Unhappy Anniversary: The Sinking of the Unsinkable Titanic

•April 15, 2017 • Leave a Comment


ANew CGI of How Titanic Sank / Titanc 100, courtesy of National Geographic

At 2:20am on this date in 1912, the unthinkable happened. The “unsinkable” British ocean liner Titanic collided with an iceberg on its maiden voyage and sank to the bottom of the icy North Atlantic within 2½ hours, with enormous loss of life. Only some 700 of the 2,200 passengers and crew aboard the ship were rescued.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Thomas C. Ragan

The massive ship (882 feet long from stem to stern, and weighing 46,000 tons), was designed to be unsinkable since 4 of its 6 “watertight” compartments could be flooded without the ship losing its buoyancy. Because of this, a fateful decision had left the ship with only enough lifeboats to accommodate 1,178 souls.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Thomas C. Ragan

While The Wolfsonian–FIU Library holds one of the largest collections of ocean liner and cruise ship promotional materials in a public institution, there was virtually nothing in our collection dealing specifically with the Titanic disaster. A generous donation of materials by Wolfsonian supporter and ocean liner aficionado Thomas Ragan has since remedied that lacunae, and our library can now boast more than 260 rare and reference books, plus ephemera, relating to the great ship.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Thomas C. Ragan

Several of the rare books he donated were featured in a recent Wolfsonian exhibition, Margin of Error, which looked at the unintended disastrous consequences resulting from the adoption of new technologies.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Thomas C. Ragan

Mr. Ragan’s gift even includes an inflatable, motorized ship and iceberg, a children’s book from the point of view of a stuffed bear, and a book about the disaster written from the perspective of the iceberg!




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Thomas C. Ragan


Back to Work with the New Deal

•April 14, 2017 • 1 Comment

A couple weeks ago, more than forty students from F. S. Tucker Elementary visited The Wolfsonian and our rare book and special collections library as part of a field trip organized by their instructor, Iris Sanchez-Ruiz.

Group photo

Ms. Sanchez-Ruiz had been one of twenty Miami-Dade County schoolteachers enrolled in Florida International University’s Teaching American History Masters Degree Program some years back. She and another MA candidate, Rosita Maria Sosa, had taken my class on The Great Depression, New Deal, and Good War, and, for their final project assignment, had elected to curate a library installation in 2012 on the subject of Franklin Roosevelt and the labor movement.



Remembering the strength of our museum’s holdings of New Deal artifacts, Ms. Sanchez-Ruiz arranged a tour with our museum educators for her students of the New Deal era mural studies on view in the museum’s fifth-floor gallery.

Americans All Pan3

I also provided a presentation of primary source materials documenting the Roosevelt Administration’s “alphabet soup” solutions to the crises brought on by the Great Depression.


Vaughn Shoemaker cartoon for 1938 A.D., The Wolfsonian–FIU, Anonymous donor

Historians generally speak of two New Deals—the first projects enacted in a flurry of activity during FDR’s first 100 days in office, and a second wave of programs coming in response to ideas, programs, and platforms pushed by other political contenders in the lead-up to the 1936 presidential election.

The National Recovery Administration (NRA) and the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) were early “trickle down” approaches to jump-starting the economy’s industrial and farming sectors.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

Neither of these approaches proved to be particularly successful, and both proved to be more than a little controversial, attacked by conservatives as “stumbling into socialism” and by leftists as a boon to big business interests.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchase


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Ultimately, the conservative members of the Supreme Court “did in” the NRA by ruling it unconstitutional. Although the Roosevelt Administration’s “Triple-A” program fared better in the courts, the policy of killing millions of piglets, plowing under crops to raise food prices, and paying farmers subsidies not to grow crops stuck many critics as crazy in a time of want and hunger.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

Other early New Deal programs rolled out more smoothly and successfully, including FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Public Works Administration (PWA).


