Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Amelia Earhart: The First Woman to Fly Across the Atlantic Alone, from VOA.

MARY TILLOTSON: This is Mary Tillotson.

STEVE EMBER: And this is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program EXPLORATIONS. Today, we tell about Amelia Earhart. She was one of America’s first female pilots.


MARY TILLOTSON: Amelia Earhart was born in eighteen ninety-seven in the middle western state of Kansas. She was not a child of her times. Most American girls at the beginning of the twentieth century were taught to sit quietly and speak softly. They were not permitted to play ball or climb trees. Those activities were considered fun for boys. They were considered wrong for girls.

Amelia and her younger sister Muriel were lucky. Their parents believed all children needed physical activity to grow healthy and strong. So Amelia and Muriel were very active girls. They rode horses. They played baseball and basketball. They went fishing with their father. Other parents would not let their daughters play with Amelia and Muriel.

STEVE EMBER: The Earharts lived in a number of places in America’s Middle West when the girls were growing up. The family was living in Chicago, Illinois when Amelia completed high school in nineteen sixteen.

Amelia then prepared to enter a university. During a holiday, she visited her sister in Toronto, Canada. World War One had begun by then. And Amelia was shocked by the number of wounded soldiers sent home from the fighting in France. She decided she would be more useful as a nurse than as a student. So she joined the Red Cross.

MARY TILLOTSON: Amelia Earhart first became interested in flying while living in Toronto. She talked with many pilots who were treated at the soldiers’ hospital. She also spent time watching planes at a nearby military airfield. Flying seemed exciting. But the machinery – the plane itself – was exciting, too.

After World War One ended, Amelia spent a year recovering from the disease pneumonia. She read poetry and went on long walks. She learned to play the banjo. And she went to school to learn about engines.

When she was healthy again, she entered Columbia University in New York City. She studied medicine. After a year she went to California to visit her parents. During that trip, she took her first ride in an airplane. And when the plane landed, Amelia Earhart had a new goal in life. She would learn to fly.


STEVE EMBER: One of the world’s first female pilots, Neta Snook, taught Amelia to fly. It did not take long for Amelia to make her first flight by herself. She received her official pilot’s license in nineteen twenty. Then she wanted a plane of her own. She earned most of the money to buy it by working for a telephone company. Her first plane had two sets of wings, a bi-plane.

On June seventeenth, nineteen twenty-eight, the plane left the eastern province of Newfoundland, Canada. The pilot and engine expert were men. The passenger was Amelia Earhart. The planed landed in Wales twenty hours and forty minutes later. For the first time, a woman had crossed the Atlantic Ocean by air.

MARY TILLOTSON: Amelia did not feel very important, because she had not flown the plane. Yet the public did not care. People on both sides of the Atlantic were excited by the tall brave girl with short hair and gray eyes. They organized parties and parades in her honor. Suddenly, she was famous.

Amelia Earhart had become the first lady of the air. She wrote a book about the flight. She made speeches about flying. And she continued to fly by herself across the United States and back.

STEVE EMBER: Flying was a new and exciting activity in the early nineteen twenties. Pilots tested and demonstrated their skills in air shows. Amelia soon began taking part in these shows. She crashed one time in a field of cabbage plants. The accident did not stop her from flying. But she said it did decrease her desire to eat cabbages.

Flying was fun, but costly. Amelia could not continue. She sold her bi-plane, bought a car and left California. She moved across the country to the city of Boston, Massachusetts. She taught English to immigrants and then became a social worker.

MARY TILLOTSON: In the last years of the nineteen twenties, hundreds of record flights were made. A few were made by women. But no woman had flown across the Atlantic Ocean.

A wealthy American woman, Amy Guest, bought a plane to do this. However, her family opposed the idea. So she looked for another woman to take her place. Friends proposed Amelia Earhart.

STEVE EMBER: American publisher George Putnam had helped organize the Atlantic Ocean flight that made Amelia famous. Afterwards, he continued to support her flying activities. In nineteen thirty-one, George and Amelia were married. He helped provide financial support for her record flights.

