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Christmas Lights: Illuminating the Cold Winter Night Since 1880

Fun Facts About Christmas Lights

  • The General Electric Christmas lighting outfit, the first set offered for sale to the public. Circa 1903-1904.

    The General Electric Christmas lighting outfit, the first set offered for sale to the public. Circa 1903-1904.

    The inventors of electric Christmas lights are Thomas Edison and Edward Johnson

  • Before electric Christmas lights, families would use candles to light up their Christmas trees. This practice was often dangerous and led to many home fires.
  • Edward H. Johnson put the very first string of electric Christmas tree lights together in 1882. Johnson, Edison’s friend and partner in the Edison’s Illumination Company, hand-wired 80 red, white and blue light bulbs and wound them around his Christmas tree. Not only was the tree illuminated with electricity, it also revolved.
  • During the Christmas season of 1880, strands of lights were strung around the outside of Edison’s Menlo Park Laboratory. Railroad passengers traveling by got their first look at an electrical light display.
  • General Electric was the first company to offer pre-wired Christmas light strings. Prior to this, lights had to be hand wired on the tree. GE was unable to patent their string (or festoon), and suddenly the market was open to anyone who wanted to manufacture the strings.
  • Modern Christmas light decorating to the extreme

    Modern Christmas light decorating to the extreme

    In 1895, U.S. President Grover Cleveland proudly sponsored the first electrically lit Christmas tree in the White House.

  • In 1901, The first commercially produced Christmas tree lamps were manufactured in strings of nine sockets by the Edison General Electric Co. of Harrison, New Jersey.
  • It was a common but incorrect belief in the early days of electric Christmas lighting that Christmas light bulbs would burn longer in an upright position. Early decorators spent a lot of time making sure that the lamps were positioned upright on the tree.
  • Many of the earliest figural light bulbs representing fruit, flowers and holiday figures were blown in molds that were also used to make small glass ornaments. These figural lights were painted by toy makers.
  • Many of the earliest Christmas lights burned so hot that they were about as dangerous as the candles they were advertised to replace.
  • Ink Blotter advertising General Electric's new pre-wired sets of Christmas lights. The artwork is a direct copy of General Electric's cover art for their 1904 booklet advertising their first set of Christmas lights.

    Ink Blotter advertising General Electric's new pre-wired sets of Christmas lights. The artwork is a direct copy of General Electric's cover art for their 1904 booklet advertising their first set of Christmas lights.

    Early in their history, Christmas lights were so expensive that they were more commonly rented than sold. An electrically lighted tree was a status symbol in the early 1900s.

  • Until 1903, when General Electric began to offer pre-assembled kits of Christmas lights, stringed lights were reserved for the wealthy and electrically savvy.
  • The wiring of electric lights was very expensive and required the hiring of the services of a wireman, our modern-day electrician. According to some, to light an average Christmas tree with electric lights before 1903 would have cost $2000.00 in today’s dollars.
  • Early NOMA Christmas light outfit

    Early NOMA Christmas light outfit

    Albert Sadacca saw a future in selling electric Christmas lights. The Sadacca family owned a novelty lighting company and in 1917 Albert, a teenager at the time, suggested that its store offer brightly colored strands of Christmas lights to the public.

  • Christmas lights were first advertised in the Ladies Home Journal.
  • True outdoor Christmas lights were not introduced to the public until 1927-1928, almost 45 years after the first electric tree lights were demonstrated. There were sets offered for sale as safe to use outside before 1927, but they were small, dangerous and extremely impractical for the average family.
  • By the 1920’s Albert Sadacca and his brothers organized the National Outfit Manufacturers Association (NOMA), a trade association. NOMA soon became NOMA Electric Co., with its members cornering the Christmas light market until the 1960’s.
  • President Coolidge at the lighting of the first National Christmas Tree on December 24, 1923.

    President Coolidge at the lighting of the first National Christmas Tree on December 24, 1923.

    On Christmas Eve 1923, President Calvin Coolidge began the country’s celebration of Christmas by lighting the National Christmas Tree with 3,000 electric lights on the Ellipse located south of the White House.

