Genealogy and Family History
Historical and government records can help you trace your heritage. Use these free resources to research and build your family tree.
The National Archives and Records Administration has a collection of resources for genealogists. These include:
Records of military service from the Revolutionary War to the present
State archives contain materials including:
The U.S. Census Bureau will provide census data from 1950 - 2010 to the person named in the record or their legal heir.
The Statue of Liberty - Ellis Island Foundation has a database of passenger records. Search it to find family members who entered the United States through the famous port.
The Nationwide Gravesite Locator can help you find burial locations of veterans.
The Department of the Interior provides a guide to tracing your Native American heritage.
The Library of Congress offers local history and genealogy reference services. They can help you refine your research skills and find new sources.
Military Conflicts in U.S. History
This page provides information about military conflicts involving the United States including the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Indian Wars, Dominican Republic, Bosnia, and more.
American Revolution (1775-1783) Great Britain forced its 13 American colonies to pay taxes but did not give them representation in the British Parliament. This and other injustices led the colonies to declare independence on July 4, 1776. Independence was achieved in 1783, when the Treaty of Paris was signed with Britain.
War of 1812 (1812-1815) British interference with American trade, impressment of American seamen, and ?war hawks? in Congress calling for western expansion into British territory led to war. At the war's conclusion, trade issues remained unresolved, but Britain gave up some of its territorial claims on the continent.
Mexican War (1846-1848) The U.S. annexation of Texas, and its stated desire to acquire California and other Mexican territory, precipitated this war. Mexico was forced to give up two-fifths of its territory. This land eventually became the states of California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah.
Civil War (1861-1865) Economic and political rivalry between an agrarian South and an industrial North grew into a civil war fought over slavery and states' rights. Eleven states seceded from the Union to form the Confederate States of America. The Union victory led to the reunification of the country and ended slavery.
Indian Wars (colonial era to 1890) U.S. expansionism led to numerous military conflicts with the indigenous inhabitants of North America, forcing them to give up their land. The massacre at Wounded Knee, S.D., in 1890 is generally considered the last of these conflicts.
Spanish American War (1898) The U.S. supported Cuba's desire for independence from Spanish rule, and seized the opportunity to expand U.S. powers in other parts of the world. At the end of the brief conflict, Cuba gained its independence, and the U.S. gained several former Spanish territories: Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines.
World War I (1914-1918) Rivalries over power, territory, and wealth led to the ?Great War.? In 1917, the U.S. joined the Allies (Britain, France, Russia, Italy, and Japan), who were at war with the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey), after German submarines began sinking unarmed ships.
World War II (1939-1945) The Axis powers-Germany, Italy, and Japan-attempted to dominate the world. The Allies (U.S., Britain, France, USSR, and others) fought to stop them. The United States entered the war in 1941, after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. Germany surrendered in 1945, and Japan surrendered later that same year, after the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Korean War (1950-1953) Communist North Korea, supported by China, invaded non-communist South Korea. UN forces, principally made up of U.S. troops, fought successfully to protect South Korea. The Korean War was the first armed conflict in the global struggle between democracy and communism, called the cold war.
Bay of Pigs (1961) The U.S. orchestrated the invasion, an unsuccessful attempt by Cuban exiles to overthrow Fidel Castro's communist regime in Cuba.
Vietnam War (1961-1973) In 1955, communist North Vietnam invaded non-communist South Vietnam in an attempt to unify the country and impose communist rule. The United States joined the war on the side of South Vietnam in 1961, but withdrew combat troops in 1973. In 1975 North Vietnam succeeded in taking control of South Vietnam.
Dominican Republic (1965) President Lyndon Johnson sent marines and troops to quash a leftist uprising in the Dominican Republic, fearing the island nation would follow in the footsteps of Cuba and turn communist.
Lebanon (1982-1984) U.S. troops formed part of a multinational peacekeeping force to help the fragile Lebanese government maintain power.
Grenada (1983) President Reagan invaded the Caribbean nation of Grenada to overthrow its socialist government, which had close ties with Cuba.
Panama (1989) President George H.W. Bush invaded Panama and overthrew Panamanian dictator and drug-smuggler Manuel Noriega.
Gulf War (1991) Iraq invaded Kuwait, and a U.S.-led multinational force came to Kuwait's aid and expelled Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's forces.
Somalia (1993) A U.S.-led multinational force attempted to restore order to war-torn Somalia so that food could be delivered and distributed within the famine-stricken country.
Bosnia (1994-1995) During the Bosnian civil war, which began shortly after the country declared independence in 1992, the U.S. launched air strikes on Bosnia to prevent ?ethnic cleansing,? primarily by Serbs against Bosnians. The U.S. became a part of NATO's peacekeeping force in the region.
Kosovo (1999) Yugoslavia's province of Kosovo erupted into violence in the spring of 1999. A U.S.-led NATO force intervened with air strikes after Slobodan Milosevic's Serbian forces uprooted the population and embarked on the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian population.
Global War on Terror (2001- ) In the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, President George Bush launched the Global War on Terrorism-which has become the longest period of continuous war in U.S. history. The United Kingdom, several NATO countries, and other nations have participated to eliminate al-Qada and other militants groups.
Afghanistan (2001-2014) The Taliban government harbored Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda terrorist group, responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. After Afghanistan refused to turn over Bin Laden, the U.S. and UN coalition forces invaded. The Taliban government was ousted and many terrorist camps in Afghanistan were destroyed. U.S. and NATO troops remain in Afghanistan to support its fragile new government.
