Category Archives: industry

How the U.S. Disposed of 1.4B Acres

From Homesteading the Plains Toward a New History, by Richard Edwards, Jacob K. Friefeld, and Rebecca S. Wingo (University of Nebraska Press, 2017), Kindle pp. 6-7:

Homesteading was one way in which the federal government transferred parts of America’s enormous public domain to private ownership. The U.S. government acquired nearly 1.5 billion acres in the lower forty-eight states between 1781 and 1853, through the Revolutionary War treaty, the Louisiana Purchase, the Mexican War cessions, the settlement of boundary disputes with the British over Canada, and a few other minor acquisitions. From the outset many individuals, whether landless or the mightiest land barons, mining companies, and speculators, eagerly looked on public land as a source of potential riches for themselves. But the government was also interested in moving public land into private hands for a variety of motives that shifted over time. Initially it sought to use land sales to fund the federal budget, but later it distributed land to stimulate canal and railroad growth, to occupy remote regions and thereby forestall threats from foreign powers, to populate the West in order to foster private economic development, and to create a land-owning, small-farmer middle class that would sustain a democratic society.

We can trace in broad terms the disposition of this 1.442 billion-acre public domain. The national government today continues possession of about 26 percent (380 million acres). It transferred approximately 22 percent (328 million acres) to individual states, most of which was sold, and homesteaders claimed about 19 percent (270 million, or possibly as much as 285 million, acres). The balance, roughly 32 percent (between 449 and 464 million acres) was transferred to private owners through sales, grants to railroad corporations, veterans’ bonuses, agricultural college grants, and other distributions, or it was stolen, misappropriated, reserved, or otherwise caused to disappear from the public land rolls. Homesteading accounted for between a quarter and a third of the public land transferred by the federal government to private owners.

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Angaur: Crucible of Pacific Arts

In researching the origins of modern Palauan music and dance, Jim Geselbracht has assembled many perspectives on the phosphate mine at Angaur, which seems to have served as a crucible where Pacific Islanders from Micronesia, Okinawa, Taiwan, and other parts of the Japanese Empire came together and learned from each other during their few precious leisure hours.

As I discussed in an earlier post, foreign workers who were brought to Palau to mine phosphate brought with them their music and dance, which in turn had a significant influence on the development of modern Palauan music.  This, I believe, was the “big bang” event in Palauan music, where it changed from chants with lyrics that were handed down from the gods (chelid) to modern, composed music (beches el chelitakl).  Let’s first explore the history of the mining operation in Angaur.

According to a USGS report [1]:

Mining of phosphate on Angaur begin in 1909 during German administration of the island and continued from 1914 to 1944 under Japanese administration.  Mechanized methods were introduced just before the start of World War II.  From June 1946 to June 1947 mining was carried out by an American contractor under the control of the US Navy.  Mining was resumed on June 30, 1949, by a Japanese company, the Phosphate Mining Co., Ltd. (Rinko Kaihatsu Kaisha).

The labor for the mining operation consisted of Palauan, Carolinian, Chamorran, Filipino and Chinese workers.  In a book on Micronesian development [2], David Hanlon describes the “troubled history” of phosphate mining on Angaur.  I’ve extracted a portion that describes the labor force used to mine the phosphate:

Begun in February 1909, the mining of phosphate and the environmental havoc it wreaked had quickly turned Angaur into the “hottest place in the Pacific.”  The construction of a railroad, drying plant, sawmill, loading dock, warehouses, thirty-two European residences and eleven workers’ dormitories further blighted a landscape already ravaged by the open-pit technique used to extract phosphate.  German overseers and mechanics drank excessively, fought each other, and openly defied their company supervisors.  The abuse of Carolinian and Chinese laborers brought to mine the island’s phosphate included low wages, frequent payment in the form of near worthless coupons rather than currency, forced purchases with these devalued coupons of overpriced goods in the mining company’s store, physical punishment and extended working hours.  By 1911, the situation had deteriorated so badly that German colonial officials elsewhere in the Carolines were refusing to assist in the recruitment of islander labor for Angaur.

Fr. Francis Hezel extends the story in his book Strangers in Their Own Land [4]:

As the German Phosphate Company made preparations to begin mining operations, the island population of 150 … were moved to a small reservation in the southeast corner of the island.  At first company officials intended to rely on Chinese labor for the Angaur mines, and they brought in eighty workers from Hong Kong.  The Chinese proved as troublesome to the German overseers on Angaur as they were on Nauru.  Dissatisfied with their working conditions and benefits, and insulted by the floggings they received, they killed a German employee and called a general strike during the first year of operations.  To provide “more complaisant material for the company than the Chinese”, the German government began recruiting Carolinians.  With the assistance of chiefs from Yap and its outer islands, a hundred men were sent to Angaur on a one-year labor contract; a second recruiting voyage produced another two hundred laborers, eighty of them from Palau and the rest from Yap.

