BackStory

The American History Podcast

A Program Of Virginia Foundation for the Humanities

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Lottery Fever

  The largest jackpot in PowerBall history got a lot larger when no one selected the winning numbers again on Saturday night, and the nation’s lottery fever continues. The jackpot now stands at an estimated $1.3B, and as Americans gear up for the next round on Wednesday, it’s hard not to wonder how this all […]

San Francisco vs. John Muir

In 1906, an enormous earthquake rocked San Francisco. Much of the city was reduced to rubble. But the rebuilding effort that followed offered city officials the opportunity to realize a long-time goal– a new and expanded water supply. For years, city officials had been wanting to dam the Hetch Hetchy Valley 167 miles away in […]

The Nose Knows

As the old adage goes, never judge a book by its cover. But what about judging people…by the shape of their nose? That is precisely what “nasology” sought to accomplish. This 19th century pseudoscience proposed a link between an individual’s moral character and the physical contours of their nose. In other words, a nasologist could […]

With All Deliberate Speed

Today, the 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education is remembered as a watershed moment in the Civil Rights movement, and the end of legal segregation in public schools. But that iconic decision was only the beginning of a new struggle to begin integrating schools across the South. Chief Justice Earl Warren’s order […]

The History of Ketchup

Editor’s note: Ever since we broadcast our show on America’s island history, which included an interview with Mr. Davison on the origins of Thousand Island dressing, we’ve had listener requests about what exactly went into 19th century ketchup, which was far more varied than our modern day Heinz and Hunts. Here is his reply, which […]

The Charge of the Irish Brigade

In December 1862, Union and Confederate troops met at Fredericksburg, Virginia. At the end of four days of fighting, there was no ambiguity about which side had won: Fredericksburg is remembered as one of the most lopsided Confederate victories of the entire conflict. One Union charge in particular – the assault on a Confederate-protected hill […]

The Mother of Exiles

The Statue of Liberty wasn’t always green. It took decades after it was installed in New York Harbor in 1886 for the statue’s copper facade to slowly oxidize. By 1910, Lady Liberty had developed an interesting mottled look, half brown and half green. It wasn’t until the 1920s that she was completely covered in that […]

His “Accidency”

By Andrew Parsons One night in April 1841, John Tyler rose from bed to find out the President of the United States was dead. The news was a big deal because Tyler had been sworn in as William Henry Harrison’s Vice President barely a month before. Harrison, who famously gave the longest inauguration speech in U.S. […]

A Bronx Peace

Benjy Melendez says that as a teenager in the South Bronx, the lights on the street at night came not from streetlights, but fires set by arsonists. “You seen fire all over the place,” says Melendez. They could see the stars at night, too, since broken streetlights were seldom repaired, and most buildings were abandoned. […]

Fake Money, Real Problems

Today’s consumers can be pretty confident that the cash in their pockets or the numbers shown in their bank accounts represent real money, legal tender that businesses anywhere will accept. Not so in the America of the 1800’s. Among the many things that have changed between this day and that was the money that people […]

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