Happy Easter!

Happy Easter to all those that celebrate it, and all those just here for the food! Since today is a holiday, I figured a short post about some fun historical Easter facts would be more than appropriate. So keep scrolling to find some interesting Easter facts to share around the dinner table.

1. Painting Eggs has a long, long history

Humans have apparently been decorating eggs since we discovered that eggs were good to eat. The oldest decorated eggs are thought to have been made almost 60 thousand years ago. Eggs feature heavily in ancient mythologies as well! The tradition of painting eggs for Easter comes from the Ukrainian Eastern Orthodox, where elaborately decorated eggs are highly traditional.

Peeps have been around longer than you think! Originally hand-crafted by a small specialty store in Pennslyvania, Peeps took 27 hours to make… each. They were less marshmallow and more meringue. They also had tiny wings! The candy company Just Born took over the company in 1953 and overhauled how Peeps were made. Automating the process and making them of true marshmallow cut the time down from 27 hours… to 6 minutes. Unfortunately, it also cut the wings off, leading to the wingless chicks we eat today!

3. The Term “Easter” Comes from the Goddess Eostre

The early Christians tended to borrow from the Pagans that they were trying to convert. It was thought that tying in the Pagan holidays to Christian holidays would help convert the pagans to Christianity. Easter is one of the holidays that can easily be traced back to its’ pagan roots. Eostre was the Germanic goddess of the dawn, and possibly fertility. The original holiday was linked to the spring equinox, although it is celebrated the first Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox. This is why Easter moves so much- it’s following an ancient pagan calendar! Happy Easter, and Happy Eostre!

4. Chocolate Easter Bunnies Started in 1890

The first chocolate bunny was made in 1890. Robert L. Strohecker wanted to draw in more business to his shop in Reading PA for the Easter Season. So of course he commissioned a giant chocolate bunny to display. He’s now considered the father of chocolate Easter bunnies. Easter bunnies for baskets were available in Germany in 1890, and in 1925 the Rodda Candy Company (The same that originally made the meringue Peeps!) offered chocolate bunnies in a catalog.

5. Pretzels Were Once an Easter Food

Pretzels were once considered to be a highly religious food. The dough was supposedly shaped like arms folded in prayer. The three holes were for the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Pretzels are linked to the fast before easter and were hidden, and hunted for, just like the eggs. Since they don’t contain eggs, they were an acceptable food to eat during Lent.

I hope you enjoyed this short list of fun Easter Facts! Happy Easter!

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Atoms and Ashes: A Global History of Nuclear Disasters

I have a truly ridiculous amount of history books on my shelf that I haven’t managed to get around to reading yet. To be fair, I also have a ridiculous amount of books. I’m told this is a common affliction and that I don’t need to worry about it being serious. However, I want to get that “not read yet” shelf down to a more manageable size. So I’m setting myself a goal- one book a month. Each month I’ll read one of my unread books and write up a review here about said book. Should be easy enough, right? Any links to the books are affiliate links, and I’ll receive a small payment for any books you purchase through the links.

Atoms and Ashes: A Global History of Nuclear Disasters.

Nuclear symbol

June’s book was Atoms and Ashes: A Global History of Nuclear Disasters by Serhii Plokhy. As it says right in the title, Serhii Plokhy takes a close look at six of the world’s largest nuclear disasters. Plokhy is an extraordinary author. He’s well established as a historian. Currently, he is a professor of Ukrainian history at Harvard, where he also serves as director of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute. This isn’t his first time looking at nuclear disasters either. He’s written at least two other manuscripts about nuclear history. Plokhy is one of the gifted historians who can not only research, but write his findings in such a way that the public reads and enjoys his writing. I know I thoroughly enjoyed Atoms and Ashes, and I’m certainly going to purchase more of Plokhy’s works.

The Disasters

Plokhy separates his books by diaster. There are six that are examined. They are The Castle Bravo disaster, Kyshtym, Windscale, Three Mile Island, Chornobyl, and Fukushima. Personally, I was amazed at the depth of research Plokhy was able to pack into each section. Plokhy was able to maintain this level of research even for the Soviet-era disasters. This is despite the Soviet penchant for secrecy regarding the nuclear programs.

Plokhy does a deep dive into the history of each disaster. Not just the actual event, but the history of the area, facility, personnel, etc. He touches on political, societal, cultural, and historical influences that may have contributed to the events. This does make for a long read, but Plokhy is able to tie it all together in a way that’s easy to understand and digest. He doesn’t shy away from the human element, either. In some cases, he shows exactly what the people on the scene were seeing, hearing and feeling. With the Three Mile Island section, the confusion and terror felt by those in the surrounding area were made extremely clear. In the last section, on the Fukushima disaster, you could tangibly feel the helplessness and frustration of the Prime Minister and his team, as well as the utter terror and resolve of those at the plant.

