History Monday #93

Going up…

A new week begins, and I could give you an elevator pitch of the event, but I’ll keep it to the usual length of a #HistoryMonday post. Now that I’m back to writing for my own personal edification instead of for academics, I don’t have to worry about too little length or citations. Anyways, let’s get to the event of focus.

Elisha Otis demonstrating the safety of his elevator

On this day in 1857, Elisha Otis installs his first safety elevator in a commercial application. Even after having demonstrated its safety four years earlier at the Worlds Fair, he was only able to achieve minimal success. Thanks to his sons’ efforts in the ensuing years, the Otis Elevator Company they founded with their father success would come shortly after.

The key to the success of Otis’s elevator was the safe descent after having lifted cargo or passengers. Hoists already existed that could move objects to higher locations, but fears of stress on safety ropes plagued many elevator users. Otis showed his elevator was safe despite the rope being cut thanks to Otis’s safety brake for elevators.

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Otis Elevator Company would change the composition of buildings. With safer means of transporting goods and people in buildings, these structures could be built more than a few stories while avoiding the arduous flights of stairs. Eventually, the structure that defines city skylines—the skyscraper owes its success to the elevator.

Beyond the original elevator being installed in the building on Broadway in New York, many more elevators were included in buildings constructed after 1857 and by 1860 the Otis Elevator Company was achieving more success than Elisha Otis could have predicted. Sadly, the greatest success was experienced by his sons, as Elisha passed away in 1860.

Elevators also created the new job of elevator operator, who were required to operate the levers guiding the ascent or descent of the car. Many of these operators were African-Americans who needed jobs post-slavery. As this profession grew, a union of the workers was organized in 1917. Eventually as elevators employed an automated system, the elevator operators were no longer needed.

Otis Elevator Company has become one of the most recognized elevator manufacturers thanks to the success of the elevator Elisha Otis invented. As the company continued to grow and install elevators in numerous buildings worldwide, the company also popularized the escalator and until 1950 had a near-exclusive claim on the term for the moving staircase. But as escalator became the default name for the moving staircase, Otis Elevator Company was unable to retain the trademark. So, escalators can be made by not just Otis but other elevator companies.

Where’s your favorite elevator you’ve ridden in?

History Monday #91

Let’s go to the art show

Another week is upon us, and that means it’s time to discuss an event in history, and today’s event is all about being framed. Now, this isn’t about people being unfairly convicted of a crime, but about works of art being celebrated and displayed. Today’s #HistoryMonday looks at of all things an art show that was the first of its kind in the United States.

On this day in 1913, the International Exhibition of Modern Art opens in the National Guard’s 69th Regiment Armory in New York City. The location of this exhibition would give it its more familiar name, the Armory Show.

Art shows in the United States were nothing new in 1913 of course, but this show featured works of modern art. Among this classification, styles like Fauvism, Cubism, and Futurism were observed by Americans for the first time. These schools had already achieved acclaim in Europe, but now had a chance for Americans to see these new works.

The exhibition was informally organized by a handful of artists in 1911. As they and other influential folks in the art world had continued discussion, they formed the Association of American Painters and Sculptors (AAPS) to promote contemporary art. After forming as the AAPS, the members began to plan the International Exhibition of Modern Art, and selected the Armory for its large space needed to display the works of art.

Image result for nude descending a staircase
Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 by Marcel Duchamp (one of the works featured at the Armory Show)

Conceptual artist Marcel Duchamp drew the most attention for his Cubist/Futurist work Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2. The work features successive images of a human figure superimposed on each other in a Cubist style. These images are similar to stop motion art like flip books and cartoons. Although the Cubist style makes the human features indistinguishable, the title gained attention. Even Pres. Teddy Roosevelt who saw the work disparaged it, comparing a Navajo rug as a better work of art than Duchamp’s. Other well-known artists featured in the show include Pablo Picasso, Mary Cassatt, Paul Cézanne, and Wassily Kandinsky just to name a few.

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Oddly enough, this was the only exhibition that the AAPS mounted. The organization did take the show to two more locations after the success in New York City. The second city to feature the show was not surprisingly the Second City—Chicago at the Art Institute of Chicago nearly a month after its opening in New York. The final location was at The Copley Society of Art in Boston, although the works by American artists were soon removed from the show as this location lacked enough space for all the works.

Many who observed the modern art were scandalized by the shift from realism that had existed in the centuries prior. The odd use of colors, subjects, and unconventional techniques caused many to question the legitimacy of the works as art. Like Pres. Roosevelt’s critique of Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, many others lampooned or criticized the newer works as folly and not worth the attention of serious artistic folks.

