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By Marge Knoth, Author, Activity Professional
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Marge Knoth attended Purdue
University and took her activity
director training at Indiana
University and her social
service at Ball State. She is
the author of ten books for
activity professionals. Her
books have been used as
teaching guides in colleges,
trade schools, and in activity
director courses throughout the
U.S. and Canada. They have
won both national and state
awards from the National
Federation of Press Women
and Women’s Press Club of
Marge has written a monthly
column, "A Letter from Marge"
for Current Activities in Long
Term Care. She has been
published in Family Circle,
Lady’s Circle, Women’s Circle,
Indianapolis Woman, Christian
Science Monitor, Event,
various Christian and craft
publications, and other
magazines and newspapers.
She wrote a weekly newspaper
column called “Do You
Remember?”, and wrote and
recorded a long-running series
of nostalgic radio
commercials. Also, she is a
motivational speaker having
traveled the United States and
Canada speaking at many state
and province activity
Trivia, Television, and Inventions
by Marge Knoth
Okay! I understand. It is one of those days. You’re just not up to something big on the
agenda, but you have to come up with something fast. Well, you can relax. I have
planned your activity for you. Most everyone loves trivia, and even more, reminiscing.
Today we will use a little of both. We are going to check out some interesting trivia, find
the source of some common inventions, and review some old television shows and
Some of this trivia can be found in two books--two books that no activity director should
be without. First, the People’s Almanac by David Wallechinsky and Irving Wallace. This
threeinch thick volume of seemingly unlimited material can be located in most libraries.
In it there is trivia you may never find elsewhere. There is information on sports, odd
and unusual things, and some amazing happenings. There’s even a factual story about
a man who survived being in the belly of a whale. You will also find fascinating data
about the universe, love and sexuality, the media, disaster and violence, war and
battles, human behavior, the family, science and technology–well, there are more facts
and stories than you could ever use in your activity program, even if you worked at it for
years. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Even if you find an old one at a
garage sale like I did, it is packed full of fascinating and useful information. The People’
s Almanac is published by Doubleday.
And the other terrific book is the Book of Lists by the same authors but also including
Amy Wallace. It presents “lists” of extensive subjects. Some sample lists included are:
30 good places to live, 13 presidents who won with less than 50% of the vote, 4007
objects orbiting the earth, seven remarkable messages in bottles, 10 languages of the
world with the most speakers, the 25 all-time box-office champion films, five most
beautiful women of all times, noted people who never married–the list goes on and on.
They involve sports, mysteries of life, sex, literary, movies and television, war and other
disasters, communication, America and much more. As I said, these books are
invaluable. Check with your local book store or find them on line. A used copy is fine.
The Book of Lists is published by Bantam. Let’s take a quick peek inside and view a
sample of what you might find.
Tempt restless residents to stay a little longer at activities, or entertain your residents
while they are waiting for lunch to be served by giving them some interesting facts from
the People’s Almanac.
* You and at least nine million others share the same birthday.
* Every 20 minutes New Yorkers drink 2 million cups of coffee.
* The Coca Cola formula has long been a secret. As of 1975, only seven men had ever
known it, and in that year only two were alive who knew it. Consequently they took great
pains to avoid dying at the same time. They refused to ride on the same airplane
* At one time there was a “Society for the Prevention of People Being Buried Alive.” Its
members patented several gadgets to promote their club: an electric bell so if the
buried “dead” woke up, they could ring it and signal those above ground. Another less
desirable was a coffin fitted with nails of poison gas. When these were hammered in,
the gas capsules punctured and the dead person had nothing more to worry about.
* Guards who allow prisoners to escape from one Mexican a jail must serve the
remainder of the prisoner’s sentence.
* If you subtract 40 from the number of times a cricket chirps in a minute, divide that
number by four, add 50 to it, you know what the Fahrenheit temperature is.
You have all heard the old saying, “You are no older than you feel. You might say we
have an inside age and an outside age. Ask residents how old they feel inside. Ask if
they are as old as their outward bodies. Share about some of the following “young at
heart” people who did not quit just because the calendar said they were past their
* Amelia Barr was 53 when she wrote her first book. She went on to write 80 more
* George Burns won an academy award at age 80 and lived to be 100.
* Michelangelo designed St. Peter’s Cupola at 83 and remained active unto 89.
* Grandma Moses was in her late 70s when she started painting and painted till age
* Winston Churchill at 82 wrote A History of the English-Speaking Peoples.
* Ben Franklin, at 83, affected the compromise that led to the adoption of the U.S.
* Pablo Picasso was still making engravings and drawings at 90.
