Little Bits of History

April 15

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 15, 2017

1892: General Electric (GE) is founded. Thomas Edison opened his laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey in 1876. By 1889, he had several electricity-related companies: Edison Lamp Company, Edison Machine Works, Bergmann & Company, and Edison Electric Light Company among them. The last of these was the patent holding company as well as the financially backed portion of the business with money from JP Morgan and the Vanderbilt family. In 1889, Drexel, Morgan & Co. were financing Edison’s research and helped to merge his many business holding into one corporation, the Edison General Electric Company. It was incorporated on April 24, 1889 and began acquiring other ventures.

About the same time, Thomson-Houston Electric Company was also building a conglomerate of related business, buying up competitors in order to gain control over patents. On this day, with the merger of the two major players, General Electric was born. Edison’s base had been in Schenectady, New York while Thomson was located in Lynn, Massachusetts. Both companies continue to operate under the GE banner to this day. In 1896, GE was one of the original twelve companies listed on the newly formed Dow Jones Industrial Average and all these years later, it is the only company on the beginning registry still in existence.

The businesses under the GE umbrella have grown with time. The first major sector brought in was the National Electric Lamp Association which in 1911 was merged and the headquarters set in East Cleveland, Ohio. By 1919, RCA was founded and remained part of GE until 1930. GE became interested in television almost immediately and owned and operated several TV stations. GE is involved in power generation from many different sources and is involved in the production of many different types of power, including solar and wind. In the 1960s, they were one of the eight major computer companies.

GE is a multinational company with business in several segments of the economy: power and water, oil and gas, aviation, healthcare, transportation, and capital. Originally headquartered in Schenectady, today’s headquarters are in Boston, Massachusetts with a changing site to the South Boston Waterfront area taking place over the course of two years. Jeffrey Immelt is Chairman and CEO of GE which has over 300,000 employees in the various divisions and businesses. There are eight major subsidiaries bringing in over $140 billion. It is one of the largest companies in the world and has had employees who won the Nobel Prize twice (once in 1932 and again in 1973).

Electricity is really just organized lightning. – George Carlin

We forget just how painfully dim the world was before electricity. A candle, a good candle, provides barely a hundredth of the illumination of a single 100 watt light bulb. – Bill Bryson

We believe that electricity exists, because the electric company keeps sending us bills for it, but we cannot figure out how it travels inside wires. – Dave Barry

Why is electricity so expensive these days? Why does it cost so much for something I can make with a balloon and my hair? – Dennis Miller

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Boston Marathon Bombings

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 15, 2015
Site of the first bomb last at the Boston Marathon bombings*

Site of the first bomb last at the Boston Marathon bombings*

April 15, 2013: The Boston Marathon bombings take place. The Boston Marathon had been an annual event in Boston since 1897. It has traditionally been held on the third Monday in April, Patriots’ Day. In 2013 there had been no indication of any problems but the area was swept for bombs twice before the explosions took place, the last about one hour before the explosions. People were permitted to come and go as they pleased and were permitted to carry bags into the area. At 2.49 PM, about two hours after the winner had crossed the finish line, but with more than 5,700 runners yet to complete the 26.2 mile course, two bombs detonated on Boylston Street. The time on the finish line clock read 04:09:43 – the elapsed time since the race began. Thirteen seconds later, the second bomb exploded.

Two pressure cooker bombs exploded, throwing shrapnel into the gathered crowd. Windows were exploded by the blasts, furthering injury to the people standing nearby. No structural damage to the buildings was reported. Runners continued to cross the finish line until 2.57 PM, about 8 minutes after the blasts. Three people were killed and another 264 were injured. Rescue crews were on site to help with aid to runners and they immediately rushed in to help with the wounded. Additional Boston EMS and Boston Fire Department units were dispatched. Twenty-seven local hospitals received patients from the bombings. At least 14 people required amputations with some having traumatic amputations as a direct result from the blasts.

