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Archive for May, 2010

Forever in blue jeans…and in court

On May 20, 1873, Jacob W. Davis received patent #139,121 for an “improvement in fastening pocket openings.” Davis’s improvement consisted of “the employment of a metal rivet or eyelet at each edge of the pocket opening to prevent the ripping of the seam at those points.”

Less than a year later, on January 31, 1874, Davis and his partner, Levi Strauss, filed a suit for patent infringement against A. B. Elfelt et al., claiming damages of $20,000. The court decided for the plaintiffs on February 10, 1875, but awarded Davis and Strauss only $2,000.

In his deposition, Davis recounts the story of how he came to first use rivets on work pants. He explains how, in January 1871, a woman asked him to make a pair of pants for her husband and to make them strong. Before working on the pants, he had been using rivets to attach straps to horse blankets, and when he noticed the rivets lying on the table, he thought to use them to attach the pockets.

The Archival Research Catalog has digital copies of several documents from the file of case #1211. Choose a document from this list to read more.… [ Read all ]

Connected, hundreds of years apart

Petroglyphs, Napoleon, tobacco pigtails, the EPA. What do these have to do with each other?

On May 14, 1804, the Lewis and Clark expedition set out from St. Louis, Missouri, to explore the Northwest from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean.

France had just seceded Lousiana to the United States. The National Archives holds the French exchange copy of the agreement, providing for the payment of 60 million francs by the United States to France. It was signed by the future Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and his Foreign Minister, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord.

Lewis and Clark set out to explore this territory with plenty of supplies, including tobacco “pigtails.” They crossed the country, recording the landscape and its occupants in their journals. They drew detailed maps of this new part of the United States to bring back to Jefferson.

They described drawings carved into rocks by Native Americans.

One hundred and seventy years later, photographers were fanning across the United States, taking pictures for the DOCUMERICA project. Although they were not armed with tobacco or paddling in canoes, they were busy recording the landscape for the Federal Government.

Patricia Duncan took this photograph of Ron McKinney, then aged 22, a Potawatomie-Kickapoo Indian, looking at a cliff in Kansas.  In 1974, the life of this young man was very different from his ancestors in 1804.  … [ Read all ]

Expo 2010, meet Expo 74

The World Expo 2010 in Shanghai, China, opened this month and expects to attract 70 million visitors.

If you are not going to China, you can still visit the World Expos of the past, here in the National Archives.

Since the 1876 exposition in Philadelphia, the United States has hosted over a dozen expos. The growing concern for the environment in the early 1970s (the first Earth Day in 1970, establishment of the EPA in 1971) made it appropriate that the theme of Expo 74 in Spokane was “Celebrating Tomorrow’s Fresh New Environment.”

One of the EPA’s DOCUMERICA photographers, Charles O’Rear, took pictures of the preparations for the Spokane Expo, and several of these are online in the National Archives Archival Research Catalog.

The DOCUMERICA photography project was described in the Spring 2009 issue of Prologue, and an album of selected DOCUMERICA images is on the National Archives’ Flickr photostream.

[ Read all ]

Forty years ago: An investigation into Kent State

Forty years ago this week, four people were killed at Kent State University, fueling protests in an already divided nation.  This map was used by the Kent State University Investigative Team to determine what happened on May 4, 1970.… [ Read all ]

Mutiny on the high seas

In the history of the United States Navy, no formal mutiny on the high seas has ever occurred, though one was narrowly averted on the storied decks of the USS Somers in 1842.

Without a Naval academy to train future Naval officers, the USS Somers set out in 1842 with a crew of seaman in training, on orders from Commodore Perry to deliver dispatches to another ship off the coast of Africa.  After delivering the letters, whispers of mutiny reached the ears of Commander Alexander Slidell Mackenzie and Lieutenant Guert Gansevoort the only two commissioned line officers aboard.

It was thought that Midshipmen Philip Spencer was plotting to seize the helm and turn the Somers into a pirate ship, a rumor that was validated when a list of crew members who would support an insurrection was found in Spencer’s room, along with a drawing of the ship flying a pirate’s flag.

Spencer and two others were tried on the ship’s decks, found guilty, and hanged.

The story of mutiny may have faded into the annals of Naval history, but Spencer was the son of the Secretary of War and, though exonerated by the courts, Mackenzie was criticized for carrying out the hanging when he was only a few days from land, and less than two weeks … [ Read all ]