Little Bits of History

What Was That?

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 30, 2010

Fallen trees after the Tunguska event

June 30, 1908: At 7:15 AM, a concussion over Siberia equivalent to a 10 – 15 megaton TNT blast, levels 60 million trees over 830 square miles or 2,150 square kilometers – an area slightly smaller that Jacksonville, Florida, or about the size of Greater London, England. The area affected was near the Tunguska River in what is today Krasnoyarsk Krai of Russia.

People in Tungus noted a column of blue tinged light that was almost as bright as the sun, moving across the sky. Ten minutes later, there were short bursts of sound that were reminiscent of artillery fire, that came in pulses spaced farther and father apart. The were tremors associated with the sounds, shock waves, that broke windows hundreds of miles from the epicenter.

Trees at the epicenter were destroyed. The next ring out showed trees scorched on the side facing the blast. Sheltered trees in valleys still stood. The outer limits of tree damage was 32 miles from the site of the blast. The pattern of destruction was shaped like a butterfly. Seismic stations across Eurasia noted the explosion, atmospheric pressure changes were strong enough to be measured in Britain. Even as far away as the US, night skies glowed. The glow is thought to have been caused by ice crystals trapped in the upper atmosphere. As light passed through the ice, it caused a glow similar to when the Space Shuttle re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere. All of this excitement failed to stir in depth study at the time.

If there were any early studies of the area, the results have been lost due to the upheaval of World War I and the Russian Revolution of 1917 and followed by the Russian Civil War. Studies of the area from the 1950s and 1960s found silicate and magnetite in the soil. Chemical analysis showed other metals found in meteorites. Today, the hypothesis is that a meteoroid exploded in mid air, which accounts for no crater at the site and still explains the extensive damage from the shock waves.

“A fact is a simple statement that everyone believes. It is innocent, unless found guilty. A hypothesis is a novel suggestion that no one wants to believe. It is guilty, until found effective.” – Edward Teller

“Science is facts; just as houses are made of stones, so is science made of facts; but a pile of stones is not a house and a collection of facts is not necessarily science.” – Henri Poincaré

“We need not destroy the past. It is gone.” – John Cage

“A history in which every particular incident may be true may on the whole be false.” – Thomas Babington Macaulay

“There is no idea, no fact, which can not be vulgarized and presented in a ludicrous light.” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Also on this day, in 1859 Charles Blondin crossed the Niagara Falls on a tightrope.

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I Love You Lighthouse

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 29, 2010

Minot's Ledge lighthouse

June 29, 1860: The last stone is laid for the new Minot’s Ledge lighthouse near Scituate, Massachusetts. This was a replacement for the first lighthouse built between 1847 and 1850. The earlier structure was a beacon braced above metal framework and was the first lighthouse built in the US. Between the years 1832 and 1841, over 40 vessels were lost due to the rocky ledge hiding beneath the waves. Damages over the years totaled over $360,000.

The first lighthouse cost $39,000 and began operation on January 1, 1850. The lighthouse is 1 nautical mile offshore. The first operator quit after ten months because he felt unsafe as the waves crashed into the insubstantial base. His replacement also felt unsafe, but the architect maintained that the lighthouse was indeed safe, citing that it had weathered winters’ storms already. Three months later, in April 1851, a huge storm struck the New England coast and turned Boston into an island due to flooding. It also toppled the lighthouse, with two people perishing. All that survived were a few bent pilings.

Construction of an all stone lighthouse began on July 9, 1857. The total cost of this new construction was $300,000 – the most expensive lighthouse at the time, and still one of the costliest today. The building consists of 1,079 blocks of Quincy granite that are reinforced with iron shafts. It is 114 feet high. The light was first lit on August 22, 1860.

The lighthouse was automated in 1947. The tower has a unique pattern of light in a sequence of 1-4-3. Someone decided that must be the number of letters it stood for hence the lighthouse is sometimes given that nickname “I Love You”.

“He that will learn to pray let him go to Sea.” – George Herbert

“There is, one knows not what sweet mystery about this sea, whose gently awful stirrings seem to speak of some hidden soul beneath.” – Herman Melville

“No man will be a sailor, who has contrivance enough to get himself into a jail; for being in a ship is being in a jail, with the chance of being drowned.” – Samuel Johnson

“A fallen lighthouse is more dangerous than a reef.” – proverb

Also on this day, in 1888 the oldest wax cylinder recording (still in existance) was made.