Iraq War (2003-2010) The U.S. and Great Britain invaded and toppled the government of dictator Saddam Hussein. Troops remain in Iraq to combat the insurgency that formed after Hussein's defeat.
War Against the Islamic State (ISIS) (2014?) The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), also called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), has terrorized large swaths of Iraq and Syria in its drive to establish an Islamic state in the Middle East ruled by strict shariah law. The militant group is made up of fundamentalist Sunni Muslims and foreign jihadists. In September 2014, President Barack Obama authorized airstrikes against ISIS in Syria. He was clear that he does not plan to deploy ground troops in the fight against ISIS.
A: The Social Security Act was signed by FDR on 8/14/35. Taxes were collected for the first time in January 1937 and the first one-time, lump-sum payments were made that same month. Regular ongoing monthly benefits started in January 1940.
Q2: What is the origin of the term "Social Security?"
A: The term was first used in the U.S. by Abraham Epstein in connection with his group, the American Association for Social Security. Originally, the Social Security Act of 1935 was named the Economic Security Act, but this title was changed during Congressional consideration of the bill. (The full story has been recounted by Professor Edwin Witte who was present at the event.)
Q3: When did Medicare start?
A: Medicare was passed into law on July 30, 1965 but beneficiaries were first able to sign-up for the program on July 1, 1966.
Q4: Is it true that Social Security was originally just a retirement program?
A: Yes. Under the 1935 law, what we now think of as Social Security only paid retirement benefits to the primary worker. A 1939 change in the law added survivors benefits and benefits for the retiree's spouse and children. In 1956 disability benefits were added.
Keep in mind, however, that the Social Security Act itself was much broader than just the program which today we commonly describe as "Social Security." The original 1935 law contained the first national unemployment compensation program, aid to the states for various health and welfare programs, and the Aid to Dependent Children program. (Full text of the 1935 law.)
Q5: Is it true that members of Congress do not have to pay into Social Security?
A: No, it is not true. All members of Congress, the President and Vice President, Federal judges, and most political appointees, were covered under the Social Security program starting in January 1984. They pay into the system just like everyone else. Thus all members of Congress, no matter how long they have been in office, have been paying into the Social Security system since January 1984.
(Prior to this time, most Federal government workers and officials were participants in the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) which came into being in 1920--15 years before the Social Security system was formed. For this reason, historically, Federal employees were not participants in the Social Security system.)
Employees of the three branches of the federal government, were also covered starting in January 1984, under the 1983 law--but with some special transition rules.
1) Executive and judicial branch employees hired before January 1, 1984 were given a one-time irrevocable choice of whether to switch to Social Security or stay under the old CSRS. (Rehired employees--other than rehired annuitants--are treated like new employees if their break-in-service was more than a year.)
2) Employees of the legislative branch who were not participating in the CSRS system were mandatorily covered, regardless of when their service began. Those who were in the CSRS system were given the same one-time choice as employees in the executive and judicial branches.
3) All federal employees hired on or after January 1, 1984 are mandatorily covered under Social Security--the CSRS system is not an option for them.
So there are still some Federal employees, those first hired prior to January 1984, who are not participants in the Social Security system. All other Federal government employees participate in Social Security like everyone else.
This change was part of the 1983 Amendments to Social Security. You can find a summary of the 1983 amendments elsewhere on this site.
Q6: Is is true that the age of 65 was chosen as the retirement age for Social Security because the Germans used 65 in their system, and the Germans used age 65 because their Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, was 65 at the time they developed their system?
A: No, it is not true. Generally, age 65 was chosen to conform to contemporary practice during the 1930s. (See more detailed explanation.)
Q7: Is it true that life expectancy was less than 65 back in 1935, so the Social Security program was designed in such a way that people would not live long enough to collect benefits?
A: Not really. Life expectancy at birth was less than 65, but this is a misleading measure. A more appropriate measure is life expectancy after attainment of adulthood, which shows that most Americans could expect to live to age 65 once they survived childhood. (See more detailed explanation.)
Q8: When did COLAs (cost-of-living allowances) start?
A: COLAs were first paid in 1975 as a result of a 1972 law. Prior to this, benefits were increased irregularly by special acts of Congress.
Q9: What information is available from Social Security records to help in genealogical research?
A: You might want to start by checking out the Social Security Death Index which is available online from a variety of commercial services (usually the search is free). The Death Index contains a listing of persons who had a Social Security number, who are deceased, and whose death was reported to the Social Security Administration. (The information in the Death Index for people who died prior to 1962 is sketchy since SSA's death information was not automated before that date. Death information for persons who died before 1962 is generally only in the Death Index if the death was actually reported to SSA after 1962, even though the death occurred prior to that year.)
If you find a person in the Death Index you will learn the date of birth and Social Security Number for that person. (The Social Security Death Index is not published by SSA for public use, but is made available by commercial entities using information from SSA records. We do not offer support of these commercial products nor can we answer questions about the material in the Death Index.)
Other records potentially available from SSA include the Application for a Social Security Number (form SS-5). To obtain any information from SSA you will need to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
Q10: Does Social Security have any lists of the most common names in use in the U.S.?
A: Yes, based on the applications for Social Security cards, SSA's Office of the Actuary has done a series of special studies of the most common names.
Q11: Where do I get more information about the Social Security program as it exists today?
Q12: Who was the first person to get Social Security benefits?
A: A fellow named Ernest Ackerman got a payment for 17 cents in January 1937. This was a one-time, lump-sum pay-out--which was the only form of benefits paid during the start-up period January 1937 through December 1939.
