December 30, 1865: You’re a Better Man Than I Am

Rudyard Kipling was one of the most popular writers in England, in both prose and verse, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries Born in Bombay,

India, on December 30, 1865, Kipling is best known for his works of fiction, especially The Jungle Book (a collection of short stories which includes “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi”), Just So Stories, Kim, “The Man Who Would Be King” and such poems as “Gunga Din,” “Mandalay,” and “The White Man’s Burden.” He is considered a major “innovator in the art of the short story,” and his children’s books have become true classics.

Kipling became synonymous with the concept of British “empire” and as a result his reputation fluctuated and his place in literary and cultural history inspired passionate disagreement during most of the 20th century.  Nevertheless, critics agree that he was a skilled interpreter of how empire was experienced.

Young Rudyard’s earliest years in Bombay were blissfully happy, in an India full of exotic sights and sounds. But at the age of five he and his sister were sent back to England, as was the custom, to be educated. In his autobiography, published 65 years later, Kipling recalled the stay with horror, and wondered ironically if the combination of cruelty and neglect he suffered from his foster family might not have hastened the onset of his literary life: “I have known a certain amount of bullying, but this was calculated torture—religious as well as scientific. Yet it made me give attention to the lies I soon found it necessary to tell: and this, I presume, is the foundation of literary effort.”

Kipling traveled extensively throughout the world, and his travels included a stay of several years in Brattleboro, Vermont, an unlikely spot in which to create The Jungle Book, although he did, along with Captains Courageous.

During his long career, he declined most of the many honors offered him, including a knighthood, the Poet Laureateship, and the Order of Merit, but in 1907 he accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature. He died in 1936 in England (even though a few years earlier he had written “Never again will I spend another winter in this accursed bucketshop of a refrigerator called England.”)

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December 24, 1843: What a Delightful Boy

Published in 1843, it’s the figgy pudding of Christmas stories.  Don’t go until you get some.  Just one tasty scene for your merriness:

(Scrooge has been visited by the three ghosts on Christmas Eve, and he awakens the following morning.)

“I don’t know what day of the month it is!” said Scrooge. “I don’t know how long I’ve been alastair-sim-as-scrooge-at-windowamong the Spirits. I don’t know anything. I’m quite a baby. Never mind. I don’t care. I’d rather be a baby. Hallo! Whoop! Hallo here!”

He was checked in his transports by the churches ringing out the lustiest peals he had ever heard. Clash, clang, hammer, ding, dong, bell. Bell, dong, ding, hammer, clang, clash! Oh, glorious, glorious!

Running to the window, he opened it, and put out his head. No fog, no mist; clear, bright, jovial, stirring, cold; cold, piping for the blood to dance to; golden sunlight; heavenly sky; sweet fresh air; merry bells. Oh glorious, glorious!

“What’s today?” cried Scrooge, calling downward to a boy in Sunday clothes, who perhaps had loitered in to look about him.

“Eh?” returned the boy, with all his might of wonder.

“What’s today, my fine fellow?” said Scrooge.

“Today!” replied the boy. “Why, Christmas Day.”

“It’s Christmas Day!” said Scrooge to himself. “I haven’t missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like. Of course they can. Of course they can. Hallo, my fine fellow?”

“Hallo!” returned the boy.

“Do you know the Poulterer’s, in the next street but one, at the corner?” Scrooge inquired.

“I should hope I did,” replied the lad.

“An intelligent boy!” said Scrooge. “A remarkable boy! Do you know whether they’ve sold the prize Turkey that was hanging up there? Not the little prize Turkey, the big one?”

“What, the one as big as me?” returned the boy.

“What a delightful boy!” said Scrooge. “It’s a pleasure to talk to him. Yes, my buck!”

“It’s hanging there now,” replied the boy.

“Is it?” said Scrooge. “Go and buy it.”

“Walk-er!” exclaimed the boy.

“No, no,” said Scrooge, “I am in earnest. Go and buy it, and tell ’em to bring it here, that I may give them the direction where to take it. Come back with the man, and I’ll give you a shilling. Come back with him in less than five minutes, and I’ll give you half-a-crown!”

