TIME People

You Can Now Read Millions of Wills Online

ancestry.com
ancestry.com

Wills from the Colonial Era are now available on Ancestry.com

Every wonder what Paul Revere, Eli Witney, and other famous historical figures gave away in their wills? Ancestry.com now has the answer.

A new feature launched by the family history website Ancestry.com allows users to search through digital wills and probate records of over 100 million people, the Associated Press reports. The database contains items from the Colonial era to the start of the 21st century. An entry for Revere shows he set aside $500 in his will for all but one of his grandchildren, who the patriot declared “shall have no part of my estate” except for $1.

Many of the documents are available in courthouses nationwide, but this is the first time wills and probate records have been pulled together on such a large scale.

The database, which has over 170 million documents from all 50 states, will be publicly available starting Wednesday.

TIME Transportation

A Brief History of New York City Taxicabs

As NYC unveils the taxicab of the future, TIME looks back at the history of the city's iconic yellow cab

TIME History

Menu From Titanic’s Last Lunch Is Going to Auction

Titanic Money Boat Artifacts
Lion Heart Autographs/AP Titanic's last lunch menu.

It could bring in as much as $70,000

A menu of the last lunch offered on the Titanic, which was saved by a passenger on a rescue boat, is going to auction, where it is expected to bring in $50,000 to $70,000.

The menu, which was saved by passenger Abraham Lincoln Salomon, listed items including corned beef and dumplings, the Associated Press reports. The menu is signed on the back by another passenger named Isaac Gerald Frauenthal. It’s believed the two first-class men had lunch together on that day.

Salomon was on a lifeboat that was known as the “Money Boat” in the press, based on allegations that the passengers bribed crew members to row away to safety rather than go back and save others.

On Sept. 30, auctioneer Lion Heart Autographs is offering the menu and other artifacts from the lifeboat. The objects being auctioned are from the son of a man who was given them by a direct descendent of one of the survivors.

[AP]

TIME politics

Here’s How Denali Became Mount McKinley in the First Place

"McKinley never got near it."

President Barack Obama announced Sunday that he would restore the original Native American name to the tallest peak in North America: Mount McKinley will once again be Denali.

Ohio lawmakers vowed to battle the decision, arguing that the name change would dishonor one of the state’s most famous personages, former U.S. President William McKinley, from whom the mountain derived its name. “This political stunt is insulting to all Ohioans,” said state lawmaker Bob Gibbs.

The idea of changing the mountain’s name is not a new one—in the 1970s, for example, Alaska’s state government made a serious effort to persuade the federal government to do what Obama has just done. As explained by a TIME story about that legal battle, the name “McKinley” was itself the product of a surprisingly personal political spat:

The mountain’s name was a fluke. As local historians tell it, in 1896 W.A. Dickey, an ornery gold prospector and one of the first U.S. explorers in the area, fell into an argument with two supporters of William Jennings Bryan and his free-silver movement. The prospector retaliated by naming the mountain after the champion of the gold standard, then Presidential Candidate William McKinley. The name stuck and gradually worked its way into maps and books. Now there is virtually no resistance in the state to the proposed name change [to Denali]. Few Alaskans feel that the long-dead President deserves the honor. Says Anchorage Daily News Publisher Kay Fanning: “McKinley never got near it.”

At the time, Ohio Congressman Ralph S. Regula was the one to respond with outrage, writing to TIME to dispute the idea that Alaskans wanted the switch, and to question the relevance of whether McKinley had visited the mountain or not. “It would be interesting to see if other Alaskan landmarks—Mount Foraker, Jefferson Peak, Fillmore Peak, Mount Cleveland, Grant Peak, Lincoln Island, Wilson Creek or Point Hayes—were visited by people for whom they were named,” he wrote. “All information I find indicates they were not.”

MONEY Odd Spending

10 Things You Won’t Believe Used to Cost $1,000

A grand ain't worth what it used to be.

Every year around this time, MONEY takes stock of the economy and tries to answer the question: What’s the best thing to do with $1,000 right now? Researching this year’s ways to put a grand to work (or play) got us thinking about the power of $1,000 in years past. In most cases, that amount money doesn’t go as far as it used to—you can’t buy a new car with it, for example, or live abroad on it for a year (more on that below.) But in other areas, like technology, its purchasing power has exploded.

So in the runup to this year’s suggestions for what to do with $1,000 (coming to Money.com on September 21), here’s a look back at 10 things that used to cost a stack, and what the equivalent items cost today.

