February 29, 1972: Major League Baseball signs its first player to a $200,000 contract. Hank Aaron signed on with the Atlanta Braves and continued his legendary hammering. After playing baseball in high school and winning championships, Aaron signed a $10,000 contract with the Boston Braves, a minor league team, playing second base. He was named Rookie of the Year. He was sent to the Jacksonville Tars to break the color barrier in the South Atlantic League. Enduring racial slurs and threats, he led the league by hammering in 115 runs on 208 hits. He was MVP that year.
On April 13, 1954, Aaron made his major league debut with the Milwaukee Braves without a hit. Two days later, he got his first hit and by the end of the season he had 13 homers – not hitting below 20 homers in a season again for the next 20 years. As Hammerin’ Hank kept driving the ball out of the park, his stats kept getting more impressive. On July 3, 1960 he hit his 200th home run and by April 19, 1963 he was up to 300.
Between the 1965-66 season, the Braves moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta. By April 27, 1971 he was up to 600 homers. He ended the 1973 season at 713 home runs, one short of Babe Ruth’s record. At the beginning of the 1974 season, despite slanderous letters, bigotry run amok, and death threats, Hank Aaron played on. Management kept him from playing in the opening series because it was an away set of games with the Cincinnati Reds. They hoped for his tying hit and hopefully his record breaking home run to be on the home field. He tied Ruth with his first at bat, but did not break the record on that day. On April 8, 1974, Hank Aaron became the home run record holder.
At the end of the season, Aaron was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers where he finished out his baseball careers. His total home run count is 755, well past Babe Ruth’s 714.
“Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer.” – Ted Williams
“You gotta be a man to play baseball for a living, but you gotta have a lot of little boy in you, too.” – Roy Campanella
“What is both surprising and delightful is that spectators are allowed, and even expected, to join in the vocal part of the game…. There is no reason why the field should not try to put the batsman off his stroke at the critical moment by neatly timed disparagements of his wife’s fidelity and his mother’s respectability.” – George Bernard Shaw
“If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant’s life, she will choose to save the infant’s life without even considering if there are men on base.” – Dave Barry
Also on this day, in 1584 the first Leap Day was held.
February 28, 1939: The word “dord” is discovered lurking in the Webster’s New International Dictionary, Second Edition even though no such word exists. An investigation followed.
Austin M. Patterson sent a slip of paper into the editorial staff on July 31, 1931, stating “D or d, cont./density.” What was suppose to have happened was this: in the earlier editions of the dictionary, abbreviations were scattered throughout the listings in alphabetical order. Thus lb. as an abbreviation for pound would be found after the entry for the word lazy. However in the newer addition, all abbreviations were to be grouped separately.
Patterson, a chemistry editor, was trying to get the d to be recognized as the abbreviation for density in Physics and Chemistry. There was a miscommunication between the various people working on this entry and the “D or d” was read as “Dord” and the definition was added. Since there was no etymology or usage given, it was investigated and the word was immediately deleted from all further printing. The fact that this is even an issue is a testament to the vigilance and dedication of the people compiling dictionaries.
Dictionaries were first simple word lists and existed as early as 2300 BC. The earliest modern European dictionaries were translations of words from one language to one or several others. In 1604 Robert Cawdrey authored the first purely English dictionary, A Table Alphabeticall. No definitions were included. In 1755 Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language hit the market. Finally in 1884, the first fascicle of the Oxford English Dictionary was published. It wasn’t until 1928 that the dictionary was finally completed and the twelfth fascicle was finished.
“I am not yet so lost in lexicography, as to forget that words are the daughters of earth, and that things are the sons of heaven” – Samuel Johnson
“Words — so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne
“DICTIONARY, n. A malevolent literary device for cramping the growth of a language and making it hard and inelastic. This dictionary, however, is a most useful work.” – Ambrose Bierce
“Facts are not science – as the dictionary is not literature.” – Martin H. Fischer
Also on this day, in 1827 the B&O Railroad was granted a charter and came into existence.
February 27, 1827: Mardi Gras is celebrated for the first time in New Orleans, Louisiana with masked balls. Amazingly enough, the first public celebrations of Mardi Gras were somewhat violent and the celebration gained a negative reputation. During the 1840s and 50s, things were so bad, the press began calling for banning the event. In 1857 six men in New Orleans formed the Comus organization. They advocated for a safe and non-violent celebration such as they had been putting on for a New Year’s Eve parade in Mobile, Alabama since 1831. They prevailed and the celebrations continued, interrupted by the US Civil War.
Long ago in ancient Rome there was a circus-like celebration in mid-February called Lapercalia. The Catholic Church incorporated this feast into their own calendar and changed it’s name and meaning. Carnival [Italian for “without meat’] is a celebratory period lasting from January 6 [the feast of the Epiphany] until the beginning of Lent.
Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras is the day before Ash Wednesday – the first day of Lent or 40 days before Easter. King’s Cakes, treats of the season, are colored with the traditional Mardi Gras colors – purple for justice; green for faith; and gold for power. During the late 1700s while New Orleans was under French rule, there were masked balls and festivals. When the area came under Spanish rule, these were banned.
Then, in 1803 New Orleans finally fell under the jurisdiction of the US flag. It took until 1823 for the prohibition against masked balls to be lifted. In 1827 they were once again legalized. In 1837, they had their first parade in the tradition still practiced today. In 1870 the Twelfth Night Revelers joined the festivities and the next year golden beads hidden in cakes were presented to a young woman who became the first queen of Mardi Gras. By 1882, the Krewe of Proteus joined the parade and in 1890 the first marching club joined the parade. The fun continued to grow as the revelers descended on New Orleans. So … show us your … ummm … beads.
“[N]o party is any fun unless seasoned with folly.” – Desiderius Erasmus
“Spring is nature’s way of saying, “Let’s party!”” – Robin Williams
“I am thankful for the mess to clean after a party because it means I have been surrounded by friends.” – Nancie J. Carmody
“Drink, and dance and laugh and lie,
Love the reeling midnight through,
For tomorrow we shall die!
(But, alas, we never do.)” – Dorothy
Also on this day, in 1864, Andersonville prison opened.
February 26, 1829: Loeb Strauss is born in Buttenheim, Franconia, Bavaria, now Germany. He moved to New York City with his mother and two sisters, joining his two brothers in running their dry goods business. By 1850 Loeb changed his name to Levi.
In 1853, he moved to San Francisco, California to capitalize on the Gold Rush boom. He expected miners to happily purchase his buttons, scissors, thread, and bolts of fabric. He brought yards of sailcloth or canvas with him noting that it was used to cover the Conestoga wagons littering the countryside.
What he found instead were miners wearing cotton trousers that were not made to withstand the rigors of the mining life. They would easily tear and the pockets were constantly ripping. He used his canvas to make durable overall trousers with strong pockets for holding gold nuggets. The pants were durable, but they were also very uncomfortable. After using all his canvas, he turned to a different fabric called serge de Nimes since it originally came from Nimes, France. The name for the cloth was eventually shortened to denim.
Jacob Davis was a tailor living in Reno, Nevada. He used copper rivets to reinforce pressure points on harnesses. He was approached with a request to make a pair of pants for a large man who kept bursting the seams on his trousers. He used the rivets to reinforce the pants and it worked. He was using material purchased from Levi Strauss & Co. at the time. He could not afford the money to file a patent for the rivets, but he asked Strauss to help and they shared the patent, granted on May 20, 1873.
Davis joined Strauss and together they made their rivet reinforced denim pants, originally called waist overalls. Strauss left the company to his nephews who continued to run it. Then the great San Francisco earthquake destroyed the headquarters and two factories. They eventually rebuilt and Levi Strauss & Co. is still in business today.
“You got them, and they were stiff as a board, and you broke them in.” – Levi Strauss
“In a cavern, in a canyon, Excavating for a mine Dwelt a miner, Forty-niner, And his daughter, Clementine.” – Percy Montrose
“I have often said that I wish I had invented blue jeans: the most spectacular, the most practical, the most relaxed and nonchalant. They have expression, modesty, sex appeal, simplicity – all I hope for in my clothes.” – Yves Saint Lauren
“Fashions, after all, are only induced epidemics.” – George Bernard Shaw
Also on this day, in 1919 President Woodrow Wilson signed an act establishing the Grand Canyon National Park.
February 25, 1836: An American patent is granted to Samuel Colt for his Colt revolver. Colt was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1814. His father, who owned a textile mill, taught his son about machinery. At the age of 16, Colt became a sailor. Legend states that while observing a capstan, he came up with the idea for a revolver pistol. Colt received a European patent for his multi-shot pistol in 1835.
This innovative idea was met with resistance, and Colt went out of business for some time. He declared bankruptcy in 1842 and spent four years in litigation. He secured his patent and again went back to producing guns in 1848. Colt created the first industrialized firearm factory. He hired Elisha K. Root, an axe manufacturer of renown, to help get state-of-the-art equipment for making truly interchangeable parts for his guns.
Prior to his revolver’s debut, handguns were loaded singularly, fired, and then reloaded. Colt created a circular chamber holding several bullets that align with the firing mechanism and barrel one bullet at a time. There are single-action guns which require one to pull back the hammer and then press the trigger as well as double-action guns which only require that one pull the trigger.
Colt was not “just” an arms manufacturer. He also worked with explosives and developed the first remote detonation. He developed technology that helped to lay the first underwater telegraph cable. He also popularized nitrous oxide as an anesthetic. He was a Colonel of the Connecticut Regiment during the Civil War.
