history.in.gov and click “Talking Hoosier History” at the top to see a full transcript and show notes. This episode of Talking Hoosier History was adapted from IHB historian Nicole Poletika’s two-part blog post about Farnsworth on the Indiana History Blog. If you want to learn even more about Farnsworth’s life and work, I highly recommend Schatzkin’s biography, “The Boy Who Invented Television: A Story of Inspiration, Persistence, and Quiet Passion.” Production and sound engineering by Jill Weiss Simins. Thanks to Justin Clark for lending his voice to the show. We’ll be back in two weeks with an episode of Giving Voice. In the meantime, find us on Facebook and Twitter at the Indiana Historical Bureau and remember to subscribe, rate, and review Talking Hoosier History wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks for listening!

Show Notes for Philo T. Farnsworth: Father of Television

Blog Posts

Poletika, Nicole, “’The Damned Thing Works!:’ Philo T. Farnsworth & the Invention of Television,” Indiana History Blog.

Poletika, Nicole, “Philo T. Farnworth: Conversing with Einstein & Achieving Fusion in Fort Wayne,” Indiana History Blog.

Books

Schatzkin, Paul, The Boy Who Invented the Television, Tanglewood Books, 2008.

Indiana State Historical Markers

Philo T. Farnsworth Indiana State historical Marker Review

Articles

Butts, Tom, “The State of Television, Worldwide,” TVTechnology.com.

Viewer Beware: Watching Reality TV Can Impact Real-Life Behavior,” All Things Considered, National Public Radio.