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchase


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

The PWA put tens of thousands of engineers, architects, and construction workers back to work on government-funded infrastructure projects.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Christopher DeNoon

While organized labor and the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA) railed the CCC for its poor pay and its military-style organization, it became one of the most popular programs of the first New Deal.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchased with Founder’s funds

Within months of Roosevelt’s inauguration, some 250,000 youths living in urban squalor and poverty, loitering in makeshift hobo camps, or restlessly “riding the rails” in search of work were enrolled in, housed in, and working out of CCC camps and barracks on conservation and reforestation projects established in state and national parks and forest reserves across the nation. Not only did the camps stimulate local economies by creating a demand for food and uniforms, but young enlistees benefited physically and emotionally as they put on pounds and muscle working in natural settings, learned valuable vocational skills, and took pride in knowing that $25 of their $30-per-month paychecks supported their families back home.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Promised Gift

By 1935, the Democratic incumbent was being challenged by various political contenders, each peddling their own personal program for ending the Depression. These included the “snake-oil salesman,” Dr. Francis Townsend, touring the country promoting his own Old Age pension “pyramid” scheme;


Cartoon by Will H. Chandler, for Mother Goose in Washington, The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

the charismatic, populist Governor of Louisiana, Huey Pierce Long, who campaigned to make “Every Man a King” with his “Share the Wealth” program before his candidacy was ended by an assassin’s bullet;


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

and Father Charles Coughlin (the “radio Priest”), who preferred right-wing politics to preaching the Gospel.


Cartoon by Will H. Chandler, for Mother Goose in Washington, The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

In the run-up to the 1936 presidential election, President Roosevelt introduced new New Deal programs, including the Social Security Administration and the Works Progress Administration. The former created a safety net for elderly and incapacitated Americans; the latter was designed to provide work for millions more able-bodied men and women in ever-wider fields of employment.


“Social Security,” a wood-engraving by Federal Art Project artist Stefan Hirsch, The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection


“W.P.A.” print by Duard Marshall, The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Though both programs helped millions of Americans in their most desperate time of need, a backlash against the WPA set in during the last years of the Depression decade against government-funded jobs and projects for “shovel-leaners.”


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

Congressional budgetary attacks on the New Deal began in earnest in late 1938 and early 1939, with conservative Southern (“Dixiecrat”) Democrats siding with Republicans in calling for the defunding of the WPA, beginning with the Federal Theatre Project.


Illustration by Victor Candell for 12 Cartoons Defending WPA, The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

With the dark clouds of militant Fascism and Nazism gathering over Europe and American factories reopened as the country geared up for war, the New Dealer reinvented himself and campaigned on the foreign policy platform of making America the “arsenal of democracy.”


Color lithograph by Hugo Gellert, for Century of the Common Man, The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection


•April 6, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Wolfsonian associate librarian Nicolae Harsanyi curated the library’s latest installation featuring the graphic artwork of William (“Bill”) Bradley, who has been credited with popularizing Art Nouveau in the United States. The materials are a perfect complement to Modern Dutch Design, a major exhibition in our sixth-floor galleries that highlight the distinctive “Nieuwe Kunst” aesthetic of the Netherlands and the Dutch East Indies. Here is Dr. Harsanyi’s report:

The library installation focusing on William H. Bradley’s Art Nouveau decorative designs has been open to the public for two months now.

Bradley Installation Library Pan1

Bradley Flat left case detail_18A7274

Bradley Flat right case detail_18A7271

Bradley Library Installation _18A7276

Selecting the items to be displayed was demanding because the decorated materials by Bradley held by our library are numerous. In this blog post, I will present other items that could just as well have gone on public display had there been more space available.

The wall display case of the installation contains a sampling of several poster designs Bill Bradley created for the Ault & Wiborg printing ink company based in Cincinnati, Ohio. One of them presents a couple dressed in carnival costumes against a background of trees with visible roots, blue being the dominant color in contrast with the whiteness of the paper on which it had been printed. Our library has two other variants of the self-same design, also bearing Bradley’s signature, which advertise two other hues of ink:



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

As the posters commissioned by Ault & Wiborg Co. became popular, in 1901 the company put together a catalog of the posters advertising its typographic inks so the public could order individual copies of the selected posters. This catalog also contained the following poster that Bradley designed in 1895:


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The flourish of the ribbons lends dynamism to the two static figures, and suggests all the movement and slapstick implied by the popular eighteenth-century Italian genre of commedia dell’ arte, from which these characters (Colombina and Pantalone) are drawn.