“God made all Men, Samuel Colt made them equal.” – 19th century saying
‘‘The world is filled with violence. Because criminals carry guns, we decent law-abiding citizens should also have guns. Otherwise they will win and the decent people will lose.’’ – James Earl Jones
“The very atmosphere of firearms anywhere and everywhere restrains evil interference – they deserve a place of honor with all that’s good.” – George Washington
“There is no arguing with Johnson; for when his pistol misses fire, he knocks you down with the butt end of it” – Oliver Goldsmith
Also on this day, in 1919 Oregon became the first state to impose a gasoline tax.
February 24, 1938: DuPont corporation uses nylon yarn to create a nylon-bristle toothbrush, the first commercial product using nylon yarn. The toothbrush has come a long way from the initial “chew stick” used since 3500 BC. This stick was about the size of today’s pencil and was chosen with care. The wood was selected for its aromatic property so it would help to sweeten the breath. One end was chewed until it got mushy and resembled bristles. That end was used to cleanse the teeth. The opposite end was pointed and used as a toothpick.
China came up with the first instrument that looked somewhat like today’s toothbrush. It was a bone handle with wild boar bristles inserted into it to use a brush. This was brought back to Europe where the stiff bristles made Europeans’ gums bleed. They opted, therefore, to use horse hair instead.
William Addis created the first mass-produced toothbrush in 1780 in England. By 1850, H. N. Wadsworth patented a toothbrush in the US, but it was not mass produced until 1885. Dental floss was invented by Levi Spear Parmly of New Orleans in 1815. He recommended silk floss be used for cleaning. This was only available to dentists, however. In 1882 Codman and Shurtleft produced the first consumer use – unwaxed silk floss. The first patent for the product went to Johnson & Johnson in 1898.
Americans were not real big on oral hygiene, toothbrush or dental floss, and did not regularly brush their teeth until after World War II. The soldiers came back from the war where they were forced to brush their teeth daily. On their return, they kept up this practice.
The first electric toothbrush was from Switzerland and produced in 1939. The US finally got electric brushes in the 1960s. By 1987, rotary action was added. By the turn of the century, battery powered toothbrushes were available.
“Every tooth in a man’s head is more valuable than a diamond.” – Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote
“For there was never yet philosopher
That could endure the toothache patiently.” – William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing
“If a patient cannot clean his teeth, no dentist can clean them for him.” – Martin H. Fischer
“Tooth decay was a perennial national problem that meant a mouthful of silver for patients, and for dentists a pocketful of gold.” – Claudia Wallis
Also on this day, in 1607 one of the earliest operas was performed.
February 23, 1905: Paul Harris, an attorney, and three other businessmen form the Rotary Club over lunch in Chicago, Illinois. The Rotary Club was the first service club in the world and was named because the original members rotated for meetings in each of their offices.
The four goals of the service clubs are to1) develop opportunities for service; 2) hold members to high ethical standards in business, recognize worthiness of all occupations, dignify each Rotarian’s occupation as a way to serve; 3) apply the ideal of service to each member in personal, business, and community life; and 4) advance international understanding, goodwill, and peace through fellowship of professionals united in service.
From this meeting of four men has sprung Rotary International with 1.2 million members in 32,000 clubs spread across 167 countries. At the outset, women had their own community called the Inner Wheel, but were finally accepted into the Rotary in 1989. They now make up about 12% of the membership.
One of the clubs most notable global projects is Polio-Plus – donating both money and time to eradicating polio worldwide. It is interesting to note that on this same date, February 23, 1954, the first mass distribution of the polio vaccine was distributed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. With the help of the Rotary Club, incidence of polio is down 99% with only four countries still experiencing widespread polio outbreaks: Nigeria, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
“Of the things we think, say or do:
- Is it the TRUTH?
- Is it FAIR to all concerned?
- Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
- Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?” – Four Way Test of Rotary International
“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” – Anne Frank
“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” – William James
“The purpose of life is not to be happy – but to matter, to be productive, to be useful, to have it make some difference that you have lived at all.” – Leo Rosten
Also on this day, in 1820 the Cato Street Conspiracy came to naught.
February 22, 1774: Who owns the rights to written works? This has been a major problem since the invention of movable type. Prior to that, making a copy meant literally making a copy. As an example, in the 560s St. Columba copied Abbott Finnian’s Psalter (Bible). Dispute over the ownership of the copy caused enough animosity to result in deaths.
In 1556, Queen Mary I of England chartered printing companies to help suppress the Protestant Reformation and only the chartered printers could sell books – all other materials were illegal. This monopoly lasted until 1694 when the grip of the crown loosened after the English Civil War.
