John’s Believe It Or Not… August 10th

In 1978 Fatal Ford Pinto crash in Indiana. In 1981 Child found decapitated. In 1793 Louvre Museum opens. In 1937 First-ever electric guitar patent awarded to the Electro String Corporation. In 1945 Japan accepts Potsdam terms, agrees to unconditional surrender.

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John Fioravanti standing in fron of his classroom blackboard.

It’s Therapeutic Thursday! Did you know…

* 1978 Fatal Ford Pinto crash in Indiana.

On this day in 1978, three teenage girls die after their 1973 Ford Pinto is rammed from behind by a van and bursts into flames on an Indiana highway. The fatal crash was one of a series of Pinto accidents that caused a national scandal during the 1970s.

The small and economical Pinto, which debuted in 1970, was Ford’s first subcompact car produced domestically, and its answer to popular imports like the Volkswagen Beetle and the Toyota Corolla. Lee Iacocca, then an executive vice president at Ford and later to earn fame as head of Chrysler, spearheaded the Pinto’s development. Initial reviews of the Pinto’s handling and performance were largely positive, and sales remained strong, with Ford introducing new Pinto models such as the Runabout and the Sprint over the course of the early 1970s.

By 1974, however, rumors began to surface in- and outside the company about the Pinto’s tendency to catch fire in rear-end collisions. In May 1972, a California woman was killed when her Pinto caught fire after being rear-ended on a highway. Her passenger, Richard Grimshaw, was burned over 90 percent of his body but survived; he sued Ford for damages. Grimshaw’s lawyer found that the Pinto’s gas tank sat behind the rear axle, where it was particularly vulnerable to damage by rear-end collisions. He also uncovered evidence that Ford had known about this weakness ever since the Pinto first went on sale, and had done nothing about it, mostly because changing the design would have been too costly. An article in Mother Jones magazine in the fall of 1977 exposed the Pinto safety concerns to a national audience, and a California jury’s award of $128 million to Grimshaw in February 1978 spread the news still further. That June, Ford voluntarily recalled all 1.9 million 1971-1976 Pintos and 1975-1976 Mercury Bobcats (which had the same fuel-tank design).

As Douglas Brinkley wrote in “Wheels for the World,” his history of Ford, the Ehrlich girls, who died in the rear-end collision in Indiana on August 8, 1978, were apparently unaware of the Pinto-related dangers; their family would not receive a recall notice until early 1979. A grand jury later returned indictments against Ford on three counts of reckless homicide in the Ehrlich case, marking the first time in history that a corporation had been charged with murder. Ford claimed that the Pinto’s fuel-tank design was the same as other subcompacts and that the company had done everything possible to comply with the recall once it had been enacted. Due to a lack of evidence, the jury found Ford not guilty in that case. A California appeals court upheld the Grimshaw victory, however, ordering Ford to pay $6.6 million and stating that the company’s “institutional mentality was shown to be one of callous indifference to public safety.”

What used to be a Pinto after a rear-end collision
What used to be a Pinto after a rear-end collision (nakedcapitalism.com)

* 1981 Child found decapitated.

The severed head of six-year-old Adam Walsh, who disappeared from a shopping mall two weeks earlier, is found in a canal in Vera Beach, Florida. Two years later, career criminal Ottis Ellwood Toole, then an inmate at a Raiford, Florida, prison, confessed to Adam’s abduction and murder. However, investigators were unable to locate Adam’s body where Toole claimed to have buried it and without any physical evidence the Florida state attorney couldn’t prosecute the case. Toole died of cirrhosis of the liver and AIDS in 1996 in a Florida prison, where he was on Death Row for another murder. On December 16, 2008, the police department in Hollywood, Florida, announced that the case against Toole was strong enough to close the investigation into Adam’s death.