Fr. Hezel continues:

In the evenings, during their few hours of leisure, they often entertained themselves by singing and dancing, thus passing on the stick dances, German marching dances and other stylized art forms that have come to be widespread in Micronesia today.

These dances are what are known as matamatong in Palau today.  By 1911, the initial 300 Carolinian laborers had doubled in size [4]:

the island now contained a polycultural community of 600:  a few dozen Germans, … Chinese, some Chamorros and Filipinos, and the five hundred Carolinians from various islands who worked there.

During Japanese time, the mining labor importation practices continued.  According to Hanlon [2]:

Japan’s later civilian colonial government assumed supervision of all phosphate mining on Angaur in 1927 and relied upon labor from the Marianas, Palau, Chuuk and Yap.  These island laborers were recruited by village chiefs or headmen who received a small bonus or fee as compensation for the loss of manpower from traditional activities.  Most of these laborers were drafted against their will for a year of “totally exhausting work.”

Hezel [4] describes the mix of workers on Angaur during Japanese times as a continuation of German times:

the 350 islanders at work in the mines … generally served year-long contracts and lived under slightly improved conditions … The mines had always drawn heavily on Yapese, who had the reputation of being the hardest workers in the territory, but their numbers fell off from 200 to 50 during the 1920s because of the serious population decline on the island. Chuukese were called on to provide a proportionately larger share of the labor force, at first under threat of imprisonment, but in time half-voluntarily as the allure of a salary grew among the people.

Virginia Luka describes the impact of the phophate-mining workers in Angaur in a paper written at the Southern Oregon University [3].  In it she cited the observations of Pedro [5]:

Foreign workers from places such as Guam, Saipan, Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei, Japan and China introduced new plants, animals, food, dancing, singing and lifestyles.  In Angaur they learned how to bake bread, sew, western dance and how to play some musical instruments such as the guitar, harmonica and accordion from the Saipanese.

Based on these accounts, the 300 to 600 Carolinian workers far out-numbered the local Angaur community of 150.  The Palauans observing and participating in the Carolinian dances likely led to the adoption of the matamatong as a Palauan dance.  Junko Konishi [dissertation in English available here] states that the word matamatong likely derives from Pohnpei [7]:

The term [matamatong] seems to have originated from the progressive form of the Pohnepeian word mwadong (mwadomwadong) meaning “to play, to take recreation” and dancing.

In fact, Junko relates that over 400 Pohnpeans were exiled to Palau in 1911 after the uprising in Sokehs and over 100 Pohnpean males were sent to Angaur to work in the mines [8].

However, Konishi developed a detailed explanation [8] of how the Marshall Islands were actually the birthplace of the marching dance, with diffusion of the dance in the early 1900s from the Marshalls to the Eastern Caroline Islands (including Pohnpei) and Nauru.  She states that:

Yapese and Palauan elders recount that Chuukese spread the marching dance in Angaur.

The matamatong dance was also picked up by Japanese settlers in Micronesia.  During the 2004 Festival of Pacific Arts, held in Palau, a Japanese dance group performed [6]:

… a dance style called Nanyo-Odori (South Seas Dance) [links go to Youtube videos of Bonin Islanders, the latter with subtitles in Japanese, with katakana for foreign words], presented as an adaption of the songs and dances from the Pacific brought back to the Ogasawaran islands of Japan by Japanese people who had sailed around the Pacific for trading … [and] lived in Micronesia during the period of Japanese occupation and control … The dance is an adaption of a Micronesian dance called the Matamatong … The dance, which was accompanied by songs in a mixture of Palauan, Japanese and English, is said to have been created in about 1914 at the end of the German era in Micronesia and continues to be popularly danced today.

A fascinating exchange [at the Festival of Pacific Arts] ensued between Palauans … and the Japanese performers, in which they compared the dance steps of the Nanyo-Odori with those of the Matamatong (as well as the words of the accompanying songs, some of which the Japanese did not understand).  A Palauan musician … Roland Tangelbad, noted that the Japanese still danced the old way, with a German soldier’s style of marching step (goose step) whereas the Palauans had since adapted theirs to the marching step of the US soldiers.

The impact of the Eastern Caroline Islanders among the Palauans went beyond the matamatong dance step [8]:

The Chuukese, who had a tradition of love songs, created many dances for love songs in Angaur during the Japanese colonial period.  And those songs, composed with lyrics in Japanese (which was the common language at that time), became popular among different island groups.

