What It Means to Be American
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Identities

The ‘Ambassador of Aloha’ Who Showcased Hawai‘i’s Splendors to the World

Duke Kahanamoku Broke Records, Integrated Swimming Pools and Beaches, and Personified the Islands' Gracious Spirit

By David Davis
June 18, 2018

On the morning of June 14, 1925, Duke Kahanamoku was camping out on the beach in the seaside village of Corona del Mar, about 50 miles south of Los Angeles, getting ready to do some surfing with friends, when he noticed a fishing boat named The Thelma heading out to sea.

Kahanamoku was at a crossroads in his life. He was about to turn 35 years old and his days of winning Olympic gold medals for swimming were over. …

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Identities

The ’70s Pop Idol Who Was a ‘Safe’ Sex Symbol for Girls

The Partridge Family's David Cassidy Had an Androgynous Sweetness That Made Him Part Older Brother, Part Girlfriend

By Carol Dyhouse
June 14, 2018

When David Cassidy died, aged 67, in November 2017, reports in the press suggested that legions of middle-aged women were plunged into mourning. Cassidy, whose career was kick-started with the role of Keith Partridge in the 1970s musical-sitcom The Partridge Family, enjoyed explosive success during that decade as a singer, songwriter, and musician, but most sensationally, as the love interest of swathes of adoring teenage girls across North America, Europe, and many other parts of the world.

These days we are …

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Identities

Is Ketchup the Perfect Complement to the American Diet?

More Than Just a Condiment, It Helped Revolutionize How Food Is Grown, Processed, and Regulated

By Amy Bentley
June 4, 2018

Ketchup is arguably the United States’ most ubiquitous condiment. 97 percent of Americans have a ketchup bottle in the fridge, usually Heinz, and we buy some 10 billion ounces of the red stuff annually—almost three bottles per person per year. We purportedly spend more money on salsa, but in terms of sheer volume ketchup comes out on top.

Bright red in color, tangy, sweet, salty, and replete with a “meaty,” tomato-ey umami hit, ketchup provides accents of color and flavoring, …

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Ideas

How Vain, Stubborn, Thin-Skinned George Washington Grew Up

Through the Trauma of War, and By Learning From His Mistakes, the First President Gained Empathy and Gravitas

By Peter Stark
May 21, 2018

At 21 years of age, George Washington was a very different man than the one we know and hold sacred, different from the stately commander, the selfless first president, the unblemished father of our country staring off into posterity. This young Washington was ambitious, temperamental, vain, thin-skinned, petulant, awkward, demanding, stubborn, hasty, and annoying.

He was in love with his close friend’s wife. He was called an ingrate by his commander. He was accused of being a war criminal, a murderer, …

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Places

When North Dakota Farmers Blew up Partisan Politics

By Focusing on Economic Cooperation, Early 20th-Century Small Landowners Pushed Back Against Crony Capitalism

By Michael J. Lansing
May 18, 2018

In a nation that envisions innovation as the domain of Silicon Valley start-ups, most dismiss North Dakota as flyover country. Yet the state’s history shows it deserves more credit as an innovator. A little more than 100 years ago, North Dakota’s farmers, challenged by economic hardship and indifferent politicians, invented a nonpartisan approach to elections that was as elegant and powerful as it was novel.

Today, Americans politics are partisan and polarized. But as a political movement made up of …

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Identities

The Black Nurses Who Were Forced to Care for German Prisoners of War

Prohibited From Tending to White GIs, the Women Felt Betrayed by the Country They Sought to Serve

By Alexis Clark
May 14, 2018

On the summer afternoon in 1944 that 23-year-old Elinor Powell walked into the Woolworth’s lunch counter in downtown Phoenix, it never occurred to her that she would be refused service. She was, after all, an officer in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps, serving her country during wartime, and she had grown up in a predominantly white, upwardly mobile Boston suburb that didn’t subject her family to discrimination.

But the waiter who turned Elinor away wasn’t moved by her patriotism. …

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Places

The Minnesota Miners’ Strike That Brought Immigrant Workers Together

In 1916, Finnish, Italian, and Slavic Laborers Put Aside Divisions to Make a Historic Stand

By Gary Kaunonen
May 10, 2018

On June 2, 1916, 40 mineworkers from the St. James Mine in Aurora, Minnesota, walked off the job. The men, mostly immigrants, were fed up with the dangerous conditions they faced blasting and hauling iron ore in open pits and underground shafts, and with the prolonged abuses of mining company managers. The men had had enough. They fanned out across the almost 100-mile Mesabi Iron Range to entice fellow laborers to drop their work and join the common cause.  …

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Identities

How Jack Benny Revolutionized Radio by Being the Butt of His Own Jokes

The Lovable Schlemiel Forged an Intimate Bond With Audiences While Creating a Template for Situational Comedy

By Kathryn H. Fuller-Seeley
May 7, 2018

Of all the 20th century’s great comics and clowns, none did more than Jack Benny to update vaudevillian shtick into a far more intimate and lucrative media form: broadcast radio comedy. Today’s podcasters, and even some strains of stand-up comedy, owe a debt to this mass-communication comic master.

Born Benjamin Kubelsky in Chicago, on Valentine’s Day, 1894, Benny was the son of Polish-Lithuanian immigrant parents who dreamed that their child would become a concert violinist. Benny had other ideas. After launching …

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Places

Why Broadway Meanders up Manhattan’s Grid

New York's Most Iconic Street Grew Organically From Colonial Cowpath Into an Allegorical Strand

By Fran Leadon
April 23, 2018

I first saw Broadway from the air. It was 1990 and I was flying with my architecture class from the University of Florida up to Boston so we could learn about cities. Our silver Eastern Airlines plane flew low—alarmingly low, I thought at the time—over Manhattan and soared up the island south to north, the pilot alerting us to the view of the Big Apple below. I could clearly pick out Broadway because, as I had read, it didn’t follow …

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Identities

The Runner Who Helped Irish Americans Lose Their Hyphen

My Ancestor, "Bricklayer Bill" Kennedy, Won the 1917 Boston Marathon Wrapped in the U.S. Flag

By Patrick L. Kennedy
March 26, 2018

When I was a kid, my Dad would take me to Heartbreak Hill, rain or shine, to watch the Boston Marathon. For our family, the race held special meaning, because our “Uncle Bill”—William J. Kennedy, my paternal grandfather’s uncle—had won the event in 1917.

Though he had been dead for eight years by the time I was born, we still cherished the legend of “Bricklayer Bill,” as he was known. The Kennedys had plied the mason’s trade since at least …

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