The race was halted and Boston Police used established emergency plans to reroute the remaining runners away from finish line. They were directed to Boston Common and Kenmore Square. A 15-block area of Boston was closed and nearby buildings, including the Lenox Hotel, were evacuated. The Massachusetts Army National Guard had been a presence at the race and they, too, were enlisted to help with the wounded. The scene was further thrown into confusion as people had dropped backpacks as they fled and each abandoned pack had to be treated as a potential bomb. No other bombs were found.

As a precaution, the Federal Aviation Administration restricted airspace over Boston and closed Boston’s Logan International Airport. Some traffic on the bay was also curtailed. Other cities in Massachusetts and surrounding states put their police forces on alert in case it was more than a local assault. Cell phone service was overloaded as people tried to find out if loved ones were injured. The American Red Cross, the Boston Police Department, and Google Person Finder all helped people contact each other. Several hotels were closed due to the explosions and many Boston area residents opened their homes to stranded runners and their families. Entrants who had completed at least half the race but were unable to finish because of the bombings were given automatic entry into the 2014 Boston Marathon, which ran smoothly.

When you run a marathon, you mean it. We’re built for running. We dream of flying. For now, though, we’re built for running. – Benjamin Cheever

The marathon is a charismatic event. It has everything. It has drama. It has competition. It has camaraderie. It has heroism. Every jogger can’t dream of being an Olympic champion, but he can dream of finishing a marathon. – Fred Lebow

If you feel bad at 10 miles, you’re in trouble. If you feel bad at 20 miles, you’re normal. If you don’t feel bad at 26 miles, you’re abnormal. – Rob de Castella

The marathon never ceases to be a race of joy, a race of wonder. – Hal Higdon

Also on this day: Going for the Gold – In 1896, the first Modern Olympic Games come to an end.
Cartography – in 1924, Rand McNally published its first atlas.
Leonardo – In 1452, Leonardo da Vinci was born.
Sunk – In 1912, the Titanic sunk.
Definitive – In 1755, Johnson’s dictionary was published.

* “1st Boston Marathon blast seen from 2nd floor and a half block away” by Aaron Tang – Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons –


Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 15, 2014
Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language

Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language

April 15, 1755: Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language is published. In June of 1746, a group of London booksellers approached Johnson and asked him to write a dictionary for 1,500 guineas or about £210,000 ($350,000) in today’s money. Dictionaries already existing were simply not up to the task. As more people became literate, a greater number of publications were available and it became economical to also produce a dictionary the masses could afford. With the explosion of printed material, it was necessary to create a set of rules for grammar, definitions, and spellings for the words defined. Johnson thought it would take him about three years to complete a new dictionary – it took nine years, instead.

Over the previous 150 years, there had been over twenty dictionaries published. The oldest was a Latin-English “wordbook” by Sir Thomas Elyot and published in 1538. Sixty years later, an Italian-English dictionary was the first to use quotations as illustrations of word usage. None of these early dictionaries actually included the definition for the English words. Next up was a listing by Robert Cawdrey called “Table Alphabeticall” published in 1604 which made it easier to find the English word one was looking for. It contained 2,449 words and none of them began with the letters w, x, or y. Many more dictionaries were published and by 1721 Nathan Bailey listed 40,000 words in his.

All these remarkable books still did not fit our definition of what a dictionary should be. They were little more than lists, usually poorly organized and poorly researched, of what were considered to be “hard words” which meant they were technical, foreign, obscure, or antiquated. They did not give illustrations of how the words were used in English. Dr. Johnson was given the task of improving on these older books and tried to remedy all these failings from prior works. The hope to get the book into the hands of masses was dashed when the scope of the book was taken into consideration. The English language is full of words. Many words. Too many words.

The book was large and expensive, costing £1,600 – more than Johnson earned to write it. The pages were 18 inches tall an almost 20 inches wide. No bookseller could print it without help. Other than some copies of the Bible, no book of this size had been set to type. There were only 42,773 words included, but they were defined (by synonyms) and illustrated with literary quotations which gave English usage meaning to the words. There were about 114,000 quotations included. Johnson also included notes, sometimes including humor, to give extra shades of meaning to the words. The Oxford English Dictionary, which finally replaced Dr. Johnson’s work, took forty years to complete and contains nearly 750,000 words.

