Flashback : Dallas

A Miscellany: History, Ads, Pop Culture

Category: Science and Technology

Viewing the 1878 Solar Eclipse in North Texas

Waiting… (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

Today there will be a solar eclipse, best viewed in Chile and Argentina. On July 29, 1878, there was also a solar eclipse — that one was fully visible in the United States, and the best place to observe it in Texas was Fort Worth. As seen in the photo above, interest in the event was high. A party of academics from Harvard and other institutions set up on the property of S. W. Lomax of Fort Worth. They were joined by Alfred Freeman, a photographer from Dallas who was a successful portrait photographer and who also sold his photographs of special events (such as this one of a 4th of July parade and this one of a Mardi Gras parade in Dallas) — he no doubt sold reproductions of his eclipse photos taken on July 29th. (He is not identified in this photo, but the man on the far left may be him. Freeman is a pretty interesting person, and I hope to write about him soon.)

Here are a few magnified details.





Read several lengthy articles on the preparation for the viewing and the description of the eclipse itself in these contemporary articles (they may not be easily viewable on mobile devices):


Sources & Notes

Top photo is titled “Total Solar Eclipse in Fort Worth (1878)”, from the collection of Tarrant County College Northeast and can be found on the Portal to Texas History, here.

Newspapers linked above are also via the fabulous Portal to Texas History.


Copyright © 2019 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

The Texas Instruments Semiconductor Crystal Christmas Tree

xmas-tree_texas-instruments-records_degolyer-lib_smu_ca-1959-smThe semiconductor tree… (click to see a larger image)

by Paula Bosse

Here’s something you don’t see every day: a Christmas tree made from models of semiconductor crystals. I can’t even begin to understand this, so I’ll hand it over to the “explanation” seen on the card in the photo and pretend to nod knowingly. (Click picture to see larger image; transcription is below.)



In a 12-step cycle, the crystalline atoms light in sequence, illustrating the many planes in which they are oriented in a semiconductor crystal.

This demonstrator applies to Germanium, Silicon – both of which TI uses in its semiconductor products – Diamond, and compound semiconductors such as Indium Antimonide, Gallium Arsenide, Silicon Carbide and Zinc Sulfide.

The central yellow and blue round atoms form a “unit cell,” or basic crystalline building block.

The white round and blue conical atoms represent alloying elements producing semiconductor action and occurring only once in a thousand crystal segments this size.

Green and red atoms would be of different elements in the case of a compound crystal, or the same element in the case of a simple crystal.


Model manufactured by: The Thermoelectric Materials Group, Central Research Laboratory



So … yeah. Merry Christmas from the fine folks at TI’s Thermoelectric Materials Group!


Sources & Notes

This circa-1959 photo — titled “Semiconductor Christmas Tree” — is from the RG-06 Semiconductor Group, Texas Instruments records, DeGolyer Library, Central University Libraries, Southern Methodist University; more info on this photo can be found on the SMU site, here.

Speaking of germanium (…there’s a phrase I’ve never used before…), SMU also has another TI photo showing a close-up of “a germanium crystal being pulled (grown) out of a crucible of molten germanium material” here. In fact, SMU’s DeGolyer Library has a whole slew of material in their Texas Instruments records — browse through the collection here.

Semiconductors, single-crystal germanium, silicon, and transistors … the world owes Dallas’ Texas Instruments a huge “thank you” for their cannot-be-overstated contribution to the development of the technology that, dare I say, changed life on earth.

texas-instruments_AP_051054AP wire story, May 10, 1954 (click for larger image)

One of the inventors of “single-crystal germanium” was Dr. Gordon K. Teal (1907-2003), a Dallas native whom Texas Instruments snapped up from his previous employer, Bell Laboratories. Read more about Dr. Teal’s remarkable career in an Engineering and Technology History Wiki, here, and in a portrait (literal and figurative) from Baylor University (his alma mater), here.

More about the importance and applications of “single-crystal germanium” in the new Transistor Age can be found in an interview with Dr. Teal in the Dallas Morning News article “Mighty Transistor: Dr. Gordon Teal ‘Grows’ A Gadget” by Robert Miller (DMN, Feb. 8, 1953).


