Margarine is yellow, like butter, but it hasn’t always been. At times and in places, it has been a bland white, or even a dull pink. These strange variations were a byproduct of 150-year war to destroy margarine, and everything that it stands for. During this epic fight for survival, margarine has had to reinvent itself, over and over again.
I Can’t Believe It’s Pink Margarine
Rioters carried many familiar flags during the January 6th insurrection at the United States Capitol — Confederate, MAGA, as well as some custom-made ones like a flag of Trump looking like Rambo. Except for onlookers who were already familiar with the design, it would have been easy to overlook one particular bright yellow flag with three red horizontal stripes across the center. This was the flag of South Vietnam.
There were actually several confounding international flags present at the Capitol riot that day: the Canadian, Indian, South Korean flags, all were spotted somewhere in the mayhem. But what was peculiar about the Vietnamese flag being there was that it’s not technically the flag of Vietnam but the Republic of Vietnam, a country that no longer exists. And what this flag stands for (or should stand for) remains a really contentious issue for the Vietnamese American community.
The Sears & Roebuck Mail Order Catalog was nearly omnipresent in early 20th century American life. By 1908, one fifth of Americans were subscribers. Anyone anywhere in the country could order a copy for free, look through it, and then have anything their heart desired delivered directly to their doorstep. At its peak, the Sears catalog offered over 100,000 items on 1,400 pages. It weighed four pounds. Today, those 1,400 pages provide us with a snapshot of American life in the first decade of the 20th century, from sheep-shearing machines and cream separators to telephones and china cabinets. The Sears catalog tells the tale of a world — itemized. And starting in 1908, the company that offered America everything began offering what just might be its most audacious product line ever: houses.
Buy The 99% Invisible City!
When it comes to English spelling and pronunciation, there is plenty of rhyme and very little reason. But what is the reason for that? Why among all European languages is English so uniquely chaotic today?
To help us answer that question, we spoke with linguist and longtime friend of the show, Arika Okrent, author of the new book Highly Irregular: Why Tough, Through, and Dough Don’t Rhyme and Other Oddities of the English Language. In it, Arika explores the origins of those phonetic paradoxes, and it turns out some of the reasons for confusion are as counterintuitive as the words themselves.
Corpse, Corps, Horse and Worse
Presidential libraries are tributes to greatness, “[a] self-congratulatory, almost fictional account of someone’s achievements, where all the blemishes are hidden,” explains one New York architect. But they’re also a “weird mix of a historical repository of records and things that have a lot of meaning.” Studying their origins and evolution, one can begin to see how presidential libraries have always involved tensions and contradictions.
The premise of using the extreme example of Trump to heighten the contradictions of executive branch norms is what we do on Roman’s other podcast What Trump Can Teach Us About Con Law. It’s good! And it’s not really about Trump, so don’t worry. It’s essentially a current events based Constitutional Law class taught by an incredible professor, Elizabeth Joh. We included the latest episode here for you to check out.
The great Jacob Goldstein, author of Money: The True Story of a Made Up Thing, stops by to tell us two stories about the design of paper currency around the world. First, the story of the making of the Euro banknotes, the design of which was supposed to unify Europe and not rely on any one country’s national heroes or monuments. Then we learn about China’s early pioneering experiments in paper currency, hundreds of years before it caught on in the rest of the world.
Real Fake Bridges
Axolotls are nature’s great regenerators. They are able to grow back not just their tails, but also legs, arms, even parts of vital organs, including their hearts. This remarkable ability is one of several traits that turned the axolotl into a scientific superstar. The axolotl is one of the most abundant laboratory animals in biology. They can be found swimming in tanks at universities all around the world. But in the wild they’ve only ever been found in one place: Mexico City.
In 2015 the world was divided into two warring factions overnight. And at the center of this schism was a single photograph. Cecilia Bleasdale took a picture of a dress that she planned to wear to her daughter’s wedding and that photo went beyond viral. Some saw it as blue with black trim; others as white with gold trim. For his part, Wired science writer Adam Rogers knew there was more to the story — a reason different people looking at the same object could come to such radically divergent conclusions about something as simple as color.
Rogers recently wrote a book titled Full Spectrum: How the Science of Color Made Us Modern. In this episode, Roman Mars talks with the author about how the pursuit to organize, understand, and create colors has been one of the driving forces shaping human history, starting with the story of this hotly debated piece of apparel from 2015 then winding back through built environments of global World’s Fairs.
Design is everywhere in our lives, perhaps most importantly in the places where we’ve just stopped noticing. 99% Invisible is a weekly exploration of the process and power of design and architecture. From award winning producer Roman Mars. Learn more at 99percentinvisible.org.
Podcast hosts use Anatomy to get constructive comments on their show from other podcasters.