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December 16, 2008

Cooking the Book

Cover photo selection is one of our biggest challenges each year: how do you keep the photos timely and topical, when the cover has to go to press weeks before the final text pages are done? Even in years like this one, when we keep the book open long enough to include election and world series results, the cover still has to be wrapped up weeks before those events occur.

For the 2009 edition, we couldn't call the election four weeks early, so we had to give equal space to Obama and McCain; we couldn't predict the winner of the World Series, so we opted for a shot of Ken Griffey Jr., whose 600th home run was one of the most notable sports records of the year*; we didn't want to show too much national favoritism (and in an early fit of Phelpsomania, we had already put Mr. Eight Gold Medals on last year's cover), so we opted for a shot of waving Chinese and Olympic flags; and because the cover was wrapped up before the economic crisis really came to a head, we've got a shot of someone pumping gas — a reminder of what had been most people's major economic complaint in the first half of 2008.

AP080521036931-edit.JPGAnd, oh yeah... we had that other guy... what was his name again?

there are 3 pictures on the cover of the 2009 World Almanac... Obama & McCain, the Olympics, and DAVID COOK! Sweeet!

In retrospect, I guess we shouldn't be surprised — but I have never seen so much online chatter about World Almanac cover photo selection. Google "world almanac david cook" and you get gems like this:

Hmmmmm...what to put on the cover of the 2009 World Almanac? Let's see. Obama and McCain, the 2008 Olympics...and...DAVID COOK, of course.

Wow, David Cook makes the cover of the 2009 World Almanac along with Barack Obama, in the words of Posh Spice, that's MAJOR.

David Cook on the cover of The 2009 World Almanac and Book of Facts. Hmmm... who won American Idol in 2008? David... Cook! (Queue crying David Archuleta fans...)

For the record: the World Almanac does not decide wagers, and we do not have an official position on the issue of Cook v. Archuleta. Cook won American Idol, American Idol was the biggest thing on TV last year (and has been since the 2005-06 season; pp. 292-93 in the new World Almanac for more), and we just thought it made sense to put the biggest show on TV on our cover. Nothing more!**


*And never mind the additional debate that this selection triggered: record-setting Cincinnati uniform, or season-ending Chicago?

**But seriously, wasn't it all downhill for Archie after "Imagine"? ...I kid, I kid! (cue pitchfork-wielding Archuleta fans...)

Image: AP Images

December 9, 2008

Could You Pass a Citizenship Exam?

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If you think you fulfilled your civic duty by showing up at the polls November 4, think again. As The Tonight Show's "Jaywalking" segments and Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? have repeatedly and amply shown, many Americans' understanding of their own history and government is somewhat lacking. A new study from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute American Civic Liberties program, the perhaps melodramatically titled Our Fading Heritage: Americans Fail a Basic Test on Their History and Institutions, concurs.

The findings were based on the results of a multiple choice exam that included "33 straightforward civics questions, many of which high school graduates and new citizens are expected to know." 71 percent of the Americans who took the test failed it, with an average score of 49 percent. (Sample question: What was the source of the following phrase: "Government of the people, by the people, for the people"?)

Test your own civic literacy at ISI's website, where you can take the exam for yourself, and see if you can beat the average. Of course, if you feel like studying beforehand (or cheating), you can find most of the answers in The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2009 (pp. 435-530).

Civics Quiz

Photo: Dorothea Lange, LIFE, 1942 [via]

June 5, 2008

Free Access to Civil War Database Through June

0806CivilWar.jpgAlexander Street Press is offering free access to their online Civil War collection for all of June. It includes a comprehensive index of 4.3 million soldiers and thousands of battles, as well as databases for letters and diaries, newspapers and magazines, and photographs, posters, and ephemera.
As always, several government agencies, most notably the Library of Congress, have online Civil War archives that are always free.

The American Civil War Online [Alexander Street Press]
US Civil War: Selected Resources including Photographs and Maps [Library of Congress]
Civil War, forging a more perfect union [National Park Service]

"Antietam, Md. Battlefield on the day of the battle" from the Library of Congress' Selected Civil War Photographs collection

May 16, 2008

Top Baby Names of 2007

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The Social Security Administration released its list of most popular baby names for 2007 earlier this week. Jacob and Emily remained the top choices for boys and girls. Michael stayed the second most popular boy's name, while Isabella overtook Emma at the number two position for girls.
You can find the Top 10 First Names of Americans by Decade of Birth in The World Almanac 2008 on page 726.

Boys Top 10 2007: Jacob, Michael, Ethan, Joshua, Daniel, Christopher, Anthony, William, Matthew, Andrew

Boys Top 10 2006: Jacob, Michael, Joshua, Ethan, Matthew, Daniel, Christopher, Andrew, Anthony, William

Girls Top 10 2007: Emily, Isabella, Emma, Ava, Madison, Sophia, Olivia, Abigail, Hannah, Elizabeth

Girls Top 10 2006: Emily, Emma, Madison, Isabella, Ava, Abigail, Olivia, Hannah, Sophia, Samantha


Popular Baby Names [Social Security Administration]

CuTe BaBy from the Flickr page of 44444 U.A.E.

April 29, 2008

A Nation of Roads

ben fry - all streets.jpgA terrific visualization from Ben Fry (who has also updated his Salary vs. Performance page for the current baseball season):

All of the streets in the lower 48 United States: an image of 26 million individual road segments. No other features (such as outlines or geographic features) have been added to this image, however they emerge as roads avoid mountains, and sparse areas convey low population. The pace of progress is seen in the midwest where suburban areas are punctuated by square blocks of area that are still farm land.

Also of note to World Almanac fans: Fry's zipdecode, an interactive map of ZIP codes in the U.S., which does a fantastic job of, yes, decoding the numbering scheme for postal codes. Click on the image, type "Z," and then start tapping in your favorite ZIP codes.

