War, France, and Chicory – The Little Blue Flower Along the Road

Food, History
Perhaps you've seen along the roadside, some plants rising above their surroundings with pert little blue flowers that look like the cross of a dandelion with an aster. This is the common chicory, Latin name Cichorium intybus. They are considered weeds, and to be honest, the stalk that supports the flowers does little to improve their appearance. Yet, this unobtrusive plant is of positive interest historically. France! In France for instance, chicory, for the coffee drinker, was welcome. In his conflict with England, Napoleon wanted to wreak havoc on their economic system. He, with the cooperation of some other countries, enacted a blockade. There were ramifications that led to a shortage of coffee. [caption id="attachment_26921" align="alignright" width="400"] Amazingly large roots![/caption] It was already known that properly processed root of the…
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Spanish Flu Developed for Germ Warfare? By the Allies?

Health, History
[caption id="attachment_26871" align="alignright" width="480"] Death certificate - Warren Larue Torbert[/caption] Worrisome influenza pandemics of the 20th Century included the Spanish Flu (1918), the Asian Flu (1957), and the Hong Kong Flu (1968). There was also an anticipated pandemic that never really reached that status, the Swine Flu. Of these, the Spanish Influenza Pandemic was in a ballpark by itself. It is estimated the Spanish Flu sent half-a-billion people to bed and killed perhaps half-a-million of them. Burials in mass graves were part of the times. To many of us, the names of these viral illnesses seem to suggest their point of origin, the place of the first occurrence of illness. However, this is not the case for the Spanish Flu. So where did it first appear? [caption id="attachment_26874" align="alignright" width="400"]…
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My Very Irish Ancestor – He Had Two Names?

Genealogy, History
[caption id="attachment_26733" align="alignright" width="480"] Fall River, Massachusetts (Winter 1896)[/caption]My last name is Summers. However, our ancestors spelled it Sommers. Dad changed it when he enlisted in the Army. Earlier, he signed his social security application with an "o" not a "u". His father spelled it John Sommers. His father was John Sommers as well. Or, was it William Keefe? You see, my Irish great-grandfather had an alias; he had two names. Why? And how did I learn of his alias? My Irish Ancestor: the Scenario Nothing else provides the pleasure of playing detective as researching the family tree! I began the journey in the 1980s. It didn't take long for me to "locate" my father's father's father, an Irish ancestor. He was born in Fall River, Massachusetts on the 29th…
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The 1793 Terror: The Yellow Fever Epidemic

Health, History
[caption id="attachment_26643" align="alignright" width="480"] Yellow fever virus[/caption]Have you ever heard of Yellow Fever? Different diseases affect human society to differing degrees. In the in the United States, one now seldom-mentioned illness severely threatened the existence of a major city with a populace approaching 50,000 (a sizeable number at the time). The famous Dr. Benjamin Rush called it Bilious Remitting Yellow Fever. Nearly 10% of the city died. In fact, the Federal government itself, including George Washington, had to quickly relocate! Some cities refused to accept refugees. The Time, The Place, The Cause The time was approximately August of 1793, and for a while thereafter. The place was Philadelphia. The vector seems to have been the female Aedes aegypti mosquito. The infection originated possibly from Santo Domingo, as a result of…
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What is a Cubeb? The Author of Tarzan Knew – Do You?

Health, History
Cubebs? I'm one of those rare guys who likes to watch musicals. One of my favorites is "The Music Man" starring Robert Preston, Shirley Jones, and that features Buddy Hackett and Pert Kelton. "Professor" Harold Hill (Preston) attempts to con the town of River City, Iowa into buying musical instruments. Upon arrival of the instruments, he offers to institute the 1st River City boy's band. They are an unexcitable people, however, so he warns the people their children are threatened by the arrival of a pool table. Such a vice, he advises, will lead into such bad practices as smoking cubeb cigarettes. "Ya Got Trouble" Since it is a musical, the music man sings of the danger in this song... What is a Cubeb Cigarette? A cubeb is a cigarette…
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Race, War, Indigo and Coffee in the 19th Century U.S.