  • Montgomery Wards inadvertently gave the American public two well known Christmas treasures: the bubble light and Rudolph, The Red Nosed Reindeer. The original story of Rudolph, a bit different than the one we know today, first appeared in a children’s giveaway booklet in 1939. The character became a runaway hit. Also, Carl Otis, the inventor of the bubble light, worked as an accountant for the company. Wards did not sponsor Carl’s invention, and he eventually sold it to NOMA. It became the biggest selling Christmas light in history up to that time.
  • Electrically lit trees did not become “universal” in the United States until after World War II.
  • NOMA Bubble lights

    NOMA Bubble lights

    Largest Cut Christmas Tree was a 221 foot Douglas fir at Northgate Shopping Center, Seattle, Washington, USA, in December 1950. (Guiness Book of World Records)

  • It is interesting to note that while Christmas is a uniquely Christian holiday, most of the major Christmas lighting companies were owned and operated by people of the Jewish faith.

Special thanks to tackylighttour.com, loc.gov and oldchristmastreelights.com

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Valley Forge: Washington’s Frost-bitten Army Encampment During the American Revolution

General George Washington at Valley Forge

General George Washington at Valley Forge

Facts About Valley Forge

 

“To see men without clothes to cover their nakedness, without blankets to lie upon, without shoes … without a house or hut to cover them until those could be built, and submitting without a murmur, is a proof of patience and obedience which, in my opinion, can scarcely be paralleled.”
-George Washington at Valley Forge,
April 21, 1778

 

  • General Washington's headquarters

    General Washington's headquarters

    g the winter of of 1777-1778 the prospect of more fighting during the war for Independence, was not possible because of the weather, and the poor condition of Washington’s troops. They had fought their last battle of 1777 at White Marsh, and he had decided to rest his troops at a relatively safe and secure position at Valley Forge.

  • Named for an iron forge on Valley Creek, the area was close enough to the British to keep their raiding and foraging parties out of the interior of Pennsylvania, yet far enough away to halt the threat of British surprise attacks.
  • The poorly fed, ill-equipped army, weary from long marches, struggled into Valley Forge, and the winds blew cold, as the 12,000 Continentals prepared for winter’s fury.
  • The first properly constructed hut appeared in three days. Within six weeks, more than a thousand huts were finished to provide shelter for the rag-tag army. But everything thing else, food, clothing, shoes, and medicines were left wanting.
  • Because of the harsh conditions, and lack of supplies, it is hardly remembered that over 2000 men died, without a shot being fired.
  • Disease at Valley Forge was rampant. Sanitary conditions in the 18th Century were very poor. Small pox, typhoid or typhus (known as putrid fever), pneumonia, and dysentery were some.
  • Valley Forge Arrival

    Valley Forge Arrival

    Most of the troops were inoculated for small pox at Valley Forge, but these men were usually on an inactive status because they were quarantined.

  • It is a little known fact, that more Americans died during this winter, than at the battles of Brandywine and Germantown combined.
  • It is also a little known fact, that over 5000 Americans of African descent served in Washington’s army. African American men were active members on the battlefield, a mixture of freed and enslaved men who took up arms.
  • After the war had ended, a resolution passed by Congress in 1779 decreed that any enslaved man serving with the Continental Army, upon the termination of their service, would be a freed man. And while a majority of men of African descent were freed, a large portion of them were not.
  • Also not widely known is the fact that a great number of Native Americans from the Oneida Indian Nation in particular had a crucial impact during the Valley Forge encampment.
  • Washington’s troops were the most racially integrated of any American army fielded, up until Vietnam.
  • So severe were conditions at times that Washington despaired that the army might have to be disbanded, and every man let go to forage for himself. But with the help of men like General Christopher Ludwig, Friedich Von Steuben, Henry Knox, and a host of Camp followers that consisted of the families, wives, children, mothers, and sisters of the soldiers, who were continually trying to help and raise the morale of Washington’s men, the army survived.
  • Huts for the soldiers

    Huts for the soldiers

    On June 19 1778, after training all winter and their ordeal finally over, they left Valley Forge to pursue the British, and continue the war for Independence.

  • One of Valley Forge’s first tourist attractions was the historic house now called Washington’s Headquarters, dedicated in 1879 by the Centennial and Memorial Association of Valley Forge.
  • One of the earliest people to come as a tourist (and write about the experience) was John Fanning Watson who visited in 1828.
  • The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania established its first state park at Valley Forge in 1893.
  • Valley Forge became a National Park in 1976, for the Bicentennial.

