Sydney and Daren

Mattel, the famous toymaker and creator of Barbie, has been making dolls with different shades of skin color for years.  In 1967, it introduced Barbie’s cousin Francis, who looked just like Barbie, but she was painted brown. In 1969, Barbie got a black friend, named Christie. And in 1980, Mattel started manufacturing a black Barbie.  But, she looked almost exactly like the white Barbie.  FinallyIn 2009, Mattel decided that it needed to “diversify.”  It created six dolls that looked more African American for a line called So In Style.  But that was just the beginning.  This Wall Street Journal article gives a glimpse of how complicated doll-making can become.  Note, though, that the “freakishly skinny” doll body remains, well, “freakishly skinny.”

Grace and Trichelle. from Mattel


Yeltsin goes to Houston (really–Clear Lake) and and shops at Randall’s

“It was September 16, 1989 and Yeltsin, then newly elected to the new Soviet parliament and the Supreme Soviet, had just visited Johnson Space Center.  At JSC, Yeltsin visited mission control and a mock-up of a space station. According to Houston Chronicle reporter Stefanie Asin, it wasn’t all the screens, dials, and wonder at NASA that blew up his skirt, it was the unscheduled trip inside a nearby Randall’s location.  Yeltsin, then 58, ‘roamed the aisles of Randall’s nodding his head in amazement,” wrote Asin. He told his fellow Russians in his entourage that if their people, who often must wait in line for most goods, saw the conditions of U.S. supermarkets, “there would be a revolution.’ ” Read the full blog/ article in the Chronicle here .  thanks to G.Campbell for this note. 

Taxes to Sink the Axis

Thought you might like this… Donald Duck to encourage Americans to pay their (new) income taxes.  Lots of patriotic imagery and a talking fountain pen.  1943

Strangely, this youtube link is down…. so you can go directly to to watch the cartoon.


Read more about the history of income taxes on Planet Money

Creation of the Negro National League puts race relations on the mend

ConineOn May 29, 1920, The Kansas City Sun ran an article about a baseball game in which the Kansas City Monarchs would face the Indianapolis A.B.C.’s. This game was the grand opening of the Negro National League in Kansas. Most remarkably, the city and fans gave “the team a rousing reception upon its first appearance on the home grounds. A big parade [took] place at 1:00 o’clock over the principal streets in which all the fans [were] invited to decorate their cars and take part.”

The league had 24 teams and was the first black baseball league to last more than one season. In fact, the league ran for eleven years before it disbanded due to disagreements between the founders and then reorganized with the same name. At a time when racial tensions were still high and the civil rights movement was still beyond the horizon, Kansas’ celebration of the league seems almost out of place, particularly for a traditionally southern state. However, the Twenties were a time of progressive thought and forward action. The celebration suggest that, though the racial divide was deep, there was a willingness to accept the “separate but equal” ideal presented in Plessey v. Ferguson in 1896. The Kansas City Monarchs would later offer Jackie Robinson, famous for breaking baseball’s color barrier, his first professional baseball job playing for the all-black team in 1945 that led to his breakthrough with the Dodgers in 1947. posted by Shelby Conine


The Creation of an American Hero

During the 1930’s the American escaped the tragic mood of the Great Depression by reading comic strips. By 1935, almost 2000 comic strips were being published in newspapers all across the country. Comic strip creators were treated as celebrities and were able to earn good money for their work. Many young men attempted to break into the comic industry to earn money in lack of proper employment, including the two sons of Jewish immigrants, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. These two friends created the characRiceter Superman, an alien who immigrated to earth and possessed superpowers who protected the American people. They pitched their idea for five years before it was picked up to be the first issue of Action Comics.

Superman became popular almost instantly because he represented justice for the unemployed and prosperity for immigrants. The unemployed American responded to a man whose job was to protect the common man, especially during the 1930’s where the average American felt powerless to big business and a 25% unemployment rate. Immigrants also identified with Superman, as Superman had left his alien home of Krypton behind to assimilate into the ideal American man. Superman changing his name to Clark Kent and finding success in both his career and his mission to protect justice made him a symbol of the “American Dream,” or being able to come into America and find success no matter one’s previous history.

Two years after its release, Action Comic’s published Superman in the first ever full-length comic book devoted to a singular character. His success sparked a new industry of comic books. By 1940, over two-dozen firms were publishing comics of their own myriad of super-heroes, such as The Flash, The Human Torch, and Plastic Man. Superman created a new industry that returned United States citizen’s faith in the American Dream during a hard time in history, and has continued through the 2st century.  posted by Holly Rice

Joblessness Changes People

jobless-america-future-200This depressing article by Don Peck, from this month’s Atlantic Monthly, describes the research sociologists and historians have done on the psychological effects of economic recessions and depressions on particular age cohorts. In other words, how does the experience of living through a recession change your life if you’re 20, 30, 40, or 50 when the recession starts? Those interviewed talk about what research has shown about the effects of past recessions,a nd speculate on what will occur as a result of the current downturn. The experts’ conclusions are, unsurprisingly, fairly grim:

If it persists much longer, this era of high joblessness will likely change the life course and character of a generation of young adults—and quite possibly those of the children behind them as well. It will leave an indelible imprint on many blue-collar white men—and on white culture. It could change the nature of modern marriage, and also cripple marriage as an institution in many communities. It may already be plunging many inner cities into a kind of despair and dysfunction not seen for decades.

Whether or not you agree with these assessments, the article reminded me of the important effects that changes in the national economic and political picture have on the lives of individuals. This is the type of historical question which we’ll be considering this week when we read Studs Terkel’s interviews with people who lived through World War Two.