Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 31, 2010

Women's suffragists demonstrate in February 1913. (Bain News Service)

March 31, 1776: Abigail Adams writes a letter to her husband, John Adams, stating that women are “determined to foment a rebellion” if the new Declaration of Independence doesn’t guarantee women’s rights as well as men’s. She was right, of course, but it took over 100 years for that to happen.

Women could be elected in the US before they could vote themselves into office. Women’s suffrage is still not a worldwide right, but progress is continually being made. It should be noted that there are places on this planet where male suffrage is also not granted.

Women have no right to vote in Saudi Arabia (men 21 and over) and at the Holy See or Vatican where only cardinals (all male) under the age of 80 can vote. Women got the vote in the Falkland Islands in 2009 while the Pitcairn Islands were first to grant this right in 1838. In Iceland, when first given a say, women had to be 40 or over, but the age was reduced to 18 five years later. As an ironic twist, Isle of Man was the second to give women a vote in 1881.

Women’s rights became more of an issue as slavery was being abolished. If one is saying that all humans are equal regardless of race, then certainly they should all be equal regardless of gender. Women became more vocal and demanded the full status of human beings. The Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, granting voting rights regardless of sex was finally ratified in August of 1920 – a mere 144 years after Abigail wrote her letter.

“Howiver, I’m not denyin’ the women are foolish: God Almighty made ’em to match the men.” – George Eliot in “The Harvest Supper,” Adam Bede

“I have an idea that the phrase ‘weaker sex’ was coined by some woman to disarm some man she was preparing to overwhelm.” – Ogden Nash

“Nature has given women so much power that the law has very wisely given them little.” – Samuel Johnson

“Democracy is being allowed to vote for the candidate you dislike least.” – Robert Byrne

Also on this day, in 1889 the Eiffel Tower was inaugurated.

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Pencil plus

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 30, 2010


March 30, 1858: US Patent number 19,783 is granted to Hyman L. Lipman of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for a pencil with an eraser attached. According to the patent, the pencil was made in the usual manner, except that one quarter of length was reserved for holding a piece of prepared India-rubber. This allowed the eraser to stay with the pencil for ease of use.

Pencils contain not only those handy erasers but the writing material as well. We commonly refer to the substance as lead, but it is in fact, graphite and has been since 1564 when a large graphite source was discovered in Borrowdale, England. Before graphite, the pencil wasn’t anything more than a piece of lead. With the introduction of this darker substance, a casing was needed to keep the graphite from breaking.

First the graphite was wrapped in string and finally it made its way inside a wooden casing. They were finally mass produced in Nuremberg, Germany starting in 1662. They were not painted because it was felt that the high quality wood casings were an advantage. The best source of graphite was found in China. The color yellow is a sign of royalty and respect in that country. In order to advertise that one’s pencils contained Chinese or superior graphite, manufacturers started painting them yellow.

Pencils are classified in various ways. The hardness, the blackness, and the fineness of the lead are indicated by letters or numbers, depending on where it is made. There are various types of pencils based on their marking materials (graphite, charcoal, carbon, colored, grease, and watercolor). Pencils are classified by their use (carpenter’s, copying, erasable color, non-reproducing, stenographer’s, and golf pencils). There are four different shapes (triangle, hexagon, round, and bendable). And there is a whole different class by manufacturer, especially based on mechanical pencils.

“Everyone makes mistakes. That’s why there is an eraser on every pencil.” – Japanese proverb

“To err is human, but when the eraser wears out ahead of the pencil, you’re overdoing it.” – Josh Jenkins

“The average pencil is seven inches long, with just a half-inch eraser – in case you thought optimism was dead.” – Robert Brault

“University President: Why is it that you physicists always require so much expensive equipment? Now the Department of Mathematics requires nothing but money for paper, pencils, and erasers…and the Department of Philosophy is better still. It doesn’t even ask for erasers.” – Isaac Asimov

Also on this day, in 1867 America bought Alaska.

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Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 29, 2010

Rationing during World War II

March 29, 1943: In the US, rationing of meat, butter, and cheese is added to the list of already rationed products. The price of war is difficult to calculate. What price, what cost, what sacrifice is too great? During Word War Two there was a different perspective both to that war and to the costs people were willing to pay. The ration list grew longer as the war continued.

Even before “globalization” the entire industrialized world was affected by the catastrophic economic force of the Great Depression. After years of going without the considered necessities of the day, Americans were again asked to go without –this time to sacrifice for what was deemed a greater good.

The sacrifices made at home were to benefit those on the battlefields. Many, if not most, of the citizens at home during the war effort had someone actively participating in either the European or Pacific arena of World War II. Perhaps there was some personal reason for this “greatest generation” to forego luxuries or even necessities to help the “boys” overseas.

