Looking Back 9 Dec 2012

History column

Each week Albany Herald researcher Mary Braswell looks for interesting events, places and people from the past. You can contact her at (229) 888-9371 or mary.braswell@albanyherald.com.

A look back at Christmas through the alphabet continues. This week will be Christmas G-K.


• Gingerbread is a sweet food-product flavored with ginger and typically using honey or molasses rather than just sugar.

• Originating in the East, gingerbread is said to have been brought to Europe in 992 by a monk and was used to treat indigestion and upset stomachs.

• In the 16th century, gingerbread was used to create news displays by pressing the rolled dough into carved wooden molds before baking. It often showed the portrait of a new king, a religious symbol or some other important image. Queen Elizabeth I is believed to be responsible for the first gingerbread man, as she had them made to resemble visiting dignitaries and then presented them as a gifts.

• After the Brothers Grimm published “Hansel and Gretel” in the 19th century, gingerbread houses became very popular in Germany. The tradition was brought to America by early settlers.


• Mica flakes were used in cave paintings and by ancient civilizations for their sparkly, light-catching quality.

• Ancient Egyptians produced glittering cosmetics from the iridescent shells of beetles.

• In 1934, machinist Henry Ruschmann of Bernardsville, N.J., invented a way to grind up plastics to make large quantities of glitter. He founded Meadowbrook Inventions, still a major supplier of the substance. Its slogan: “Our glitter covers the world.”

• Once widely and inexpensively available, glitter became, and remains, a popular way to decorate Christmas ornaments, both store-bought and homemade.

• David Bowie’s languishing music career took off once he added the glittery lightning bolt painted across his face. The year was 1972. In the 1980s, bands like Mötley Crüe and Poison mixed glitter into their hair-stiffening products for extra stage presence. Eager young fans used Vaseline to adhere the substance to their faces and hair.

Reader poll

Which trio was born on Christmas Day?

  • a - William Jennings Bryant, Walt Disney and Humphrey Bogart 0%
  • b - Clara Barton, Lucille Ball and Calvin Coolidge 0%
  • c - Art Linkletter, Rod Serling and Joan Baez 0%
  • d - Sir Isaac Newton, Anwar Sadat and Jimmy Buffet 0%

0 total votes.

Hula Hoop

• Hula-hooping has been a type of exercise and play from as early as the 5th century in ancient Greece. Before it was known and recognized as the common plastic toy, hoops were made of dried up willow, rattan, grapevines or stiff grasses.

• According to 13th century Scotland medical records, doctors treated and encouraged patients with dislocated backs and heart attack victims to use the winding exercise of a hoop.

• The Hula Hoop, as we know it, was introduced by Wham-O in 1958 at the cost of $1.98. By the end of the year, 100 million had sold worldwide, many finding a space under the Christmas tree.

• A Hula Hoop is what Alvin wanted in the 1958 Alvin and the Chipmunks song, “Christmas Don’t Be Late.”

Island of Misfit Toys

• Defective and/or unwanted toys were sent to an island sanctuary in the made-for-TV special of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” which first aired on Dec. 6, 1964.

• Among the residents of the Island of Misfit toys are a cowboy that rides an ostrich, a polka-dotted elephant, a train with square wheels and a squirt gun that shoots grape jelly.

• In the original TV version of the show, Rudolph, Herbie the elf and Yukon Cornelius visit the Island of Misfit Toys and promised to help them, but the Misfits were never mentioned again. Producers were inundated with letters from children complaining that nothing had been done to help the Misfit Toys. In response, a new short scene at the end of the show was added in which Santa and his reindeer land on the Island and pick up all the toys to find homes for them.

Jingle Bells

• James Lord Pierpont composed his song (for Thanksgiving) in 1850. A plaque commemorating the “birthplace” of “Jingle Bells” adorns the side of a building in Medford, Mass. “Jingle Bells” was originally copyrighted with the name “One Horse Open Sleigh” on Sept. 16, 1857 while Pierpont lived in Georgia.

• In a prank by Gemini 6 astronauts on Dec. 16, 1965, Tom Stafford and Wally Schirra sent this report to Mission Control: “We have an object, looks like a satellite going from north to south, probably in polar orbit ... I see a command module and eight smaller modules in front. The pilot of the command module is wearing a red suit ...” The astronauts then produced a smuggled harmonica and sleighbells and broadcast the first ever song from space, a rendition of “Jingle Bells.”

• Although the song’s composer never rose out of poverty, his nephew James Pierpoint Morgan (J.P. Morgan) became one of the wealthiest businessmen in American history.


• In 1907, Milton S. Hershey developed Kisses, a small teardrop-shaped piece of milk chocolate. The little candies were individually hand-wrapped in silver foil and sold in square, windowed boxes. Allegedly, these candies were named for the “kiss-like” sound that the machinery made when the Kisses were in production.

• To combat imitations, in 1921 Hershey bought a new mass-wrapping machine which inserted a “plume” or banner into the foil wrapping. Two years later, the Kisses’ shape, size and wrapping were trademarked officially.

• Due to rations imposed during World War II, production of Kisses was halted in an effort to conserve silver foil for military purposes. The Kisses machinery was converted into a military ration plant, creating chocolate paste that was used to make emergency D-rations for American soldiers.

• In 1989, Carl Willat and Gordon Clark were asked to develop a holiday commercial. The Kisses bells playing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” was to become an iconic success airing each holiday season since.