The Legendary Hershey Bar|
In 1937, the Army asked candyman Milton Hershey to develop a high-energy, four-ounce combat ration chocolate bar to withstand tropical heat. The brass didn't want it to taste too good, fearing troops would snack rather than save emergency rations, but the "Logan Bar" Field Ration D was a hit. In a pinch, three bars daily supplied an 1800-calorie minimum sustenance.
Between Pearl Harbor and 1945, in packaging secure against poison gas, three billion bars went to our troops, often at rates of 24 million a week. A more enlightened commissary ordered a better-tasting Hershey's Tropical Chocolate Bar in 1943, a favorite durable enough to nourish Apollo 15 astronauts on the moon a generation later. This was the bar of legend. Still, its rationale remained emergency nourishment, not making friends with the children of war-torn Europe. [ Posted January 14, 2000 ]
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The Higgins Boat|
Higgins boats those venerable landing craft so familiar from The Longest Day and Saving Private Ryan broke the gridlock on the ship-to-shore movement of assault troops in WW II. It is impossible to overstate the tactical advantages this simple craft, little more than a steel tub, gave U.S. amphibious commanders in World War II. During the 1930s Higgins Industries had perfected a workboat, dubbed the "Eureka" model, designed to work in the swamps and marshes of south Louisiana. The shallow-draft boat could operate in only 18 inches of water, running through vegetation and over logs and debris without fouling its propeller. It could also run right up on shore and extract itself without damage. As part of his sales demonstrations, Higgins often had the boats run up on the Lake Ponchartrain seawall.
The "headlog" a solid block of pine at the bow was the strongest part of the boat, enabling it to run at full speed over floating obstacles, sandbars, and right up on to the beach without damaging the hull. A deep vee hull forward led to a reverse-curve section amidships and two flat planing sections aft, flanking a semi-tunnel that protected the propeller and shaft. Aerated water flowing under the forefoot of the boat created less friction when the boat was moving and allowed for faster speeds and maneuverability. Because of the reverse curve, objects in the water would be pushed away from the boat at a point between the bow and amidships (including the aerated water only solid water reached the propeller). This allowed continuous high-speed running and cut down on damage to the propeller, as floating objects seldom came near it. The flat sections aft, on either side of the shaft tunnel, actually had a catamaran/planing effect which added to the hull speed.
All of these features contributed to the boat's successful adaptation as a landing craft, and when a bow ramp was added at the request of the Marine Corps, the LCVP (Landing Craft Vessel, Personnel) design was complete.
The boat could land a platoon of 36 men with their equipment, or a jeep and 12 men, extract itself quickly, turn around without broaching in the surf, and go back out to get more troops and/or supplies. This was critical any landing craft that could not extract itself would hinder the ability of succeeding waves to reach the beachhead. The tough, highly maneuverable Higgins boats allowed Allied commanders to plan their assaults on relatively less-defended coastline areas and then support a beachhead staging area rather than be forced to capture a port city with wharves and facilities to offload men and material. The 20,000-plus Higgins boats manufactured by Higgins Industries and others licensed to use Higgins designs landed more Allied troops during the war than all other types of landing craft combined. The LCVP was call "a world-shaking innovation, one that would defeat Germany and Japan as ineluctably as any other technology." [ Posted January 14, 2000; read the rest of the story ]
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The Legendary Betty Grable|
We all know that Betty Grable insured her gorgeous gams with Lloyds of London for 1.25 million dollars in 1943, but why, you may wonder, did Betty pose for the most famous pin-up shot of World War II with her back turned? Well, read on for the answer!
The most celebrated "pin-up girl" of World War II, American actress Betty Grable, was born Ruth Elizabeth Grable on December 18, 1916 in South St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of a stockbroker and an aggressive "stage mother." When her older sister Marjorie balked at a show business career, Grable was taken in hand by her mother and trained to sing, dance, tell jokes and play the ukulele and saxophone. Despite her father's objections, Grable begged her mother to take her to Los Angeles for a movie career, preparing herself with a two-girl musical act while attending Hollywood Professional School. Lying about her age, 13-year-old Grable was hired as a chorus girl for short subjects, getting her first important exposure as the energetic blonde "cowgirl" who sings the first chorus of the first song in the Eddie Cantor film musical Whoopee! (1930).