In 1894, Herbert Stuart Stone commissioned Will Bradley to create seven posters to advertise his new literary magazine The Chap Book. The first poster, often referred to as The Twins, is seen below. Critics complained that if you squinted, Bradley’s design looked like an oddly-shaped red turkey. Nowadays, it is credited as the first American Art Nouveau poster.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The design of two identically drawn women was used on another poster advertising the 1895 Thanksgiving issue of the same magazine. The repetition of the figure in a smaller size overlapping the larger figure gave depth to an image made up of two bi-dimensionally treated elements.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Another poster for The Chap Book was conceived mostly as an interplay between dark colors: blue and black. Bradley situated the female character in a wooded surroundings—the irregular lines of the young trees contrast with the angular and curvilinear treatment of the woman’s dress:


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

As much of Bradley’s work is done in strong black-and-white images, our library holds many depictions which show his mastery of blending Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau features. Usually the thick frames of vegetal motives recall William Morris’s illustrations, while the fluid, organic and undulating lines of the image placed within the center of such frames are characteristic of Art Nouveau. This mixture can be seen in many designs for a variety of works on paper: posters, advertisements, brochures, and periodical covers.






Finally, the additional instances of designs Bradley employed in decorating publishers’ bindings cannot be left out of this blog post (even if they were not selected for the installation):






The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Tuned In: RadioFest at The Wolfsonian

•March 17, 2017 • Leave a Comment

This past weekend, The Wolfsonian–FIU partnered with public radio station WLRN Public Media in hosting a festival celebrating the impact of radio in transforming the world. The festivities included a WLRN VoxPop recording booth set up in our historic Bridge Tender House; a speaker-making workshop with Moonlighter Markerspace; a selection of radio-related videos courtesy of the Lynn and Louis Wolfson II Florida Moving Image Archives; an internet radio panel discussion moderated by The New Tropic; a guided tour of vintage radios by collector Harvey Mattel; and live radio plays organized by WLRN.


Of the hundreds in attendance, more than eighty museum visitors also came up to the library to peruse a display of advertisements, rare books and manuals, posters, sound recordings, and other ephemera laid out on our main reading room tables.


A large-screen television in the library provided a viewing of Back of the Mike, a 1938 film short providing a “behind the scenes” view of the production of sound effects for a radio program.


The library materials on display included rare brochures and a couple of posters promoting radios from a host of countries.










The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Other items on view for our guests included popular magazines, cartoons, brochures, and children’s books attesting to the centrality of radio in the first half of the twentieth century.


The Wolfsonian–FIU


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Anonymous donor


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Dolores Trenner




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Politicians and demagogues alike recognized the vital role that radio played in moving the masses and swaying public opinion in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. After winning the presidency in 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt directly addressed the nation with “fireside chats”; his wife, Eleanor also hosted a popular radio show; and Father Charles Coughlin (the “Radio Priest”) captivated millions of listeners with his fiery weekly speeches.




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

During the Great Depression, the President’s Federal Music Project funded free orchestra and chamber music concerts and provided free sound recordings of the same for distribution to the nation’s radio stations.




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Europeans also harnessed radio’s power to reach and persuade millions of listeners, whether in support of republican Spain or the Fascist dictatorship in Italy.





The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Benito Mussolini and the Fascists organized “educational” radio programs in support of the regime and its imperial ambitions. Patriotic Italians were strongly encouraged to listen to the broadcasts bellowing out from loudspeakers in city squares and rural town centers, where the walls would be plastered with posters providing visuals in support of each theme.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Adolf Hitler and the Nazis were particularly adept at monopolizing domestic radio waves in Germany. Under the auspices of Joseph Goebbels and his Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, the Nazis produced two types of cheap radios, known as “People’s Receivers,” that were incapable of receiving foreign shortwave broadcasts.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

During the Second World War, Axis dictators and militarists used radio broadcasts to tighten their control over their own nationals and subjugated neighbors.




