Fun Facts #4

May 29, 2008 at 3:36 am (Fun For The Day, Totally Random) (, , , , , )

Weird ways west

An California-bound airline in 1849!? Don’t laugh; it almost happened. Rufus Porter, founder of Scientific American, planned to fly 49ers west on propeller-driven balloons powered by steam engines. He went to far as to advertise the expedition, and 200 brave souls signed up for the trip. But the “airline” never got off the ground.

Then there was the “wind wagon,” sort of a cross between a sailboat and a wagon. It seemed like a good idea on paper; after all, it can be very windy in the West. A prototype was built and for a brief moment it barreled across the plains at the advertised 15 miles-per-hour. Then it went out of control and crashed. The inventor–Wind-wagon Thomas–kept trying for years, but never succeeded.

Others took a more low-tech approach, making the trip with only a simple wheelbarrow. It’s hard to imagine pushing a fully-loaded wheelbarrow for 2,000 miles, but several dozen attempted the trip. For a time, they could outpace everything on the Trail, but human endurance has its limits. No one is quite sure if any of them made it all the way with their wheelbarrows.

Why all the weird contraptions? Everyone was in a big hurry to get west–to strike it rich.


The $100 drink of water

Would you spend $100 for a glass of water? Some 49ers on the California Trail did.

Because of poor planning, many western-bound 49ers were unprepared for the hot, dry deserts of Nevada. A few sharp businessmen in California knew this and took advantage of the situation. They traveled eastward with barrels of water. Extremely thirsty, many 49ers paid $1, $5, even $100 for a glass of precious water.

But water was not the only expensive item on the Oregon-California Trail. For example, at the start of the journey, flour could be purchased for $4.00 a barrel, but further along the price rose to a sky-high $1.00 per pint. Other staples could also be quite expensive:

·Sugar $1.50 per pint

·Coffee $1.00 per pint

·Liquor $4.00 per pint

Surprisingly, there were other staples that were amazingly cheap. For example, at Ft. Laramie, bacon could be had for a penny per pound. Those who had excess bacon often considered it worthless and dumped it by the side of the road. One emigrant reported seeing ten tons on one pile.

Why the wide disparity in prices? The basic laws of supply and demand were at work. Most wagon trains took too much bacon and so it had little trading value. Water, on the other hand was in short supply and thus commanded a high price.



Traffic on the Trail

Bumper-to-bumper highway congestion isn’t just a modern phenomena. Rush hour traffic on the Oregon-California trail was just as bad–probably worse.

The image of a lone wagon on the endless prairie is largely myth; it’s more accurate to imagine a moving city. Many reported seeing wagons all the way to the horizon day after day.

And just like today’s highways, there was quite a bit of jockeying for position. The goal was to get in front of the pack because anyone who was behind had to eat the billowing dust kicked up by the wagons ahead. Competition was fierce; those in the back often had to put on goggles just to see.

The crowded conditions got even worse in the evening when the wagons came together to camp. Many 49ers discovered that previous wagon trains had overgrazed the prairie, and so there was no remaining grass for the oxen and mules to graze. So it was not uncommon for 49ers to venture miles off the trail in the evening in search of grass for their animals.

A more serious consequence of all this crowding was poor sanitation. Each new wagon train dug their latrines near the previous group’s–and there was often leakage into the water supply. The result was illness and death.


To California via Antarctica

Not every 49er used the Oregon -California Trail. There were other routes to gold country–one came perilously close to Antarctica!

Those who did not want to endure a four month walk across the west, traveled to California by ship. Trouble was, there was no direct water route to the west coast. So a ship leaving New York had to travel all the way to the tip of South America–skirting the edge of the the Antarctic continent–before heading north to California. It was a difficult trip that sometimes took a complete year.

So it was inevitable that several shortcuts were developed for the gold-crazed 49ers who were in a big hurry to get west. The most popular cutoff involved taking a ship to the Isthmus of Panama, then trekking overland to the Pacific side (remember, there was no Panama Canal then) where another ship would pick them up–hopefully.

When the 49ers got to the Pacific side, they waited and waited for weeks, or even months. When a ship finally did arrive, passage might cost $500 or $1000, and sometimes there was no space at any price.

