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JACK PARSONS (1914 – 1952) Rocket Scientist & Occultist

In American History, Biography, California History, Millionaires, Occult, People, Rocket Science, Trivia, Uncategorized on May 10, 2010 at 9:39 PM

Jack Parsons

 

Marvel Whiteside Parsons did not like the name he was given, but it did describe his life: it was quite a marvel.  He changed his first name to be more common, but nothing about him was conventional. 

Parsons was born into a wealthy family living on “Millionaire’s Mile” in Pasadena, California.  After graduating from a small, private high school, he shunned the upper class society of his parents. His mother divorced his father after finding out about an affair, and she turned Parsons against his dad.  

When he was 14 years old, Parsons started experimenting with fuel that could be used to propel rockets. He didn’t graduate from college but opted to work for Hercules Powder and then Halifax Explosives which was in the Mojave Desert. Professionally he went by the name “John.”   

Helen Northrup, a local girl, was the one thing that could distract Parsons from his scientific endeavors, and they married in 1935.  In his personal life, Parsons preferred to be called “Jack.”  Eventually that was the name that stuck. 

Parsons and his best friend Edward S. Forman got their kicks from experimenting with potential rocket motors in the Devil’s Gate Dam area of the Arroyo Seco in Pasadena.  They made connections at the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory, California Institute of Technology (GALCIT), and in 1937 they exploited those friendships to get lab space at Caltech for their experiments.  As it turns out, scientists using explosive materials don’t make good neighbors.  After an explosion that damaged some of their equipment, they became known on campus as The Suicide Squad.  After the second explosion, they were sent back to the Arroyo.  Their outdoor laboratory is where Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) was founded, and the current campus is virtually on the same spot.  

Since Parsons and his colleague from Caltech, Frank Malina, lived so close to Hollywood, they channeled their experiences into a screenplay.  Their story was about some guys trying to develop rockets in California, and they didn’t try very hard to disguise the similarities between themselves and the characters.  At the end of the screenplay, Parsons’ character meets an untimely death by accidentally blowing himself up while trying to stop an experiment. Nothing came of this venture, however. 

In 1939, Parsons was introduced to the works of Aleister Crowley, an occultist writer, practitioner of black magic and founder of the religion of Thelema. Crowley’s writings resonated with Parsons, and he joined the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO), an international secret society led by Crowley.  Parsons joined the OTO’s local group called the Agape Lodge, which was based in Pasadena and led by Wilfred Smith.  Parsons assumed yet another name, “Frater 210,” but he only used it in the context of his occult practices.     

Parsons pursued both his scientific and spiritual interests with equal zeal.  In 1942 he, Forman, Malina and Theodore von Karman founded Aerojet Corporation whose first product was the Jet Assist Take Off (JATO) rocket motors.  Their immediate application was to give extra boosting power for military planes during World War II. 

With the money he was getting from Aerojet, Parsons could support his spiritual activities. He got a huge house on South Orange Grove Blvd. in Pasadena and relocated the Agape Lodge to the downstairs.  He and Helen lived in the largest room upstairs and turned it into a temple. The other rooms were used by Smith and many unconventional renters.  

Again, the neighbors didn’t appreciate Parsons’ activities. There was once a rumor that a naked lady was jumping through fire in the back yard, but whenever the police came to investigate such allegations, Parsons intercepted them at the door. His good looks, charming personality, sense of humor and claims of being a respected scientist at Caltech convinced them there was nothing to be concerned about.  

Drugs and illicit sex were routine.  With so many people living in such close quarters, it didn’t take long for Smith and Helen to have an affair and a son.  Parsons divorced Helen and immediately took up with her younger sister, Sara Elizabeth Northrup, known as Betty.   He convinced Betty, 11 years his junior, to drop out of USC and live with him, but they never got married.  They followed the OTO belief that jealousy was an emotion not felt by enlightened people, and even though they were committed to each other, they each had many lovers. 

In 1944, GALCIT became the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Parsons is credited with being one of the founders.  After World War II, Aerojet was bought out by General Tire.  Parsons didn’t see much of a future in rocket fuel without a war, and money wasn’t a big priority for him, so he sold his stock.  For two years he worked for Vulcan Powder Company in Pasadena. 

About that time a man named L. Ron Hubbard came on the scene.  He received a medical discharge from the Navy after having been at the Pasadena Area Station Hospital.  Hubbard and Parsons met through a common interest in science fiction and became friends.  Hubbard was looking for a place to land and moved into the house despite having a wife and two kids in Washington State.  It didn’t take Hubbard long to integrate himself into the life and practices of the group, including poaching Parsons’ girlfriend, Betty.  Parsons found it very difficult to keep his jealous feelings at bay, but that didn’t seem to jeopardize his friendship with Hubbard.  