Q13: If Ernest Ackerman only received a single lump-sum payment, who was the first person to received ongoing monthly benefits?
A: A woman named Ida May Fuller , from Ludlow, Vermont was the first recipient of monthly Social Security benefits.
Q14: How many people, annually, have received Social Security payments?
A: This history is available as a detailed table. (Payment history table)
Q15: What is the "notch"?
A: In 1972 a technical error was introduced in the law which resulted in beneficiaries getting a double adjustment for inflation. In 1977 Congress acted to correct the error. Instead of making the correction immediate, they phased it in over a five year period (this is the notch period). This phase-in period was defined as affecting those people born in 1917-1921. Individuals in the notch generally receive higher benefits than those born after the notch, although they receive lower benefits than those born in the period prior to the notch when the error was in effect.
Q16: Where can I find the history of the tax rates over the years and the amount of earnings subject to Social Security taxes?
A: The history of the tax rates is available as an Adobe PDF file. (Tax rate table). There is also a table showing the maximum amount of Social Security taxes that could have been paid since the program began.
There are also tables showing the minimum and maximum Social Security benefit for a retired worker who retires at age 62 and one who retires at age 65.
Also, there is a table showing the number of workers paying into Social Security each year. (Covered workers table) And also a table showing the ratio of covered workers to beneficiaries. (Ratio table)
Q17: What does FICA mean and why are Social Security taxes called FICA contributions?
A: Social Security payroll taxes are collected under authority of the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA). The payroll taxes are sometimes even called "FICA taxes." In the original 1935 law the benefit provisions were in Title II of the Act and the taxing provisions were in a separate title, Title VIII. As part of the 1939 Amendments, the Title VIII taxing provisions were taken out of the Social Security Act and placed in the Internal Revenue Code. Since it wouldn't make any sense to call this new section of the Internal Revenue Code "Title VIII," it was renamed the "Federal Insurance Contributions Act." So FICA is nothing more than the tax provisions of the Social Security Act, as they appear in the Internal Revenue Code.
Q18: Is there any significance to the numbers assigned in the Social Security Number?
A: Yes. Originally, the first three digits are assigned by the geographical region in which the person was residing at the time he/she obtained a number. Generally, numbers were assigned beginning in the northeast and moving westward. So people on the east coast have the lowest numbers and those on the west coast have the highest numbers. The remaining six digits in the number are more or less randomly assigned and were organized to facilitate the early manual bookkeeping operations associated with the creation of Social Security in the 1930s.
Beginning on June 25, 2011, the SSA implemented a new assignment methodology for Social Security Numbers. The project is a forward looking initiative of the Social Security Administration (SSA) to help protect the integrity of the SSN by establishing a new randomized assignment methodology. SSN Randomization will also extend the longevity of the nine-digit SSN nationwide.
For more information on the randomization of Social Security Numbers, please visit this website:
Q19: How many Social Security numbers have been issued since the program started?
A: Social Security numbers were first issued in November 1936. To date, 453.7 million different numbers have been issued.
Q20: Are Social Security numbers reused after a person dies?
A: No. We do not reassign a Social Security number (SSN) after the number holder's death. Even though we have issued over 453 million SSNs so far, and we assign about 5 and one-half million new numbers a year, the current numbering system will provide us with enough new numbers for several generations into the future with no changes in the numbering system.
Q21: When did Social Security cards bear the legend "NOT FOR IDENTIFICATION"?
A: The first Social Security cards were issued starting in 1936, they did not have this legend. Beginning with the sixth design version of the card, issued starting in 1946, SSA added a legend to the bottom of the card reading "FOR SOCIAL SECURITY PURPOSES -- NOT FOR IDENTIFICATION." This legend was removed as part of the design changes for the 18th version of the card, issued beginning in 1972. The legend has not been on any new cards issued since 1972.
Q22: Does the Social Security Number contain a code indicating the racial group to which the cardholder belongs?
A: No. This is a myth. The Social Security Number does contain a segment (the two middle numbers) known as "the group number." But this refers only to the numerical groups 01-99. It has nothing to do with race. (See more detailed explanation.)Financing
Q23: Has Social Security ever been financed by general tax revenues?
A: Not to any significant extent. (See detailed explanation.)
Q24: How much has Social Security paid out since it started?
A: From 1937 (when the first payments were made) through 2009 the Social Security program has expended $11.3 trillion.
Q25: How much has Social Security taken in taxes and other income since it started?
A: From 1937 (when taxes were first collected) through 2009 the Social Security program has received $13.8 trillion in income.
Q26: Has Social Security always taken in more money each year than it needed to pay benefits?
A: No. So far there have been 11 years in which the Social Security program did not take enough in FICA taxes to pay the current year's benefits. During these years, Trust Fund bonds in the amount of about $24 billion made up the difference. (See detailed Table.)
Q27: Do the Social Security Trust Funds earn interest?
A: Yes they do. By law, the assets of the Social Security program must be invested in securities guaranteed as to both principal and interest. The Trust Funds hold a mix of short-term and long-term government bonds. The Trust Funds can hold both regular Treasury securities and "special obligation" securities issued only to federal trust funds. In practice, most of the securities in the Social Security Trust Funds are of the "special obligation" type. (See additional explanation from SSA's Office of the Actuary.)
The Trust Funds earn interest which is set at the average market yield on long-term Treasury securities. Interest earnings on the invested assets of the combined OASI and DI Trust Funds were $55.5 billion in calendar year 1999. This represented an effective annual interest rate of 6.9 percent.