More at benfry.com

February 13, 2008

Delegates, Super and Otherwise

supertuesdayvoting.jpgIn 2000, it seemed that everyone took a crash course on how the electoral college worked. This year's civics lesson seems to be about party delegates. Who are they? Where do they come from? Why do "superdelegates" harness such power!?

You're not alone. The Wikipedia entry on superdelegates was a stub until December 2007, but has undergone more than 100 edits since Super Tuesday.

Most news sites have picked up the issue:

Image: Voting in Super Tuesday Massachusetts from Financial Aid Podcast's Flickr stream

January 24, 2008

Gold!

0801Gold Rush.jpgJames W. Marshall was merely hired to build a sawmill for John Sutter along the American River at what is now Coloma, CA, but when he found small pieces of gold in the mill's tailrace on this day 160 years ago it touched off a rush for riches.

More than 100,000 people moved to California in the following years—so many that it entered the Union on Sept. 9, 1850 with the nickname "The Golden State." Very few made their riches through gold, but some found success in other ways, including Levi Strauss (jeans), James McClatchy (newspapers and publishing), and Leland Stanford (railroad tycoon and founder of Stanford Univ.).

The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco has a chronology of the gold rush and accounts by Marshall, Sutter, and several "Argonauts of 49" (49ers for short).

The California State Library has posted some of their manuscripts pertaining to the gold rush in an online exhibit of ephemera, including some by Marshall and Sutter.

The Gold Rush (Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco)
California As We Saw It (California State Library)
Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park

"Gum Shan Meets El Dorado" Quarter plate daguerreotype by J. B. Starkweather (c. 1852)

January 17, 2008

Flickr: The Library of Congress Pilot Project

rothstein-chute.jpgNo, it's not a World Almanac editor's meeting, though we do wear remarkably similar uniforms... this is a photo pulled from a terrific new collaboration between the Library of Congress and Flickr. The LOC has placed thousands of images from two major collections on Flickr, and invites the public to browse the collections and contribute tags, notes, and comments to individual photos. User-generated data might (or might not) end up in the LOC's own database; for the time being it's just a test program, focused on three major goals:

  • To share photographs from the Library's collections with people who enjoy images but might not visit the Library's own Web site.
  • To gain a better understanding of how social tagging and community input could benefit both the Library and users of the collections.
  • To gain experience participating in Web communities that are interested in the kinds of materials in the Library's collections.

There's really nothing more to say except: clear a few hours from your schedule, and start browsing some fascinating photographs.

Links:
Flickr: The Commons
Library of Congress Photos on Flickr (FAQ)

Image: Instructor explaining the operation of a parachute to student pilots, Meacham Field, Fort Worth, Tex. (LOC)

December 28, 2007

Florida's New Song

Florida state flagWhen I first came across the state song of Florida, "Old Folks at Home," I thought it had to be a prank—Florida is, after all, the state with the largest percentage of residents age 65 or older (17% in 2006). But it's true. The ballad, also known as "Swanee River," was chosen by the legislature in 1935.

But it might not be the state song for much longer. Florida is searching for a new anthem, and it wants its residents to choose from three finalists. What caught my eye is that Carl Ashley, the co-composer of one of those finalists, told the South Florida Sun Sentinel newspaper that The World Almanac was one of his sources. "We studied a world almanac and read about Florida history, trying to put as much as we could into the song."

Just Sing Florida, where residents can vote, has recordings and sheet music for each of the three finalists. Voting ends at midnight on January 10.

Good luck to Carl Ashley and Betsy Dixon, as well as the other finalists.

In addition to official songs, our chapter on States and Other Areas of the U.S. includes state mottos, flowers, birds, and trees, as well as lots of population, economic, geographic, and historical information. There really is a lot packed into a little space.

Links:
Three finalists sing praises of Florida in state song contest (South Florida Sun Sentinel)
Just Sing Florida

December 26, 2007

Election 2008: $$$ vs. $$$$$

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We may have mentioned this site on our blog before, but in the run-up to the Iowa caucus and primary season, I'd like to refer people to OpenSecrets, a website run by the nonpartisan, nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics. For the first time, the presidential candidates are on pace to raise over $1 billion to fund their campaigns. OpenSecrets tracks donations made to candidates' campaign funds, and analyzes the data in ways that you don't usually see in the news.

Find out which Senate or House campaign has raised (and spent) the most money, which presidential candidate is receiving the most funds from lobbyists (Hillary Clinton) or the oil and gas industry (Rudy Giuliani), and which candidate has raised the most through small ($200 or less) donations (Barack Obama). It's a pretty interesting tool for those who want to think about where campaign funds are coming from, and where they might go.

OpenSecrets

Flickr photo by Victory NH: Protect Our Primary

November 21, 2007

Talking Turkey

turkey.jpg According to the White House, this Thanksgiving marks the 60th anniversary of the grand presidential tradition of pardoning a turkey. The White House's Thanksgiving website explains that the first turkey pardoning took place in 1947, when Harry Truman accepted the first National Thanksgiving Turkey. Not to quibble with the White House's website, which has a photo gallery of Turkey pardons over the years (a Kennedy turkey has a sign around its neck that reads "Good Eating, Mr. President!"), but they may want to do a little more homework.

According to the Truman Library, the Truman photo that the White House offers as proof-of-pardon dates to Dec. 15, 1947—well after Thanksgiving—and the library has "found no documents, speeches, newspaper clippings, photographs, or other contemporary records in our holdings which refer to Truman pardoning a turkey that he received as a gift in 1947, or at any other time during his Presidency."

I just hope, for my own amusement's sake, that the White House accurately reported this year's turkey's fate following its pardon: "After the presentation, the turkey will be flown first class to Disney World in Orlando, where he will be the grand marshal of 'Disney's Thanksgiving Day Parade.' After the parade, guests will be able to visit the bird in the backyard of Mickey's Country House in Magic Kingdom Park."

White House Thanksgiving
The Annual Pardoning of the Thanksgiving Turkey photo gallery
Truman Library

November 26, 2007

Abe, is that you?

mumler_lincoln_small.jpgPoor Mary Todd Lincoln! The maligned widow of our 16th president was dragged over the coals in life, and has suffered much the same since her death 125 years ago.