Grable played supporting parts in two-reelers and bits in features for the next couple of years, attaining her first major role in Hold 'Em Jail (1932), a comedy starring the comedy team of Wheeler and Woolsey. Bert Wheeler had promised Grable's mother several years earlier that he'd get the girl a break in pictures if she came to Hollywood, and with this film, Wheeler kept his word. More bits and indifferent supporting roles followed until Grable was signed by Paramount, who loaned her to 20th Century Fox for Pigskin Parade (1936), which established her with the public. Grable finally landed top billing in Paramount's Million Dollar Legs (1939) the title referred not to the star but to a college athletic team which co-starred her first husband, Jackie Coogan. Grable's career stalled at Paramount, but a Broadway appearance in the Cole Porter musical DuBarry Was a Lady led to a contract with 20th Century Fox, where she remained a number-one box-office attraction from 1940 through 1955. Fox wisely allowed Grable to shed her quot;college co-ed" image for a more salable screen persona as a wholesomely sexy musical comedy star, emphasizing her greatest attributes: her shapely figure and shapelier legs. After a misfire attempt at heavy dramatics in I Wake Up Screaming (1941), Grable insisted that she be required only to sing and dance, not act, and Fox complied with a string of nonsensical but lavish Technicolor musicals.
Grable was enormously popular with American GIs during the war. She appeared in dozens of magazines, including YANK, but most of her wartime popularity rested on the intoxicating power of a single black and white image the famous "pin-up" picture in which, dressed in a one-piece bathing suit and with her back to the camera, she glances saucily over one shoulder. This rear-view image was borne not out of a desire to titillate but from necessity: Betty was several months pregnant when the picture was taken! This image is forever entrenched in the collective American memory of that time, and certainly in the memories of the thousands of soldiers who remember it. Grable furthered her acceptance with the overseas troops when she married popular trumpeter-bandleader Harry James in 1943. Her popularity undimmed by war's end, Grable continued making Technicolor frolics, though her frequent tiffs with the Fox executives led the studio to try out any number of potential replacements, including Vivian Blaine, June Haver, and even Marilyn Monroe. Grable died on July 2, 1973 in Los Angeles, California. [ Posted February 29, 2000 ]; see more of this Skylighters Sweetheart ]
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The Beauty and the Brain|
Surely one of the most fascinating chapters in beauty queen Hedy Lamarr's life and career had nothing to do with her film career and everything to do with her brainpower. How many movie stars can you name that hold a patent on a significant technological breakthrough? It's a story even Hollywood couldn't have invented. Hedy Lamarr shares the title to a 1942 patent, under her then legal name Hedy Kiesler Markey, for a "secret communication system" intended for use as a radio guidance device for U.S. torpedoes. Along with her co-inventor [and avant-garde musician George Antheil (1900-1959)], Lamarr came up with the idea of "frequency hopping" to quickly shift the radio signals of control devices, making them invulnerable to radio interference or jamming, a feat of technological prowess that was only formally acknowledged by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in March 1997 somewhat belatedly for Mr. Antheil, who died in 1959. But for Lamarr, who has since passed away, "It was about time."
Ironically, the U.S. military simply let the patent languish in their archives, in part because the technology of the time was not up to implementing such a system, and it is only now " in the age of the cellular phone " that Antheil's and Lamarr's system may really come into its own. Instead of "frequency hopping," today's term is "spread spectrum," but the basic idea is the same. The FCC recently allotted a special section of the radio spectrum for an experiment using the spread-spectrum idea in a test designed to make cell-phone calls more secure from eavesdroppers. First used secretly by the U.S. military in the 1960s, commercial interests such as AT&T and Omnipoint could hardly wait to use this "new" technology in the 1990s. A lot of money has been lavished on the process, which has the added benefit of allowing more cell-phone users to use the existing frequency spectrum. Unfortunately, for Lamarr, who could have used some of that money before her death in 1999, the patent expired long ago. [ Posted June 23, 2000 ]; see more of this Skylighters Sweetheart ]
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