Little Bits of History

April 30

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 30, 2017

1956: Alben William Barkley dies. Born in 1877, the politician had served in both houses of Congress and was the Vice President under Harry S Truman. He, like another American politician, was born in a log cabin in Kentucky. He was the oldest of eight children born to his tenant farmer parents. They grew tobacco on the farm but the family was quite religious and opposed card playing and alcohol. Although his birth name was Willie Alben, as soon as he could, he changed it to Alben (his grandfather’s name) William. Barkley’s education was often interrupted by having to work the farm, first with tobacco and then when the family moved, to farming wheat. He managed to secure an adequate education despite having to miss school for farm work. He even acquired a college education.

He worked as a law clerk for an attorney and state congressman even though their political leanings were polar opposites. In 1904, Barkley first threw his hat into the ring, running for county attorney and managed to win his first election. He was on his way to a life in politics. He next ran for the vacated seat of Ollie James who was leaving the US House of Representatives to seek a Senate seat. The lifelong Democrat served in the House from 1913 through 1927.  He ran for governor of Kentucky in 1923 unsuccessfully. He was elected to the US Senate in 1927 and held that post until 1949. Between 1937 and 1947 he served as Senate Majority Leader and during the last two years of his tenure he was the Senate Minority Leader.

As a liberal Democrat, Barkley supported President Woodrow Wilson’s New Freedom policies. The stated agenda was to reform tariffs (which in 1913 allowed for tariffs to be lowered for the first time since 1857), business (and the Federal Trade Commission was established as well an anti-trust laws enacted), and banking (creation of the Federal Reserve System and the passage of the Federal Farm Loan Act). Barkley was a supporter of Prohibition, a natural outgrowth of his upbringing and denounced parimutuel betting, a system of betting on horse races, greyhound racing, jai alai, and other sporting events. He helped see through the New Deal approach to the Great Depression.

He resigned his Senate seat in order to become Truman’s Vice President and held that position for four years. Truman’s loss to Dwight D. Eisenhower meant Barkley, too was out of a job. Barkley had cataract surgery after leaving Washington, D.C. and contracted with NBC to create 26 fifteen-minute shows but low rating kept the series from being continued. He once again ran for a Senate seat from Kentucky and campaigned in his old Iron Man way, up to sixteen hours a day. He countered his “too old” reputation which cost him the presidential nomination. He won and again took his seat in 1955. On this day, he was giving a speech and as he took the stage and began his speech, he had a heart attack and collapsed dead on the stage.

I’m glad to sit on the back row, for I would rather be a servant in the House of the Lord than to sit in the seats of the mighty. (an allusion to Psalm 84:10 and Alben W. Barkley’s last words

The best audience is intelligent, well-educated and a little drunk. – Alben W. Barkley

A politician needs the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year. And to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn’t happen. – Winston Churchill

One of the reasons people hate politics is that truth is rarely a politician’s objective. Election and power are. – Cal Thomas

Women Only

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 30, 2015
Alderson Prison*

Alderson Prison*

April 30, 1927: Alderson Prison opens. Officially called the Federal Prison Camp, Alderson or FPC Alderson, the US federal prison in located in West Virginia and was the first federal prison for women. It is operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons which is a division of the United States Department of Justice. It is located in two different counties near the town of Alderson. A portion lies in unincorporated Monroe County and the other part, which includes the dormitories, is in unincorporated Summers County. The nearest town and the one for which it is named is Alderson but there are four more nearby town – Hinton, Lewisburg, Ronceverte, and White Sulphur Springs.

In the 1920s there was a shortage of federal prison space for female inmates and they were often given alternative punishments or placed in all-male facilities. When the latter happened, the girls or women were often sexually exploited by both the inmates and the staff. Mabel Walker Willebrandt, the Assistant US Attorney General, advocated for a separate space in which to incarcerate female prisoners. Alderson was the first such prison and opened during a period of prison reform in which rehabilitation for female prisoners became a goal. The first warden, Mary B. Harris, was specifically chosen by Willebrandt. There were 174 women sent to the facility between this date and its formal opening on November 14, 1928.

