The American Environment

THE PICTURE IS MORE HEARTENING THAN ALL THE LITTLE ONES

The Cuyahoga River died for our sins . In 1796 the Cuyahoga, which promised easy transportation into the wilderness of the Ohio country from Lake Erie, prompted the city of Cleveland into existence. Over the next 170 years a primitive frontier town grew into a mighty industrial city, one that stretched for miles along the banks of its seminal river. Read more »

The Road To The Future

Fifty years ago the builders of the Pennsylvania Turnpike completed America’s first superhighway—and helped determine the shape of travel to come

Most American motorists take for granted the concrete and asphalt web of interstate highways that has penetrated so deeply into the nation’s economy and thinking. The 43,000-mile system of fouror-more-lane divided, limited-access roads reaches from the canyons of California to the beaches of Florida and the urban bustle of the Northeast Corridor. But of course there was a time when the superhighway idea was brand-new.Read more »

Out Of The Blue

In 1929 Germany announced that the mighty new dirigible Graf Zeppelin would fly around the world. This stirred a great deal of excitement in the United States, not only because such gigantic airships were thought to be the future of aviation but also because the newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst had put up two hundred thousand dollars to finance part of the Zeppelin’s flight and was promoting it aggressively. Read more »

Post Haste

The urge to move documents as fast as possible has always been a national pre-occupation, because it has always been a necessity. Fax and Federal Express are just the latest among many innovations for getting the message across.

Reaching out and touching someone hasn’t always been easy—especially if it was necessary to hand that person something in the process. Yet there have always been Americans who absolutely and positively had to have it the next day, week, month, at any cost, and this in turn has always drawn others with the dollars and determination to make it happen.Read more »

Unfolding The Nation

Wherever you go in search of history, there’s a good chance the first thing you reach for will be a road map. And road maps have a history too.

On Thanksgiving Day in 1895 the Chicago Times-Herald sponsored a fifty-four-mile road race from Jackson Park to Waukegan and on to Lincoln Park. The prize was five thousand dollars. The eventual winner, a man by the name of Frank Duryea, had at least two advantages over his competitors. First, unlike some of them, he was driving a car propelled by gasoline. Second, Duryea had noticed that the paper had published a rough plotting of the course, and he’d had the good sense to rip it out and use it.Read more »

Gods Of Pennsylvania Station

A trackside album of celebrities from the days when the world went by train

A person used to enter New York City “like a god,” said the art critic Vincent Scully, but “one scuttles in now like a rat.” Read more »

The Absolute All-american Civilizer

A lot of people still remember how great it was to ride in the old Pullmans, how curiously regal to have a simple, well-cooked meal in the dining car. Those memories are perfectly accurate—and that lost pleasure holds a lesson for us that extends beyond mere nostalgia.

Not long ago I received a very angry letter from an old friend. It was a response to my suggestion that liberal arts colleges might give students some instruction in technology; that is, give them some feeling for how the world they are living in works. My friend’s argument was that from the Love Canal to Three Mile Island, and from the grid locks of Manhattan to the boeuf bourguignon on the plastic airline trays, the technological world was not working very well and never would.Read more »

A Century Of Cable Cars

Magnificently impractical and obsolete almost as soon as they were built, the cable lines briefly dominated urban transportation throughout the country

Beloved of San Franciscans for more than a century now, the sturdy cable cars cling tenaciously to the hills of their birth. They are fiercely protected as one of the crown jewels of Bay Area tourism—a columnist in the Chronicle once went so far as to say that, without them, San Francisco would only be a lumpy Los Angeles—but they are a good deal more than that. Read more »

The Ship That Died Of Carelessness

The Normandie has been gone since World War II, but many people still remember her as the most beautiful passenger liner ever built. It is the saddest of ironies that she fled her native France to seek safety in New York Harbor.

SHE WAS THE largest moving object that mankind had ever built. She was the first liner to cross the Atlantic at better than 30 knots, the first to exceed 1,000 feet in length, the first truly modern ship. She coddled her passengers with a spaciousness, luxury, and cuisine that has never been equaled. She was the Normandie, France’s pride and America’s joy. She lived a life of glory and acclaim. And she died horribly, at the hands of strangers. Read more »