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Library of Congress

18 Vintage Photos of People Celebrating Independence Day

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Library of Congress

You'll spend today grilling, drinking, and watching fireworks. Here's how people celebrated in years gone by.

1. 1918: American soldiers driving through streets during 4th of July celebrations. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

2. 1932: Elizabeth Young (right), a Paramount player of the 30s, is celebrating Independence Day by waving sparklers and linking arms with Lyda Roberti, the German-Polish leading lady who was a former child cafe singer. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

3. 1940: A group of children playing with sparklers after Fourth of July celebrations. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

4. 1955: A young boy on a miniature float commemorates the American Declaration of Independence, at the baby parade in Lititz Springs Park, Pennsylvania. The children are judged on their appeal and costume as part of the Independence Day celebrations on the 4th of July. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

5. 1955: A child dressed as George Washington is pulled past on a miniature float, one of the contestants in the Lititz Springs Park, Pennsylvania baby parade. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

6. 1939: A Fourth of July picnic on St. Helena Island, South Carolina. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

7. 1923: Fourth of July parade at Takoma Park. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

8. 1893: A Fourth of July salute. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

9. 1908: Baseball at Sauk Centre, Minnesota, within a race track. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

10. 1906: A little boy holding three large firecrackers and an American flag. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

11. 1906: Parade float. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

12. 1919: Two women (possibly in the Washington, DC area) dressed as Liberty and Columbia as part of the year's Fourth of July celebration. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

13. 1919: Scenes of celebration at Walter Reed. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

14. 1941: Bicycle riders in parade on the Fourth of July at Vale, Oregon. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

15. Between 1900 and 1916: Tug of war contest on street in Skagway, Alaska, on the 4th of July.

16. 1941: Fourth of July roadside stand near Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

17. 1895: Boys stand on a model ship on horse-drawn float in Victor, Colorado's Fourth of July parade. Photo courtesy of the Denver Public Library.

18. 1916: Child dressed as Liberty. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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