Little Bits of History

How TALL Are You?

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 31, 2013
Eiffel Tower under construction

Eiffel Tower under construction

March 31, 1889: The world’s then tallest structure is inaugurated. Today, it remains the world’s most visited paid monument. Named for the designer, it remains a worldwide icon, easily recognized even in silhouette. It took two years, two months, and five days to build and used 18,038 pieces and 2,500,000 rivets. The structure weighs 7,300 tons. When Barcelona turned down the architect’s plans, he went to the city hosting the 1889 Exposition Universelle. Which explains why Eiffel’s tower is in Paris.

The tower, measuring 1,063 feet, which includes the flagpole, remains the tallest structure in Paris. It is the fifth tallest structure in France. The tallest skyscraper is in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The Burj Khalifa i was built from 2004 to 2010 and was opened in January of this year. It surpassed the Taipai 101 as the tallest man-made structure on the planet. It is 2,717 feet from ground level to the roof. The Eiffel Tower is a lattice tower, and the tallest of these is the Kiev TV Tower in the Ukraine at 1,263 feet.

The Eiffel Tower’s unique shape led to criticism. Some claimed that Gustave was trying to be artistic while other deplored the design. Eiffel had worked designing and constructing bridges and knew how important it was for a structure to be able to withstand the forces of the wind. The shape of the tower was mathematically calculated to withstand those forces.

The original permit for the tower was for twenty years and then it was to be dismantled and removed. Instead, it has become a recognizable landmark visited by 249,976,000 people (as of December 31, 2009). To maintain the tower, 50 to 60 tons of paint are applied every seven years. The color changes with applications and visitors can vote for the next color. Three different shades of paint are used so the color seems to remain uniform when looked at from ground level. The current color is a brownish-gray.

“The Eiffel Tower is the Empire State Building after taxes.” – unknown

“Architecture is one part science, one part craft and two parts art.” – David Rutten

“The higher the buildings, the lower the morals.” – Noel Coward

“Architecture is the art of how to waste space.” – Philip Johnson

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: Gustave Eiffel was born in Dijon, Côte-d’Or, France in 1832. His parents were busy running the family business so he spent much of young life with his grandmother. Gustave did not do well in school and felt it was both boring and a waste of time. With the help of some concerned teachers, he finally grew to love both history and literature and ended his schooling on a better note. He was more influenced by his uncle, a scientist, and some other scientifically minded friends. He went on to the Collège Sainte-Barbe in Paris in order to help him get into engineering school. He did not perform well enough to get to attend the more prestigious of these and only qualified for the École Centrale des Arts et Manufactures – more of a vocational school.

Also on this day: Equality – In 1886, Abigail Adams pleads with her husband to include women as voting adults.
Spring Forward – Fall Back – In 1918, DST was first used in the US.
Virgin Territory – In 1917, the US takes possession of the Virgin Islands.

Seward’s Folly

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 30, 2013
Alaska map superimposed over the lower 48 states

Alaska map superimposed over the lower 48 states

March 30, 1867: America buys Alaska. William H. Seward was the Governor of New York and then a US Senator; he became the Secretary of State in 1861 under President Abraham Lincoln. He was a vocal abolitionist and a great force within the newly formed Republican party. As John Wilkes Booth entered the President’s box at Ford Theater, Lewis Powell went to the Seward house. William had been involved in a serious carriage accident nine days earlier. Powell gained access by claiming to have medicine for the still-recovering man. Seward’s son was attacked on the stairway and left in critical condition. Seward was stabbed in the face and neck by the intruder, but survived. He bore the scars of the attack for the rest of his life.

He remained the Secretary of State under Andrew Jackson. He negotiated with Russia for the purchase of Alaska. The 586,412 square miles were purchased for $7,200,000 or 2¢/acre ($120 million adjusted for inflation). The purchase was dubbed “Seward’s Folly” or “Seward’s Icebox.” It was also known as Johnson’s “polar bear garden.” Today, Seward’s Day is celebrated on the last Sunday in March and the following Monday is a state holiday for government workers in Alaska.

