The Explainer General
The Revolutionary War should have won us independence from Britain. Britain’s Royal Navy didn’t care. In the early 1800’s it was busy fighting Napoleon but it had time to stop United States merchant ships on the high seas from trading with France or British colonies. It always needed sailors, so its officers seized our sailors, claiming they were Royal Navy deserters.
We needed a more independent independence. President James Madison declared a second war against Britain in 1812. Britain declared an embargo, forbidding our ships to leave port.
The Royal Navy had hundreds of big warships; we had six. To supplement our tiny Navy, the United States issued letters of marque, government licenses for privateers, private men o’war.
The boldest and most successful privateer was Captain Thomas Boyle’s Chasseur. It was a new kind of vessel, a Baltimore pilot schooner, the fastest ship afloat.
No sailboat can go directly into the wind. A square-rigged ship could manage to sail only 80° to the left or right of the wind’s direction. The Chasseur sailed 55° off the wind. Working into the wind by tacking (sailing to one side of the wind, then the other) she could go 10 miles to windward by sailing about 24 miles on diagonal courses. The Royal Navy’s square rigged men o’war would log almost 59 miles to reach the same point.
Chasseur carried only 16 small cannon – no match for a big man o’war’s 30 to 40 guns. But Boyle had no intention of slugging it out. If a man o’war appeared, he would scamper away to windward. Chasseur couldn’t be caught.
Boyle crossed the Atlantic and quickly took 18 British merchant ships. He was bold as a lion: he sent the last vessel back into port, so its captain could nail a proclamation to the door of Lloyd’s Coffee House, where London ship-insurers gathered. It was a politely worded embargo on all the British Isles – the same embargo Britain had attempted to force on the United States!
Did Boyle succeed? Yes and no. Many British ships sailed, but fear of the Chasseur raised the price of insurance 300%! Some of Lloyd’s insurers wouldn’t write policies on ships voyaging near America. Our Navy was small but mighty: our six heavy frigates (including Constitution, “Old Ironsides”) beat many Royal Navy frigates ship-to-ship. Our combination of daring, skill and brass audacity won the War of 1812 against the largest navy in the world.
You know all about pirates. They were big guys with fancy hats, silk jackets, peg legs, and parrots cursing on their shoulders. They sailed big ships with brass guns and made lubbers walk the plank . . . right?
Wrong! If you want to know what pirates were really like, then read Jan Adkin's book, What if You Met a Pirate? Click here for more information.
Jan Adkins is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
Adkins, Jan. "The Man Who Held Up Britain." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 6
Feb. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
The great Paris tower was underway. From each corner of a broad base the size of a football field, four spidery iron structures rose, curving inward in one majestic sweep toward the middle. The construction – a web of connecting girders – called for 300 workers to assemble some 15,000 pieces of iron and snap 2.5 million rivets into place. This would be the world’s tallest man-made structure, reaching a height of 300 meters (934 feet). A glorious demonstration of engineering, it was conceived by Gustave Eiffel, the most illustrious engineer of nineteenth-century France.
The tower was to be the focal point of the International Exhibition of Paris in 1889, commemorating the 100th birthday of the French Revolution. After that, since it had no practical use, it was to be torn down.
It took two years, two months, and three days to build the Eiffel Tower. Eiffel used wrought iron, which was a relatively new building material at the time, used primarily for bridges and aqueducts. As the tower rose, becoming the city’s most prominent feature, not everyone approved. “Useless and monstrous,” one newspaper called it. Another described it as an “odious column of bolted metal.”
Called the Magician of Iron, Eiffel’s mathematical prowess and attention to detail was legendary. To put the tower project on paper took 30 draftsmen working full time for 18 months. Every rivet of the 2.5 million needed for the structure had its designated place, down to a fraction of a millimeter.
The Tower became the hit of the International Exhibition, with nearly two million people visiting it. Still, not everyone loved this prodigious web of steel girders. A famous writer was once asked why he ate lunch there every day, since he was known to hate the sight of it. He replied, “Because it’s the only place in Paris where I can’t see the damn thing.”
So why wasn’t the Eiffel Tower torn down? It almost was. What saved it was the radio broadcasting center and the weather station that Eiffel installed at the top.
Now France’s most famous landmark, it is not the only national symbol that Eiffel was involved with. He also built the iron skeleton of a lady we’re all familiar with: The Statue of Liberty.
As for the Eiffel Tower, “I ought to be jealous of that tower,” he once said. “She is more famous than I am.”
The Eiffel Tower under construction highlights the intricacy of the design as well as the massive size of the project in relation to the city of Paris. Art by Roxie Munro
Eiffel's most famous works are still major tourist attractions in the 21st century. The Eiffel Tower is the most-visited paid monument in the world. An average of 25,000 people ascend the tower every day. Approximately four million people visit New York's Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island each year. Photo Benh Lieu Song viia Wikimedia Commons. Art by Roxie Munro
One of Roxie's most recent, Masterpiece Mix, is a book about art. As an artist searches for inspiration, she explores thirty-seven paintings of different genres, and comes up with a grand finale, using all of them. The book has "smart, concise, marvelously amplifying backmatter" (Kirkus), a dedicated web page, and free downloads.
MLA 8 Citation
Munro, Roxie. "The Magician of Iron." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 7 Mar.
Carla Killough McClafferty
illuminating lives from the past, impacting lives in the present
When you hear the name George Washington, what comes to mind? If you are like most people, you think about his image on the one dollar bill. And it’s no wonder since 9 billion dollar bills are in circulation at all times. This image is so familiar we sometimes forget that Washington wasn’t always a 64-year-old man. He certainly wasn’t born with white hair and dentures!
