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Fascinating True Stories from the Flip Side of History

Category Archives: Tidbits

Self-Service Gasoline

When Frank Ulrich opened the first successful self-service gasoline station in Los Angeles back in 1947, he probably couldn’t imagine the uproar that it would cause. By eliminating the high cost of paying attendants to fill your tank, he was able to pass the savings on to his customers. His slogan was “Save five cents, serve yourself. Why pay more?” With a gallon of gas costing less than 20-cents in 1947, saving a nickel was a big deal.

Word of his success began to spread across the country and soon others began to copy Ulrich’s model. One of these men was Irving Reingold. He opened a 24-pump self-service station on Route 17 in Hackensack, New Jersey. Everyone else was selling gas at an agreed upon 21.8-cents per gallon, while Reingold was able to undercut them at 18.9-cents.

Soon cars were lining up for cheaper gas, but the other dealers were very unhappy with the competition. Using the pretext of fire safety, the New Jersey Gasoline Retailers Association convinced the state legislature to ban self-service gasoline stations, a law that is still on the books today.

Ad for Ray's Self Service Gasoline
Ad for Ray's Self Service Gasoline in Rapid City, SD that appeared on page 11 of the May 5, 1950 issue of the Rapid City Journal.

John Dressler, president of the association at the time stated, “The only motive behind the bill was the safety of the public, because from experience we learned that the handling of gasoline is a potential hazard.”

A July 3, 1948 story in Connecticut’s Sunday Herald interviewed Bridgeport gasoline dealers and all were in agreement that self-service gasoline was probably never going to happen in their state.

Larry Keller, proprietor of Pop’s Gulf Station said. “Our business would suffer from 30 to 60 days, but after that time the novelty would wear off and people would come back for service.”

James Duva, owner of Duva’s Service Station added, “the whole city would be endangered if every Tom, Dick, and Harry operated the pumps.”

Red Dial, of Dial’s Sunoco station, was in total agreement. “Customers don’t save money anyway with the self-service idea. They save a few cents on the gas and spend dollars on cleaning their clothes which they dirtied while checking their own oil, or on repairs of the cars which the service attendant could have pointed out and fixed earlier.”

I did a quick check on Google Maps for the locations of these three dealers. Today only one is still a gas station and it is – you guessed it – self service.

Self Service Gasoline - 1950_08_27 - Long Beach Independent p15
Advertisement for Self-Service Gasoline that appeared on page 15 of the August 27, 1950 publication of the Long Beach Independent.
 

Both Children Born in a Yellow Cab

On October 18, 1922 Mrs. Rose Simon, who lived at 354 East 53rd Street in Chicago gave was a passenger in the backseat of a Yellow cab when she gave birth to a daughter. Both were taken to University Hospital and were reported to be in excellent health.

Giving birth to a baby in the back of a cab has certainly happened before, so just what makes this story unique?

Very simple: Eight years earlier, on October 3, 1914, Rose was a passenger in another cab while on her way to St. Luke’s Hospital when she suddenly went into labor. That time she gave birth to a baby boy.

Yellow Cab Photo
Photo of Yellow Cab drivers that appeared on page 12 of the February 17, 1964 publication of the Press Sun and Bulletin in Binghamton, NY.
 

Rubber Hose Cures Hiccups

So, what is your remedy for a case of the hiccups? Do you have someone scare you? Do you drink a glass of water quickly? Consume a spoonful of sugar? Or do you stick a rubber tube up your nose?

My guess is that you have never tried that last one. Yet, an article in the Associated Press on October 2, 1967 suggested the rubber hose method may be best.

A team, which consisted of three doctors at the University of Chicago and a colleague at Cairo University, found that hiccups could be cured by sticking a flexible rubber tube up a patient’s nose and stimulating the nerve endings of the pharynx.

The researchers found that this method was successful in 84 of the 85 patients that they tried it out on. They cautioned that this was not a do-it-yourself type cure. Due to potential danger, the procedure needed to be done by a trained doctor. Of course, by the time you get to the doctor’s office and sit in the waiting room for an hour before being finally called in to be seen by your physician, your hiccups will already be gone. No rubber hose needed.

 

Saved by a Giant Turtle

27-year-old South Korean Chung Nam Kim may have been one of the luckiest guys ever. He had been working aboard the Liberian Federal Nagara as a deckhand and painter. At some point between 2 and 3 AM on Friday August 22, 1969, Kim found himself suffering from a bad headache and decided that it would be best to go up on deck and grab some fresh air.

Suddenly, his foot slipped and Kim fell into the Pacific Ocean. No one witnessed his plunge, so he was as good as dead. Kim started swimming for land, but it was obvious that there was no way that he could ever make it.