The Statute of Anne  is considered to be the first copyright law. It outlined three major points. First, the law applied to the public in general rather than just publishers. Second, the copyright originated with the author rather than the publisher. Lastly, a time limit was placed on the copyrighted material – 21 years for already published works and 14 years for newly published works with another 14 years possible. When the time limits started to run out in 1729, the English court ruled in favor of perpetual copyright to the publishers.
Today, copyright is determined by country where the work was created as well as the country where the work is published. Infringement on this right is usually settled through civil courts but there are times when it becomes a criminal action. While it can be proven words were copied, it is sometimes not enough to make even a civil case and the courts are usually used when serious counterfeiting has taken place.
Scotland and Ireland, not being ruled by English law, flooded the market with cheap copies. On this date in 1774 the House of Lords ruled against the perpetual copyright rule and public domain of copyrighted material was born.
“All my best thoughts were stolen by the ancients.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.” – unknown, commonly misattributed to Samuel Johnson
“I love being a writer. What I can’t stand is the paperwork.” – Peter De Vries
“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” – Mark Twain
Also on this day, in1997 the Roslin Institute announced the cloning of a sheep, Dolly.
February 21, 1885: The Washington Monument is dedicated. The cornerstone was laid on July 4, 1848. Due to an interruption of funds and the intervening Civil War, the capstone was not set until December 6, 1884. On October 9, 1888, it was finally officially opened to the public. It was the world’s tallest structure at 555 ft feet until the Eiffel Tower was completed. There are 893 steps to climb to reach the top if you choose to ignore the elevator.
George Washington was among the Founding Fathers of the United States. He was the only man to be unanimously elected to the Presidency after his successful leadership of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. He was adamant about the checks and balances in the young government, and worked hard to create the triangle of shared power between the Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary branches. He created, by virtue of being first, many precedents for the roles of President as well as expectations for the other two branches of the young nation. Even though encouraged by others, he chose to downplay the power inherent in the position and made the role of President one of far less pomp and bluster.
The marble, granite, and sandstone obelisk was designed by Robert Mills who died nearly thirty years before the obelisk was finished.. His original design called for a Grecian rotunda to be built at the base. Because of the interruption in the construction of the monument, there is a difference in shading of the marble that is visible approximately 150 feet (about 27%) up, showing where construction was resumed in 1876.
Sitting atop the obelisk is a pyramidion 55 feet in height and weighs 627,000 pounds. The capstone is made of aluminum – a valuable metal about equal to silver at the time – that weighs 100 ounces and was the largest-to-date single cast piece of the metal. It was displayed at Tiffany’s in New York City prior to installation. At Tiffany’s, it was set on the floor so people could jump over it. They were able to say they leapt over the top of the Washington Monument.
“Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.”
“Associate with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for it is better to be alone than in bad company.”
“The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.”
“It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.”
“The basis of our political system is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government” – all from George Washington
Also on this day, in 1848 The Communist Manifesto was published.
February 20, 1856: John Rutledge, a steamer on the Liverpool-NY route, hits an iceberg and sinks. There were 120 passengers and 16 crew on board. Both passengers and crew manned the pumps, but they could not overcome the water pouring in. There were enough lifeboats to accommodate all on board. Although some of the passengers panicked, all were off the ship when it sank.
On February 28, the Germania, en route from Havre to NYC picked up one lifeboat containing several dead bodies and Thomas W. Nye, a youth from New Bedford, Massachusetts. He was the only survivor, the other 135 were lost at sea.
Icebergs are up to 90% below the waterline. The shape of the mass above water does not correlate in any meaningful way with what lies beneath the water’s surface. The tallest known North Atlantic iceberg rose 551 feet above sea level.
Most icebergs in the Northern Atlantic come from Greenland which calves approximately 14,000 per year. Of those, 1-2% [400-800 icebergs] make it as far south as 48° north latitude. As a reference, 45° north runs through the middle of the state of Maine; 50° north is just south of the northern tip of the UK. This means that 48° north runs through France. This area is in the midst of shipping lanes between Europe and the US.
After losing the Titanic to one of these behemoths, the International Ice Patrol was formed in 1914 to monitor iceberg movements. At first, monitoring was done by ship, but now surveillance is carried out by air and by radar as well as by satellite.
“A snowflake is one of God’s most fragile creations, but look what they can do when they stick together!” – unknown
“A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.” – Grace Murray Hopper
“Often undecided whether to desert a sinking ship for one that might not float, he would make up his mind to sit on the wharf for a day.” – Lord Beaverbrook
“The mass loss resulting from this glacier acceleration in Greenland is very significant. These are very active glaciers. They all end up in the ocean, discharge icebergs and are very dynamic. Once you push them a little bit out of equilibrium, they start retreating very fast.” – Eric Rignot
Also on this day, in 1942 Butch O’Hare almost single-handedly saved the USS Lexington.