Radio stars (Dec 1938)

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IF YOU'RE ONE of those typical American radio listeners who believes implicitly that Robert Fulton built the first steamboat, George Washington was the first President of the United States, and Elias Howe invented the first sewing machine, then you should listen to my weekly broadcast of Famous First Facts on the Mutual network. I believe this show can prove to you how wrong these notions are.' After fourteen years of traveling the highways and byways of this nation, checking and rechecking the history of American inventions, I have become somewhat of an authority on who did this or that first, and where and why. Frankly, the gathering of "first facts" has become more than just my life-work—it has become almost a fanaticism with me. This unique occupation has made me realize that there are virtually thousands and thousands of unsung inventors, artists, workers and other individuals who have accomplished great things and yet, through their own modesty or some twist of fate, have never received and may never enjoy the faintest spark of recognition from posterity. Thus, it is an indescribable thrill to unearth, in some obscure corner of the globe, a truly elusive genius whose heart is more in his work than in seeking the glare of the spotlight. For over a decade I have visited libraries, interviewed descendants of forgotten inventors, kept the midnight oil burning while I pored over rare papers, legacies, and visited historical societies and dusty museums. And, like a fool, I thought I could do this work without the aid of radio. It was impossible, for only radio could bring me nearer to the people I wanted to meet, those who might be able to help by supplying missing scraps of information otherwise unattainable. Since the inauguration of Famous First Facts several months ago, it is gratifying to find that radio listeners are more than willing to help. Better than fifty letters a day stuff my mail box. They come from individuals who feel they are able to supply some missing clue in many of the problems which have bothered me for years. Others make interesting claims as pioneers in unusual fields. From these letters I have been able to cull a mass of absorbing data for some of my new volumes. But there are other aspects to the aid which radio has given me. On this program many people come to me with their claims to fame in varied and unique fields, from the first woman cab driver to a descendant of the inventor of condensed milk. Drawing upon the over- whelming mass of data which I have gathered during years of research, usually I am able to support or reject these claims. Most cases have been fairly authentic. In the event I do not find them so, the person making the claim has quietly accepted my decision as final. Here, for example, is a cross section of some of the "first facts" I have been privileged to offer the radio audience since my air debut. One of the first figures who comes to mind is the man who built and successfully flew the first monoplane. Today, school children from ocean to ocean are taught the exploits of the world-famous Wright brothers. I have no desire to detract from the glory which rightfully is and has been theirs, but today if you visit any large airport you will naturally find that the great skyships which now span our corv tinent in less than a day are all single-winged craft. Military planes, too, are trending in this same direction; almost every record-holding plane in America has been of the sturdy, simple monoplane construc- tion. Yet Orville and Wilbur Wright believed in and experimented only with the bi-plane, or double-winged aircraft. In 1909 it took vision and courage for an American to build a monoplane. Today only a handful of Americans know his name. It gave me great pleasure when Dr. Henry W. Walden, a New York dentist, visited the Mutual studios and told the great radio audience the true events of his epochal achievement which has never before won the attention it deserved. Every year, everywhere, the grand institution of Mother's Day is observed in each state of the Union. Yet how many of my listeners had ever before heard of the quiet, modest little woman—Miss Anna Jarvis—who traveled from Philadelphia to tell for the first time how she was inspired to begin this touching, national custom? On another occasion I featured Charles E. Duryea, whom my records show to be the builder of the first (Continued on page 72)