The Kelly Gang

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 28, 2010

Ned Kelly's armor (Photo by Chensiyuan)

June 28, 1880: Ned Kelly is captured at Glenrowan, Australia. Kelly was born in 1854 in Beveridge, Victoria, Australia. He was the oldest of eight children. There was a vast extended family from both of his parents. His father who was transported to Australia for stealing a pig, died when Ned was twelve. He was forced to quit school and support the family who moved to Glenrowan.

There were plenty of charges brought against many of the extended family, but less than half resulted in guilty verdicts. This may point to the fact that the family was unfairly targeted. Ned, himself, was first arrested in 1869 when he was 14. He was in trouble with the law for the rest of his life. In 1878, after a shootout with police, Ned, his brother Dan, Joe Byrne and Steve Hart formed the Kelly Gang. They robbed two banks.

While robbing a bank and holding citizens hostage, Ned dictated The Jerilderie Letter. In it, he described the mistreatment of his family in particular and Irish Catholics in general and discussed the possibility of an uprising against the oppressors. On June 27, 1880, the gang entered Glenrowan Inn and held approximately 70 people hostage in order to elude police capture. It failed. At dawn on this date, Ned Kelly emerged from the Inn dressed in a suit of armor and was captured. He was sentenced to death and was hung on November 11.

Ned Kelly’s pursuit and capture were romanticized by the locals. The police actions were seen as both punitive and unsavory. In face, a Commission to study the case either reprimanded, dismissed, or terminated many of those involved. The Commission did not give the Kelly Gang a free pass as their actions were illegal. Changes in police procedure followed and Ned Kelly became a hero in the style of the Billy the Kid here in the US or Robin Hood in the UK.

“Criminals do not die by the hands of the law; they die by the hands of other men.” – George Bernard Shaw

“While the State may respectfully require obedience on many matters, it cannot violate the moral nature of a man, convert him into a serviceable criminal, and expect his loyalty and devotion.” – Liane Norman

“While there is a lower class I am in it; while there is a criminal element I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.” – Eugene Debs

“There’s a difference between criminals and crooks. Crooks steal. Criminals blow some guy’s brains out. I’m a crook.” – Ronald Biggs

Also on this day, in 2000 Elian Gonzalez went back to Cuba.

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The Oscar of the Children’s Library

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 27, 2010

The Newbery Medal

June 27, 1922: The Newbery Medal, awarded for excellence in children’s literature, is presented for the first time to Hendrik Willem van Loon for The Story of Mankind. Van Loon, a Dutch-American journalist and history professor, wrote the book for his grandchildren. It is a history of Western civilization. There are runners-up each year as well as the Newbery winner and they receive the Newbery Honor, both awards named for John Newbery, an 18th century publisher of juvenile books.

The American Library Association conceived of the award which is given to the most distinguished American children’s book published in the preceding season. The Newbery Medal is the first children’s book award in the world. It, along with the Caldecott Medal – for best artist of an illustrated book – are the top prizes for children’s literature. The bronze medals given to the winners of these prestigious awards were both designed by Rene Paul Chambellan.

The criteria for winner of the Newbery are 1) technical adeptness and excellence of presentation for the desired audience; and 2) the contribution to literature, as well as others. It is not a popularity contest. In fact, both Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White and Old Yeller by Fred Gipson were runners-up rather than winners. White’s book lost to Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan  Clark and Gipson’s lost to Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen.

There are several other awards given yearly for children’s literature. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award honors lifetime achievements rather than a year’s authorship. The Andrew Carnegie Medal rewards exceptional videography. The Batchelder Award honors books translated into English for American readers. And beginning in 2006, the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award is given to an author or illustrator who contributes to the beginning reader’s quest for entertainment.

“We read to train the mind, to fill the mind, to rest the mind, to recreate the mind, or to escape the mind.” – Holbrook Jackson

“You can never read bad literature too little, nor good literature too much.” – Arthur Schopenhauer

“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened.” – Ernest Hemingway

“Literature is the art of writing something that will be read twice; journalism, what will be grasped at once.” – Cyril Connolly

Also on this day, in 1966 Dark Shadows premiered.