The boy was off like a shot. He must have had a steady hand at a trigger who could have got a shot off half so fast.

“I’ll send it to Bob Cratchit’s!” whispered Scrooge, rubbing his hand, and splitting with a laugh. “He shan’t know who sends it. It’s twice the size of Tiny Tim. Joe Miller never made such a joke as sending it to Bob’s will be!”

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December 19, 1732: The Nack and How To Get It

Filled with proverbs preaching positive virtues such as industry and prudence, Poor Richard’s Almanack debuted on this day in 1732 and was published yearly until 1757. It became one of the most popular publications in colonial America, selling an average of 10,000 copies a year. In addition to its homilies, the almanac offered seasonal weather forecasts, Heloise-style Poor_Richard's_Almanackhousehold hints, puzzles, and various other diversions.

Poor Richard, who was of course Benjamin Franklin, was modeled in part on Jonathan Swift’s Isaac Bickerstaff, a self-described philomath and astrologer who in a series of letters in 1708 and 1709, poked fun at and even predicted the imminent death of another astrologer and almanac maker,  John Partridge. Franklin’s Poor Richard followed suit and, in a running joke in the early editions, predicted and falsely reported the deaths of contemporary astrologers and almanac makers.

Poor Richard’s Almanack extolled a list of 13 virtues to live by – temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, and humility – although there’s no evidence that Franklin personally tried to practice any of them. (Wretched Richard subscribes to every one of them.)

Reflecting on Franklin and his almanac, James Russell Lowell wrote that Franklin: “was born in Boston, and invented being struck with lightning and printing and the Franklin medal, and that he had to move to Philadelphia because great men were so plenty in Boston that he had no chance, and that he revenged himself on his native town by saddling it with the Franklin stove, and that he discovered the almanac, and that a penny saved is a penny lost, or something of the kind.”

The Almanack gained worldwide attention: Napoleon Bonaparte had it translated into Italian; it was twice translated into French, reprinted in Great Britain in broadside, and was the first work of English literature to be translated into Slovene.

A sample of Poor Richard’s wisdom:

Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.

There cannot be good living where there is not good drinking.

Any society that will give up a little liberty for a little security will deserve neither and lose both.

With the old Almanack and the old Year,
Leave thy old Vices, tho ever so dear.

Fish and visitors stink after three days.

There are more old drunkards than old doctors.

 

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December 16, 1775: Me Mark, You Jane

Jane Austen, born on December 16, 1775, was a British novelist who wrote of life among England’s landed gentry from the vantage point of being on its outskirts aspiring to be closer in. The concept of gentry is a British foible pretty much disdained by Americans who exist way on its outskirts and secretly austenaspire to be closer in. (Shut out entirely, early Americans misbehaved with childish pranks such as dumping the grown-ups’ tea in Boston Harbor on this day in 1773).

Basically the gentry (celebrated in a 1940s popular song “Dear Hearts and Gentry People”) were the aristocracy (the haves, the one percent), and Jane Austen’s novels are lousy with them. Jane Austen herself almost married into the thick of it but the fact that the gentleman was a super-sized oaf, both homely and ill-mannered, gave her pause, cold feet, or perhaps writer’s block.

Austen was not wildly popular as a writer during her lifetime – in fact, her greatest popularity seems to have come with the 21st century. Her first novel Lazy Susan became a household word in the 1950s, thanks to the spinning serving dish that bears its name. Other novels had doubled-up attributes such as Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Senility, and Lust and Loquaciousness, except for those that didn’t, Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey.

Mark Twain was one of Austen’s biggest fans:

“Jane Austen? Why I go so far as to say that any library is a good library that does not contain a volume by Jane Austen. Even if it contains no other book.”

“Jane is entirely impossible. It seems a great pity that they allowed her to die a natural death.”

“Every time I read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”

 

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December 6, 1882: The Postman Always Writes Twice

Born in 1815, Anthony Trollope had a successful career as one of the most prolific English novelists of the Victorian era. Some of his best-loved works, collectively known as the Chronicles of Barsetshire, revolve around the imaginary county of Barsetshire. He also wrote novels on political, social, and gender issues, and on other topical matters. He simultaneously enjoyed a successful career with the General Post Office.

