Category Archives: Trivia

The World Was Built to Develop Character

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsLife is a series of experiences, each one of which makes us bigger, even though sometimes it is hard to realize this. For the world was built to develop character, and we must learn that the setbacks and grieves which we endure help us in our marching onward.

Henry Ford (1863-1947), American industrialist and founder of the Ford Motor Company. Many people mistakenly believe that Ford invented the automobile or that he invented the assembly line. Who invented the automobile does not have an easy answer — there were several inventors who made important contributions: Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot developed the first steam engine (1769) and Robert Anderson developed the first electric carriage (1832). But it was Karl Benz who developed the first gasoline automobile powered by an internal combustion engine in 1885. Ford is credited as “inventor” of the car simply because the Ford Model T revolutionized transportation in America in the early 1900s. By 1918, half of all cars in America were Model Ts. They were cheap — $360 to $825 — and easy to drive.

The assembly line, on the other hand, was invented by Ransom Olds who founded the Olds Gasoline Engine Works in 1895. In order to build the Curved Dash Oldsmobile car quickly and inexpensively, Olds had workers assigned to fixed workstations, using interchangeable parts in repetitive operations, and vendors were set up to deliver the parts to each station. The reason that Ford is given credited for the assembly line, is that he added one important element: a conveyor: by playing the cars on a conveyor, moving from station to station, Ford created the first moving assembly line.

Ironically, when you think of assembly lines, you think of mass production and cheap labor. But, Ford had it the other way around. He introduced the concept of Fordism: mass production of inexpensive goods by workers who were paid high wages. Talk about anachronisms…

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For further reading: The People’s Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century by Steven Watts
They Made America by Harold Evans


Famous Actors Who Started Out in Commercials

alex atkins bookshelf moviesAll famous highly-paid actors had to begin somewhere — including in the humble world of commercials, hawking products that they probably wouldn’t want to be promoting today. But — hey — you have to start somewhere. Recall what Constantin Stanislavski, one of the most influential theatre directors and father of the Stanislavski method (known as method acting), declared to his acting students: “there are no small parts, only small actors.” Of course, many stars would never want to admit to doing commercials because they have reached such lofty heights; ahem, commercial work is beneath them. For example, before he was cooking blue meth in an RV, Bryan Cranston was smearing Preparation H on his bum. Jennifer Lawrence, on the other hand, possesses a certain amount of humility. During her acceptance speech for Best Actress SAG award, Lawrence graciously thanked MTV for helping her get her start in showbiz with a promo for My Super Sweet 16, a reality TV series about privileged (read: spoiled) teenagers. Back then she earned a pittance; today she commands $10 million plus per film. That’s the meteoric trajectory of showbiz… Inspired by her proud admission, here is a list of famous actors, and the products they hawked, long before they became famous.

Ben Affleck: Burger King

Brad Pitt: Pringles

Bruce Willis: Seagram’s Wine Coolers

Bryan Cranston: Preparation H

Dakota Fannin: Tide

Drew Barrymore: Pillsbury Chocolate Chip Cookies

Dustin Hoffman: Volkswagon

Elijah Wood: Pizza Hut

Elisabeth Moss: Excedrin

Evangeline Lilly: Canadian singles phone chat lines

Jodie Foster: Coppertone

Jason Bateman: Golden Grahams cereal

John Travolta: Lifebuoy soap, Band-Aid

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Pop Tarts

Keanu Reeves: Corn Flakes, Coca-Cola

Kirsten Dunst: Baby Dolly Surprise

Kristen Stewart: Porsche

Leonardo DiCaprio: Bubble Yum

Lindsay Lohan: Jell-O

Matt LeBlanc: Heinz ketchup

Meg Ryan: Aim toothpaste, Burger King

Mila Kunis: Lisa Frank

Morgan Freeman: Listerine

Naomi Watts: Tampax

Paul Rudd: Super Nintendo

Tina Fey: Mutual Savings Bank

Tobey Maguire: Doritos

Tom Selleck: Close Up toothpaste; Pepsi

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For further reading: The Super Book of Useless Information by Don Voorhees

Quotes Mistakenly Attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr.

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsThere are some notable people from history, who were larger than life — and due to their prolific writings and speeches, over the decades have become magnets for quotations. Martin Luther King, Jr., legendary civil rights activist and recipient of the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, is one of those individuals, alongside such luminaries as Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill, and Thomas Jefferson. King’s passionate and eloquent “I Have A Dream” speech, delivered to a crowd of more than 250,000 civil rights supporters gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963, is perhaps one of the most well-known speeches in American history. It is important for several reasons: it marks the defining moment of the civil rights movement in America and it considered King’s oratory magnum opus — considered by many scholars to be one of the best speeches of the 20th century. The original typewritten speech, easily worth more than $3 million, is owned by George Raveling who was volunteering as a security guard on the day that King delivered the speech. After King waved goodbye to the audience he handed it to Raveling.