The 159-acre prison was designed like boarding schools and offered education and had no armed guards when first opened. The grounds were also not fenced. The facility was mainly work-related with fourteen cottages built in a horseshoe pattern on two-tiered slopes. The minor offenders, usually drug and alcohol related during Prohibition, were partitioned by race with each cottage having room for about thirty women. Each building also had its own kitchen. Today, there is fencing although it is not topped with barbed wire. Even now, incarcerated women are given a work schedule although there are holidays given with just the powerhouse and the kitchen remaining open on those days. Vocational growth remains a priority.

Today, there are 1,070 inmates there. Most are in for non-violent or white-collar crimes. Today, prisoners sleep in bunk beds in two large dormitories with each holding slightly more than 500. The prison was nicknamed Camp Cupcake while Martha Stewart was there. There have been some noted violent offenders such as Sara Jane Moore and Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme both of whom made assassination attempts on President Gerald Ford. There have been a few spies sent there as well a couple corrupt politicians, Meg Scott Phipps and Monica Conyers, each of whom served three years for their crimes. Esther Reed and Diane Hathaway were both sent there after some financial trouble and Billie Holiday, the jazz singer legend, spent time there on a narcotics charge.

It’s a fairly unique position; to have been in charge of prison funding and then to have been an inmate. I wish I’d been more generous. – Jonathan Aitken

Prison itself is a tremendous education in the need for patience and perseverance. It is above all a test of one’s commitment. – Nelson Mandela

Anyone who has been to an English public school will always feel comparatively at home in prison. It is the people brought up in the gay intimacy of the slums who find prison so soul-destroying. – Evelyn Waugh

Bless you prison, bless you for being in my life. For there, lying upon the rotting prison straw, I came to realize that the object of life is not prosperity as we are made to believe, but the maturity of the human soul. – Aleksander Solzhenitsyn

Also on this day: Oh, Hail – In 1888, the deadliest hailstorm in history strikes in India.
Louisiana Purchase – in 1803, President Jefferson bought some land from France.
Father of Our Country – In 1789, George Washington took the Oath of Office and became the first President of the United States.
Super – In 1006, a supernova was observed.
Bilious Pills – In 1796, a patent was granted for a pill.

* “Alderson Federal Prison” by Aaron Bauer – Flickr: Alderson Federal Prison. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

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Bilious Pills

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 30, 2014
Samuel Lee, Jr. pills advertisement

Samuel Lee, Jr. pills advertisement

April 30, 1796: The first US patent for a pill of any kind is granted. Samuel Lee, Jr. of Connecticut was given a patent for a “Composition of bilious pills” which was renewed several times by him and his son. They were marketed under the name Lee’s Windham Pills and Lee’s New-London Bilious Pills – named for New-London, Connecticut. The last patent renewal was in 1814 and held by Samuel HP Lee. The pills were used for the treatment of a variety of stomach ills including seasickness. An 1803 advertisement claimed them to be “Interesting to all sea-faring People” and said they could cure “foul stomachs, where pukes are indicated.”

Pills were originally small, round, solid pharmaceutical wonders taken orally and used to cure some ill. They were different from tablets and capsules, later inventions. Early pills were made by mixing the active ingredients with an excipient (inactive ingredient used to bulk up the mixture) such as glucose syrup. Using a mortar and pestle to form a paste, the goo would be placed in a tube or pipe and then divided into equal portions. These would be rolled into a ball and often coated with a more palatable flavor, often sugar. The oldest known pills were made of zinc carbonate hydrozincite and smithsonite and found aboard a wrecked Roman ship dating from 140 BC.