Even worse, many of the Pacific-side ships were unseaworthy and sank en route. In the end, many regretted not taking the overland route.


The Stinky Trail west

Imagine the sunburn you’d get from being outside from sunup to sundown every day for six months. No sunblock. No lotion. That was reality for the California-bound 49ers–most wound up with leathery, sunbaked skin. But that was just the beginning.

Imagine sweating profusely in 90 degree heat day after day–but never taking a bath or shower. That too was typical of life on the trail.

And remember, this was before the days of t-shirts and shorts. Women wore long dresses for the most part, and men wore long pants. And there wasn’t even much changing of clothes. They wore the same clothes day after day.

Could it get any worse? Yes. They often had no choice but to drink rancid water, which had the inevitable result: diarrhea. For many, it was a chronic condition.

All these factors combined to create some rather deplorable hygienic conditions. Even the native tribes were repulsed by the smell. The Native Americans, who bathed regularly, thought the emigrants were uncivilized because of their poor hygiene.

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Fun Facts #2

May 27, 2008 at 8:41 pm (Fun For The Day, Totally Random) (, , )

METALS

* Recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to run a TV for three hours — or the equivalent of a half a gallon of gasoline.

* 350,000 aluminum cans are produced every minute!

* More aluminum goes into beverage cans than any other product
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* Once an aluminum can is recycled, it can be part of a new can within six weeks.

* Because so many of them are recycled, aluminum cans account for less than 1% of the total U.S. waste stream, according to EPA estimates.

* During the time it takes you to read this sentence, 50,000 12-ounce aluminum cans are made.

* An aluminum can that is thrown away will still be a can 500 years from now!

* There is no limit to the amount of times an aluminum can can be recycled.

* Aluminum can manufacturers have been making cans lighter — in 1972 each pound of aluminum produced 22 cans; today it yields 29 cans.

* We use over 80,000,000,000 aluminum pop cans every year.

* At one time, aluminum was more valuable than gold!

* A 60-watt light bulb can be run for over a day on the amount of energy saved by recycling 1 pound of steel. In one year in the United States, the recycling of steel saves enough energy to heat and light 18,000,000 homes!

* Every ton of recycled steel saves 2,500 pounds of iron ore, 1,000 of coal, and 40 pounds of limestone.


PAPER

* To produce each week’s Sunday newspapers, 500,000 trees must be cut down.

*Recycling a single run of the Sunday New York Times would save 75,000 trees.

* If all our newspaper was recycled, we could save about 250,000,000 trees each year!

* If every American recycled just one-tenth of their newspapers, we would save about 25,000,000 trees a year.

* During World War II when raw materials were scarce, 33% of all paper was recycled. After the war, this number decreased sharply.

* If you had a 15-year-old tree and made it into paper grocery bags, you’d get about 700 of them. A supermarket could use all of them in under an hour! This means in one year, one supermarket goes through 60,500,000 paper bags! Imagine how many supermarkets there are in the U.S.!!!

* The average American uses seven trees a year in paper, wood, and other products made from trees. This amounts to about 2,000,000,000 trees per year!

* The amount of wood and paper we throw away each year is enough to heat 50,000,000 homes for 20 years.

* When you smell a dump, what you’re actually smelling is the paper in the dump!

* Approximately 1 billion trees worth of paper are thrown away every year in the U.S.

* Americans use 85,000,000 tons of paper a year; about 680 pounds per person.

* The average household throws away 13,000 separate pieces of paper each year. Most is packaging and junk mail.

* In 1993, U.S. paper recovery saved more than 90,000,000 cubic yards of landfill space.

* In 1993, nearly 36,000,000 tons of paper were recoverd in the U.S.–twice as much in 1980.

* 27% of the newspapers produced in America are recycled.

* Each ton (2000 pounds) of recycled paper can save 17 trees, 380 gallons of oil, three cubic yards of landfill space, 4000 kilowatts of energy, and 7000 gallons of water. This represents a 64% energy savings, a 58% water savings, and 60 pounds less of air pollution!

* The 17 trees saved (above) can absorb a total of 250 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air each year. Burning that same ton of paper would create 1500 pounds of carbon dioxide.

