Dutch Delft Destroyed
October 12, 1654: The Delft Explosion takes place. The Dutch city is located north of Rotterdam and south of The Hague. The name comes from the word delven, meaning digging, and the city itself was built along a canal, probably around the 11th century. In 1246 the city received its charter and became associated with the House of Orange when William of Orange took up residence there in 1572. The city was a leader in the growing resistance to Spanish occupation – a struggle known as the Eighty Years’ War which lasted from 1568 to 1648. It had grown into one of Holland’s leading cities and had the necessary city walls so that it might serve as headquarters.
In 1581, Delft became the capital of the newly independent Netherlands and the seat of the Prince of Orange. When William was shot and killed in 1584, the traditional burial place was still in the hands of the Spanish and so he was buried at the Delft Nieuwe Kerk (New Church). On this day, an explosion destroyed much of the city. About 30 tons of gunpowder was stored in a central location. The powder was placed in barrels and stored in a magazine in what used to be the Clarissen convent in the Doelenkwartier district. The keeper of the magazine opened the store to check a sample of the powder when the entire magazine exploded. Over 100 people were killed and thousands wounded. The fatalities would have been higher but many citizens were away at the market in Schiedam or at a fair at The Hague.
Gunpowder is usually considered to be a Chinese invention and was probably created by alchemists. It was invented during the Tang Dynasty in the 9th century and the earliest written formula appeared during the Song Dynasty in the 11th century. When the Mongols invaded European lands in the 13th century, gunpowder technology also came with it. The original purpose of the mixture of sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate (saltpeter) was as a potion for immortality. The first two components are fuel and the saltpeter is an oxidizer. The burning properties and the amount of heat and gas produced led the substance to be used as a propellant in firearms.
There are other uses for gunpowder, other than as a means of firing guns or cannons. Gunpowder is also used for fireworks and for controlled explosions for large engineering projects. Christiaan Huygens experimented with gunpowder in early attempts to build an internal combustion engine; it was unsuccessful. The production of gunpowder was greatly enhanced from the 15th to 17th centuries and followed the technological progress of Europe both in warfare and in building. It remained an important commodity throughout the Early Modern period until it was replaced by more advanced explosives.
If people will bring dynamite into a powder factory, they must expect explosions. – Dorothy L. Sayers
The three great elements of modern civilization: Gunpowder, Printing, and the Protestant Religion. – Thomas Carlyle
Man is a military animal, Glories in gunpowder, and loves parade; Prefers them to all things. – Philip James Bailey
Exercise is the worst thing in the world and as bad an invention as gunpowder. – Horace Walpole
Also on this day: Not Enough Sense to Get Out of the Rain – In 1923, Mackintosh raincoats went on sale.
Festive October – In 1810, Ludwig I married Therese – and began the tradition of Oktoberfest.
6,000,000,000 – In 1999, there were six billion people on the planet.
Chris Landed – In 1492, Columbus landed in the New World.
Burning Down the House – In 1918, the Cloquet Fires raged across Minnesota.