Parsons engaged in an 11-day, multi-stage, ceremonial ritual called Babalon Working to manifest the “Scarlet Woman,” fulfilling a prophecy of Aleister Crowley.  Hubbard joined Parsons in the rituals primarily acting as the scribe and recording his visions.  When a red haired woman named Elizabeth Cameron showed up at the house one day, Parsons was convinced he had successfully conjured her. 

Parsons needed income, so he and Hubbard and Betty started a new business venture called Allied Enterprises.  They were planning to buy sail boats on the East Coast and bring them to California for resale.  Hubbard contributed about $1,100 to the company against Parsons nearly $21,000.  In April 1946, Hubbard and Betty left town with the majority of Allied’s money and were found living on a boat in Miami with no intention of returning to California.  Parsons high tailed it to Florida and discovered that Hubbard had actually bought three boats.  Parsons sued Hubbard who was ordered to give Parsons two of the boats and repay the money he absconded with, which he never did.  

This was a turning point for both men.  Hubbard married Betty, although he hadn’t divorced his first wife, and when Parsons returned to California, he married Cameron.  Parsons was ready for something different spiritually, too. He separated from OTO and sold the house. 

Parsons found work at North American Aviation Company and later Hughes Aircraft. While at Hughes Aircraft, Parsons was working with Israel to design and build a plant to develop explosives and armaments.  He used his clearance to take home confidential documents.  He claimed they were old ones he was using to add to his resume, but the FBI started investigating him for spying.  This got him fired from Hughes. 

He and Cameron left Pasadena for a while but returned to live in the carriage house on the Orange Grove property he once owned.  Parsons worked as a consultant for the movies and at a gas station, and he continued to experiment with explosives at home.  

On June 17, 1952 there was an explosion which the neighbors a mile away heard.  Parsons’ arm was blown off, and he died shortly after arriving at the hospital.  He died the same way his character in the screenplay did, foreshadowed almost 15 years earlier. He was only 37 years old. His mother lived nearby, and they had always maintained a very close relationship.  She was distraught about the death of her son, and she immediately overdosed on sleeping pills and died in her chair. 

Parsons legacy included many patents for liquid and solid fuel for rockets.  A specimen of one of his solid fuel motors is on display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.  In 1972 he was honored by having a crater on the moon name after him.  It seems appropriate that the crater is on the dark side. 

QUESTION:   What role does religion play in your life? 

©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved 

Sources: 

Canter, John, Sex and Rockets, The Occult World of Jack Parsons.  Los Angeles: Feral House, 1999. 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Whiteside_Parsons 

http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/bb/babalon004.htm 

http://reason.com/archives/2005/05/01/the-magical-father-of-american 

http://www.aerojet.com/about/history.php

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JOSEPHINE COCHRANE (1839-1913) Invented the Dishwasher

In American History, Biography, Entrepreneurs, Feminists, Inventions, Millionaires, People, Trivia, Victorian Women, women on April 20, 2010 at 9:03 AM

Josephine Cochrane

Josephine Cochrane believed that if you want something done right you better do it yourself.  But when it came time to doing the dishes, she really didn’t want to, so she invented a machine to wash them for her.

Cochrane’s early childhood is not known.  After her mother died and her sister moved out, she lived with her father, John Garis, in Ohio and Indiana.   He worked as a supervisor in mills and as a hydraulic engineer, perhaps instilling in Cochrane an instinctive knack for the mechanical.  She attended a private high school, but when it burned down, Garis sent his daughter off to live with her sister in Shelbyville, Illinois. 

After high school graduation, Cochrane’s life took a traditional turn.  At age 19 she married 27 year old William Cochran.  In 1857, after a disappointing four years trying to strike it rich in the California Gold Rush, he returned home to Shelbyville and made his mark and fortune in the dry goods business along with other investment opportunities.  No doubt the comfortable life he could offer his bride was one thing she was attracted to. 

In spite of her young age and the societal norm at the time, Cochrane was guided by her independent nature and personal confidence.  She assumed her husband’s name but preferred spelling it with an “e” on the end, a point of contention with his family. 

The Cochrans had a busy social life, and in 1870 when they moved into what could be considered a mansion, they had the perfect house for entertaining.  They threw dinner parties using heirloom china allegedly dating from the 1600s.  After one event, the servants did the washing up and carelessly chipped some of the dishes.  Cochrane discovered this the next morning while she was putting the dishes away.  She was furious and refused to let the servants handled the china any more. 