  • 125 Shares of Berkshire Hathaway Stock

    Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, on March 31, 2015
    Adam Jeffery—NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

    Year: 1962

    Price tag today: $24.5 million

    When Warren Buffett began buying up Berkshire Hathaway stock back in 1962, a share was worth a meager $8 (around $63 in 2015 dollars, using the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ nifty calculator). If you had a grand, you could have bought 125 shares. Today, 125 shares will set you back $25.4 million. That’s a growth rate of 2,543,750%. Talk about a return on investment.

  • A Studebaker Light Six

    150831_1000_Studebaker
    Library of Congress

    Year: 1922

    Equivalent price tag today: $25,000 (for a mid-size family sedan)

    You may not remember Studebaker, but it was once one of the largest vehicle companies in the world. Its 1922 Light Six model cost just under $1,000. If that sounds like a pretty good deal for a middle-of-the-road car even back then, you’re right—it’s around $14,000 in today’s dollars. To put the Studebaker price into perspective, a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost cost around $12,000 at the time, and an entry-level Ford Model T could be had for $395.

  • A 14-inch RCA Color TV

    Color television made its debut in 1952 after the Federal Communications Commission accepted the RCA-developed "Compatible Color" System permitting colorcasting of programs without blanking the screens of black-and-white TV sets.
    Bettmann/Corbis

    Year: 1954

    Equivalent price tag today: $1,000 for a 4K LCD TV

    Back in 1954 the color TV was all the rage, and the RCA Victor CT-100, the second color TV to hit the mass market, sold for $1,000. At that price—the equivalent of $8,871 in today’s inflation-adjusted dollars, the small model didn’t sell particularly well, and the remaining units were discounted about 50% when the 21-inch successor came out soon after. It’s worth noting, though, that a grand still buys the latest TV technology today.

  • A Year of Harvard Tuition

    Bird's eye view of Harvard campus, ca. 1950s
    Leslie Jones Collection—courtesy of the Boston Public Library

    Year: 1957

    Price tag today: $45,278

    Everybody knows colleges haven’t always carried those enormous $50,000 price tags, but not everyone would guess that you only have to go back about 50 years to see an astronomical drop. For the 1957-58 academic year at Harvard, tuition was just $1,000—after rising from $600 in 1954 (though still pricey at roughly $8,500 in 2015 dollars). The march upward had begun: The following year, the college hiked tuition another 20%.

  • A Pound of Gold

    150831_1000_GoldBar
    Simon Dawson—Bloomberg/Getty Images

    Year: 1972

    Price tag today: $16,594

    Back in 1972, gold was selling for around $65 an ounce, or around $1,000 for a pound. That price wasn’t exactly a bargain at the time—gold was just $36 an ounce the year before—but since then it’s spiked up to $1,135. Some of Michael Phelps’s gold medals cost the International Olympic Committee over four times more than Mark Spitz’s then-record 1972 haul.

  • The Wright Flyer I

    Wright Flyer I of Wilbur and Orville Wright, Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, 1903
    Interfoto—Alamy

    Year: 1903

    Equivalent price tag today: $8,000 (for a used ultralight)

    Just over 100 years ago, Orville and Wilbur Wright used wood from a giant spruce, handmade propellers, fabric, bicycle parts, and a custom 12-horsepower engine to build the first airplane. Costing just under $1,000, the Wright Flyer I logged a few flights, the longest of which covered 260 meters in 59 seconds. If you adjust the brothers’ out-of-pocket cost for inflation, their R&D, at $8,492 in today’s dollars, cost less than a 2015 Camaro.

  • A Herd of Cattle

    A herd of fine dairy cows on a farm near Seattle, Washington, ca. 1907.
    Underwood & Underwood—Library of Congress

    Year: 1903

    Price tag today: $45,500

    While today’s calfs are incredibly valuable, going for $1,300 at auction, a grand used to buy you an entire herd of 35 animals. (According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s historic data, cattle averaged just $28 a head at the turn of the century.) You could even have a small herd of 10 for $1,000 up until the end of World War II, but after that, America’s growing fast food addiction made beef a big business.

  • A Steinway B

    Steinway B piano, ca. 1900
    courtesy Steinway & Sons

    Year: 1900

    Price tag today: $92,400

    If today you wanted to buy a Steinway B, the company’s second largest piano, you would need to pony up almost $100,000. But at the turn of the 20th century, the world’s best 7-foot piano cost only $1,000. Adjusting for inflation, that’s only around $28,571 in 2015 dollars, making them a pretty good investment since they tend to last indefinitely.

