Don Rittner is an American historian, archeologist, environmental activist, educator, and author living in the Capital District, Schenectady County, New York. He is the official Schenectady County Historian, responsible for providing guidance and support to municipal historians and serving as a conduit between the State Historian in Albany and the local historians in their counties. He is also the Schenectady City Historian and was the Albany City Archeologist (1973-79). He is the author of more than 35 books on history, natural history, computers, and other subjects.
He attended the University of Albany where as a student he continued the earlier work of William B. Efner, his predecessor as County Historian. In 1973 he became the archeologist for the city of Albany. He excavated old Colonial tavern sites and roads, and located the old King's Highway, erecting markers to commemorate the historic route.
He was named the Schenectady County Historian in 2004. Shortly afterward he was named the official Schenectady City Historian as well. During 2008 he discovered the first railroad tunnel in America through Schenectady's Stockade region and was able to show that 9 Front Street, today a residential home, was actually a stone blockhouse from the French and Indian War period dated 1725. His discovery was featured on "The History Detectives" PBS show in September, 2008.
During the 1970s, he led the fight to save the famous Albany Pine Barrens, known as the Pine Bush. He founded the Pine Bush Historic Preservation Project and was responsible for the city of Albany acquiring its first nature preserve, the Albany Pine Bush Preserve. During 1983–89 he served as the preserve's manager. During this time he designed a 40-mile hiking trail around the city of Albany called the Albany Greenbelt. He was responsible for the historic roads and trail system in the preserve to become part of the National Trails System in 1985.
He succeeded in getting both the city and county of Schenectady designated as "Preserve America" communities by the federal government in 2006. In 2007 he placed two historic sites in the city of Schenectady (the Ernst Alexanderson home and the All Electric House) as winners in Parade Magazine's "Tell America's Story" contest. Only four sites in New York State won, with Schenectady winning two spots and being the only city in the entire nation to have two winners.
He has published more than 35 books in history, science, and technology. From 1999 to 2005, he wrote a history column for seven years for the Troy Record called "Heritage on the Hudson".
Rittner also manages the Capital District Preservation Task Force listserve that provides daily newspaper coverage in history, planning, and preservation to more than 80 leading preservation and environmental groups. He writes a history blog on the Albany Times Union website.
Rittner produces "Thinking Art," through stereo photography and has had his stereo photographs exhibited in museums and art shows. He is currently working with his friend Laurence Gartel, father of digital media art on developing an exhibit called "Then & Now" which will feature his stereo photos with digital art from Gartel. He created the Schenectady Art Attack in the Spring of 2010 to showcase the thousands of creative artists working throughout the Capital District. More than 500 artists displayed their work in over two dozen venues and it has become an annual event. He currently curates the Schenectady Roundtable, a smaller version of the Art Attack at Schenectady City Hall, where artists, lectures, and music are a monthly feature of the city's art night on the third Friday of each month.
Rittner has also appeared as an extra in several films (Ironweed, Age of Innocence, Winter of Frozen Dreams, Aftermath, Payback',' "The Place Beyond the Pines"), and is a founder of the Schenectady Film Alliance with Nick Barber. He maintains a film alliance listserv. He is commissioner of the Schenectady Film commission, and besides bringing movie production to the area has worked with the History Channel, A&E, HBO, and Discovery Channel in finding locations for several of their shows in the Capital District. Rittner has been producer and host of several radio shows, including Inside the Net, one of the first radio shows about the Internet (1992), and was publisher of The Mesh - Inside Cyberspace, one of the first newspapers about the Net (1995). Rittner was named Associate Producer of the Schenectady portion of the 2012 Fireball Run, an adventure rally and movie that also helps find missing children through its efforts. He also published Hardcopy for the Common Good in the 1980s, and currently publishes Skenectada, a newspaper about the history of Schenectady County. He is the president of The Onrust Project, Inc., a nonprofit organization that built a replica of The Onrust, the first ship built in New York State in 1614 and first American Yacht (http://www.theonrust.com). It was launched in May, 2009 and made two successful trips to NYC and back for the NYS Quadricentennial Event in June and the Dutch Government's Harbor Day Festival in September.
During the latter 1980s he directed a social service agency which had a homeless prevention program with a 100% success rate in keeping mothers and their kids off the streets. In addition he created the first cardboard recycling program in the city of Troy which netted the city a few hundred dollars each week from recycled cardboard picked up from area businesses. In 1988 he produced a small documentary on a 10-year-old girl who had lead paint poisoning and initiated a law to ban lead paint in low income housing in the city of Troy. He developed a free lead paint test kit that was used for testing in low-income housing.
During the early 1980s he teamed up with his childhood friend and illustrator Raoul Vezina and wrote Naturalist At Large, a weekly environmental cartoon that appeared in the daily Knickerbocker News, an Albany newspaper. These cartoons were often posted in congressional offices in Washington D.C. because of their bite in pointing out the environmental failings of the Reagan-Watt years (the cartoons are available at http://www.donrittner.com/naltoon.html).
From 1988 to the present he has been editor of MUG News Service, a computer news service that provided Apple User Groups around the world with monthly news disks that were sponsored by software and hardware companies. He wrote a monthly column called "MUG Wrestling" for the national Macintosh magazine called MACazine. In 1992, he worked with Child Find of America and produced the first electronic directory of missing children on disk that was distributed to every user group in the United States for free distribution in their local areas. In keeping with his interest in missing children, Rittner teamed up in 2012 with programmer Tim Varney from Troy Web Consulting and created the free "Missing Children of New York State" App for Apple's iPhone and Google's Android operating system and is available as a free download. In 1988 he encouraged then marketing director Kathy Ryan of Quantum Computers to develop a Mac interface for their new online service later to be known as America Online. He was able to gather several hundred beta testers and when the service went public (then an Apple user only online community) he managed the User Group Forum, Environmental Forum, and the Society of Environmental Journalists Forum for many years during America Online's early period.
In 1996 he created The Learning Factory, a private education center located in an area mall to offer low priced classes for the public but in particular single mothers in order to increase their job skills. Also during this year he joined forces with the ACLU, America Online, Compuserve and several other online services in Reno v. ACLU (Amicus Curiae) to overturn the Telecommunications Reform Act, a law which would have prevented free speech on the Internet. The Supreme Court ruled in their favor in this landmark case.
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