On May twentieth, nineteen thirty-two, Amelia took off from Newfoundland. She headed east in a small red and gold plane. Amelia had problems with ice on the wings, fog from the ocean and instruments that failed. At one point, her plane dropped suddenly nine hundred meters. She regained control. And after fifteen hours she landed in Ireland.

She had become the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean alone.


MARY TILLOTSON: In the next few years, Amelia Earhart set more records and received more honors. She was the first to fly from Hawaii to California, alone. She was the first to fly from Mexico City to New York City, without stopping.

Amelia hoped her flights would prove that flying was safe for everyone. She hoped women would have jobs at every level of the industry when flying became a common form of transportation.

STEVE EMBER: In nineteen thirty-five, the president of Purdue University in Indiana asked Amelia to do some work there. He wanted her to be an adviser on aircraft design and navigation. He also wanted her to be a special advisor to female students.

Purdue University provided Amelia with a new all-metal, two-engine plane. It had so many instruments she called it the “Flying Laboratory.” It was the best airplane in the world at that time.

Amelia decided to use this plane to fly around the world. She wanted to go around the equator. It was a distance of forty-three thousand kilometers. No one had attempted to fly that way before.

MARY TILLOTSON: Amelia’s trip was planned carefully. The goal was not to set a speed record. The goal was to gather information. Crew members would study the effects of height and temperature on themselves and the plane. They would gather small amounts of air from the upper atmosphere. And they would examine the condition of airfields throughout the world.

Amelia knew the trip would be dangerous. A few days before she left, she gave a small American flag to her friend Jacqueline Cochran, another female pilot. Amelia had carried the flag on all her major flights. Jacqueline did not want to take it until Amelia returned from her flight around the world. “No,” Amelia told her, “you had better take it now.”


STEVE EMBER: Amelia and three male crew members were to make the flight. However, a minor accident and weather conditions forced a change in plans. So on June first, nineteen thirty-seven, a silver Lockheed Electra plane left Miami, Florida. It carried pilot Amelia Earhart and just one male crew member, navigator Fred Noonan.

Amelia and Fred headed south toward the equator. They stopped in Puerto Rico, Surinam and Brazil. They crossed the Atlantic Ocean to Africa, where they stopped in Senegal, Chad, Sudan and Ethiopia. Then they continued on to India, Burma, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and Australia.

MARY TILLOTSON: When they reached New Guinea, they were about to begin the most difficult part of the trip. They would fly four thousand kilometers to tiny Howland Island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Three hours after leaving New Guinea, Amelia sent back a radio message. She said she was on a direct path to Howland Island. Later, Amelia’s radio signals were received by a United States Coast Guard ship near the island. The messages began to warn of trouble. Fuel was getting low. They could not find Howland Island. They could not see any land at all.

STEVE EMBER: The radio signals got weaker and weaker. A message on the morning of July second was incomplete. Then there was silence.

American Navy ships and planes searched the area for fifteen days. They found nothing. Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan were officially declared “lost at sea.”


MARY TILLOTSON: This Special English Program was written by Marilyn Rice Christiano. It was produced by Paul Thompson. This is Mary Tillotson.

STEVE EMBER: And this is Steve Ember. Join us again next week for another EXPLORATIONS program on the VOICE OF AMERICA.


1. When Amelia finished high school in 1916, she decided to ___________________ .
a: join the Red Cross
b: become a pilot
c: play professional baseball
d: enter a university

2. Amelia Earhart was the first pilot to ______________________________ .
a: fly around the world
b: fly non stop from Mexico City to New York City
c: fly across the Pacific Ocean
d: fly from South America to Africa

3. Amelia Earhart wanted to learn how to fly after _______________________ .
a: she married a pilot
b: she treated wounded pilots in a hospital
c: she took her first ride in an airplane
d: she bought her first airplane

4. This article is mainly about _____________________________ .
a: the hazards of flying solo in the Atlantic
b: the types of airplane used in the early history of aviation
c: a very courageous woman who was an aviation pioneer
d: Purdue University's "Flying Laboratory."