In the wake of Adam Walsh’s kidnapping and murder, Congress passed the Missing Children’s Act, giving the FBI greater authority to track the disappearance of children. A television movie about the case, Adam, aired a week before Toole confessed to the crime. John Walsh, Adam’s father, became a national spokesman against crime. He went on to host America’s Most Wanted, a television show that profiles fugitives whose capture is sought by the FBI. Since it debuted in 1988, nearly 1,000criminals have been caught as a result of viewer tips.

Three pictures of Adam Walsh
The notorious case of Adam Walsh: Did the police get the wrong killer? (Bizarrepedia)

* 1793 Louvre Museum opens.

After more than two centuries as a royal palace, the Louvre is opened as a public museum in Paris by the French revolutionary government. Today, the Louvre’s collection is one of the richest in the world, with artwork and artifacts representative of 11,000 years of human civilization and culture.

The Louvre Palace was begun by King Francis I in 1546 on the site of a 12th-century fortress built by King Philip II. Francis was a great art collector, and the Louvre was to serve as his royal residence. The work, which was supervised by the architect Pierre Lescot, continued after Francis’ death and into the reigns of kings Henry II and Charles IX. Almost every subsequent French monarch extended the Louvre and its grounds, and major additions were made by Louis XIII and Louis XIV in the 17th century. Both of these kings also greatly expanded the Crown’s art holdings, and Louis XIV acquired the art collection of Charles I of England after his execution in the English Civil War. In 1682, Louis XIV moved his court to Versailles, and the Louvre ceased to be the main royal residence.

In the spirit of the Enlightenment, many in France began calling for the public display of the royal collections. Denis Diderot, the French writer, and philosopher was among the first to propose a national art museum for the public. Although King Louis XV temporarily displayed a selection of paintings at the Luxembourg Palace in 1750, it was not until the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 that real progress was made in establishing a permanent museum. On August 10, 1793, the revolutionary government opened the Musée Central des Arts in the Grande Galerie of the Louvre.

The collection at the Louvre grew rapidly, and the French army seized art and archaeological items from territory and nations conquered in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. Much of this plundered art was returned after Napoleon’s defeat in 1815, but the Louvre’s current Egyptian antiquities collections and other departments owe much to Napoleon’s conquests. Two new wings were added in the 19th century, and the multi-building Louvre complex was completed in 1857, during the reign of Napoleon III.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the Grand Louvre, as the museum is officially known, underwent major remodeling. Modern museum amenities were added and thousands of square meters of new exhibition space were opened. The Chinese American architect I.M. Pei built a steel-and-glass pyramid in the center of the Napoleon courtyard. Traditionalists called it an outrage. In 1993, on the 200th anniversary of the museum, a rebuilt wing formerly occupied by the French ministry of finance was opened to the public. It was the first time that the entire Louvre was devoted to museum purposes.

The Louvre opening in 1793
The Louvre in 1793. (Discover Walks)

* 1937 First-ever electric guitar patent awarded to the Electro String Corporation. 

Versatile, inexpensive and relatively easy to play, the acoustic guitar was a staple of American rural music in the early 20th century, particularly black rural music such as the blues. But a significant physical limitation made it a poor fit in ensembles made up of brass, woodwind, and orchestral string instruments: The acoustic guitar was simply too quiet. What transformed the guitar and its place in popular music, and eventually transformed popular music itself, was the development of a method for transforming the sound of a vibrating guitar string into an electrical signal that could be amplified and re-converted into audible sound at a much greater volume. The electric guitar—the instrument that revolutionized jazz, blues, and country music and made the later rise of rock and roll possible—was recognized by the United States Patent Office on this day in 1937 with the award of Patent #2,089.171 to G.D. Beauchamp for an instrument known as the Rickenbacker Frying Pan.