Copyright © 2017 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.


The Jefferson Hotel and Its “Wireless Telegraph” Rooftop Tower — 1921

jefferson-hotel_1921_UTAThe view from Union Station… (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

I haven’t seen many photographs showing this striking view of Dallas along Houston Street. This is what visitors saw when they emerged from Union Station after having arrived in the city by train: in the distance, the John Deere Plow Co. Building on Elm, the Dallas Jail and Criminal Courts Building, the Dallas County Courthouse, the Texan Hotel, the Jefferson Hotel, and (mostly out of frame at the right) the very pretty Ferris Plaza.

This photo was taken as one of several coinciding with the formal opening of the Jefferson Hotel’s major new addition (the addition is the taller, lighter-colored half of the hotel) — it was published in the May 8, 1921 edition of The Dallas Morning News in a special Jefferson Hotel section of the paper. I guessed that the the date of the photo was later because of what looks like a radio broadcast tower on the roof. Commercial radio broadcasts were not available in Dallas until June of 1922 when WFAA went on the air (their rooftop towers looked like this). WRR — the municipal broadcasting station — was a little older, but in those early days it was used exclusively for police communication (they appear to have had an aerial on top of the City Hall by at least September of 1921, if not earlier). So what was that tower on the roof?


It took a while to find out what it was, but … turns out it was, in fact, an antenna. It was part of the “wireless telegraph” equipment owned by the Continental Radio Telegraph Co., which had a Western Union-like office in the hotel’s lobby (the company had to relocate their tower and office from the Southland Hotel, their home for a little over a year before moving to the Jefferson’s roof).

The Continental Radio Telegraph and Telephone Co. began in about 1919. It was one of the first companies in the Southwest to attempt to commercialize the nascent “wireless” technology which allowed the sending and receiving of messages via radio waves. The initial motivation for establishing this new-fangled business appears to have been the inability of those with interests in the remote Texas oilfields to communicate with their workers in areas not served by telephone and telegraph wires. The plan was to build radio towers in these areas to broadcast and receive messages. When a “radiogram” was received and transcribed, a “polite, intelligent boy” would be dispatched to deliver the message to its recipient — all for about the same price as sending a regular telegram. Not only did the company envision the ability to one day communicate with ships, trains, and airplanes that were in transit, they also hoped to develop “wireless telephone” communication.

The Continental Radio Telegraph Company was based in Dallas from at least January of 1920, but they were gone by the time the 1922 city directory was printed — gone just a few short months after planting that aerial on top of the Jefferson Hotel. They seem to have erected only four towers: in Dallas, Fort Worth, Wichita Falls, and (possibly) Breckenridge. Then, as now, technology has a way of racing ahead of somewhat limited business plans.

But at least we have a nice photograph of their rooftop tower as proof that they existed.


(Click articles to see larger images.)

Dallas Morning News, Feb. 27, 1920

April 29, 1921

“Wirless”! — DMN, July 31, 1921


Here’s a shot from the same location a few years later; the tower has been replaced by the huge Dr Pepper sign which became something of a city landmark, and the Hotel Lawrence has popped up and is open for business next door. (More on this sign can be found in the Flashback Dallas post “Neon Refreshment: The Giant Dr Pepper Sign.”)



Sources & Notes

Top photo is from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Collection, UTA Libraries; more information is here. When the picture ran in the May 8, 1921 edition of The Dallas Morning News, the credit line read “Photo by Raymond.”

Photo with the Dr Pepper sign was purchased at an antique mall/flea market and was uploaded to Tumblr, here.

The Jefferson Hotel — which opened in October, 1917 — was demolished in 1975.

All images larger when clicked.


Copyright © 2016 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.


Photo-Pac: The First Disposable Camera — 1948

weir_mechanix-illus_1949_smA. D. Weir and his invention, 1949

by Paula Bosse

Alfred D. Weir (1909-1996) was the son of A. F. Weir, the successful retail furniture merchant who founded Weir Furniture in 1922. The younger Weir graduated from SMU in 1933 with a degree in mechanical engineering and started his career, fresh out of college, at Dallas’ Ford assembly plant. During World War II, he was the chief industrial engineer at North American Aviation and was later employed by Fairchild Engine and Aircraft, Ford’s aircraft division in Kansas City, Texas Instruments, and Bell Helicopter.

