Jumbo versus Jackass

Article excerpt

Byline: Compiled by Charles Legge

QUESTION What are the origins of the symbols for the U.S. political parties, the elephant and the donkey? THESE images originated mainly from the work of German-born political cartoonist Thomas Nast (1840-1902). He created the modern images of Uncle Sam and Father Christmas, who was depicted as a tall, thin man until Nast produced the now familiar fat, bearded fellow.

Nast's family emigrated to New York in 1846. Having studied in the National Academy of Design, Nast's work began appearing in Harper's Weekly from 1862 and he became one of the most influential political cartoonists in U.S. history. The Democrats' donkey pre-dates Nast, originating in the 1828 presidential campaign, during which Andrew Jackson was labelled a 'jackass' for his populist views. Jackson seized the label and began using the stubborn beast on his campaign posters.

After Jackson, the donkey symbol was largely forgotten but in 1870 Nast published a cartoon featuring the donkey kicking a dead lion. The donkey was branded 'Copperhead Press' and the lion was Edwin M. Stanton, Abraham Lincoln's recently departed secretaryof-war. Nast, a staunch Republican, despised the Copperhead Democrats who had opposed the Civil War.

Nast continued to use the donkey motif. In 1874, he produced a cartoon in defence of Republican President Ulysses S. Grant, who was thought to be seeking a third term in office which was deemed dictatorial.

In the cartoon, titled The Third-Term Panic, he illustrated the Democratic New York Herald as a donkey dressed in a lion's skin. The donkey, labelled 'Caesarism', was scaring other animals into a pit labelled 'inflation' and 'chaos'.

The Third Term row also gave rise to the elephant symbol. One of the frightened animals in the Caesarism cartoon was an elephant bearing the title of 'Republican Vote', reflecting Nast's view of that party as a confused behemoth.

Nast's first cartoon using the elephant specifically to represent the Republican Party was published in March 1877. On the heels of the controversial presidential election, he depicted a bruised and battered elephant crouched at a Democratic Party tombstone. The ailing elephant indicated Nast's belief that Republican Rutherford B. Hayes's victory, despite losing the popular vote, was a damaging one.

Popular recognition and acceptance of these images quickly overrode the parties' own wishes and Democrats and Republicans came to accept that the symbols had stuck, whether they liked it or not.

Making the best of a bad job, the Republicans chose to promote the elephant as a symbol of strength and intelligence while Democrats transformed the 'jackass' into a clever and courageous donkey.

Celia Hanley, Leighton Buzzard, Beds.

QUESTION Who invented the touch screen? DURING World War II, the Telecommunications Research Establishment (TRE) moved to Malvern College in Great Malvern to continue its work on developing range and direction-finding technology using radio frequency electromagnetic energy.

The most famous result was the invention by Robert Watson-Watt and his team of radar as a defence system enabling the RAF and its allies to detect incoming German aircraft. Great Malvern became synonymous with advanced research and development in electronics, telecommunications and military systems and one of its innovations was the touch screen.

In 1965, E.A. Johnson, working at Malvern, published in his article Touch Display (Electronics Letters, October 1965, Volume 1, Issue 8, p.219-220): 'A novel input/output device for computer systems has wires, sensitive to the touch of a finger, on the face of a cathode-ray tube on which information can be written by the computer. This device, the "touch display", provides a very efficient coupling between man and machine.' The intended use for his concept was in air-traffic control. In a 1968 article, The Role Of Touch Display In Air Traffic Control, Johnson proposed a system under which a controller could touch pictures on a screen to navigate between menus showing details of each aircraft in the area. …