I witnessed both marching dances (call maas in Yapese) and stick dances during my fieldwork in Yap in the fall of 1974. One feature that defined both as “modern” was that men and women performed together in the same dance, and not separately as they did in traditional dances.

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Eastern Europe’s Urban Growth, 1900s

From The Making of Eastern Europe: From Prehistory to Postcommunism, by Philip Longworth (Lume Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 157-158:

Between 1860 and 1900 the population of Eastern Europe almost doubled. Between 1900 and 1914 it increased by at least another 20 per cent to a figure well in excess of 250 million. This was a far higher growth rate than in any Western country, and it has never been adequately explained. In so far as the statistics exclude migration abroad, the situation was worse than it might seem. Mass emigration had gathered pace since 1880. By 1914 nearly 4 million had left Austria-Hungary; the rate of migration from the Russian Empire approached 100,000 a year. But the migration rates from the poorest areas were the lowest (higher for Austria-Hungary than Russia, higher from Russian Poland than the rest of the Russian Empire, and lowest from Romania). However encouraging a development the population explosion might seem to chauvinistic nationalists, it brought rising despair in the countryside (where almost 60 per cent of Austria’s subjects lived, 70 per cent of Hungary’s and over 80 per cent over the remainder of the region). The despair at having to feed more mouths from the same small trough turned to anger in massive peasant disturbances in Russia in 1905–6 and a bloody Romanian uprising of 1907. But the problems of the countryside were also transferred to the cities.

The population growth in most of the major cities exceeded that for the region as a whole because of urban migration. Between 1880 and 1910 the population of Prague rose by almost 40 per cent to nearly a quarter of a million; that of Budapest doubled to reach almost 900,000; those of St Petersburg and Moscow more than doubled (to 2 and 1.5 million respectively), and that of Warsaw more than tripled (to 856,000). But the most alarming increase occurred in Vienna which changed, within the span of a single generation, from a pleasant, orderly, German-speaking city of fewer than 750,000 souls to a polyglot maelstrom of over two million. The city, whose ancient walls had recently been dismantled to make way for the elegant Ringstrasse with its modern palaces and pleasant parks where bands played Strauss waltzes, was suddenly overwhelmed by a new kind of invasion.

It was an irony of this age of nationalism that by 1910 no less than 8 per cent of all Czechs should reside in Vienna (5 per cent of all Slovaks had settled in Budapest by that time). And not only Czechs, but Serbs, Romanians, Slovenes and Ukrainians had flooded in to the new tenements and slums. The city had come to resemble a Tower of Babel, and the indigenous Viennese felt overwhelmed; their culture, their very identity seemed threatened. The popular mood, formerly easy-going, became ugly.

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Eastern Europe’s Failures in 1848

From The Making of Eastern Europe: From Prehistory to Postcommunism, by Philip Longworth (Lume Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 134-137:

At the beginning of March 1848, as news of a revolution in Paris seeped in about a week after the event, crowds took to the streets of Vienna, and before long the entire Empire, from Bohemia to northern Italy, was in turmoil. In the months that followed there were uprisings in Prague, Lemberg [Lviv] and several other cities besides Vienna; Hungary and Venice declared themselves independent; the imperial army was driven out of Lombardy by local insurgents supported by invading forces from Piedmont, and Vienna itself had to be abandoned to the revolutionaries. Within the imperial administration there were six changes of government; two ministers were lynched; another went mad; and the Emperor abdicated. Yet by the autumn of 1849 the old order had been resurrected and the cause of revolution seemed utterly lost. What had the revolutionaries stood for? Why did they lose? And what influence did the events have both on the Empire itself and on the rest of Eastern Europe?

The Revolutions of 1848 are commonly represented as nationalist, and so to a great extent they were. Yet the call for ‘freedom’ as if it were a single entity embraced a variety of aims. Middle-class liberals wanted the abolition of censorship, freedom of speech and assembly, and a judicial system that dispensed justice openly; radicals demanded the replacement of monarchical government by a democracy based on wide suffrage; peasants, and all progressives, wanted the abolition of serfdom; workers protested against unemployment and for more pay. After the first, heady, stages, even more interests forced themselves to the surface. Tenants struck against high rents; artisans took to the streets because new, cheap, factory-produced goods were already threatening their livelihoods; students saw an opportunity for activism, and in Prague there were anti-Jewish riots. Among the educated strata, some, like the great Hungarian landowner Szechenyi, wanted change on the lines of the British model, with economic development as the motor of social and political change. However, the slogans of the French Revolution and of the Romantic movement tended to predominate, and in particular calls for national self-expression.

