March 31, 1918: Daylight Savings Time [DST] goes into effect for the first time in the United States. Most of the world is not bothered by this phenomenon today. The world is divided into three types of time keepers. Those who use DST, those who have never used DST (much of Africa and Indonesia], and those who no longer using DST [China, India, Egypt, much of South America]. The use of the time change is mostly in the Northern Hemisphere’s high latitudes.
The idea was first proposed in 1895 by George Vernon Hudson. He was an London-born New Zealand entomologist and astronomer. Much of the electricity of the time was used to light homes in the evening. It was hoped that extending the daylight hours into the evening would lessen electrical usage. Today, with lights, heating, and air conditioning usage, this savings is no longer seen. There is, however, more daylight for sporting events after the workday is completed. It may also encourage more evening shopping excursions.
DST was first used in 1916 by Germany and its World War I allies. The hope was to reduce coal usage. Britain and some allies soon followed suit. Russia waited until 1917 to join in and the US waited even one year longer. How we reckon time is a human construct. The sun rises and sets as it sees fit throughout the year. Manipulating when the daylight is visible can be accomplished by simply changing the time. However, in order to keep the calendar intact, the clocks must at some point be adjusted backward. So in the Fall, we set clocks backwards an hour.
There are benefits and drawbacks to the time switch. Energy use was supposed to be a major reason for the change, but there has been no consistent finding with study after study each showing something different. Retailers and sports concerns find it advantageous to have extra daylight in the afternoon and evening. There have been mixed results to studies concerning public safety and DST with some saying it saves lives, while others show different results. There are effects on health and sleep patterns being disrupted and the issue of having to remember to actually change the clocks twice a year. There are also concerns in the computing world with programming needed to affect changes with the machines.
“Chinese buildings are like American buildings, with big footprints. People don’t care about daylight or fresh air.” – Helmut Jahn
“Don’t forget it’s daylight savings time. You spring forward, then you fall back. It’s like Robert Downey Jr. getting out of bed.” – David Letterman
“I don’t mind going back to daylight saving time. With inflation, the hour will be the only thing I’ve saved all year.” – Victor Borge
“Love prefers twilight to daylight.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes
March 30, 1842: Dr. Crawford Long first uses ether as a general anesthetic during a procedure to remove a tumor from a man’s neck. He placed an ether-soaked towel over the man’s face while he excised the lesion. Long charged $0.25 for the anesthetic and $2.00 for the surgery. Long was born in Danielsville, Georgia in 1815 and graduated from medical school in 1839.
Ether was discovered in 1275 by Raymundus Lullus and first synthesized in 1540 by Valerius Cordus. Ether can be and has been used recreationally. Long was probably introduced to the flammable liquid in med school during “ether frolics” which were deemed more acceptable than a drinking binge. Dr. Long used ether for many procedures but did not publish his findings until 1849. By that time, William Morton, a Boston dentist, had given a public demonstration of the wonder drug at Massachusetts General Hospital. Morton was given credit for discovering general anesthesia for years.
Incas had a method for decreasing pain perception. They had coca leaves to chew while holes were drilled in skulls to allow evil spirits to escape. Unfortunately, it was the doctor who chewed the cocaine containing leaves and then spit into the wound to dull the sensation while he continued to drill the holes. Patients in other parts of the world were given opium or specially treated wines to dull the pain of medical intervention.
Today, administering anesthesia is a whole medical specialty. Anesthesiologists are doctors who “pass gas” while anesthetists are specially trained nurses doing the same thing. Anesthesia is general – completely asleep or unconscious; regional – epidurals, spinals, and limb blocks such as a Bier block; and local – where a small area is injected with medication that deadens nerve endings in a small area.
“Oh, what delight for every feeling heart to find the new year ushered in with the announcement of this noble discovery of the power to still the sense of pain, and veil the eye and memory from all the horrors of an operation. … WE HAVE CONQUERED PAIN.” – from the People’s Journal of London
“Alcohol is the anesthesia by which we endure the operation of life.” – George Bernard Shaw
“It’s not the operation itself that is the concern, it’s the anesthesia. That’s a bigger risk than the operation.” – Sanjay Gupta
“Anyone who tells you it’s painless can only honestly be referring to the period the person is under anesthesia.” – Eric Collins
March 29, 1807: The only asteroid visible to the naked eye is spied by Heinrich Wilhem Olbers from Bremen, Germany. Olbers was trained as a physician and practiced medicine by day. But at night, he turned to the sky. He built an observatory in the upper story of his house to facilitate his hobby. He also was the first to come up with a satisfactory way to calculate cometary orbits. On March 28, 1802, he discovered an asteroid which he named Pallas. Olbers did not use the name “asteroid” for his discovery as this had not yet been coined, but instead used the term “minor planet.”
