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26 Antique Pictures Celebrating the Red Cross

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In many ways, the Red Cross is still largely the same as it was throughout the past 150 years, performing blood drives, delivering care packages to prisoners of war, helping victims of natural disasters, and rescuing those injured on the battlefield. In honor of the group’s fantastic work throughout the years, here are some classic pictures of the foundation at work.

All images courtesy of the Library of Congress.

On the Field

The Red Cross started in 1863 with the noble goal to provide medical services to those injured during war, regardless of the victims' affiliations. Since then, they have moved on towards helping victims of all types of disasters, although much of their work has still been dedicated to their original goal.

Clara Barton started the American Red Cross in 1881, and this is probably the first picture of the organization at work, shot in 1898 during the Spanish American War.

By the time WWI rolled around, the group was already large enough to have its own dedicated trains used to treat those injured in battle and to transport them to a hospital.

These weren’t just shabby cargo trains either; for patients that couldn’t survive the trip to the hospital, full-scale operating rooms were available to help maximize the survival rates for those rescued.

Planes were part of the group’s line-up in WWII, but they weren’t always just used out on the battlefield. In 1942, this poor lad was injured on the Corpus Christi naval station, which was so inaccessible by most vehicles that he had to be air-lifted to the nearest hospital.

This man was pinned under wreckage and was fortunate to be saved with the help of a Red Cross unit. Image taken by Alfred T. Palmer in 1941.

Not all field work occurred during the war. These masked volunteers were part of the St. Louis Motorcorps during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic that took the lives of between 50 and 100 million victims.

Dogs

These days, most dogs enrolled in the Red Cross are therapy dogs, but during the first World War, search and rescue dogs were a vital part of the organization’s field work.

The dogs, equipped with a vest adorned with the foundation’s iconic logo, would be sent out to help track down injury victims like this man.

During the team’s downtime, the pups would also serve as friends and comrades of those assigned to the field.

To be fair, Sandy here wasn’t part of the organization’s search and rescue team, but the adorable pup did live at one of the group’s headquarters and certainly helped raise the spirits of the sick and wounded who spent time there.

Hospitals

Of course, once injury victims were rescued from the field, they had to be brought to a hospital. The Red Cross also maintained many of these facilities, especially during wartime when the majority of staff would likely be enrolled in the war effort.

Aside from physical care, Red Cross nurses were well known for the care and compassion they gave to injured servicemen, even spending holidays with them when they were unable to see their families.

During WWII, the organization trained over 100,000 women to serve as nurse's aides in order to help treat and comfort injured soldiers. This was a particularly valuable position at the time as hospitals around the world were understaffed.

This entire hospital in Australia was built by the US for the support of their troops and staffed by Red Cross workers.

Care Packages

Providing prisoners of war and disaster victims with food and other supplies has been an important part of the group’s work for years and those receiving the packages are certainly happy to get them.

A group of WWI Red Cross girls was carefully preparing care packages for unknown recipients when the photographer captured this image.

By WWII, things had become a lot more streamlined with assembly lines helping to prepare 2,000 packages an hour, tightly banded by these strapping young lads.

These three Belgian prisoners of war locked up in a German camp show just how much they appreciated receiving a Red Cross delivery, containing food, cigarettes and more.

Fundraising

Naturally, paying for the organization’s work isn’t cheap, even with all the volunteers they have. That’s why the Red Cross is always doing fundraising…and they have been since they started.

Booths like this helped attract both volunteers and donations during WWI, making them doubly effective.

Bananas were particularly rare throughout most of the twenties as the most common variety, Gros Michel, was ravaged by Panama disease and the modern varieties we enjoy were not readily available yet. As a result, this banana auction fundraiser held by the Red Cross in 1925 probably raised quite a bit of cash. Of course, the cute little Red Cross baby certainly didn’t hurt either.

Fair booths continued to be utilized in WWII, as seen in this 1942 Russell Lee photograph from the Imperial County Fair.

Celebrities

These days, Jackie Chan, Kristen Bell and Tony Hawk are just a few of the celebrities who actively work to promote the Red Cross, but recruiting celebrities is hardly a new idea for the foundation. Here are a few of their earliest celebrity members.

Perhaps the most famous member of the Red Cross during WWI was the beautiful Princess Mary, seen here with her mother (and grandmother of Queen Elizabeth), Queen Mary.

Just like today, the foundation continued to recruit celebrity members even when there was no major world crisis. In fact, President Coolidge signed up at the start of his presidency in 1923.

The foundation didn’t just attract political icons either: baseball player Christy Mathewson, one of the first five players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, participated in this fundraising photo opportunity during WWI.

As the film industry started to become a big deal, the Red Cross began asking actors to join their ranks. Here you see silent film and stage actresses Frances Starr and Bijou Fernandez counting money collected at the National Red Cross Pageant in 1917.

In 1938, popular actors Johnnie Davis and Wayne Morris enrolled in the foundation as well.

Blood Drives

As long as blood transfusions have been a regular medical procedure, the Red Cross has been there to collect blood and plasma donations.

Say what you will about prisoners, but they can be a darn patriotic bunch, or at least they were back in 1943. When the Red Cross visited San Quentin to receive blood donations, over 300 men volunteered – more than twice the number the foundation actually had the capacity to take donations from during their visit.

Here’s another shot from the San Quentin blood drive. It was common for the organization to visit prisons and other institutions back then, and as long as they had people willing to donate, they were willing to collect the donations.