A well educated Southerner, she was known for her vivaciousness, wit and spirited personality when she met the lowly lawyer Abraham Lincoln in 1839. Their marriage of 25 years produced four children, and proved to be volatile at times with Mary's high strung temperament. Mary's life was marked with many losses - starting with her mothers' death when she was 7, the death of her second born son Eddie in 1850, followed by beloved Willie in 1862. It was after Willie's death that Mary invited spiritualists into the White House so that she could attempt to communicate with her dead sons. At least eight séances were held, and Mary felt their presence in her life, writing to her sister that, "Willie lives. He comes to me every night and stands at the foot of the bed with the same sweet adorable smile he always has had. He does not always come alone. Little Eddie is sometimes with him..."

After seeing her husband assassinated before her eyes in 1865, Mary's life was shattered. She left the United States in 1868 and lived for two and a half years in Europe with her son Tad, who died at the age of 18, in 1871. In the 1870s Mary attended séances under assumed names, at which Abraham may or may not have "appeared." She was photographed by William Mumler, a "spirit photographer." Concerned about his mother's sometimes irrational behavior (and spending jags), Robert Lincoln, Mary's surviving son, petitioned the courts to declare her insane in 1875, and she was remanded to a Bellevue Place, private sanitarium for 3 months. Declared sane again in 1876, she spent many of her remaining years in France, never forgiving her son for his betrayal, and died in Springfield, Illinois, in July 1882.

November 13, 2007

Holland Tunnel Turns 80

0711hollandtunnel.jpgWhile we all know a certain amazing book celebrates its 140th release today, there's another significant anniversary.

Happy 80th birthday Holland Tunnel! The first automobile tunnel (actually two tunnels) to connect Manhattan with the rest of the continental U.S. by way of Jersey City, NJ opened on November 13, 1927. The tunnels were a major accomplishment, taking 7 years, 1 month, and 1 day to complete.

Prior to completion, millions of commuters, trucks, and horse-drawn carriages relied on 15 ferries to cross the Hudson River, navigating harbor traffic like supply barges and ocean liners, plus ice flows and heavy fog. Delays and accidents were common. (A railroad tunnel under the Hudson River, completed in 1908, helped to halve the number of ferry passengers by 1914 to just 52 million a year).

It should be noted that "Holland" was the project's first chief engineer, Clifford Holland. Holland was notably young to head such a large project and he died of a heart attack in 1924 at age 41.

On its first day in operation, 51,694 vehicles (largely curious Sunday drivers) used the Holland tunnel. The first year's total was 8,517,689 according to the New York Times on Nov. 14, 1928. In 2006, 34.7 million vehicles passed through it, averaging 95,149 each day—a fifth of New Jersey-Manhattan traffic when combined with the Lincoln Tunnel and George Washington Bridge.

The Holland is still the second longest underwater vehicular tunnel in North America after the nearby Brooklyn-Battery. The north tube extends 8,558 feet, the south tube 8,371 feet. It became a National Historic Landmark in 1993. The tunnels' great innovation, designed by its third (!) engineer Ole Singstad, are the ventilation shafts tucked above and below the roadways that clear out deadly auto exhaust through enormous towers near the entrances. Winds from the 84 exhaust fans would have reached 72 mph if air flowed directly along the tunnels' roadways.

[If you're jonesing for stats on other notable tunnels, buildings, and bridges, turn to page 730 in your brand-new World Almanac 2008. You've already got one, right?]

Holland Tunnel Time Line from Port Authority of NY & NJ

Photo from Library of Congress' Historic American Engineering Record

The World Almanac 2008: At a Glance

World Almanac 2008 StacksYes, the day that you (and we) have been waiting for is here: The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2008 is officially on sale. If you pre-ordered, you've probably got a copy already; if not, you should be able to stroll into the bookstore of your choice and pick one up today.

We'll be using this blog to share (and expand on) parts of this edition throughout the year. Today, though, I'll just leave you with an assortment of facts from The World at a Glance, one of our new quick-reference features:

Nation most dependent on nuclear energy: France, 78.1% of electricity is nuclear-generated
World's most popular tourist destination: France, 79.1 million arrivals in 2006
Most popular luxury car color in the U.S.: Black, 22% of 2006 model year cars
Most popular light truck color in the U.S.: White, 25% of 2006 model year trucks
Nation hosting the most refugees: Pakistan, 2.2 million, mostly from Afghanistan, in 2006
Top country for U.S. foreign adoptions: China, 6,520 in 2006
Fastest roller coaster in the world: Kingda Ka, 128 mph (Six Flags Great Adventure, Jackson, NJ)
Busiest airport outside of the U.S., by passenger traffic: Heathrow Airport (London, UK), 67.5 million passengers in 2006
Most-visited shopping website: eBay, 79.8 million visitors in July 2007 alone

California's gross domestic product in 2006 was $1.73 trillion. If it was its own country, it would have the 10th largest economy in the world, smaller than Russia's but larger than Brazil's.
If all circulating U.S. dollars and coins were equally distributed among the nation's population, everyone would receive $2,688.

Total fat consumption per capita in the U.S. was 37.7 pounds in 1910. It climbed to a whopping 85.5 pounds by 2005.
China's annual energy consumption grew 249% in the past 15 years, from 27 quadrillion Btu in 1990 to 67 quadrillion Btu in 2005.
The amount Americans spent annually on casino gambling ballooned 610%, from $11.5 billion in 1990 to $81.6 billion in 2006.
The number of violent crimes in the U.S. declined from 1.6 million in 1997 to 1.4 million in 2006, a drop of 13.3%.

Previously: The World at a Glance: Number Ones, Surprising Facts, and Changing Times

Photo: Vincent G. Spadafora

November 2, 2007

Turning Back Time

Time SpiralYes, it's that time again: those glorious Daylight Saving Time days are over, as of 2AM on Sunday, Nov. 4.