When he discovered a second asteroid five years later, he allowed Carl Friedrich Gauss to name it. Gauss chose the name Vesta. Ceres was the first asteroid to be discovered and was found in 1801 by Giuseppe Piazzi. It is the largest of the asteroids measuring about 590 miles in diameter. Even though the largest dwarf planet, containing about one-third of the total material of the asteroid belt, it is too dim to be seen with the naked eye. Olbers concluded, after finding another minor planet, that the asteroid belt existed and contained pieces of a planet that had been destroyed.
Vesta is smaller than Ceres with a mean diameter of 330 miles. The mostly-ovoid planet contains about 9% of the asteroid belt’s matter and is only 28% as massive as Ceres. However, it is closer to Earth. About a billion years ago, Vesta was in a collision and lost about 1% of its mass. The debris from this event has fallen to Earth as Howardite-Eucrite-Diogenite meteorites and given us much information concerning the asteroid belt.
The asteroid belt is a region of the Solar System between Mars and Jupiter. Most of the rock and ice found there are irregularly shaped asteroids. The four largest bodies [Ceres, Vesta, Pallas, and Hygiea] contain more than half of the matter in the belt. While other areas in the Solar System were managing to form into planets, the material in this region was so affected by Jupiter’s gravitational pull that the material held too much energy to stick together or accrete. Instead, the material was too violent and as collisions occurred, the protoplanet shattered.
“Noise proves nothing. Often a hen who has merely laid an egg cackles as if she laid an asteroid.” – Mark Twain
“This planet is 15 million years overdue for an asteroid strike like the one that killed the dinosaurs.” – L. Neil Smith
“I despise the Lottery. There’s less chance of you becoming a millionaire than there is of getting hit on the head by a passing asteroid. – Brian May
“What happens if a big asteroid hits Earth? Judging from realistic simulations involving a sledge hammer and a common laboratory frog, we can assume it will be pretty bad.” – Dave Barry
March 28, 1979: At precisely 4:00 AM the water pump in the nuclear reactor cooling system at Three Mile Island, Tower 2, failed resulting in a partial nuclear meltdown. The nuclear power plant was built on an artificial island [Three Mile Island] in the Susquehanna River near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The plant was built as twin pressurized water reactors with the towers named TMI-1 and TMI-2. The meltdown occurred in TMI-2.
TMI-1 came online April 19, 1974 and is licensed to operate until the same date in 2014. TMI-2 came online in December 1978 and operated only about 90 days. Loss of coolant led to the meltdown and is considered the worst nuclear accident in the US. At the time, it was the worst in the world but the Chernobyl accident in 1986 proved far more devastating.
Three Mile Island, while causing no deaths or even injuries, was still catastrophic. It took five days and many government, business, and safety agencies to determine that the residents in the surrounding areas were not required to make a full evacuation. Because of this accident, public opinion concerning nuclear energy dropped from a 70% approval rating to a 50% rating. Cleanup began in August of 1979 and continued through December 1993 at a cost of $975 million. The end result was that TMI-2 was closed forever.
When the cooling pumps failed to work, heat built up in the reactor with an increase in steam buildup as well. Increased pressure opened a safety valve that should have released pressure and then closed, but instead, remained open. About 80 minutes after the initial problem, the cooling pumps shut down completely. After 130 minutes of elapsed time, the top of the reactor core was exposed and the intense heat damaged the nuclear fuel rods. Another 35 minutes elapsed before the radiation alarms were activated. Even though approximately one-half of the fuel melted, the reactor vessel contained the damaged fuel. President Carter and the Pennsylvania House of Representatives called for a full investigation. Human error, while not responsible, was a contributory factor and it was found that dials and gauges could have been better and more safely designed.
“The more human beings proceed by plan the more effectively they may be hit by accident.” – Friedrich Dürrenmatt
“A man ever supports great and inevitable misfortunes with more calmness and resignation than trifling accidents.” – unknown
“Fast-growing global energy demands, an increased emphasis on the security of energy supply, and the risk of climate change are driving a renewed consideration in many quarters towards investment in nuclear power.” – Mohamed ElBaradei
“A nuclear power plant is infinitely safer than eating, because 300 people choke to death on food every year.” – unknown
March 27, 1964: The most powerful earthquake [to date] hit the US and North America. Called either the 1964 Alaska earthquake or the Good Friday earthquake, the 9.2 magnitude quake struck at 5:36 PM. It was a megathrust earthquake meaning one tectonic plate was thrust under another plate. These are the most dramatic, highest magnitude, types of quakes. The quake itself lasted for four minutes. The epicenter was 78 miles east of Anchorage, which suffered massive destruction. However, only nine people were killed by the quake and its damage.