Fukushima Plant after the disaster.
Digital Globe, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Science

I’ve noticed a bit of a trend in some scientific history manuscripts where the authors shy away a bit from the science. Plokhy happily avoids this. It’s easy to tell that he has a solid grasp of nuclear mechanics. Thankfully, he also realizes that most people do not have a good grasp of nuclear mechanics. He weaves the science into the history, explaining as he goes along what went wrong and why. He compares reactor types, fuel and coolant considerations, and much more. I’ve never had a great understanding of physics and chemistry, but Plohky manages to make it easy enough that the non-science types will realize not just what happened, but how dangerous it could have been.

In the Prologue, Plokhy goes over the various measurements used to measure radiation. The one thing I would change is the measure systems Plokhy uses. He uses the measurement systems used at the time of each event, rather than standardizing the units across the book. I kept having to flip back to the Prologue to check the measurements.

The Politics

Nuclear power is fundamentally a political issue. There are those who are for nuclear power as a green solution to climate change. There are those that are against nuclear power because of the danger. Plokhy tries, and mainly succeeds in keeping his opinions and current politics to the prologue and closing. He does seem to be against nuclear power, and after reading about the various problems and events, I’m inclined to agree.

The one common thread in every disaster is the human element. In many of the disasters, the systems worked exactly as designed- but due to human error or misunderstanding, the reactions went critical. Its these human errors that are the most terrifying part of the book. The best systems in the world were unable to prevent some of the worst disasters possible. Undertraining, greed, corners cut due to budgets, and incompetent operators are perhaps the true horror Plokhy points out. Radiation is a common fear, as is the possible explosive power of a plant in the middle of a meltdown. But the human element that can never be completely erased from any scenario, is the actual terror hiding behind each of the disasters.

My Recommendation

If it isn’t clear from the abundant praise above, I highly recommend this book. I would not recommend this book for those who are sensitive to disaster scenarios or have a phobia of radiation/nuclear. This was an intense but enjoyable read. Not really beach book material, but perhaps a long weekend read.

Want a copy? Check out the book on Amazon! Link below not showing up? Click here!

Want some more Horrifying History?

Check out our article on the Birthing Spinner! Women everywhere are quite glad that this birthing technique never caught on….

The Good Old Mechanical Pencil!

Students, artists, and engineers alike are all very familiar with the mechanical pencil. Preferred by many, the mechanical pencil is reusable, refillable, and always sharp. The little mechanical pencils that students love to fidget with are a surprisingly old invention! The idea of an “always sharp” pencil has been an attractive one for centuries and produced many variations of the much-beloved plastic pencils of today.

The first person to “invent” the mechanical pencil was the man who first invented the pencil itself. Conrad Gesner improved on the original stick of lead by devising a holder. The holder supported the lead, and the lead could be adjusted downwards and sharpened. This was not a true mechanical pencil as we would think of it today- it is not always sharp and needs to be manually adjusted. Still, Gesner’s holder was an innovation that paved the way for standard and mechanical pencils alike. Previously, people would simply hold the stick of lead.

A stick of lead with Futhark Runes etched into it.
mararie, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The next time a mechanical pencil pops up in history in is 1791. The HMS Pandora, a Porcupine class frigate of the English navy, was sunk near the Great Barrier Reef. Onboard was a mechanical pencil! This was not discovered until 1977 when the ship was finally located. This is still not quite a “mechanical pencil” as we would think of it today.

The 1800s were when the mechanical pencil began to take off. In 1822 the first patent for a mechanical pencil that had a replaceable lead and a method to push the lead forward was filed in Britain. Sampson Mordan and John Hawkins had filed the patent, but only Sampson manufactured the pencils. He called the pencils the “ever-pointed” pencils. His company, S. Mordan and Co, manufactured the pencils from 1837 until World War II.

Mordan’s patent drawings for his mechanical pencil

In 1833, James Bogardus patented a similar pencil in the United States. His “forever pointed” pencils were encased in a metal tube, but there is little evidence it went into mass-production.

Well over 150 patents were filed in the 1800’s for many variations of the mechanical pencil. 1877 had the first spring loaded system. This is the system mainly used today, with a “push button” design that moves the lead forward with the simple click of a button. John Hoffmann designed the spring loaded system and incorporated it into the Eagle Automatic company. These pencils, while very close to today’s style of pencil, had far too much “give” to the lead, making them hard to use. 1895 introduced a twist feed system which was not as popular as the push-button design.

An ad for an Eagle Pencil Company Mikado pencil
The Eagle Pencil Company made various pencils- the mechanical pencil was only a small part of what they offered!

 The event that really propelled the pencil into wide usage was the patent filed by Tokuji Hayakawa in 1915. He changed the casing to a nickel casing and improved on the feeding process of the lead. It took a few years, but a large order from a trading firm helped to popularize the “Ever-Ready Sharp Pencil.”

An interesting pen/mechanical pencil combo!

The mechanical pencil did go through several improvements since 1915. Most are now constructed mainly of plastic, and the sizes of the leads range anywhere between .2 to .9. Many include an attached eraser. However, traditional mechanical pencils used by engineers are often still made of metal and do not include the attached eraser.

Want to know more? Check out these sources!