Not everyone was opposed to the newer art and many found elements of art in the works featured in the show. The exhibition has been recreated in other locations in the United States during the 20th Century, including one in 1966 featuring performance artists at the 69th Regiment Armory. Centennial celebrations of the show were held in a handful of locations in 2013 including the 69th Regiment Armory and the Art Institute of Chicago like the original show.

As modern art has given way to postmodernism, other art shows have featured even more unconventional and provocative works. Of course, as the envelope is pushed further each successive generation, the debate draws more attention to the shows than if presented without the debate. Admittedly, much of the modern art and postmodern art is not my cup of tea, and I probably would side with Pres. Roosevelt and others that satirize and critique the newer and unconventional art.

Do you like works of art by Picasso, Duchamp, or Cassatt?

History Monday #76

The city that never sleeps needs a nightlight

In a New York minute everything can change. Admittedly, today’s event took longer than a New York minute, however long of a measure that time is. So, start spreading the news, an important structure demonstrated that its construction brought light to inspire so many including this #HistoryMonday post.

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On this day in 1886, The Statue of Liberty is completed, and dedicated by Pres. Grover Cleveland. Originally a gift of friendship from the people of France in commemoration of the centennial anniversary of the Declaration of Independence and Franco-American relations during the American Revolution, the statue is erected in the New York Harbor just over a decade later.

The official name of the statue is “Liberty Enlightening the World,” and was conceived by French historian Edouard de Laboulaye during the American Civil War in 1865. Following this conception, French sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, designed the 151-foot statue depicting Columbia personified as a woman with an uplifted arm holding a torch. The steel supports for the structure of the statue were designed by Eugene-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc and Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel, the latter famous for his design of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The exterior covering of the statue was made of copper. The tablet in Liberty’s hand is inscribed with July IV MDCCLXXVI which denotes the Fourth of July in Roman numerals.

Congress had approved a site for the statue in February 1877 Bedloe’s Island, upon a suggestion by Bartholdi. Harper’s Weekly and other enterprising individuals helped to encourage fundraising efforts to build the statue.

By May 1884, the statue was completed in France, and three months later the Americans laid the cornerstone for its pedestal in New York Harbor. Nearly a year later, the Statue of Liberty arrived with building instructions for the Americans.

As the copper sheets were attached to the statue and the last rivet of the monument was fitted on October 28, 1886, Pres. Cleveland along with numerous French and American dignitaries celebrated the accomplishment.

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Eventually the pedestal was inscribed with a sonnet “The New Colossus,” by American poet Emma Lazarus with aspirational verses for incoming émigrés in 1892. This was done thanks to nearby Ellis Island, which served as the chief entry station for immigrants to the United States, for the next 32 years. Lady Liberty as the statue has been euphemized, was one of the first sights for new immigrants to the U.S. before being processed at Ellis Island.

By the 20th Century, the copper had begun to oxidize, and the statue took on its now iconic green hue. The torch in the right arm didn’t suffer this fate as it was coated with a golden covering over the copper-plating.

Ralph Pulitzer, publisher of the New York World began a campaign in 1916 to illuminate the area and celebrate its importance in New York. Eventually in 1924, Pres. Coolidge designated the statue as a National Monument. The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island would eventually become a single entity as a National Monument. By 1956, Bedloe’s Island was renamed Liberty Island.

The statue underwent major restorations in the 1980s, the early 2000s, and even the last decade. A new standalone Statue of Liberty Museum began construction in 2016 that would offer access to many more visitors beyond those that visit the museum located in the pedestal. This new museum opened in May of this year.

Among similar notable statues, the Statue of Liberty is ranked by height somewhere around the 3rd spot depending on the list. Ahead of the Statue of Liberty are a statue dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi’s deputy Prime Minister and the Spring Temple Buddha. The Statue of Liberty is thus taller than Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Michelangelo’s David in Florence, Italy. Nicknamed the New Colossus in Emma Lazarus’s poem, the Statue of Liberty is also twice as large as the original Colossus at Rhodes. The Statue of Liberty is able to accomplish this thanks to its pedestal being nearly as tall as the statue itself. Among American statues, the Statue of Liberty is second in height, being beaten by Birth of the New World/Estatua de Colón located in Arecibo, Puerto Rico commemorating the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World.

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New York’s iconic skyline is easily recognizable with the inclusion of the Statue of Liberty. Even post-apocalyptic works of television and film feature pieces of the statue as a clue to the location of the characters in the work, chief among these is 1968’s Planet of the Apes. Likenesses of the statue are also included as part of political and athletic logos, including the New York Rangers, the New York Liberty, and the Libertarian Party. References and likenesses of the Statue of Liberty are often paired with Uncle Sam as the female counterpart to America personified.

Have you visited the Statue of Liberty?

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