History Book – An Uplifting Invention

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, March 21. Good morning! It is The world and all in it of WORLD Radio supported by the listeners. I am Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Next, the world history book. Here’s Associate Correspondent Harrison Waters with some notable birthdays for the third week of March.

HARRISON WATTERS, ASSOCIATE CORRESPONDENT: In early 1812, Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry feared that the Federalist party was becoming too powerful in Congress. He feared they would drag the United States into another war with Britain. To reduce the number of Federalist senators from Massachusetts, Gerry worked with his party to change the way the state was represented in Congress.

HISTORY CHANNEL: This included changing Massachusetts Senate precincts, which mirrored county lines in favor of Democratic Republicans.

Shortly after the district maps were released The Boston Gazette published a cartoon of one of the warped neighborhoods on March 26. The map was equipped with a salamander head, wings, and tail. As George Grant would say, the title of the cartoon was a portmanteau of Gerry and Salamander or Gerry-mander.

Gerry with a hard G. The Wall Street Journal ran a video in 2018 explaining why we pronounce it gerrymander today.

WALL STREET JOURNAL: It all goes back to that cartoon. It’s before the radio. There was no audio transmission except word of mouth and so the word “gerrymander” traveled farther and faster than the pronunciation of Gerry’s surname.

Although he signed the Declaration of Independence and served as James Madison’s Vice President, Gerry is best remembered for his twisted map design. In elections later in 1812, Gerry lost his governorship, but his plan to bring Democratic-Republican senators into Congress worked. Sadly, that wasn’t enough to avert the War of 1812. And it set the stage for two centuries of wrangling over what is fair and equitable representation.

From the start of one problem to the end of another, 170 years ago this week, Elisha Otis opened the first public safety elevator.

Elevators have been around since the Romans built aqueducts, but they all had the same problem: if the cables broke, the platform would fall.

In 1852, while building furniture lifts for a box spring manufacturer, Otis installed a mechanism that would automatically lock the lift if the ropes broke. The invention was a success. But it wasn’t until two years later that his business really took off…thanks to the Universal Exhibition of 1854.

Steve Hoefer for Make: Inventions explains what happened.

HOEFER: In front of a crowd of curious spectators, he rode his elevator to the top, then ordered his assistant to cut the rope with an axe. When the rope split, the elevator only dropped a few centimeters and stopped.

The blow paid off. Highligths. Meet YouTuber The story guy:

HISTORY GUY: After the World’s Fair, Otis is said to have doubled its sales every year thereafter and in 1898 Otis absorbed 14 of its major competitors.

On March 23, 1857, Otis installed the first passenger service safety elevator in a New York City department store. While the inventor has patented many other devices, including a steam plow and a bread oven, the invention that has taken the world by storm is the elevator. The Otis Safety Elevator made skyscrapers and the modern city possible.

OTIS ELEVATOR PROMO VIDEO: Today, Otis is still the largest elevator company in the world with 1.2 million units in service and annual sales approaching six billion dollars. Elisha Otis: A business legend.

We end today with the annexation of Crimea by Russia, 8 years ago this week.

NEWS REPORT: Russian President Vladimir Putin receives a standing ovation from both houses of parliament, who he has just addressed about the situation in Crimea, explaining that Crimea has always been part of Russia in spirit of the Russians.

But one person in the room wasn’t cheering – or standing up – and he then voted against annexing Crimea.

Ilya Ponomarev was an energy entrepreneur who left business in 2007 to represent Siberia in parliament. Ponomarev was alarmed when Putin called Ukrainians opposed to annexation “national traitors”. This term was first used by Adolf Hitler.

PONOMAREV: And so, when Putin said that, and when everyone stood up and started applauding him, and shouting ‘Hail to the leader’, and you know ‘Yes, we did it’, and stuff like that, I thought you know, somebody must be against it.

Ponomarev knew his district was divided on the merits of annexation. When he saw the overwhelming support for Putin’s plan, he chose to represent the millions of Russians in opposition and faced an immediate backlash. Ponomarev resisted calls to resign but left the country, living in the United States for a year before moving to Ukraine, where he has lived since 2016.

Ponomarev remains critical of Putin’s actions – and although he worries about what Putin might do in his war against Ukraine – he believes Russians and Ukrainians are brothers and sisters who can live in peace.

PONOMAREV: Putin will go. He is not immortal. No technology will make him immortal, we will make sure of that in Silicon Valley, you know, and the situation will definitely change. Thank you.

It’s this week’s world history book. I am Harrison Watters.

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