This dual career makes Trollope a role model for would-be writers everywhere.

Trollope’s postal career began somewhat ignominiously in 1834 as a postal clerk, and the first seven years of his official life, during which he gained a reputation for unpunctuality and insubordination, were, according to him, “neither creditable to myself nor useful to the public pillarservice.”

A move to Ireland altered his postal career and began his writing career.

Given a fresh start, Trollope became a model employee. And, having decided to become a novelist, he began writing on the numerous long trips around Ireland his postal duties required. Writing on a rigid schedule from 5 a.m. To 8 a.m. every day, his output was prodigious. He wrote his earliest novels during this time, occasionally dipping into the “lost-letter” box for ideas.

In 1851, Trollope returned to England to reorganize rural mail delivery in southwestern England and southern Wales. The two-year mission took him over much of Great Britain, often on horseback. Trollope describes this time as “two of the happiest years of my life”.

During these travels, he conceived the plot of The Warden, the first of the six Barsetshire novels. The novel was published in 1855, bringing him to the attention of the novel-reading public. He immediately began work on Barchester Towers, the second Barsetshire novel and probably his best-known work. Trollope ‘s postal career was also going well.  By the mid-1860s, he had reached a senior position within the Post Office. He made postal history with his introduction of the pillar box, the ubiquitous bright red mail-box, thousands of which were found in the United Kingdom and throughout the British Empire of the time.

Trollope also aspired to a political career; he had long dreamed of a seat in the House of Commons. He agreed to become a Liberal candidate, and in the election of 1868, he finished number four of four candidates. Trollope called his short-lived dip into political waters “the most wretched fortnight of my manhood”.

 

Trollope died on December 6, 1882, having written 47 novels as well as numerous short stories, nonfiction works and plays – three hours a day, every day.

November 30, 1667,1835: Have Wit, Will Travel

Jonathan Swift, born on November 30, 1667, was an Anglo-Irish satirist and essayist, remembered for such works as Gulliver’s Travels, A Modest Proposal, A Journal to Stella, Drapier’s Letters, The Battle of the Books, An Argument Against Abolishing Christianity, and A Tale of a Tub. Swift is considered by many to be the foremost prose satirist in the English language.

Swift originally published all of his works under pseudonyms – such as Lemuel Gulliver, Isaac Bickerstaff, MB Drapier – or anonymously.

In 1729, Swift published A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland Being a Burden on Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick, a satire in which the narrator, with bizarre arguments, suggests that Ireland’s poor  could relieve their poverty by selling their children as food to the rich: “I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food…”

Gulliver’s Travels, published in 1726, is regarded as his masterpiece. As with his other writings, the Travels was published under a pseudonym, the fictional Lemuel Gulliver, a ship’s surgeon and later a sea captain. Although it has often been mistakenly thought of as a children’s book, it is a brutal satire on human nature and the so-called Enlightenment of the time.

He had been eight years upon a project for extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers, which were to be put in vials hermetically sealed, and let out to warm the air in raw inclement summers.

America’s greatest humorist also went by several names while seeking the right moniker: He was Josh through the penning of several humorous sketches; he also wrote letters which he signed Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass. By the time he wrote “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras MarkTwain.LOCCounty,” the short story that brought him international acclaim, he was Mark Twain.

Twain was born on November 30, 1835, shortly after a visit by Halley’s Comet, and he predicted that he would “go out with it,” as well. Which he did, dying the day following the comet’s return in 1910.

Celebrated for much of what he wrote, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn remains his crowning achievement, the Great American Novel. William Faulkner called Twain “the father of American literature.” His wit and satire, in prose and in speech, earned praise from critics and peers, and he hobnobbed with artists, presidents, titans of industry, and European royalty.

I am said to be a revolutionist in my sympathies, by birth, by breeding and by principle. I am always on the side of the revolutionists, because there never was a revolution unless there were some oppressive and intolerable conditions against which to revolute.

