Welcome to America Comes Alive!, a site I created to share little-known stories of America’s past. These stories are about Americans—people just like you—who have made a difference and changed the course of history. Look around the site and find what inspires you.

The Tradition of the White House Tree Lighting Ceremony

tree lighting ceremony
A recent White House ceremony

Today we think of the ceremonial lighting of the White House Christmas tree as a long-time tradition, but it actually only dates to 1923. Individual first families undoubtedly had Christmas trees, but there was no public or official sharing of the holiday until Calvin Coolidge was in office.  (The story of the start of this tradition is delightfully documented in Seasons Greetings from the White House, a book by Mary Evans Seeley.)

White House Tree Lighting Ceremony

The idea for a public celebration actually came from a woman who was acting director of Community Center of the Public School System in DC.  Lucretia Walker Hardy wrote to the president’s secretary about how nice it would be if a Christmas tree were erected on the White House grounds to share with the American people.  Continue reading

Lincoln's patent
To read this patent application today is to be transported to a time before the name, Abraham Lincoln, carried such import—before he was the President who led our country through a war that literally could have torn the country in two. The application begins: “Be it known that… Continue reading »

portrait Taft 1
President William Howard Taft (1857-1930), who served as president from 1909-1913, was a big man.  At about 6 feet tall, his weight fluctuated from 255 to over 350 pounds, and he was constantly fighting to keep the pounds off. Taft’s career of choice was in the judiciary,… Continue reading »

turkey pardon
While we think of the pardoning of the Thanksgiving turkey as a long-standing tradition, it has actually been a relatively short and an erratic one. Acquiring the official turkey, however, follows a much longer and… Continue reading »

Jay-Silverheels
Jay Silverheels (1912-1980) is best-remembered for his role as Tonto in The Lone Ranger, an ABC television program that ran for 221 episodes (1949-1957). Silverheels was a full-blooded Mohawk Indian born on the Six Nations Indian Reservation in Ontario, Canada. His birth name was Harold Smith, and he was… Continue reading »

Kilroy was here
The words, “Kilroy was here,” alongside a drawing of a long-nosed, bald fellow peering over a fence still pop up occasionally on walls and buildings today.  But the original legend of Kilroy dates to World War II and a man named James J. Kilroy (1902-1962), who… Continue reading »

cigar store Indian
In the 19th century many people could not read, so store owners placed carvings of various symbols in front of their shops so passersby knew what was sold inside. A carving of a wooden Indian indicated a tobacco store; a red, white and blue striped pole… Continue reading »

Mary Lincoln
Mary Lincoln’s shopping habits and most other aspects of her life made news once Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) won the presidential election of 1860. Though Lincoln would not take office until March of 1861, Mary Todd Lincoln (1818-1882) found herself under constant scrutiny for where she went, what she… Continue reading »

cute baby in diaper
Inventions are the ultimate result of successful problem-solving. But how on earth did people come up with the first ideas for luxuries (and now necessities) as disposable diapers, the dishwasher, the cell phone, and blue jeans? Recently I have been asked to speak on this topic to… Continue reading »

Hispanic leader
America Comes Alive has profiled several Latino leaders during the past few weeks as part of Hispanic Heritage Month. Today I would like to point out a few of the impressive people we’ve highlighted: Adelina Otero-Warren (1881-1965) was active in the suffrage movement in New Mexico. She became… Continue reading »

Rosenwald Schools
The Rosenwald Schools  were built in the early 20th century as a solution to the scarcity of schools for African-Americans in the rural South at that time.  The school-building program was the idea of educator Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) who approached Julius Rosenwald, (1862-1932), the president of… Continue reading »

Ellen Ochoa
Ellen Ochoa (1958-   ) is a veteran astronaut who was chosen for four space flights and has almost one thousand flight hours to her credit.  She was the first Latina to be chosen as an astronaut, and she is now director… Continue reading »

Carlos Finlay
The cause of yellow fever was identified by Dr. Carlos Finlay (1833-1915), a Cuban physician who was instrumental in reducing the incidence of yellow fever in tropical climates throughout the world. In the United States, this was important in the southern states where the weather was often… Continue reading »

Pedro-Guerrero
Art school dropout who became Frank Lloyd Wright’s exclusive photographer Pedro Guerrero was born in Casa Grande, Arizona on September 5, 1917. His family had been in Arizona for several generations before the territory achieved statehood. His great-grandfather had settled in a little town known as Florence in… Continue reading »

oterowarren_350
One of first female government officials in New Mexico First New Mexican woman and the first Latina to run for national office Suffragist Born into a well-to-do family that traced its heritage to eleventh-century Spain, Adelina “Nina” Maria Isabel Emilia Otero was born in 1881 in Las Lunas, New Mexico. Otero-Warren was… Continue reading »

MARY
We often read stories of families traveling west by wagon train. However, recently I was introduced to a reminiscence of a woman’s childhood journey to California from Ohio via the Isthmus of Panama.  The family opted for the route that took the least time, traveling from Ohio to… Continue reading »

George Washington
George Washington’s teeth were bad, and he lost many of them while still young. This fact about our first president is generally well-known as much has been written about his dentures. The story of his teeth reveals a great deal about the state of dentistry during his lifetime,… Continue reading »

polygraph
The lie detector—or polygraph machine–was first created by John Augustus Larson (1892-1965), a part-time employee of the Berkley Police Department who was earning his Ph.D. in physiology at the University of California at Berkeley. In studying interrogations taking place in the police department, Larson came up with the concept… Continue reading »



Part of the inspiration for this site comes from a remark made by Nobel Peace Prize winner Jane Addams (1860-1935):

"People do not want to hear about simple things. They want to hear about great things—simply told."

This Day in History

On December 22, 1956, a gorilla was born in captivity for the first time ever.  The place was the Columbus Zoo in Ohio, and Colo, as she was named by the zoo staff, weighed approximately 4 pounds.  She is a western lowland gorilla whose parents were brought from French Cameroon, Africa in 1951.  Colo was raised by zookeepers in a nursery as her mother rejected her. Since that time, zoos have been able to create better environments so that mother gorillas can raise their young. Colo is still alive today and is now a great-grandmother.

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