  • Andy Warhol Soup Cans

    Visitor looking at Campbell´s Soup cans by Andy Warhol, Museum of Modern Art, New York City
    age fotostock—Alamy

    Year: 1962

    Price tag today: $11.6 million+

    In 1962, Andy Warhol produced one of his most enduring works, “32 Campbell’s Soup Cans.” Split up and sold initially for $100 each, they were bought back by Warhol’s dealer, Irving Blum, who paid $1,000 for the entire set (around $7,901 in today’s money). There’s no way to say for sure what the pictures, now in MoMA’s collection, would be worth if they were sold today, but a single painting of a can with a torn label sold for $11.6 million in 2006.

  • A Year in Paris for a Family of Three

    Ernest Hemingway, Paris, circa 1924
    Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection—John F. Kennedy Presidential Library Ernest Hemingway, Paris, circa 1924

    Year: 1922

    Price tag today: $50,000

    In 1922, Hemingway wrote “Living on $1,000 for a Year in Paris” for the Toronto Daily Star, about how he and his wife lived comfortably in the City of Lights “for a total expenditure of two and one half to three dollars a day.” While his memoir A Moveable Feast depicts some of the difficulties faced supporting his family on the equivalent of $14,000 in today’s money, Hemingway reported that it was indeed possible to live richly thanks to a favorable exchange rate. That, being really good at horse racing, and occasionally forgoing new clothes and food.

TIME White House

DNA Tests Show This President Did Not Have Black Ancestors

Warren G Harding, 29th President of the United States, (1933). Harding (1865-1923) was President from 1921 until 1923. Published in The American Presidents, (London, 1933).
Print Collector/Getty Images Warren G Harding, 29th President of the United States. Published in The American Presidents, (London, 1933).

DNA tests that proved Warren Harding had a child by his mistress have solved another historical mystery: He did not have African-American ancestors.

For decades, some have claimed that Harding had some African-American heritage, an argument that received renewed attention after President Obama’s election in 2008. Harding himself once told a reporter that “one of [his] ancestors may have jumped the fence.”

But Julie Granka, population geneticist at genealogy company Ancestry.com, which conducted the tests, told the New York Times that the tests did not find any “detectable genetic signatures of sub-Saharan African heritage” in any of Harding’s close relatives tested in the DNA exercise.

It was “very unlikely” that Harding had a black ancestor within four generations, she said.

Dr. Peter Harding, the president’s grandnephew and also part of the DNA tests, said that he was disappointed. “I was hoping for black blood,” he told the Times.

Read Next: DNA Tests Proved This 92-Year-Old Presidential Rumor

 

TIME Culture

How Americans Fell in Love With Taking Road Trips

open-road
Getty Images

Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

As the automobile industry took off, drivers discovered the romance and freedom of long-distance travel

Tens of millions of Americans have hit the road this summer. The all-American road trip has long been a signature adventure, but once upon a time the notion of your own motorized excursion of any length would have seemed impossible.

In 1900, Americans were hampered by wretched roads and limited by the speed and endurance of the horses that powered buckboards, coaches, and wagons. If they had an urge to travel far distances, they had to rely upon the steam locomotive.

As fantastic as it might have seemed at the turn of the 20th century, the idea of supplanting the iron horse with the horseless carriage did catch the fancy of some intrepid men and women. Eager to test the technological limits of their new contraptions, a few hardy souls set off upon far-reaching expeditions between 1900 and 1910.

Colorado attorney Philip Delany, recounting his 1903 excursion from Colorado Springs to Santa Fe observed: “and so the machine is conquering the old frontier, carrying the thudding of modern mechanics into the land of romance. . . .” Such travel meant seeing “the wildest and most natural places on the continent,” encountering more than a few hints of danger on steep and rocky mountain roads, and reliving the exploits of American pioneers. “The trails of Kit Carson and Boone and Crockett, and the rest of the early frontiersmen,” he declared, “stretch out before the adventurous automobilist.”

At the same time, some city dwellers simply sought an escape. Early 20th century urban environments had their drawbacks: sidewalks overflowing with scurrying pedestrians; streets crowded with unending waves of trolleys, delivery wagons, carriages, and pushcarts; the persistent stench rising from mounds of horse manure; raw sewage emptying into open gutters; rotting piles of uncollected garbage and dense clouds belching from factory smokestacks.