There is one notable thing about our Christianity: bad, bloody, merciless, money-grabbing, and predatory as it is–in our country particularly and in all other Christian countries in a somewhat modified degree–it is still a hundred times better than the Christianity of the Bible, with its prodigious crime–the invention of Hell. Measured by our Christianity of to-day, bad as it is, hypocritical as it is, empty and hollow as it is, neither the Deity nor his Son is a Christian, nor qualified for that moderately high place. Ours is a terrible religion. The fleets of the world could swim in spacious comfort in the innocent blood it has spilled.

 

October 21, 1772: A Bird Round the Neck Is Worth Two in the Bush

English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge was one of the major literary voices in England at the end of the 18th century. He was born on October 21, 1772, and died on July 25, 1834. Along with his good The Ancient Marinerfriend William Wordsworth, he helped to pioneer the Romantic Age of English poetry.  He’s best known for Kubla Khan (In Xanadu did Kubla Khan /A stately pleasure-dome decree) written, according to Coleridge himself, in “a kind of a reverie” as a result of an opium dream, and Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a seafaring epic, sort of like Mutiny on the Bounty without the mutiny or Titanic without the glitz or the the sinking.

The poem begins at a wedding, where one of the guests, hoping to get into the open bar before it closes is distracted by an old salt “with long grey beard and glittering eye.” This, of course, is the titular ancient mariner – no surprise, since Coleridge identifies him as such in the very first line – who begins his tale:

‘The ship was cheered, the harbour cleared,

Merrily did we drop

Below the kirk, below the hill,

Below the lighthouse top.

The Sun came up upon the left,

Out of the sea came he!

And he shone bright, and on the right

Went down into the sea.

 

Even though the mariner has a nice way with words, the wedding guest is thirsty and he has spotted the bride leading other guests to the bar. But –

 

“The Wedding-Guest he beat his breast,

Yet he cannot choose but hear;

And thus spake on that ancient man,

The bright-eyed Mariner.

 

The mariner describes his journey which takes him into some rather nasty, cold (Vermont-like) weather:

 

“The ice was here, the ice was there,

The ice was all around:

It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,

Like noises in a swound!

 

We can only guess what a swound is – but it is a pretty nasty sounding thing and it does rhyme nicely.  Enter the albatross, seascape left:

 

“At length did cross an Albatross,

Through the fog it came;

As if it had been a Christian soul,

We hailed it in God’s name.

 

The albatross leads the ship and its crew to warmer waters, and a perfect spot for the mariner to conclude his tale as  the wedding guest suggests, nervously checking his watch. But the mariner drops a bomb instead:

 

“‘God save thee, ancient Mariner!

From the fiends, that plague thee thus!—

Why look’st thou so?’—With my cross-bow

I shot the ALBATROSS.

 

Well, wouldn’t you know it, the fair breeze that had delivered them from the cold disappears, and they are becalmed, unable to move, and now it’s getting hot:

 

“Day after day, day after day,

We stuck, nor breath nor motion;

As idle as a painted ship

Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, every where,

And all the boards did shrink;

Water, water, every where,

Nor any drop to drink.

 

The crew members blame their plight entirely on the mariner. They hang the albatross around his neck and give him the cold shoulder. Eventually they spot a ship in the distance, and they watch for several verses in anticipation. As the vessel draws near, however, they discover that its passengers are Death (a skeleton) and the “Night-mare Life-in-Death” (a deathly-pale woman). These two are playing dice for the souls of the crew. Death wins the lives of the crew members and Life-in-Death the life of the Mariner. He will endure a fate worse than death as punishment for his killing of the albatross.

One by one, all of the crew members die, but the Mariner lives on:

“The many men, so beautiful!

And they all dead did lie:

And a thousand thousand slimy things

Lived on; and so did I.

 

Eventually, left alone with them, the mariner begins to appreciate the slimy things and even begins to pray for them.  And then the albatross falls from his neck. The bodies of the crew, possessed by good spirits, rise again and steer the ship back home, where it sinks again, leaving only the Mariner behind.