The demands for national freedom, however, also took different forms. Some were founded on constitutional precedents, such as the ancient powers of the Hungarian Diet or of the Bohemian Estates, which had been sapped or overborne by imperial power. Others were based on what appeared to their proponents to be the self-evident claims of a common language and the national community which it created. And there were further divisions both within the various nationalist camps and between them. Frantisek Palacky, promoter of the Czech national revival, thought in terms of a union of all the Slav peoples of the Empire, predicated on the view that, for all the myriad differences of dialect, they all spoke the same beautiful language.

This, however, was unacceptable, among others, to the Polish nationalists, who, roused by emigres returning from France, wished to resurrect the ancient Polish Republic which had been wiped off the map only half a century before. Furthermore, the claims of one nationalist group encouraged others to assert themselves. Romanians, Serbs, Croats and Slovaks did not take kindly to the prospect of inclusion in a state dominated by Hungarians. The Ruthenes (Ukrainians) resented the Polish claims to domination in Galicia. German Bohemians feared the Czechs and some Austrians were attracted by the idea of a greater Germany.

The fast-declining sense of equality and fraternity among the revolutionaries themselves, a growing popular reaction to their extremism, and the discipline of the imperial army all helped the government to reassert its authority. The promise made on 25 April 1848 to provide a democratic constitution for Austria, and the subsequent undertaking, in response to public demand, to widen the franchise, assuaged the feelings of many democrats; the emancipation of the peasants of Bohemia and Moravia in March, and those of Galicia and the Bukovina later the same year, bought off much social discontent; and the authorities experienced little difficulty in encouraging the Croats, Serbs and Slovaks to attack the Hungarian rebels who had cavalierly rejected their modest claims to linguistic autonomy. For the rest it was a matter of suppression. On 7 June the insurrectionaries in Prague were crushed; Vienna was recaptured at the end of October, and a rising in Lemberg put down two days later. General Windischgraetz was the imperial hero of the hour. Only the Italians and Hungarians held out. The crushing defeat inflicted by General Radetzky on the invading Piedmontese at Novara in March 1849 spelt doom to the revolution in the Italian provinces, though the resurrected ‘republic’ of Venice survived until August. The Hungarian rebellion lasted only a few days longer.

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Eastern Europe After World War I

From The Making of Eastern Europe: From Prehistory to Postcommunism, by Philip Longworth (Lume Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 99-101:

The consequences of the war were grievous. The loss of manpower in this overpopulated region was the least of them. A large proportion of the survivors were exhausted, ill-clothed and had forgotten the skills they had possessed before the war. They were also ill-fed. Losses of livestock were to take twenty years to make up. Partly as a result of the dearth of draught animals, cereal production everywhere except Bulgaria had diminished by between a quarter and a half by comparison with 1913. Even if this had not been the case, the earning potential for agricultural exports, which had been very considerable before the war, especially from Romania, Hungary and Ukraine, had fallen sharply, for, thanks to the war, the United States and Canada had become the world’s granary instead of Eastern Europe. And increased production in the West had caused world prices to slump. Czech industry, among the least affected, was producing 30 per cent less than before the war; in most of the other countries production was halved. The war had also dissipated savings, so funds available for investment were scarce. Inflation grew apace, ruining many members of the middle classes; so did interest rates. Business confidence was very low.

Matters were made worse by the Peace Settlement, which allowed other criteria to override the concern to draw frontiers that made economic sense. As a result towns lost their agricultural hinterlands; villagers found their access to mountain pastures, on which they traditionally grazed their cattle, suddenly blocked by frontier posts; the headquarters and branch offices of many a firm found that, overnight, they were in different countries where different laws and taxation systems applied. Railways lines were cut off from their former termini and cities from their railway stations. Romania’s newly-acquired port of Bazias had no communications to link it with the rest of the country. Hungary’s second city, Szeged, once a thriving regional emporium, became a sleepy frontier town. Grass was soon growing on the once busy docks of Trieste, now part of Italy, which had no need of another port.

The new frontiers cut across communication systems in a way that made nation-building the more difficult and expensive. Resurrected Poland found herself with parts of three different railway networks, each with different gauges and signalling systems; and, since they had been built with military purposes rather than international trade in mind, they did not usually meet up with one another. In Czechoslovakia all the main lines ran north-south, radiating from the old centres of Vienna and Budapest, whereas the new country’s axis lay east-west. Her predicament led to a bitter struggle with Poland for possession of Tesin (Polish Cieszyn), whose stretch of line was the only link between the head and the tail of Czechoslovakia, although Tesin’s population was predominately Polish and its mines a hotly disputed prize for both countries.