The epicenter was also 12.4 miles north of Prince William Sound and 40 miles west of Valdez. The focus of depth was approximately 15.5 miles. The ocean floor shifted and created tsunamis measuring up to 220 feet high. There were another 106 deaths attributed to the tsunamis in Alaska. More tsunami destruction hit Oregon and California resulting in another 16 casualties. There were also rockslides triggered in Alaska, causing property damage but no deaths. There was a measurable vertical displacement up to 38 feet and the quake affected an area of 100,000 square miles.
Property damage was estimated at $310 million [about $2.12 billion in today’s dollars]. Most of this damage occurred in Anchorage. The downtown area was heavily damaged. Much of the region was built on sandy bluff sitting atop “Bootlegger Cove clay”. The resulting landslides caused buildings to crumble. The Government Hill school was torn into two pieces by the landslide and the area near the rail station was also heavily damage by sliding buildings.
The coastal areas of Prince William Sound, Kenai Peninsula, and Kodak Island were heavily damaged. The ports of Seward, Whittier, and Kodiak were all damaged by the earthquake itself and then inundated by the ensuing tsunami. Fires were also damaging post disaster. Near Cordova, the Million Dollar Bridge collapsed – it was being renovated and work had begun in 1958 and stopped after the quake. The western shore of Canada also was hit by the tsunamis causing more property damage but no deaths. There were over 10,000 aftershocks recorded after the main quake. In the first day alone, eleven aftershocks with a magnitude greater than 6.0 struck and nine more of these major events occurred in the next three weeks.
“All farewells should be sudden, when forever.” – George Byron
“Animals when in company walk in a proper and sensible manner, in single file, instead of sprawling all across the road and being of no use or support to each other in case of sudden trouble or danger.” – Kenneth Grahame
“God answers sharp and sudden on some prayers, And thrusts the thing we have prayed for in our face, A gauntlet with a gift in it.” – Elizabeth Barrett Browning
“Hence the same instant which killed the animals froze the country where they lived. This event was sudden, instantaneous, without any gradual development.” – George Cuvier
March 26, 1999: Dr. Jack Kevorkian is found guilty of the second-degree murder of Thomas Youk by a Michigan jury. Dr. Jack was born in Pontiac, Michigan in 1928 and became a pathologist. Beginning in 1987, he published ads in Detroit newspapers offering “death counseling.” He claims to have assisted over 130 people in their quest to end their time on earth.
Kevorkian was brought before the courts on numerous occasions for assisted suicides. He was represented by Geoffry Fieger and all prior cases resulted in his acquittal. Kevorkian designed a machine that would inject a lethal drug into an IV tubing when a button was pushed. After he lost his medical license, he began using a machine that would administer a lethal dose of a gas delivered via a gas mask.
On November 23, 1998, 60 Minutes aired a piece about Dr. Kevorkian and his client, Thomas Youk, a 52-year-old in the end stages of ALS [Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease]. In the film shown, Dr. Jack administered the lethal dose via an injection that he physically delivered. The district attorney’s office brought charges. During this trial, Kevorkian fired his lawyer and represented himself. Kevorkian was sentenced to 10-25 years in prison. He was granted a parole in December 2006 due to his health. He suffers from Hepatitis C. He was released from prison on June 1, 2007.
Euthanasia, or “good death” is an escape from an intolerable life. It is legal for animals worldwide and people in the Netherlands, Belgium, and the state of Oregon. A recent poll in the US showed that 60% approved of assisted suicide. The reasons for euthanasia are threefold: 1. intractable pain; 2. a sense of autonomy; and 3. the right to die with dignity. The World Medical Association disapproves of assisted suicide but does grant that doctors can permit the end stages of disease that lead to death without interfering. Those opposing euthanasia cite the slippery slope of ethics that might make death less of a voluntary request and become more of a way to rid the world of those it does not desire to keep alive.
