October 21: Designer of the Trimline Phone
Industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss’ Trimline telephone was put into service (in Michigan) for the first time on this date in 1963. The Trimline moved the dial and a hang-up button away from the phone’s base and onto the handpiece, which made it possible to make calls without hovering near the phone. In 1977, Fortune magazine selected it as one of the country’s 25 best-designed products. Dreyfuss, born in Brooklyn in 1902, was responsible for the Big Ben alarm clock by Westclox (1939), the Twentieth Century Limited train (1938), the John Deere Model A and Model B tractors (1938), the Honeywell T87 circular wall thermostat (1953), two American steamships, and various telephones, vacuum cleaners, typewriters, cameras, and other appliances of the mid-20th century. He was also the first president of the Industrial Designers Society of America. In 1972, after his wife, Doris Marks, was diagnosed with a terminal illness, the couple committed suicide through carbon monoxide poisoning in their car.
“I have washed clothes, cooked, driven a tractor, run a Diesel locomotive, spread manure, vacuumed rugs, and ridden in an armored tank. I have operated a sewing machine, a telephone switchboard, a corn picker, a lift truck, a turret lathe, and a linotype machine. . . . I wore a hearing aid for a day and almost went deaf.” —Henry Dreyfuss
October 20: The African Explorer
Mehmet Emin Pasha, born Eduard Schnitzer to German Jewish parents who baptized him in the Catholic Church at the age of 2, died on this date in 1892, age 52, after a career as a physician, explorer, and colonial governor of Turkish-controlled northern Albania and British-controlled Equatoria (now South Sudan). He “contributed vastly to the knowledge of African geography, natural history, ethnology, and languages,” according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “. . . made extensive and valuable surveys, and also brought an end to slavery in the region.” During the Islamic jihadi uprising known as the Mahdi (in the 1880s), Emin was “rescued” by Henry (“Dr. Livingstone, I presume”) Stanley, whose expedition went up the Congo River and through the Ituri Forest, an arduous journey that resulted in the loss of two-thirds of Stanley’s expedition. According to the New York Times, however, “Emin Pasha didn’t actually want to be rescued at all. Remote as his situation was, he was much better equipped than Stanley, who more or less had to force him to come out.” Emin spoke Turkish, Albanian, and Greek as well as other European languages, and was widely regarded as a Muslim, although his actual conversion is in doubt. His death came at the hands of Arab slave-raiders in the Congo.
“Though Emin Pasha published no books, he wrote many valuable papers on Africa for German journals and forwarded rich and varied collections of animals and plants to Europe.” —Encyclopedia Brittanica
October 19: Workman Publishing
Peter Workman, founder of one of America’s last successful independent publishers, Workman Publishing, was born in Great Neck, New York on this date in 1938. He founded Workman as a book packager and promoter in 1967, and built it into a company that launched about forty titles per year, with one of every three achieving sales figures of over 100,000 copies — and with two-thirds of its books still in print forty years after its founding. Among his bestsellers were The Silver Palate Cookbook, B. Kliban’s Cat, The Official Preppy Handbook, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, Sandra Boynton’s series of children’s books, 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, and its boxed Page-A-Day Calendar series. Peter Workman was also the founder of Artisan, a press that has produced expensive and enduring books such as The French Laundry Cookbook, and of several other imprints, including Algonquin, Black Dog & Leventhal, Storey, and Timber. He died at 74 in 2013.
“His whole philosophy boiled down to two simple but very radical ideas: Trust your instincts when it comes to telling the reader what he doesn’t yet realize what he wants, and don’t make the reader work too hard to get the message. Peter was a master marketer — he knew how to sell books at all levels: to the readers, to the booksellers, to the salesmen who sold to the booksellers.” —Helen Rosner
October 18: Queen of the Oldies
Brill Building lyricist Cynthia Weil, whose collaboration with her husband Barry Mann produced such hits songs as “Blame It on the Bossa Nova” (Eydie Gormé), “Hungry” (Paul Revere and the Raiders), “Looking Through the Eyes of Love” (Gene Pitney), “On Broadway” and “Saturday Night at the Movies” (The Drifters), “Only in America” (Jay and the Americans), “Walking in the Rain” (The Ronettes), “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” (The Animals), “(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration” (The Righteous Brothers), and many, many others, was born in New York on this date in 1940. In 1987, she and Mann were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and in 2011 they received the Johnny Mercer Songwriting Award. “Weil’s lyrics helped shape the rebellious attitude that came to characterize the decade” of the 1960s, writes a reviewer at Biography.com. “She wrote about real people with real problems and wasn’t afraid to tackle hot-button topics like racism, war, and urban decay. She was also one of the most emotionally honest and provocative lyricists of her time, writing love songs that resonated widely.”