After the war and before his time in Kansas City, Weir took time out from his engineering career to try his hand as an entrepreneur: he invented, patented, and manufactured the Photo-Pac, a single-use camera made of inexpensive fiber board and pre-loaded with 35mm film (loaded by blind employees in total darkness). The user would buy one of these cameras at a drug store, department store, or gas station for $1.29, take eight photographs, and then write his or her name on the side of the camera and drop the whole thing — with the film still inside the camera — in a mail box. Photos would be processed in Dallas, and prints and negatives would be returned to the customer in a couple of days. The camera would not be returned.

photo-pac_san-bernardino-county-sun_040250-photoSan Bernardino County Sun, April 2, 1950

photo-pac_arlington-heights-illinois-herald_122349-photoArlington Heights (Illinois) Herald, Dec. 23, 1949

It appears to have made its debut at the 1948 State Fair of Texas at an introductory price of only 98¢ (click for larger image).

photo-pac_billboard_100948Billboard, Oct. 9, 1948

Manufacture and distribution of the camera began in earnest in May, 1949. And then … ads for the camera were everywhere! (The home-grown invention appeared in a hometown newspaper advertorial on May 1, here.) Weir and his small team managed to get the camera in retail locations all over the country. He was also worked hard to line up distributors. Ads such as this one were placed in several U.S. newspapers:

photo-pac_FWST_061649Fort Worth Star-Telegram, June 16, 1949

It seems to have been very popular — both as a novelty impulse buy and as a useful product for people who either did not own cameras or who did not want to take their family cameras on trips. Here’s a typical ad (see text below):


photo-pac_FWST_111649_fair-dept-store-ad_detFWST, Nov. 16, 1949 — from ad for Fort Worth’s Fair Department Store

The camera won a “prize gadget” award from Mechanix Illustrated (click to see very large image).

photo-pac_mechanix-illus_sept-1949Mechanix Illustrated, Sept. 1949

By the summer of 1950, the number of exposures went from eight to twelve, and the price increased to $1.49. It seemed that the business was growing, but by the fall of 1950, Photo-Pac seems to have reached the end of the road. Court dockets showed a couple of lawsuits filed against the company. Newspaper ads showed stock of the cameras being deep-discounted to as low as 50¢ apiece. The next year, 1951, saw Weir returning to his engineering career — he accepted a position with Ford in Kansas City and apparently left his business dreams behind. It was a great idea, but, for whatever reason, it never fully caught on.

36 long years after A. D. Weir’s Dallas company folded, Fuji introduced their very popular disposable camera; Kodak followed with theirs in 1987. Those things were everywhere — everyone’s had one of them at one time or another. I bet A. D. Weir was miffed.

fuji_FWST_070286FWST, July 2, 1986


weir_smu_rotunda_1930A. D. Weir, SMU Rotunda, 1930

weir_smu_rotunda_1933Weir, SMU Rotunda, 1933



Sources & Notes

Top photo is an inset from the Mechanix Illustrated “prize gadget” page, from the blog Modern Mechanix, here.

Weir’s patent can be found on Google here. To view Google Patent Image separately (and really big), click image below.


There seems to be some debate about whether Weir’s Photo-Pac was actually the first single-use disposable camera — if it isn’t strictly the first, it seems to have been the one that made the most headway into the American marketplace. A great article on the topic can be found on the Disposable America website here.

Wikipedia’s “disposable camera” page is here.

A. D. Weir’s father, Alfred Folsom (A. F.) Weir opened Weir Furniture at 2550 Elm Street in 1922; in 1934 the company was incorporated to include his wife and son. A. F. Weir sold the Dallas company to his brother Earl (who had owned furniture stores in Fort Worth and Arlington) in the 1940s — that business closed sometime between 1945 and 1948. In 1948, Earl’s son John Ray Weir opened Weir’s Furniture Village on Knox Street, a business still going strong today.