Seem later than last year? It is: Daylight Saving Time in 2007 started several weeks earlier, and ended a week or so later, than in recent years. The U.S. Congress claims that the change will save energy across the country—or is it just a sinister conspiracy to sell more Halloween candy?

Either way, don't forget to set your clocks back one hour before bedtime, Saturday night.

Want a little more history about Daylight Saving Time? Hit the links below, or listen to this week's World Almanac Wake Up With Whoopi segment, on that very topic:


Links:
It's Time to Fall Back (World Almanac for Kids)
An Extra Hour of Halloween Daylight? Thank Politics

Photo: Time Spiral (by gadl)

Weird Science

madscientist.jpg

Without innovative, creative critical thinking, scientific progress would grind to a halt. Still, when we checked in on this year's Ig Nobel winners recently, some of the subjects and hypotheses inspired more than a little incredulity. I had the same response when I read about an article in this week's New Scientist that documents the most bizarre and outrageous scientific experiments of all time. Some are more than a little cruel (the grafting of a puppy's head and front legs to an adult German shepherd that caused both animals' deaths comes to mind), but others are just bizarre.

For example:
  • Psychologist begins experiments on son to test if laughing is spontaneous when tickled.
  • Conclusion: Laughing is an innate response to tickling
  • To test if people can sleep through anything, volunteers have their eyes taped open and bright lights shone in their eyes.
  • Conclusion: The men dozed off in 12 minutes
  • Doctor rubs vomit from yellow fever patients into open wounds and drinks it.
  • Conclusion: Mistakenly claims it is not infectious
[Summaries from The Guardian]

Bizarre Experiments (with full details)

Flickr photo by practicalowl

October 25, 2007

The American Sweet Tooth

To get you in the right frame of mind for next week's candy gorge-a-thon, otherwise known as Halloween (or maybe to snap you out of it), here are a few quick graphs of candy production and consumption trends in the U.S.—data courtesy of the Census Bureau, and graph technology via Swivel.

First up: per capita consumption of confectionery products (chocolate and non-chocolate) from 2001 to 2006. There aren't any truly dramatic changes happening here, but still—despite Atkins, Sugar Busters, and every other voice telling us to cut back on sugar consumption, our consumption of candy was up 2 pounds per person in 2006, compared with 2001.

Per capita consumption (lbs and $) of confectionery products, 2001-2006

Continue reading "The American Sweet Tooth" »

October 24, 2007

Mrs. President?

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With Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) running for president in the 2008 elections, many wonder if she will become the first woman to lead the United States; but we may have already had a female leader from 1919-1921!

Edith Bolling Galt Wilson (1872-1961), a descendant of Pocahontas, was a well-to-do widow when she met the recently widowed president, Woodrow Wilson, in 1915. A swift romance followed, and they married by year's end, a scant 16 months after his first wife's death. Edith took on a public political role, and remained close by the president's side, keeping up to date on state matters. After Wilson's reelection in 1916, Edith did all she could to keep Wilson healthy under the tremendous strain caused by the U.S. entry into World War I. With the war's end in 1919, the Wilsons sailed to Europe for the international peace treaty agreements. Upon returning to the U.S., Wilson embarked on a cross-country train trip to drum up support for the League of Nations (the precursor to the United Nations), for which he needed the Senate's approval. At the end of September, he collapsed, and on October 2 he suffered a massive stroke which left him paralyzed on his left side and with difficulty in speaking. The tour was stopped, and the president was rushed back to the White House.

Wilson's doctor and secretary of state Robert Lansing wanted to inform the public of the president's critical situation, but Edith refused, and the public never learned that he had suffered a stroke or paralysis. Edith took control, and limited her husband's exposure to leaders of government, including his cabinet and vice president Thomas Marshall, and acted as a "steward" between them. With the president's health being her number one priority, Edith decided what matters of state would be presented to Woodrow. She later claimed in her memoirs that she never made any decisions, but this seems unlikely since she was the person who discussed matters with the president and relayed information back to interested parties. Many historians believe that her take on what had occurred was simply a matter of revisionism.

After leaving office in 1921, Edith continued caring for Woodrow until his death in 1924. For the remaining years of her life, she devoted her time to honoring her husband, and supporting democratic candidates. Her last public appearance was at the inaugural of President John F. Kennedy in January 1961, and she died 37 years to the day after her husbands' death.

October 23, 2007

"A Patchwork of Jurisdictions and Rights"

The Territory of the United States...is the best way to describe the "territory" of the United States, according to mapmaker Bill Rankin, proprietor of the marvelous Radical Cartography.
As the subtitle suggests, what I think emerges isn't a unified system of territoriality, but a hodgepodge of different attitudes toward the land and its inhabitants. Different areas under U.S. control have very different relationships to government, both in terms of democratic representation and in terms of land control. (I also show all the areas of the world -- land and water -- that are, or were, influenced by the U.S. government using equal-area projections.)
This is a unique and fascinating way of visualizing a lot of different information, from the big North American territorial acquisitions of the 19th century to modern-day military installations around the world. My only complaint? There's no option to purchase a big, glossy, full-size printout to hang on the wall at World Almanac HQ. Kinko's, here I come!

Link: U.S. Territory (Radical Cartography)

September 26, 2007

New Stats on GDP by Metropolitan Area

0709gdpma.gifThe Bureau of Economic Analysis has released an interesting prototype report that breaks down the contribution of 363 metropolitan areas, including specific industries in those areas, to total annual U.S. GDP from 2001 through 2005. The map to the right shows the areas with the largest percent change between 2004 and 2005 with blue representing the most change and orange the least. Here are some highlights I calculated from the report:
The five areas accounting for the highest percentage of national GDP:
  1. New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA
  2. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA
  3. Chicago-Naperville-Joliet, IL-IN-WI
  4. Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV
  5. Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX
  • The fastest growing area was Palm Coast, FL, which experienced a 163.8% growth from 2001 to 2005; nearly triple that of Corvallis, OR, the second fastest-growing area.
  • Of the top 50 largest metropolitan areas by GDP, Las Vegas-Paradise, NV experienced the largest growth, 31.2%, with its largest increase, 10%, between 2003 and 2004.
  • The biggest loss of GDP was experienced in Lafayette, LA (10.7% loss). It took its biggest hit in 2002 when the GDP dropped 11.3% because of the effects of tropical storm Isidore and Hurricane Lili on the oil and fishing industries.