I shall therefore, since the rules of stile, like those of law, arise from precedents often repeated, collect the testimonies of both sides, and endeavour to discover and promulgate the decrees of custom, who has so long possessed whether by right or by usurpation, the sovereignty of words.

Excise: a hateful tax levied upon commodities and adjudged not by the common judges of property but wretches hired by those to whom excise is paid

Lexicographer: a writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge that busies himself in tracing the original and detailing the signification of words

Oats: a grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people – all from Samuel Johnson

Also on this day: Going for the Gold – In 1896, the first Modern Olympic Games come to an end.
Cartography – in 1924, Rand McNally published its first atlas.
Leonardo – In 1452, Leonardo da Vinci was born.
Sunk – In 1912, the Titanic sunk.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 15, 2013
Early Rand McNally offering

Early Rand McNally offering

April 15, 1924: The Rand McNally Auto Chum is first published. In 1856, William Rand opened a print shop in Chicago. Two years later, Andrew McNally came to work there. They printed material for the forerunner of the Chicago Tribune and by 1859 they were hired to run the paper’s whole printing operation. By 1868, they were officially called Rand McNally & Co. and began printing tickets and timetables for Chicago’s railroads. The next year they put out complete railroad guides and began printing business directories as well as People’s Weekly, an illustrated newspaper.

Using a brand new wax engraving method, their first map appeared in the December 1872 Railroad Guide. Their Business Atlas contained information, including maps, needed for savvy business planning. Still updated, it is now called Commercial Atlas & Marketing Guide. They began publishing Trade Books in 1877 and made their first maps for school use in 1880 with globes and geography textbooks also available. They made their first city roadmap for New York City in 1904.

They continued to publish books, textbooks, and maps. The Auto Chum grew up and became the Rand McNally Road Atlas. It was first published in full color in 1960 and became fully digitized in 1993. They continued to improve on methods of map making. Dr. Arthur H. Robinson was commissioned to devise a more accurate method of creating world maps in 1963 and his method is now used – globally. Today, they not only print maps, but produce a GPS system called IntelliRoute TND which is designed for the over-the-road trucker .

The headquarters moved to Skokie, Illinois outside Chicago in 1952. They also had a book publishing plant in Versailles, Kentucky, which opened in 1962. They were the first to use a new Kodak computer-to-plate printing process. William Rand retired in 1899 and the McNally family ran the company until 1993. They were purchased by Patriarch Partners in 2007. CEO Dave Muscatel now heads the company. They have more than 60,000 retail outlets and supply 98% of US schools with maps.

“Our customers live for the time they spend out on the open road. The all-in-one Ride Atlas features some of the most incredible rides in North America, hand-picked by Harley-Davidson and detailed by Rand McNally.” – Tom Parsons

“A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing.” – Oscar Wilde

“All you need is the plan, the road map, and the courage to press on to your destination.” – Earl Nightingale

“Rand McNally Map to Space.” – Map in ALF’s spaceship

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: William Rand was born in 1828 in Quincy, Massachusetts. He worked as an apprentice for his brother’s print shop located in Boston. He moved to Los Angeles in 1849, lured by the California Gold Rush and founded the state’s first newspaper there. He returned to Boston in 1856 for a short time before settling in Chicago. There he opened his print shop. Andrew McNally was born in 1838 in Armagh, Northern Ireland and came to New York City in 1857. He was a printer by trade and moved to Chicago in 1858. There he was hired by William Rand and was paid $9 per week. The two became business partners and Rand, McNally & Co. was incorporated in 1868. When the company sold in 1997, it was for a reported $500 million.