Alaska was purchased in March, but the official surrender of the lands did not take place until October 18. The change of the colors took place in Sitka, the largest city in the US. (The city is approximately the size of Connecticut.) Legend says the Russian soldiers had difficulty lowering their flag. One soldier climbed the flagpole to release a knot and the Russian flag fluttered free and landed on a bayonet, speared. The new US flag was raised without difficulty. The natives of the area, the Tlingit, claim the Russians only owned Sitka and had no right to sell all of Alaska to anyone.

Alaska was first a district and became a territory on August 24, 1912 and then the 49th state on January 3, 1959. The capital is Juneau but there have been repeated attempts to move it to Anchorage, so far without success. Alaska covers as much area as Texas, California, Montana, and Idaho with a little left over. More people live in Alaska than in either North Dakota or Vermont. There are 12 times as many people living in New York City than in the entire State of Alaska and there are 23.5 times as many people living in Shanghai, China – the most populous city in the world.

“The image problems Alaska faces, and the global misconceptions of Alaska, are as great today as when Alaska was mislabeled Seward’s Folly.” – Rob Allyn

“To the lover of wilderness, Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world.” – John Muir

“The state of Alaska has been waiting a long time to let the United States of America, which they’re part of, share in their abundance of oil, and today we finally have said that it’s time.” – Pete Domenici

“Alaska is a land of great opportunity for scientific research.” – Charles Groat

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: Alaska is the largest state in overall area, but it is also one of the most spread out states and is larger by itself than all but 18 sovereign countries. It is larger than the 22 smallest US states combined and if placed over the 48 contiguous states, would stretch from one ocean to the other and nearly from the northern border to the south. The most populous region of Alaska is the South Central area with Anchorage being the largest city. It was settled in 1914 and the unified borough and city cover 1961 square miles. The city itself is home to about 226,000 but the metro area includes 381,000 residents. Juneau is larger and covers 3255 square miles (city and borough) but only has a population of 17,000 with a metro population of 32,000.

Also on this day: Pencil plus – In 1858, erasers were added to pencils.
It’s a Knock Out – In 1842, a general anesthetic was first used for surgery.
Underground – In 1954, Toronto’s Yonge Street subway opened.

Ice Jam

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 29, 2013
Niagara Falls stops running

Niagara Falls stops running

March 29, 1848: Niagara Falls stops running. The last glacial period began about 110,000 years ago and ended between 10,000 and 15,000 years ago. Glaciers advanced and retreated throughout the ice age. Ice sheets and glaciers covered a large part of the Northern Hemisphere and a smaller portion of the Southern Hemisphere. While most of Canada and the northern part of the US were covered with ice, Alaska was not due to  oceanic fluctuations in water movement. In Europe and Asia, the Scandinavian ice sheet crept over the north of Britain, Germany, Poland, and Russia.

As the Wisconsin glaciers retreated, they carved out the Great Lakes – a series of five Lakes acting as a border between Canada and the US. Lake Superior and Lake Michigan drain into Lake Huron which in turn runs into Lake Erie and on to Lake Ontario via the Niagara River. There are two major sections of the Niagara Falls separated by Goat Island sitting in the middle of the Niagara River. On the Canadian side of Goat Island are the spectacular Horseshoe Falls, the portion usually seen in pictures. On the American side are the American Falls and the smaller Bridal Falls.

The Falls are not particularly high with the Horseshoe Falls dropping 167 feet  and the American side crashing into crumbled boulders only 70 feet below. The Falls are wide. The American side is 1,060 feet at the brink and 150,000 gallons per second flows past. The Horseshoe Falls are 2,600 feet at the brink and drains 600,000 gallons per second. The tremendous power of the water rushing past on its way to Lake Ontario, and eventually to the Atlantic Ocean, has been harnessed on both sides. There are 3 hydroelectric plants with the Sir Adam Beck 1 and 2 on the Canadian side and the Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant on the American side. They generate about 4.4 gigawatts of power.

The torrent of water doesn’t freeze in winter although ice can form reaching from either side of the river. If the ice meets in the middle, an ice bridge forms. Water can flow under these bridges. Mini-icebergs flow from the frozen shores of Lake Erie. These can impede the flow of water on the Niagara River. Only once in recorded history has Niagara Falls stopped. An ice jam up river caused the Falls to dry up for several hours. The Falls didn’t actually freeze over, there was just no water getting to them. People walked out on the riverbed looking for treasure.