History, People
Indigo is a dyestuff originally derived, at least partly, from Indigofera tinctoria, a small shrub in the bean family. The dye is produced from the leaves of the plant by fermentation. The organic compound indican, is converted into indigotin, or indigo by hydrolysis and oxidation. Today, there are synthetic commercial methods for indigo preparation. Post Civil War In 1862, before the end of the Civil War, the U.S. officially recognized the Republic of Liberia in West Africa. Before the war, some "free-born" members of the black race emigrated to Liberia. It was believed that nation might prove a land of opportunity. The country was poor, but there were possibilities. One of those possibilities involved the manufacture of indigo dyestuff. A distant relation of mine, John O'Neale Stockham of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania…
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From Acids to Superacids: From Lavoisier to Olah

Chemistry, History
Acid theory evolved in stages. Our understanding of what constitutes an acid has improved, but that is not all. As a result of our better understanding, acids of greatly increased strength – superacids – have become available, as well. Early Acid Theory – Lavoisier [caption id="attachment_24574" align="alignleft" width="240"] Lavoisier & wife[/caption] The 18th century French chemist, Antoine Laurent Lavoisier, later guillotined by French revolutionaries, developed a theory of acids inaccurately based on a required presence of oxygen. This theory lasted into the 19th century. Its popular downfall was prompted by its undue restrictions on what constitutes an acid. Many acids contain no oxygen whatsoever. Hydrogen and Acids – Baron Justus von Liebig [caption id="attachment_24577" align="alignright" width="240"] Leibig[/caption] Although there was no detailed theory, credit should be given to Justus von…
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Pirates: Where Does the “Black Spot” Come From?

History, The Arts
Movies and TV shows featuring Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday and their supposed exploits usually deviated enormously from reality. Even when there was a grain of truth, the productions were often encased in fictitious chaff. But Westerns were not the only shows we craved. Pirates were an enormous favorite as well. Captain Kidd, Blackbeard, Henry Morgan, were popular Hollywood fare for a buccaneer-hungry public. Fictional Pirates [caption id="attachment_24548" align="alignright" width="300"] Jim Hawkins and Long John Silver with his parrot[/caption] Ned Buntline and Zane Grey enthralled the young with action/adventure stories of the 'Wild and Wooly West'. Robert Louis Stevenson gave us cowboys of the seas in his salty novel Treasure Island. Treasure Island features Long John Silver, the peg-leg buccaneer, and his band of misfits. Included in…
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Introducing Nutmeg: A Little History, A Little Chemistry

Food, History
[caption id="attachment_24498" align="alignright" width="480"] Grate nutmeg just before use.[/caption] Once, at the grocery store with my wife, the checkout girl picked up a small green bundle and rang it up. She wondered what it was. We informed her, it was asparagus. It shocked the two of us that anyone could fail to know what asparagus was. Introducing Nutmeg As with asparagus, I wonder how many people don't know what nutmeg is? Since it is used in sweets, perhaps only a small number. But how many people, if asked what nutmeg is, would say "It is a can of spice you buy at the store." The word nutmeg refers to a spice. But it also refers to the seed that is grated to produce the spice. Nutmeg grows on trees (Myristica…
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Gutta Percha: From Underwater Cables to Golf Balls to Dental Work

Chemistry, History
[caption id="attachment_24465" align="alignright" width="340"] From the 1851 book: Gutta Percha, Its Discovery, History, and Manifold Uses[/caption] Gutta percha thermoplastic¹ is a tough and leathery resinous produced from the milky fluid tapped from certain trees. Isoprene is an extremely important building block widespread in nature. The main component of gutta percha is, in fact, the trans-1,4-isomer of polyisoprene. The cis-1,4,-isomer is, interestingly enough, the primary constituent of natural rubber. It is produced from the milky fluid tapped from "other" trees. The reason for the considerable difference in physical characteristics between rubber and gutta percha (or, rather the trans and cis isomers of polypropylene) is the greater crystalline character of the trans isomer. Notice the difference between the trans and cis isomers in Image 2. How do these isomers differ? Synthesis from…
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