5. At the beginning of the Twentieth Century, most American girls were expected to _________________ .
a: climb trees
b: go fishing
c: play baseball
d: sit quietly, speak softly, and pour a cup of tea for a guest with grace

6. On her failed attempt to fly around the equator, Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan didn't land in _______________________ .
a: Puerto Rico
b: Australia
c: Singapore
d: Hawaii

7. In 1928, Amelia Earhart became _________________________________ .
a: the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean by air
b: the first woman pilot to cross Canada
c: the first pilot to fly to the Arctic Circle
d: the first woman to write a book about airplanes

8. A radio message from Amelia Earhart received near Howland Island said that the pilot and co-pilot ____________________ .
a: had plenty of fuel
b: could not find any land at all
c: had decided to return to New Guinea
d: would give anything for a good dinner with wine

9. In 1932, Amelia Earhart became the first woman to ________________ .
a: sell an airplane in California
b: fly across the Atlantic Ocean alone
c: fly an airplane with no problems
d: teach English as a Second Language

10. Amelia Earhart during these days of early aviation wanted people to know that ______________________ .
a: flying was safe for everyone
b: ice frequently appears on an airplane's wings
c: airfields are often in terrible condition
d: women should be permitted to climb trees just like boys

The Earhart enigma (mystery) What really happened to Amelia Earhart? This
short National Geographic film speculates.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

"Immigration in the Late 1800s" from Voice of America.

Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION -- American history in VOA Special English.

In our last program, we told you the story of the Statue of Liberty. It was given to the United States by the people of France. Lady Liberty holds a bright torch high over the harbor of New York City. Millions of immigrants coming to America passed the statue as ships carried them to the immigration processing center on Ellis Island.

This week in our series, Leo Scully and Maurice Joyce tell the story of immigration in the United States during the eighteen hundreds.

LEO SCULLY: American life was changing. And it was changing quickly. Before eighteen sixty, the United States had an agricultural economy. After eighteen sixty, the country began to change from an agricultural to an industrial economy.

In eighteen sixty, American shops and factories produced less than two thousand million dollars' worth of goods. Thirty years later, in eighteen ninety, American factories produced ten thousand million dollars' worth. By then, more than five million persons were working in factories and mines. Another three million had jobs in the building industries and transportation.

MAURICE JOYCE: Year after year, production continued to increase. And the size of the industrial labor force continued to grow.

A great many of the new industrial workers came from American farms. Farm work was hard, and the pay was low. Young men left the family farms as soon as they could. They went to towns and cities to look for an easier and better way of life. Many of them found it in the factories. A young man who worked hard and learned new skills could rise quickly to better and better jobs.

This was not only true for farmers, but also for immigrants who came to the United States from foreign countries. They came from many different lands and for many different reasons. But all came with the same hope for a better life in a new world.

LEO SCULLY: In the eighteen fifties, America's industrial revolution was just beginning. Factories needed skilled workers -- men who knew how to do all the necessary jobs. Factory owners offered high pay to workers who had these skills.

British workers had them. Many had spent years in British factories. Pay was poor in Britain, and these skilled workers could get much more money in America. So, many of them came. Hundreds of thousands. Some factories -- even some industries -- seemed completely British.

MAURICE JOYCE: Cloth factories in Fall River, Massachusetts, were filled with young men from Lancashire, England. Most of the workers in the shipyards of San Francisco were from Scotland. Many of the coal miners in America were men from the British mines in Wales.

Many were farmers who came to America because they could get land for nothing. They could build new farms for themselves in the rich land of the American west.

LEO SCULLY: One of the best-liked songs in Britain then was a song about the better life in America. Its name: "To The West." Its words helped many men decide to make the move to America.

"To the West, to the West, to the land of the free

Where mighty Missouri rolls down to the sea;

Where a man is a man if he's willing to toil.