“Fortissimo at last!” – Gustav Mahler (on seeing Niagara Falls)

“Niagara Falls! Slowly I turned … step by step … inch by inch …” – beginning of a vaudeville act

“No steam or gas ever drives anything until it is confined. No Niagara is ever turned into light and power until it is tunneled. No life ever grows until it is focused, dedicated, disciplined.” – Joan Rivers

“I was disappointed in Niagara – most people must be disappointed in Niagara. Every American bride is taken there, and the sight of the stupendous waterfall must be one of the earliest, if not the keenest, disappointments in American married life.” – Oscar Wilde

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: The Niagara Escarpment is a long cuesta or geological sloping of the ground between Canada and the US. It runs, for the most part, east/west from New York State through Ontario, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Illinois. It is along this route that Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario run to the falls. It is named for its most famous feature, the falls where Niagara River tumbles downward. While escarpments are often along fault lines, rock exposure and drillholes show that the line is not a fault line but came into existence due to unequal erosion. The limestone was less easily eroded than the shale and because of the two different rock structures and over millions of years, the escarpment came into being.

Also on this day: Rationing – In 1948, rationing of items increased to include more food products.
Vesta – In 1807, Vesta was discovered.
New Sweden – In 1638, the first Swedish colony was established in the New World.

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Tornado Outbreak

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 28, 2013
Damage from a tornado

Damage from a tornado

March 28, 1920: Palm Sunday’s dawn broke with the beginning of a series of shattering storms and within nine hours, eight states were pummeled by 38 significant tornadoes. Early in the morning, severe thunderstorms began to develop in Missouri. The storm cell moved rapidly in a northeasterly direction. The first tornado struck southeast of Springfield, Missouri in the pre-dawn hours and left five injured.

While there were 38 documented tornadoes during the day, there is a very high likelihood that there were far more smaller tornadoes that were never reported. At the time, aerial surveillance searching for damages was not available to the National Weather Service. Few states in the US “Tornado Alley,” central states that see the most tornado activity, kept accurate records. In most states and certainly at a national level, record keeping was sporadic at best. There was no uniformity for data storage across the country.

While the Perfect Storm was brewing, in 1920 there was no forecasting equipment such as Doppler radar, no mass communication network such as television and radio was spotty, and there was no Severe Storm Warning system in place. Weather prediction came from vague information in the daily newspapers of the previous day. The word “tornado” was actually banned because it might cause fear and panic. All the local meteorologists were expecting was rain showers with possible thunderstorms.

Tornadoes are measured using the Fujita scale (F-scale) with F0 being a weak storm and the extremely rare (0.1%) F5 being the strongest. Two-thirds of all tornadoes are F0 or F1. There were none of these weaker storms reported that day. An F2 storm has winds up to 157 mph and causes “considerable damage.” There were 14 reported. F3 storms have winds up to 206 mph and cause “severe damage.” There were 11 F3 storms. Only 1.1% of tornadoes reach F4 class causing “devastating damage” with winds up to 260 mph and yet there were 13 of them that day. Over 380 people were killed and 1,215 were injured in these combined storms.

“There is a muscular energy in sunlight corresponding to the spiritual energy of wind.” – Annie Dillard

“For the man sound in body and serene of mind there is no such thing as bad weather; every day has its beauty, and storms which whip the blood do but make it pulse more vigorously.” – George Gissing

“Any proverbs about weather are doubly true during a storm.” – Ed Northstrum

“There is little chance that meteorologists can solve the mysteries of weather until they gain an understanding of the mutual attraction of rain and weekends.” – Arnot Sheppard

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: The National Weather Service (NWS) is a part of the federal government of the US. It was formed in 1870. Both houses of Congress passed the formation of the agency and it was signed into being by Ulysses S. Grant. It was, at its inception, for military strategy and not for civilian issues. However, that changed in 1890 when it became part of the Department of Agriculture. Later, in 1940, it came under the Department of Commerce. In 1966 when the Environmental Science Services Administration was formed, it moved there and finally in 1970 it came under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The weather over land and sea is monitored and a number of warnings and watches are in place to help warn us of impending storms.