Most images are magically larger when clicked!


Copyright © 2016 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

University Park’s Monarch Butterfly Wrangler

monarch_life_colorCarl Anderson & friends (John Dominis, Time-Life Pictures/Getty Image)

by Paula Bosse

Carl Axel Anderson (1892-1983) was a mild-mannered internal revenue executive by day and a mild-mannered Monarch butterfly expert by night (and weekend … and probably every waking second). Anderson had been interested in insects and butterflies from an early age, and he studied entomology at the University of Minnesota and Columbia. When he was away from the office, he was raising, tagging, tracking, and, perhaps, training Monarch butterflies at his University Park home on Centenary Avenue, which writer Frank X. Tolbert dubbed “the Butterfly Ranch.” Even the neighborhood children — who called themselves The Centenary Monarchs — joined in and learned all about Monarchs from Anderson, their butterfly mentor.

Anderson’s primary interest was studying the migration patterns of the Monarch butterfly, and, conveniently, Dallas was on their pathway, twice a year, so he had a front-row seat. Not only did he observe them passing overhead, he also raised them from eggs laid on the underside of his milkweed plants, enjoyed them as caterpillars, and when they became butterflies, he “branded” their wings painlessly (see below) and released them into the wild, hoping to be able to track their migration from fellow butterfly spotters around the country. He wrote letters to newspapers around the country and mailed hundreds of postcards to groups and individuals, hoping to get his message out. His message, in part:

Monarch butterflies raised from the egg are being released. A number is placed on their wings before they are released. Members of the public are invited to join the observers on the magic carpet of these wings to see where it will take us. Invite your friends and associates to come along, too…. Examine the wings of the Monarch…for numbers or other marks. Allow the butterfly to go on its way after your observation. Please report any observation where marked wings are found….”

In 1950, big news was made when one of his butterflies — one with the number “9” on its wing — was reported to have been seen in California by a 10-year old boy named Ben Harris in Santa Monica, California. That must have been one of the happiest moments of Anderson’s life.

Every year during Monarch migration over Texas, Mr. Anderson was a reliable go-to story for the local media. Particularly fascinated by Anderson and his “butterfly ranch” was Dallas Morning News writer Frank X Tolbert, who wrote about him numerous times. A very early profile by Tolbert rhapsodized about Anderson’s “pet” butterfly Pete which set the tone for all his very sweet subsequent articles about Anderson that appeared over the years. (Next time you’re wandering around in the Dallas News archives, check out Tolbert’s story “An Affectionate Fellow Was Pete the Butterfly” published on May 16, 1948 — but if you like happy endings, beware of the last two paragraphs of the story: personally, I’d advise readers to stop reading when Pete sets off on his journey.)

Anderson was the subject of newspaper and magazine articles all over the country, but the high point was, undoubtedly, his appearance in the pages of Life magazine in 1954, accompanied by the striking photo of him with several of his butterfly pals resting on his face.


The caption for this photo reads: “Mottled with Monarchs, butterfly breeder Carl Anderson stares serenely ahead as the domesticated insects swarm all over his face.” (That is NOT a “swarm,” Life!)

The two-page photo spread was titled “Monarch Man: Texan Breeds Bushels of Them To Help Map Butterfly Migration.”

Each spring Mr. Anderson raises hundreds of Monarchs in cages. If released, they flutter about him, looking for a sip of sugar water. When the Monarchs mature, he brands them and turns them out, alerting friends across the U.S. to watch for them. One of Anderson’s butterflies turned up 1,200 miles away. But instead of clarifying the northward migration it added another enigma by flying cross-country and winding up almost directly west of Dallas. (Life, May 24, 1954)




Anderson died at the age of 91, having spent the bulk of his long life engrossed in the study of his beloved Monarch butterflies. This excerpt from a 1955 interview shows a glimpse of the wonder and enthusiasm that kept him fascinated by the butterflies his entire life:

“Just at dusk on Oct. 26, the wind shifted to the north with a velocity of 15 MPH. It brought in a huge cloud of Monarchs riding ahead of the cool front. The cloud changed into the shape of a tremendous, brown, moving carpet of unusual surging design. A signal from some leader or leaders in the great flight designated a grove of our hackberry trees as the resting place for the night. Down came the flying carpet of thousands of butterflies. And in a few minutes every twig was bent by the weight of Monarchs. They took off in small groups the next morning, leaving our Dallas hackberries bare of leaves.” (DMN, May 3, 1955)

Thanks, Carl. I wish I’d known you.