And the poorest may harvest the fruits of the soil.

Where the young may exult and the aged may rest,

Away, far away, to the land of the west."

MAURICE JOYCE: To another group of immigrants, America was the last hope. Ireland in the eighteen forties suffered one crop failure after another. Hungry men had to leave. In eighteen fifty alone, more than one hundred seventeen thousand people came to the United States from Ireland. Most had no money and little education. To those men and women, America was a magic name.

LEO SCULLY: Throughout Europe, when times were hard, people talked of going to America. In some countries, organizations were formed to help people emigrate to the United States. A Polish farmer wrote to such an organization in Warsaw:

"I want to go to America. But I have no money. I have nothing but the ten fingers of my hands, a wife, and nine children. I have no work at all, although I am strong and healthy and only forty-five years old. I have been to many towns and cities in Poland, wherever I could go. Nowhere could I earn much money. I wish to work. But what can I do. I will not steal, and I have no work. So, I beg you to accept me for a journey to America."

MAURICE JOYCE: As the years passed, fewer people were moving to America for a better job. Most were coming now for any job at all. Work was hard to find in any of the cities in Europe.

A British lawmaker told parliament in eighteen seventy that Englishmen were leaving their country, not because they wanted to, but because they had to. They could not find work at home. He said that even as he spoke, hundreds were dying of hunger in London and other British cities. They were victims of the new revolution in agriculture and industry.

Small family farms were disappearing. In their places rose large modern farms that could produce much more. New machines took the place of men. And millions of farmers had to look for other work. Some found it in the factories. Industry was growing quickly -- but not quickly enough to give jobs to all the farmers out of work.

LEO SCULLY: In the next ten years, millions of people made the move from Britain, Germany, and the Scandinavian countries. But then, as industry in those countries grew larger, and more jobs opened, the flood of immigration began to slow.

The immigrants now were coming from southern and eastern Europe. Anti-Jewish feeling swept Russia and Poland. Violence against Jews caused many of them to move to America.

In the late eighteen eighties, cholera spread through much of southern Italy. Fear of the disease led many families to leave for the United States.

Others left when their governments began building up strong armies. Young men who did not want to be soldiers often escaped by moving to America. Big armies were costly, and many people left because they did not want to pay the high taxes.

Whatever the reason, people continued to emigrate to the United States.

MAURICE JOYCE: These new immigrants were not like those who came earlier. These new immigrants had no skills. Most were unable to read or write.

Factory owners found that these eastern and southern Europeans were hard workers. They did not protest because the work was hard and the pay was low. They did not demand better working conditions. They did not join unions or strike.

Factory owners began to replace higher-paid American and British workers with the new immigrants. Business leaders wanted more of the new workers. They urged the immigrants to write letters to their friends and relatives in the old country. "Tell them to come to America, that there are plenty of jobs."

LEO SCULLY: Letters from America brought many more immigrants. The big steamship companies also helped industry to get more of the new workers. They paid thousands of agents throughout Europe to sell tickets for the trip to America. Their efforts meant that steamships bringing grain to Europe could return to America filled with immigrants.

They came by the hundreds of thousands. People of all religions, from all across Europe. Many remained in New York and other eastern cities. But many others moved westward. They took jobs in the steel factories of Pennsylvania and the coal mines of West Virginia. They worked in the lumber camps of Michigan and in the stockyards and meat-packing plants of Chicago.

MAURICE JOYCE: Within a few years, foreign-born workers held most of the unskilled jobs in many American industries. American workers began to protest. They demanded an end to the flood of immigration.

That will be our story in the next program of THE MAKING OF A NATION.


BARBARA KLEIN: Our program was written by Frank Beardsley. The narrators were Leo Scully and Maurice Joyce. You can find our series online with transcripts, MP3s, podcasts and images at voaspecialenglish.com. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter at VOA Learning English. Join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION -- an American history series in VOA Special English.