Also on this day: Ragnar, the Viking – In 845, Ragnar sacked Paris.
Three Mile Island – In 1979, a partial nuclear meltdown began in Pennsylvania.
He Changed the Way We Live – In 1897, Victor Mills was born.

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Tenerife Disaster

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 27, 2013
27 Tenerife Disaster

Tenerife Disaster

March 27, 1977: On a foggy runway in the Canary Islands, two planes collide. Both were Boeing 747s at Tenerife Los Rodeos Airport (now called Tenerife North Airport). The small island airport had only one runway with four taxi exits. The crash occurred shortly after 5 PM on an already bad day. At 1:15 PM, a bomb planted at the Gran Canaria International Airport exploded. The Movement for the Independence and Autonomy of the Canaries Archipelago planted a bomb in a flower shop on the concourse. Authorities were warned at 1 PM and managed to vacate the shop. No one was killed, but there were 8 injured, one seriously.

Later in the day, a phone call came in claiming responsibility and also hinting about a second bomb planted somewhere in the airport. The airport was shut down while authorities searched for the second explosive. Incoming planes, including long international flights, were diverted. Pan Am flight 1736 was told to divert to Tenerife. Captain Victor Grubbs offered to circle until given clearance at Gran Canaria, but it was denied. He went to Los Rodeos.

The Pan Am flight originated in Los Angeles with a stopover in New York City where the crew was changed. There were 380 passengers and 14 crew aboard. KLM flight 4805 originated in Amsterdam and Captain Jacob van Zanten was also diverted from the larger airport to Tenerife. There were 234 passengers and 14 crew on the Dutch flight. In all, five large aircraft were diverted from Gran Canaria to the smaller neighboring island. The smaller airport was not build for such large planes. The end destination for both the Pan Am and KLM flights was Gran Canaria.

Both planes were given instructions for takeoff. The runway and taxi exits were not clearly marked and the turn radius was too sharp for 747s. There was also a language barrier as locals spoke Spanish as a native tongue. The planes were told what route to take for takeoff as a thick bank of fog covered the airport. The planes could not see each other until suddenly, the pilot of the Pam Am flight saw landing lights coming straight at his plane. He veered sharply left to try to avoid a head on collision. The pilot of the KLM flight saw the plane in front of him and pulled up sharply, trying to climb. The lower fuselage of the KLM hit the upper fuselage of the Pan Am plane. The KLM plane was airborne briefly. All aboard died in the crash. The Pan Am flight had 61 survivors. With 583 dead, it is the most deadly aviation disaster.

“I wouldn’t mind dying in a plane crash. It’d be a good way to go. I don’t want to die in my sleep, or of old age, or OD…I want to feel what it’s like. I want to taste it, hear it, smell it. Death is only going to happen to you once; I don’t want to miss it.” – Jim Morrison

“Flight is intolerable contradiction.” – Muriel Rukeyser

“You define a good flight by negatives: you didn’t get hijacked, you didn’t crash, you didn’t throw up, you weren’t late, you weren’t nauseated by the food. So you are grateful.” – Paul Theroux

“I have been sick, really sick, on flights in the last few weeks. And, I have been amazed by the kindness of strangers. There is, indeed, something about vulnerability that helps us to connect with people – even when we’re holding one of those little bags from the seat pocket of an airplane.” – Jan Denise

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: In the wake of the crash, about 70 investigators from Spain, the Netherlands, and the US as well as the two airlines arrived to determine the cause of the crash. It was found that there were both false assumptions and misinterpretations leading to the crash. The KLM pilot was sure he had been cleared for takeoff, while the tower was sure the plane was stationary. Pan Am’s representative made statements that did not agree with those of the crew or the transcript of the tower/plane communications. There was a misunderstanding about which exit lane to take, either C-3 or C-4. The primary cause was stated as the takeoff of the KLM plane but the weather conditions and communication misunderstandings were contributory.

Also on this day: Long Distance Communication – In 1899, the first international radio communication occurred.
Earthquake – In 1964, Alaska was struck by a powerful earthquake.
Little Blue Pill – In 1998, Viagra was approved by the FDA.

