Monday, July 25, 2016

Roger Babson and the Wisdom of Dogtown, Redux

If you are interested in hiking Dogtown, see here.
Gloucester, Massachusetts, is a beautiful fishing and summer community located on Cape Ann, adjacent to the town of Rockport.

Nested away from the shoreline between the two towns is an ancient neighborhood of about 3,600 acres once called the Common Settlement, but known today as Dogtown. At the time of the American Revolution, the Common Settlement was one of the town’s most prosperous areas, home to about 100 families. 

After the War of 1812, however, farmers seeking less rocky soil and residents desiring homes along now-peaceful beaches began to depart from the area.  The neighborhood gave way to the poor and outcast, faithfully captured in Anita Diamant’s The Last Days of Dogtown.  By 1830 the once prosperous area was abandoned, leaving behind old cellar holes and packs of feral, howling dogs.

Babson was an entrepreneur, investor,
naturalist, and historian.
During the Great Depression, Roger Babson (1875-1967), founder of Babson College, commissioned unemployed Finnish stone-cutters to carve inspirational inscriptions on some two dozen boulders spread throughout Dogtown. Babson's family, which owned the land, was entirely underwhelmed by the project.  In 1935 he wrote:
Another thing I have been doing, which I hope will be carried on after my death, is the carving of mottoes on the boulders at Dogtown, Gloucester, Massachusetts. My family says that I am defacing the boulders and disgracing the family with these inscriptions, but the work gives me a lot of satisfaction, fresh air, exercise and sunshine. I am really trying to write a simple book with words carved in stone instead of printed paper.
Today, Dogtown is dense woodland crisscrossed by hiking trails.  Dogtown Road is still the main thoroughfare and features the remains of cellar holes.  

And, like tweets left by a retreating glacier, Babson’s wisdom remains.  Some of the inscriptions are universal.  Some are quaint.  Some may have been tongue-in-cheek.  But for the stonecutters who needed the work, they must have been a godsend.  And for those who hike the area (as I did a few weekends ago), seeking out these boulders is like an Easter egg hunt.

These three inscriptions will give you the general drift, as well as an idea of Babson's sense of humor:

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Entrepreneurs and the Mythical Big Dream (Weathermakers 2016)

Today is the 114th anniversary of modern air conditioning, courtesy of Willis Carrier.  It was on this day in 1902 that Carrier signed a set of design drawings that would become the world’s first modern air-conditioning system, installed at the Sackett-Wilhelm printing plant in Brooklyn. 

This year also happens to be a milestone of sorts because it's the first anniversary on which no American alive today was alive then; the country's oldest supercentenarian, Adele Dunlap, was born on December 12, 1902, a few months after Carrier's design was installed.  The gentle passage from current event to history is complete.

Over the course of Adele Dunlap's life, the global HVAC market has grown to more than $90 billion annually.  It’s responsible for untold productivity--including keeping the Cloud up and running so you can read this blog post.  It’s also made millions of people more comfortable and happier—including me as I write this post on a 92F New England day. 

In Weathermakers to the World we trace this remarkable story, the full trajectory of modern air conditioning from Brooklyn to the Vatican, the Sun Belt to Singapore.

But Who’s Your Daddy?

Willis Carrier is called the Father of Air Conditioning, in part, because of this famous 1902 design.  But he really earned his claim to fatherhood in 1911 when he gave to the entire industry a decade of intellectual capital in the form of his Rational Psychrometric Formulae, and a series of foundational equipment designs.  Carrier and his engineering teams had come so far, so fast--and saw so much opportunity they couldn’t possibly address--that by 1911, if they really wanted to lead an “industry,” they had to invent an industry by putting some competitors in business. 

That’s one way to build a $90 billion legacy.