She may have regretted her decision, but she didn’t give in.  The morning after every subsequent dinner party she begrudgingly endured dishpan hands wondering why someone hadn’t invented a machine that could clean dirty dishes.  This was, after all, the late 19th century, and if someone could invent a machine to sew clothes and cut grass, then how hard could it be? 1 

One such morning while she was up to her elbows in soap suds, she had an epiphany.  Why not invent a dish washing machine herself?  Consumed with the idea, she immediately went into the library to think it through, forgetting she was holding a cup in her hand.  Within half an hour Cochrane had the basic concept for the first mechanical dishwasher.  Just like she had been doing by hand, it held the dishes securely (in a rack) while the pressure of spraying water cleaned them off.

William Cochran was a rising star in the Democratic Party, but too much alcohol led to a violent temper and illness.  While Cochrane was busy with the details of her invention, William went away for a rest. Unfortunately, he didn’t get well, and he died two weeks later in 1883.  

While the Cochrans appeared to be successful socialites to their friends, all was not well at home.  Her husband left Cochrane with a mound of debt and only $1,535.59.  Now, developing the dishwasher was not only for convenience, it was for survival.

Her creation had wire compartments for plates, cups and saucers.  They were put inside a wheel that lay flat inside a copper boiler.  A motor turned the wheel pumping hot soapy water from the bottom of the boiler over the dishes.  Cochrane showed her design to a few men for their input which ended up being a frustrating experience.  “I couldn’t get men to do the things I wanted in my way until they had tried and failed in their own,” she said.  “And that was costly for me. They knew I knew nothing, academically, about mechanics, and they insisted on having their own way with my invention until they convinced themselves my way was the better, no matter how I had arrived at it.” 2   Finally she got help with the construction from mechanic George Butters and received her first patent on the Garis-Cochran Dish-Washing Machine December 28, 1886. 

Cochrane’s first customers were not the housewives she thought she was helping. They didn’t want to spend the money on something they didn’t really need, so she turned to hotels.  After selling a dishwashing machine to the Palmer House hotel in Chicago, she had one recommendation.  Then she did one of the hardest things she’d ever done: she made a cold call to the Sherman House hotel in Chicago, waiting in the ladies’ parlor to speak with the manager.  “You asked me what was the hardest part of getting into business,” she once told a reporter. “…I think, crossing the great lobby of the Sherman House alone. You cannot imagine what it was like in those days … for a woman to cross a hotel lobby alone. I had never been anywhere without my husband or father —the lobby seemed a mile wide. I thought I should faint at every step, but I didn’t—and I got an $800 order as my reward.”2

In 1893 Cochrane convinced restaurants at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago to use her invention, and it was an exhibit in Machinery Hall.  That success led to her opening her own factory in an abandoned schoolhouse.  Her customers extended to hospitals and colleges for whom the sanitizing effects of the hot water rinse were important.  Homemakers finally started using it, too.

In 1912, at 73 years old, Cochran was still personally selling her machines.  She died in 1913.  In 1916, her company was bought out by Hobart which became KitchenAid and is now Whirlpool Corporation.  Cochrane is considered the founder.

 QUESTION:  Which modern convenience do you think it would be impossible to live without?

                       ©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

 Sources:

 1 http://www.enchantedlearning.com/inventors/1800a.shtml

 2http://www.americanheritage.com/articles/magazine/it/1999/2/1999_2_54.shtml

  http://www.invent.org/hall_of_fame/256.html

MADAME C.J. WALKER (1867-1919) First Self-Made American Woman Millionaire

In African-American women, American History, Biography, Entrepreneurs, Feminists, Guiness Book of Records, Hair, History, Millionaires, People, Uncategorized, women on March 22, 2010 at 8:12 PM

Madame C .J. Walker

Madame C. J. Walker turned a bad hair day into a fortune and a Guinness World Record.  She followed her dream, literally, turning her life into a true “rags to riches” story. 

Sarah Breedlove was the fifth of six children born to former slaves in Louisiana. Both of her parents died when she was seven years old, but being an orphan wasn’t a life sentence to poverty.   She moved in with her older sister and brother-in-law and survived by working in the cotton fields of Louisiana and Mississippi.  This turned out to be a bad situation, so at age 14 she married Moses McWilliams to escape her brother-in-law’s abuse.  