Rationing books and tokens were used. Items in short supply were limited, not by being able to afford them, but because the little available had to be shared by all. By the end of the war, half of all cars were issued an A sticker, meaning driving was for nonessential use. They were permitted four gallons of gasoline a week. Green B stickers went to those who worked in war industries and gave them twice as much fuel. Physician, ministers, mail carriers, and railroad workers got C stickers while T was for truckers. The rare X sticker, for unlimited fuel went to members of Congress and other VIPs. The maximum speed was the Victory Speed of 35 mph.

“If war is ever lawful, then peace is sometimes sinful.” – C.S. Lewis

“Wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by men. It is the spirit of the men who follow and of the man who leads that gains the victory.” – General George S. Patton

“War involves in its progress such a train of unforeseen circumstances that no human wisdom can calculate the end; it has but one thing certain, and that is to increase taxes” – Thomas Paine

“The best things in life are never rationed. Friendship, loyalty, love, do not require coupons.” – unknown

Also on this day, in 1848 Niagara Falls stopped running due to an ice jam farther up river.

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Ragnar, the Viking

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 28, 2010

Aella murdering Ragnar Lodbrok

March 28, 845: The Viking, Ragnar Lodbrok, sails up the Seine and sacks Paris on Easter. Claiming to be a direct descendant of Odin, the chief Norse god, Ragnar like to plan the odds in his favor. Raiding Christian cities on holy days meant that most of the soldiers would be in church.

Ragnar spent most of his life as a pirate and raider, but the vastness of his exploits show him to be a military strategist as well. He had four sons and felt that he must outshine any of their future exploits so he raided farther from home.

Paris was ruled by Charlemagne’s grandson, Charles II “The Bald” when Ragnar came calling. Charles paid the Dane to leave the city with the already stolen goods without causing further destruction. Ragnar departed with the spoils and an additional 7000 pounds of silver. He did not leave France however, and kept attacking up the coast.

Ragnar moved over to England in 865 and attacked Northumbria where he was met by King Aelle II who defeated the Dane and cast him into a pit of venomous snakes. Ragnar’s sons avenged their father’s death by capturing Aelle and killed him by the custom of Rista Blodörn. This nasty little piece of work is translated as “blood eagle” and consists of the ribs being cut from the spine, pulled away and broken, so they look like the wings of an eagle. Then the lungs are ripped out of the body. For added measure, salt is sprinkled over the wounds.

The death of Aelle may be legendary rather than fact, however it is true that the Vikings came after Ragnar’s defeat and eventually captured, conquered, and settled the area.

“How the little pigs would grunt if they knew the situation of the old boar!” – Ragnar Lodbrok , as he was being bitten to death by snakes

“It is the great north wind that made the Vikings.”  – Scandanavian proverb

“When I was about five I think, I desperately wanted to be a pirate and have the hat and everything.” – Keira Knightley

“Always remember to pillage before you burn.” – unknown

Also on this day, in 1920 it was Palm Sunday and 38 significant tornadoes ranged across the US.

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Long Distance Communication

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 27, 2010

Guglielmo Marconi with his invention in 1876

March 27, 1899: The first international radio transmission takes place when Guglielmo Marconi transmits a message between England and France. Marconi was the son of an Italian landowner and Annie Jameson, the Irish granddaughter of the founder of Jameson & Son Distillery.

Many other electrical engineers and scientists were instrumental in developing the radio, but Marconi’s contributions to a useful form make him known as “the father of radio.” He first transmitted his Morse code messages across water in 1897, and across the Atlantic in 1901.

Marconi continued to work with longwaves and lower frequencies, broadcasting for longer distances. Messages were more easily sent at night, going more than twice as far without day time interferences. In 1903, on March 29, the first transatlantic new service between New York and London was begun. Voice over radio waves was finally introduced in the 1920s. In 1922, the first regular radio broadcasts for entertainment were introduced.

Today, radio is still used for audio transmissions, both word and music. It can also be used to transmit video if there is a proper receiver and digital television uses 8VSB modulation. Radio can be used for telephones with mobile phones transmitting to local cell sites. Radio is used for navigation and radar by bouncing radio waves off solid objects. Data can be sent across digital radio bands. There are licensed and unlicensed radio services available for short wave frequencies. Radio can be used to control remotely as in toy cars and planes. As a side effect, radio produces heat, and so can be used as a heating source.

“Every improvement in communication makes the bore more terrible.” – Frank Moore Colby

“You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat.” – Albert Einstein, when asked to describe radio

“Cinema, radio, television, magazines are a school of inattention: people look without seeing, listen in without hearing.” – Robert Bresson

“The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?” – David Sarnoff’s associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s.