Such predicaments encouraged the continuation of a ‘war psychosis’. There was not only a desperate concern to protect one’s territory against one’s neighbours (and, if possible, to acquire more from them), but a willingness to wage economic warfare and, when opportunity offered, to loot. When, with the encouragement of the Powers who wanted to see Bela Kun’s Communist regime brought down, Romanian troops occupied Budapest in August 1919, they carried away as much of the telephone equipment and railway rolling stock as they could, even if they could put it to no use. Hungary retaliated later by cutting Romania’s telephone access to the West. When Romania was in dispute with Yugoslavia, she closed the locks controlling the flow of water from the Danube and so brought river traffic on the Yugoslav side to a halt. The Czechs refused to supply Hungary or Austria with coal, or to allow Polish coal to be shipped to them across her territory. The frontiers between Poland and Lithuania and between Yugoslavia and Bulgaria were repeatedly closed, and it was to take fifteen years to repair a two-mile gap in the telephone line between Belgrade and Sofia. The beggar-my-neighbour attitude was also reflected in fierce tariff wars.

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Eastern Europe’s Stalinist Years

From The Making of Eastern Europe: From Prehistory to Postcommunism, by Philip Longworth (Lume Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 86-89:

What does the balance-sheet of the Stalinist years add up to? A collection of Eastern European states had been converted into ‘people’s democracies’ in which, however, elected assemblies had virtually no political importance, and in which high-profile ‘popular councils’ were but appendages to the Party. The Party itself, which had absorbed the Socialists and much of the peasant parties, enjoyed a complete monopoly of political power. Purged of the dissidents, it was an instrument in the hands of a tiny elite, and it operated through a series of bureaucratic structures, most of whose functionaries, whether Party members or not, had been frightened into obedience, terrified of losing the perks and privileges that went with their jobs. The political edifice was supported by a propaganda machine which had monopolized the media and which blared out the party line.

This political system had one major weakness, however: every grievance, every mistake tended to be blamed on the regime. The presentation of scapegoats to the public, the periodic admission of ‘mistakes’ and fierce anti-Western propaganda helped to deflect some of this discontent for a time, but time was to prove these measures to be no more than temporary expedients. The Kremlin kept the leaderships in line formally through the Cominform and other joint bodies, and informally through the debts of gratitude many of the leaders bore the Soviet Union, the operations of the secret police, and the ill-disguised presence of Soviet troops in all but Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. Nevertheless they were not quite Soviet clones. Yugoslavia had defected, Poland had not collectivized, and persistent nationalism and the differing conditions in each country demanded variations in both the content and the pace of the economic, social and cultural re-structuring which Stalin’s ‘Road to Socialism’ called for. The achievements of this programme were not negligible, however.

Between 1948 and 1953 industrial production more than doubled in many countries of the Bloc. In the Soviet Union itself it rose by almost 50 per cent, and it is curious that deviant Yugoslavia achieved the least increase, though at a little over 25 per cent it was impressive enough. The East German economy had recovered better than the West German, Bulgaria had outpaced Greece. The successes gave rise to hopes of catching up with the West and eventually overtaking it. But the bare production statistics disguised grievous economic flaws and imbalances. The Stalinist recipe had fended off recession and laid the foundations of industry on the basis of a war economy which neglected the production of consumer goods and the short-term interests of the worker, whether rural or urban. Moreover the planning was too rigid to accommodate new technology or changing management requirements. It was in this period that the imbalances and inefficiencies, so much decried since, were built into the system. The achievements of those years were to hold the future hostage.

In social terms there was a revolution which also turned out to be flawed. Society was levelled, millions gained self-respect and opportunities that had formerly been denied them; and unemployment was eliminated, though at the cost of feather-bedding. Yet despite the deliberate social engineering, a new elite was arising in place of the elite which had been eliminated; new vested interests were created in place of the old; and the proliferation of bureaucracy not only entailed inefficiency but had the effect of nationalising endemic corruption which had formerly operated in dispersed networks. Not least, the crude social propaganda of the Stalinist years succeeded all too well. Many of the region’s subsequent troubles stemmed from an innocent belief in the truth of all those slogans.

The achievements of Stalinist educational policies were also mixed. Systems of universal education were set up and literacy was brought to the masses (though in several countries this had been in train beforehand). Scientific education saw a marked expansion at all levels while the classics and the law, formerly major features of elite education, declined sharply. Technological training received great emphasis, but succeeded in producing too many workers who could not adapt to new methods and technologies. The higher flights of scholarship suffered from their subjection to both Party ideology and bureaucratic control. On the other hand, women were given equal educational opportunities. This however, bore some unexpected fruit. As women came to occupy a high proportion of posts in medicine and the legal profession, these ceased to be premium professions in terms of pay and status.

