"As we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of the opportunity provided to serve self-interest when Al Gore created the internet; and we should also thank Mark Zuckerburg and Jack Dorsey for creating Facebook and Twitter out of the kindness of their big hearts and not the thinness of their small wallets."
-Ben Franklin, Autobiography (1742)

Monday, July 23, 2012

My Strange Addiction: Thomas Jefferson

It’s no secret that Thomas Jefferson lived in a crippling amount of debt.  He owed over $107,000, about $2,000,000 by today’s standards, at the time of his death in 1826 and throughout his life he took many different approaches to handling that debt. In 1815 he sold his library, a collection of some 6,700 books, to the US Government for $25,000. This deal alleviated some of his financial burden, but more importantly, these books became the Library of Congress, and they continue to be the nucleus of that library today.

Now the day after these books are boarded up and sent away, Jefferson writes in a letter to John Adams “I cannot live without books”. For just about two centuries Americans have lauded these words, we use them to illustrate the importance of reading, learning, and education. What most Americans don’t know, is that in a separate letter to John Adams, sent years later, Jefferson writes:

 “I cannot live, without scented hair powder”.

You laugh, but he actually writes this. I’m not kidding. There’s no way we at Lost and Founders could have made this up.  Now some will look at this and assume that Thomas Jefferson was overly fond of Hyperbole, that perhaps this exaggeration was just a part of what made him such a good writer, but we at Lost and Founders, committed as we are to “Following the truth wherever it may lead” (TJ said that too), have uncovered the truth. Jefferson literally could not live without his scented hair powder. The man who penned the Declaration, was an addict.

We’re all familiar with TLC’s hit television show “MyStrange Addiction” in which we witness the compelling stories of individuals battling unusual obsessive behaviors (like drinking urine, and eating your deceased husbands ashes, you know common things like that). Had the show been around in the early 19th Century, Thomas Jefferson would undoubtedly have been the star.

There’s no way to know exactly when or where the addiction began, but leading historians do believe that Jefferson would have first been exposed to scented hair powder in 1760 when he begins his time at the College of William & Mary, an institution notorious for the abuse of this substance. 

While in the company of his mentor George Wythe and Royal Governor Fauquier (both wig wearing men) Jefferson might have been peer pressured into dabbling with scented hair powder. During the Revolution, and afterwards, while Jefferson is in Paris serving as Minister to France, there was no shortage of hair powder and Jefferson would have found it easy to keep up his habit. Problems begin when his times in Paris end.

Jefferson’s close contemporaries grow concerned about their friend’s abuse. In 1800, shortly after Jefferson secures the presidency, John Adams decides to host an intervention at Monticello. When Jefferson walks into his parlor to find Adams, George Washington, and Alexander Hamilton preparing to address his problem, he is so enraged that he has Dolley Madison forcibly remove them from his premise. This event marks the schism between the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans, Jefferson and Adams wouldn’t speak again for twelve years. 

In this period scented hair powder begins to ravage his fortunes, leaving him in a suffocating amount of debt that eventually forces the family to auction off their entire estate.  The deterioration extends to his body. This portrait depicts a Jefferson clearly suffering from hair product abuse, I mean, just look at his wig.
On July 4th, 1826, 50 years to the day he signed the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson’s habit finally catches up with him. At the young age of 83, he dies an untimely death from what most historians believe to be an overdose. Also, old age.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Jurassic Park and the Berlin Wall

If you love Jurassic Park it is time that you know the truth. Jurassic Park was not a book written by Michael Crichton. It is the story of one of our more recent Presidents. Ronald Reagan is famous for his imperative ‘Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall.’ Until now the world has been unaware of the covert operation led by President Reagan to complete this task. Until now no documented evidence had been available. Recently we were able to uncover a sketch of Reagan’s original ‘trickle-down’. We’re not talking about economics folks. We’re talking about an all-out Velociraptor rampage. 

Reagan led the charge himself to begin tearing down the wall. The Germans finished it, but wouldn’t you with a huge ass raptor breathing down your neck?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Project Glass and Benjamin Franklin

Our technophile readers will likely recognize the name "Project Glass" as an exciting new concept technology currently being developed by Google. It was recently given a large spotlight at the company's annual I/O event last week.


Project Glass is essentially a new way of viewing and interacting with the web, via a device worn on a person's head in much the same way as a pair of glasses. In some of Google's current prototypes, the device can actually be attached to an existing pair of glasses, basically allowing users to access new information as if were hovering right in front of their eyes.

It's pretty fascinating stuff and if successful stands to potentially affect the course of human history and how we interact with the world around us. Naturally, we at the Lost and Founders take as much interest in the future as we do in the past, and are very excited about the possibilities this new technology holds. However, we do have one gripe with Google and Project Glass, and that is that technically they stole the idea from one Benjamin Franklin.

It is a well-documented fact that the revolutionary Ben Franklin was a prolific inventor. His countless experiments set numerous scientific standards in his time and many of his inventions laid the groundwork for technology we still use today. Google's "Project Glass" so happens to be one of those inventions: a lesser-known design based on Franklin's original bifocals that he once dubbed with the working title of "The Franklin Floaters" (admittedly not his best name).

Franklin's Floaters were a set of bifocal glasses to which were connected thin brass wires that ended in tiny clamps. In Franklin's design one could attach a document to the clamps and read completely hands-free. Granted, there were several flaws in this original design that ultimately kept it from becoming popular - namely that affixing anything heavier than a few sheets of paper would cause the wearer terrible neck pains after just a few hours of use. No less a concern was the fact that it proved difficult to walk down the street with the wearer's view completely obstructed (Editor's Note: This latter issue was eventually remedied by Thomas Edison years later when he attached a small lamp to the Floaters that could pass light through special paper and render it transparent. Although the Floater's still did not catch on, this 2nd generation design was the original head lamp used by miner's).

Despite its flaws, Franklin's Floaters were a revolutionary concept well ahead of their time. Gone were the days of being forced to hold a document while reading, which according to Franklin's early journals proved a huge time saver that directly resulted in the creation of several of his more lasting innovations.

So 5 years from now when everyone is walking around video conferencing each other with their eyes and reading this blog as it floats magically in front of them, all we ask is that you take a moment to consider that there is usually quite a bit of lost history behind all of our modern day miracles. And about 83% of the time that history is in fact Benjamin Franklin.

                                  National Treasure (2004) movie props Ocular Device replica spectacles prop

Happy Early Independence Day America!

- The Lost and Founders