“I was very afraid. I thought that I was dying… I couldn’t think of anything else. I was too exhausted.”

Just at the point when he was about to give up, he spotted something in the water.

“I thought I was dead. And then I touched this thing, and I first thought that it might be a shark and then I saw it was a turtle so I held on.”

He threw his arm around the turtle and paddled slowly with the other arm. After about two hours of swimming with the turtle, he spotted what looked like a ship. It was the Swedish freighter Citadel, which was 113 miles (182 km) from the Nicaraguan coast at the time. He started waving his arms frantically to get their attention. At 4:45 PM that Friday, the crew of the Citadel spotted a man with his arm around a large turtle and pulled him out of the water. Kim was taken aboard and almost immediately passed out from exhaustion.

Could this be a whale of a fish story? Most likely not. Both the captain and the crew of the Citadel said that they had seen Kim clinging to the turtle. One crew member even managed to snap a few photographs of the rescue.

Chung Nam Kim
Turtle rider Chung Nam Kim and Captain Horst Wedder (center) tell their story to a news reporter. Image appeared on page 23 of the August 31, 1969 issue of the Statesman Journal.
 

More Intelligent People Have Gout

On June 30, 1959, a UPI article discussed how two US government scientists, Dewitt Stetten, Jr. and John Z. Hearon, were studying the relationship between gout and intelligence.

Gout is caused by the accumulation of crystals of uric acid in bone joints. A theory was put forward in 1955 that the uric acid also stimulated the brain. You can see where this is going: Those with gout should be smarter.

So, Stetten and Hearon decided to test out this theory. They went to the Army Recruitment Center in Fort Dix, NJ and measured the uric acid levels in 817 men. Next, they compared the results of these tests to the “Army Classification Battery,” a group of psychological tests given to test for intelligence and other abilities.

The two found that there was a slight correlation between uric acid levels and high intelligence. The two didn’t make any definite conclusions, but did recommend that further studies be done. The press was quick to point out that nineteen times as many men have gout than women, so that would naturally mean that there are nineteen intelligent men for every intelligent woman. I can tell you, just from my years of teaching, that is definitely not true. No scientific study needed prove that.

The Gout by James Gillray
1799 caricature "The Gout" by James Gillray. From Wikipedia.
 

Cow Jumps Over the Moon

History was made on February 18, 1930 when a tri-motored Ford airplane flew as part of the exhibitions at the International Aircraft Exposition in St. Louis. That’s because this plane was transporting cargo that required extra special care. So special, in fact, that a portion of the plane had to be reconstructed to handle this cargo.

And it was big. And heavy. And alive. It was a 1000 lb. (453-kg) Guernsey cow named Elm Farm Ollie, who was owned by Sunnymede Farms in Bismarck, North Dakota. Valued at $2,000 (nearly $30,000 today), Ollie has the honor of being the first cow ever to fly in an airplane. Not only was she the first cow ever to fly, Ollie also became the first cow ever to be milked during a flight. Along for the flight were four reporters, a newsreel cameraman, a radio announcer, and two attendants to care and milk for Ollie.

And just why would anyone place a cow on an airplane in the first place? Basically to demonstrate that prize cattle can be transported from one place to another by air.

At an elevation of 5,000 feet (about 1.5-km), Ollie soared through the clouds at an estimated speed of 135 miles per hour (217 km/h) in her specially prepared stall. As she munched away on hay, Wisconsin resident Elsworth W. Bunce became the first man ever to milk a cow mid-flight. Quite the honor…

As the plane descended, 25 half-pint paper containers of milk were parachuted down to the crowd that was watching from below. One quart was set aside to be presented to Charles Lindbergh, who was scheduled to arrive at the show a day or two later.

Sunnymede Ollie
Image of Sunnymede Ollie from the March 4, 1930 issue of the Altoona Tribune on page 3.
 

Moons of Mars Made by Martians

On May 1, 1959, it was reported that Soviet scientist Iosif Shklovsky had found evidence that the two moons of Mars, Phobos and Deimos, may be artificial. In other words, they may have been placed in orbit by Martians.

Shklovsky had studied data that had been collected by others and concluded that Phobos, in particular, was most likely hollow inside with what could be something like a thin sheet metal exterior. Its behavior could not be explained by comparing it to any known natural satellite in our solar system. Instead, it behaved much like the artificial satellites that man had placed in orbit around Earth. The logical conclusion was that Martians had placed the two moons into orbit some two or three million years prior.