Upper-middle-class tourists motored through the countryside and then camped by the side of the road, finding the sentimentalized image of the gypsy or the tramp quite a compelling identity to assume. They reveled in their sense of independence from stodgy summer resorts and the tyranny of inflexible timetables set by railroads or steamship lines. They delighted in the beauty and serenity of unspoiled countryside. In the same article quoted above, Philip Delany observed that “when [the automobilist] is tired of the old, there are new paths to be made. He has no beaten track to follow, no schedule to meet, no other train to consider; but he can go with the speed of an express straight into the heart of an unknown land.”

In its infancy, however, an automobile could not deliver most Americans from their urban frustrations—for most Americans could not afford to own and operate one. At a time when average annual salaries might not reach $500, many automobiles might cost between $650 and $1,300, securely beyond the grasp of all but the wealthiest. Moreover, with few garages, filling stations, and dealerships outside of city limits, even the infrastructure required for the care and feeding of the automobile could be difficult to locate and could drain the motorist’s wallet. During their earliest years, neither automobiles nor auto touring could be considered within the reach of the masses. Automobility would only become pervasive over time, thanks to rising wages, falling prices for used cars, expanding opportunities to buy these machines on credit, and, especially, the introduction of Henry Ford’s revolutionary Model T in 1908.

Even for those Americans who could afford the first horseless carriages, to go off the few familiar paths in most parts of the country, especially in the great distances of the trans-Mississippi West, required a large measure of self-reliance. One motor traveler characterized the roads of his native Wyoming in 1909 as “deep ruts, high centers, rocks, loose and solid; steep grades, washouts, or gullies . . . ” He went on to note that, “unbridged streams; sand, alkali dust; gumbo; and plain mud, were some of the more common abominations.” Between the obstacles presented by such abysmal road conditions, the likelihood of frequent mechanical breakdowns, and the rarity of supplies to sustain driver and vehicle, these early outings always required an audacious spirit.

Aspiring long-distance auto tourists back then were counseled by self-proclaimed experts to carry abundant quantities of supplies. Those who made the first transcontinental drives between 1901 and 1908 hauled along ropes, blocks and tackle, axes, sleeping bags, water bags, spades, camps stoves, compasses, barometers, thermometers, cyclometers, first aid kits, rubber ponchos, tire chains, pith helmets, assorted spare parts, and sufficient firearms to launch a small insurrection. Mary C. Bedell’s impressive list of gear, published in her entertaining 1924 account of auto touring, Modern Gypsies, typifies what was carried by the most dedicated motor campers both in scale and variety: “tent, duffle bags, gasoline stove, Adirondack grate and a kit of aluminum kettles, with coffee pot and enamel cups and saucers inside”—an array of equipment that added “four or five hundred pounds” alone to the weight of the fully loaded automobile. A car so laden, puffing along western trails, bears a striking resemblance in the mind’s eye to a hermit crab staggering across the ocean floor burdened with its house on its back.

Even as motoring Americans loaded up their cars with the contents of their local hardware stores, however, the growth in their numbers year by year provided alluring prospects to entrepreneurs in small towns and great cities throughout the West. Garages, gas stations, roadside cafés, and diners began to pop up along more frequently traveled routes while hotels, restaurants, and general stores started to advertise in the earliest guidebooks produced by organizations such as AAA and the Automobile Club of America. Following the lead of Gulf Oil in 1914, gasoline retailers commissioned maps branded liberally with their logos for free distribution at their service stations. Motorists once left entirely to their own devices now encountered a rapidly evolving infrastructure of goods and services.

Meanwhile, governments at the local, state, and federal levels began to invest increased engineering skill, construction efforts, and tax dollars in road improvements. While motor tourists by the end of the World War I might still encounter 10,000 miles of battered gravel trails littered with potholes for every 10 miles of carefully surfaced and maintained roads throughout the country, the increasing pace of improvements made it far easier to drive through the West than it had been for those who had attempted such a journey only a decade before.

Although still new to the American scene by 1920, the road trip thus had begun to take on a shape familiar to modern eyes. Above all, the automobile was assuming a dominant role in popular recreation as more and more Americans incorporated it into their visions of recreation and leisure. As costs fell and reliability increased, as the successful outings of the few began to inspire the many, and as the thrill of this new technology spread through an ever-wider range of the populace, motoring for pleasure insinuated itself as a notion in the minds of many Americans. Indeed, less than a decade after the turn of the 20th century, author William F. Dix could assert that the automobile had become nothing less than a “vacation agent” for motor-savvy Americans as it “opens up the countryside to the city dweller, [and held out the promise of] great national highways stretching from ocean to ocean and from North to South.” Over those highways, he continued, “would sweep endless processions of light, graceful, and inexpensive vehicles . . . carrying rich and poor alike into a better understanding of nature and teaching them the pure and refreshing beauties of the country.”

