One hundred years ago today, American newspapers reported that John D. Rockefeller (above) had become the first individual to be worth more than a billion dollars.
Rockefeller’s 247,692 shares of stock in his Standard Oil Co. were now worth close to $499 million, after an increase in their share price the previous day. The article concluded that this amount, when combined with his possessions “in various banks, railroads, enormous blocks of national, state, and municipal bonds, [that] brings his total up to the billion mark.”
John D. Rockefeller, Jr. released a statement calling the estimate of his father’s wealth an exaggeration. Business historians have long since disputed the estimate and instead calculate that Rockefeller was never worth more than $900 million (in 1910s dollars). Most historians argue that Henry Ford in fact became the world’s first billionaire a decade or more later.
Many wealthy people have since learned from Rockefeller, though: public denials with waving hands and a shake of the head that one is as wealthy as the public thinks one is can be turned into something quite lucrative later.
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An ad appeared in the Pittsburgh Sun on this date in 1920: “Air concert picked up by radio here. The music was from a Victrola in the home of Frank Conrad. Mr. Conrad is a wireless enthusiast and puts on these wireless concerts periodically for the entertainment of many people in this district who have wireless sets. Amateur wireless sets are on sale here $10 and up.”
It was an ad for the first radio receiver. The Joseph Horne department store placed the ad for a plug-and-listen device, even though there were not yet any radio stations operating in the United States. Frank Conrad was an engineer at Westinghouse in Pittsburgh and he had been playing his records over a low-wattage transmitter that he had built himself. (The first radio program was someone playing his record collection, DJing as it were.)
Westinghouse applied for and received a license to create a radio station, KDKA, and broadcast a 100-watt signal soon after Horne started selling the radio receivers, which would only be able to receive KDKA at first. The availability of the signal created a need for the hardware, which was used to receive ads for the signal.
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W. H. Auden died 43 years ago today. Casey Stengel died on this date in 1975. Charles Addams died on this date in 1988. Tony Curtis died six years ago today. Greg Giraldo died on this date in 2010.
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Miguel de Cervantes was born on this date in 1547. Caravaggio was born on this date in 1571. Enrico Fermi was born in 1901 on this date. Gene Autry was born on this date in 1907. Michelangelo Antonioni was born in 1912 on this date. Stanley Kramer was born on this date in 1913. Anita Ekberg was born in 1931 on this date. Madeline Kahn was born 74 years ago today. Ken Weatherwax would be 61 today.
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Jerry Lee Lewis is 81 today. (“Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On” live in the U.K. in 1964:
President Silvio Berlusconi is 80. Ian McShane is 74. Jean-Luc Ponty is 74. Lech Wałęsa is 73. Mike Post is 72. Bryant Gumbel is 68. President Michelle Bachelet is 65. Andrew Dice Clay is 59. Les Claypool is 53.
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