While prisoners may or may not be as patriotic as they once were, there’s one group that certainly is – firefighters. Now seventy years later, if America started fighting in another major war, you bet you’d see firefighters, just like this one from New York, donating as much blood as the Red Cross would let them.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Library of Congress
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10 Facts About the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
May 29, 2017
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Library of Congress

On Veterans Day, 1921, President Warren G. Harding presided over an interment ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery for an unknown soldier who died during World War I. Since then, three more soldiers have been added to the Tomb of the Unknowns (also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier) memorial—and one has been disinterred. Below, a few things you might not know about the historic site and the rituals that surround it.

1. THERE WERE FOUR UNKNOWN SOLDIER CANDIDATES FOR THE WWI CRYPT. 

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

To ensure a truly random selection, four unknown soldiers were exhumed from four different WWI American cemeteries in France. U.S. Army Sgt. Edward F. Younger, who was wounded in combat and received the Distinguished Service Medal, was chosen to select a soldier for burial at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington. After the four identical caskets were lined up for his inspection, Younger chose the third casket from the left by placing a spray of white roses on it. The chosen soldier was transported to the U.S. on the USS Olympia, while the other three were reburied at Meuse Argonne American Cemetery in France.

2. SIMILARLY, TWO UNKNOWN SOLDIERS WERE SELECTED AS POTENTIAL REPRESENTATIVES OF WWII.

One had served in the European Theater and the other served in the Pacific Theater. The Navy’s only active-duty Medal of Honor recipient, Hospitalman 1st Class William R. Charette, chose one of the identical caskets to go on to Arlington. The other was given a burial at sea.

3. THERE WERE FOUR POTENTIAL KOREAN WAR REPRESENTATIVES.

WikimediaCommons // Public Domain

The soldiers were disinterred from the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. This time, Army Master Sgt. Ned Lyle was the one to choose the casket. Along with the unknown soldier from WWII, the unknown Korean War soldier lay in the Capitol Rotunda from May 28 to May 30, 1958.

4. THE VIETNAM WAR UNKNOWN WAS SELECTED ON MAY 17, 1984.

Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Allan Jay Kellogg, Jr., selected the Vietnam War representative during a ceremony at Pearl Harbor.

5. BUT THE VIETNAM VETERAN WASN'T UNKNOWN FOR LONG.

Wikipedia // Public Domain

Thanks to advances in mitochondrial DNA testing, scientists were eventually able to identify the remains of the Vietnam War soldier. On May 14, 1998, the remains were exhumed and tested, revealing the “unknown” soldier to be Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie (pictured). Blassie was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972. After his identification, Blassie’s family had him moved to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis. Instead of adding another unknown soldier to the Vietnam War crypt, the crypt cover has been replaced with one bearing the inscription, “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen, 1958-1975.”

6. THE MARBLE SCULPTORS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR MANY OTHER U.S. MONUMENTS. 

The Tomb was designed by architect Lorimer Rich and sculptor Thomas Hudson Jones, but the actual carving was done by the Piccirilli Brothers. Even if you don’t know them, you know their work: The brothers carved the 19-foot statue of Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial, the lions outside of the New York Public Library, the Maine Monument in Central Park, the DuPont Circle Fountain in D.C., and much more.

7. THE TOMB HAS BEEN GUARDED 24/7 SINCE 1937. 

Tomb Guards come from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment "The Old Guard". Serving the U.S. since 1784, the Old Guard is the oldest active infantry unit in the military. They keep watch over the memorial every minute of every day, including when the cemetery is closed and in inclement weather.

8. BECOMING A TOMB GUARD IS INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT.

Members of the Old Guard must apply for the position. If chosen, the applicant goes through an intense training period, in which they must pass tests on weapons, ceremonial steps, cadence, military bearing, uniform preparation, and orders. Although military members are known for their neat uniforms, it’s said that the Tomb Guards have the highest standards of them all. A knowledge test quizzes applicants on their memorization—including punctuation—of 35 pages on the history of the Tomb. Once they’re selected, Guards “walk the mat” in front of the Tomb for anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours, depending on the time of year and time of day. They work in 24-hour shifts, however, and when they aren’t walking the mat, they’re in the living quarters beneath it. This gives the sentinels time to complete training and prepare their uniforms, which can take up to eight hours.

9. THE HONOR IS ALSO INCREDIBLY RARE.

The Tomb Guard badge is the least awarded badge in the Army, and the second least awarded badge in the overall military. (The first is the astronaut badge.) Tomb Guards are held to the highest standards of behavior, and can have their badge taken away for any action on or off duty that could bring disrespect to the Tomb. And that’s for the entire lifetime of the Tomb Guard, even well after his or her guarding duty is over. For the record, it seems that Tomb Guards are rarely female—only three women have held the post.

10. THE STEPS THE GUARDS PERFORM HAVE SPECIFIC MEANING.

Everything the guards do is a series of 21, which alludes to the 21-gun salute. According to TombGuard.org:

The Sentinel does not execute an about face, rather they stop on the 21st step, then turn and face the Tomb for 21 seconds. They then turn to face back down the mat, change the weapon to the outside shoulder, mentally count off 21 seconds, then step off for another 21 step walk down the mat. They face the Tomb at each end of the 21 step walk for 21 seconds. The Sentinel then repeats this over and over until the Guard Change ceremony begins.

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WORLD WAR 1
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