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Cruising Legally

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 26, 2013
Keys to freedom

Keys to freedom

March 26, 1934: The United Kingdom implements a driving test that must be passed in order to obtain a driving license. France and Germany were among the first countries to demand drivers be licensed after proving capable of handling a car. The two countries required this proof of skill level when traffic fatalities rose, as early as 1903. On August 1, 1910, North America’s first licensing law, which affected only chauffeurs, went into effect in New York state. By July 1913, New Jersey required all drivers to be licensed.

In the UK today, the exam is divided into three parts: theory, hazard perception, and practical tests. Drivers must pass all three areas. There is some controversy surrounding the hazard perception portion due to questionable administration procedures. There are different requirements for licensing of car drivers, motorcyclists, and HGV drivers (large goods or truck drivers). In Great Britain the Driving Standards Agency issues licenses while in Northern Ireland, the Driver & Vehicle Agency is in charge.

The European Union has given the 300 million drivers in the EU one credit card-style license with a photo or possibly a microchip included. This one card replaced the 110 different plastic or paper cards that were previously issued by various countries throughout Europe. They have raised the eligibility age to 17 or 18 as well, unless a license is for a moped or a small motorcycle (engine size under 125 cc).

Driver’s licenses can also be used as identification cards since Australia, Canada, the UK, and the US do not have national ID cards. Many states in the US issue cards in a vertical orientation to drivers under the age of 21 (the legal age in many states to buy tobacco, alcohol, and lottery tickets) while the orientation shifts to horizontal for those 21 and over. Some countries demand proof of licensure immediately upon request, making it necessary to carry your license at all times. In the UK, you have up to 7 days to show your license at a Police Station. Some European countries not only demand you carry your license/ID at all times, but if you cross country borders, you must also have your passport with you.

“American youth attributes much more importance to arriving at driver’s license age than at voting age.” – Marshall McLuhan

“Must we accept that the only alternatives are to either incrementally improve our current patchwork of identification documents, drivers licenses, Social Security cards and the like, or alternatively, move to some centralized federal data bases that aggregate all sorts of privacy-sensitive information.” – Mike Castle

“There’s more information on your driver’s license than on the census short form.” – Kenneth Prewitt

“Imagine going to the driver’s license office every day.” – John McCusker

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: License can be a verb (meaning to grant a license) or a noun (meaning documented permission). In Britain it is spelled licence and the person granting one is a licensor while the person receiving one is a licensee. A license can be granted for intellectual  property and is often called a patent. It can also be a trademark. A license is also an academic degree, especially when earning a doctorate. There are dog licenses as well as pilot licenses. There are television and amateur radio licenses. One can get a hunting license and it can be specific as to prey. Fishing licenses usually cover all fish. There is also a need for a marriage license should you wish to marry. And then, if you are James Bond, you might have a license to kill.

Also on this day: Stella! – In 1911, Tennessee Williams was born.
Dr. Death – In 1999, Dr. Kevorkian was found guilty of second degree murder.
Mother Ship – In 1997, the Heaven’s Gate suicides were discovered.

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Titan Discovered

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 25, 2013
Christiaan Huygens

Christiaan Huygens

March 25, 1655: A Dutch scientist finds the moon – around Saturn. Christiaan Huygens was a mathematician, astronomer, and physicist. He discovered light was made of waves, helped develop modern calculus, and made advances in sound perception. He found wondrous things in the night sky, from moons to nebula. He designed a 50 power refracting telescope to see what was out there. He found the first moon of Saturn’s 60 known moons.

Titan is the tenth largest body in the solar system. The Sun, 7 planets, and Ganymede (one of Jupiter’s moons) are larger. Titan has a radius of 1,600 miles. Mercury, the smallest planet, measures 1,515 miles while our own Moon is 1,079.4 miles. Saturn, the second largest planet, has a radius of 36,184 miles which is more than 9 times the radius of Earth. Titan is cold with a surface temperature around -289⁰  F. It has a thick atmosphere and clouds, the only moon in the solar system to have either.