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The Allies devised creative means to reach and amplify the resistance movements in the occupied territories, with broadcasts of Churchill’s speeches via Radio London and translations of President Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” declaration stamped onto lightweight cardboard and vinyl sound-recording discs dropped from airplanes behind enemy lines.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

Finally, we had a few items on display related to the Red Scare of the postwar period, when Americans were conditioned to fear Communist infiltration of the media.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Promised Gift

Parlez-Vous Francais? Visit to The Wolfsonian by FIU Professor and French Club

•March 10, 2017 • Leave a Comment

This past Saturday, The Wolfsonian rare book and special collections library hosted thirteen members of Florida International University’s French club, arranged by Modern Languages Professor Maria Antonieta Garcia. Professor Garcia has been serving as advisor for the French club for a number of years and has regularly organized visits to The Wolfsonian by the club, Le Cercle Francais, and students taking her French Advanced Conversation and French Writing courses.


For each of these visits, we have endeavored to lay French language materials on the main reading room tables, either specifically designed to complement Professor Garcia’s curricula, or, to provide club members with some fresh and interesting materials.

For the group arriving last Saturday, we pulled a wide variety of French items that had only recently been sent from museum founder Mitchell Wolfson’s apartment in Paris, and had not yet been seen by any scholars or researchers given that we were just beginning to catalog them. Today’s post will highlight just a few of these items.

After the cessation of hostilities of the First World War, Europeans still had to face up to the lingering nightmares, horrors and scars of the carnage. While wartime propaganda lauded and romanticized Red Cross nurses as angels of mercy dedicated to healing and alleviating the suffering of wounded soldiers, one very curious book published immediately in the aftermath of the Great War characterized nurses and the hospitalization experience in a far more macabre light.



Au Royaume du Bistouris [In the realm of the scalpel] opens with a preface by Marcel Proust and features unflattering cartoon illustrations of unattractive nurses.



Postwar Paris attracted great authors, artists, and bibliophiles. French publishing houses began catering to collectors of deluxe illustrated books. Some of these featured elaborate Art Deco leather bindings; others features special numbered editions, often inscribed by the author or illustrator, and frequently containing an extra suite of plates at the end of the text block.

One such example put on display for the French club was Albert Samain’s Hyalis: le petit faune aux yeux bleus [Hyalis: the little fawn with blue eyes], published in Paris in 1918.


As was typical of books of this era, the story drew on classical Greek mythology with characters ranging from satyrs and centaurs to sirens.




The work was illustrated with reproductions of engravings by Eugene Louis Charpentier (1811-1890) colored by illustrator Gustav Adolf Mossa (1883-1971).

The French club also had the chance to peruse several recent acquisitions that documented France’s overseas empire in the 1920s and 1930s. One of these was the 1926 Annuaire du syndicat des planteurs de caoutchouc de l’Indochine [Annual of the union of rubber tree planters of Indochina]. The beautiful cover illustration shows two Indochinese natives: one wearing a pith helmet as he taps a rubber tree; the other wearing a more traditional hat while driving a tractor.


The publication is well-illustrated with photogravures of French planters and native agricultural workers.



Professor Garcia and the French club members were particularly interested in a children’s book on the table: Au Temps où les bêtes parlaient breton: histoire en images et dessins amusants [In the days when animals spoke Breton: story in pictures and fun designs] by Benjamin Rabier; with a Breton adaptation. Published in Landerneau, Bretagne towards the end of the Second World War, the book used cartoons, comic strips, and pictorial wit and humor in its efforts to promote the language and traditions of a region intent on preserving its distinct cultural identity.


A Wolfsonian Happy Birthday Tribute to Yellowstone National Park

•March 1, 2017 • Leave a Comment

On this day in history, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill that established Yellowstone, America’s first national park.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

While Native American peoples had established settlements and hunting camps in the region for many hundreds of years, it wasn’t until 1807 that an Anglo-American fur trapper and mountain man, John Colter, explored the region. When he returned with fantastical tales of picturesque canyons, terraces harboring sulfurous cauldrons of steaming mud, boiling hot geysers that shot up into the heavens, many first regarded his story with skepticism, derisively nicknaming the region “Colter’s Hell.”



