Monday, November 17, 2014

They've Put Us in The Smithsonian!

Being put in the Smithsonian Institution is perhaps the the most prestigious destination possible for any material object.  The flag that is the star-spangled banner is in the Smithsonian.  The Hope Diamond is in the Smithsonian.  The ruby slippers Judy Garland wore in "The Wizard of Oz" is in the Smithsonian.

Now I can proudly say that I, too, am in The Smithsonian.

In particular, Smithsonian magazine is running a special issue on ``The 100 Most Significant Americans of All Time", with their rankings powered by our book Who's Bigger.  It was an interesting exercise to come up with these rankings, because it is a challenge to define exactly who is an American.   Did they have to be born here?   Live most of their life here?   Die here?  Become a citizen?

The editor of this special issue (Tom Frail) broke our rankings into ten different subdomains, and provided a nice capsule biography and often-surprising picture for each of the chosen people (was Ronald Reagan really ever that young?).   It is a fun read and easy entree to the Who's Bigger universe.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Avery Fisher and his Hall

Today's news has an interesting story about how the family of businessman / donor Avery Fisher reached a settlement with the management of Lincoln Center to take his name off of the New York Philharmonic's Avery Fisher Hall to free it up for a new, presumably much larger donor.

This story resonates with me for two reasons.   First, attaching your name to an important building is an excellent way to retain historical significance.   Our rankings puts Avery Fisher at 199,082, meaning he ranks among the top quarter of Wikipedia figures.   The company where he made his money (Fisher Radio) has long since been absorbed, and his name is no longer that of an active brand.  Giving up his name on the building will condemn his fame to decline with time consistently with other mortals.

Avery Fisher in important to me because my father Morris Skiena worked for him as a radio repairman early on, at a time when Fisher had only three employees.  Indeed in this 1946 Fortune Magazine article about Fisher, my father is the guy at the bench with his back to you on the lower left of page 161.

My father knew the future was television, not radio.  So, by employing the business sense that Skienas are famous for, Dad left the company before Fisher hit it big to become a television repairman.  I get reminded of this story every time I pass Avery Fisher Hall.   I still call other city landmarks by their old, honest names: the PanAm Building, the Triborough Bridge, and the RCA building in Rockefeller Center, so I suspect it will always be Avery Fisher Hall to be regardless of which swell ultimately coughs up the dough to choose its name.