People have been trying to treat disease by a variety of ways since prehistory. Medications are any chemical substance used either internally or externally in medical diagnosis, cure, treatment, or prevention of disease. Today, these are classified into seven distinct groups based on where they come from. Natural origin come from herbal or mineral (also marine) origins. Chemical as well as natural origin means that some outside chemical synthesis is added to the natural element. Drugs can be derived from chemical synthesis, animal origins, microbial origins, biotechnology, and finally from radioactive substances. There are ways other than origins to classify drugs as well, such as chemical properties or method of administration.

Types of medicines can also be categorized by their use with different drugs used for each of the basic body systems, such as GI tract, cardiovascular, central nervous system, pain and consciousness, and many more. Medicines can be ingested, injected, or topically applied. Today’s system for drug discovery has been hotly debated throughout the medical community. It is laborious and costly and often leads to disappointment. Many drugs seem to be efficacious during early trials but cannot make it to market for a variety of reason. The cost of R&D is often recouped in the first few years of a patented drug’s existence since after a patent runs out generics are brought to market and do not have to fund the prior and future costly R&D.

I told my doctor I get very tired when I go on a diet, so he gave me pep pills. Know what happened? I ate faster. – Joe E. Lewis

Medicine is not only a science; it is also an art. It does not consist of compounding pills and plasters; it deals with the very processes of life, which must be understood before they may be guided. – Paracelsus

One sees more and more people who are miserable and demented and you feel it would be both kind and wise to leave them a few pills. – Deborah Moggach

There is actually quite a lot of crossover between the quacks and drug companies. They use the same tricks and tactics to bamboozle people into buying their pills, but drug firms can afford to use slightly more sophisticated versions. – Ben Goldacre

Also on this day: Oh, Hail – In 1888, the deadliest hailstorm in history strikes in India.
Louisiana Purchase – in 1803, President Jefferson bought some land from France.
Father of Our Country – In 1789, George Washington took the Oath of Office and became the first President of the United States.
Super – In 1006, a supernova was observed.

Louisiana Purchase

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 30, 2013
Louisiana Purchase in green and shown over a current map of the US

Louisiana Purchase in green and shown over a current map of the US

April 30, 1803: The United States under President Jefferson purchases a large tract of land from France under Napoleon Bonaparte. The Louisiana Purchase encompassed 828,000 square miles. The cost was 60 million francs ($11,250,000) plus cancellation of 20 million francs in debts ($3,750,000). The $15 million plus interest came to $23,213,568. Using today’s currency values, that would be a $214 million price tag and $332 million in total cost. That means the land was purchased for less than three cents per acre.

The Louisiana Purchase was at first seen as unconstitutional, but no reference to expansion protocols was mentioned in the revered document. The land purchased contained portions of at least fifteen future US states and two Canadian provinces. With the acquisition of the land, the young country doubled in size. The land is about ¼ of the total area of the US today. The Alaska Purchase of 1867 increased the US by 586,412 square miles at a cost of $7.2 million.

Jefferson was the third President of the US and held that office from 1801 to 1809. The election of 1800 between Jefferson and Aaron Burr ended with the electoral college in a tie. Alexander Hamilton convinced the House of Representatives Jefferson was a lesser evil than Burr. After 36 ballots were cast, the House finally gave the Presidency to Jefferson with Burr becoming the Vice President.

Obtaining the territory from France essentially ended the threat of expanding French territories close to the new nation. There was still the problem of Spain owning territory, but it was not taken to be as serious as the threat from Napoleon and France. James Monroe and Robert Livingston signed the Purchase Treaty on April 30. Americans were told of the purchase on July 4 when the official announcement was made. The Senate ratified the treaty on October 20 with a vote of 24 to 7. France officially transferred the territory on December 20 and the US took formal possession on December 30. However, the land was mostly settled by Native Americans and many more treaties and exchanges of funds would follow.

“I have no fear that the result of our experiment will be that men may be trusted to govern themselves without a master.”

“The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive.”

“I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know.”

“Information is the currency of democracy.”