“In this dirty old part of the city/where the sun refuses to shine/people tell me there ain’t no use in trying…” —”We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” Cynthia Weil
October 17: The Creator of Norplant
Sheldon Segal, a biochemist who in 1991 developed Norplant, a progestin-based, slow-release subcutaneous birth control treatment, died at 83 on this date in 2009. Norplant proved to be a controversial medical device and was ultimately removed from the market twelve years after it was approved by the FDA. By then, several judges had ordered its implantation into poor or mentally incompetent women, which Segal vociferously protested: “I am,” he wrote to the New York Times, “totally and unalterably opposed to the use of Norplant for any coercive or involuntary purpose. It was developed to improve reproductive freedom, not to restrict it.” Segal also developed intrauterine devices and spent five decades improving women’s birth control; according to James Sailer of the Population Council, which first hired Segal as assistant medical director in 1956, “We estimate that something like 120 million women around the world have used a contraceptive device developed under Shelly’s leadership.” In 1970, he founded the International Committee for Contraception Research, an international clearinghouse to promote contraceptives that could be used around the world. Segal argued in the late1990s that a monthly menstrual cycle is not “natural” or beneficial to women, who through most of human history would menstruate infrequently because of frequent pregnancies, child nursing, and physical demands.
‘Birth control that really works: Every night before we go to bed we spend an hour with our kids.” —Roseanne Barr
October 16: A Living Heart
The first film of the inside of a living heart was shown at the New York Academy of Medicine on this date in 1951, the product of two Jewish surgeons, Dr. Adrian Kantrowitz and Dr. Elliott Hurwitt, and Antol Herskovitz, a medical photographer. A Cinematographic Study of the Function of the Mitral Valve in Situ showed the opening and closing of the mitral valve in a dog’s heart, a part of the heart often affected by rheumatic fever. Dr. Kantrowitz supervised the creation of the film as he was developing an artificial left heart for use as a component in a heart-lung machine for use during open-heart surgery. He also developed an implantable artificial pacemaker, performed the first heart transplant in the U.S., in 1967, and was the first doctor to enable paraplegic patients to move their limbs by electronically triggering their muscles.
“My mother [a costume designer for the Ziegfeld Follies] told me from the age of 3 that I wanted to be a doctor.” —Adrian Kantrowitz
October 15: In the Brest Litowsk Ghetto
The Nazis began to liquidate their recently established Jewish ghetto in Brest Litowsk, Belarus on this date in 1942, shipping the internees outside the ghetto for massacre, then conducting a manhunt for those hiding in bunkers. Some Jews who managed to flee joined partisan units operating in the forests; Hana Ginzberg of Brest would be remembered as an outstanding partisan (more information on her would be welcome). When the city was liberated in July 1944, there were less than ten Jews to be found out of 30,000 in 1941. The following is a diary excerpt by Asher Zisman: “The courtyard of the Mizrachi building on Dluga St is full of people. There is great panic. They even buy poison to prepare for every eventuality…. From mouth to ear it was silently whispered that tonight it would begin… those who returned from the Aryan side report that the police were massing and preparing to surround the ghetto…. The senses are dulled, one waits for death. From our hiding place we can hear the Jews being taken away like cattle in carriages to Bronnaya Gora…. Nine people lie in our hiding place, half dead…. We are filthy, unshaven and half blind. It is already 2 months that we are lying there hungry and thirsty — tightly squashed together. We ran out of water — the murderers filled the well in the courtyard with stones and wood…. From outside terrible screams reach us — somewhere the police have discovered a hiding place. I can see how they lead a woman and small child — it’s Hannah Nussenbaum’s daughter with her daughter and other Jews. Their cries are deafening…. Mrs. Dolinski left our hiding place and surrendered to her executioners, asking to be shot…. We possess only 4 more matches — we only cook in the middle of the night — we are preparing for death.”