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Howard Gottlieb

It was only after the American Civil War that the U.S. government sponsored formal expeditions into the region. One such exploration led by government geologist Ferdinand Hayden in 1871 included the photographer William Henry Jackson and the landscape artist Thomas Moran. They had been commissioned to visually document the supposed “natural curiosities” and “wonders” of the place.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Howard Gottlieb

Jackson’s photographs of Yellowstone helped build popular enthusiasm and support for the idea of preserving the region as a public parkland. In 1872, Congress passed a bill to preserve as a “pleasuring-ground” more than 1.2 million acres of public land; President Grant signed the Yellowstone Act into law on this day in 1872.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Howard Gottlieb

In the early 1900s, the Detroit Photographic Company produced color lithographic prints from William Jackson’s original photographs using the Photochrom process. The railroad industry distributed such reproductions to encourage and promote travel and tourism to the nation’s first national park and other scenic western destinations.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Howard Gottlieb

Souvenir view books with postcard-sized foldouts continued promote domestic tourist travel to Yellowstone and the nation’s growing number of national parks–though by the 1940s, much of that travel was along the highways rather than railways and in private automobiles rather than railroad cars.






The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Charles Marshall, Jr.

Later this year, The Wolfsonian–FIU library will be creating an installation of materials such as these to celebrate one hundred years of National Park Service, so stay tuned.


Counting Cars: New acquisitions to the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection at the Wolfsonian-FIU Library

•February 17, 2017 • 2 Comments

For several years now, one of our long-time supporters, Frederic A. Sharf has been donating large swaths of his private library to The Wolfsonian-FIU rare book and special collections library. Fred’s generosity has greatly enriched our holdings of rare propaganda books and photograph albums documenting: the conflicts of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; the rise of the Japanese Empire; and colonial expeditions and projects the world over. Mr. Sharf’s most recent donations to the museum have included airplane, truck, and automobile models, as well as rare books and substantial runs of illustrated automotive magazines. Today’s post dealing with one of those rare periodicals comes to you courtesy of Sharf Associate Librarian Rochelle Pienn. Here is her report:

In New York over half a century ago, my father’s father owned a gas station in Queens while my mother’s father worked as a mechanic in Brooklyn. These professional parallels between my grandfathers were random, as it relates to my parents’ romance. But that is a story for another day.


The author’s beloved father as a young man in Queens, NY.

The common denominator for Grandpa Morris and Grandpa Angelo, of course, was the car. In the West after World War II, cars symbolized technological triumph, economic progress, and freedom. Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf recently donated more than one hundred issues of The Autocar from this period to the Wolfsonian-FIU Library. The British magazine, first published in 1895 (making it the oldest automobile periodical on record) and still available today, includes in-depth pieces on car companies, reviews of new models, and mechanical insights.

This cover from September 10, 1954 lauds the benefits of buying a Ford. Part of the “Big Three” American car manufacturers in the 1950s, Ford was only second to Chevrolet in automobile sales. Note the wheel in the illustration is on the right, for English drivers.


The Wolfsonian-FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

Nine years earlier (and five months after D-Day), the caption on this cover waxes hopeful and poetic over the upcoming Christmas holidays for the Ford owner. The illustration is unusual in that it shows what the lucky driver would see through the windshield, rather than promoting the car itself.


The Wolfsonian-FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

The back cover of the same issue is devoted to an advertisement expressing cautious optimism about beginning post-war business.


The Wolfsonian-FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

The juxtaposition of the quintessential British beagling and the American Ford parked nearby displays a picturesque post war amity in which the commercial manufacturer can barely keep up with customer demand.


The Wolfsonian-FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

A 1950 ad on the back cover of The Autocar proves that America needs British automobile equipment, too.


The Wolfsonian-FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

In 1945, car (and car magazine) purchasers were predominately male. The Nuffield Organization, the British umbrella company for both Morris and Austin cars, emphasizes this point by featuring what might visually represent a potential buyer’s wife and daughters (and beloved pup).


The Wolfsonian-FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

In another cover illustration, the gentlemanly Morris owner impresses an attractive woman with his spending savvy.


The Wolfsonian-FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

Price was (and remains) an important consideration for car-buyers. What would this beauty cost today?


The Wolfsonian-FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

In 1954, Lockhead encouraged the consumer to imagine what a car would be like a century into the future. This 2054 model “becomes airborne with the flick of a finger.”


The Wolfsonian-FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

Only thirty-seven more years to go.