Born on this day

Henry J. Heinz – born 11th October

 11 October 1844

Born on 11 October 1844 – Henry J. Heinz, the brainz behind the beanz at Heinz. Born in Pennsylviania USA, at the age of 25 Heinz started a company making bottled horseradish. After this venture failed, he started again but this time focused on less spicy condiments – including tomato ketchup, or ‘catsup’ as it was known then. The famous ’57 varieties’ slogan demonstrates Henry’s understanding of showmanship, despite his conservative religiousness – in fact the company had well over 60 lines by this point, it’s just that 57 combined his and his wife’s lucky numbers, and it sounded good.

For most of their success in late 19th century USA, Heinz were possibly best known for their pickles. Meanwhile in 1886, Heinz Baked Beans were first sold at the Fortnum & Mason department store in London – and went on to be such a staple of British food that the WWII Ministry of Food classified Heinz Baked Beans as an “essential food” in the rationing system.

In the USA, baked beans are nowhere near so big an institution despite being their point of origin – possibly because Britain has a tradition – totally baffling to Americans – of the “on-toast meal”. As the 20th century progressed, Heinz tomato ketchup became more and more popular. (However in recent times sales have plunged, with strong 21st century competition from mayonnaise.)

Heinz died in 1919, and his legacy is continued in the family line, with Christopher Heinz a current heir.

PS Heinz’s father hailed from Kallstadt in Bavaria, and his mother was called Charlotte Louisa Trump. Yes, he was a second cousin (twice removed) of Donald Trump.

Born on this day

Allen Lane – born 21st September

21st September 1908

Born on this day, 21st September 1908 – Allen Lane, co-founder of Penguin Books and populariser of the paperback book.

After working for his uncle’s publishing house Bodley Head for a number of years, the legend goes that Lane was returning from a visit to Agatha Christie and waiting at Exeter station where, frustrated by the lack of books on sale (or perhaps just realising a market opportunity), he hit upon the idea of cheap paperback books ‘the price of a pack of cigarettes’ and just as easy to get hold of. We now have to imagine a world dominated by expensive hardbacks with no good-quality writing available in paperback form. Lane’s Penguin Books (plus his often-overlooked co-founding brothers) created the world we live in, where paperback editions of high-quality literature are the norm rather than the exception.

Lane was also behind the distinctive and clever design of the early Penguin books, that both stood out on the shelves and helped readers see at a glance whether something was – for example – general fiction (orange), or crime fiction (green).

He was a risk-taker. In 1936 while at Bodley Head, Lane was behind the controversial decision to publish Ulysses by James Joyce. Another supposedly ‘obscene’ work, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, was published in full by Penguin in 1960 – they were charged under the Obscene Publications Act as a result.

And when Lane launched Penguin, many people thought that the venture would fail due to the cheap units not generating enough profit – instead Penguin sold three million paperbacks in its first year.

He also gave his secretary Eunice Frost a large amount of editorial responsibility, and she would eventually become a director of the company.

In later years he fought off an attempt to oust him, but soon retired, and then died shortly afterwards of bowel cancer aged 67.

Born on this day

Penny Singleton – born 9th September

September 15th 1908

Born September 15th 1908: Penny Singleton – actor and activist who risked her life as an anti-gangster union official.

Singleton was best known to 1940s movie-goers from a hugely popular series of 28 (!) ‘Blondie’ films, as the titular Blondie Bumstead. Then, in the 60s, she became the voice of Jane Jetson in the animated Hanna-Barbera tv show ‘The Jetsons’. However, Singleton’s talents and bravery went far beyond performance.

Irked the limits of her Blondie stereotyping, she created the concept of ‘residuals’ – aka repeat fees – transforming the working lives of actors forever after. Yet her work for actors’ rights even further than that – she risked her life for them.

In the 1960s she stood to be elected as vice president of the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA), standing up to the organised crime gang who ran the New York division. In those days it was “a garbage union” according to performer Jack Carter – “it was on the take.” AGVA was in the pocket of the mob – men who “if you crossed them you’d wind up with your feet in cement”.

Penny Singleton directly attacked the union’s mob connections in her campaign. “Penny Singleton is Racket-Free! […] Penny Singleton has no ‘STRINGS’ attached to her and therefore isn’t afraid to speak the truth!”.

She won, somehow avoiding recriminations from the mob, and went on to lead successful actions, including the first-ever strike against Disneyland.

Born on this day

Daniel Inouye – born 7th September

7 September 1924

Born on this day, 7 September 1924: Daniel Inouye, a war hero with an incredible story – also the first Japanese American to serve in Congress, the second Asian American senator ever, third in the presidential line of succession from 2010 until his death, and (until the inauguration of Kamala Harris as vice president) the highest-ranking Asian-American politician in U.S. history. 

Inouye was born in Hawaii, and served as a medical volunteer during the attack on Pearl Harbor. In 1943, he was training to be a doctor when the US Army dropped their ban on enlisting Japanese Americans. So Inouye joined up, and was soon promoted to second lieutenant.

While serving in Italy, a shot near his heart bounced harmlessly off two silver dollars in his pocket. And yet, this wasn’t the most miraculous thing to happen to him during his military service.

Leading an assault on three German positions towards the end of the war, Inouye was shot in the stomach. He carried on anyway, to destroy both the first and second positions. As his squad moved on the third gunner, Inouye prepared to throw his last hand grenade. A rifle grenade-wielding German soldier spotted this – and simply shot right his arm off.

Inouye’s hand grenade “clenched in a fist that suddenly didn’t belong to me anymore” dropped at his feet. Due to nerve trauma, the lifeless hand still squeezed the grenade and stopped it going off, sparing his life. Inouye then prised the live grenade out with his remaining hand, threw it as originally intended – and destroyed the German position the second before they had a chance to finish him off.

With one arm and a stomach injury, Inouye still continued to fight, killing at least one more German soldier before suffering a yet another wound – in his leg, this time – and finally passing out.

Due to the loss of his arm he gave up ambitions to become a surgeon after the war and went into Democratic Party politics instead. President Lyndon B. Johnson wanted Inouye to be a Vice Presidential candidate in 1968, but Presidential nominee Hubert Humphrey ignored this advice, and lost the election. 

Inouye died on December 17, 2012 and was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama. There are too many other awards and achievements to list here – read his obituary here.