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U.S. Inland Boatbuilding Centers, 1820

From Life on the Mississippi: An Epic American Adventure, by Rinker Buck (Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster, 2022), Kindle pp. 34-35:

By 1820, the Mon Valley was a smoke pot of industry, with the haze from the foundries and sawmills mixing with the river fog to create a dark overcast on still days. Along the river, where major tributaries like the Youghiogheny and the Cheat enhanced the flow and made boat launching possible almost year-round, boatyards specializing in flats, keelboats, steam-powered hulls, and tall mast ships flourished. Wheeling, McKeesport, New Geneva, and of course Pittsburgh all developed as boatbuilding towns to support the new commerce and migration. The Mon Valley shipbuilding towns played the same role in developing western traffic as Bath, Maine, or Marblehead, Massachusetts, played in the whaling and spice trades. Provisioning the thousands of settlers’ arks and cargo flatboats now departing along the Mon and the Ohio every year became another engine of growth, and Pittsburgh alone would double in population, from 2,400 people in 1800 to almost 5,000 in 1810. Building flatboats and steamboats and supplying the new export economy from the strategic three-rivers junction helped turn Pittsburgh into a small metropolis of 50,000 by the Civil War.

We should be grateful today that Zadok Cramer was a dogged compiler of fact. In The Navigator, Cramer’s list of Pittsburgh’s business establishments took up four pages in agate type, indicating how quickly the town grew as a manufacturing center to supply the booming Ohio-Mississippi trade route. He reported that an 1810 inventory of local establishments in Pittsburgh included “8 boat, barge, and ship builders, 1 pump maker, 1 looking glass maker, 1 lock maker, 7 tanyards, 2 rope walks, 1 spinning wheel maker, [and] 17 blacksmiths.” An “English artist,” James Patterson, was forging a line of metalware that was sure to be popular with the departing flatboaters: “Fire shovels, tongs, drawing knives, hatchets, two feet squares, augers, chisels, adzes, claw hammers, door hinges, chains, hackels,… [and] plough irons.” No, Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick did not “invent” the steel business in Pittsburgh. As early as 1812, iron and steel foundries around Pittsburgh were already producing four hundred tons of ingots, wire, and beam per year. The annual production of construction lumber and “scantling,” or boat timbers, reached over seven million board feet. “The stranger is stunned,” Cramer wrote, “by an incessant din of clattering hammers, and blowing of bellowses from morning till night.”

And still more wagons were coming. In 1814, the Pittsburgh Gazette carried an item about a farmer who lived four miles outside town along the main wagon road. Impressed by the volume of traffic heading west for the boatyards, he decided to record every passing wagon between January 1, 1813, and January 1, 1814. His count over that one-year span came to 4,055. At least another five thousand wagons crossed every year on the National and Wilderness Roads. By then the business of building flatboats was so scattered up and down the tributaries of the Ohio, the Mon, the Cumberland, and the Tennessee—and from farm to farm anywhere west of the Appalachians—that no one could possibly count the number of vessels built every year. A few of these hulls would enjoy brief second careers as store boats or floating docks near town landings. But most of them were quickly recycled into frontier log cabins, the sidewalks of Natchez, or the rafters for Creole cottages in New Orleans, one reason why so little evidence of flatboat construction was either preserved or documented for posterity. History, in this case, was literally destroying a record of itself every time a flatboat landed and was taken apart to build something else.

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Planning the Invasion of Japan, 1943-45

From When the Shooting Stopped: August 1945, by Barrett Tillman (Osprey, 2022), Kindle pp. 57-58:

While naval air combat carried on unabated, groundwork continued for the ultimate objective, an invasion of Japan. The overall Allied invasion plan, aptly titled Downfall, originally had been discussed at the 1943 Casablanca Conference, calling for a two-phase assault: Operation Olympic against the southern island of Kyushu in November, and Operation Coronet on the main island of Honshu the following March. Both would be enormous undertakings: Olympic involved about 350,000 men in combat units plus a further 125,000 support personnel; Coronet more than half a million. In comparison, the initial D-Day landings in Normandy committed approximately 150,000 Allied troops.

Building the force to invade Japan required a gargantuan combination of planning, coordination, and logistics. Previously, Admiral Ernest King, chief of naval operations, had reportedly quipped, “I don’t know what the hell this ‘logistics’ is that General Marshall is always talking about, but I want some of it.” In fact, the Navy was the essential factor in transferring troops from Europe and the United States. Nearly everything without wings had to go by sea, and so did many aircraft.

By August 1945 at least four armored divisions were based in the continental United States, with two or more infantry divisions preparing to deploy west.

The Army also intended to redeploy more than 395,000 men directly from Europe, all between September and December. They included units dedicated to Olympic or Coronet, representing Army Ground Forces, Air Forces, and Service Forces.

