Kane, Joseph Nathan 1899-2002
KANE, Joseph Nathan 1899-2002
Born January 23, 1899, in New York, NY; died, September 22, 2002, in West Palm Beach, FL; son of Albert Norman (an importer of furs) and Hulda (Ascheim) Kane. Education: Attended Columbia University, 1917-20; Columbia School of Engineering, certificate in electrical engineering.
D. Auerbach and Sons, manager of export department; Universal Export Corporation, manager; freelance writer; International Trade Review, editor; Kane Feature News Syndicate, owner/correspondent; Mutual Broadcasting System, radio host of Famous First Facts, 1938-39. Wrote questions for television and radio quiz shows, including The $64,000 Question, Double or Nothing, Break the Bank, and Dotto, 1945-58. Also worked as a consultant to the American Foreign Credit Underwriters Corporation, to various television news departments, the U.S. Congress, the White House, and the Department of the Interior. Military service: Enlisted in the army but did not serve.
Famous First Facts, a Record of First Happenings, Discoveries and Inventions in the United States, H. W. Wilson (New York, NY), 1933, 4th edition published as Kane's Book of Famous First Facts and Records in the United States, 1974, 5th revised edition, 1997.
More First Facts: A Record of First Happenings, Discoveries and Inventions in the United States, H. W. Wilson (New York, NY), 1935.
What Dog Is That?, illustrated by Walter Edward Blythe, Greenberg (New York, NY), 1944.
Centennial History of King Solomon Lodge No. 279, Free and Accepted Masons, 1852-1952, King Solomon Lodge No. 279 F & A.M. (New York, NY), 1952.
The Perma Quiz Book, Permabooks (New York, NY), 1956.
Facts about the Presidents: A Compilation of Biographical and Historical Data, H. W. Wilson Company (New York, NY), 1959, 7th revised edition, 2001.
The American Counties: A Record of the Origin of the Names of the 3,067 counties, Dates of Creation and Organization, Area, Population, Historical Data, Etc., Scarecrow Press (New York, NY), 1960, 4th revised edition published as The American Counties: Origins of County Names, Dates of Creation and Organization, Area, Population Including 1980 Census Figures, Historical Data, and Published Sources, 1983.
(With Gerard L. Alexander) Nicknames of Cities and States of the United States, Scarecrow Press (New York, NY), 1965, 3rd revised edition published as Nicknames and Sobriquets of U.S. Cities, States, and Counties,, 1979.
Facts about the Presidents, January 1974-March 1977, Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Carter, H. W. Wilson Company (New York, NY), 1977.
Facts about the Presidents, March 1981-March 1985, H. W. Wilson Company (New York, NY), 1985.
(Editor, with Steven Anzovin and Janet Podell) Facts about the States, H. W. Wilson (New York, NY), 1989, 2nd revised edition, 1993.
Necessity's Child: The Story of Walter Hunt, America's Forgotten Inventor, McFarland (Jefferson, NC), 1997.
Presidential Fact Book, Random House (New York, NY), 1998.
Also wrote numerous articles for periodicals, including Exporters' Digest, International Trade Review, American Hatter, Underwear and Hosiery Review, Fur Age, Cracker Baker, National Costumer, Playthings, New York Times, Sun, and World.
Joseph Nathan Kane believed in the motto "simple truth is the most eloquent oratory," and compiled extensive volumes of reference books to display the simple truths that he uncovered in his 103 years of life. From the nicknames of presidents to the characteristics of over 100 different breeds of dogs, Kane's collections of trivia, wrote Richard Severo for Kane's New York Times obituary, remain a "blessing" for those "harried researchers and librarians who turn to his work when asked for encyclopedical minutiae by writers, editors and members of the fact-crazy American public."
Kane was born in New York City in 1899 in Manhattan's Upper West Side. He started college at Columbia University, attending classes such as German, French, Spanish, and world geography. His years there did not lead to a college degree but did help him obtain his first job as the manager of the export department at D. Auerbach and Sons, where Kane began to write monthly articles about the exporting business and eventually syndicated a column for several trade journals. His writing turned out to be so popular that he created Kane Feature News Syndicate and became an accredited correspondent for the State Department.
For ten years, between 1922 and 1932, in order to collect information for his columns, Kane traveled eleven months out of each year, visiting every state and almost every U.S. city. During this time, he came up with the idea of creating a record of who invented what in the United States. He had been asked by a major publisher to write a book about inventions, but his research was repeatedly frustrated by false claims and other misinformation. He found that many true inventors of various creations received had never received credit for their work. Kane set off to correct this situation. His first efforts were rejected by eleven different publishers. Finally, he asked librarians from all over the United States to write to the publisher at H. W. Wilson Company, and because of their mail, Kane's Famous First Facts, a Record of First Happenings, Discoveries and Inventions in the United States was published.
Famous First Facts included such details as the first cows to be imported to the United States, the first subway to be built, and the first steamboat to carry passengers. The book was such a big success that Kane was asked to host a radio show. For one year, from 1938 to 1939, he broadcast a thirty-minute program that was heard nationwide. Later, Kane would supply the questions that were used on television quiz shows such as The $64,000 Question. Famous First Facts has been revised five times, most recently in 1997. The longevity of his publication influenced a Booklist reviewer to refer to Kane's book as "a classic."