Also on this day: Going for the Gold – In 1896 the first Modern Olympic Games come to an end.
Leonardo – In 1452, Leonardo da Vinci was born.
Sunk – In 1912, the Titanic sunk.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 15, 2012

RMS Titanic leaving port

April 15, 1912: RMS Titanic sinks. She struck an iceberg at 11:40 PM the evening prior – a Sunday night with the temperatures close to freezing. The seas were calm. There was a clear sky but the moon was not out. Days before Captain Smith altered course to avoid reported icebergs. Earlier on this day, the steamer Amerika had warned of large icebergs in the path of the luxury ship. A second boat, Mesaba, also warned of numerous large icebergs in the path of the Titanic. Jack Phillips and Harold Bride were manning the wireless radio and paid to deliver messages to and from the passengers. They were not concerned with these “non-essential” messages and did not relay them to the bridge. Two hours and forty minutes after striking the berg, at 2:20 AM the Titanic sunk – 1,523 people died.

The Titanic was one of three luxury ships built by the White Star Line – all of which met with ignominious ends. She was 882.5 feet long and 92.5 feet at the beam. Gross tonnage was 46,328. She majestically rose up 175 feet, from keel to the top of the funnels. She was unsurpassed in luxury at the time. The forward first-class grand staircase was the coup de grace on this opulent ship.

On April 10 the ship left Southampton, England making two more stops before finally crossing the Atlantic for New York. Cherbourg, France was the first stop and Queensland (now Cobh), Ireland was the second. The final tally for people on board during the crossing was 2,223. The ship had a total of 840 staterooms, 416 of them First Class. If she had been fully loaded with passengers and crew the ship would have been moving 3,547 people.

Fredrick Fleet and Reginald Lee spotted a large iceberg directly ahead of the racing liner. They rang the ship’s bell three times and telephoned the bridge, yelling “Iceberg, right ahead!” The ship was immediately turned hard to the left and the engines were reversed. The ship was south of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland when she struck the iceberg. Lifeboats could have held 1,178 people if properly filled and lowered. There were not enough boats available because double hanging them would have ruined the look of the elegant ship. Only 700 people survived that freezing night at sea. At 4:10 AM the RMS Carpathia picked up the first lifeboat passengers.

Professionals built the Titanic, amateurs the ark. – Frank Pepper

When you have a population that is immobile, no matter how you plead for them to leave no matter how early you get a start they can’t leave! It’s like the Titanic is sinking. They couldn’t just say, ‘Everyone off!’ There’s no place to go. You’re stuck! – Jeremy Davenport

Just think of all those women on the Titanic who said, No, thank you, to dessert that night. And for what! – Erma Bombeck

When anyone asks me how I can best describe my experience in nearly forty years at sea, I merely say, uneventful. Of course there have been winter gales, and storms and fog and the like. But in all my experience, I have never been in any accident… or any sort worth speaking about. I have seen but one vessel in distress in all my years at sea. I never saw a wreck and never have been wrecked nor was I ever in any predicament that threatened to end in disaster of any sort. – E. J. Smith, Captain, RMS Titanic in 1907

Also on this day:

Going for the Gold – In 1896 the first Modern Olympic Games come to an end.
Cartography – in 1924, Rand McNally published its first atlas.
Leonardo – In 1452, Leonardo da Vinci was born.

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Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 15, 2011

Leonardo da Vinci

April 15, 1452: Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci is born. He was the son of Piero da Vinci, a local notary or lawyer. His mother was a peasant woman name Caterina and she was not married to his father. Leonardo was a polymath, meaning he was interested in a variety of topics. He was a painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer. He was the archetype of the Renaissance Man. He is considered one of the greatest painters of all time and in addition was one of the most diversely talented people, as well.

Leonardo lived in a small town of Anchiano with his mother until he was five. He moved to his father’s house in 1457. At his father’s house, he was informally educated in Latin, geometry, and mathematics. He was not a particularly apt student. At age fourteen, he was apprenticed to a Florentine painter, Andrea di Cione, and known as Verrocchio. This studio was “one of the finest in Florence.” Other renowned artists were also trained there. It was here he was exposed to many other intellectual ideas and pursuits. By age 20, Leonardo qualified as a master in the Guild of St. Luke, the guild for artists and doctors.