 

Special thanks to authorsden.com and ushistory.org

 

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Taxes: The Bad, The Ugly and the Absolutely Moronic

Russia's Peter the Great, 1672 - 1725

Russia's Peter the Great, 1672 - 1725

Fun Facts About Dumb, Annoying, Crazy or otherwise Controversial TAXES

BeardBeard Tax

To Shave or Not to Shave? Peter the Great taxed all (non-clergy) facial hair in 1705. As much as 90% of Peter the Great’s tax revenue used for military. (also taxed souls)

Facial Hair Tax

Massachusetts has a law on the books that makes it illegal to have a goatee without first purchasing a license to do so. A small fee must be paid in order to wear the facial hair in public, and one can be fined if a license is not presented to a law enforcement official upon request.

UrinalUrine Tax

Nero and Vespasian taxed collections from latrines. (used for textiles)

BribeBribe Tax

According to Page 87 of the IRS code, “if you receive a bribe, [you must] include it in your income.”

Mahatma GhandhiSalt Tax

Worth your weight in salt. 1930 Ghandhi’s first steps toward Indian Independence.

Ski Resort

Amusement Tax

In most states including Massachusetts and Virginia, is considered a tax on the patrons of places such as ski resorts, craft shows, and golf courses, but in reality is collected from the operators of such places. The government taxes the owners of places that offer “amusement” and in return those businesses pass the aforementioned taxes on to us.

Fountain sodaFountain Soda Drink Tax

Illinois has on record a tax rate on fountain drinks of 9 percent, as opposed to the standard sales tax of 3 percent.

Chinese take outTake-out Tax

Little did you know some areas levy a 0.5 percent tax on all take-out food. Chicago and Washington, D.C. both have enacted a tax on fast food, purportedly to pay for the removal of litter often accrued with the purchase of burgers and dogs. This tax applies to everything take-out, from your morning egg McMuffin to your late night cheese steak.

BlueberriesBlueberry Tax

In Maine, “anyone who grows, purchases, sells, handles, or processes the fruit in the state” makes those persons eligible for a ¾ cent per pound tax.

Playing cardsPlaying  Card Tax

Alabama has in place a 10 cent tax on the sale of all playing cards with 54 cards or less.

sparklerSparkler and Novelties Tax

West Virginia imposes a special fee on all businesses selling sparklers and other novelties. On top of the state’s 6 percent sales tax you can expect to pay an additional fee courtesy the state.

Illegal drugsIllegal Drug Tax

11 states in the U.S., including North Carolina and Nevada, tax citizens on possession of illegal drugs. After acquiring an illegal substance in North Carolina you are supposed to go to the Department of Revenue and pay a tax on it. In exchange, you will receive a stamp to affix to your drug which serves as evidence that a tax was paid.

NudityNudity Tax

In the State of Utah, taxpayers that own businesses where “nude or partially nude individuals perform any service” have to pay a 10% sales and use tax. It applies to all revenue from admission fees as well as the sales of merchandise, food, drink and services. These expenses are paid by the business owners who likely pass along the additional costs to their customers.

 

Special thanks to Huffington Post: A Dozen Dumb Taxes (from a compilation by Nick Sabloff)

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Doonesbury: Garry Trudeau’s Classic Comic and Mainstay of American Newspapers Since 1970

Gary Trudeau, creator of "Doonesbury"

Garry Trudeau, creator of "Doonesbury"

Fun Facts About Garry Trudeau’s “Doonesbury”

Michael James “Mike” Doonesbury is the main character in Garry Trudeau’s comic strip Doonesbury. He started out as a nerdish freshman from Tulsa at the fictional Walden College, and shared a dorm room with B.D. Currently he is married to Kim Rosenthal, and divorced from J.J. Caucus but raising their teenage daughter Alex. He has a widowed mother and a younger brother, Benjamin (who during some time as a punk rocker was known as “Sal Putrid”).

Mike is the everyman of the strip. He is a fairly normal, well-adjusted person who is easy for most readers to relate to, in contrast to the often surreal, crazy and extreme characters that populate the strip. Trudeau based Mike’s personality on his own and for this reason it is usually Mike who speaks the creator’s own viewpoints. Mike’s name was taken from the word “doone”, meaning a person who is not afraid to appear foolish, and Charles Pillsbury, the roommate of Trudeau’s at Yale.

