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The Greatest Political Button of All Time

In the U.S. Presidential election of 1928, New York Governor Alfred E. Smith was the Democratic candidate. Born in a tenement on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1873, Al Smith was a self-made man. He dropped out of parochial school when he was 14 so he could earn money to help support the family. He worked at the Fulton Fish Market, among other places, until he moved into local politics under the Tammany Hall machine in his early twenties. Smith's immigrant heritage—his grandparents were first generation Irish, Italian, German and Anglo-Irish—and his working class urban upbringing appealed to a whole new demographic of voters who identified with him. Many workers in big cities went to the polls for the first time to cast their vote for Al Smith.

That wasn't yet a big enough group to secure him the necessary votes. He lost to Republican Herbert Hoover in a landslide, winning only Massachusetts and Rhode Island in the Northeast, none of the Midwestern or Western states, and splitting the traditionally Democratic Southern states (Smith got Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina). Hoover won almost 60 percent of the popular vote and 444 electoral votes to Smith's paltry 87. Even his home state of New York, which had elected him governor four times between 1918 and 1926, went to Hoover.

Hoover benefited from the country's booming pre-crash economy and from profound anti-Catholic bigotry. Smith was the first Roman Catholic major party candidate and his opponents made no bones about depicting him as beholden to the Pope in Rome, an enemy of religious freedom who would make it illegal for Protestants to read or own a Bible (because Catholics only listened to the Church authorities, you see, while Protestants followed the Bible) and who would annul all their marriages, making their children bastards. The virulently anti-Catholic Ku Klux Klan actively campaigned against him. Even the newly built Holland Tunnel became a target; pictures of it were sent out all over the country describing it as a secret tunnel between Rome and New York that Smith had built so His Holiness could travel in comfort to his new domain after his minion was elected.

Many of the Protestants (particularly Methodists, Southern Baptists and German Lutherans) who so feared the nefarious influence of Smith's Catholicism were also in favor of Prohibition. Al Smith was not. He had been opposed to the Eighteenth Amendment as an unwarranted violation of personal and states' rights from the beginning. As governor in 1920 he sought to counteract Prohibition via the Walker-Gillette Act which legalized weak beers in New York restaurants, hotels and grocery stores. The next governor, Nathan L. Miller, abolished Walker-Gillette, vigorously enforced the Volstead Act and added even more draconian penalties with the Mullan-Gage Act. Smith was back in office the next year. He replaced Mullan-Gage with the Culliver law which basically took New York law enforcement out of the business of policing liquor consumption and production.

Smith as a Wet (anti-Prohibition) candidate was subject to charges of drunkenness from the Dry factions. That narrative dovetailed neatly into the hatred directed at his Catholicism. Urban Catholics and Irish immigrants were seen as having degenerate inclinations with their love of a tipple and their general intemperance. Anti-Saloon League spokesman, politician and Methodist bishop James Cannon, Jr., described Smith's supporters as the "kind of dirty people that you find today on the sidewalks of New York."

Smith, although his record was staunchly anti-Prohibition, didn't want to bring focus to that during the presidential campaign. He knew the white, rural, Protestant South and Midwest were deep Dry and he didn't want to rub his Wetness in their face. His supporters, on the other hand, had no problem advocating for Smith as an anti-Prohibition candidate.

Which brings us to the title of this article. While rambling through the catalog of Heritage Auction's June 2013 Americana & Political Signature Auction, I came across a rare political button from Alfred E. Smith's 1928 presidential campaign which is quite simply the greatest political button ever made.

That is real. Can you even believe it? In 1928! And yes, the expression "wet dream" meant what it means now in 1928. Dr. William Acton described nocturnal emissions as "wet-dreams" in the 1851 second edition of his A Practical Treatise on Diseases of the Urinary and Generative Organs in Both Sexes (you can read the third edition here, and you probably should because it's a classic creepy Victorian text in the history of sexuality). The pre-sale estimate for the button was $5000 to $10,000. It sold on June 22, 2013, for $8962.50, including buyer's premium.