The Trust Funds have earned interest in every year since the program began. More detailed information on the Trust Fund investments can be found in the Annual Report of the Social Security Trustees and on the Actuary's webpages concerning the Investment Transactions and Investment Holdings of the Trust Funds.
Q28: Did President Franklin Roosevelt make a set of promises about Social Security, which have now been violated?
A: This question generally refers to a set of misinformation that is propagated over the Internet (usually via email) from time to time. (See a detailed explanation here.)
Q29: I have seen a set of questions and answers on the Internet concerning who started the taxing of Social Security benefits, and questions like that. Are the answers given correct?
The real power of the DELTA column comes into play when you are trying to compute back-dated values such as the company's total open balance on June 1, 2008. If you have a naive history table that stores only the old value or only the new value, this is truly a tortuous query to write, but if you have both then it is really quite easy.
This magical little query works because paid orders will "wash out" of the total. Consider an order that is entered on May 20 for $200.00, and is then paid on May 23rd. It will have +200 entry in the BALANCE_DELTA column, and then it will have a -200.00 entry 3 days later. It will contribute the grand sum of zero to the total.
But an order entered on May 25th that has not been paid by June 1st will have only a +200 entry in the BALANCE_DELTA column, so it will contribute the correct amount of $200.00 to the balance as of June 1st.
If the company owner wants a report of his total open balances on each of the past 30 days, you can retrieve two queries and build his report on the client:
Presidential Vetoes/tiles/non-collection/f/fdr_vetomessage_2008_231_002.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object In 1935, FDR came to the House Chamber to deliver his veto message in person.
Article I, section 7 of the Constitution grants the President the authority to veto legislation passed by Congress. This authority is one of the most significant tools the President can employ to prevent the passage of legislation. Even the threat of a veto can bring about changes in the content of legislation long before the bill is ever presented to the President. The Constitution provides the President 10 days (excluding Sundays) to act on legislation or the legislation automatically becomes law. There are two types of vetoes: the “regular veto” and the “pocket veto.”
The regular veto is a qualified negative veto. The President returns the unsigned legislation to the originating house of Congress within a 10 day period usually with a memorandum of disapproval or a “veto message.” Congress can override the President’s decision if it musters the necessary two–thirds vote of each house. President George Washington issued the first regular veto on April 5, 1792. The first successful congressional override occurred on March 3, 1845, when Congress overrode President John Tyler’s veto of S. 66.
The pocket veto is an absolute veto that cannot be overridden. The veto becomes effective when the President fails to sign a bill after Congress has adjourned and is unable to override the veto. The authority of the pocket veto is derived from the Constitution’s Article I, section 7, “the Congress by their adjournment prevent its return, in which case, it shall not be law.” Over time, Congress and the President have clashed over the use of the pocket veto, debating the term “adjournment.” The President has attempted to use the pocket veto during intra- and inter- session adjournments and Congress has denied this use of the veto. The Legislative Branch, backed by modern court rulings, asserts that the Executive Branch may only pocket veto legislation when Congress has adjourned sine die from a session. President James Madison was the first President to use the pocket veto in 1812.
How Hurricanes Have Shaped the Course of U.S. History
Bryan Norcross remembers the moment well. It was 3:30 a.m. on August 24, 1992, and the meteorologist was in the midst of a 23-hour broadcast marathon as Hurricane Andrew, having reached Category 5 strength, bore down on Miami. He suggested to his crew that they move from the studio into an adjacent storage room, which was better protected from the fierce winds and slashing rains that were pummeling WTVJ-TV.
It was a wakeup call for many people who were watching on TV or listening on the radio. “Thousands of people over the years told me that was the moment they realized I was deadly serious,” Norcross recalls. “I had already told people to get ready to get under a mattress in a closet when the worst of it came in. That’s when many did, and four hours later they moved the mattress and could see the sky.”
Andrew was the most destructive hurricane to strike Florida, causing more than $25 billion in damage—about $46 billion today—with 44 deaths. Tens of thousands of homes, businesses and other structures were leveled as sustained winds of 165 miles per hour tore through the region. The storm would have a lasting influence.
“Hurricane Andrew is the storm that changed how we deal with hurricanes in the United States,” says Norcross, who now is a senior hurricane specialist at The Weather Channel. “The emergency management system was completely reworked. The hurricane building codes we use today came out of this storm. Also, it was the best-measured hurricane at the time. So much of what we know today about strong hurricanes is the result of Hurricane Andrew. It was a seminal storm in so many ways.”
The history of Atlantic hurricanes is inextricably linked with the history of this country, from its colonial founding through independence and into modern times. A new book coming out later this summer, A Furious Sky: The Five-Hundred-Year History of America’s Hurricanes by bestselling author Eric Jay Dolin, delves into the storms that shaped our society in ways we may not realize.
“I love the long arc of American history and love using it as a backbone to tell a broader story,” Dolin tells Smithsonian. “Hurricanes have determined some of the things that have happened in our country, including cultural issues, politics and the way society deals with concerns it faces: the women’s rights movement, racism, the evolution of television and more.
A Furious Sky: The Five-Hundred-Year History of America's Hurricanes
With A Furious Sky, best-selling author Eric Jay Dolin tells the history of America itself through its five-hundred-year battle with the fury of hurricanes.
Dolin begins more than 500 years ago with the hurricane of 1502. This massive storm in the Caribbean sank 24 ships of Christopher Columbus’ fleet off Hispaniola , the island shared today by the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The explorer, who had seen the hurricane approaching while at sea, warned residents of the Spanish settlement of the tempest and earned the distinction of becoming the first European to issue a weather forecast in the New World. The hurricane was also a harbinger of what was to come for those early colonies.