Further study later determined that the data that Shklovsky used to make these predictions, which he did not collect himself, had systematic errors. It’s not that Shklovsky did bad science – the whole Martian idea excluded – it’s just that he had really bad data to work with.

A number of space probes have since been sent to study these two moons. Today we are certain that they are solid, naturally made, and very similar to many of the asteroids out there.

Color image of Phobos
Color image of Phobos taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on March 23, 2008. NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona image.
 

Woman Befriends Rats

May 17, 1929 – A sanitary inspector in London visited the Platts Lane home of 80-year-old Rachel Willard after receiving numerous complaints from her neighbors. They had claimed that Mrs. Willard had not only been harboring rats in her garden, but that she was also providing them with food.

She refused admittance to the inspector and pushed two letters under the door, one of which read, “I refused admission to your officer because I consider as a free citizen I have fulfilled my duty to the little country rats who came into my garden – dear little voles – and also because I object to be considered the scapegoat of Platts Lane.”

Mrs. Willard was ordered to appear before a judge at the Hampstead Police Court in London. After the inspector testified that her home was infested with ordinary household rats, Mrs. Willard began her cross examination of the inspector. The judge had heard more than enough and opted to adjourn the case.

Rat
Sketch of a rat from the 1834 publication "A System of natural history : containing scientific and popular descriptions of man, quadrupeds, birds, fishes, reptiles and insects" on page 238.
 

Loses Job for Taking Out a Personal Ad

In early August of 1956, 22-year-old Vida Hutto took an ad out in a Houston newspaper seeking a husband.  She was seeking a man who was “Fairly handsome, Protestant, dependable, likes to fish and earns at least $400 monthly.” That would be about $3700/month today.

Vida said that she decided to place the ad in the newspaper because she had tired of seeing all of her friends getting married while she remained single.  While she did have numerous male friends, none met her standards for a husband.

The text of her personal ad was fairly ordinary, but her boss flipped out when he learned of its existence.  Soon, the young stenographer was not only looking for a husband, she was also looking for a new job after he fired her.

Luckily, all of the publicity from her firing led to her phone ringing off the hook continuously.  If you would like to call her, the number in Houston is Hillcrest 2-3788. My guess is that she no longer has that number…

Vida Hutto
In 1956, 22-year-old Vida Hutto placed an ad in the newspaper for a husband. Image from the August 23, 1956 issue of the Ithaca Journal on page 16.

 

Needed a Husband to Pay Off Debt

In January of 1952, 39-year-old Jane Gorden was visiting friends in Shalimar, Florida when she decided to place an ad in the Montgomery, Alabama Advertiser for a husband to help pay off her $6,000 in debt (approximately $56,000 adjusted for inflation).  

During her one week search, she had rejected about fifteen men from Alabama and Florida, but was interested in another from Texas.

As to how she accumulated so much debt, $4,000 of it came from an apartment fire in 1949 that caused her to lose everything including all of her furniture and clothing.  The remaining $2,000 was from her identical twin’s medical bills, who had since passed on.

Couple Kissing
Jane Gorden (not in this image) placed an ad in the Montgomery, Alabama Advertiser seeking a husband to help pay off her debt.

 

Wife Must Be Of Sound Wind and Limb

Wanted – A wife. Must be between 40 and 65 years of age, sound of wind and limb, and of cheerful nature. I have comfortable home to offer and am eligible for old-age pension. See or write Ezra Worden, Three Lakes, Wis.

That was the ad that Ezra Worden wished to place in the classified section of the Rhinelander Daily News, but its editor decided that he was worthy of a complete story in their October 11, 1935 issue.

At the time Ezra was 74 years of age. He claimed to be in excellent health and said that he had recently picked 700 bushels of potatoes and during the last blueberry season he garnered 350 quarts of berries. He had been married twice before, his last marriage lasted thirty-seven years, but both wives had died.

Over 400 women from all over the country responded to Ezra’s request, but in the end he chose 52-year-old Mrs. Maggie Cornwall. She was twice widowed and lived nearby in Crescent, Wisconsin.

The two were married on the evening of November 5, 1935 in a ceremony that was witnessed by hundreds of people. A dance was held at the Three Lakes school gymnasium and the happy couple was left to live the rest of their lives together.

Did they succeed?

You betcha. When Ezra Worden died on October 20, 1951 at 90-years of age, the couple had been married for nearly sixteen years.

Ezra Worden's Grave
Ezra Worden tombstone at the Forest Home Cemetery in
Rhinelander, Wisconsin. (Image from Find-A-Grave – Click on image to go to listing.)