At the same time planning proceeded for 477,000 soldiers and airmen to round out the Coronet order of battle, moving from Europe through “ConUS” to the Pacific between September 1945 and April 1946. That amounted to a total of nearly 875,000 personnel moving halfway around the world in eight months. And that did not count Army, Navy, and Marine Corps personnel already in the Pacific. Nor did the redeployment figures include Doolittle’s Eighth Air Force units transitioning to B-29s with 102,000 aircrew and maintainers, either from Europe or originating in the States. The transport burden was further increased by 75,000 European Theater hospital patients beginning in late 1944.

Despite the clear logistical nightmare of such an undertaking, there was one clear advantage to the Allies. Throughout the war they had consistently outperformed the Axis in the crucial realm of supply, which was far more than simply building “stuff.” King’s quip concealed the Anglo-American mastery of the logistical trilogy: planning, production, and distribution. British historian Richard Overy properly noted that the American “tooth to tail” ratio of warfighters to rear-echelon and support personnel ran 18 to one; Japan operated at a support to combat ratio of a mere one to one.

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Romania’s Anti-Hoarding Laws, 1985

From The New York Review of Books, 23 October 1986, by “a writer who frequently travels in Eastern Europe and whose name must be withheld”:

One of my friends said to understand current developments I must first consult a decree by the Council of State of the Romanian Socialist Republic issued on October 10, 1981. The exact text ran as follows:

“It shall constitute illegal trading activities and, in accordance with the terms set down in the Penal Code, shall be punishable by up to six months to five years in prison, to purchase from any state commercial center or cooperative store, either with a view to hoarding or in any quantity that exceeds the requirements of a family for a period of a month, oil, sugar, wheat or corn flour, rice, coffee and all other foodstuffs the hoarding of which might affect the interests of other consumers and proper provisioning of the population.”

Since then, he said, the situation has changed drastically. Coffee can no longer be bought by private citizens and has been replaced by an ersatz substance disapproved of by physicians, which the public, guessing at the ingredients, has nicknamed “henna.” Meat, buttermilk, and bread are rationed in most districts, sugar and cooking oil throughout the country—and the ration is much more generous than the shops charged with distributing them can supply.

Since 1968, it should be explained, Romania has been divided into more than forty districts, each with a Party secretary, who is its supreme head. He is responsible for delivering a quota of food from his district to the central government—a task that must give him bad dreams. For it poses an insoluble problem: if he distributes locally less food than is called for by the plan—as he is virtually obliged to do—he will be popular with the authorities but held in contempt by the people of the district; and if he tries to help the population get more food, he will be unpopular with the authorities. Everyone has a different approach to the same dilemma—for even in the CP no district secretary is quite like another—and this psychological diversity makes for diversity in the distribution of food shortages throughout the country. In Cluj or Pitesti the situation, I was told, is frankly horrible; in Sibiu or Vilcea it is merely wretched. Thousands go from district to district on shopping excursions from which they often return empty-handed.

Romania seems unique in many ways. It is the only European country in which one can be sentenced to five years in prison for buying excessive quantities of food that is generally unavailable to the public. It is also, in my experience, the only such country in which the legal work week is forty-six hours and the urban population often spends three to four hours a day shopping for groceries. In Romania, President Ceausescu takes upon himself to compose lyrics for a new national anthem, rather than entrusting the task to a poet. And in spite of a republican form of government of which he is the constitutional head, the president carries a scepter and is grooming his son as his successor.

Workers often spend entire days waiting for raw materials that their factory cannot obtain. If they leave the premises without permission or bring alcoholic beverages, or cigarettes, or lighters, or matches onto the shop floor, they are regarded as having broken the law and can receive prison sentences from three months up to two years (Decree 400 of December 29, 1981, Article 18).

The average wage, according to experts I talked to, is less than one fifth of the average Common Market wage, while the minimum wage is ignored. The state each month withholds a percentage of wages that can be returned at the end of the year only if the government’s economic goals have been met—something that rarely happens.

Virtually every business establishment has (in addition to spies) a member of the Secret Police with a permanent desk, who reports to his superiors on the proper running of the business. All typewriters must be registered and presented for inspection at the police station every year to show that the keys have not been tampered with.

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Romania’s Energy Crisis, 1984-85

From The New York Review of Books, 23 October 1986, by “a writer who frequently travels in Eastern Europe and whose name must be withheld”:

When it comes to political independence, the Romanians find out about it through rumors. They can judge the country’s energy independence from what they see. When darkness falls, the cities are plunged into shadow—paradise for burglars—and in the daytime, in some cities, buses run only between 6-8 AM and 3-5 PM. Electric energy and water services are interrupted daily, at irregular intervals and for periods that can exceed four hours. As a result, refrigerators defrost in the summer and in every season residents of Bucharest avoid using elevators so they won’t be caught between floors: elderly people laden with packages old grandmothers crying babies prepare for the return to their homes on the tenth or eleventh floors as though for a mountain climb. The strongest light bulb is forty watts, and it is illegal to use more than one lamp per room; television programming has been cut back to two hours during the working day; each official organization is allowed to use only a limited number of the cars assigned to it (of course, there are exceptions, but not in favor of emergency hospital ambulances).