If the BEA gets positive feedback about the report, they're hoping to have 2006 estimates available next Fall.

BEA Introduces New Measures of the Metropolitan Economy

September 3, 2007

The Library was Overdue

abigail2.jpg The first schoolteacher to become First Lady, Abigail Powers Fillmore (1798-1853) had a passion for literature. Educated at home by her mother, she read all of the books in her fathers’ library, and began to teach school at the age of 16, while continuing to go to school. After her marriage to Millard Fillmore, she continued to teach school, the first First Lady to have a job outside of her home.

Books were an important focus of Abigail’s life, and she founded the first circulating library in Sempronius, New York. Her husband often purchased books for her when he was traveling, and in the years of their marriage they collected over 4,000 books.

As First Lady, Fillmore was dismayed to find that there were no books in the White House, and she got Congress to appropriate $2,000 to purchase several hundred books. Shakespeare, Dickens, Thackeray, Burns, travel books, biographies, histories, law books, religious works and other novels were chosen.

An 1842 ankle injury had lasting effects on Abigail’s life and she limited her activities as First Lady during her husband’s abbreviated term of office (he succeeded to the Presidency with the death of Zachary Taylor). Standing during the snowy inauguration of President Franklin Pierce on March 4, 1853, she grew ill soon after, and died of pneumonia on March 30th.

August 10, 2007

The World Almanac Wakes Up With Whoopi: #3

63672main_image_feature_206_jw4.jpg Yeah, that's right: #3. I don't have a clip of our second installment yet, but it'll be more relevant next week, anyway. Come back then to find out why...

Anyway, I had another fun visit with the incredibly warm and friendly Wake Up With Whoopi crew yesterday. In this week's free-for-all:

  • The awesome lap-breaking power of the The World Almanac hardcover edition (yes, we publish one, and yes, the type is bigger than the paperback)
  • In honor of the anniversary of Nixon's resignation (announced Aug. 8, 1974, but in effect at noon on Aug. 9), some selections from our list of Embarrassing Presidential Moments. Some bonus links: President Ford's 1942 Cosmo cover appearance (not an embarrassing moment, just an interesting one), and Pres. Carter's official report on his UFO sighting.
  • A heads-up about this weekend's Perseid meteor shower
  • And at the very end, a quick hello from the next guest: Abby Cadabby, Sesame Street's newest resident. Even at my age, it was a truly great, geeky thrill to meet a Muppet.
Listen to the clip here (mp3, 7MB).

Image: From NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day (Katsuhiro Mouri & Shuji Kobayashi, Nagoya City Science Museum / Planetarium)

August 9, 2007

The United Countries of Baseball

baseball.jpg As longtime readers of this blog know, the editors of the World Almanac are suckers for data visualizations of any and all varieties. I especially enjoy this map of the United States, with state border lines redrawn in favor of a more population-based border determination: baseball team loyalty. It may not be as data-centric as the maps you'll find in the World Almanac, but I'm a baseball fan, so I think it's pretty cool. Though it may have missed the mark in some places: Do the Washington Nationals really have more Maryland-Virginia area fans than the Baltimore Orioles?

Comment to let us know how well it represents your local loyalties. Do our nation's redrawn borders hold up?

United Countries of Baseball [strangemaps]
CommonCensus Sports Map Project [similar idea, based on internet votes, for other pro sports]

August 7, 2007

107th National Hobo Convention

0708HoboPAKid.JPGThumb a ride or hop in a boxcar to Britt, Iowa because this weekend is the 107th National Hobo Convention. While you could stay at a nearby hotel, there’s free camping at the hobo jungle by the railroad tracks on the northeast side of town. In addition to the typical arts, crafts, and music, there will also be free Mulligan Stew in the park, and a hobo king and queen; “true rail-riders” as they say.

Wanna be a hobo? The convention website has some pointers from the Texas Madman Grand Duke of Hobos.

Pick a name from the long list at The 700 Hoboes Project of fictitious hobo names with illustrations. [Note: Inspired, of course, by fake-almanackist extraordinaire John Hodgman -CAJ]

Brush up on your hobo conversation points with some field recordings posted over at Otis Fodder’s 365 Days Project at WFMU (Part 11 with Sidedoor Pullman Kid is a must. Skip parts 1,2,6 if you're uncomfortable with explicit language).

Painting of Pennsylvania Kid Wilson, hobo king 1963, 1966, 1968, 1971

April 23, 2007

Gun Deaths in America

guns.jpgA recent New York Times graphic does a great job of visualizing a surprising statistic about the U.S.: that firearm deaths by suicide outnumber those by homicide.

We called attention to this in the 2007 World Almanac (see also this previous The World at a Glance), drawing on National Safety Council data, but the NYT graphic is well worth a look.

Link: An Accounting of Daily Gun Deaths (The New York Times, April 22, 2007)

April 11, 2007

Working at the White House

whitehouse.jpg As if it weren't already hard enough to be president of the United States—now former, current, and prospective holders of the nation's highest office have something else to worry about: loose-lipped servants. The Working White House, a Smithsonian exhibition scheduled to be featured around the country as a traveling exhibit in 2008, chronicles the lives of White House employees, in their own words, from 1800 to the present. Some of the reminiscences are mundane, such as a story about First Lady Sarah Polk's inattention to napkin folding. Others are quite attuned to their era: shortly after the Plessy v. Ferguson decision condoned a system of "separate but equal" treatment, the White House servants' dinner tables were realigned on racial lines rather than job function. There's even a story about the lengths employees went to to meet Lyndon Johnson's shower preferences: according to White House employee Howard Arrington, "He wanted [the jets] to hit all parts of his body with the same force. . .Rex Scouten in the usher's office got in the shower to test it out, and it pinned Rex right to the wall."