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Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 26, 2010

Focke-Wulf FW-61

June 26, 1934: The Focke-Wulf FW-61, the first fully controllable production helicopter, is flown for the first time. Professor Heinrich Focke and engineer Gerd Achgelis began the design of this type of flying machine in 1932. Focke and Georg Wulf, along with Dr. Werner Naumann founded Focke-Wulf-Flugzeugbau GmbH in 1923. Wulf died in a monoplane accident in 1927. The company continued. Focke and Achgelis used a training aircraft frame and attached single-engine rotors on each side of the fuselage in place of the wings, the first successful helicopter. Focke was ousted from his own company by shareholder pressure in 1936. He and Achgelis form an eponymous company in 1937.

Helicopters are much more complex, expensive, and limited by speed, range, and payload when compared to fixed-wing aircraft. However, they are more maneuverable, can take off and land vertically, and can hover or reverse direction. Today, there are hybrid aircraft which combines some elements of fixed-wing flight along with some of the helicopter.

Fixed wing flight is generated by the relative motion between the air and the curved fixed wing. Lift is created as the airstream passes by something that deflects it. This is in accordance with Newton’s third law of motion. The helicopter uses the same principal but with rotating “wings.”

The FW-61 achieved a top speed of 76 mph during its testing in 1936. Because of the aerodynamic limitations of rotors, it is thought that the maximum attainable speed of any helicopter is 250 mph. The world’s fastest helicopter was a modified ZB500 G-Lynx with a top recorded speed of 249.10 mph. The US military “Black Hawk” has a cruising speed of 150 mph and a maximum speed of 220.

“I grew up in a neighborhood so rough, I learned to read by the light of a police helicopter.” – Bill Jones

“There are still too few helicopters to reach more than 1,000 remote villages with lifesaving supplies that children urgently need.” – Ann Veneman

“There is a continued need for more helicopter capacity, to move in the inaccessible areas. The terrain here is very difficult and winter is approaching.” – Hilary Benn

“The helicopter is a very potent business tool to shuttle mid-level folks to Wall Street, … The biggest issue is the time that the client saves. If you’re going from Manhattan to Washington, the fastest way to go is by helicopter.” – Mike Moran

Also on this day, in 1927 the Cyclone opened at Coney Island.

Great Star of Africa

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 25, 2010

Copy of nine of the diamonds cut from the famous Cullinan diamond, from the "Reich der Kristalle" museum in Munich. The top left one is the Great Star of Africa (Chris 73)

June 25, 1905: The world’s largest gem-quality diamond is discovered by Frederick Wells, manager of the Premier Diamond Mining Company in Cullinan, Gauteng, South Africa. It weighed 3,106.75 carats [621.35 g or 21.9 oz]. A larger carbonado, non-gem quality diamond, was found in Brazil weighing 3,600 carats. This largest diamond is named for the owner of the mine, Sir Thomas Cullinan. Wells received $10,000 for the find.

The Cullinan Diamond was purchased for $800,000 and presented to King Edward VII of England. The Asscher Brothers of Amsterdam were given the job of cutting the stone as they had successfully cut the Excelsior, the previous world record diamond. Joseph Asscher studied the gem for three months, trying to determine the proper way to proceed. Finally, on February 10, 1908 at 2:45 PM he took the cleaving blade and placed it at the prearranged point and struck it with his hammer. The blade broke. The gem was unharmed and a second cleaving blade was found. The stone split perfectly.

The first cut produced two massive stones weighing 1,977.50 and 1,040 carats. They were eventually made into nine major stones, 96 brilliants, and 9.5 carats of unpolished pieces. The total weight for the cut stones was 1,063 carats with a 65%  cutting loss. The King kept the two largest stones and purchased a “chip” for Queen Alexandra – weighing 11.5 carats.

The largest gem was faceted into the pear shaped 530.2 carat diamond officially known as both The Cullinan Diamond and the Star of Africa. It is part of the Royal Scepter and remains in the Tower of London with the crown jewels. Queen Elizabeth II is the current owner. The Golden Jubilee, another Premier mine diamond, is a larger cut gem weighing 545.67 carats and is owned by King Rama IX, King of Thailand.