A century later, in 1609, a powerful hurricane nearly caused the collapse of England’s first permanent settlement in Jamestown, Virginia. Founded two years earlier, the colony was beset with problems from the start and relied heavily on aid from England. During the storm, a supply ship foundered and sank at Bermuda. By the time relief ships reached Jamestown, the colonists were near starvation.
“…Given the sorry state of the remaining colonists, the food on board the Deliverance and Patience was critical,” Dolin writes. “‘If God had not sent Sir Thomas Gates from the Bermudas,’ a contemporary pamphlet published in London opined, ‘within four days’ those colonists would have all perished.”
The meager rations that arrived enabled the settlement to barely survive until other supply ships arrived. One of the survivors, William Strachey, wrote about his ordeal, which William Shakespeare took as inspiration for the 1610 play The Tempest.
Farther up north, the Great Colonial Hurricane of 1635 clobbered the English settlements of Plymouth and the Massachusetts Bay Colony. This storm felled hundreds of thousands of trees, destroyed numerous houses, sank ships and killed scores of people, including eight Wampanaog tribespeople drowned by the 14-foot storm surge. A man named Stephen Hopkins, who’d been on the supply ship that sank in Bermuda in 1609 and later an original passenger on the Mayflower, was serendipitously in Plymouth for this storm.
Joseph Henry’s weather map was probably the first one in the country. (Smithsonian Institution Archives)
Dolin also cites a pair of storms that even helped the United States gain its independence. In 1780, two major hurricanes blasted through the Caribbean islands within weeks of each other, with the second, known as the Great Hurricane of 1780, killing an estimated 17,000 people. “[This] contributed to the French decision to get their ships out of the Caribbean the following hurricane season,” Dolin says, “which coincided with them sailing north and taking part in the Battle of Yorktown .”
As the nation’s population expanded, particularly along the Atlantic Coast and in the Gulf, scientists and planners sought to learn more about predicting the paths of these super-storms and defend our cities against them. The first “real-time” weather map was developed by Joseph Henry, the first secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. Though not used specifically to track hurricanes at first, in 1856 it used new technology to show the movement of storms across the eastern half of the United States with current data provided by telegraph operators.
“Joseph Henry helped shape the world we know when he laid the foundation of a national weather service shortly after becoming the Smithsonian’s first Secretary,” wrote Frank Rives Millikan, a historian with the Joseph Henry Papers Project. “…When Henry came to the Smithsonian, one of his first priorities was to set up a meteorological program. In 1847, while outlining his plan for the new institution, Henry called for ‘a system of extended meteorological observations for solving the problem of American storms.’”
A hurricane that hit Galveston in 1900 killed thousands. (Universal History Archive / Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
No matter the plans set out, the science of the time couldn’t warn communities with enough time to avoid the big one, even as local communities may have had the knowledge at their behest. Along the Gulf of Mexico, for instance, locals could tell when a big blow was coming if the crawfish started moving inland. But government officials were still left unprepared when the giant Galveston Hurricane of 1900 sent a huge storm surge that swept over a barrier island. The area was packed with tourists for the summer season and the hurricane killed 6,000 people, though some estimates place the death toll even higher. The death and destruction inspired the building of a nearly 18,000-foot-long cement seawall, one of the first of its kind.
Dolin wonders if this catastrophe along the Texas coast might have been avoided or at least minimized if officials in this country had been more aware of what others were saying about the development of these storms in the Gulf of Mexico.
“A priest named Benito Viñes in Cuba had been an expert predictor of hurricanes during the late 1800s and actually coordinated his efforts with the United States,” he says. “But because the Americans looked down with condescension on Cubans and their science, they didn’t pay attention to some of the signs that led up to the hurricane in Galveston.”
The most powerful storm– with wind speeds of 185 miles per hour —to make landfall in the U.S. was the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 . The Category 5 storm killed hundreds of World War I veterans on the Florida Keys who had been moved there following the Bonus Army March on Washington, D.C. three years earlier. Novelist Ernest Hemingway, who helped with recovery efforts, wrote a blistering article titled “Who Murdered the Vets” critical of the government, writing “… wealthy people, yachtsmen, fishermen such as President Hoover and Presidents Roosevelt, do not come to the Florida Keys in hurricane months. There is a known danger to property. But veterans, especially the bonus-marching variety of veterans, are not property. They are only human beings unsuccessful human beings, and all they have to lose is their lives.”
More recently, more and more powerful storms have left their mark. Hurricane Sandy was a late-season arrival in 2012 that barreled up the East Coast and slammed the northeastern United States. Though only a Category 1 upon landfall, the massive “superstorm” fooled many forecasters since it took an unexpected track toward land instead of heading out to sea. Sandy caused $65 billion in damage and flooded many states, including highly populated areas in New Jersey and New York. Power outages shut down the New York Stock Exchange for two days, only the second time in history that weather had caused such a disruption in trading (the first was the Great Blizzard of 1888).
The advent of radar and satellites enabled meteorologists to track hurricanes with greater accuracy and reliability. In addition, modern computers that could predict the paths of storms have greatly enhanced forecasts to the point where weather experts can be reasonably sure of where they are going as much as five days out.
That ability was bore fruit in 2017, when three major hurricanes hit the nation in less than a month as Harvey, Irma and Maria laid waste to coastlines across the South and the Caribbean, particularly Puerto Rico. Damage caused by these devastating storms cost hundreds of billions of dollars with thousands killed. But it could have been worse.