But my favorite is a story about Pres. Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower's growing addiction to a new "electronic novelty":

According to [Assistant Chief Usher J.B.] West, Ike and Mamie Eisenhower regularly watched the evening news while having their meals on tray-tables. He notes that Mrs. Eisenhower's enjoyment of As the World Turns "initiated the Television Era in the White House."

The Working White House
Workers at the White House Time Line [first-hand accounts]

April 4, 2007

The Rollercoaster of Home Prices

No, seriously, it's a rollercoaster. A virtual one, but a rollercoaster nonetheless, showing changes in U.S. home prices, adjusted for inflation, from 1890 to 2007. I haven't double-checked the data, but it's such a cool idea, we'll share it anyway.

Someone please turn this into a webapp... I want to chart every piece of data in the World Almanac as a rollercoaster.

From magnetbox via kottke.

March 23, 2007

The Top 1,000 Books

hamlet.jpg The Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) maintains a fascinating list of the top 1,000 works "most widely held by libraries," complete with cover art and links to help readers find each volume in a local library. Here's the top ten:
  1. Bible [Library holdings: 796,882 Bibliographic records: 93,567]
  2. Census (United States) [Library holdings: 460,628 Bibliographic records: 10,617]
  3. Mother Goose [Library holdings: 67,663 Bibliographic records: 2,036]
  4. Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri [Library holdings: 62,414 Bibliographic records: 2,917]
  5. Odyssey, Homer [Library holdings: 45,551 Bibliographic records: 2,087]
  6. Iliad, Homer [Library holdings: 44,093 Bibliographic records: 2,526]
  7. Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain [Library holdings: 42,724 Bibliographic records: 1,132]
  8. Lord of the Rings [trilogy], J. R. R. Tolkien [Library holdings: 40,907 Bibliographic records: 685]
  9. Hamlet, William Shakespeare [Library holdings: 39,521 Bibliographic records: 2,008]
  10. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll [Library holdings: 39,277 Bibliographic records: 1,942]
Hit the jump for highlights and oddities from the list, some insight into how the list was compiled, and the answer to the really important question: Where's The World Almanac?

Continue reading "The Top 1,000 Books" »

March 19, 2007

Passport Woes

Epassport_cover.jpg About eight weeks after mailing out my renewal form, I finally received my new passport. I'd been concerned because passport renewal by mail typically takes 6-8 weeks to process. The U.S. Department of State, however, recently amended the information on its website to reflect current processing times. Because of a deluge of applications, the State Department warns it might now take up to 10 weeks to receive a passport.

Not only are January through April the peak months for passport requests, requests have increased because of new regulations that went into effect on Jan. 23 of this year. People must now present a passport when reentering the U.S. by air from any part of the Western Hemisphere, including, for the first time, Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean.

An AP article from Friday referred to a notice sent by the State Department to lawmakers saying that "Applications received between October and this March have risen 44 percent over the same period in 2005-2006." The article also mentions that the department expects to process about 17 million passports this year, compared to 12 million in 2006.

I was also surprised to find out my new passport was not an electronic one. The first of the new electronic passports--which have a computer chip embedded in the back cover--were issued to tourists in August 2006. Apparently not all passport agencies around the country are equipped yet to issue e-passports, the technology for which has caused controversy because of privacy concerns.

Links: Passports Home (U.S. Department of State)
"Passport Requests Flood State Department" (Associated Press)

Photo: Cover of new U.S. tourist electronic passport. The logo at the bottom is the international symbol for an electronic passport.

February 21, 2007

Girlhood Lost

girls-report.jpg The American Psychological Association this week issued a Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. According to the report, women younger and younger are being bombarded by images, music, and other entertainment, which promote the idea of looking and acting sexy. In short, girlhood is giving way to womanhood earlier, little girls are seeing themselves as sexual beings earlier, and they are developing psychological disorders because of this trend.

It’s not news that girls are being encouraged through mass media to look and act more adult and sexy. It is also well known that this type of constant exposure increases the risk of girls developing low self-esteem, eating disorders, and depression. But the report is alarming because it asserts that girlhood is being cut short dramatically, and that girls are starting to think of themselves as sexual beings as early as 6 years old. It’s one thing to depict children acting as adults, but there has to be a limit, which I think was surpassed long before this became the norm:

Ten-year-old girls can slide their low-cut jeans over "eye-candy" panties. French maid costumes, garter belt included, are available in preteen sizes. Barbie now comes in a "bling-bling" style, replete with halter top and go-go boots. And it's not unusual for girls under 12 to sing, "Don't cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?" (Washington Post, Feb. 20 2007)

Report on the APA Taskforce on the Sexualization of Girls , American Psychological Association (PDF download)
"Goodbye to Girlhood," Washington Post, February 20, 2007.

February 16, 2007

America's Favorite Buildings

empire.jpg In celebration of their 150th anniversary, the American Institute of Architects compiled a list of America's favorite buildings. Based on the nominations of Institute members, the public was invited to vote for the 150 most familiar, innovative, and distinctive structures that American architecture has created so far. The top 10:

America's Favorite Architecture
1. Empire State Building (1931): Shreve, Lamb & Harmon
2. The White House (1792): James Hoban
3. Washington National Cathedral (1990): George Bodley
4. Jefferson Memorial (1943): John Russell Pope
5. Golden Gate Bridge (1937): Joseph B. Strauss
6. U.S. Capitol (1793-1865): William Thornton
7. Lincoln Memorial (1922): Henry Bacon
8. Biltmore Estate/Vanderbilt Mansion (1895): Richard Morris Hunt
9. Chrysler Building (1930): William Van Alen
10. Vietnam Veterans Memorial (1982): Maya Lin

The list is bound to generate a lot of controversy: all but two of the top 10 are in New York City or Washington, DC, and only one structure is on the West Coast. I have other problems with the list. (Is the White House really one of the greatest examples of American architecture?) Lucky for those displeased with the selections, the AIA has the complete list on their website, with architectural details about each structure and with an area for people to post comments on the selections suggest omissions.