“Curiosity killed the cat,” as the old saying goes, “and satisfaction brought him back.”
Have you ever been curious about where or how common household items originated–
things like the safety pin, book matches, and toothpaste? Or have you ever wondered
where hot-air balloons and submarines came from? If so, your residents probably have
too. Wallechinsky and Wallace, and others provide the answers.
Matches: Phosphorous matches may have been invented as early as 1805 but
Francois Derosne of Paris is usually credited with making the first friction match about
Before that, a sulfur match was folded inside sandpaper and quickly pulled out to ignite
it. Those early matches were dangerous things. The Promethean match, developed by
Samuel Jones in 1828, was a glass bead containing acid and coated with an ignitable
substance. This was then wrapped in paper. The bead was usually broken by
someone’s teeth which set the paper on fire. In 1892, Joshua Pusey dreamed up the
idea of putting matches in a tiny book. The idea did not catch on immediately, but when
a brewery ordered 10 million of them to use for advertising purposes, they were here to
stay. Today, in addition to advertising, some pass book matches out at weddings with
the couple’s names printed on them.
A tube of toothpaste, something we take for granted, was unknown until 1892 when a
Connecticut dentist, Dr. Washington Sheffield, felt it unhealthy for a family to dip their
toothbrushes in the same pot of dental cream. He designed a flexible tube and filled it
with Cream Dentifrice. It was immediately successful.
Toothbrush origins originated with the Babylonians as early as 3500 B.C. They chewed
sticks of wood. Later chewing sticks were refined. One end would be chewed well to
make a sort of brush with the wood fibers. The other end would be sharpened to clean
between the teeth. The first bristled brush began in China around1600.
How often do residents ask for a safety pin? Why not get out the biggest safety pin you
can find and show it to a group of residents while you tell them the history of this
humble invention. It all started with an outstanding debt of $15 owed by a New York
Quaker, Walter Hunt. Looking for a way to pay it off, he turned to his trade, inventing. He
thought about what the public might need and decided upon a closure that would hold
two pieces of fabric together, without one getting stuck. Three hours of sketching at his
drawing board produced a suitable “safe pin”. Hunt bent an 8-inch piece of brass wire
and combined a spring and clasp that would be forced by its own spring. His “safe” pin
eventually became known as a safety pin. Hunt got a patent for the safety pin but sold it
outright for a mere $400. His debt was paid with $385 left over. He never got another
cent, yet but he watched the purchaser of his patent go on to be a million-dollar earner--
from his idea. The year was 1825.
Hot-Air Balloon: Wallechinsky and Wallace, and others, share another funny story about
the origin of the hot-air balloon. Like many other inventions, it was discovered by
accident. Jacques E. and Joseph Montgolfier were sitting in their yard one day in 1783
in Annonay, France. They became intrigued as they watched the petticoat of Jacques’
wife blowing on the line over a fire she had built to help it dry. Watching carefully, they
observed that the heat from the fire caused the petticoat to inflate and rise. (This
became the principle behind their hot air balloon.) The Montgolfiers’ first hot-air balloon
was unmanned and traveled a mile and a half. Their next attempt carried a sheep, a
rooster, and a duck. Then three Frenchmen flew 23 minutes over Paris. Napoleon
used tethered balloons for observation purposes.
The parachute was invented by Andre Jacques Gamerin in 1797. The first descent was
from 2230 feet over Paris. The earliest jump from an airplane was by Captain A. Berry in
St. Louis Missouri.
Surprisingly, the first navigable submarine was invented in 1620. Several people are
considered instrumental in building the submarine, but a Dutch inventor, Cornelis J.
Drebbel, gets the credit. He completely covered a rowboat with leather. Then he
recruited 12 oarsmen to paddle it underwater with oars poked through flexible leather
closures. Drebbel found a way to produce oxygen from saltpeter which was perhaps the
first gas. This boat could remain submerged for up to 15 hours.
U-boats, little submarines, were the terror of the sea in World War I and II. Around 1914-
1918 this frail and vulnerable submarine could travel only 12 knots on the surface and
10 knots submerged. The fact that the Germans were attacking neutral ships with the U-
Boat was one reason the United States entered the war. These U-Boats sank 430
Allied and neutral ships that were carrying more than 852,000 tons of cargo. World War
II saw slightly improved U-Boats.
Germany built 1,162 of them, but 785 were lost. The boats were very unsafe. Some 80
percent of the German submarine sailors lost their lives.
Television was a luxury your residents did not grow up with, but they probably learned to
love those early shows. Ask the ladies if they remember these long-running soap
* Search for Tomorrow, beginning in1951, daily portrayed the dramatic life of Joanne
Barron Vincente and her family who lived in the fictional town of Henderson.