But his penance for shooting the albatross is not finished. He is forced to wander the earth annoying wedding guests with his story, a lesson for all those he meets:

 

“Farewell, farewell! but this I tell

To thee, thou Wedding-Guest!

He prayeth well, who loveth well

Both man and bird and beast.”

 

Unfortunately for the wedding guest, he has missed out on the open bar and his dinner (he ordered the chicken) is cold.

October 15, 1954: I Have People To Fetch My Sticks

Long before he debuted in his own television show on October 15, 1954, Rin Tin Tin had become an international celebrity. It was as good a rags-to-riches story as Hollywood could churn out. He was rescued rin-tin-tin_from a World War I battlefield by an American soldier who trained him to be an actor upon returning home. He starred in several silent films, becoming an overnight sensation and going on to appear in another two dozen films before his death in 1932.

Rinty (as he was known to his friends) was responsible for a great surge in German Shepherds as pets. The popularity of his films helped make Warner Brothers a major studio and pushed a guy named Darryl F. Zanuck to success as a producer.

During the following years Rin Tin Tin Jr. and Rin Tin Tin III kept the Rin Tin Tin legacy alive in film and on the radio. Rin Tin Tin IV was slated to take the franchise to television in The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, but he flunked his screen test and was shamefully replaced by an upstart poseur named Flame.

The TV series featured an orphan named Rusty who was being raised by soldiers at a cavalry post known as Fort Apache.  Rin Tin Tin was the kid’s dog. It was a low budget affair, filmed on sets used for other productions with actors frequently called upon to play several soldiers, Apaches, and desperadoes in a single episode. Although it was children’s programming, you might not guess that by the lofty literary titles of many episodes: Rin Tin Tin Meets Shakespeare, Rin Tin Tin and the Barber of Seville, Rin Tin Tin and the Ancient Mariner, Rin Tin Tin and the Connecticut Yankee.

Meanwhile, IV stayed at home on his ranch, fooling visitors into believing he was actually a TV star (and perhaps contemplating a run for President).

Rated P. G.

“Freddie experienced the sort of abysmal soul-sadness which afflicts one of Tolstoy’s Russian peasants when, after putting in a heavy day’s work strangling his father, beating his wife, and dropping the baby into the city’s reservoir, he turns to the cupboards, only to find the vodka bottle wodehouseempty.” One line from someone who had a great knack for them, which he displayed in over 300 stories, 90 books, 30 plays and musicals, and 20 film scripts. Comic novelist P.G. Wodehouse, creator of Jeeves the butler, was born on this day in 1881 in Surrey, England.

 

He had the look of one who had drunk the cup of life and found a dead beetle at the bottom.

Mike nodded. A sombre nod. The nod Napoleon might have given if somebody had met him in 1812 and said, “So, you’re back from Moscow, eh?”

I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.

She looked as if she had been poured into her clothes and had forgotten to say ‘when.’

The fascination of shooting as a sport depends almost wholly on whether you are at the right or wrong end of the gun.

Every author really wants to have letters printed in the papers. Unable to make the grade, he drops down a rung of the ladder and writes novels.

It was my Uncle George who discovered that alcohol was a food well in advance of modern medical thought.

And she’s got brains enough for two, which is the exact quantity the girl who marries you will need.

At the age of eleven or thereabouts women acquire a poise and an ability to handle difficult situations which a man, if he is lucky, manages to achieve somewhere in the later seventies.

 

October 2, 1872: A Foggy Day in London Town

At exactly 8:45 pm on October 2, 1872, a rich British gentleman started out on a lengthy journey accompanied by his French valet, the purpose of the trip being to win a wager he had made with members of his club. To win, he would have to complete his journey before 8:45 pm on December 21.  The gentleman’s name was of course Phileas Fogg and his amazing journey is recounted in Jules Verne’s most popular novel Around the World in 80 Days.

Jules Verne was a French author known for several extraordinary journeys including 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and Five Weeks in a Balloon. He is the second most-translated author in the world (following Agatha Christie).