Also on this day, in 1977 at Tenerife Airport, the world’s most deadly aviation disaster.

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Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 26, 2010

Tennessee Williams

March 26, 1911: Thomas Lanier Williams III is born, better known as Tennessee Williams. He was a playwright with over 75 plays written. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama twice. The first time was for A Streetcar Named Desire in 1948 and again in 1955 for Cat On a Hot Tin Roof. He was also the recipient of the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award twice and won one Tony for best play.

Williams was born into a dysfunctional family and things went downhill from there. He was diagnosed with diphtheria at the age of seven and was nearly incapacitated for two years. His mother encouraged him to use his imagination rather than just drift through the time and at the age of thirteen, he was given a typewriter.

His father was abusive and the abuse escalated as time went on. Williams’s sister, Rose, was schizophrenic and spent most of her adult life in mental institutions. In 1943, she underwent a frontal lobotomy that was unsuccessful, and she never truly recovered. Many of Williams’s characters are based on his sister.

The stabilizing person in his life was his partner and secretary, Frank Merlo. The relationship began in 1947 and ended with Merlo’s death in 1961, throwing Williams into years of depression and alcoholism. Williams died in 1983, choking on a bottle cap being the official story. However, many people including his brother, Dakin, believe he was murdered. Police suspect drugs were implicated due to finding pills beneath his body. His plays offer us insight into his world.

“Life is partly what we make it, and partly what it is made by the friends we choose.”

“Life is all memory, except for the one present moment that goes by you so quickly you hardly catch it going.”

“If the writing is honest it cannot be separated from the man who wrote it.”

“Why did I write? Because I found life unsatisfactory.”

“All cruel people describe themselves as paragons of frankness.” – all from Tennessee Williams

Also on this day, in 1934 the UK began testing drivers in order for them to become licensed.

On Your Marks

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 25, 2010

Narragansett Pacer

March 25, 1668: The first horse race in America takes place in New York at Salisbury Plain on Long Island. The grassy plain measured about 4 miles by 16 miles and easily accommodated the running of a two-mile  course. All of this was done in the spirit of encouraging a better breed of horse, but trophies were awarded at the spring and fall meetings.

Back in the mother country, King Charles II made horse racing popular after regaining the throne in 1660. Cromwell had banned racing, however Charles reopened New Market and encouraged the citizenry to attend races. He introduced the old Roman custom of racing silks and initiated the use of poles at furlong intervals.

Narragansett Pacer was the first truly American breed of horse, and although its line is in doubt, the horse seems to be a cross between English and Dutch horses. The first breeding center was established in Rhode Island west of the Narragansett Bay, hence the name.

Horses were used for industry and travel as well. The first use of horses to deliver the mail was on January 22, 1673 when mail service was set up between Boston and New York. Having well-bred horses helped to maintain the colonies that were spread over a vast area.

“The spirited horse, which will try to win the race of its own accord, will run even faster if encouraged” – Ovid

“He’s an amazing horse. No horse I’ve ever seen in any race stumbled like that. And I don’t know any horse stayed up after going that close to the ground. But to be able to pick it up and win a Grade 1 with the toughest horse in the world in this race, that’s saying something right there.” – Jeremy Rose

“She’s a very nice filly; very correct and well balanced. I love her sire, and she just looks the part of a racehorse. I buy horses who I think can win Grade 1 races.” – John Oxley

“If you treat your wife like a thoroughbred, you’ll never end up with a nag” – Zig Ziglar

Also on this day, in 1655, Christiaan Huygens discovered Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.

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Alaska Mess

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 24, 2010

The Exxon Valdez (Photo my NOAA)

March 24, 1989: An ecological disaster strikes. It was March 23 at 9:12 PM, William Murphy, an expert pilot, was in control of the wheelhouse. Joe Hazelwood, the captain, was present. Harry Claar, helmsman, was steering. Passage through the treacherous Valdez Narrows was uneventful.

Murphy left and Hazelwood was in charge. Icebergs were encountered in the shipping lane. Hazelwood took the ship out of the shipping lane to avoid this problem. He then handed over control to Third Mate Gregory Cousins with “precise instructions” to return to the shipping lane by a certain point.

Claar was replaced by Helmsman Robert Kagen. No one knows why, but the order to return to the shipping lane was not followed. At 12:04 AM on March 24, 1989 the Exxon Valdez ran aground on the Bligh Reef. She was carrying 1,264,155 barrels of oil of which 257,000 barrels (10.8 million gallons) were spilled.

It took four summers, thousands of man-hours, and $2.1 billion to clean up the mess. Many believe winter storms did more to clean the area than all the human efforts combined. The best estimate of the numbers of wildlife killed are as follows: 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 otters, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles, 22 killer whales, and billions of salmon and herring eggs. The Exxon Valdez spill is still one of the largest in the United States.