1. After 1860, many young men left their family farms to _____________________ .
a: enter the armed forces in a European war
b: take jobs as merchant marines
c: find job on large corporate farms
d: move to cities and find jobs with better pay

2. Immigrants in the late 1800s were different from the earlier immigrants. The newer immigrants often ________________ .
a: made trouble in factories
b: lacked skills
c: demanded better working conditions
d: wanted to join the army

3. In the late 1880s, many Italians immigrated to the United States because ___________________.
a: they were afraid of catching cholera which was ravaging their country
b: they wanted to open new pizza restaurants
c: they were responding to Americans desire to learn Italian as a Second Language
d: they were tired of soccer games and had a strong urge to learn American sports, especially football

4. Many immigrants in the 1800s came from the British Isles because ____________________ .
a: they were running away from famine
b: they were looking for jobs with better wages
c: they were running away from oppressive governments
d: they wanted freedom of religion

5. The big change in the United States economy after 1860 was ____________________ .
a: The Civil War
b: a shift from an agricultural economy to an industrial economy
c: the discovery of oil and the beginning of Standard Oil
d: easier transportation between east and west coasts

6. In the late 1800s, steamships _________________, then returned full of immigrants.
a: were built in England
b: journeyed to South America
c: brought grain to Europe
d: attacked Japan

7. Because most of the jobs in factories were held by unskilled immigrant labor, American workers _____________________.
a: began to protest
b: moved to China
c: formed their own factories
d: decided to return to college

8. In the 1850s, many Irish people immigrated to the United States because ___________________ .
a: there were crop failures in Ireland and people were hungry
b: workers wanted better salaries
c: it was easier to find someone to marry in the United States
d: many Irish people lived in the United States already

9. Millions of immigrants from Europe went to ____________ near the Statue of Liberty for processing .
a: New York City
b: Staten Island
c: Ellis Island
d: Long Island

10. Before 1860, the United States had ____________________________ .
a: more immigrants than after 1860
b: largely an agricultural economy
c: largely an industrial economy
d: more than five million people working in the building industries and transportation

Sunday, May 9, 2010

"The Missions of California" from VOA.

San Francisco de Asis: Mission Dolores

I’m Faith Lapidus. And I’m Steve Ember with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.

Today, we tell about the first attempts to settle what is now the western state of California. These attempts began with Spanish settlers who built 21 Catholic churches called missions. Our report is about those churches -- the missions of California.


Our story begins in 1768 in Madrid, Spain. The king of Spain, Charles the Third, had recently received reports that worried him. The reports said Russian explorers were in the northern part of the territory called California. Spain had claimed most of that area more than 200 years earlier. But Spain had no settlements in California. King Charles knew if the Russians began to settle the area, Spain might lose control of California forever.

King Charles decided the best way to keep the Spanish claim to California was to build settlements there. California had good harbors for Spanish ships, good weather and good farmland.

King Charles decided to order the creation of a series of small farming communities along the Pacific Ocean coast of California. The settlements would provide trade and grow into larger cities. Spanish citizens might want to settle there. Then the Spanish claim to California would be safe.

But there was no one on the coast of California to begin the work. King Charles and his advisors decided that the farming settlements would begin with churches called missions. Missions were places where Roman Catholic religious leaders converted people to the Christian religion. They taught the religion to people who wanted to become members of the church.

King Charles decided Roman Catholic priests would build the missions and settlements with the help of Native American Indians. The priests would teach the native people the Christian religion, the Spanish language and how to farm

A religious group within the Catholic Church called the Franciscans would build the settlements. The Franciscans chose a young priest named Junipero Serra to begin the work.

Many history experts say the Spanish government and the Catholic Church could not have chosen a better person for the task than Junipero Serra.

Junipero Serra was born in 1713 on the island of Mallorca, Spain. After he became a Franciscan priest, he taught at a university in Mallorca.

Father Serra had always wanted to be a missionary. In 1749 he sailed to Mexico to begin his life as a missionary. He spent several years studying the languages and customs of native people in Mexico.

