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Calvin Coolidge: The Quiet Riot

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Ah, the Roaring Twenties—an era defined by flappers, jazz, gangsters, speakeasies, and "¦ the most boring president ever!

Calvin Coolidge, a buttoned-up Puritan from New England, wasn't much for hobnobbing, even when it could have helped him politically. His wife, Grace, liked to tell people about the time a woman approached her husband and said, "I made a bet today that I could get more than two words out of you." Coolidge's reply? "You lose."

But what most people don't know about Silent Cal is that he could be quite the prankster. Sometimes, he'd ring the buzzer at the White House, wait for all the maids and ushers to snap to attention, and then run away.

When he wasn't pestering his servants or being the mute of the party, Calvin Coolidge slept—eight hours a night, plus two or three hours in the afternoon. In fact, his very first act as president of the United States was to go to sleep. At the time, in 1923, Vice President Coolidge was visiting his parents' farm in Vermont. After a hard day in the fields, a tuckered-out Coolidge went to sleep at 9 pm. Then, in the middle of the night, a messenger arrived to announce that President Warren G. Harding was dead. Coolidge needed to be sworn in immediately, so it was particularly convenient that his father happened to be a notary public. They conducted an impromptu inauguration ceremony in the living room, lit by kerosene lamps, after which Calvin promptly went back to bed.

Of course, all of this would be simply quaint and amusing had Harding's sleepy, hands-off style not laid the groundwork for the Great Depression. Coolidge disdained welfare and put all of his faith in the free market. He passed pro-business tax cuts and let industry go unregulated. And when it came to the plight of the American farmer, he was aloof to the point of being cold. He vetoed two bills designed to protect farmers from the boom-and-bust cycle of the economy, mostly because he thought farming was a lost cause. He once told the chairman of the Federal Farm Loan Board, "Well, farmers never have made money. I don't believe we can do much about it." Coolidge quietly left office on March 4, 1929, and Black Tuesday struck on October 29.

[Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.]

Jenny Drapkin is the Senior Editor of mental_floss magazine. We're currently serializing "All The Presidents' Secrets," her fantastic feature from the September-October 2007 issue. Friday: Lyndon Johnson. Thursday: Richard Nixon. Wednesday: Andrew Jackson. Tuesday: Teddy Roosevelt. Tomorrow: Rutherford B. Hayes.

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science
6 Radiant Facts About Irène Joliot-Curie
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Though her accomplishments are often overshadowed by those of her parents, the elder daughter of Marie and Pierre Curie was a brilliant researcher in her own right.

1. SHE WAS BORN TO, AND FOR, GREATNESS.

A black and white photo of Irene and Marie Curie in the laboratory in 1925.
Irène and Marie in the laboratory, 1925.
Wellcome Images, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0

Irène’s birth in Paris in 1897 launched what would become a world-changing scientific dynasty. A restless Marie rejoined her loving husband in the laboratory shortly after the baby’s arrival. Over the next 10 years, the Curies discovered radium and polonium, founded the science of radioactivity, welcomed a second daughter, Eve, and won a Nobel Prize in Physics. The Curies expected their daughters to excel in their education and their work. And excel they did; by 1925, Irène had a doctorate in chemistry and was working in her mother’s laboratory.

2. HER PARENTS' MARRIAGE WAS A MODEL FOR HER OWN.

Like her mother, Irène fell in love in the lab—both with her work and with another scientist. Frédéric Joliot joined the Curie team as an assistant. He and Irène quickly bonded over shared interests in sports, the arts, and human rights. The two began collaborating on research and soon married, equitably combining their names and signing their work Irène and Frédéric Joliot-Curie.

3. SHE AND HER HUSBAND WERE AN UNSTOPPABLE PAIR.

Black and white photo of Irène and Fréderic Joliot-Curie working side by side in their laboratory.
Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Their passion for exploration drove them ever onward into exciting new territory. A decade of experimentation yielded advances in several disciplines. They learned how the thyroid gland absorbs radioiodine and how the body metabolizes radioactive phosphates. They found ways to coax radioactive isotopes from ordinarily non-radioactive materials—a discovery that would eventually enable both nuclear power and atomic weaponry, and one that earned them the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935.

4. THEY FOUGHT FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE.

The humanist principles that initially drew Irène and Frédéric together only deepened as they grew older. Both were proud members of the Socialist Party and the Comité de Vigilance des Intellectuels Antifascistes (Vigilance Committee of Anti-Fascist Intellectuals). They took great pains to keep atomic research out of Nazi hands, sealing and hiding their research as Germany occupied their country, Irène also served as undersecretary of state for scientific research of the Popular Front government.

5. SHE WAS NOT CONTENT WITH THE STATUS QUO.

Irène eventually scaled back her time in the lab to raise her children Hélène and Pierre. But she never slowed down, nor did she stop fighting for equality and freedom for all. Especially active in women’s rights groups, she became a member of the Comité National de l'Union des Femmes Françaises and the World Peace Council.

6. SHE WORKED HERSELF TO DEATH.

Irène’s extraordinary life was a mirror of her mother’s. Tragically, her death was, too. Years of watching radiation poisoning and cancer taking their toll on Marie never dissuaded Irène from her work. In 1956, dying of leukemia, she entered the Curie Hospital, where she followed her mother’s luminous footsteps into the great beyond.

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Live Smarter
You Can Now Order Food Through Facebook
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After a bit of controversy over its way of aggregating news feeds and some questionable content censoring policies, it’s nice to have Facebook roll out a feature everyone can agree on: allowing you to order food without leaving the social media site.

According to a press release, Facebook says that the company decided to begin offering food delivery options after realizing that many of its users come to the social media hub to rate and discuss local eateries. Rather than hop from Facebook to the restaurant or a delivery service, you’ll be able to stay within the app and select from a menu of food choices. Just click “Order Food” from the Explore menu on a desktop interface or under the “More” option on Android or iOS devices. There, you’ll be presented with options that will accept takeout or delivery orders, as well as businesses participating with services like Delivery.com or EatStreet.

If you need to sign up and create an account with Delivery.com or Jimmy John’s, for example, you can do that without leaving Facebook. The feature is expected to be available nationally, effective immediately.

[h/t Forbes]

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