Excellent Bill Bryson as always. A snapshot look at what was happening in America in the summer of 1927. Of course, most of these events had backstory and aftermath that went beyond that summer, but nonetheless:
- The biggest story by far was Charles Lindbergh‘s crossing of the Atlantic. The event generated tons of enthusiasm; this was almost as big a deal and as incredible to imagine as the moon landing would be a generation later. But, what really may have made the most lasting impact was Lindbergh’s follow-up cross-country tour, where he appeared in parades and other events in different cities day after day. There was heavy press coverage; and reports of it taking him only a few hours by air to travel between cities which took a day or more by train caused interest and investment in aviation.
- A side note to the Lindbergh story is that of Charles Levine, one of his competitors to be the first across the Atlantic by plane. It’s almost a fable-like story: he (well, his plane the Columbia) probably would have been first if only Levine wasn’t such a big jerk. He had two pilots lined up for the flight but kicked one out at the last minute in favor of taking a spot for himself; this pilot got an injunction that stopped the flight for a week or more. Which is when Lindbergh took off.
- Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs playing for the 1927 Yankees, considered by many the best team ever. He was known as “Babe” because of his sheltered upbringing at a boys school/orphanage. Apparently he quickly lost the boyish innocence; he was a well known womanizer and drinker.
- President Coolidge spent the summer in South Dakota, modeling a fancy cowboy outfit. Also he participated in the kickoff for Mt. Rushmore. The creator, Gutzon Borglum, was an interesting fellow and a Mormon (or at least started out as one.)
- Prohibition was in full swing. I didn’t realize that the government intentionally poisoned “denatured” alcohol, an idea encouraged by Wayne Wheeler and the Anti Saloon League, so it wouldn’t be used for drinking – many thousands were killed anyway.
- The curious Van Sweringen brothers were building the Terminal Tower in Cleveland, a prototype of the modern shopping mall. They also invented the suburb in Shaker Heights. The Van Sweringens lost everything in the Great Depression.
- Error in the book! Said Philo Farnsworth went to “Brigham Young University in Salt Lake City”. It’s really in Provo, which no one outside of Utah would lump together with Salt Lake City.
- The advent of “talkie” movies = start of dominant American culture worldwide. Before this, many actors were immigrants – didn’t matter that they had an accent or couldn’t speak English well. Now, the movie star image around the world became totally American.