In 1768 he was given the job of building the first of the California missions near the present day city of San Diego.


Mission San Diego de Alcala began on July 16, 1769. But before the mission was completed, Father Serra decided to move it. He did not like the way Spanish soldiers mistreated the Native Americans. He wanted to keep them separate. He moved the mission to an area that is still called Mission Valley

The design of Mission San Diego de Alcala was similar to each of the missions that were built later. There was a large church building. A long wall formed a large square to the side and behind the church. Large rooms inside and along the wall served as bedrooms, cooking areas, workshops, and classrooms. Usually, the center of the large square was left open. A garden with flowers was planted there.

Junipero Serra’s plan for the missions along the California coast was simple. Each would be about the same distance from each other. Members of the Franciscan religious group did not ride horses or travel in wagons. They walked. The missions were built about one day’s long walk from each other. This made it easier to travel, trade goods and share information.

The missions begin with San Diego de Alcala in the south. They end with San Francisco Solano about 1,050 kilometers to the north. In time, the road from mission San Diego de Alcala to mission San Francisco Solano was given a name.

The Spanish name is still used today. It is "El Camino Real." It means the "The Royal Highway" or "The King’s Highway." Most of that old road is now part of the California highway system. Millions of people use the road every day as they drive from San Diego to San Francisco.


Many people have criticized the mission system of settlement because it changed the way of life for the Native Americans in California. Critics say many Native Americans were forced to work at the missions. They say many were forced to become members of the Christian religion. And many were treated badly by Spanish soldiers and died because of mistreatment or disease.

However, other experts say that Junipero Serra demanded that the priests and soldiers treat the Native Americans with respect. Many of the Native Americans accepted the Christian religion, learned to farm and helped the missions become valuable settlements.

Many other Native Americans did not. Some did not want to change the way they lived so they moved away from the missions. Many Native Americans believed they would be forced into a new way of life. In 1776, a group of Indians attacked the San Diego mission and burned it. Eight months later, the mission was rebuilt where it still stands today.

King Charles’s plan was a success. Settlements grew from the missions along the California coast. Some of those along El Camino Real became major cities -- San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Jose, and San Francisco, to name only a few.

Junipero Serra was responsible for building nine of the missions. One of these was Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo in the present city of Carmel. It became his headquarters and the headquarters for all of the California missions. In 1784, Junipero Serra died of tuberculosis at mission San Carlos. He was buried in the floor of the Mission San Carlos Church.


The missions of California faced difficult times during the 1800s. In 1822, California became part of Mexico, which had just won its independence from Spain. But the Mexican government could not pay the cost of keeping the missions.

In 1834, the Mexican government sold much of the mission land and some of the buildings. Several missions remained part of the communities they helped to build. But many became little more than ruins. Some of the land and the missions were returned to the Catholic Church.

In the 1840s, Mexico had trouble controlling the American settlers in California. In 1846, the settlers declared California a republic. Less than two years later, the United States gained control of California during the Mexican War.

During this period, the Catholic Church tried to keep control of the missions. They were only partly successful. However, in 1863 President Abraham Lincoln signed a law that said all 21 missions in California would be returned to the Catholic Church. They have remained so ever since.

Today, the people of California consider the missions a treasure. Eighteen of the 21 are still active Catholic churches.

All of the missions are museums that teach the early history of California. Many visitors come to the missions to see the beautiful buildings. Several of the missions have become famous. One example is the Mission San Juan Capistrano. It was planned and built by Junipero Serra

Each year, on the same day, at almost the same hour, thousands of birds called swallows return to the mission. They return from their winter homes thousands of kilometers to the south. The swallows arrive on March 19th. They build nests and raise their young in the old mission. They leave on October 23rd. One story says the birds have been late only once because of a storm at sea. Everyone agrees that Junipero Serra would have loved the beautiful swallows of Capistrano.

(MUSIC: "When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano")

This program was written by Paul Thompson. It was produced by Mario Ritter. I’m Faith Lapidus.