Although it has dropped off of the top 50 spills worldwide, it is still considered to be the worst spill when looking at the ecological ramifications. The worst oil spill disaster was intentional and occurred in 1991 when 520 million gallons of oil was released by Iraqi forces when they opened the valves of several oil tankers in Kuwait during the First Gulf War. The next three highest spills were due to pipelines issues in Mexico (100 million gallons), Trinidad and Tobago (90 million gallons), and Russia (84 million gallons). The worst ship disaster took place in the Persian Gulf in 1983 when a tanker collided with a drilling platform and 80 million gallons were spilled before repairs were completed seven months later.

“Thank God men cannot fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth.” – Henry David Thoreau

“It wasn’t the Exxon Valdez captain’s driving that caused the Alaskan oil spill. It was yours.” – Greenpeace advertisement, New York Times, 25 February 1990

“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” – Native American Proverb

“Obviously, the answer to oil spills is to paper-train the tankers.” – Ralph Nader

Also on this day, in 1898 the first American built car was sold in America – the Winton horseless carriage.

The Man Who Would Be Pope

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 23, 2010

Not-Quite-Pope Stephen

March 23, 752: Pope Stephen is elected to the papacy. Yet, he never gets to become Pope. During this period of the Catholic Church, Popes were sought out from the regular priesthood rather than from bishops or cardinals. After being elected unanimously, Stephen was waiting to be ordained a bishop when he suddenly died of apoplexy.

This particular Stephen would have been the second Pope named so, but he is not accorded the designation of Stephen II because he never actually assumed the papacy. At the time, Popes were simply Pope So-and-so and the regnal numbers were not added until the 10th century.

There is no real problem with this poor man’s inability to become the Bishop of Rome, other than the playing with numbers for future Popes of the same name. Following Pope Stephens have had to cope with the designation of II (III) or IX (X) since this elected official never actually assumed the seat of power. He is not on lists of Popes since he never actually got past the election process.

Pope Marinus I was the first bishop to be elected as Pope in 882 and Pope Gregory XVI was the last man elected to the seat without being a bishop first.

“Anybody can be Pope; the proof of this is that I have become one.” – Pope John XXIII

“My mother said to me, ‘If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope.’ Instead, I was a painter, and became Picasso.” – Pablo Picasso

“I admire the Pope. I have a lot of respect for anyone who can tour without an album.” – Rita Rudner

“I would like to see the Pope wearing my T-shirt.” – Madonna

Also on this day, in 1857 Elisha Otis installed his first passenger safety elevator.

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Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 22, 2010

Helium-Neon laser

March 22, 1960: Arthur L. Schawlow and Charles Townes receive a patent for the laser while working for Bell Labs and change our lives dramatically. LASER is an acronym rather than a noun. It stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. It is a device that creates and amplifies a narrow intense beam of coherent light.

The trick is to find the right atoms – which emit the radiation. Atoms are used from crystals like rubies and garnets as well as gases or liquids. These atoms are stimulated or excited as well as focused and then used in a variety of applications today.

The output of lasers are varied. They can be a continuous constant-amplitude and called CW or continuous wave. Some of these can produce visible light and can do so for a very short period of time – a few femtoseconds. That word means one quarrillionth of a second or 10-15 which is also one millionth of one billionth of a second. So a very short time. There is also a method of use called Q-switching, another method is modelocking, and there is also pulsed pumping.

Lasers are useful in industry, medicine, communications, scientific research, and holography. You use lasers every day when items are run across a bar scanner or when you print with a laser printer. When you listen to a music CD or run a data CD the reader uses laser technology. DVDs also use this focused light.

“We manipulate nature as if we were stuffing an Alsatian goose. We create new forms of energy; we make new elements; we kill crops; we wash brains. I can hear them in the dark sharpening their lasers.” – Erwin Chargaff

“The simplistic concept (of lasers) probably derived from that old James Bond movie of a laser driving down at Sean Connery. It was a big-old device with a circular beam coming down. Conceptually, that’s kind of correct, but all lasers today with those big beams come from gas or material lasers,” – Malcolm Thompson

“You know, I have one simple request. And that is to have sharks with frickin’ laser beams attached to their heads! Now evidently my cycloptic colleague informs me that that cannot be done. Ah, would you remind me what I pay you people for, honestly? Throw me a bone here! What do we have?” Dr. Evil from Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery

“The atoms become like a moth, seeking out the region of higher laser intensity.” – Steven Chu

Also on this day, in 1989 Clint Malarchuk got his throat slit during a hockey game.

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