“The only good news to come out of this bruising hurricane season was that the National Hurricane Center’s track forecasts were the most accurate they had ever produced,” Dolin writes. “So, people at least had a good idea of where and when the hurricanes would strike.”
Waves break in front of a destroyed amusement park wrecked by Superstorm Sandy on October 31, 2012 in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. (Mario Tama / Getty Images)
Dolin argues that storms like these will increase in frequency and severity as climate change continues to cause the oceans to warm. “My book does not end on a high note,” he says. “We are in for a rough ride here on out. There is a growing scientific consensus that hurricanes in the future are going to be stronger and probably wetter than hurricanes of the past.”
Norcross, the TV weather forecaster who talked South Florida through Hurricane Andrew, sees an increase in serious storms this year and into the future. He says the average annual number of hurricanes over the past three decades was 12. Today, the figure has crept up to 14 or 15 per year. The odds now favor at least one storm of Category 3 or higher striking the U.S. each season. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts 2020 will spawn 19 named storms with as many as six major hurricanes.
Dolin says policymakers must not only get serious about reducing carbon emissions but also stop new development along shorelines and enforce tougher construction standards in coastal areas against the changes that are already coming.
“We have to have some humility about our place in the fabric of life and the world,” Dolin says. “Mother Nature is in charge. It is our responsibility to take actions that are wise and protect us as much as possible. We can’t bury our heads in the sand and assume the problem is going away – because it’s not.”
About David Kindy
David Kindy is a journalist, freelance writer and book reviewer who lives in Plymouth, Massachusetts. He writes about history, culture and other topics for Air & Space, Military History, World War II, Vietnam, Aviation History, Providence Journal and other publications and websites.
The Game of Pool
The word "pool" means a collective bet, or ante. Many non-billiard games, such as poker, involve a pool but it was pocket billiards that the name became attached to. Another interesting fact is that the term "pool room" now means a place where pool is played, but in the 19th century a pool room was a betting parlor for horse racing. Pool tables were installed so patrons could pass time between races. The two became connected in the public mind, but the unsavory connotation of "pool room" came from the betting that took place there, not from billiards.
The game of pool evolved with many different flavors.
In Britain the dominant billiard game from about 1770 until the 1920's was "English Billiards," played with three balls and six pockets on a large rectangular table. The British billiard tradition is carried on today primarily through the game of "Snooker", which is a complex and colorful game combining offensive and defensive aspects and played on the same equipment as English Billiards but with 22 balls instead of three. The British appetite for snooker is comparable only by the American passion for baseball it is possible to see a snooker competition every day in Britain.
In the U.S. the dominant American billiard game until the 1870's was American Four-Ball Billiards, usually played on a large (11 or 12-foot), four-pocket table with four billiard balls - two of them white and two red. This was a direct extension English Billiards. Points were scored by pocketing balls, scratching the cue ball, or by making caroms on two or three balls. What is a "Carom"? A "carom" is the act of hitting two object balls with the cue ball in one stroke. With many balls, there were many different ways of scoring and it was possible to make up to 13 pints on a single shot. American Four-Ball produced two offspring, both of which surpassed it in popularity by the 1870's. One of the games used simple caroms played with three balls on a pocketless table was something known as "Straight rail" which was the forerunner of all carom games. The other popular game was American Fifteen-Ball Pool, the predecessor of modern pocket billiards.
Fifteen-Ball Pool was played with 15 object balls, numbered 1 through 15. For sinking a ball, the player received a number of points equal to the value of the ball. The sum of the ball values in a rack is 120, so the first player who received more than half the total, or 61, was the winner. This game, also called "61-Pool" was used in the first American championship pool tournament held in 1878 and won by Cyrille Dion, a Canadian. Later in 1888, it was thought more fair to count the number of balls pocketed by a player and not their numerical value. Thus, Continuous Pool replaced Fifteen-Ball Pool as the championship game. The player who sank the last ball of a rack would break the next rack and his point total would be kept "continuously" from one rack to the next.
From 1878 until 1956, pool and billiard championship tournaments were held almost annually, with one-on-one challenge matches filling the remaining months. At times, including during the Civil War, billiard results received wider coverage than war news. Players were so renowned that cigarette cards were issued featuring them. Pool went to war several times as a popular recreation for the troops. Professional players toured military posts giving exhibitions some even worked in the defense industry. But the game had more trouble emerging from World War II than it had getting into it. Returning soldiers were in a mood to buy houses and build careers, and the charm of an afternoon spent at the pool table was a thing of the past. Room after room closed quietly and by the end of the 1950s it looked as though the game might pass into oblivion.
A year later, in August of 1830, the three year old Baltimore & Ohio carried out trials of the Tom Thumb , the work of Peter Cooper. ਊ month after this event the South Carolina Canal & Railroad Company (SCC&RR) tested its Best Friend of Charleston.
The SCC&RR would also be remembered as the first to haul a revenue train with an American-built design when its Best Friend of Charleston, a product of the West Point Foundry in New York, carried paying customers on December 25, 1830.
The railroad was chartered on April 24, 1827 to solidify Baltimore's standing as one of America's important ports and provide competition against New York's Erie Canal.
As the success of these operations, and others, grew railroad mania struck the nation. The new form of transportation could operate in all types of weather and move people and goods at previously unheard of speeds.
Notable Early Railroads
By 1840, states east of the Mississippi River boasted over 2,800 miles of track and a decade later that number had more than tripled to over 9,000. During these early years much of the trackage was still disconnected and largely concentrated in the Northeast.
There were also a variety of different gauges in service, ranging from 4 feet 8 1/2 inches (which later became standard) to six feet.
