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vicnytn3[1]My March 19th post indicated that I would provide information regarding Broadway, and explain why it didn’t adhere to the matrix of streets and avenues in the midtown area.

The reason why it took me so long to submit this post was because I realized that in order to properly explain the reason for Broadway’s variance, it was necessary to first provide you with a brief history of Manhattan. For several weeks, I have been wrestling with the question of just how much history was necessary to get my point across, while avoiding the possibility of overwhelming you with too much data which might prove to be somewhat boring. So here goes —

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the Algonquin and Iroquois Indians inhabited Manhattan. The Algonquin tribe is credited with naming the island Manhattan, which means “Island of the hills” (hard to imagine today, since development over the centuries has flattened Manhattan so that it now resembles a pancake). The Dutch East India Company founded the colony of New Netherland (present day New York City) in 1614. A fort was constructed at the southern tip of the island to defend the entrance to the Hudson River. The island then developed from South to North. As the island developed, travelers followed an Indian path which ran diagonally along a ridge from the south-east to the north-west.

Fast forward a couple of centuries, and a grid plan for the city was adopted in 1811, which called for 12 numbered avenues running north and south approximately parallel to the Hudson river, and about 155 cross streets running east and west. The exception to this arrangement was Broadway, the original heavily traveled path which pre-existed the grid plan. Rather than attempt to meddle with this popular thorofare, the city fathers decided to allow it to remain “as is.”

Please excuse my amateurish illustration below — I draw these things directly on the computer screen which as many of you know is more than somewhat challenging — but hopefully, you get the general idea.

Use Broadway

Although Broadway runs the entire length of Manhattan (13.4 miles) and the Bronx (4.0 miles), it is the street’s half-mile between 40th and 50th Streets that is actually regarded as “the entertainment portion” of Broadway. Times Square is not a square at all, but rather an elongated “X” formed by the intersection of 7th Avenue and Broadway.

Speaking of Times Square, it was originally known as “Longacre Square” and it was the city’s center of horse trading and harness making throughout the 19th century. When the New York Times decided to build a new headquarters in the trapezoidal plot formed by Broadway and Seventh Avenue between 42nd and 43rd Streets, the paper’s publisher requested that the name of the area be changed accordingly. The city granted this wish, and the new building at One Times Square was christened on December 31st, 1904. As part of the festivities, a brightly lit “Time-Ball” was lowered from atop the building precisely at midnight, a tradition which continues to this day.

In the first decade of the 20th century, Times Square became the city’s entertainment district, fostered by the availability of subway service in 1904, and train service by 1913, the year Grand Central Terminal was completed. In 1916, the City encouraged the construction of large electric signs in Times Square, and the “Great White Way” was officially born.

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Familiar items discovered or invented by accident

vicnytn3[1] We hold inventors in high esteem, and rightly so — but often their discoveries are accidental twists of fate. Here are a few products I’m certain you are familiar with (I know this is not how you end a sentence but it sounds less formal than “… a few products with which I am certain you are familiar).”

One smell most everyone remembers from childhood is the aroma of Play-Doh, the brightly colored non-toxic modeling clay. It was accidentally invented in 1955 by Joseph and Noah McVicker while they were trying to make wallpaper cleaner. A year later it was marketed by Rainbow Crafts. More than 700 million pounds of Play-Doh have sold since then, but the recipe remains a closely guarded secret.

Silly Putty
It bounces – it stretches – it breaks – it’s Silly Putty! Silly Putty is a silicone-based plastic clay marketed as a children’s toy for more than 65 years. During World War II, while attempting to create a synthetic rubber substitute, James Wright dropped boric acid into silicone oil. The result was a polymerized substance that bounced, but it took several years to find a use for the product. Finally, in 1950, marketing expert Peter Hodgson saw its potential as a toy, renamed it Silly Putty, and a classic toy was born! Not only is it fun for kids, but it also has practical uses – it picks up dirt, lint and pet hair; can stabilize wobbly furniture; and is useful in stress-reduction and in medical and scientific simulations. It was even used by the crew of Apollo 8 to secure tools in zero gravity.

Post-it Notes
Despite the fact that Romy White and Michele Weinberger claimed to have invented Post-its in the movie “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion” (which remains one of my favorites), the idea for the Post-it Note was conceived in 1974 by 3M employee Arthur Fry as a way of holding bookmarks in his hymnal while he was singing in the church choir. He was aware of an adhesive that was accidentally developed in 1968 by coworker Spencer Silver, but no application for the lightly sticky stuff was apparent until Fry’s idea. The 3M company was initially skeptical about the product’s potential profitability, but in 1980, the product was introduced around the world. Today, Post-it Notes are sold in more than 100 countries.

I’ll have more accidentally discovered products in later posts.

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