“He who finds diamonds must grapple in mud and mire because diamonds are not found in polished stones. They are made.” – unknown

“Next to sound judgment, diamonds and pearls are the rarest things in the world.” – Jean de la Bruyere

“I never hated a man enough to give him his diamonds back.” – Zsa Zsa Gabor

“Diamonds are nothing more than chunks of coal that stuck to their jobs.” – Malcolm S. Forbes

Also on this day, in Harry Thaw murders Sandford White.

The Cynic

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 24, 2010

Ambrose Bierce Circa 1866.

June 24, 1842: Ambrose Bierce, satirist, critic, short story writer, novelist, essayist, poet, editor, and journalist, is born in Meigs County, Ohio. He moved to Elkhart, Indiana while a teenager and served during the Civil War as an officer in the Ninth Regiment, Indiana Volunteers for the Union Army. He resigned from the Army as a brevet Major while in San Francisco. He remained there writing for several local newspapers and periodicals.

He moved to England and wrote from there for three years, moved back to the USA and moved around much of the western half of the country, writing in various venues. He worked for the Hearst Newspapers before eventually moving back to the East Coast. His biting wit along with his penchant for writing social criticism and satirical pieces led to controversy. He was given the nickname “Bitter Bierce” but did have a soft spot and lent encouragement to young writers.

He is best known for his non-fiction work, The Devil’s Dictionary. The dictionary consists of sarcastic or hypocritical definitions laced with political innuendo. Definitions were printed in his newspapers over time and they were first put into book form with the title of Cynic’s Word Book. In 1911, the book was republished with the current title.

At the age of 71 in October of 1913, Bierce left Washington DC to tour his old Civil War battlefields. By December, he was through Texas and on the way to El Paso. He traveled into Mexico which was in a state of revolution at the time. He joined Pancho Villa’s army as an observer in Ciudad, Juarez. It is known that he got as far as Chihuahua, Chihuahua and sent a letter to a friend dated December 26, 1913. He then vanished without a trace.

“CYNIC n. A blackguard whose faulty vision causes him to see things as they are, not as they ought to be.”

“RUM, n. Generically, fiery liquors that produce madness in total abstainers.”

“HOMICIDE, n. The slaying of one human being by another. There are four kinds of homocide: felonious, excusable, justifiable, and praiseworthy, but it makes no great difference to the person slain whether he fell by one kind or another –the classification is for advantage of the lawyers.”

“Love: A temporary insanity curable by marriage.”

“Death is not the end. There remains the litigation over the estate.” – all from Ambrose Bierce

Also on this day, in 1947 Kenneth Arnold spotted a UFO.

Mutiny on the Discovery

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 23, 2010
Searching for the Pacific Ocean

The rigors of travel and the desire for fame didn't mix

June 23, 1611: Henry Hudson, on his fourth voyage in search of a northwest passage to Asia, is set adrift with his son and seven other loyal crew members. They were never seen again. Hudson heard of the search for a westward route to Asia while still a boy. He signed on as a cabin boy at the age of 16 and advanced to apprentice within seven years. By 1607, he was a seasoned seaman and the Muscovy Company hired him to search out the fabled northwest passage.

His first and second trips, were both blocked by ice and winds. He was within 577 nautical miles of the North Pole while seeking a way to the Pacific Ocean. After two years of failures, Hudson found financing with the Dutch in 1609. He sailed to the New World via Newfoundland, exploring what is today Manhattan, Maine, and Cape Cod and then sailed for a distance up the Hudson River. The Dutch used his information and set up the colony New Amsterdam, although Hudson called it Staaten Eylandt.

In 1610, he sailed under the English flag. Hudson went as far north as Iceland and then sailed on to Greenland. He continued west, looking for the passage to the Pacific Ocean. His ship reached the Hudson Strait and sailed into the Hudson Bay. Hudson continued his explorations until his ship became trapped in ice at James Bay, forcing the crew to winter in Canada.

When the ice finally melted the next spring, the Discovery was free to sail again. Hudson wanted to continue his study of the region for the waterway leading to the Pacific. The weary crew mutinied and eventually returned to Europe, although they went to Holland rather than England. They were never punished for the mutiny.

“Mistakes, even occasional incompetence, could be understood and forgiven, but not disloyalty.” – Joseph A. Califano, Jr.