Who played ‘uptight end’ for the Walden College football team when B.D. was the quarterback?
    Zonker Harris. Zonker’s habit of smoking marijuana in the huddle did not endear him to the straightlaced B.D. Zonker later turned up as a war correspondent in Vietnam while B.D. was there.
What is the name of the Justice Department attorney who was romantically involved (unsuccessfully) with a priest and a gay man?
    Joanie Caucus. Joannie got married to investigative reporter Rick Redfern and is the mother of Jeff.
What is the first name of “Uncle” Duke’s long-time assistant? She was a 1974 graduate of Peking University.
    Honey. Among other things, Honey Huan has been the translator for the U.S. Ambassador to China, the Dean and President of the Baby Doc College of Physicians, and the Social Director aboard Donald Trump’s yacht.
The first time Mike Doonesbury met his lab partner Bernie, what did Bernie do?
    Turned himself into a werewolf. Bernie later confided to Mike that he ate an outboard motor at the age of four. Years later he hired Mike’s future wife, Kim, to work for him at Bernie’s Byte Shack of Seattle.
Which ‘Doonesbury’ character once staged a nine hour performance art piece titled ‘Welcome to Artville’?
    J.J. Doonesbury. J.J. married and divorced Mike Doonesbury. She became a sculptor living in Seattle.
Which ‘Doonesbury’ character developed a monthly contribution program, complete with buttons to signify whether or not the person had already given?
    Alice Schwartzman. Alice, a one-time New York debutante,was homeless for many years until Congresswoman Lacey Davenport left her estate to her. She and her husband Elmont had to get used to living indoors.
Who was Sid Kibbitz?
    Boopsie’s agent. Sid was Boopsie’s agent. He also tried to package Ronald Reagan and Tom Cruise together in a ‘buddy’ movie.
Who was the first gay character to appear in ‘Doonesbury’?
    Andy Lippincott. Lippincott first appeared in the strip in the 1970’s. He eventually died from the AIDS virus.
Which ‘Doonesbury’ character revealed that he was gay on the radio?
    Mark Slackmeyer. Slackmeyer, along with his life-partner Chase Talbot III, began to host a radio show on National Public Radio called ‘All Things Being Equal’.
In 1973, one of the Watergate conspirators resigned from office, causing Garry Trudeau to withdraw a weeks worth of ‘Doonesbury’ strips. Which Watergate figure was it?
    John Ehrlichman. Ehrlichman later wrote Trudeau, “I hear that my resignation fouled up your series. Sorry. Next time let me know what you are planning and I’ll try to cooperate”.
Which character in ‘Doonesbury’ won $23 million in a lottery?
    Zonker Harris. Zonker won the lottery, but it didn’t change him one bit. He began working as a nanny, helping raise B.D. and Boopsie’s daughter Sam.
Has ‘Doonesbury’ creator Garry Trudeau ever won a Pulitzer Prize?
    Yes. in 1975 Trudeau became the first comic strip artist to win the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning. The Editorial Cartoonist’s Society promptly passed a resolution condemning the Pulitzer Prize committee. Trudeau supported the resolution.
One of the first characters to appear in the strip was B.D. On whom was the character based?
    Brian Dowling, Yale’s starting quarterback. B.D. was a star quarterback just like the inspiration for his character, Brian Dowling. B.D. became the football coach at his alma mater, Walden College.
When ‘Bull Tales’ became ‘Doonesbury’, in how many newspapers did it first appear?
    28. ‘Doonesbury’ appeared in 28 newspapers when it debuted on October 26, 1970.
‘Doonesbury’ was originally called ‘Bull Tales’ when it appeared in a college newspaper. What college was that?
