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. Kate Kelly

August 2016
American Snapshots, August 2016

As the summer of 2016 concludes, America Comes Alive completes its 6th year of celebrating the Dog Days of Summer. With the turn of the calendar page, we’ll be picking up with election day history and a good number of other fun and interesting subjects.

As always, thank you for joining me.

Inventor of Sunscreen

As we enjoy the final days of August, it seems fitting to tip our hats to the first American to develop sunscreen.

CoppertoneDuring the 1930s and 1940s, a couple of European chemists were developing methods to protect skin from sun and wind, but our first American inventor to work on the challenge was pharmacist Benjamin Green.  World War II was getting underway, and soldiers in the South Pacific were suffering from sunburns. His goal was to develop a product to protect their skin. He tested the product by using it in the Florida sun on his own bald head.  His first product was known as Red Pet Vet, because it was a red-colored jelly-like substance for veterans.

The early sunscreens were all barrier creams. To work, they needed to be thick and pastry, and people found them to be uncomfortable. A new answer was still needed.

While the other chemists also made progress in the field, it was Green who hit it big.  He continued to experiment with his formula until he created a product that he sold to Coppertone. While Coppertone advertised the product as a way to get a better tan, the cream also contained ingredients that helped to protect against burns.  It was the first mass-produced consumer sunscreen product. By the mid-1950s the product was very well known for its marketing featuring the iconic little girl and the dog who reveals her tan line.

Humphrey Bogart, Dog Lover

When we think of Humphrey Bogart today, we think of him for his many impressive film roles. We might also remember that he fell in love and eventually married one his leading ladies, Lauren Bacall.

The aspect of his life that doesn’t live on as prominently, however, is

Bogart and Bacall and dogs
Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

the fact that he was a dog lover. Lauren Bacall was as well. She preferred cocker spaniels, and Bogart owned several different breeds of dogs over his lifetime, but most were some form of terrier.

The dog that came to live with the two of them, however, was a one-week-old boxer that was born on the farm in Ohio where Bogart and Bacall were married. They named the dog Harvey, after the invisible rabbit in Mary Chase’s 1944 play of that name. After that, they acquired several more boxers, and they were very much a part of their lives.


The Presidential Vacation

All presidents share a deep need to put their feet up for a few days during the year. The Obamas tend to go to Martha’s Vineyard, the Bush family retreated to Kennebunkport, and the Kennedys could be found on Cape Cod.

If we go back to the 1950s, we find that President Eisenhower also tried to get away when he could. His August vacation in 1955 was to be a fishing trip to Colorado.

In direct parallel with President Obama having to leave his vacation to go to Louisiana to assess the flood damage, Ike, too, was called away from Colorado for an emergency visit to six states that had suffered massive flooding. He was toured through some of the damage in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.Colorado Snow Capped Peak

A few days after Ike returned to his fishing, the newspapers were filled with a new theme… “Should the president even have a vacation given the state of the country?”

Some things never change.

All in all, I think we’re all better off if we take some time off each year. Why should the president (or this year, the candidates) be any different?

Fast Facts about Labor Day

The first Labor Day celebrated was on Tuesday, September 5, 1882,

in New York City.

Labor Day started as a part of the labor union movement, to recognize the contributions of men and women in the U.S. workforce. Today it is largely seen as a chance to celebrate the last weekend of summer.

During the 19th century, the unions had many important causes to campaign for including the length of the workday. Most Americans worked 12-hour days seven days a week at that time.


Shorter work hours were finally established on September 8, 1916, when the Adamson Act was passed by Congress and established an eight-hour work day.