Saturday, December 21, 2019

An Era of Prosperity

Christmas,
1878-1882



The United States entered an era of rapid growth in 1878 following a deep depression. Over the next five years, Kansas became the first state to outlaw all alcoholic beverages, the opening salvo of a heartland backlash that would eventually culminate in a nationwide constitutional ban. Thomas Edison patented the light bulb; John D. Rockefeller set up the Standard Oil Trust; and a railroad building boom significantly increased the miles of track, transforming a myriad of lines into a grand transportation network. It was the dawn of the Gilded Age. The middle and upper classes expanded once again, allowing more people than ever to dine outside the home on the holidays when the hotels pulled out all the stops. Twelve Christmas menus from the years 1878 to 1882 provide a snapshot of the newly-prosperous country.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

The Hump

Kunming, China
Christmas 1943 



The eastern end of the Himalayan Mountains was called “The Hump” by pilots who flew transport aircraft between India and China during the Second World War. The military airlift over the treacherous Himalayas supplied the Allies in China, including advance units of the U.S. Army. The missions were dangerous. In addition to the notable absence of airfields, there were no reliable navigation charts or radio aids and the weather was often  bad. The logistical challenge of operating this aerial pipeline is reflected by a non-traditional dinner at Army headquarters in Kunming, China on Christmas in 1943. Undoubtedly, the most appreciated item was a beverage not shown on the menu. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

George Peabody

London & South Danvers, 
1851-1869 



Nineteen-year-old Winslow Homer illustrated this lively scene showing George Peabody’s visit to South Danvers, Massachusetts in 1856.1,2 The London-based financier returned to his hometown to see the library he had recently donated. Today, Peabody is widely regarded as the father of modern philanthropy. In addition to his largess, Peabody worked to improve the relationship between the United States and Great Britain which had been in the doldrums since the War of 1812. Charitable giving and diplomatic initiatives naturally lead to banquets, both given and received. And so it comes as no surprise that many of the significant milestones in Peabody’s life were marked by a menu. Seven menus and related ephemera recall the life of a great man whose contributions to society continue to this day.