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Archive for 'Prologue Magazine'

Herman Melville: A Voyage into History

The Acushnet's crew list, December 1840. Herman Melville's name appears sixth from the bottom. (Records of the U.S. Customs Service, RG 36, National Archives at Boston)

This story originally appeared in the Fall 2009 issue of Prologue magazine.

Herman Melville’s classic American novel, Moby-Dick, was first published in the United States on November 14, 1851. In Moby-Dick and his earlier books, Melville called upon his own experience aboard whaling ships, most notably his 18 months spent aboard the Acushnet, sailing out of Fairhaven, Massachusetts. The 21-year-old Melville signed on in December 1840 but never completed the journey with the ship. After rounding Cape Horn and sailing across the Pacific, Melville and another crew member deserted in July 1842 while the ship was stopped at Nukahiva, one of the Marquesas Islands in the South Pacific. Their departure was not an isolated incident; 11 of the original complement of 26 officers and men deserted at various times during the voyage.

The crew list was signed by Capt. Valentine Pease on December 31, 1840. Two days later, Pease had to amend the list to note the first two deserters from the crew and the late signing of a replacement. The collector of customs for New Bedford, Massachusetts, retained a copy of the crew list as required by an 1803 act of Congress governing merchant ships … [ Read all ]

Facial Hair Friday: A mustache, a funny man, and a President

Page of the World War I draft card for Groucho Marx, from the holdings of the National Archives

Julius Henry Marx–better known by his stage name Groucho Marx–passed away on August 19, 1977. He left behind a legacy of humor on stage, radio, and film. I was not able to find to find any images of him in our holdings, which was disappointing as his trademark mustache was a fine candidate for Facial Hair Friday.

However, I did find something unexpected. Groucho had been corresponding with President Truman.

What would a funny man and a President have in common? Well, it turns out that the young Harry Truman was an avid vaudeville fan, attending shows at the Orpheum Theatre and the Grand Opera House whenever he was Kansas City. He even took his future wife Bess to vaudeville shows on dates. Truman especially enjoyed the Marx Brothers, later recalling that he never missed a chance to see them when they were in town.

So Truman was a fan of the famous brothers, but how did he come to correspond with Groucho (and later Harpo Marx)?

It started with the displaced persons, the survivors of the Holocaust who had lost their homes and families and were now living in temporary camps. Truman had issued a directive in 1945 to allow some of them to immigrate to the United States. In … [ Read all ]

Facial Hair Friday: A Musical Interlude

“Crowds gather for the Washington, D.C., premiere of the film This Is the Army at Warner’s Earle Theater in Washington, D.C., on August 12, 1943. ” NARA, 111-SC-178981

We interrupt our usual hairy programming to bring you this musical interlude.

What could be so important that we would skip mustaches, beards, and goatees?

Well, today marks the anniversary of the Washington, DC, premiere of This Is the Army, with songs written (and one performed) by Irving Berlin.

You would easily recognize Irving Berlin’s songs “God Bless America,” “White Christmas” and “Putting on the Ritz.” But the citizens and soldiers of 1943 would have easily recognized “Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning.”

When World War II broke out, Irving Berlin was already a very successful songwriter. During World War I, he had been drafted by the Army to raise morale through music, which he successfully did with his musical Yip! Yip! Yaphank. Now, three decades later, Berlin was ready to do the same for his adopted country again.

The result was the musical production This Is the Army. Although Laurence Bergreen notes in this Prologue article, “And in case the army didn’t like it, he had another title in reserve: This Is the Navy. Or the Air Corps. Whatever. But his heart was with the army.”

Members of

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World War I food conservation: “Pan de la libertad”

Recipes for "Pan de la libertad para conservar el trigo." (Records of the U.S. Food Administration, RG 4, National Archives at San Francisco)

Recipes for "Pan de la libertad para conservar el trigo." (Records of the U.S. Food Administration, RG 4, National Archives at San Francisco)

“What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam?,” our current special exhibition in Washington, DC, examines the Government’s effect on what Americans eat. Government influence was especially visible during wartime, when many food products were reserved for feeding the troops and our Allies.

During World War I, the U.S. Food Administration, headed by Herbert Hoover, urged the American people to voluntarily conserve food, especially wheat, meat, fats, and sugar. Recognizing that a successful program had to reach out to all Americans, the agency distributed printed materials in several languages, including Italian pamphlets in New York City, Chinese food conservation notices in Hawaii, and Spanish recipes in California.

The featured recipes for “pan de la libertad” (liberty bread), using corn, oat, and barley flour instead of wheat, were found in the files of the California State Food Administration, housed at the National Archives at San Francisco. According to a note at the bottom, recipes were translated into Spanish for counties with significant Spanish-speaking populations.

An all-out publicity campaign was waged to educate the citizenry about the need for food conservation and how … [ Read all ]

What’s Cooking Wednesdays: Crimes against butter

Charles Wille was sent to the Federal Penitentiary at Leavenworth in 1915 for crimes against butter. (ARC 596115)

The Federal Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas, has housed some famous and infamous inmates, such as “Birdman of Alcatraz” Robert Stroud and Machine Gun Kelly. In the early 20th century, the prison took in some less likely felons—violators of the Oleomargarine Act of 1886.

How did trafficking in this popular butter substitute become a Federal offense? Well, almost immediately after New York’s U.S. Dairy Company began production of “artificial butter” in 1871, regulation began. Dairy interests pushed Congress to pass the 1886 act, which imposed a two-cent tax (per pound) on margarine and also required manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers of margarine to obtain margarine licenses.

By 1902, 32 states had bans on coloring margarine yellow to make it look more like butter. That same year, Congress increased the tax to 10 cents a pound for colored margarine but imposed a lesser tax of a quarter of one cent per pound on the uncolored stuff.

The exhibit “What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam?” includes the story of felons convicted of violating sections of the Oleomargarine Act and sent to the Federal prison at Leavenworth. Some tried to pass the margarine off as butter; others tried to evade the tax by reusing tax stamps again and again.

Joseph Wirth (along with his

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