While Dix fell far short as a prophet of social or technological developments, his sense of how inextricably linked the automobile would become in the leisure pursuits of Americans has been thoroughly borne out by the evolution of the American road trip.

Peter J. Blodgett is H. Russell Smith Foundation curator of western historical manuscripts at the Huntington Library and editor of Motoring West Volume 1: Automobile Pioneers, 1900-1909. He wrote this for What It Means to Be American, a national conversation hosted by the Smithsonian and Zócalo Public Square

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME China

Here Are 5 of China’s Worst Industrial Disasters

A man checks his mobile phone near overturned shipping containers after explosions in Tianjin
Stringer China—Reuters A man checks his mobile phone near overturned shipping containers after explosions hit the Binhai new district, Tianjin, August 13, 2015.

The country has a long, tortuous history of man-made tragedies

The Chinese port city of Tianjin was rocked by two massive blasts Wednesday night, killing at least 44 people, and injuring 520, 66 of them critically. Although the exact cause of the explosion is still unclear, there are strong indications that it was triggered by the accidental ignition of a shipping container filled with explosives.

Accidents of this nature are shockingly common in China, with inadequate safety standards and unstable infrastructure often to blame. Here are some of the country’s worst industrial disasters:

1. Dehui Poultry Factory Fire, 2013

At least 119 people died and 54 others were injured when a huge fire broke out at a poultry plant in the northeastern city of Dehui. The blaze was reported to have been caused by an ammonia leak, and the deaths were attributed to the fact that the factory’s supervisors routinely locked its doors from the outside during working hours to avoid laborers wandering around the plant — thereby cutting off any possible emergency escape routes.

2. Shanxi Mine Collapse, 2008

A total of 281 people died after a mine collapsed following a September 2008 mudslide in Shanxi province. While authorities initially tried to blame the disaster on unusually heavy rain, it soon emerged that poor enforcement of mining safety standards was the primary cause.

3. Laobaidong Colliery Blasts, 1960

Many of China’s worst disasters have occurred in its notoriously unsafe mines. Of these, the second deadliest took place in the Laobaidong coal mine in May 1960, when an apparent methane explosion killed 684 people. Said to be the worst accident since the People’s Republic of China was formed in 1949, all news of the blast was suppressed by Chinese authorities until it finally emerged in 1992.

4. Benxihu Colliery Disaster, 1942

A mixture of gas and coal dust caused this massive explosion at the Honkeiko coal mine near Benxi in China’s Liaoning province, killing 1,549 people in an undoubtedly undesirable world record for “worst coal mining disaster” that stands to this day. The worst part? It isn’t even China’s worst industrial disaster.

5. Banqiao Dam Tragedy, 1975

On Aug. 8, 1975, the Banqiao dam — located about 750 km west of Shanghai — burst due to unusually heavy rains caused by a massive typhoon, in what remains the worst-ever disaster not just in China, but globally. Although reports of the exact number of people killed vary, most say at least 100,000 people perished from the immediate flooding, while fatalities from the resultant famines and diseases pushed the total death toll to more than 220,000.

TIME History

The 70th Anniversary of VJ Day: Survivors Then and Now

Seventy years ago on August 15, 1945 the Japanese Emperor, Hirohito, announced his country's surrender to the Allies, effectively bringing the Second World War to an end. Because of the time difference, President Harry Truman announced the surrender on August 14, from Washington DC. Here are some of the men and women who took part in the war, pictured then, and now

TIME fashion

See 100 Years Of Men’s Swimsuit Fashion In 3 Minutes

A very revealing video—in more ways than one

Before you hit the beach this weekend to ogle at the array of board shorts, Speedos and everything in between littering the seaside, take a quick gander through men’s swimsuit history with this video.

This look back through swimwear history is very revealing — in more ways than one. The slightly racy video from Mode Glam, starts all the way back in 1915, which is when men first donned bathing attire, according to the site. The vintage swimsuit could double as long underwear, a look that had only marginally improved by 1925 when men’s swimwear bore an uncanny resemblance to a wrestling singlet.

As fashion’s long march continued, the parade of bathing beauties hit the beach in smaller and smaller swimwear, hitting their peak in the 1970s. While the 1980s are generally known as a time of excess at least their swimwear was moderate.

Read next: Watch a Woman Recreate 100 Years of Fitness Trends in 100 Seconds

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com