There are many wonderful quotable lines from the speech itself, such as: “Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.
Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.” He wrote those words, and just as important, he said those very same words. But as a quotation magnet, there are a number of quotes that have been attributed to King that he never said, and most likely, never said. Scholars call these types of quotes apocryphal, thus an apocryphal quotation is purported to be true by way of repeated tellings but has never been verified by the person’s corpus or recordings and thus is more likely not be true. But of course, with the Internet, apocryphal quotes spread like wild fire. Here are some of the quotes mistakenly attributed to Martin Luther King:

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
This sentence was written by Theodore Parker, a Unitarian minister and Transcendalist; it is found in Ten Sermons of Religion, published in 1853.

Everything that is done in the world is done by hope.
This was written by another Martin Luther, specifically Martin Luther, the leader of the Protestant Reformation.

Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.
This was written by the aforementioned Martin Luther.

Justice runs down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.
This line is from the Bible, Amos 5:24.

Peace and justice are goals for man.
This was written by another famous quote magnet, Mahatma Gandhi.

I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
The first sentence was written by Jessica Dovey, a University of Pennsylvania graduate teaching English in Japan, on her Facebook page. She added the next two sentences that were written by King (from Strength to Love); however, she attributed the entire quotation to King.

Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.
(Written by a Usenet user on January 15, 2006)

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Read related post: Why “I Have a Dream” Speech Endures
The Wisdom of Martin Luther King
Martin Luther King and the Suicide Letter
The Gettysburg Address

The Two Most Important Days of Your Life

For further reading: Hemingway Didn’t Say That by Garson O’Toole,_Jr.

The Most Expensive Autograph in the World

alex atkins bookshelf triviaImagine something a person can do in less than five seconds that could be worth millions of dollars years later. If you are the right person, writing your signature on the right piece of paper or item, it is possible. It is that serendipitous combination — the more notable the person and the more rarer the item — that makes some autographs the most valuable, and hence most sought after by a philographist. As famous autograph collector, Thomas Madison noted, “Between the present and the past there exists no more intimate personal connection than an autograph. It is the living symbol of its author.” The holy grail, that is, the most elusive and most expensive autograph in the world, is Acts of Congress, a personal copy of the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and the First Congress owned and signed by George Washington, the first president of the United States. In 2012, the book was sold at auction fetching $9.8 million. Here are the five most valuable autographs in the world:

1. George Washington (signature on Acts of Congress title page): $9.8 million

2. Abraham Lincoln (signature on Emancipation Proclamation): $3.7 million

3. John Lennon (signature on Double Fantasy album owned by Mark Chapman, who murdered Lennon): $525,000

4. Babe Ruth (signature on a baseball from 1927): $388,375

5. Jimi Hendrix (signature on a contract from October 15, 1965): $200,000

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For further reading:

How Much Food is Wasted Each Year?

alex atkins bookshelf triviaAmerica is the land of plenty, particularly when it comes to food. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American household spends $7,023 per year on food. That can be broken down into groceries ($4,015) and dining out ($3,008). Now let’s do the math. Since there are about 125.82 million households in the U.S., the total amount that the Americans spend on food is a staggering $883.6 billion per year. That’s a lot of food. In fact, it is so much food that 40% of all food produced in the U.S. is not eaten. An average of $162 billion worth of food is wasted each year — that’s right: a billion with a “B.”

Food waste is a huge problem in America. Consider these sobering statistics presented by the American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI): broken down by household, the average American family throws out about 25% of the beverages and food that they buy each year. A family of four, for example, wastes about $1,350 to $2,275 worth of food each year — which means that all the labor, water, and fuel that went into growing and shipping that food is also wasted: a loss of over $162 billion per year. To combat food waste, the AFFI is encouraging consumers to buying frozen food and frozen prepared meals, as well as freezing leftovers, meals, and ingredients.

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Living Descendants of Famous Writers

alex atkins bookshelf triviaIt fascinating to think that there are living descendants of famous writers still living among us. Understandably, some live in obscurity to avoid the prying lens of the media, but some are quite proud of their lineage. Here are a few famous relatives of famous writers. Do you know of any more?