Huygens was inspired by Galileo’s discovery of the first four moons of Jupiter. Huygens discovered what he called “Saturni Luna” or Saturn Moon and between 1673 and 1686 Giovanni Cassini discovered four more moons around the gas giant. Huygens first thought the rings around Saturn were solid, but they have been proven to be ice chunks and rocks. The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft first entered orbit around Saturn on June 30, 2004. The craft, named for the 17th century scientists, began in-depth and close-up study of the planet system.

The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft was launched October 15, 1997 and was a combined project of NASA/ESA/ASI. The Cassini orbiter separated from the Huygens probe on December 25, 2004 and the probe reached Titan on January 14, 2005. It entered the atmosphere, landed, and continued to send data for 90 minutes after touchdown. The information sent back from both the orbiter and the probe shows us a planet-like moon with many parallels to Earth. Titan has lakes, rivers, channels, dunes, rain, snow, clouds, mountains, and maybe volcanoes. The mission’s life has been extended another two years and will hopefully reveal even more secrets hidden in space.

“[The Cassini-Huygens mission] will probably help answer some of the big questions that NASA has in general about origins and where we came from and where life came from.” – Bob Mitchell

“At first the Huygens camera just saw haze over the distant surface.” – Erich Karkoschka

“We have at last glimpsed the surface of the fabled world, Titan, Saturn’s largest moon and the greatest single expanse of unexplored territory remaining in the Solar System today.” – Carolyn Porco

“The light on the night side of Saturn is brighter than a full moon here on Earth … even though [Saturn is] ten times further from the Sun … because you’ve got these rings everywhere just filling the night sky.” – Andrew Ingersoll

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: Christiaan Huygens was born in 1629 at The Hague, Dutch Republic. His father was a friend of René Descartes. Christiaan studied law and mathematics at the University of Leiden and the College of Orange in Breda. He worked for a short time as a diplomat before returning to the sciences. He was elected to the Royal Society in 1663 and moved to Paris. There he held a position at the French Academy of Sciences under the patronage of Louis XIV. His paper, “Astroscopia Compendiaria” was published in 1684 and introduced his new aerial (tubeless) telescope. He became ill in 1681 and moved back to The Hague. After a failed attempt to return to Paris in 1885 (due to the revocation of the Edict of Nantes), he remained in the Dutch Republic and died there in 1695 at the age of 66.

Also on this day: On Your Marks – In 1668, the first horse race was run in the American colonies.
First Passenger Train – In 1908, the Oystermouth Railway began service.
Jobs – In 1894, Coxey’s Army began their march on Washington, D.C.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 24, 2013
Winton horseless carriage ad

Winton horseless carriage ad

March 24, 1898: The first American-built automobile is purchased by Robert Allison of Port Carbon, Pennsylvania – a coal mining town. The Winton horseless carriage was made by Scottish immigrant Alexander Winton. The Winton Bicycle Company incorporated in 1897 and began hand building cars, piece by piece. The body had painted sides. There were padded seats, a leather roof, gas lamps, and B. F. Goodrich Company supplied the rubber tires. Winton advertised his product in Scientific American and sold 22 cars the first year.

James Ward Packard bought a car and liked it so much, he started his own company. Even with competition, Winton remained the top selling car manufacturer of 1899 when the company sold more than 100 cars. Not only was he making the car available, but to deliver the carriage, he designed and built the first car hauler. By 1901, publicity created an expanding market when two of the Vanderbilts purchased Winton cars. In that same year, Winton’s car lost a race to young Henry Ford of Grosse Pointe, Michigan.

In 1903, Horatio Nelson Jackson took 64 days to drive his Winton touring car from San Francisco to New York City, the first person to drive across the country. The car had to be hoisted over rocky terrain and mud holes. By 1904, Winton was producing cars with seating for five passengers at a list price of $2,500 (about $54,000 today). More and more companies began to compete for the new market and by 1924 Winton stopped building cars. He did continue to build engines until he sold the company to General Motors in 1930.

There have been literally hundreds and hundreds of car manufacturers in the US that have now gone out of business. From ABC to Zabardust, from Armstrong Electric – formed in 1885 and later a builder of cars – to Oldsmobile which went out of business in 2004. Auto-locomotion was written about as early as 1678 using a steam engine, however there is no physical evidence to suggest any were built. The first gasoline powered car was built by Karl Benz in 1885 in Mannheim, Germany. In 2002 there were about 590 million passenger cars in the world, about one for every eleven people.