And I’m Steve Ember. Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.


1. Charles the Third of Spain was afraid the __________ would take California from Spain
a. Americans
b. Mexicans
c. Russians
d. Indians

2. Swallows return to Mission San Juan Capistrano in the __________ .
a. Fall
b. Winter
c. Spring
d. Summer

3. The road that ran between the missions was called " __________ ."
a. Highway 280
b. El Camino Real
c. The Carmel Road
d. Dolores Street

4. The mission that Native Americans burned down was in __________ .
a. San Francisco
b. San Diego
c. Carmel
d. Monterey

5. The number of missions built in California totaled __________ .
a. twenty-one
b. fifty-six
c. twelve
d. three hundred

6. The missions of California were built by __________ .
a. Spanish soldiers
b. Franciscans
c. Native Americans
d. Ranchers

7. The man primarily responsible for the plan of the missions was __________ .
a. Abraham Lincoln
b. Charles the Third
c. Junipero Serra
d. John C. Fremont

8. The Mexican government had to sell the mission land, but the missions were returned to the Catholic Church in __________ .
a. 1822
b. 1863
c. 1910
d. 1848

9. Another name for this article could be " __________ ."
a. Junipero Serra's Dream
b. Mission Dolores
c. The Mexican War
d. The Land of Missions

10. This article is mainly about __________ .
a. El Camino Real
b. a tragedy in San Diego
c. the history of California's missions
d. the possibility of a new discovery

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Story of Norman Borlaug: Father of the Green Revolution, from VOA.


This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English. I'm Barbara Klein.


And I'm Doug Johnson. Today we tell about the American plant scientist Norman Borlaug. He won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to increase food production around the world. His work to battle world hunger is credited with saving millions of people from starvation.



Norman Borlaug traveled the world to help people develop better ways to produce food. This might explain why he is probably better known overseas than in the United States.

Borlaug worked in fields to show farmers new ways to grow crops like wheat and rice. He also worked in the laboratory to create new versions of wheat that could resist disease.

Borlaug became known as the "Father of the Green Revolution." Some people say he saved more lives than anyone else in history. Yet one American newspaper says he described himself simply as a "corn-fed, country-bred Iowa boy."


Norman Ernest Borlaug was born to Norwegian-American parents in rural Iowa on March twenty-fifth, nineteen fourteen. He grew up on a farm. He began his education in a one-room country schoolhouse.

Family members say young Norman was interested in plants. They say he often asked why some plants grew better in different areas of the farm.

Norman's family urged him to continue his studies at a time when many farm boys left school to find a job. He later worked on farms, earning fifty cents a day to pay for college during the Great Depression.



Borlaug attended the University of Minnesota, where he completed a study program in forestry. During the Depression, he witnessed people going hungry in the central United States. This deeply influenced his interest in agricultural sciences and better ways to produce food.

As a young man, Borlaug worked for a short time on forestry projects in Idaho and Massachusetts. He later returned to the University of Minnesota to study plant pathology. After those studies were completed, he worked as a researcher at a laboratory owned by the DuPont chemical company.


During this period, many experts warned of mass starvation in the developing world where populations were expanding faster than crop production.

In nineteen forty-four, Borlaug left his job with DuPont, and began a project to increase Mexico's wheat production. He became the head of the newly-formed Cooperative Wheat Research and Production Program in Mexico. The program received financial support from a private group, the Rockefeller Foundation.



The farming conditions Borlaug found in Mexico were extremely bad. The soil was not good for growing crops, and disease was destroying the plants. Over the next twenty years, Borlaug worked with Mexican scientists to develop crops that were able to resist disease. This was done by crossbreeding different kinds of wheat to make stronger, more resistant ones. He and the scientists also developed plants that produced higher quantities of grain.

Borlaug worked with wheat genes to shrink the plant while keeping the grain large. Using the same amount of land, the new wheat variety could produce three to four times as much food. This method of shrinking plants would become a major part of the Green Revolution.