“In mid-1942 an underground resistance movement, led by Arieh Scheinman, came into existence in the ghetto and planned an uprising when the Germans came to liquidate the ghetto. Its members also raised funds to buy arms for fighting groups in the forests. But the Soviet unit that made contacts with them turned out to be a gang of robbers and many underground fighters were murdered.” —Jewish Virtual Library
October 14: Emma Lazarus on Ward’s Island
Emma Lazarus was on Ward’s Island as a volunteer with the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) on this date in 1882 when rioting broke out among Jewish immigrants, who were flooding New York from Russia at the rate of about 2,000 per month because of the outbreak of pogroms throughout Russia after the assassination of Tsar Alexander II. According to a newspaper account published in Pennsylvania, the “revolt among the Russian Jewish refugees” resulted from “harsh treatment by Superintendant Shattuck. A squad of half a dozen police were sent over to the island, but were routed by the rioters after clubbing one of them senseless. Later in the evening, one hundred police were sent to the scene, but the trouble had quieted down.” “The Jewish Question which I plunged into so recklessly & impulsively last Spring,” Lazarus wrote to Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, the daughter of Nathaniel Hawthorne, “has gradually absorbed more & more of my mind & heart… it has about driven out of my thought all other subjects.” Between November and the following February, Lazarus wrote her “Epistle to the Hebrews,” a weekly column that urged established American Jews (Lazarus was fourth-generation) to embrace the refugees, and in 1883 she would write “The New Colossus“, the magnificent sonnet that is engraved in the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.
“Emma Lazarus, the celebrated bard of free immigration, was badly shaken [by the riot] and, if only temporarily, adopted a frigidly Social Darwinist approach to the immigration problem.” —Derek Jonathan Penslar, Shylock’s Children
October 13: The Fact-Gatherer
Josephine Clara Goldmark, a social reformer of the Progressive Era who shaped the use of fact-gathering to win reform in the courts, was born in Brooklyn on this date in 1877. Working with the New York Consumer’s League, Goldmark recruited her brother-in-law, Louis Brandeis, to serve as the league’s attorney and compiled the “Brandeis Brief,” a 1908 report that prompted the U.S. Supreme Court to accept the constitutionality of an Oregon law limited the working day for women to ten hours. “Goldmark’s technique in that brief,” writes Kathryn Kish Sklar at the Jewish Women’s Archive, “the gathering and presentation of socially relevant facts… became the main instrument for shaping American law according to social need rather than judicial precedent.” Goldmark also wrote articles and pamphlets that helped drive reform of working conditions for women and children, and worked with the New York State committee that investigated the 1911 Triangle Fire. In 1912, she published a massive study, Fatigue and Efficiency, connecting shorter work hours to increased productivity, and in 1923 she published Nursing and Nursing Education in the United States, which helped reform nursing education.
Goldmark’s sisters: “Helen married the eminent Felix Adler, philosopher and founder of the Society for Ethical Culture in New York… Alice married the eminent Boston Jewish lawyer Louis Dembitz Brandeis, helping to radicalize Brandeis from moderate classical liberal to socialistic progressive…. Pauline, after graduating from Bryn Mawr in 1896, remained single, did graduate work at Columbia and Barnard in botany, zoology, and sociology, and then became assistant secretary of the New York Consumers League.” —Murray Rothbard, Origins of the Welfare State
October 12: The Printmaker
Mauricio Lasansky, whose varied and complex graphic and printmaking techniques helped advance printmaking as a major 20th-century art form, was born in Buenos Aires on this date in 1914. (His Lithuanian-born father, who came to Argentina via North America, spent some time working as a printer and engraver at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia.) Lasansky came to the U.S. in his late twenties as a Guggenheim Fellow and devoted himself to studying the print collection at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 1945, he established the influential printmaking workshop at the University of Iowa School of Art and Art History. He eventually trained numerous artists who founded such departments in other universities and colleges. Lasansky is best known for The Nazi Drawings, thirty-three life-size prints using lead pencil, collage, and water and turpentine-based washes, which he worked on intensively for six years before its 1967 debut at the Philadelphia Art Museum. His work is represented in nearly every major U.S. art museum. Lasansky died at 97 in 2012.
“I wanted them to be done with a tool used by everyone everywhere. From the cradle to the grave, meaning the pencil…. The Hitler years were in my belly, and I tried many times to do it. But I was too worldly about them, too aesthetic. The trouble was, I thought of them as art. But then I decided, the hell with it. Why don’t I just put down what I feel?” —Mauricio Lasansky