“I never want to wonder whether the physician coming into my hospital room is wearing the white coat of the healer or the black hood of the executioner.” – Alexander Capron
“Euthanasia is a long, smooth-sounding word, and it conceals its danger as long, smooth words do, but the danger is there, nevertheless.” – Pearl S. Buck
“Whenever the people are for gay marriage or medical marijuana or assisted suicide, suddenly the ‘will of the people’ goes out the window.” – Bill Maher
“The American Medical Association says the humane way is to let people starve and thirst to death. If you did that to an animal, you’d be put in jail immediately … In the face of such insanity masquerading as authority, who wouldn’t be strident?” – Jack Kevorkian
March 25, 1807: The Oystermouth Railway begins carrying passengers, the first time trains were used for this purpose. Today, the rail line is called the Swansea and Mumbles Railway but locals call it the Mumbles Train. It is located in Swansea, Wales. It was built by an Act of Parliament in 1804 in order to move limestone from Mumbles to Swansea and then to areas beyond. It was originally a horse drawn rail system. Benjamin French first proposed the idea of carrying passengers and offered the railroad £20 for the right to offer this service for twelve months. The rail system upgraded over time and remained in use until 1960.
The idea of a system for hauling goods has been traced back as far as something called a rutway used by ancient Greeks and Romans. A trackway from Diokos across the Isthmus of Corinth measured between 3 ¾ and 5 ¼ miles long; it was used for at least 650 years. It was open to any who could pay for the service. The rutway went out of use in the first century AD and the idea was lost. In 1550, hand propelled tubs were in use for moving cargo. The idea spread from Germany, the country of origin, to other European countries.
In 1798, Lake Lock Railroad opened to carry coal from the Outwood area to the Aire in West Yorkshire, England. This is arguably the first rail system. In 1802, another railway was built in Wales called the Carmarthenshire Tramroad. The first steam locomotive railway, Pennydarren, was also built in Wales. The rails moved to Scotland next in 1808 and in that year Richard Trevithick set up a circular railway so people could experience a train ride. For one shilling, people got to ride the train in a circle before disembarking. They apparently liked it.
By 1812, steam locomotives were being used commercially in Leeds. In 1825, a publicly subscribed railway using steam locomotives was instituted for carrying freight. Passengers were still moved using horse draw railcars. On September 27, 1827, the first railway in continental Europe opened for business. On July 4, 1828, the first railway in the US (the B&O) began construction of tracks between Charleston and Savannah. Rail transport continued to improve both for freight and passenger service. Today we have bullet trains reaching speeds of 217 mph. in 2007, a heavily modified train in France reached a speed of 357.2 mph, a world record.
“Nothing was more up-to-date when it was built, or is more obsolete today, than the railroad station.” – Ada Louise Huxtable
“A private railroad car is not an acquired taste. One takes to it immediately.” – Eleanor Robson Belmont
“The introduction of so powerful an agent as steam to a carriage on wheels will make a great change in the situation of man.” – Thomas Jefferson, 1802
“Only fools want to travel all the time. Sensible men want to arrive.” – Metternick
March 24, 1868: The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company is formed. Commonly called MetLife today, the mutual organization went public in 2000. It is the largest life insurer in the US. They have more than $3.3 trillion of life insurance in force. C. Robert Henrikson is the Chairman, President, and CEO of the company. They are headquartered in Manhattan in New York City. They maintain office space in the MetLife Building, but it was sold in 2005.
In 1863, a group of New York City businessmen raised $100,000 to found the National Union of Life and Limb Insurance Company. They insured Civil War sailors and soldier against disability due to the war. By 1868, the company had undergone several reorganizations as well as several difficult years. They opted to focus instead on life insurance. Their primary focus was “ordinary” insurance sold to the middle class.
Dr. James R. Dow, a retired physician from Brooklyn, was the first person to buy a policy from the new company. He purchased his policy on March 25, one day after the company opened for business. He was also the company’s first President. The company’s office space was two and a half rooms that first year and was located in Lower Manhattan. By the close of business in 1868, the company had sold 1,477 policies for $4,300,000. The next year, they moved to an office on Broadway. By the end of 1870, the company had more than $13,000,000 in life insurance on its books.
In 1877, the first female employee joined the firm. They also got their first typewriter that same year. In 1879, they began selling “workingmen’s” insurance and by the end of 1880 had sold 213,878 industrial policies. Because of high prices, many holders let their policies lapse and fewer than 1 in 12 reached maturity. The federal government stepped in passed laws to avert misuse of the investment. As the company grew, they eventually needed larger office space. In 1980 they purchased the Pan Am Building [the largest single building purchase in history] and renamed it the MetLife Building. In 2000 they launched the seventh largest IPO in US history. They sell many types of insurances as well as other investment products. They serve clients in the US as well as in Asia, the Pacific region, Europe, and Latin America.