Mexico imported sixty percent of its wheat in the early nineteen forties. By nineteen fifty-six, the country produced enough wheat to feed its population. By nineteen sixty-three, Mexico began exporting wheat.


Working with researchers throughout the world, Borlaug began to offer his methods in areas where people were threatened with starvation. He began to receive urgent requests from poor countries where population growth was more than the food supply could feed.

Borlaug's first stop was Asia. He and his team had great success in Pakistan and India. Local farmers could grow four times more wheat than before. Pakistan was able to feed its own population by nineteen sixty-eight. Six years later, India also became self-sufficient. Borlaug also brought his methods to the Middle East and South American countries like Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador.



In nineteen seventy, Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts toward world peace through increasing food supply. At the time of the announcement, Borlaug was working in farmland in Mexico.

When he heard the news, he thought it was a joke. It is said that he traveled the eighty kilometers to Mexico City to meet with reporters and arrived with dirt on his hands. Later that year, Borlaug traveled to the home of his ancestors, Norway, where he received the Nobel Peace Prize.

Borlaug also won the highest civilian honors in the United States. He was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom in nineteen seventy-seven. Thirty years later, he received the Congressional Gold Medal.

Borlaug is one of only five people to receive all three honors. The others are Martin Luther King Junior, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Elie Wiesel.


One of the lasting effects of Norman Borlaug is the World Food Prize, which he established in nineteen eighty-six. The award recognizes the work of individuals who have helped human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world.

Shortly after Borlaug's death, billionaire Bill Gates spoke at the World Food Prize symposium in Iowa.

BILL GATES: "In the middle of the twentieth century, experts predicted famine and starvation. But they turned out to be wrong, because they did not predict Norman Borlaug. He not only showed humanity how to get more food from the Earth, he proved that farming has the power to lift up the lives of the poor."


Norman Borlaug's work lives on through the Borlaug Fellowship Program. The Department of Agriculture supervises the program. It brings foreign agricultural scientists to the United States each year and places them with American scientists.

Later in his life, Borlaug turned his attention to Africa. He and former American President Jimmy Carter worked with the Sasakawa Africa Association to help increase the quality and production of corn on the continent.


But not everyone considered Borlaug a hero. Environmental activists criticized his intensive methods, including use of fertilizers and pesticides. These products are used to help plants grow and protect them from insects.

Borlaug suggested that Western critics had never known real hunger. He also wondered if they had ever watched their children go hungry.

Borlaug's desire to feed the world is what drove him. He was a firm believer that the job of feeding the world could not be done without fertilizers and pesticides. Borlaug and those who followed his lead argued that older methods of sustainable farming could not produce enough food to prevent hunger in poorer areas of the world.

In nineteen seventy-one, he criticized opponents of the insecticide DDT, which was later banned in the United States.

NORMAN BORLAUG:"I am very proud to be an American but I am also frightened by this hysteria. [If we] remove DDT the next will be all insecticides, after that it will be all the weed-killers and the fungicides and then the fertilizers, if the hysteria prevails. And when this happens, sir, the U.S. will be importing food, only there won't be any place from where to import it."


But later in life, Borlaug urged farmers not to overuse chemical products.


Up until his death in September two thousand nine, Borlaug was still working on agricultural projects. He was a professor of international agriculture at Texas A and M University in Texas. The university established an institute in his name.

Six months before his death, Norman Borlaug spoke to VOA at his ninety-fifth birthday party. Borlaug said he was worried about the world's ability to feed itself. He said that the work to improve crop production must continue.

Borlaug suffered from lymphoma. Health problems linked to the disease led to his death. Borlaug's family released a statement shortly after he died. It said they wanted his life to be an example for making a difference in the lives of others, and for working toward the goal of ending suffering for all mankind.



Our program was written and produced by Brianna Blake. I'm Doug Johnson.

And I'm Barbara Klein. You can download this program and others from our Web site, voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for more news about science in VOA Special English.