Inventor G.D. Beauchamp, partner with Adolph Rickenbacher in the Electro String Instrument Corporation of Los Angeles, California, spent more than five years pursuing his patent on the Frying Pan. It was a process delayed by several areas of concern, including the electric guitar’s reliance on an engineering innovation that dated to the 19th century. When a vibrating string is placed within a magnetic field, it is possible to “pick up” the sound waves created by that string’s vibrations and convert those waves into electric current. Replace the word “string” with the word “membrane” in that sentence, however, and you also have a description of how a telephone works. For this reason, Beauchamp’s patent application had to be revised multiple times to clarify which of his individual claims were truly novel and which were merely new applications of existing patents.

On August 10, 1937, the Patent Office approved the majority of Beachamp’s claims—primarily those relating to the unique design of the Frying Pan’s “pickup,” a heavy electromagnet that surrounded the base of the steel strings like a bracelet rather than sitting below them as on a modern electric guitar. Unfortunately for the Electro String Corporation, Beauchamp’s specific invention had long since been obsolesced by the innovations of various competitors, rendering the patent awarded on this day in 1937 an item of greater historical importance than economic value.

Rickenbacker first electric guitar
Rickenbacker first electric guitar (static.pinboard.in)

* 1945 Japan accepts Potsdam terms, agrees to unconditional surrender.

On this day in 1945, just a day after the bombing of Nagasaki, Japan submits its acquiescence to the Potsdam Conference terms of unconditional surrender, as President Harry S. Truman orders a halt to atomic bombing.

Emperor Hirohito, having remained aloof from the daily decisions of prosecuting the war, rubber-stamping the decisions of his War Council, including the decision to bomb Pearl Harbor, finally felt compelled to do more. At the behest of two Cabinet members, the emperor summoned and presided over a special meeting of the Council and implored them to consider accepting the terms of the Potsdam Conference, which meant unconditional surrender. “It seems obvious that the nation is no longer able to wage war, and its ability to defend its own shores is doubtful.” The Council had been split over the surrender terms; half the members wanted assurances that the emperor would maintain his hereditary and traditional role in a postwar Japan before surrender could be considered. But in light of the bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, Nagasaki on August 9, and the Soviet invasion of Manchuria, as well as the emperor’s own request that the Council “bear the unbearable,” it was agreed: Japan would surrender.

Tokyo released a message to its ambassadors in Switzerland and Sweden, which was then passed on to the Allies. The message formally accepted the Potsdam Declaration but included the proviso that “said Declaration does not comprise any demand which prejudices the prerogatives of His Majesty as sovereign ruler.” When the message reached Washington, President Truman, unwilling to inflict any more suffering on the Japanese people, especially on “all those kids,” ordered a halt to atomic bombing, He also wanted to know whether the stipulation regarding “His Majesty” was a deal breaker. Negotiations between Washington and Tokyo ensued. Meanwhile, savage fighting continued between Japan and the Soviet Union in Manchuria.

Japanese surrender before Allied commanders aboard USS Missouri – September 2nd, 1945
Japanese surrender before Allied commanders aboard USS Missouri – September 2nd, 1945 (if i only had a time machine – WordPress.com)

Today’s Sources: 

* This Day In History – What Happened Today                        http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/

Author: John Fioravanti

I'm a retired History teacher (35 years), husband, father of three, grandfather of three. My wife, Anne, and I became business partners in December, 2013, and launched our own publishing company, Fiora Books (http://fiorabooks.com), to publish my books. We have been married since 1973 and hope our joint business venture will be as successful as our marriage.

6 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… August 10th”

  1. I remember studying the Pinto case. The folks at Ford placed a value on a life and came to the conclusion that the increased cost of the Pinto to correct the problem (which would be passed on to buyers) was a “social cost,” which was not economical given the value of a life. It was shocking that adults could come to that conclusion. Great post, John

    Like

  2. Excellent post, John. I so remember the fury over the Pinto. It’s stunning when manufacturers (autos, prescription drugs, etc) know there is something wrong but choose to look the other way. Can’t help but think of the quote, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?”

    Liked by 1 person

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