* Love of Life showed the life and happenings of Vanessa and Bruce Sterling, and their
family and friends.
* The Secret Storm originated in 1954. The Ames family were the stars who lived in the
supposed town of Woodbridge.
* The Edge of Night began in 1956 and was staged in the town of Monticello.
* The Guiding Light began in 1952 and as residents will most likely remember starred
Bert Bauer and her family. This is one of the longest running shows ever. My mother
who was born in 1917 used to listen to it on the radio. Her great-great-grandchildren
were also able to watch it on television.
* As the World Turns was set in the town of Oakdale, beginning in 1956. It featured the
Hughes and the Lowell family. It, too, has been very long running.
Early television programs
Residents will most likely remember the Today Show with Dave Garoway and later
Hugh Downs. The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson started in 1962. Jack Paar
hosted an earlier late night show. Meet the Press had its beginning in 1947 offering
interviews with politicians and social figures. Ted Mack’ s Amateur Hour began in 1949
and gave talented hopefuls a chance to display their particular talents. Many rich and
famous people got their start here. The Ed Sullivan Show was on when our family got
our first television in 1950. My sister was laid up with rheumatic fever and my father won
$1000 in a drawing at Alcoa Aluminum where he worked. He bought the television so
my sister would have something to do while recuperating.
We got to experience these and the following shows first-hand. The Ed Sullivan Show,
which began in 1948, also launched many to fame, including Elvis Presley.
One 1950s show was Flash Gordon. It was science-fiction, depicting way out into the
future, to the 1980s. There I first saw the concept of walking up to a door and having it
open before you, something that was unbelievable back then. Other popular shows in
early television were: I Love Lucy, What’ My Line, the Red Skeleton Show, the Lawrence
Welk Show, Art Linklater’s
House Party, Arthur Godfrey, the Jackie Gleason Show, the Jack Benny Show, Amos
and Andy, Oral Roberts, Dinah Shore, American Bandstand, Many Loves of Dobie, Make
Room for Daddy, and Lassie. My mother loved watching Liberace as he played the
Others shows were Dragnet, Sgt. Preston of the Yukon, Cisco Kid, Have Gun Will
Travel, Sugar Foot, Wyatt Earp, The Rifleman, The Rebel, Death Valley Days, Flica (a
horse), Man from Uncle, People are Funny, Peyton Place, Rin Tin Tin, Sky King, and
Some 1960s and 70s shows that residents may recall are the $64,000 Question,
Hazel, the Carol Burnett Show, Wagon Train, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, The Walton’s,
Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in, Marcus Welby, M.D., Dr. Ben Casey, All in the Family,
Gomer Pyle, Sanford and Son, the Beverly Hillbillies, the Fugitive, and Moving On
featuring two over-the-road truckers, Will and Sunny, and their escapades along the way.
Televison in the 1950s was black and white with different shades of gray. In 1947 RCA
produced a seven-inch TV and sold 170,000 of them. By 1949 one-million sets had
By the 1950s, there were about 10-million sets in the U.S. In 1962, there were a million
color sets in U.S. Still, probably most people, still had black and white TV. The first T.V.
my husband and I purchased in 1963 was black and white. We used it until the early
The television programming that I grew up with is not like today’s, where most anything
goes. I remember when twin beds on shows were required for married couples. The
Book of Lists gives us these “Outrageous moments of United States television
* Young Elvis, while a guest on Ed Sullivan’s show, was photographed from the waist
up only. CBS censored the showing of his gyrating hips, fearing viewers would be
* In I dream of Jeannie (1955-70), Barbara Eden was not permitted to show her navel.
* In 1975, NBC deleted the words “stretch marks” because they were not appropriate for
the family hour.
* One night Dick Cavett took over for Johnny Carson who had the flu. Dick describes
Johnny’s illness as “Portnoy’s Complaint.” It was censored, as well as the word
When one begins to explore the wide world of trivia, there is no good stopping place;
you just have to quit. So I’ll wind this up quickly and let you discover more for yourselves.
As activity professionals you have more responsibilities than there are hours in the
work day. And as we said before, some days you do not have enough energy left for a
big, involved activity. Those are the days to pull out this column, People’s Almanac, and
the Book of Lists. Not only will your residents love this activity, you, too, will have a great
God bless you all.
People’s Almanac credits this particular list of trivia to Sanders, Girling, Davies, and
Sanders published in Great Britain under the title “W ould You Believe?” Useless
information you can’t afford to be without.”