America's Favorite Architecture

Flickr photo from ljcybergal

January 25, 2007

Heat Mining: A New Energy Source for the U.S.

In Tuesday’s State of the Union address, President Bush mentioned coal, solar, wind, and nuclear energy, but didn't say a word about geothermal energy. While working on the Environment section of The World Almanac for Kids 2008, however, I came across an interesting new MIT report, which suggests that geothermal energy could commercially supply 10% of the United States’ electrical supply by 2050.

Geothermal energy doesn’t seem to get a whole lot of attention; according to MIT, the last in-depth study was done in 1979. This energy traditionally comes from hot springs near the Earth’s surface (like in Reykjavik, Iceland). They emit hot steam, which spins turbines to generate electricity. In contrast to coal, a non-renewable fossil fuel that generates half of the U.S. electrical supply, geothermal energy creates very few emissions; and unlike other "alternative" energy forms, geothermal energy generators can run non-stop without relying on sunlight or wind. Geothermal%20Heat%20Map.jpg

The U.S. Department of Energy-sponsored study focused on an alternate "Enhanced Geothermal System" that would involve drilling holes more than 5,000 ft toward the Earth's mantle, into hot, dry rock. Water would then be sent down the holes to be heated, and then travel through natural fractures to be sucked up other nearby tunnels (The Department of Energy has a good animation). At the surface, the water would either be cooled quickly to make steam (a process called flashing) or looped around another liquid that could be heated into steam at a lower temperature; that steam would power turbines to generate electricity.

The report notes that water would have to be heated in excess of 150-200°C for electricity or 100-150°C for heating homes. Compare those numbers to the map at right, which shows estimated rock temperatures at more than 20,000 feet below ground.

This sounds completely fascinating to me. If you're still confused about how it all works, the Union of Concerned Scientists has a good page explaining these systems.

MIT-led panel backs "heat mining" as key U.S. energy source (Mass. Institute of Technology)

January 24, 2007

2007 State of the Union (and Presidential Tag Cloud Revisited)

Just a reminder, for those of you who missed my previous rave about it, that Chirag Mehta has updated his Presidential Speeches Tag Cloud with an analysis of last night's State of the Union. "Terrorists" and "Iraq" remain the most frequently-used words, but my eye also catches on the increased frequency of "baghdad" and "qaeda" in comparison to previous SOTUs, and slightly lower relative frequency of "economy" and "freedom." Anybody notice any other interesting trends? Take it to the comments.

chir.ag%20cloud2.jpg
Link: US Presidential Speeches Tag Cloud
2007 SOTU Text: State of the Union Address, Jan. 23 2007


UPDATE: See also today's New York Times for The State of the Union in Words, another examination of word frequency in State of the Union speeches (but limited only to those given by Pres. Bush).

January 22, 2007

Helpful Hints for Clinton, Obama, Brownback, and McCain*

On Saturday, January 20, Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) announced her intention to run for president in 2008, joining Senators Barack Obama (D-IL), Sam Brownback (R-KS), and a growing list of other contenders.

As their words, actions, and personal styles come fully into the media spotlight, we invite all of them to ponder the foibles of past presidents and presidential candidates. See below (and after the jump) for our bipartisan editors’ picks of the most embarrassing moments for U.S. presidents and presidential candidates in recent decades. And feel free to add your favorites in the comments!

Most Embarrassing Presidential (and Presidential Candidate) Moments
Of the Last 35 Years

10. Jimmy Carter loudly bungles the name of a former Democratic vice president and icon during a dramatic part of his acceptance speech for the presidential nomination at the 1980 Democratic National Convention: "And we're the party of a great leader of compassion—Lyndon Baines Johnson, and the party of a great man who should have been president, who would have been one of the greatest presidents in history—Hubert Horatio Hornblower—Humphrey." (Aug. 14, 1980)

Ford-Brezhnev.jpg9. In the second presidential campaign debate between incumbent Pres. Gerald Ford and his Democratic rival, Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter, Ford makes a misstatement widely seen as ridiculous when he declares, " ... there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford administration." (Oct. 6, 1976)

8. Presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry (D, MA) tries to defend himself against charges that by failing to vote in favor of funds for the Iraq War he was betraying American troops, but ends up fueling the perception that he has taken inconsistent positions on issues: "I actually did vote for the $87 billion, before I voted against it." (Mar. 16, 2004)

7. Pres. Richard Nixon, while campaigning to mute his Watergate and credibility problems, defends his personal finances at a nationally televised Q&A session with a convention of Associated Press managing editors: "And in all of my years of public life, I have never obstructed justice ... people have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I am not a crook. I have earned everything I have got." (Nov. 17, 1973)

6. During a microphone check, unaware that he is being recorded, Pres. Ronald Reagan jokes, "My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes." (Aug. 11, 1984)

Continue reading "Helpful Hints for Clinton, Obama, Brownback, and McCain*" »

January 18, 2007

The World at a Glance: Surprising Facts

surprise.jpgHere we go again! It's time for another installment of "The World at a Glance," a new feature we added to The World Almanac 2007 to call attention to some of the thousands of eye-opening facts we packed into the book. This time, the focus is on "Surprising Facts"—from hard-to-believe bits of geographical trivia, to startling statistics that made us wonder whether one of the interns was playing a practical joke. (They weren't, but we still made them triple-check the fourth item on this list.)
  • Young American men (18-24) watch less TV per week than any other group, an average of 23 hours, 1 minute in 2005.
  • Despite rising 2005 domestic gasoline prices, U.S. prices averaged among the lowest in the world: 46% lower than in Japan and nearly 60% lower than in Germany and the U.K.
  • Antarctica is considered a desert, with annual precipitation of only 8 inches along the coast and far less inland.
  • The African nation of Equatorial Guinea had the world’s second-highest per capita GDP in 2005 ($50,200, up from only $2,700 in 2002), thanks to booming oil sales.
  • The easternmost point in the U.S. is in Alaska: Pochnoi Point, on Semisopochnoi Island, is at 179°× 46' E longitude.
  • All 50 of the world’s tallest mountains are in Asia.
  • U.S. defense spending of $465 billion in 2004 was more than 3 times the combined estimate of spending by Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, and Syria.
  • The most popular radio format in the U.S. is country (19% of stations), but rock music sells the most (32% of sales).
  • In the U.S., firearm deaths by suicide outnumber those by homicide by more than 40%.
Got some surprising statistics of your own? Let us know in the comments.