    Yale. Garry Trudeau is a graduate of Yale University and ‘Bull Tales’ was first seen in the Yale ‘Daily News’ on September 30, 1968.
In the early 90s, Mark came out as being gay. Who is his partner?
    Chase. He’s a Republican, surprisingly.
Who is the embodiement of the tobacco industry?
    Mr. Butts. Mr. Butts, a giant walking cigarette. His friend, Mr. Jay, is a giant joint.
Who did Mike campaign for during the 1980 election?
    John Anderson. Anyone remember him?
Zonker was one of those people who never grew up. Who where his imaginary friends that he always talked to?
    His plants. His plants had names and distinct personalities.
Who was B.D.’s buddy during both Iraq wars?
    Ray Hightower. Ray was wounded in the first war.
Several characters have died in the strip. Who died of a heart attack?
    Dick. Dick died of a heart attack while birdwatching. His wife, Lacey, died about ten years later, of Alzheimers. Andy died of AIDS, Phil of old age.
Joanie once fell for a fellow legal student named Andy. Why didn’t it work out?
    He was gay. Joanie: “Are they sure?” Andy: “Joanie, I’m sure.”
What celebrity neighbor did Duke always fight with near his house in Colorado?
    John Denver. He went after Denver with a gun on more than one occasion.
Everyone’s favorite character is Duke. What football team was he the assistant manager for?
    The Redskins. After a little problem with his liberal distribution of pills to the players, he was forced to look for work elsewhere.
After a serious injury in 2004, we got to see B.D. without his helmet for the first time. Which kind of helmet had he never worn?
    batting. He never played baseball. He played football, both in college and professionally, was a veteran of Vietnam and both Iraqi wars, and was a motorcycle cop for a bit.
Comics can have an effect on real life. The so-called ‘Doonesbury Amendment’ of Palm Springs dealt with what unfair practice?
    The requirement of domestic employees to carry passcards. In the 1980s, domestic employees of Palm Springs were required to carry a passcard. Since many of them were black or Hispanic, it essentially became a crime to be an undocumented minority. After the comic spoofed this law, it was quickly changed.
One trademark of the strip is the use of icons to represent famous people. How was Bill Clinton shown?
    A waffle. Reagan was Max Headroom, Bush, Sr. was a point of light, Bush Junior an asterisks in a cowboy hat, Dan Quayle a feather, Newt Gingrich a bomb, and David Duke a swastika.
Barbara Ann Boopstein, aka Boopsie, sometimes channels the spirit of an ancient warrior. What’s his name?
    Hunk Ra. Boopsie grows fangs and a pointed tongue when she channels the Hunk.
J.J. once created a large mural for Donald Trump. Where was it?
    His big, obnoxious boat. She felt she was selling out, painting a mural in a billionaire’s boat (in the bathroom, no less).
Duke was almost executed by firing squad at the hands of which organization?
    The Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Duke parachuted into revolutionary Iran on behalf of American oil interests, and was captured by Khomeini’s supporters, who tried him and found him guilty of crimes against God. He escaped a roof-top execution by bribing his tormentors, but it was, perhaps, his closest call yet. Right-winger though he is, Duke has historically enjoyed fairly good relations with the communist world, and has never fallen foul of the Stasi or any comparable organization. The Sandinistas, I imagine, would have loved to kill Duke, but they never got the chance. Duke never tangled with the Khmer Rouge, either – if he had, I doubt they would have arranged anything as civilized as a firing squad.
Which political figure did star reporter Roland Hedley eagerly question about his beard?