Fogg begins his journey by train from London to Brindisi in southern Italy on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. Here he boards the steamer Mongolia and crosses the Mediterranean Sea to Suez, Egypt. Fogg has correctly calculated this leg of the journey at 7 days. Today the same journey would take just about as long.

The Almanac will check in on Fogg again after his arrival in Suez.

 

Open Says Me

It’s the time of year when gardening cooks are busily canning the fruits of their summer-long labors. The idea of canning foods for preservation is certainly not new; the Dutch were preserving fresh salmon in tin cans back in the 1700s. While its not used by home canners, the tin can has been the main method of food preservation for a couple hundred years now.

By the early 1800s, tin cans were in wide use throughout Europe and the United can1States. Trouble was they weren’t that easy to get into. “Cut round the top near the outer edge with a chisel and hammer.” read the instructions on one such can.  Or smash with large boulder, perhaps.

It wasn’t until the 1850s that can openers began to appear, various tools that pierced the can and sawed it open. One interesting device that appeared in 1866 was a tin can with its own opening device attached. Patented by J. Osterhoudt on October 2, it was a can with a slotted key attached. By inserting a tab on the can into the slot and continuously turning the key, the can would peel open. This ingenious and frequently frustrating can and key combo is still in use today, primarily for sardine and Spam-like products.

 

How He Got in My Pajamas I’ll Never Know

Groucho (Julius Henry) Marx was born on October 2, 1890. During his seven-decade career, he was known as a master of quick wit and rapid-fire, impromptu patter, frequently filled with innuendo.  He made 26 movies, 13 of them with his brothers Chico and Harpo, and many with Margaret Dumont as a stuffy dowager and the butt of Groucho’s jokes. The films included such comedy classics as The Cocoanuts, Animal Crackers, Monkey Business, Horse Feathers, Duck Soup, A Day at the Races, and A Night at the Opera. He also had a successful solo career, most notably as the host of the radio and television game show You Bet Your Life.

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September 13, 1916: A Tale of Two Chocolate Factories

When Roald Dahl’s mother offered to pay his tuition to Cambridge University, Dahl said: “No thank you. I want to go straight from school to work for a company that will send me to wonderful faraway places like Africa or China.” Anwonkad Dahl born on September 13, 1916, did go to faraway places — Newfoundland, Tanzania, Nairobi, and Alexandria, Egypt, where as a fighter pilot a plane crash left him with serious injuries.  Following a recovery that included a hip replacement and two spinal surgeries, Dahl was transferred to Washington, D.C., where he met author C.S. Forrester, who encouraged him to start writing. His becoming a writer was a “pure fluke,” he said. “Without being asked to, I doubt if I’d ever have thought to do it.”

Dahl wrote his first story for children, The Gremlins, in 1942, for Walt Disney, coining the word. He didn’t return to children’s stories until the 1960s, winning critical and commercial success with James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Other popular books include Fantastic Mr. Fox (1970), The Witches (1983) and Matilda (1988).

Despite his books’ popularity, some critics and parents have have taken him to task for their portrayal of children’s harsh revenge on adult wrongdoers. In his defense, Dahl claimed that children have a cruder sense of humor than adults, and that he was simply trying to satisfy his readers.  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was filmed twice, once under its original title and once as Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

Dahl died in 1990 and was buried with his snooker cues, an excellent burgundy, chocolates, pencils and a power saw. Today, children continue to leave toys and flowers by his grave.

September 13, 1857

hersheyAnother really big name in chocolate was born on September 13, 1857. After a few years dabbling in caramel, Milton Snavely Hershey became excited by the potential of milk chocolate, which at that time was a luxury. Hershey was determined to develop a formula for milk chocolate and that he could sell to the mass market. He produced his first Hershey Bar in 1900, Hershey’s Kisses in 1907, and the Hershey’s Bar with almonds was in 1908. Willie Wonka created a chocolate factory; Milton Hershey created a chocolate empire with its own town, Hershey, Pennsylvania.

 

Researchers have discovered that chocolate produces some of the same reactions in the brain as marijuana. The researchers also discovered other similarities between the two but can’t remember what they are. ~ Matt Lauer