“I hope our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be.” – all from Thomas Jefferson

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: The land included in the Louisiana Purchase was variously owned by different European powers. Both Spain and France laid claim to areas of what is now the contiguous US. In 1795, Spain was in control of New Orleans and a treaty was signed allowing Americans to use the port with “right of deposit” meaning they could store goods for export. However, that treaty was revoked in 1798, much to the chagrin of traders along the Mississippi and government officials. In 1800, in a secret treaty, Spain ceded the land to France in the Treaty of San Ildefonso. It remained a secret until the French finally took power and control in November 1803.

Also on this day Oh, Hail – In 1888 the deadliest hailstorm in history strikes in India.
Father of Our Country – In 1789, George Washington took the Oath of Office and became the first President of the United States.
Super – In 1006, a supernova was observed.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 30, 2012

X-ray image of the remains of SN1006

April 30, 1006: Beginning on this evening and continuing throughout the year and beyond, the brightest supernova in recorded history begins to shine. The “guest star” was seen first in the constellation Lupus. Descriptions of the new star appeared in China, Egypt, Iraq, Japan, Switzerland, and possibly in North America. SN1006 (supernova and the year of discovery) has been classified as a Type la supernova meaning it resulted from a violent explosion of a white dwarf star.

Chinese and Egyptian astronomers left the most complete records for our study. The new object was two-and-a-half to three times larger than the disc of Venus and about one-fourth as bright as the Moon. Observers noted the bright light would contract and then diffuse and sometimes completely extinguish. However, there are reports that the bright light was even visible by day and could cast shadows. Modern astronomers believe those alive at the time would have been able to read by the extra bright light cast by the supernova.

Chinese astronomers (viewing the event from a different longitude) claimed the size was half that of the Moon. The supernova appears to have been observed in two distinct phases. The first three months being the brightest; it then diminished only to return for another eighteen months. There is a petroglyph created by the Hohokam in the White Tank Mountain Regional Park (located in Maricopa county, Arizona) which has been interpreted by modern archeologists to be the representation of this event. Other archaeoastronomers disagree with the interpretation.

In 1965, Sough Milne and Frank Gardner were at the Parkes radio telescope and studying a previously known radio source (PKS 1459-41) near the star Beta Lupi. They examined both x-ray and optical emissions and located the source of  SN 1006. The distance from Earth is ≈ 2.2 kiloParsecs (a kiloParsec is ≈ 19,000 trillion miles or 1.9 x 1016 miles) making the supernova about 7,200 light-years away. The explosion was ≈ 20 parsecs in diameter. There has been no neutron star or black hole found, which is typical for Type la supernovas. The remnant can still be seen in the electromagnetic spectrum and is about 60 light-years across.

Astronomy’s much more fun when you’re not an astronomer. – Brian May

The history of astronomy is a history of receding horizons. – Edwin Powell Hubble

Until very recently, the heavenly bodies have been investigated only with reference to their position and their laws of motion, and a quarter of a century ago astronomy was little more than celestial topography. – George Phillips Bond

We are probably nearing the limit of all we can know about astronomy. – Simon Newcomb (1835-1909)

Also on this day:

Oh, Hail – In 1888 the deadliest hailstorm in history strikes in India.
Louisiana Purchase – in 1803, President Jefferson bought some land from France.
Father of Our Country – In 1789, George Washington took the Oath of Office and became the first President of the United States.

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Father of Our Country

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 30, 2011

George Washington

April 30, 1789: George Washington takes the oath of office and becomes the first elected President of the United States. He spoke from the balcony of Federal Hall in New York City and his opening greeting was, “Fellow-Citizens of the Senate and the House of Representatives.” There were nearly 4 million people living in the new country.

Washington had hoped to retire to farming after the war, but with the call to further duty he assumed the mantle of leadership again. This time in pursuit of peace and harmony. Washington resided at The President’s House in Philadelphia during his terms as leader. It has since been torn down but once stood one block north of Independence Hall. Ironically, the entrance to the new Liberty Bell Center is built at the site where slave quarters once stood to house the nine slaves Washington brought with him to Philadelphia, two of whom escaped.

