“As a general rule, nobody has money who ought to have it.” — Benjamin Disraeli
From an 1895 Strand feature on eccentric ideas, a mortarboard that “may be opened as shown during times of elemental disturbance.”
“It is to be unfolded and folded in a similar way possible with ungummed envelopes. By what manner of means it is to sustain its four unfolded corners, no man (even the inventor himself) knoweth.”
In 1956, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the city of Williamsport could legally tax a Williamsport bar owner’s jukebox. One justice, Michael Musmanno, thought the machine shouldn’t be taxed — but:
In the eyes and ears of many people, including the writer of this opinion, a juke box confined to ‘jazz’ records may be a nuisance. It robs the air of sweet silence, it substitutes for the gentle concord of stillness the wailings of the so-called ‘blues singer,’ the whinings of foggy saxophones, the screeching of untuned fiddles, the blasts of head-splitting horns, and the battering of earshattering drums. It makes a mockery of music, it replaces harmony with cacophony, tonality with discord, and peace with annoyance.
Musmanno’s dissents could run to 20 pages — in another he called Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer “a cesspool, an open sewer, a pit of putrefaction, a slimy gathering of all that is rotten in the debris of human depravity.”
His reputation may have cost him — when asked whether he read Musmanno’s dissents, Chief Justice Horace Stern said he was not “interested in current fiction.”
For Old-Time Schools and School-Books (1904), Clifton Johnson scanned the flyleaves of old textbooks for notes scribbled by bygone students.
From Murray’s English Reader, 1822:
In a schoolbook of 1844:
And in a history book:
If you touch a gold ball, you touch its surface and you touch gold. It seems reasonable to conclude that the surface is made of gold. But University of Exeter computer scientist Antony Galton points out that the surface is two-dimensional; it can’t contain any quantity of gold.
What then is it? We can’t say it’s the outermost layer of gold atoms, for that’s a film with two surfaces. And we can’t say it’s an abstract boundary with no physical existence, for we can see it and touch it. So what is it?
J.L. Austin asked, “Where and what exactly is the surface of a cat?”
In 1937, Judge Leon R. Yankwich of Los Angeles Federal Court heard a case involving nearly identical patent claims submitted by Luther Wright and Herman Rongg.
His decision: “Wright is wrong and Rongg is right.”
Write out the names of the natural numbers in English: ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR, etc.
1 contains the first O, the first N, and the first E.
2 contains the second O.
3 contains the third E.
11 contains the 11th E (onE two thrEE four fivE six sEvEn Eight ninE tEn ElEvEn).
24 contains the 24th T.
29 contains the 29th N.
31 contains the 31st N.
109 contains the 109th N.
199 contains the 199th D.
251 contains the 251st O.
454 contains the 454th U.
559 contains the 559th I.
1174 contains the 1174th O.
1716 contains the 1716th S.
5557 contains the 5557th F.
6957 contains the 6957th F.
15756 contains the 15756th F.
17155 contains the 17155th F.
24999 contains the 24999th Y.
43569 contains the 43569th F.
735759 contains the 735759th V.
1105807 contains the 1105807th V.
1107785 contains the 1107785th V.
1584504 contains the 1584504th V.
1707941 contains the 1707941st V.
1921567 contains the 1921567th L.
In 1813, American inventor Oliver Evans envisioned a strange future:
“The time will come when people will travel in stages moved by steam engines, from one city to another, almost as fast as birds fly, fifteen or twenty miles an hour. Passing through the air with such velocity, changing the scene in such rapid succession, will be the most exhilarating, delightful exercise. A carriage will set out from Washington in the morning, the passengers will breakfast at Baltimore, dine at Philadelphia, and sup at New York, the same day. To accomplish this, two sets of railways will be laid, so nearly level as not in any place to deviate more than two degrees from a horizontal line, made of wood or iron, or smooth paths of broken stone or gravel, with a rail to guide the carriages, so that they may pass each other in different directions, and travel by night as well as by day; and the passengers will sleep in these stages as comfortably as they now do in steam stage boats.”
Unable to obtain financing, he abandoned the project and turned to other work. Thirteen years later, George Stephenson built the first public steam railway.