* The construction costs of a paper mill designed to use waste paper is 50 to 80% less than the cost of a mill using new pulp.


PLASTIC / STYROFOAM

* Americans use 2,500,000 plastic bottles every hour! Most of them are thrown away!

* Plastic bags and other plastic garbage thrown into the ocean kill as many as 1,000,000 sea creatures every year!

* Americans throw away 25,000,000 plastic beverage bottles every hour!

* Recycling plastic saves twice as much energy as buring it in an incinerator.

* American throw away 25,000,000,000 styrofoam coffee cups every year.


GLASS

* Every month, we throw out enough glass bottles and jars to fill up a giant skyscraper. All of these jars are recyclable!

* The energy saved from recycling one glass bottle can run a 100-watt light bulb for four hours. It also causes 20% less air pollution and 50% less water pollution than when a new bottle is made from raw materials.

* A modern glass bottle would take 4000 years or more to decompose — and even longer if it’s in the landfill.

* Mining and transporting raw materials for glass produces about 385 pounds of waste for every ton of glass that is made. If recycled glass is substituted for half of the raw materials, the waste is cut by more than 80%.


TRASH / LANDFILLS

* Although 75% of our trash can be recycled, the EPA set a national goal of 25% for 1992.

* The first real recycling program was introduced in New York City in the 1890s. The city’s first recycling plant was built in 1898.

* By 1924, 83% of American cities were separating some trash items to be reused.

* About one-third of an average dump is made up of packaging material!

* Every year, each American throws out about 1,200 pounds of organic garbage that can be composted.

* New Jersey has the highest recycling rate of all the states–56%!

* The U.S. is the #1 trash-producing country in the world at 1,609 pounds per person per year. This means that 5% of the world’s people generate 40% of the world’s waste.

* This chart shows the composition of an average garbage dump. Notice how much of it is recyclable!!

Composition of an average dump.

* The highest point in Ohio is “Mount Rumpke,” which is actually a mountain of trash at the Rumpke sanitary landfill!

* The US population discards each year 16,000,000,000 diapers, 1,600,000,000 pens, 2,000,000,000 razor blades, 220,000,000 car tires, and enough aluminum to rebuild the US commercial air fleet four times over.

* Speaking of diapers, a cloth diaper washed at home costs 3¢ per use. A disposable diaper costs 22¢ per use. The difference can add up; a typical baby will use about 10,000 diapers!

* Between 5 and 15% of what we throw away contains hazardous substances.

* Out of ever $10 spent buying things, $1 (10%) goes for packaging that is thrown away. Packaging represents about 65% of household trash.

* On average, it costs $30 per ton to recycle trash, $50 to send it to the landfill, and $65 to $75 to incinerate it.

* Americans generate and throw away 9 times as much waste as does a person in Africa or Central America, but we also generate two to three times the amount of waste as people living in industrial countries with a comparable or better standard of living as us.


MISCELLANEOUS

* More than 20,000,000 Hershey’s Kisses are wrapped each day, using 133 square miles of tinfoil. All that foil is recyclable, but not many people realize it.

* Every week about 20 species of plants and animals become extinct!

* McDonald’s saves 68,000,000 pounds of packaging per year just by pumping soft drink syrup directly from the delivery truck into tanks in the restaurant, instead of shipping the syrup in cardboard boxes!

* The largest environmental organization in the world is the National Wildlife Federation. It has 5,600,000 members!

* Rainforests are being cut down at the rate of 100 acres per minute!

* One-third of the water used in most homes is flushed down the toilet.

* A single quart of motor oil, if disposed of improperly, can contaminate up to 2,000,000 gallons of fresh water.

* You can walk 1 mile along an average highway in the United States and see about 1,457 pieces of litter.

* The Washington, DC-based Institute For Local Self-Reliance calculates that recycling creates 36 jobs per 10,000 tons of material recycled compared to 6 jobs for every 10,000 of tons brought to traditional disposal facilities.

* A typical family consumes 182 gallons of pop, 29 gallons of juice, 104 gallons of milk, and 26 gallons of bottled water a year. That’s a lot of containers — make sure they’re recycled!

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