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A few ‘answers’ to start your day

Robert McGowan

Robert McGowan

By Robert McGowan
Columnist

Several weeks ago this column carried the title “Some Totally Useless Information.” Perhaps you agreed. And, today, you might say to yourself — “Well, McGowan has done it again.”

Whereas the first column’s information was taken from a book titled “The Book of Useless Information,” today’s has a more positive title. The information has been taken from a book titled “The Book of Answers,” information from the New York Public Library. The book was written by Barbara Berliner and published by Simon and Schuster in 1992.

There are 27 chapters of different categories of interest in the book. I thought that it would be fun, for this column, to meander through the chapters. OK?

Incidentally, “The Book of Answers” is the product of 6.2 million questions asked of the New York Public Library Telephone Reference Service over its more than two decades of existence. Every 10 seconds, eight or nine hours a day,w six days a week, callers across the globe pose questions on every subject from art to zoology.

The book contains 26 chapters of different subjects.

Here goes. I’ll meander a bit through the 26 chapters of a variety of subjects:

How many American casualties in the American Revolution? Unofficial studies indicate that about 4,500 men died in battle and over 6000 were wounded — not counting death by illness.

How many Americans fought for the British in the American Revolution? Approximately 50,000 American Indians — mainly in Canada, on the frontier, and in the South — also fought for Britain.

Did a cow really start the great Chicago fire of 8 October 1871? A reporter, Michael Ahern, admitted he created the legend in order to make a better story.

How much has the U.S. national debt increased over the nation’s history? In 1800, the national debt was $83 million. In 1988, it was $2.6 trillion.

What are the three most popular natural attractions in the U.S.? The Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, and Niagara Falls.

Which U.S. state has the highest per-capita personal income? The lowest? (1987).

  • Highest: Connecticut, $20, 980 in 1987.
  • Lowest: Mississippi, $10,204.
  • Average personal income in U.S. was $15,340.

What was the first minimum wage? When first instituted in 1938, it was 25 cents per hour. (On a personal note: In 1938 I worked on Saturdays at the U-Tote-Em grocery store in Jackson, Tenn., from 7 a.m. to 9 or 10 p.m. for $2, and a penny for each dollar was taken out for Social Security.) I was a rich dude with $1.98 to last me all week.

It cost 25 cents to go to the movies, and popcorn was a nickel.

Why is America not named after Columbus? Columbus did not realize he had discovered a new continent, but Amerigo Vespucci, who explored the New World between 1497 and 1504, did. German mapmaker Martine Waldseemuller first applied the name to the new continent on a map published in 1507.

After World War I, how large was the British Empire? After WWI, the British Empire covered over 14 million square miles and dominated 450 million people. It encompassed a quarter of the world’s population and land surface.

Which was insured for the most money — Fred Astaire’s feet, Betty Grable’s legs or Jimmy Durante’s nose? Astair’s feet, insured for $650,000, were at the top of the list. Grable’s legs were insured for only $250,000, and Durante’s nose for $140,000.

No more space. But there is much more in the pages of this little book. I realize you can “Google” for the information. But I thought that we could have a bit of fun looking through a bit of a book of answers.


Robert McGowan is a Bartlett resident and former professor of biology at The University of Memphis. Contact him at (901) 828-6039 or ellen1324@gmail.com.

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