“I detest life-insurance agents: they always argue that I shall some day die, which is not so.” – Stephen Leacock
“Justice is the insurance which we have on our lives and property. Obedience is the premium which we pay for it.” – William Penn
“Fun is like life insurance; the older you get, the more it costs.” – Kin Hubbard
“There are worse things in life than death. Have you ever spent an evening with an insurance salesman?” – Woody Allen
March 23, 1775: Patrick Henry speaks to the Virginia House of Burgesses at Saint John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia. The House of Burgesses was the legislative body of the colony of Virginia. In the audience for this momentous speech were Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, noted revolutionaries themselves.
Patrick Henry, born in May 1736, was educated at home by his father, an education that included classical Latin. He then studied law on his own and took his examination in Williamsburg in 1760 becoming a lawyer as well as an integral part of the Revolutionary landscape. He was a delegate to the House of Burgesses from 1765-1775 and a delegate to the Continental Congress from 1774-1775.
Henry became a vocal supporter of representation in the governmental process. He deplored the Stamp Act. In 1763, he noted that a King who vetoed laws enacted by the citizenry was more a tyrant than a father figure. He offered seven radical resolutions to the House of Burgesses on May 29, 1765 – five of them adopted with one rescinded the next day. After the War, Henry was the first governor of Virginia, serving five terms. He retired to his home, Red Hill, in 1794 to practice law. Because of poor health, he turned down positions of power within the new Country, including Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and Secretary of State.
The speech to the House in 1775 is perhaps his most famous speech. The speech itself lasted less than 10 minutes. He spoke with a passion to the men of power gathered there. He pointed out that although these men were reluctant to take up arms against superior British forces, those forces were converging on the colonies with no enemy in sight except for the colonials themselves. The colonists had failed in all attempts to have a voice in their own governance. Henry cried out, “I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” This resounding cry led to the crowd’s responding, “To Arms! To Arms!”
“It is natural for man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts… For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth, to know the worst, and to provide for it.” – Patrick Henry
“Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are inevitably ruined.” – Patrick Henry
“No free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue; and by a frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.” – Patrick Henry
“Patrick Henry should come back to see what taxation with representation is like.” – Bob Phillips
March 22, 1978: Karl Wallenda dies from a fall. Karl was part of The Great Wallendas and was 73 years old at the time of his death. He was born in Magdeburg, Germany. He had been performing with his family since he was six. The Wallendas were already famous in Europe, especially noted for their four-man pyramid and cycling on a high wire when they came to the US in 1928. They joined the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus and their debut was held at Madison Square Garden. They performed there without a net because it had been lost in transit. They were met with a standing ovation.
They were performing in Akron, Ohio when they fell from the high wire. No one was injured. The next day, a newspaper reported “The Wallendas fell so gracefully that it seemed as if they were flying.” Their name changed to The Flying Wallendas after this. In 1944, they were performing with the circus in Hartford, Connecticut when a fire started and killed 168 people in a disaster called the Hartford Circus Fire. None of the Wallendas suffered injury.
In the following years, Karl developed a seven-person chair pyramid. They performed the act successfully for years. In 1962, while performing in Detroit, the front man on the wire faltered and the pyramid collapsed. Two men were killed when they fell to the ground. Karl himself injured his pelvis and his adopted son, Mario, was paralyzed from the waist down. Another Wallenda fell to her death in 1963 and Karl’s son-in-law was killed when he touched a live electric wire while holding metal rigging in 1972.
Karl continued to perform, sometimes with smaller groups and sometimes solo. He successfully crossed the Tallulah Gorge in Georgia in 1970. On this day, Karl was attempting to walk a wire between the two towers of the ten-story Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The wire was struck 121 feet above the pavement. Winds were gusting at 30 mph and Karl fell to the ground below. Other family members state the tragedy could have been averted, but several of the guide ropes along the wire were not properly connected for the windy conditions. Other family members continue to perform and The Flying Wallendas remain active.
“Life is being on the wire; everything else is just waiting.” Karl Wallenda
“I am scared easily, here is a list of my adrenaline – production: 1: small children, 2: policemen, 3: high places, 4: that my next movie will not be as good as the last one.” – Alfred Hitchcock
“Wanting to do it was much more powerful than the fright.” – Charlotte Gainsbourg
“Bravery is the capacity to perform properly even when scared half to death.” – Omar N. Bradley