The private use of cars is now banned for the winter months and during the remaining nine months the lines to buy limited amounts of gasoline can last from twenty-four to forty-eight hours. The procession that crosses the city four times a day as the president moves between the presidential palace and the one in which he works is made up of nine cars, not to mention the unknown number of automobiles not officially part of the retinue but assigned to protect it. (A doctor I talked to said that if the presidential cortege were to be cut back to four automobiles and the gasoline thereby saved turned over to ambulances, dozens of people might be spared death each week.)

Some bolder citizens, I was told, began to complain and to say that the vaunted energy independence had gone far enough. They were wrong. The proof came with the polar temperatures of the winter of 1984-1985, when heat was virtually cut off in every city. At twenty below zero people were freezing at home and in theaters, and, most of all, in hospitals. Schools were closed; women who had to go to work in the morning learned to do their cooking after midnight, when the power would occasionally be turned back on for one or two hours, on forbidden electric plates: the fine for doing so is five thousand lei, equivalent to the average salary for two months.

The regime tried to alleviate the situation. By the late 1970s it had become clear that the replacement of the easygoing Shah by the inflexible Ayatollah in Iran would require, in Romania, the replacement of the easy flow of Iranian oil by something more dependable. Here the president’s philosophy—that history cannot really be changed without also changing geography—came into play. Ceausescu had earlier ordered construction of the canal from the Danube to the Black Sea, which soaked up immense sums of money but which foreign ships still refuse to use. He ordered the demolition of a third of Bucharest in order to build a new presidential palace flanked by a triumphal boulevard cutting across the entire city (2.5 million inhabitants). Now, in the same intrepid spirit, he issued the order that Romania was to become a great coal producer. In the country’s principal coal-producing region more than thirty thousand miners went on strike.

A new decree announced that henceforth the principal coal-producing regions would be elsewhere, nearer the president’s native village, where the local coal, according to experts I talked to, had a caloric-energy content below the economically or technologically tolerable limits. Although they did not go out on strike, the new miners did not prove to be up to the tasks assigned them. Thus the first version of the plan had called for a production level of 86 million tons of coal by 1985, its second version set a goal of 64 million, whereas the reported actual production was 44 million. In the end, energy independence based on Romanian coal turned out to be not all that different from energy independence based on Iranian oil.

One might think that the Romanian energy shortage is the worst on the Continent. Nothing could be more erroneous. During the late 1970s, when they were still obtainable, official statistical data showed that at that time Romania’s electrical energy output—2,764 kilowatt hours—was nearly equal to that of Italy, greater than that of Hungary (2,196 kilowatt hours), Spain, and Yugoslavia, twice that of Portugal, etc. If, notwithstanding, such signs of extreme energy shortage were not being observed in Lisbon, but were all-too-evident in Bucharest, this is because Romania, instead of squandering its electrical energy on the needs of its people, was allocating it to industries that consume large amounts of energy.

Given its mineral resources, Romania’s iron and steel industry had never been very efficient. ln 1965, when Ceausescu came to power, it already had the remarkable steel-production rate of 180 kilos per capita, each year. Under the new leader, that figure in fifteen years took a jump that few economies have ever managed to duplicate: over 600 kilos of steel per capita in 1980—in other words, more than France, Great Britain, East Germany, or the United States.

Unfortunately, however, the rapid expansion of the Romanian steel industry occurred at a time when established Western iron and steel industries were sharply cutting their production and the international steel market was collapsing. As a result, today Romania is suffering from an imbalance between its capacity to produce steel and its ability to make use of it. A newcomer has a hard time finding out a place for itself on the market when even old-timers are overproducing. To do so successfully, there is not much choice: one either relies on technology to improve the quality of the product or one relies on economic measures to bring about a substantial reduction in price. Thus it was hardly surprising to see Romanian producers being accused of dumping steel on the market, and the American market at that. The Romanian iron and steel industry went right on producing mountains of steel that its domestic industries were unable to digest and that the international market did not seem keen to acquire.

The Far Outliers spent the grim winter of 1983-84 in Romania, and that was bad enough. We had a 4-burner gas stove that only supplied enough gas to keep one burner lit at a time. Hot water hours were limited to two in the evening and one in the morning. And our radiators were barely warm. Romania seems only to have gotten worse after we left.

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