Unfortunately, traveling could be a tricky, proposition as railroads saw no need to develop safe operations. ven after development of modern "T"-rail, old strap-iron rail was still used for many years.A Santa Fe company photo featuring a beautiful lineup of FT's sitting outside the shops at Barstow, California circa late 1940s. Author's collection.
This led to cases of deadly "snake heads" where iron straps came loose from their attached wooden planks and tore into the under-frame of cars, injuring or killing passengers. In addition, cars themselves were not reinforced to better withstand the carnage during derailments.
Railroads used their power to influence politicians and avoid infrastructure improvement and safety enhancements, such as knuckle-couplers and air brakes. Such things only cost money.
In their greed they even refused to interchange freight with one another. This arrogant attitude eventually led to extreme regulatory oversight.
Who Invented The Railroad?
Who invented the railroad? As mentioned elsewhere in this article, the first chartered railroad in the United States was the New Jersey Railroad Company of 1815 while the Granite Railway was the first actually put into service in 1826.
However, railroading's roots can be traced back centuries before the modern incarnation was born during the 19th century. As with many of our contemporary transportation technologies, the railroad came about gradually over time.
Many different individuals are recognized for developing a number of different devices which found their way into what would now be described as the modern-day railroad of the 1820's.
According to historian Mike Del Vecchio's book, "Railroads Across America," the very first railroad-like operation was opened in England during 1630 which used wooden rails, with wooden cross-ties (or "sleepers") for lateral support, to haul coal.
The first known implementation of iron rails occurred at Whitehaven, Cumberland in 1740, followed by William Jessop's (Loughborough, Leicestershire) invention of the flanged wheel in 1789. The steam engine is attributed to Thomas Newcomen who received a patent for his design in 1705.
It was later improved upon by James Watt in 1769 who realized expanding steam was much more powerful and efficient than Newcomen's condensing version. He first employed the engine in steamboats, which later made their way to the United States.George Stephenson is credited as inventor the modern railroad when the Stockton & Darlington was placed into service in 1825.
Before Colonel John Stevens tested his "Steam Waggon" in 1826, the first patent for a steam locomotive is credited to Englishmen Richard Trevithick and Andrew Vivian in 1802.
It entered service in 1804 along the Merthyr-Tydfil Railway in South Whales where it pulled loads of iron ore along a tramway. Two decades would pass before the first modern version appeared, the work of George Stephenson.
Although often overlooked, the very first device which could be described as a "locomotive" was the work of a Frenchman, Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot, in 1769. It was steam-powered but did not run along a fixed trackway.
Today, this historic piece of engineering still survives, housed and on display at the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris. All modern locomotives and automobiles can trace their heritage back to this machine.
Once more, Britain earns the recognition as putting the first contemporary railroad into operation when the Stockton & Darlington Railway formally opened on September 27, 1825.
Mr. George Stephenson, a well-known builder of early steam locomotives, was also heavily involved in this project: he surveyed the route, gauged the rails to 4 feet, 8 inches (only a 1/2-inch narrower from the width which would later be recognized worldwide as standard-gauge) and, of course, furnished the locomotives.
His little 0-4-0, named Active (later renamed Locomotion No. 1) was placed into service that day, earning Stephenson recognition as creator of the modern railroad. His designs would also find their way onto early U.S. railroads until American builders became well-established.
For their many advantages, some in public simply did not like the iron horse. ਊs John Stover points out in his book, "The Routledge Historical Atlas Of The American Railroads," one school board in Ohio described them as a "device of the devil" while those overseeing the Massachusetts turnpike called them "cruel turnpike killers" and "despisers of horseflesh."
There was even a claim that rail travel would cause a "concussion of the brain." ꃞspite corporate malfeasance and the public's weariness, the efficiency and speed trains offered could simply not be argued.Chicago Great Western F3A #115-A has freight #43 along the main line at Kenyon, Minnesota (roughly 50 miles south of the Twin Cities) on August 31, 1962. Roger Puta photo.
During the Civil War railroads once more proved their worth as they quickly transported men and material to the front lines at speeds not previously possible.
The North effectively harnessed this advantage, as historian John P. Hankey points out in his article, "The Railroad War: How The Iron Road Changed The American Civil War," from the March, 2011 issue of Trains Magazine.
Its ability to do so was predominantly why it won the war. ore hostilities had ended efforts were already underway to link the entire continent by rail.
With the creation of the Pacific Railway Act, signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on July 1, 1862, authorizing construction of the Transcontinental Railroad.
The new legislation formed the Union Pacific Railroad to build west from the Missouri River at Omaha, Nebraska while the Central Pacific struck out eastward from Sacramento, California. oth companies were given large tracts of land to complete their respective sections.Small-town America. Santa Fe F7A #335 is southbound with a maintenance-of-way (MOW), weed-spraying train as it passes through the little hamlet of Glen Flora, Texas on the now-abandoned Cane Belt Branch during June of 1976. Gary Morris photo.
After several years of hard work, particularly for the Central Pacific, the two met at Promontory Point, Utah during a formal ceremony held on May 10, 1869.
Without the Pacific Railway Act our country's history would likely be very different as rail travel opened the west to new economic opportunities.
After the Transcontinental Railroad's completion the industry exploded by the 1890s there were more than 163,000 miles in operation.
Eventually, four major railroads established direct lines from the Midwest to West Coast including the Great Northern, Northern Pacific, Santa Fe, and Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific (Milwaukee Road) while others worked together in linking both points.Conrail GG-1 #4800 ("Old Rivets," the original GG-1), in its vibrant Bicentennial livery, stopped at Leaman Place, Pennsylvania at the interchange with the Strasburg Railroad. Jerry Custer photo.