The 3-story house was built in 1767-1769 by Mrs. Mary Lawrence Masters, one of the richest women in the city. Her daughter married Richard Penn, lieutenant-governor of the colony and grandson of the founder of the Pennsylvania. She gave them the house as a wedding present. During the Revolutionary War, the house suffered a fire and was extensively damaged. Robert Morris rebuilt the house and took ownership in 1785. He restored the house to its original floor plan with 6 bedrooms and 4 servant rooms but added significantly to the outbuildings. The kitchen was given a second story as well. Kitchens were separated from the main houses of the time in order to limit fire hazards.

Morris offered the house to Washington while the new Federal City, now Washington DC, was being built. The house was not large enough for Washington and his staff and a 2-story addition was built on the south side along with many significant additions to the outbuildings. Both Washington and Adams lived there until the new buildings were ready in 1800. By 1832 the President’s House was gutted and turned into three separate stores. These, too, eventually fell into disrepair and were demolished over time with the final assault on the area completed in 1951 without realizing the significance of the buildings. The area is now known as an archeological site and study continues with government funding.

“The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.”

“I hope I shall always possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an ‘Honest Man.'”

“The basis of our political system is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government.”

“Laws made by common consent must not be trampled on by individuals.” – all from George Washington

Also on this day:
Oh, Hail – In 1888 the deadliest hailstorm in history strikes in India.
Louisiana Purchase – in 1803, President Jefferson bought some land from France.

Oh, Hail

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 30, 2010

Hail and the damage it can do

April 30, 1888: The deadliest hailstorm in recorded history strikes outside Delhi, India. The storm dropped orange-sized hailstones on Moradabad and killed 246 people; thousands of farm animals also perished. The storm hit around midday but with the thick cloud cover, it was reported to be as dark as night. There was no advance warning system in place, so the farmers of the community were out working the fields. Most people were killed instantly. By the time the storm abated, there were places with an accumulation of hail up to two feet deep.

Hailstones are formed by ice crystals being tossed up and down inside storm clouds. Most hail measures between a quarter-inch to nearly 6 inches in diameter. Usually hail is less than an inch in diameter, but stones can grow as large as tennis balls. As the ice pellets move within the cloud, they increase in size and weight. They need not be round and need not even be smooth, but can be oval, ovoid, or crystalline in shape.

The longer the ice stays in the growth region, the larger the supercooled liquid becomes by coalescing with other raindrops in the vicinity. The supercooled liquid freezes on contact with some form of nuclei, such as dust or dirt. Sweeping through updrafts and downdrafts for longer periods of times, along with the actual size of the storm cloud, allows for huge hailstones to be formed. Latent heat can be released, causing melting of the outer shell which can then adhere to other, smaller hailstones before refreezing.

The largest hailstone measured in the US was 5.6 inches in diameter or 17.5 inches in circumference. There were only two 20th century human deaths in the US due to hail. However, animals were not so lucky. There were two storms in quick succession in Alberta, Canada, killing over 75,000 ducks between them. Hail also damages crops. In 1788, many crops outside Paris were damaged by hail and the resultant food shortage led, in part, to the French Revolution. Hail is also damaging to cars or trucks left out in storms resulting in denting to the body and cracked windshields. As hailstones drop from 30,000 feet, they can reach speeds up to 120 mph.

“Send therefore now, and gather thy cattle, and all that thou hast in the field; for upon every man and beast which shall be found in the field, and shall not be brought home, the hail shall come down upon them, and they shall die.” – The Bible

“Unless God send his hail / Or blinding fire balls, sleet or stifling snow, / In some time, his good time, I shall arrive.” – Robert Browning

“Thunderstorms represent the primary threat.” – Bob Rice

“When all is said and done, the weather and love are the two elements about which one can never be sure.” – Alice Hoffman

Also on this day, in 1803 the US completed the Louisiana Purchase transaction.

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