 

Don’t Drink Sunlight Dish Detergent

On July 15, 1982 the Maryland Poison Control Center in Baltimore reported that 33 adults and 46 children had consumed a brand new lemon-scented dishwashing liquid named Sunlight.

Apparently free samples of the new soap had been mailed by manufacturer Lever Brothers throughout the mid-Atlantic States and as part of their product launch. I even remember my mom getting a bottle in the mail.

The bright yellow bottles featured a picture of a lemon slice along text indicating that the soap was made with “Real Lemon Juice.” You know what happened next. The bottle clearly stated “Caution: Harmful if Swallowed,” but people went right ahead and used it as lemon juice.

Whether they added it to their iced tea or whatever, the results were not pleasant. Most typically experienced nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and sore throats, but none were serious.

Should one accidentally consume it, Poison Control advised to simply drink lots of water or milk to dilute it. Better yet: don’t drink it at all.

Sunlight Coupon
Coupon for Sunlight Dish Detergent from the December 8, 1982 publication of the Morristown, NJ Daily Record.
 

Glue Sniffing Fad

On July 5, 1962, Arizona state authorities tried to calm the public by telling them that the latest craze of glue sniffing was just a fad.

While there were calls to ban the sale of glue to minors and the public was in somewhat of a panic over how to deal with this situation, statistics did not back it up.

Statewide, records showed that there had been no fatalities or permanent damage from the sniffing of glue. Sixty-eight juveniles had been arrested for doing illegal things as the result of glue sniffing, but it was pointed out that this was far less than the number of teens arrested for alcohol consumption.

It was also noted that a number of cases were not reported to the police. Of those, there were reported cases of blindness, mental impairment, and addiction.
Most of the kids had been sniffing plastic model glue, which is more technically known as polystyrene cement. It’s active ingredient is Toluene and its effects were, in general, minor.

In 1967, Charles Miller, who was the president of Testor Corp, the leading manufacturer of model cars and airplanes, charged his employees to come up with a way to keep people from sniffing the glue to get high. Their solution was simple: horseradish was added to the glue. Miller shared this secret ingredient with all of his competitors and received a presidential letter of commendation for his efforts.

A bit of trivia about this is that Miller was the father of actress Susan St. James. She is mostly retired today, but you may remember her from her lead roles in McMillan and WIfe and Kate and Allie.

Vintage Model Glues
Vintage polystyrene glues from Pinterest.
 
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Exercise Fad is Dangerous

On October 27, 1939, the American Medical Association’s health magazine Hygeia printed a warning written by Dr. Henry A. Christian of Brookline, Massachusetts that the fad of excessive exercise was dangerous to one’s health.

In what is good news for all of you couch potatoes out there, the good doctor advised, “Moderate body activity, short of causing fatigue, is desirable for all, but this is entirely different from what is usually meant by exercise.”

He continued, “Most pernicious is the habit – so common in America – of the week-end or all-day golf game or the brief vacation with the days filled with incessant activity, often leads a life nearly devoid of physical exertion.”

Dr. Christian contended, “All too often people collapse or die as the result of unwanted exertion or precipitate an attack of serious heart disturbance, which then necessitates weeks of enforced rest.”

He did offer the following advice, “Here is a good rule to follow: If after one hour of relaxed rest, one is still conscious of considerable fatigue, next time shorten the amount or decrease the vigor of the exercise.”

Exercise an American Fetish
Exercise an American Fetish by Henry A. Christian appeared in the October 1939 issue of Hygeia on page 968. Click on the image to read the article.
 

Safety Buttons Proven Unsafe

It seems like an annual event every Christmas here in the United States. The Consumer Product Safety Commission issues warnings about unsafe toys.

In 1974, the commission once again embarked upon a campaign with the important message to “Think Toy Safety.” Bumper stickers were printed up, ads were prepared for newspapers, radio, and television, and pamphlets were distributed to bring attention to potentially dangerous toys.

They missed one big one, however. They had 80,000 buttons made that said “For kid’s sake, think toy safety.” They should have taken their own advice. Safety tests showed that the paint used to manufacture the buttons had excessive amounts of lead, sharp edges, and small parts that a child could easily swallow. They were forced to recall all of the dangerous pins. Luckily, none had been distributed to the public yet. They were all still sitting in regional commission offices and easily collected.

A spokesman said that commission would have to pick up the $1,700 cost (about $8,400 adjusted for inflation), since they never specified in their contract with the manufacturer that the buttons had to be safe.

Think Toy Safety Buttons Recalled
In 1974 the Consumer Product Safety Commission had to recall 80,000 of their own Think Toy Safety buttons. Image appeared on page 1 of the November 17, 1974 issue of the Dubuque Telegraph Herald.