Famous First Facts spawned new ideas for Kane. In 1959, he decided to focus his attention on the White House and wrote his book, Facts about the Presidents. Kane not only provided biographical information about the presidents, information about their time in office, the people they selected for their cabinets, the bills they passed, and what their elections were like, he also included inventions they might have created, the books they wrote, and details of their favorite pastimes. Zodiac signs were also provided, as well as nicknames, religious affiliations, and marital status. Kane's book also provided comparisons, pitting one president against another so readers could see at a glance how the men differed from one another or how they were the same. This book is also often referred to as a classic, and as Ronald H. Fritze wrote for the American Reference Books Annual, "No good library should be without this book." The book has been revised six times, and supplements have also been put into book form.
In 1989, Kane put together one more fact book titled Facts about the States. Jim Weigel, writing for the School Library Journal called it another "useful reference" for anyone researching the "perpetually popular topic." The book provides geographic, demographic, economic, political, and cultural information about each of the fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Climate, history, education, and finances were other topics covered, as well as how each state has voted over the years. In a review for Wilson Library Bulletin, Cathi Alloway wondered if the world really needed another fact book. She concluded her review with "a resounding YES," adding that she found Kane's book to be a great research tool.
Kane moved to Palm Beach, Florida, in his last years. He was, wrote a reporter for the London Times, "the doyen of trivialists, factualists and know-it-alls." The same reporter continued, "Kane regarded himself as a debunker, a campaigner against myth and historical complacency." Kane died on September 22, 2002, at the age of 103.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Reference Books Annual, 1977, Bohdan S. Wynar, review of The Kane Book of Famous First Facts and Records in the United States, p. 59; 1981, Edward J. Hall, Jr., review of Nicknames and Sobriquets of U.S. Cities, States, and Counties, 3rd ed., pp. 280-281; 1982, Gary D. Barber, review of Facts about the Presidents, 4th ed., p. 273, Rolland E. Stevens, review of Famous First Facts, 4th ed., pp. 53-54; 1985, David A. Cobb, review of The American Counties, 4th ed., p. 149; 1990, Daniel K. Blewett, review of Facts about the States, p. 294; 1994, Ronald H. Fritze, review of Facts about the Presidents, 6th ed., pp. 205-206.
Best Sellers, October 1, 1970, review of The Pocket Book of Famous First Facts, p. 268.
Booklist, July 15, 1970, review of Nicknames and Sobriquets of U.S. Cities and States, p. 1384; June 15, 1982, review of Facts about the Presidents, 4th ed., p. 1385; October 15, 1984, review of The American Counties, 4th ed., p. 288; August, 1994, review of Facts about the States, 2nd ed., p. 2070; October 15, 1994, Carolyn Mulac, reviews of Facts about the Presidents, 6th ed. and Famous First Facts, 4th ed., pp. 447-448; August, 1998, review of Presidential Fact Book, p. 2045; November 15, 1998, review of Famous First Facts, 5th ed., p. 609; March 15, 2002, review of Facts about the Presidents, 7th ed., p. 1274.
Book Report, March, 1999, Bonnie Morris, review of Presidential Fact Book, p. 76.
Choice, February, 1990, J. Campbell, review of Facts about the States, p. 932.
Current Biography Year Book, November, 1985, "Kane, Joseph Nathan," pp. 211-215.
Library Journal, Anne Washburn, review of Famous First Facts, 4th ed., p. 249.
Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, spring, 1974, review of The American Counties, p. 215.
Reference Services Review, July, 1973, review of The American Counties, 3rd ed., p. 14; spring, 1985, Gary D. Barker and Carol Burroughs, review of The American Counties, 4th ed., p. 38.
School Library Journal, May, 1982, review of Famous First Facts, 4th ed., p. 18; May, 1990, Jim Weigel, review of Facts about the States, p. 21.
School Library Media Quarterly, fall, 1988, review of Famous First Facts, 4th ed., p. 41.
Voice of Youth Advocates, April, 1990, Victoria Yablonsky, review of Facts about the Presidents, 5th ed., p. 67; October, 1994, Sarah A. Hudson, review of Facts about the States, 2nd ed., p. 245.
Washington Post Book World, January 31, 1971, review of The Pocket Book of Famous First Facts, p. 11.
Wilson Library Bulletin, November, 1970, review of Nicknames and Sobriquets of U.S. Cities and States, p. 311; March, 1973, review of TheAmerican Counties, p. 609; May, 1980, review of Nicknames and Sobriquets of U.S. Cities, States, and Counties, 3rd. ed., p. 590; January, 1990, review of Facts about the Presidents, 5th ed., and Facts about the States, pp. 127-128; January, 1991, Cathi Alloway, review of Facts about the States, p. 28.
London Times, October 3, 2002, "Joseph Nathan Kane."
Los Angeles Times, September 30, 2002, Myrna Oliver, "Joseph Kane, 103: Author Dug for Forgotten Facts and History," p. B9.
New York Times, September 27, 2002, Richard Severo, "Joseph Nathan Kane Dies, Master of Minutiae Was 103," p. A27.*