“A succession of small duties always faithfully done demands no less than do heroic actions.” – Rousseau

“[History] is made up of the total effect of all our decisions and actions.” – Thomas Merton

“The impulse to escape an untenable situation often prompts human beings not to shrink back but to plunge ahead.” – Eric Hoffer

Also on this day, in 1868 an improved typewriter was patented.

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Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 22, 2010

Original fraternity crest

June 22, 1844: Delta Kappa Epsilon [DKE or Deke], an influential North American fraternity is founded at Yale University by fifteen sophomores. The fifteen men had applied to Alpha Delta Phi and Psi Upsilon and some of them had been accepted. However the fifteen chose to form a new fraternity where all of them were welcome. They were looking for a candidate who was equal parts of each: “gentleman, the scholar, and the jolly good fellow.” The open motto of the fraternity is “Friends from the Heart Forever.”

Within three years, chapters were founded at four other institutions. To date, there are 63 chapters with more than 85,000 members in the US and another 6 chapters in Canada. Deke became an international fraternity in 1889 with the founding of the Alpha Phi chapter at the University of Toronto.

DKE’s influence is interwoven into American history. Five presidents have been part of the fraternity, the latest being George W. Bush [his father is a member, too]. Franklin D. Roosevelt held memberships in two fraternities and DKE revoked his status in the 1890s. The first Union officer killed in the Civil War was a Deke.

Vice Presidents, Governors, Justices of the US Supreme Court, other politicians, newspaper publishers, powerful businessmen, sports and entertainment figures, and other high achievers have all been members of this influential fraternity.

“Our main purpose is to make sure fraternities are cooperating and making sure the Greek community is healthy.” – Jeff Jenkins

“It’s just fun to go home and watch your old school. I still got some guys that I played with that are still there. Plus, I’m a fraternity guy. I go back and see the guys.” – Kevin Jones

“It’s rush for fraternities and it’s rush for bookstores too.” – Robert Hall

“We always prided ourselves in being a fraternity that did not take just one kind of kids.” – Jason Kassoy

“Grab a brew, don’t cost nuthin’.” – John Belushi in Animal House

Also on this day:
In 1918, the
Heganbeck-Wallace train disaster occurred.
In 1969, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio caught fire.

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Job Insecurity

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 21, 2010

Gathering crowd in Winnipeg

June 21, 1919: At the end of the First World War, Canadian soldiers returned home to find few jobs and almost nonexistent labor regulations. In March 1919 delegates met at Calgary to form a local branch of the “One Big Union,” the premise of which was that all workers should unite in one and only one union. The plan was to hold many general strikes across Canada. The strikes were played out against the background of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia leading many government bodies to react more strongly than they otherwise might have.

In Winnipeg, workers were trying to unionize into two unions – the Building Trade Council and the Metal Trade Council without success. Management refused to negotiate with the Metal Trade Council. And so the workers decided to strike and garnered support from the Trades and Labour Union as well. Cost of living and inflation had risen during World War I. Wages had not risen at the same rate and incomes were no longer stretching as far. The City of Winnipeg denied teamsters, electrical workers, water works staff, and office employees wage increases in April.

On May 15, virtually everyone in Winnipeg, including essential public employees, went on strike. Civil servants – fire and police – returned to duty part way through the strike. Even though the strikers were generally non-violent, the wealthy elite created a committee entitled the “Citizens’ Committee of One Thousand” and stated to federal agents investigating the strike that there was a history of violence.

On this date, most of the local police were fired and replaced with Royal North-West Mounted Police. The strikers were read the Riot Act and Mounties charged. Reading of the Riot Act is a British formality whereby those in charge read a Parliament sanctioned document demanding the crowd disperse. This act was passed in 1715 and it must be read before any overt actions can be taken by authorities. When it is ignored, they are authorized to take other measures to ensure the common good. Or so the theory goes. The Mounties fired into the crowd, killing two and wounding at least 30 more.

“With all their faults, trade-unions have done more for humanity than any other organization of men that ever existed.” – Clarence Seward Darrow

“Now they’re being … associated with the ‘old economy’ aspect of their business — a unionized work force.” – Richard Klugman

“The only things that evolve by themselves in an organization are disorder, friction, and malperformance.” – Peter F. Drucker

“It is one of the characteristics of a free and democratic modern nation that it have free and independent labor unions.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Also on this day, in 1948 the Manchester Baby is tested and the computer age gets a boost.

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