Four years after her marriage, Breedlove had a baby girl.  Two years later her husband died and she was again forced to find her own way.  She moved to St. Louis where her four brothers had become successful barbers.  She earned $1.50 a day working as a washer woman and eventually saved enough money to send her daughter to school.  

Breedlove’s own education was spotty.  When she reached school age, there were no funds allocated by the white legislators in Louisiana to educate black children.  Then she was pressed into working full time to contribute to the household of her sister and brother-in-law.  In St. Louis, she managed to improve her reading and writing with the help of the women at the St. Paul AME church.  These women also became her social network and eventually an inspiration for growing her business. 

Loss and abandonment followed Breedlove to St. Louis.  All her brothers died and she married and divorced John Davis.  In addition, an ailment that caused her to lose almost all her hair plagued her. She desperately tried various homemade remedies and store bought products.  One potion she used was created by Anne Malone, and in 1905 Breedlove moved to Denver as a sales rep for Malone.  

Life took a turn for the better in Denver.  Not one to depend on another, Breedlove wanted to develop her own hair products.  The formula for a solution to her problem was revealed to her in a dream.  “…One night I had a dream…a black man appeared to me and told me what to mix up in my hair. Some of the remedy was grown in Africa, but I sent for it, mixed it, put it on my scalp, and in a few weeks my hair was coming in faster than it had ever fallen out. I tried it on my friends; it helped them. I made up my mind to begin to sell it.”1 She worked with a pharmacist to develop her own line that rivaled Malone’s. 

Her love life was looking up, too.  She married newspaperman Charles Joseph Walker.  Breedlove changed her name to Madam C.J. Walker, and it proved to have the sophisticated sound that instilled confidence in shoppers.  Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower scalp conditioner was her ticket to success. As for her marriage, unfortunately the third time was not a charm, and they divorced after six years.  

Madam Walker remembered the relationships she developed with the women at the church in St. Louis.  She saw a large potential market in such fellowships and gave product demonstrations at churches and lodges. She also implemented a door to door, grass roots selling strategy that led to hiring individual sales agents. Walker acknowledged that her level of education was insufficient to run a profitable business, so she hired a former teacher to tutor her privately.  

The Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company was founded with five original products.  Expansion was inevitable, and for a year and a half she moved to Pittsburgh and opened the Lelia College of Beauty Culture, named after her daughter.  In 1910 Walker moved her entire operation to Indianapolis where she built a factory, training school, and hair and nail salon.  

Walker’s success was three-fold.  First, she accrued an enormous personal wealth.  Second, she provided economic opportunity for black women which gave them an alternative to domestic labor. Her sales agents could potentially earn between $5 and $15 dollars a day when unskilled white laborers were only earning about $11 a week.2 The sales force was organized into local and state clubs with opportunities for management on every level, a model that is used in many companies today.  In 1917 the Madam C. J. Walker Hair Culturists Union of America was big enough to hold a convention in Philadelphia.  

Third, Walker believed that with wealth comes responsibility, and she became a role model for using her riches to support political and philanthropic causes.  She gave generously to African-American organizations and instilled this virtue in her sales force.  At the 1917 convention, Walker gave out awards to her agents not just for their business achievements but also for their political activism.  

The headquarters for the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company remained in Indianapolis, but in 1916 Walker and her daughter moved to Irvington-on-Hudson, New York, and Walker supervised the business from there.  Their new home was a 30-room mansion designed for them by black architect Vertner Tandy, and Walker spared no expense on the furnishings.  The estate was named Villa Lewaro after the first two letters of her daughter’s name: Lelia Walker Robinson, and is in the National Register of Historical Places. 

During the last year of Walker’s life, total sales of her company exceeded $500,000 and she had trained some 40,000 sales agents serving customers the U.S., Central America and the Caribbean.3 Her legacy includes The Guinness Book record as the first self-made American woman millionaire, and in 1998 the U.S. Postal Service put her image on a stamp. 

QUESTION:  What would you do if someone gave you one million dollars today? 

                                 © 2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved 

Sources: 

1http://www.brilliantdreams.com/product/famous-dreams.htm 

2Henry Louis Gates Jr., “Madam’s Crusade”, Time magazine, December 7, 1998, Canadian edition. 

3http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/5662.html 

http://madamcjwalker.com/bio_madam_cj_walker.aspx 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madam_C._J._Walker 

http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/5662.html 

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/theymadeamerica/whomade/walker_hi.html 

http://www.brilliantdreams.com/product/famous-dreams.htm 

http://www.irvingtonhistoricalsociety.org/nrhp/nrhp04.html