Dr. Jonas Salk tested his polio vaccine on his own family

Dr. Jonas Salk tested his polio vaccine on his own family

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c. 1950

Rows of iron lungs with polio patients are arrayed at the Ranchos Los Amigos Respiratory Center in Los Angeles.

Image: AS400 DB/Corbis

Before the mid-1950s, polio was one of the most feared diseases in the world. Caused by a virus, it created annual epidemics. The disease hit children the hardest. Once contracted, the virus replicates rapidly and invades the nervous system of the victim. People infected are generally contagious for six weeks, even if they show no symptoms

The disease struck indiscriminately. Even U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was affected, losing the use of his legs after a diagnosis at the age of 39. In 1938, he founded the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, to fund research into a cure. Roosevelt also founded the March of Dimes, a massive public fundraising effort to aid the afflicted and find a cure or vaccine Read more…

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Dr. Jonas Salk tested his polio vaccine on his own family

These bizarre valentines are pure WTF

These bizarre valentines are pure WTF

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Image: Kipling West

Image: Kipling West

Image: Kipling West

Image: Kipling West

Image: Kipling West

Image: Kipling West

Image: Kipling West

Image: Kipling West

Image: Kipling West

Image: Kipling West

Image: Kipling West

Image: Kipling West

Image: Kipling West

Image: Kipling West

Image: Kipling West

Image: Kipling West

Image: Kipling West

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These bizarre valentines are pure WTF

WWII scrap metal drives had people ripping fences off the street

WWII scrap metal drives had people ripping fences off the street

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Image: Leslie Jones/Boston Public Library

When the United States joined World War II after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the global trade of raw materials was in a state of uncertainty and disruption. Basic commodities such as rubber and cloth immediately became precious and valuable to the war effort

Scrap drives were organized across the country, encouraging citizens to contribute their rubber to make jeep tires, their clothing to make cleaning rags, their nylon and silk stockings to make parachutes, and their leftover cooking fat to make explosives

One of the most vital materials to collect was scrap metal. A single medium tank required 18 tons of it, and a single Navy ship hundreds more Read more…

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WWII scrap metal drives had people ripping fences off the street

In 1900, W.E.B. Du Bois led exhibit promoting African-American progress

In 1900, W.E.B. Du Bois led exhibit promoting African-American progress

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Women sit on steps at Atlanta University in Georgia.

Image: Library of Congress

At the turn of the 20th century, African-American lawyer Thomas Calloway had an idea for an exhibit for the upcoming 1900 World’s Fair in Paris

Writing to over a hundred prominent black Americans, Calloway laid out his vision for a multimedia presentation which would paint a picture of African-American society nearly four decades after the end of slavery

His proposal was heard by Booker T. Washington, who brought it to President William McKinley. With just four months to go before the start of the World’s Fair, Calloway was given Congressional approval and $15,000 to execute the exhibit Read more…

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In 1900, W.E.B. Du Bois led exhibit promoting African-American progress

125 years of fingernail trends

125 years of fingernail trends

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Bob Al-Greene/Mashable

Manicures are personal

Unlike hair or makeup, people see their fingernails all day, without the need for a mirror. Their appearance matters to a lot of people; it’s a way to express individual style. A good manicure can cheer you up all day long, while you’re texting or clinking glasses with friends.

People throughout history have paid special attention to their fingernail real estate. It’s been said that nail trends date back to 5000 B.C. when women in India decorated their fingertips with henna. Later, in 4000 B.C. Babylonian men were known to manicure and color their nails with black or green kohl. The Chinese are credited with creating nail stains from egg whites, vegetable dyes and beeswax as early as 3000 B.C. Read more…

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125 years of fingernail trends

This bizarre medieval manuscript has never been deciphered

This bizarre medieval manuscript has never been deciphered

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Image: Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library/Yale University Library

Named for Polish book dealer Wilfrid Voynich, who acquired it in 1912, the Voynich manuscript is a mystery that has remained unsolved for centuries

The manuscript is a 6×9-inch codex of bound calfskin vellum, which has been carbon-dated to the early decades of the 15th century, and is believed to have come from northern Italy. It holds approximately 240 pages, some which fold out, though it is believed that some pages are missing.

The content of the manuscript is truly baffling, though. It is written in a completely unknown script, and illuminated throughout with illustrations of seemingly fantastical plants. Estimates of how many individual characters compose the script vary from 15 to 40 Read more…

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This bizarre medieval manuscript has never been deciphered

The book covers of some of the earliest lesbian erotica

The book covers of some of the earliest lesbian erotica

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c. 1955

Image: Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library/Yale University Library

“Pulp” magazines and novels were so named for the cheap wood pulp paper they were printed on, in contrast to more expensive “slick” magazines

Selling for as little as $0.35, pulp novels were usually exploitative genre works, with lurid cover art and tales of adventure, crime, murder, mayhem and sex.

Within this range of titillating subjects was the subgenre of lesbian erotica. Even during times when discussion of LGBTQ issues was considered taboo, readers eagerly consumed steamy stories of forbidden, “unnatural” temptations. Read more…

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The book covers of some of the earliest lesbian erotica

The very first war photography was staged

The very first war photography was staged

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Captain Thomas Longworth Dames of the British Royal Artillery.

Image: Roger Fenton/Library of Congress

In the 1850s, the Crimean War emerged from a dispute over the rights of Christian minorities in the Ottoman-controlled Holy Land. Tensions among Russia, France and the Ottoman Empire eventually boiled over into a war centered in the Balkans and the critical warm-water ports of the Crimean Peninsula in the Black Sea.

The fighting in Crimea, which included the famed “Charge of the Light Brigade,” eventually settled into a prolonged stalemate, with allied British, French and Ottomans besieging the Russian-held port of Sevastopol Read more…

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The very first war photography was staged

44 books on 44 presidents: Welcome, folks, to the Adams administration

44 books on 44 presidents: Welcome, folks, to the Adams administration

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Editor’s note: This is the second entry in the writer’s year-long project to read one book about each of the U.S. Presidents by Election Day 2016. You can also follow Marcus’ progress at the @44in52 Twitter account and with this 44 in 52 Spreadsheet.

Not all presidents are equal. One-term second president John Adams is certainly less equal than most. Still, one of the more overlooked Founding Fathers (hey, he doesn’t even get a speaking part in the hit musical Hamilton) managed to provide his best biographer with an utterly fascinating picture, a man cast in sharp relief to the behemoth he succeeded. Read more…

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44 books on 44 presidents: Welcome, folks, to the Adams administration