In 1478, Leonardo received his first independent commission from the Monks of San Donato a Scopeto. By the early 1480s, Lorenzo de Medici had lured Leonardo to Milan. He wrote a famous letter to the Duke of Milan offering himself as an engineer and mentioning that he also painted. Leonardo spent many years in Milan and created beautiful works of art. However, in 1499 war broke out and he left the region for Venice. In 1502 he drew a map of Cesare Borgia’s stronghold and won his patronage. This map making was a new idea and proved useful. Leonardo moved around Italy, and worked with many influential personages.

In 1515, France recaptured Milan, Italy. Leonardo was a mediator at a meeting between Pope Leo X and the French monarch, Francis I. Francis hired Leonardo to create a mechanical lion which could walk forward, then open its chest to reveal a cluster of lilies. He was in France, working on this project when he died on May 2, 1519. By this time, he had become a great friend of the king’s who was with him as he died. He was 67 years old.

“Shadow is not the absence of light, merely the obstruction of the luminous rays by an opaque body. Shadow is of the nature of darkness. Light is of the nature of a luminous body; one conceals and the other reveals.”

“We, by our arts may be called the grandsons of God.”

“Men born in hot countries love the night because it refreshes them and have a horror of light because it burns them; and therefore they are of the colour of night, that is black. And in cold countries it is just the contrary.”

“As a well-spent day brings happy sleep, so life well used brings happy death.” – all from Leonardo da Vinci

Also on this day:
Going for the Gold – In 1896 the first Modern Olympic Games come to an end.
Cartography – in 1924, Rand McNally published its first atlas.

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Going for the Gold

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 15, 2010

1896 Athens Olympics

April 15, 1896: The first modern Olympic Games held in Athens, Greece comes to a successful conclusion after ten days of competition. The games first started in Ancient Greece with written records of them dating from 776 BC. Participants for the Ancient Olympic Games were free men who spoke Greek. The games were pseudo-international as men from many city-states and even Greek colonies competed against each other. There was also an upper age limit enforced, reserving the games for young men only. As with the Modern Olympics, there were only a few games (foot races) at first but as time went on, a wide range of competitions were added. They lasted for about 1,200 years until 393 AD when Theodosius I, a Roman emperor, abolished them.

Pierre de Coubertin, a Frenchman, wished to revive the games. He started his campaign in 1890 without much success. He was undaunted and kept trying. By 1894, with continued effort, 79 men from 9 countries voted to begin the Olympic Games and the International Olympic Committee [IOC] was formed. Greece was selected as the first venue.

The Greek government did not have the funding or the time to build an arena. Instead, Georgios Averoff, a weathly Greek architect, donated money to restore the Panathenaic Stadium, built in 330 BC for the games. The event was not well publicized worldwide and participants came individually and at their own expense. About 300 athletes from 13 countries participated in pole vaulting, sprints, shot put, weight lifting, swimming, cycling, target shooting, tennis, marathon, and gymnastics. Only first and second places were awarded with distinction receiving a silver and bronze medal respectively.

By 1900, with the games held in Paris – all venues were now awarded to cities rather than countries – gold medals were added and women athletes were included in the events. The Olympic flag was introduced in 1914; Winter Olympics started in 1924. The Olympic flame, a practice in the ancient games, was resurrected in 1928. The sporting events included and excluded in the games has been varied over the history of the modern Olympics.

“It is the inspiration of the Olympic Games that drives people not only to compete but to improve, and to bring lasting spiritual and moral benefits to the athlete and inspiration to those lucky enough to witness the athletic dedication.” – Herb Elliott

“An Olympic medal is the greatest achievement and honour that can be received by an athlete. I would swap any World Title to have won gold at the Olympics.” – Jeff French

“For too long the world has failed to recognise that the Olympic Games and the Olympic Movement are about fine athletics and fine art.” – Avery Brundage IOC President 1952 – 1972

“The important thing in life is not victory but combat; it is not to have vanquished but to have fought well.” – Pierre de Coubertin

Also on this day, in 1924 Rand McNally published the forerunner to today’s road atlas.

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