This Day in History (20-Jan-1885) – LaMarcus Thompson patents the roller coaster

Lamarcus Adna Thompson, who would later be known as the “father of gravity” started life first as a carpenter in Ohio, USA, then a successful businessman. By the age of 35 he had made a fortune after founding a company that manufactured women’s stockings. It is said that L.A. Thompson was inspired by a trip to the hills in eastern Pennsylvania, where a railroad line running through Carbon County had been converted from a coal transport into a tourist attraction. The Mauch Chunk Switch Back Railway was an 18 mile, mostly downhill course that featured a 2300 ft long, 665 ft high drop at the end. The railway was a success with tourists, who came by the thousands to ride every year. Thompson’s idea was to capture the essence of Mauch Chunk in a smaller package.

And so it was that the first authentic American roller coaster was built. Borrowing from previous unfinished designs and applying his own ideas, Thompson obtained patent for his “Switchback Railway.” The ride opened at Coney Island in 1884 and was an immediate success. Charging 5 cents a ride, Thompson was clearing $600 a day in profits almost immediately. The ride was very modest by today’s standards, standing just 50 feet tall, 600 feet long, and about 10 mph, but it was also something that had never been seen before. Riders boarded bench-like trains and coasted to the bottom on mild, undulating hills, and then repeated the journey in the opposite direction.

Thompson spent the next three years improving his design, obtaining another 30 patents and building the coaster in cities across the country. In just four years, he had built 50 of them. Thompson began to experiment with visuals, first with tunnels and lights, and then with scenery to create a new type of ride. The LA Thompson Scenic Railway combined elements of his earlier creations with visuals. The first one opened in 1888 with great success, leading him to form his own company, opened for the express purpose of building Scenic Railways around the world. The most notable was the installation in Venice, California. Opened in 1910, the track ran among artificial hills lights, and replicas of temples, foreshadowing attractions that would be built by Disney decades later.


This Day in History (17-Jan-1929) – Popeye makes 1st appearance, in comic strip “Thimble Theater”

Popeye made his first public appearance on Jan. 17, 1929, in Elzie Segar’s then nine-year-old comic strip, THIMBLE THEATRE, which originally revolved around Olive Oyl’s family. From the minute he walked into the comic strip, THIMBLE THEATER, and muttered his famous “D’ja think I’m a cowboy” line, Popeye the Sailor Man captured the hearts of millions of fans around the world. Popeye was just a sailor then without any heroic shade. Later the character of Popeye became so popular that the entire comic strip started to revolve around this sailor-man. Then ‘Thimble Theater’ changed into the comics of Popeye where Olive Oyl became Popeye‘s sweetheart. After Elzie Segar’s death in 1938, a number of writers continued the comic strips of Popeye.

Popeye made the jump to the silver screen in a 1933 in a Betty Boop cartoon entitled POPEYE THE SAILOR from the Fleischer Studios. Popeye’s theme song, titled “I’m Popeye The Sailor Man”, composed by Sammy Lerner in 1933 for Fleischer’s first Popeye the Sailor cartoon, has become forever associated with the sailor. In 1937, spinach capital Crystal City, Texas, erected a statue to honor Elzie Segar and Popeye for their positive influence on America’s eating habits, making Popeye the first cartoon character ever immortalized in public sculpture. Interestingly, Popeye’s spinach obsession began in THIMBLE THEATRE but became an indispensable plot device in his later animated adventures. The spinach growers credited Popeye with a 33 percent increase in U.S. spinach consumption and saving the spinach industry in the 1930s.

The controversy of Spinach remained for decades. The most popular concept is it was actually the forbidden wide ‘marijuana’. However recent research also reveals that Spinach may be an herb with somewhat muscle boosting qualities, obviously not like the incredible strength of Popeye. However, whatever be the spinach is, the concept of eating spinach and then beating the villains away has managed to retain its popularity for over 80 years. Many consider Popeye a precursor to the superheroes who would eventually come to dominate comic books.


This Day in History (6-Oct-1889) – Moulin Rogue opens in Paris

In October 1889, Paris was all abuzz concerning the opening of a new music hall. The owners of this new establishment, Joseph Oller and Charles Zidler, who had chosen the name Moulin Rouge (Red Mill) for their Moulin Rouge, Paris theatre, gave it the nickname “Le Premier Palais des Femmes” (The First Palace of Women) and claimed that Moulin Rouge would soon become “a temple of music and dance”.