What did George Washington look like when he was a young man? The leadership of Mount Vernon, Washington’s home, decided to find out. They gathered a group of experts to do a forensic study of George Washington. Their goal was to create three wax figures that show him at the ages of 19, 45 and 57 years old.
To make sure the wax figures would look like the real George Washington, the hair they used must be the right color. The experts didn’t have to guess what color his hair was. They looked at George Washington’s real hair. Many locks of his hair still exist today. Why? Because in the 18th century it was common to keep small locks of hair that belonged to someone you loved or admired. (Sometimes even strangers would ask Washington for a lock of his hair to keep as a token of their respect for him.)
Can you guess what color Washington’s hair was when he was 19 years old? His natural hair was reddish brown (it wasn’t really red, and it wasn’t really brown—it was in between). Sometimes this color is described as “chestnut.”
Once the experts knew Washington’s hair color, they ordered human hair from a “hair merchant” in London, England. (Real people sell their hair to them.) The cost was about $300.00 for the hair used on the figure of Washington at 19. Sue Day, an artist, used a needle-like tool to place one human hair at a time directly into the wax head. She consulted portraits of Washington to make sure the shape of his hairline was right.
When the wax figure of young George Washington was finished, his long chestnut hair was pulled back into a queue (we would call it a ponytail). A large black silk bow was placed in his hair.
Today visitors to Mount Vernon can see what George Washington really looked like at the age of 19. And he looks great.
Carla McClafferty wrote a book on the subject of this Nonfiction Minute. For more information on THE MANY FACES OF GEORGE WASHINGTON: REMAKING A PRESIDENTIAL ICON (Carolrhoda, 2011) and for access to lesson plans and enrichment materials based on the award-winning book, click here.
Carla Killough McClafferty is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
McClafferty, Carla Killlough. "George Washington's Hair." Nonfiction Minute, iNK
Think Tank, 22 Feb. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
Giving Voice to Children in History
In the late 1800's when homesteaders first located their new claims in the Midwest, some saw nothing in any direction but tall prairie grass. On 160 acres of windswept land, there might not be a single tree. But these settlers were resourceful. They set to work building homes and barns from the one thing they had in abundance: the sod beneath their feet.
Because the soil had never been tilled, roots were tightly packed, and sod could be cut from the earth in three-foot- thick blocks. The sod houses that settlers built stood up well to harsh Midwest weather. Sod was a natural insulator, keeping out cold in winter, and heat in summer, while wood houses, which usually had no insulation, were just the opposite: always too hot or too cold. Another advantage of a soddy was that it offered protection from fire, wind, and tornadoes.
But a soddy also had drawbacks. Dirt constantly sifted down from the ceiling, making it almost impossible to keep clean. Rain or melting snow caused water to work its way through the roof and walls and run in trails along the floor, turning it to mud. Settlers actually used umbrellas or wore jackets—not to mention boots--to keep dry. Heavy rains and snow put the roof at risk of collapsing under the extra weight. If the soddy was built into a hillside and the family cow decided to graze on the roof, the cow could come crashing through the ceiling, especially if it had rained or snowed recently.
The worst drawback was insects and critters. Blocks of sod were home to fleas, ticks, mice, worms, and even snakes. One settler reported a snake dropping down from the rafters right onto the table at dinnertime. And a young mother never got over finding a snake curled up with her baby. Before getting up in the morning, folks learned to look under the bed first--because you just never knew.
In spite of this, lots of settlers loved their soddies and stuck with them even after they could afford to have wood shipped in to build what most people considered to be a proper house. They added on rooms, plastered all the walls, and installed wood floors and ceilings to keep the critters out. With that done, living in a soddy suited them just fine. And when the soddy needed repairs, they merely stepped outside, looked down—and there was their building material.
You can learn more about what it was like to live in a sod house in Andrea Warren's nonfiction book for young readers,Pioneer Girl: A True Story of Growing Up on the Prairie.
Andrea Warren is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
Warren, Andrea. "Snakes on the Dinner Table! Life in a Sod House." Nonfiction
Minute, iNK Think Tank, 9 Mar. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/
In the foreword to A Negro League Scrapbook, Buck O’Neil, former player/manager for the Kansas City Monarchs and the first black major league coach, says “Segregation was the only reason the Negro Leagues existed. Negro League baseball was outstanding.”
The players—most of whom never donned major league uniforms—were equal to, and sometimes better than, their white counterparts. Negro League and Major League players faced off in numerous exhibition games. Negro League teams usually won those contests, O’Neil explains, because the African-American players had something to prove.
From 1919 to 1963, Negro League teams crisscrossed the country, thrilling fans with crafty pitches, frequent bunts, hit-and-run plays, and stolen bases—all without big salaries or a level playing field.
Jackie Robinson, who began his career with the all-black Kansas City Monarchs, took the Negro League’s fast-paced brand of play with him to the Brooklyn Dodgers, stealing home during the 1955 World Series. Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947—a milestone that O’Neil considers the first pitch of the Civil Rights Movement.
Since 1971, more than twenty Negro League players have been inducted—some posthumously—into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
Carole Boston Weatherford’s A Negro League Scrapbook recreates what life was like on and off the field for African American baseball players before Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier. With lively verse, fascinating facts, and archival photographs, this is a celebration of the Negro Leagues and the stellar athletes who went unrecognized in their time.
For Vicki Cobb's BLOG (nonfiction book reviews, info on education, more), click here: Vicki's Blog
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