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5 Hard-Earned Lessons from Pandemics of the Past

August 10, 2020 in History

By Jessica Pearce Rotondi

How do populations survive a pandemic? History offers some strategies.

Humankind is resilient. While global pandemics like the ” is derived from the Italian quarantino, meaning “40-day period.”

READ MORE: Social Distancing and Quarantine Were Used to Fight the Black Death

2. Socially Distant Food and Drink Pickup

COVID-19 was not the first pandemic to strike Italy. During the Italian Plague (1629-1631), the wealthy citizens of Tuscany devised an ingenious way to sell off the contents of their wine cellars without entering the presumably infected streets: Wine windows, or buchette del vino.

These narrow windows were cut into grand homes to allow wine sellers to pass their wares to waiting customers, much like the to-go cocktail windows that popped up cities like New York during the COVID-19 pandemic. Seventeenth-century wine sellers even used vinegar as a disinfectant when accepting payment. There are over 150 wine windows in the city of Florence, and 400 years after the plague, they were revived amid COVID-19 to serve customers everything from wine and coffee to gelato.

3. Mask-Wearing

Boys wear bags of camphor around their necks around the time of the 1918-19 Spanish flu—an “old-wives’ method of flue-prevention,” according to a December 1946 issue of Life magazine.

View the 9 images of this gallery on the original article

Doctors treating patients during the Black Death wore plague masks with long, bird-like beaks. They had the right idea—the long beaks created social distance between patient and doctor and at least partially covered their mouth and nose—but the wrong science. Doctors at the time believed in Miasma theory, which held that diseases spread through bad smells in the air. The beaks were often packed with strongly scented herbs believed to ward off illness.

During the 1918 influenza pandemic, masks became the go-to means of stopping the spread of infection to the public. Masks became mandatory in San Francisco in September of 1918, and those who didn’t comply faced fines, imprisonment and the threat of having their names printed in newspapers as “mask slackers.”

But newspapers weren’t just for shaming; they also printed instructions on how to make masks at home. People even got creative with masks, with the Seattle Daily Times running an article entitled “Influenza Veils Set New Fashion” in October of 1918.

READ MORE: ‘Mask Slackers’: The 1918 Campaigns to Shame People Into Following New Rules

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How Ben Franklin Established the US Post Office

August 10, 2020 in History

By Patrick J. Kiger

Franklin traveled widely to select postal routes, find the best clerks and create a system of communication for horse-riders who carried the mail.

During the . That year he was appointed postmaster of Philadelphia, after British authorities removed his predecessor for failing to submit financial reports. As Devin Leonard notes in his book Neither Snow Nor Rain: A History of the United States Postal Service, being a local postmaster didn’t pay mucha 10 percent commission on customers’ postage—but it came with a big fringe benefit. Franklin had franking privileges, which enabled him to mail his newspaper to readers at no cost. That helped Franklin build a big circulation and turn the Pennsylvania Gazette into one of the colonies’ most successful publications.

In a similar way that modern politicians and celebrities rely on Twitter, Franklin used the mail for self-promotion. As Leonard notes, Franklin’s ability to send his own letters without paying postage—he instead simply inscribed them with “Free.B.Franklin”—enabled him to correspond with other intellectuals in Europe. That helped to publicize Franklin’s achievements, “thereby helping to make Franklin into one of the world’s most admired Americans,” as Leonard writes. Stanford University historian Caroline Winterer, who has studied the 20,000 letters left behind by Franklin, describes him as “a man with a dynamic social network” comparable to our interconnected world today.

READ MORE: How Presidents Have Communicated With the Public—From Telegraph to Twitter

Britain Appoints Franklin as Postmaster of 13 Colonies

Franklin, a meticulous record-keeper, was so skillful at running postal operations in Philadelphia that in 1753, the British Crown appointed him as joint postmaster for all 13 colonies. Though he nominally shared authority with William Hunter, a Virginia-based printer, Hunter pretty much let Franklin call the shots, according to Leonard’s book. Franklin held that post for more than two decades, during which he orchestrated huge improvements in mail service, including establishing a regular schedule that allowed mail to move efficiently along post roads up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

Franklin “traveled widely to inspect postal routes, find the most reliable postal clerks to serve as his associates in the different towns and cities, and create a system of communication that would work well for riders of the post,” Mulford explains.

“Franklin had foresight. He was a good systems analyst,” Mulford says. “He was agreeable to work with, when others were agreeable. And he was an excellent trouble-shooter, …read more