Yasser Arafat. Roland scored his first interview with Arafat in Beirut, as the PLO Chairman faced Israeli attack. Roland asked Arafat to explain how he managed to grow a beard which always looked like three-day stubble.

Special thanks to  www.absoluteastronomy.com and www.funtrivia.com

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The “Spruce Goose”: Howard Hughes’ Remarkable and Enigmatic Wooden Aircraft

The Hughes Flying Boat H-4 (HK-1) Hercules a.k.a. The "Spruce Goose"

The Hughes Flying Boat H-4 (HK-1) Hercules a.k.a. The "Spruce Goose"

Fun Facts About the Spruce Goose

Names: Hughes Flying Boat H-4 (HK-1) Hercules (“Spruce Goose”)

Description: The Hughes Flying Boat is a cargo-type seaplane designed to transport men and materials over long distances. This aircraft is of a single hull, eight-engine design, with a single vertical tail, fixed wing-tip floats, and full cantilever wing and tail surfaces. The entire airframe and surface structures are composed of laminated wood (primarily birch). All primary control surfaces except the flaps are fabric covered. The hull contains two areas: a flight deck for the operating crew and a large cargo deck. A circular stairway provides access between the two decks. Below the cargo deck are fuel bays divided by watertight bulkheads.

Largest wingspan: 319 feet, 11 inches with a wing area that covers 11,430 square feet
Features full cantilever wing and tail surfaces.

Tallest aircraft: 79 feet, 3 3/8 inches

Length: 218 fee 6 ¼ inches

Record setting: Largest seaplane and largest wooden aircraft: the entire airframe is composed of laminated wood. Primary control surfaces, except the flaps, are fabric-covered. The most reciprocating horsepower ever installed in an aircraft.

Power: Eight Pratt & Whitney R-4360, 3,000 horsepower engines

Propellers: Eight, 17 feet, 2 inch diameter

Weight, Empty:
 300,000 pounds

Weight, Loaded:
 400,000 pounds (maximum take-off weight)

Capacity: 750 troops or two Sherman tanks

Normal Crew:
 18

First And Only Flight:
 November 2, 1947

Howard Hughes in the cockpit of the Spruce Goose

Howard Hughes in the cockpit of the Spruce Goose

Why built: In July 1942, the world was at war. America had just lost 800,000 tons of her supply ships to German U-boats. Henry Kaiser, famed industrialist and builder of “Liberty” ships, proposed a fleet of flying transports to safely move troops and material across the Atlantic. Kaiser approached Howard Hughes with his idea. Together they formed the Hughes Kaiser Corporation and obtained an $18,000,000 government contract to construct three flying boats.

Hughes and his team of skilled engineers designed a single hull flying boat capable of carrying 750 troops. The plans called for eight 3,000 horsepower engines, a mammoth fuel storage and supply system, and wings 20 feet longer than a football field. They called the prototype aircraft the HK-1, standing for the Hughes Kaiser design number one.

Delays and Constraints: Encountering and dealing with tremendous design and engineering problems, the Hughes team developed new concepts for large-scale hulls, flying control surfaces, and complex power boost systems. Hughes engineers created the first “artificial feel system” in the control yoke, which gave the pilot the feeling he was flying a smaller aircraft, but with a force multiplied two hundred times. For example, for each pound of pressure exerted on the control yoke by the pilot, the elevator received 1,500 pounds of pressure to move it.

The H-4 now resides at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville, OR

The H-4 now resides at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville, OR

Adhering to the government mandate not to use materials critical to the war effort (such as steel and aluminum), the Hughes team constructed the Flying Boat out of wood. Hughes perfected a process called “Duramold” to create almost every part of the plane. Originally developed by Fairchild Aircraft Company, Howard Hughes purchased the rights to use Duramold in large aircraft. The Duramold process is a plywood-like series of thin wood laminations, with grains laid perpendicular to each other. Workers permeating the laminations with plastic glue, then they shaped and heated the pieces until cured. The result is a material that many engineers agree is both lighter and stronger than aluminum.

All of the research and development that went into the new seaplane delayed the construction process. In mid 1944, Henry Kaiser withdrew from the project, and Hughes took personal responsibility for all facets of the flying boat’s design and production. He renamed the gigantic seaplane H-4, representing his aircraft company’s fourth design.

After the war’s end in 1945, criticism of the project mounted. The Flying Boat prototype had exceeded the government’s funding allowance and the U.S. Senate formed an investigation committee to probe alleged misappropriation of funds. Hughes invested $7,000,000 of his own into the project to keep it going. While Hughes testified before the investigative committee in Washington, D.C., the Hughes team assembled the Flying Boat in the Long Beach dry dock. After his interrogation, Hughes was determined to demonstrate the capability of his Flying Boat. He returned to California and immediately ordered the seaplane readied for taxi tests.

Proof of Concept: On November 2, 1947, a crowd of expectant observers and newsmen gathered. With Hughes at the controls, the giant Flying Boat glided smoothly across a three-mile stretch of harbor. From 35 miles per hour, it cruised to 90 during the second taxi test when eager newsmen began filing their stories. During the third taxi test Hughes surprised everyone as he ordered the wing flaps lowered to 15 degrees and the seaplane lifted off the water. He flew her for a little over a mile at an altitude of 70 feet for approximately one minute. The short hop proved to skeptics that the gigantic craft could fly!

 

Special thanks to www.sprucegoose.org

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