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