“A pedestrian is someone who thought there were a couple of gallons left in the tank. – unknown

“Hug your kids at home, but belt them in the car.” – unknown

“Americans are broad-minded people. They’ll accept the fact that a person can be an alcoholic, a dope fiend, a wife beater, and even a newspaperman, but if a man doesn’t drive, there is something wrong with him.” – Art Buchwald

“The car has become a secular sanctuary for the individual, his shrine to the self, his mobile Walden Pond.” – Edward McDonagh

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: Concept cars are built to showcase either new styling or new technology. They are often shown at motor shows where the makers/designers are able to gather customer reaction to the vehicle. General Motors designer Harley Earl is often cited as inventing the idea of a concept car. These vehicles never go into production directly (as these early makers of cars did with their innovative designs) but go through many different designs. New cars are built with an eye toward safety and cost as well as being practical and pleasing to the consumer market. Another name for these avant guard cars are prototypes although many of them never get built as mainstream cars for sale to the general public.

Also on this day: Alaska Mess – In 1989, the Exxon Valdez ran aground and began to spill oil.
Metropolitan Life – In 1868, the insurance company was formed.
Beating a Killer – In 1882, Robert Koch announced the cause of TB.

Safety First

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 23, 2013
Elisha Otis

Elisha Otis

March 23, 1857: Elisha Otis installs his first commercial passenger elevator. Otis invented the safety elevator while employed for others. He was a middle-aged man with a history of bad luck. He was familiar with hoisting platforms and aware of inherent flaws. He would not risk using them because if the cables broke, the platform plummeted and would damage or destroy the contents. Instead, he devised a “safety elevator” to protect his equipment. He did not think it important enough to even patent it initially. He sold 3 elevators in 1853 for $300 each ($7,400 today) and then sales dried up. Total inventory for December 31, 1953 was listed as $122.71.

Otis took his invention to the Crystal Palace Exhibition in New York City in 1854 and sales picked up; he sold 7 elevators in 1854 and 15 in 1855. He began an advertising campaign for an “improved platform elevator.” His industrial platform was useful, according to his ad, in a number of businesses and could be powered by steam, water, or even by hand. A small platform capable of lifting 500 pounds cost $350 ($8,000 today) installed and the deluxe model could lift 8,000 pounds and cost $750 ($17,000).

Before 1857, elevators were used strictly for moving commodities up and down. People needed a way to move between floors in the ever taller buildings. E.V. Haughwout Company was a six-story department store at Broadway and Broome Street in New York City. They put in the first passenger elevator and moved customers up and down at the speed of 40 feet/minute. By the 1870s there were 2,000 Otis elevators in service and both safety and efficiency increased. Suddenly, high floors became sought after real estate.

Today, Otis Elevator Company is a subsidiary of UTC (United Technologies Corporation). They are the world’s premiere company for vertical transportation systems manufacturing elevators, escalators, and moving sidewalks. They supply the world while based out of Farmington, Connecticut. They put in elevators at the Eiffel Tower, Empire State Building, World Trade Center, and Petronus Twin Towers among others. They claim to carry the equivalent of the world’s total population every 9 days. They employ over 60,000 people and had a revenue of $11.885 billion in 2007.

“Otis’ Life-Saving Steam Elevators are so constructed that if the rope breaks the platform cannot fall.” – Elisha Otis, business card in 1854

“A facade of skyscrapers facing a lake and behind the facade, every type of dubiousness.” – E. M. Forster

“The City of New York is like an enormous citadel, a modern Carcassonne. Walking between the magnificent skyscrapers one feels the presence on the fringe of a howling, raging mob, a mob with empty bellies, a mob unshaven and in rags.” – Henry Miller

“The skyscraper establishes the block, the block creates the street, the street offers itself to man.” – Roland Barthes

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: Elisha Otis was born in Halifax, Vermont in 1811. He moved away from home at age 20 and settled in Troy, New York where he worked as a wagon driver. In 1834 he nearly died from a brutal case of pneumonia. He and his small family (wife and 3-year-old son) moved to Vermont Hills where he designed and built and a gristmill, but it didn’t earn enough money to support them. So he turned it into a sawmill which was still unsuccessful. He built wagons and carriages to support his family, which included a second son. His wife died while the baby was still a toddler. He moved to New York City and went to work for a Otis Tingely as a doll maker and there invented and patented a robot turner which could produce bedsteads four times as fast as by hand. He boss gave him a bonus and he opened his own business. He died in 1861 at the age of 49 from diphtheria or his inventive mind would have kept producing wonderful gadgets.