Previously: The World at a Glance: Number Ones
Related: "Unbreakable" Sports Records

Photo from Meredith Farmer's Flickr stream (CC)

January 10, 2007

Who's In School?

schoolroom_nightowlcity.jpg One can learn a lot about a place by looking at its schools. The National Center for Education Statistics (a World Almanac favorite) has an online search page where you can look up any U.S. public or private school in any district and get, among other bits of information, a small demographic breakdown by race and sex of the students who go there.

After rediscovering this search, of course I had to go look up every school I had either gone to, wanted to go to, or otherwise had heard of for one reason or another (such as California's Torrance High School, where they shot the exteriors for Beverly Hills, 90210). It was fun trying to remember what I could about the different kids in my classes and if the current data shows any change since then. In my case, it looks like there is a good deal more diversity today in the schools I went to as compared to when I was a wee tot. That says quite a bit about the changes in population where I grew up, which I'm sure are minor compared to other school districts.

National Center for Education Statistics links:
Search for Public Schools
Search for Private Schools

Photo from Night Owl City's Flickr stream (CC)

December 28, 2006

The World at a Glance: Number Ones

1_3.jpgEven though The World Almanac is the best-selling American reference book of all time, there are still people out there who don't quite know what, exactly, you can find in it. So in the 2007 edition, we added a new feature page that summarizes some of the diverse, interesting facts you can find throughout the book, including some surprising facts, milestone birthdays for 2007, and important trends in the U.S. and around the world. For today, however, we'll keep the focus on our "Number Ones" — the biggest, the best, the worst, and the most popular in just a few of the dozens of different subject areas contained in the book.

Most popular car color in the U.S. .......... silver, more than 20% of new cars
Highest-rated U.S. television show, 2005-06 .......... American Idol, Tuesday night
Top-spending U.S. advertiser in 2005 .......... Procter & Gamble, $4.61 bil
Most prescribed class of drug in the U.S. .......... antidepressants, prescribed 81.2 mil times in 2004
Most popular dog breed in U.S. .......... Labrador retriever, 137,867 new dogs registered in 2005
Leading cause of death in U.S. .......... heart disease, 685,089 deaths (28%) in 2003
Nation with the most vacation days per year .......... Italy, average of 42 days per person
Largest world city .......... Tokyo, 2005 population 35.2 mil
Largest army, by active-duty troop strength .......... China, 2.3 million
Nation hosting the most refugees .......... Pakistan, with 1.1 mil in 2005
Most densely populated U.S. state .......... New Jersey, 1,135 persons per sq. mi.
Most sparsely populated nation .......... Mongolia, 4.7 persons per sq. mi.
Nation with most water per capita .......... Iceland, 582,191.8 cubic meters (U.S. has 10,333)
Developed nations with highest federal tax rate .......... Belgium and Germany, 42%
Nation with highest per capita GDP .......... Luxembourg, $55,600
Highest temperature recorded on Earth .......... 136° F in El Azizia, Libya, 9/13/22
Deadliest natural disaster in U.S. .......... Galveston Hurricane, Sept. 8, 1900; up to 12,000 killed
Most career saves (baseball) .......... Trevor Hoffman, 482 through 2006

[P.S.: Know a trivia buff who might love this list? Want to share it with the world? This would be a perfect time to try some of our sharing and social-networking tools. Click "Email this" to send this entry on to a friend, or "Add this" to bookmark or share it with dozens of different online services.]

Related: "Unbreakable" Sports Records

Photo from Leo Reynolds' Flickr stream (CC)

December 18, 2006

Statistical Abstract of the U.S.

Last week, the U.S. Census released its 2007 Statistical Abstract of the United States. A press release offers some highlights, including:
Our armed forces are smaller: Active-duty strength in 2005 included 493,000 in the Army, 354,000 in the Air Force, 363,000 in the Navy and 180,000 Marines. The nearly 1.4 million men and women in uniform compares to 3 million-plus members in 1970.
Federal employees are fewer as well: There was an overall 13.4% drop in civilian employees of the federal government from 1990 to 2005.
We drink more bottled water: Americans drank 23.2 gallons of bottled water per capita in 2004, compared to 2.7 gallons per capita in 1980.
An increasing number of students are "straight-A": Nearly half (47 percent) of college freshmen enrolled in 2005 had earned an average grade of A in high school, compared to only 20 percent in 1970.

December 13, 2006

Edward's Untimely Death Series: Entry #1

harrison.jpg
William Henry Harrison (Feb 9, 1773-Apr 4, 1841), ninth president of the U.S., was the son of a Declaration of Independence signer, and the grandfather to another president – both named Benjamin Harrison. A military leader, he earned the nickname “Old Tippecanoe,” after he commanded a force of militia and regulars that put down a Shawnee uprising at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. But his real claim to fame is his untimely death. The oldest elected president (before Ronald Reagan), Harrison gave the longest inaugural address in history (8,445 words), and died of pneumonia one month after taking office. It was believed that Harrison’s exposure to the elements that March 1841, contributed to his early death, causing him to have the shortest presidency ever.
-Edward Thomas

About United States

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to The World Almanac in the United States category. They are listed from newest to oldest.

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