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Category:  Did You Know?
Published:  October, 2009

Did You Know?

Did you know that when Uniontown’s local baseball team took two games from the visiting team from Johnstown in late May of 1889, it wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened to the visitors?

The following day, on May 31st, when the Johnstown baseball players returned home, they were faced with the death and destruction caused by the Great Johnstown Flood.

The Johnstown Flood caused more than 2,200 deaths and an estimated $17 million in damages.

The destruction had a much wider effect than in Cambria County.

The Pittsburgh Post reported in its June 11th, 1889 edition that 210 men were “thrown out of employment” in Uniontown.

According to the article, the Johnstown flood waters had caused the railroads to be blockaded, so the Thompson Glass Works had to be shutdown because sand needed to continue its operations could not be secured.

It wasn’t scheduled to be reopened until September of that year.

Did you know that students at Ben Franklin Jr. High School once came in second place in a national competition?
On April 8th, 1931 the Uniontown Daily News Standard carried the front page story of how the budding journalists at Ben Franklin had placed second in a national school newspaper contest with their “Benjamin Franklin Almanack.” (Their spelling, not mine)

The Columbia University sponsored competition featured newspapers from more than 6,000 schools from across the country.

Ben Franklin’s “Almanack” did win first place honors among Pennsylvania’s junior schools that year.

Did you know there were a couple of other notable seconds among Fayette County natives? Uniontown’s Chuck Muncie placed second in Heisman Trophy voting in 1975.

Uniontown’s legendary distance runner, Joe Thomas, placed second in an unofficial national high school mile competition in July of 1960.

Did you know that mathematics, except for simple addition, isn’t exactly my strong suit?

However, with the advent of computers, I’ve become pretty good at multiplication, subtraction and some of that other fancier stuff.

With that knowledge, I’ve tried to find the earliest references to computers in our local newspapers.

The term “computers” seems to have been first used to describe devices that could weigh meat as early the first half of the 20th century.

Back then, the term seems to have been used for any device that didn’t require a pencil and paper to solve a problem.

I did find that a horse named “Computer” came in third place in the fifth race at Thistle Down near Cleveland in August of 1938.

But later, in the early 1950’s, serious consideration was being given to the computer and its many utilitarian possibilities.

I found a commentary in the February 2nd, 1952 edition of the Uniontown Evening Standard in which the syndicated columnist indicated that computers were being developed primarily for military purposes.

“Most important ‘new weapon’ of the next war may turn out to be the electronic calculating machine. It’s known for short as a ‘computer.’ Computers come into the picture in figuring out gun fire control and bombing data,” the writer predicted.

His prediction fell a little flat when comparing the computers of today to those he envisioned. “Computers cost a quarter of a million dollars apiece – and up. They weigh a ton or more. They contain from 1,500 to 2,000 radio vacuum tubes,” the column said.

Of course, today computers are far more efficient, much lighter in weight and certainly less expensive than the original models.

That’s why the examples they used about the future functions of computers back in 1953, seem rather mundane (and even silly) today.

The November 4th, 1953 edition of the Evening Standard carried an item about how weathermen preparing a single weather forecast using a desk calculator – would need a year. But it noted that the latest electronic computer could get the job done in a mere 36 minutes.

Nowadays, thanks to computers, highly complex weather forecasts can be obtained with the click of a mouse.

Yet, I found an even more graphic example of how computer technologists under-estimated the ultimate power of computers.

In the February 5th, 1953 edition of the Evening Standard, I found a picture of a woman standing in front of a room-sized contraption called the “Oarac.”

That was short for “Office of Air Research Automatic Computer.”

The woman had taken a math problem (she multiplied 8,645,392,175 times itself). It took her nine minutes, and she missed the answer by a trillion.

However, it only took the “Oarac” four one-thousandths of a second to come up with the correct answer.

Now, if you’d like, (as I did), you can use your computer’s calculator and see if you can come up with the correct answer.

Once again, that’s multiplying 8,645,392,175 times 8,645,392,175. By the way, the correct answer is: 74,742,805,859,551,230,625.

The only difference is that your computer’s calculator is much smaller than the room-sized “Oarac,” with its 1,400 vacuum tubes.

Did you know that in the 1920’s there certainly wasn’t any computer technology used when rabid baseball fans wanted to get up-to-the-minute reports of the World Series?

I’ll give you the details next week.