Sources & Notes

Color photo of Carl Anderson by John Dominis (Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image). It is from the same session that produced the slightly different black and white image featured in Life magazine.

The profile of Anderson (which includes the text and photos reproduced above) appeared in the May 24, 1954 issue of Life; it can be accessed here.

Read another profile of Anderson from the Bakersfield Californian, “Lepidopterist Traces Branded Butterflies” (July 11, 1949), here.

A bunch of Monarch butterfly sources:

  • “The Monarch Butterfly’s Annual Cycle” from the Monarch Butterfly Fund, is here.
  • “The Monarch Butterfly Journey North News,” a regularly updated blog on the current (overwintering/leading-up-to-Spring 2105) migration, is here.
  • A regularly updated map of Monarch sightings (currently at Winter 2015, showing Monarchs warming up in the bullpen along the Texas coast) is here.
  • An animated map of 2014’s Spring migration is here. UPDATE: An animated map of the Fall/Winter 2015 migration is here.
  • “Monarch Butterflies Could Gain Endangered Species Protection,” from the Scientific American blog, is here. (“Populations of the iconic and beloved Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus plexippus) have dropped an astonishing 96.5 percent over the past few decades, from an estimated 1 billion in the mid-1990s to just 35 million in early 2014.”)
  • Information on the Monarch butterfly conservation program — and some beautiful photographs — can be found on the World Wildlife Fund site, here.

Keep your eyes peeled — they’ll be on their way soon


Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.


Earthquake! — 1925


by Paula Bosse

I think, perhaps, the reporter was incorrect on the earthquake of July 30, 1925 being the “first in history” to hit the Texas Panhandle, but it makes a great Page One headline.



Okay, so it’s not Dallas (…but only because I couldn’t find any historic articles about earthquakes in Dallas!), but it seems applicable, as today I experienced my first-ever earthquake — and it was in Dallas! Actually, the official tally for the day so far is four. FOUR! Eight. EIGHT! (Actually, we’re all losing count at this point.)

A 1983 article in The Dallas Morning News (“Quake Never Struck City, but SMU Prof Studies Them Anyway,” by Jane Wolfe, July 10, 1983) reported on earthquake-study being done at SMU. The very idea of this was amusing back then, because anyone who grew up here knows (and has boasted) “there are no earthquakes in Dallas.” My, how things change.


Sources & Notes

Top headline and snippet of first article from The Dallas Morning News, July 31, 1925. The full report of broken crockery from around the Panhandle and Oklahoma can be read in a PDF, here

An interesting Handbook of Texas article, “Notable Earthquakes Shake Texas on Occasion,” can be read here.

In case you’re preparing for a Jeopardy try-out, here are a couple of handy factoids on historic seismic activity in the Lone Star State (from another Handbook of Texas entry, “Earthquakes”): “The first known earthquake in Texas occurred in Seguin and New Braunfels on February 13, 1847. The largest earthquake in Texas occurred on August 16, 1931, near Valentine in Jeff Davis County; it measured about 6.0 on the Richter Scale.” And earthquakes never happen in Dallas. And it don’t rain in Indianapolis in the summertime.


Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

A Robot Visits the Texas Centennial — 1936

by Paula Bosse

This “mechanical man, built by human hands” was quite the attraction at the 1936 Texas Centennial.

Four-minute lectures by a mechanical man are a feature of the exhibit by the U.S. department of labor at the Texas Centennial Exposition. The robot constructed in a Pittsburgh factory, has a ‘built-in’ speech on men and machines with which to entertain his audiences.


Lower image from Popular Mechanics (Sept. 1936).


Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

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