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A Brief History of Black Friday
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The unofficial start of the holiday shopping season is often referred to as the busiest shopping day of the year. But where did this tradition start and just how big is it? Here are the answers to a few frequently asked questions about Black Friday. Hopefully they'll give you some good talking points tomorrow, when you line up outside Best Buy at 4 a.m.

HOW DID BLACK FRIDAY BECOME SUCH A BIG SHOPPING DAY?

It's hard to say when the day after Thanksgiving turned into a retail free-for-all, but it probably dates back to the late 19th century. At that time, store-sponsored Thanksgiving parades were common, and once Santa Claus showed up at the end of the parade, the holiday shopping season had officially commenced.

In those days, most retailers adhered to an unwritten rule that holiday shopping season didn't start until after Thanksgiving, so no stores would advertise holiday sales or aggressively court customers until the Friday immediately following the holiday. Thus, when the floodgates opened that Friday, it became a huge deal.

SO RETAILERS WERE ALWAYS HOPING FOR AN EARLY THANKSGIVING?

You bet. They weren't just hoping, though; they were being proactive about it. In 1939, the Retail Dry Goods Association warned Franklin Roosevelt that if the holiday season wouldn't begin until after Americans celebrated Thanksgiving on the traditional final Thursday in November, retail sales would go in the tank. Ever the iconoclast, Roosevelt saw an easy solution to this problem: he moved Thanksgiving up by a week. Instead of celebrating the holiday on its traditional day—November 30th that year—Roosevelt declared the next-to-last Thursday in November to be the new Thanksgiving, instantly tacking an extra week onto the shopping season.

BRILLIANT! HOW DID THAT WORK OUT?

Not so well. Roosevelt didn't make the announcement until late October, and by then most Americans had already made their holiday travel plans. Many rebelled and continued to celebrate Thanksgiving on its "real" date while derisively referring to the impostor holiday as "Franksgiving." State governments didn't know which Thanksgiving to observe, so some of them took both days off. In short, it was a bit of a mess.

By 1941, though, the furor had died down, and Congress passed a law that made Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November, regardless of how it affected the shopping day that would become known as Black Friday.

WHY CALL IT BLACK FRIDAY?

If you ask most people why the day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday, they'll explain that the name stems from retailers using the day's huge receipts as their opportunity to "get in the black" and become profitable for the year. The first recorded uses of the term "Black Friday" are a bit less rosy, though.

According to researchers, the name "Black Friday" dates back to Philadelphia in the mid-1960s. The Friday in question is nestled snugly between Thanksgiving and the traditional Army-Navy football game that's played in Philadelphia on the following Saturday, so the City of Brotherly Love was always bustling with activity on that day. All of the people were great for retailers, but they were a huge pain for police officers, cab drivers, and anyone who had to negotiate the city's streets. They started referring to the annual day of commercial bedlam as "Black Friday" to reflect how irritating it was.

SO WHERE DID THE WHOLE "GET IN THE BLACK" STORY ORIGINATE?

Apparently store owners didn't love having their biggest shopping day saddled with such a negative moniker, so in the early 1980s someone began floating the accounting angle to put a more positive spin on the big day.

DO RETAILERS REALLY NEED BLACK FRIDAY TO TURN AN ANNUAL PROFIT?

Major retailers don't; they're generally profitable—or at least striving for profitability—throughout the entire year. (A company that turned losses for three quarters out of every fiscal year wouldn't be a big hit with investors.) Some smaller outlets may parlay big holiday season sales into annual profits, though.

IS BLACK FRIDAY REALLY THE BIGGEST SHOPPING DAY OF THE YEAR?

It's certainly the day of the year in which you're most likely to be punched while reaching for a Tickle Me Elmo doll, but it might not be the busiest day in terms of gross receipts. According to Snopes.com, Black Friday is generally one of the top days of the year for stores, but it's the days immediately before Christmas—when procrastinators finally get shopping—that stores make the serious loot. Black Friday may, however, be the busiest day of the year in terms of customer traffic.

