By JAY R. NEILL

Featured in Autograph January 2010

The author and his twin sons, Jason and Jack, with actress Lee Meriwether

Welcome to Autograph’s new monthly column aimed at helping kids enjoy the world’s greatest hobby. Whether you’re a kid, have a kid or just want to feel like a kid again, this column is for you! Building an autograph collection takes patience, thoughtfulness and, yes, even manners. But it’s an incredible way to connect with the people you admire and to learn about anything and everything that interests you.What better way to connect with history and to understand it, than through those who have made history? There are a lot of ways to make history, so this month we’ll look at three professions that almost every kid dreams about becoming at some point: an astronaut, an inventor and even the President of the United States.

 

 

Astronauts

Color photo signed by John Glenn

What better way to make history than to become the first American to orbit the earth? When NASA started Project Mercury in 1958, they had three goals: to orbit a manned spacecraft around Earth, to find out man’s ability to function in space; and to recover both man and spacecraft safely. They named the project Mercury after the Roman mythological god who was often used as a symbol for speed.John Glenn was a Marine officer chosen as one of the original group of seven Mercury astronauts. And on February 20, 1962, he orbited Earth three times in a spacecraft that was so small the engineers joked that it was made to be “worn, not ridden.” His success brought him fame and appreciation that few before him had ever seen. After leaving NASA in 1964, Colonel Glenn went on to serve 24 years as a senator from the State of Ohio. On October 29, 1998, John Glenn went back into space again at the age of 77 aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in order to study the effects of space flight on the elderly and he became the oldest person to ever go into space.I sent Mr. Glenn a letter, an envelope with return postage paid and a picture of my kids—he sent back a signed picture for each of them. Scott Carpenter is the only other living astronaut from the original seven and his autograph is much more difficult and expensive to get. There are many living astronauts to choose from and to contact for signatures, including Sally Ride who became the first American woman to go into space. I just got a note back from Sally Ride requesting $20 for a signed 8×10 photo. If you send a picture of yourself or draw a picture for the person that you write to, you can get some really cool responses. Sometimes the people that we write to sign the picture or write a note on it and send it back.

Inventors

Vint Cerf signed and inscribed photo

Have you ever had a great idea for an invention? Vint Cerf had one and today it’s called the Internet. Mr. Cerf, along with Bob Kahn, made history when they invented the protocol technologies used to transmit information on the Internet. From 1982-1986, Cerf led the engineering of MCI Mail, the first commercial email service to be connected to the Internet. He is considered the modern day “Father of the Internet.” In 2005, Mr. Cerf and Bob Kahn were awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the U.S. These men forever changed how the entire world communicates and very few people know their names. They had a dream, they worked hard and they did what nobody thought could be done, just like you can. When you invent something, you may have no idea how it will change the world. Vint Cerf said, “We had no idea that this would turn into a global and public infrastructure.” He’s now the Chief Internet Evangelist at Google and he sent three signed 5×7 pictures, one for each of my boys and me. Mr. Kahn also signs when you contact him at the Corporation for National Research Initiatives where he is President and CEO.

Presidents

Has becoming the President of the United States ever crossed your mind? From the school books that we read to the money that we use, we are surrounded by images of our presidents everyday. When I was growing up I would have loved to have an autograph of any president, past or present. It would have made studying a lot more fun and interesting, if I’d had a personal tie to the person that I was reading about. I just didn’t know it was possible—that I could write to somebody that important and that they might write back.For the cost of a stamp and the few minutes it takes to write a thoughtful letter, you can have a presidential autograph in your hands in a matter of just weeks.

Gerald Ford signed photo

When my boys were first born in 2003, I wrote to President Gerald Ford (38th) and requested signed photos from him for my sons. He responded with personalized photos for both of them. Shortly after, he stopped signing autographs and he passed away in 2006. There are five living presidents and Jimmy Carter (39th) is the best about signing autographs through the mail. He really seems to enjoy hearing from those who appreciate him and he typically responds to requests in less than a month. George H. Bush (41st) is the next best signer, but his son George W. Bush (43rd), Bill Clinton (42nd) and Barack Obama(44th) will typically respond with a picture that has a preprinted signature. Presidents are extremely busy when they’re in office and after they leave office, so it’s very understandable that they don’t have time to sign everything.

Family Fun Challenge

Talk to your parents or grandparents about someone that has made history that you are interested in. You can choose an astronaut, an inventor, a president, or pick your own history maker. If you’d like pointers, Autograph has put together step-by-step instructions—see January Kid’s Corner Addresses

Next month we’ll talk about a great opportunity for getting your baseball cards signed: Spring Training! The players are in a sunny place and sometimes, if you’re lucky, they’re in a sunny mood for signing!