Louis Victoria Tolstoy (born 1974), who goes by the stage name Viktoria Tolstoy, is a popular Swedish jazz singer. She is the great-great-grandaughter of legendary Russian author Leo Tolstoy (1828 – 1910), best known for his lengthy novels War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877). The other great-great-grandaughter is Alexandra Tolstoy who is a socialite, providing fodder for the British tabloids. Tolstoy was married to Sophia (Sonya) Andreevna Behrs; together they had 13 children; however, only eight of them survived childhood.

Richard Melville Hall (born 1965), who goes by the stage name of Moby, is an American singer, songwriter, record producer, and DJ. He is best known for his electronica and house-music influenced work. In an interview, Moby stated that Herman Melville was his great-great-great-grand uncle. Herman Melville (1819-1891) magnum opus, Moby Dick, is considered one of the Great American Novels. Melville married Elizabeth Knapp Shaw and they had four children.

Mark Charles Dickens is the leading supporter of the Charles Dickens Museum in London. He is the great-great-grandson of Charles Dickens and is considered the head of the Dickens family of direct descendants. To date, there are more than 300 living descendants of Charles Dickens (1812-1870). In February 2014, 40 Dickens descendants gathered in Portsmouth, the city where Dickens was born, for the unveiling of a life-size bronze sculpture honoring his 202nd birthday. Several of his great great great grandchildren gathered around the bronze statue for the obligatory selfies, including Tom Dickens, Lydia Dickens, and Oliver Dickens. The youngest descendent to attend the event was Joe Robinson, who is the author’s great-great-great-great-grandson. There are several authors in the family: Monica Dickens (great-granddaughter) has writing more than 30 novels and Lucinda Dickens Hawksley (great great great granddaughter) has published several bestselling nonfiction works. Mark’s nephew, Harry Lloyd, is an actor and has appeared in Game of Thrones and Robin Hood. Charles Dickens was married to Catherine (Kate) Thomson Hogarth and had 10 children.

Michael Tolkien, a children’s book writer, is grandson of J.R.R. Tolkien(1892-1973), best known for the popular fantasy novels The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Mariel Hemingway is an actress and model; she is the granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), legendary author of The Old Man and the Sea and The Sun Also Rises.

Christopher Merlin Vyvyan Holland is a Oscar Wilde scholar and editor of The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde. He is the only grandson of Irish playwright and poet Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), best known for The Importance of Being Earnest and The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Anna Chancellor is an actress who plays Caroline Bingley in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. She is the high-times great niece of Jane Austen (1775-1817), author of the aforementioned adaptation, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, and Emma.

Benjamin Cheever and Susan Cheever are both successful writers. They are the children of American author John Cheever (1912-1982), best known for his short stories and the four novels that make up The Wapshot Chronicle.

Canadian Dacre Stoker, author of Dracula: The Undead, is the great-grand nephew of Irish author Bram Stoker (1847-1912 ) who wrote one of the most famous gothic novels, Dracula.

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How Much Does Mariah Carey Earn from “All I Want for Christmas is You”

alex atkins bookshelf musicFor music artists, Christmas songs are like a one-year membership to the Jelly of Month Club, that prompted Cousin Eddie Griswald in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation to remark, “Clark, that’s the gift that keeps on giving the whole year.” Take for example Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” — one of the highest grossing Christmas songs of all time. Carey wrote the song with collaborator Walter Afanasieff in about 15 minutes and included it as one of ten tracks on her best-selling album “Merry Christmas” released in 1994. To date, that one four-minute song has earned Carey more than $60 million dollars in royalty — an average of about $2.6 million per year. Not bad for less than hour’s worth of work.

Carey’s Christmas album has consistently been in the Billboard top ten best-selling Christmas albums for more than two decades. Currently, “Merry Christmas” ranks number seven on Billboard’s list, having sold more than 5.5 million albums. Using Nielsen SoundScan data, “Merry Christmas” ranks number three, with sales of more than 5.3 million albums. Worldwide, the album has sold more than 15 million units. Not only has the song been purchased millions of times, it receives a ton of airplay each year on radio and streaming services. On Spotify alone, the song has been played more than 210 million times!

No doubt, “Merry Christmas” has made Mariah very merry every Christmas, as she counts her millions all the way to the bank.

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The Story Behind Same Old Lang Syne by Dan Fogelberg
What is the Meaning of Auld Lang Syne?
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The Inspiration for Dickens’s A Christmas Carol
What is a First Edition of A Christmas Carol Worth?
A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life

A Christmas Carol by the Numbers

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