Snopes's data shows the 10-year span from 1993 to 2002, and in that interval Black Friday was never higher than fourth on the list of the year's busiest shopping days by sales volume. In 2003 and 2005 Black Friday did climb to the top of the pile for sales revenue days, but it still gets stiff competition from the week leading up to Christmas, particularly the Saturday right before the big day.

DO PEOPLE REALLY GET INJURED ON BLACK FRIDAY?

Sadly, yes. One of the most tragic Black Friday incidents happened in 2008, when 34-year-old seasonal employee Jdimytai Damour was killed after a crowd of hundreds of people from the approximately 2000 people waiting outside knocked him own and stampeded over his back after the doors opened at 5 a.m. at the Wal-Mart on Long Island, New York.

In 2010 in Buffalo, New York, several shoppers were trampled trying to get into a Target. One of the victims, Keith Krantz—who was pinned against a metal door support and then shoved to the ground—told a CNN affiliate he thought he would be killed. “At that moment, I was thinking I don't want to die here on the ground,” Krantz said.

In Murray, Utah, 15,000 shoppers swamped a mall with such force, the local police had to respond to break up skirmishes and fistfights, and keep shoppers from ransacking stores.

In 2008, a fight broke out between a young girl and a man at another Wal-Mart store in Columbus, Ohio, over a 40-inch Samsung flat-screen television. It was $798, marked down from $1000. The New York Times reported that the not-so-aptly-named Nikki Nicely, 19, leaped onto a fellow shopper’s back and began pounding his shoulders violently when he attempted to purchase the television. “That’s my TV!” shouted Ms. Nicely, who then took an elbow to the face. “That’s my TV!” The fight was broken up by a police officer and security guard. “That’s right,” Nicely cried as her adversary walked away. “This here is my TV!”

HOW CAN THIS KIND OF THING BE AVOIDED?

In an effort to keep a few would-be clients from personal injury law firms, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) created a special checklist for retailers expecting large crowds.

So what’s OSHA’s advice? Consider using bullhorns. Hire a team of police officers. Be prepared for “crowd crushing” and “violent acts.” Set up barricades. And, above all else, if charging shoppers come running, stay out of the way.

Haley Sweetland Edwards contributed to this story, portions of which originally appeared in 2009.

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A Speedy History of the Hess Truck
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Hess Corporation

Unless you know someone crazy about air fresheners or caffeine pills, holiday gifts purchased at gas stations don’t usually provoke much excitement. But if you were one of the millions who grew up in the northeast, the annual release of the Hess toy truck at Hess gas stations—usually green, always labeled with a Hess logo, always boxed with batteries—was and is as much a part of the holiday as Santa Claus and his sleigh.

The idea for an affordable, quality children’s toy sold at service stations at thousands of Hess locations in 16 states was courtesy of Leon Hess, the college dropout-turned-fuel magnate who began selling oil door-to-door in 1933 and graduated to gas stops by 1960. Hess decided he would trump the cheap merchandise given away by gas stations—mugs, glassware—by commissioning a durable, feature-heavy toy truck modeled after the first oil tanker he ever bought for his company. Unlike most toys of the era, it would have headlights that really worked and a tank that kids could either fill up or drain with water.

Most importantly, Hess insisted it come with batteries—he knew the frustration suffered by kids who tore into a holiday present, only to discover they’d have to wait until it had a power source before it could be operated.

The Hess Tanker Truck went on sale in 1964 for $1.29 and sold out almost instantly. Hess released the toy again in 1965, and then introduced the Voyager Tanker Ship in 1966. For the next 50 years, hardly a year went by without Hess issuing a new vehicle that stood up to heavy play and offered quality and features comparable to the “real” toys on store shelves. Incredibly, fathers would wait in line for hours for an opportunity to buy one for their child.

The toy truck became so important to the Hess brand and developed such a strong following that when the company was bought out in 2014 and locations converted to the Speedway umbrella, new owners Marathon Petroleum promised they would keep making the Hess trucks. They’re now sold online, with the newest—the Dump Truck and Loader, complete with working hydraulics and STEM lesson plans—retailing for $33.99. Bigger, better toy trucks may be out there, but a half-century of tradition is hard to replicate.

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