The era also saw many other advances as the late historian Jim Boyd notes in his book, "The American Freight Train." ꂯter several years of distrust a standard track gauge of 4 feet, 8 1/2 inches was adopted during the 1880s along with development of the automatic coupler and air brake.
All three initiatives proved revolutionary, allowing for greater efficiency and much safer operations. ਏrom the late 19th century though the 1920's railroads enjoyed their greatest dominance and profitability in particular was the year 1916, which saw mileage peak at over 254,000 and railroads carried virtually 100% of all interstate traffic.
Rail Mileage Throughout The Years
Below is a timeline of railroad mileage throughout the years:A Baltimore & Ohio 4-6-2 heads a local passenger train as it eases into the station at Williamstown, West Virginia some time during the 1940s. Passenger service on the Ohio River Subdivision survived until the mid-1950s. Author's collection.
1916: 254,037 Miles (Peak Mileage)
Sources: "The Routledge Historical Atlas Of The American Railroads," by John F. Stover. New York: Routledge, 1999. ral Railroad Administration's "Summary Of Class II and Class III Railroad Capital Needs And Funding Source" Report (October, 2014)Penn Central U25Bs #2685 and #2674 lead a southbound Erie Lackawanna freight through North Tonawanda, New York on August 5, 1973. Doug Kroll photo.
During the 1930s the streamliner era hit the nation, all in an attempt to sway patrons back to the rails. These fast, sleek new machines provided a new perk color and modernity never before seen.
The industry's transportation dominance ended after World War II, as a long decline followed thereafter. In response, the so-called mega-merger movement was launched in the 1950s in an attempt to cut costs through consolidation.
At the time the move was only partially successful as railroads slipped into despair by the 1970's.
The common observer could see this for themselves as tracks became weed-choked while trains were dilapidated. ਏor carriers like the Rock Island and Penn Central, both on the verge of complete shutdown, dirty and barely operational equipment was not uncommon.
What happened in the 1970's has many causes although it can arguably be traced back to expanded powers placed upon the Interstate Commerce Commission following the passage of the Elkins Act (1903) and, in particular, the Hepburn Act (1906) and Mann-Elkins Act (1910).
The latter two legislative actions gave ICC the authority to set freight rates and force railroads to explain why any rate change should be implemented.
It was a lengthy, time-consuming process that was rarely successful. The expanded federal oversight was all brought about to limit railroads' power as many executives had grown arrogant and forgetful of their ultimate purpose, to serve the public interest.
Unfortunately, the legislation went too far and had placed an increasing burden on the industry by the post-World War II period, at which point they no longer held a transportation monopoly.
During the 1970s several famous companies went under, now termed fondly as "fallen flags." The decade also saw the collapse of Northeastern rail service following Penn Central's 1970 bankruptcy.
Its failure led to others as neighboring railroads filed for reorganization. What eventually came out of the mess was the Consolidated Rail Corporation.
A federally-funded corporation to restore service, Conrail began on April 1, 1976. ਊ few years earlier, also partially in response to PC's downfall, another government-sponsored railroad was born, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak). It launched on May 1, 1971 and relieved many of their money-losing passenger services.
Before Penn Central was folded into Conrail, Federal Railroad Administrator John Ingram highlighted the difficulty for any railroad to abandon an unprofitable branch. While touring the former Pennsylvania Railroad's Delmarva Peninsula trackage he said this during a speech highlighting the PC's plight:
"Let me tell you a little story about the abandonment of unprofitable branch lines. One weekend last summer I was headed for Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, to enjoy the Atlantic Ocean.
You have to drive across the Eastern Shore of Maryland to get there, and I asked my staff to list a few of those Eastern Shore branch lines that the Penn Central wants to abandon.
I wanted to see for myself - perhaps count the boxcars on sidings to see if there really was a shortage of business. I drove to the area, checked my maps, and simply couldn't findਊnything that looked like a railroad.
On Monday morning, I hollered at my staff for having sent me off on a wild goose chase, but they stuck to their guns. So we went back - this time with property maps and a surveyor.
We found the branch line, all right. ਊt one place it was directly under a junkyard full of wrecked cars. ਊt another point the highway department had covered the tracks with at least eight inches of pavement.
And just off the road we found a six-inch wide tree growing between the rails. That line had been completely forgotten, yet grown men were arguing before the ICC that that stretch of track was vital to the Nation's economy!"A postcard of Northern Pacific's train #1, the westbound transcontinental "Mainstreeter" (Chicago - Seattle), at Fargo, North Dakota in a scene that likely dates to the 1950s. Author's collection.
Railroads of today would likely be very different if it wasn't for the Staggers Rail Act of 1980, proposed by Harley Staggers of West Virginia. Prior to this legislation there had been discussions of simply nationalizing the entire industry, a scary proposition that both executives and those in the government wished to avoid.
The bill brought a great level of deregulation as railroads regained their footing thanks to renewed freedom in setting freight rates and abandoning unprofitable rail lines.
The 1980s saw a slow recovery as Conrail posted its first profits in late 1981 and the mega-merger movement continued, creating today's Norfolk Southern Railway and CSX Transportation that decade. I
Also, Union Pacific purchased the Chicago & North Western while Norfolk Southern and CSX gobbled up Conrail in 1999. The freight growth has continued into the 21st century. We have also seen a renaissance in rail travel as folks look to escape the highway gridlock.
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