Moulin Rouge quickly gained a reputation for being the place where men could view young Parisian girls whose unique and amazing dance moves were as flexible as their morals. And though the famous Can-Can dance had been present in working class ballrooms since the 1830s, the early days of the Moulin Rouge cemented its popularity, though during the first few decades that the establishment was open, it was little more than a bawdy dance performed by courtesans to entertain their male clientele. At times it was downright vulgar and what went on inside the Moulin Rouge caused much public outrage. During this time period, one of the music hall’s most notable patrons was artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, who painted a number of famous Moulin Rouge scenes.

In later years, the establishment cleaned up its act, eventually lost its reputation as a brothel, and became a fashionable music hall known for its extravagant cabaret shows, attracting a high-class clientele. The Can-Can itself was toned down as well. Still, it’s the main reason patrons come to Moulin Rouge and they always go away entertained by the dancers’ high-kicking moves, cartwheels, splits, and other amazing acrobatic tricks.

Today, a visit to the Moulin Rouge is still very popular with adult visitors to Paris. The show features more than 100 performers decked out in the most extravagant costumes, which include lots of feathers, rhinestones, and sequins. The sets are equally as spectacular. There are two English movies with the name and shot on the backdrop of Moulin Rogue, one was released in 1952 and other in 2001. Parineeta movie had a glimpse of Kolkata based Moulin Rogue.



This Day in History (15-Aug-1982) – Doordarshan’s national programme and the first nationwide colour transmission started by Delhi Doordarshan

The Indian Television Network was started in New Delhi in 1959 to transmit educational and development programmes on an experimental basis with half-an-hour programming. Doordarshan was established in 1976.  For the initial years of its existence, Television in India spread haltingly and transmission was mainly in black & white. The thinkers and policy makers of the country, frowned upon television, looking on at it as a luxury Indians could do without.  Television has come to the forefront  in year 1982. India was gearing up for the Asian Games, a colourful spectacle. But most of the country was in the danger of seeing it in shades of black and white. Until a Union Cabinet decision changed the way people saw television forever. In the beginning, it was a temporary permit, with the Union Government allowing the import of 50,000 colour television sets by November of that year. But by the end of it, the Indian viewer was ready to spend Rs.8,000 on an Indian set and up to Rs.15,000 on the imported version.

The government raked in the money, earning Rs.70 crore in customs revenue from imported sets, with one lakh sets imported into the country. In December 1982, India Today reported a virtual craze in Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai where shops were practically emptied of television sets for Indian use, even as recipients of the sets in India willingly paid the concessional 190 per cent customs duty. I&B Minister Vasant Sathe’s brainchild, it opened the doors to expanding the television market in a big way, organising it and bringing in the bigger players. It was television’s hardware revolution.

As Bhaskar Ghose, former director general of Doordarshan told India Today in 1999, “Colour was just a metaphor for a switchover to high technology.” It was followed by Doordarshan’s networking phase. In 1982, television transmitters jumped from 35 to 100, by 1990, the figure was getting ready to cross the 400 mark. Critics called it India’s taste for modern consumerism, a hand-maiden of the commercial film industry. But for the Indian consumer, it was much more than that. It was an opportunity to see the world in all colour.

This Day in History (17-Jul-1955) – Disneyland Opens

When his daughters were little,Walt Disney would take them to play at the carousel at Griffith Park in Los Angeles every Sunday. While his daughters enjoyed their repeated rides, Disney sat on park benches with the other parents who had nothing to do but watch. It was on these Sunday excursions that Walt Disney began to dream of an activity park that had things for both children and parents to do. Disney hired the Stanford Research Institute to find an appropriate location that consisted of at least 100-acres, was located near Los Angeles, and could be reached by a freeway. The company found for Disney a 160-acre orange orchard in Anaheim, California.

While Walt Disney put up much of his own money to make his dream a reality, he didn’t have enough personal money to complete the project. Many of the financiers could not envision the monetary rewards of a place of dreams. To gain financial support for his project, Disney turned to the new medium of television. Disney made a plan with ABC: ABC would help finance the park if Disney would produce a television show on their channel. The program Walt created was called “Disneyland” and showed previews of the different themed areas in the new, upcoming park.

On July 21, 1954, construction on the park began and completed in a year. On July 17, 1955, Disneyland opened for a few thousand specially invited visitors; the following day, Disneyland officially opened to the public with an entrance fee of $1.  What was true when Walt Disney stated it during the opening ceremonies in 1955 still stands true today: “To all who come to this happy place – welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America… with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world. Thank you.”

Disneyland has a larger cumulative attendance than any other theme park in the world, with over 650 million guests since it opened.