Also on this day: The Man Who Would Be Pope – In 752, Pope Stephen was elected but he died before taking his seat.
Patrick Henry – In 1775, Patrick Henry spoke to the Virginia House of Burgesses.
Row, Row, Row your Boat – In 1889, the free Woolwich Ferry began service.

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Hockey is Rough

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 22, 2013
Clint Malarchuk injured on the ice

Clint Malarchuk injured on the ice

March 22, 1989: Ice hockey goaltender Clint Malarchuk  is hurt during a game. Malarchuk was playing for the Buffalo Sabres. They were hosting the St. Louis Blues. Steve Tuttle of St. Louis collided with Uwe Krupp of Buffalo in front of the goal. Tuttle’s skate blade caught Malarchuk on the neck and severed his jugular vein. Bleeding profusely, Malarchuk managed to leave the ice under his own power with the help of the team’s athletic trainer, Jim Pizzutelli.

Hockey is known for its violence and injuries are commonplace. Even so, the amount of blood on the ice was overwhelming. In the stands, nine people fainted and two others had heart attacks. Three of Malarchuk’s teammates vomited on the ice. The game was being televised and the cameras cut away as soon as they realized the extent of the injury. Malarchuk’s mother was at home watching the game. Malarchuk said he knew he was dying and didn’t want his mother to see him do so. He had someone call her and tell her he loved her and then sent for a priest.

Pizzutelli had been a medic in Vietnam and he is credited with saving Malarchuk’s life. He pinched the major blood vessel closed and did not let go until doctors arrived and began to suture the wound. Doctors said if the blade had hit just 1/8 inch higher, Malarchuk would have been dead within two minutes. Instead, they worked for 90 minutes and placed more than 300 stitches to close the wound. Malarchuk spent one night in the hospital and was back at practice 4 days later and back as goalie a week after the incident.

Malarchuk continued to play until 1992 and went on to coach the sport. The NHL does not require players to wear any sort of neck protection. In 1995, Swedish hockey player Bengt Akerblom was injured in a similar manner and died due to blood loss. On June 1, 1996 Swedish players were mandated to wear neck protection. On February 10, 2008 while the Florida Panthers were in Buffalo, Richard Zednik was also injured by a skate blade cutting his neck. He, too, survived.

“All I wanted to do was get off the ice. My mother was watching the game on TV, and I didn’t want her to see me die.” – Clint Malarchuk

“Doctors told me to take the rest of the year off, but there was no way. The longer you wait, the harder it’s going to be. I play for keeps.” – Clint Malarchuk

“A puck is a hard rubber disc that hockey players strike when they can’t hit one another.” – Jimmy Cannon

“Red ice sells hockey tickets.” – Bob Stewart

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: Only two players from the NHL have died as a result of on-ice injuries. Howie Morenz (1937) died from complications from a broken leg, suffered on the ice while playing for the Canadiens. While recuperating in the hospital, he began complaining of chest pain and which may have been a heart attack. He tried to get up, but collapsed onto the floor and was found there, dead at the age of 34. Bill Masterson (1968) was moving the puck down ice when he was checked. He fell backwards onto the ice and struck the back of his head. He received a massive brain hemorrhage and died two days later at the age of 29. Akerblom played for a Swedish team when he was injured in the same manner as Malarchuk. Not as lucky, he bled to death at the age of 28.

Also on this day: Laser – In 1960, the laser was patented.
Flying Wallendas – In 1978, Karl Wallenda died from a fall.
Preschool Predicament – In 1984, the McMartin Preschool indictments were brought.