Little Bits of History

August 12

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 12, 2017

1883: The last quagga dies. The animal was a subspecies of South African zebras. Originally thought to be a separate species altogether, DNA studies have been done and it was found that the quagga is the southernmost subspecies of the plains zebra and particularly close to Burchell’s zebra. The quagga name was derived from the call the animal made which sounded like “kwa-ha-ha”. The horselike zebralike animal was about 8.5 feet long and about 4 feet at the shoulder. Different from other zebras, the stripe pattern was usually brown and white and stopped at the shoulder or covered only the front part of the body.

European settlers were aware of the differences between more northern zebras which are are also colloquially called quagga, and these animals which came from what is today South Africa. There is little evidence of the animal in the fossil record but it is depicted in cave art attributed to the San whose history goes back 35,000 years. The animal was thought to travel in herds, like zebras do today, and had 30-50 individuals in the herd. Europeans at the time of their discovery called them wild and lively but were said to be more docile than the more usual black and white zebras we see today. They were quite numerous in the Karoo of Cape Province and the southern part of Orange Free State in South Africa.

As more Dutch came to the region and began farming, the herds of quagga were hunted because they competed with the domesticated livestock as both foraged for food. Most of the animals were killed but some were taken to Europe to be displayed in zoos. Breeding programs were unsuccessful and the animal was hunted to extinction in the wild by 1878. On this day, the last zoo specimen died at a zoo in Amsterdam. Only one specimen was ever photographed and that was at the London Zoo. There are only 23 skins preserved today.

As DNA studies grew, the first extinct animal to have their DNA analyzed was the quagga. The Quagga Project is an attempt by South Africa to selectively breed plains zebras to resemble the quagga. First suggested in 1955 and taken up in more earnestness in 1971, the idea was slow to get off the ground. Since it was found to be a subspecies of the zebra after the DNA was read, the idea became more feasible. In March 1986 the project was begun and the following year, nine zebras were selected to begin the selective breeding process. The Project’s first foal was born in December 1988. In 2005, Henry, the first to be considered quagga- like because of his striping, was born. The first fifth-generation Rau quagga was born in 2013. By 2016, the Quagga Project listed 116 animals in 10 locations with six individuals showing a strongly reduced stripe pattern. Their goal is to get 50 such quagga.

There’s no limit to how much you’ll know, depending how far beyond zebra you go – Dr. Seuss

Every time I look at a zebra, I can’t figure out whether it’s black with white stripes or white with black stripes, and that frustrates me. – Jodi Picoult

How fast does a zebra have to run before it looks gray. – Demetri Martin

A zebra does not change its spots. – Al Gore



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Fear and Fright

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 12, 2015
Asaph Hall

Asaph Hall

August 12, 1877: Deimos is discovered. The smaller moon of Mars was located by Asaph Hall who went on, five days later to find Phobos as well. Deimos is 9.3 x 7.6 x 6.8 miles while Phobos is 16.8 x 13.7 x 11.2 miles. Both moons are non-spherical and resemble C- or D-type asteroids. It is theorized that both were once asteroids which had orbits disturbed by Jupiter and were thrown out of their paths and then captured by Mars. Both moons also have very circular orbits almost exactly in line with Mars’s equatorial plane. This means some process must have been used to shift their orbits once they were captured by the planet. Deimos has an orbit about 14,477 miles from Mars and takes 30.312 hours to orbit the planet. Phobos is only about 5,825 miles away and rapidly circles Mars every 7 hours and 39 minutes.

Hall was working at the US Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. He had seen what he thought was perhaps a Martian moon on August 10 but bad weather kept him from certainty. The telescope he was using was a 26-inch refractor. The telescope had a lens remounted in 1893 and put in a new dome where it remains to this day. The two moons were named after a suggestion by Henry Madan, Science Master of Eton. The names refer to the twins in Greek mythology who personified Terror as Fear and Fright. Deimos has two geological features that have been named. There are two craters, one named Swift after Jonathan Swift and the other named Voltaire. Voltaire’s diameter is nearly twice that of Swift’s.

Asaph Hall III was born in 1829 in Goshen, Connecticut. His father was a clockmaker. His grandfather was a Revolutionary War officer as well as a Connecticut state legislator. The Hall family was put in financial difficulties when his father died in 1842. Hall quit school at 16 to become a carpenter’s apprentice. He was later able to study mathematics at Central College and then married one of his instructors, Angeline Stickney. They married in 1856, the same year Hall took a job at the Harvard College Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His forte was computing the orbits of heavenly bodies. He became an assistant astronomer at the US Naval Observatory in 1862. By the next year, he was made a professor.

He was given responsibility for the telescope in 1875. At the time, it was the largest refractory telescope in the world. Two years later, he made this auspicious discovery. He also noticed a white spot on Saturn which he used to calculate the planet’s rotational period. He wrote a paper describing one of the earliest documentations of random sampling. He retired from the Navy in 1891 and became a lecturer at Harvard where he remained until 1901. Hall had four children, all of whom were highly accomplished, one of them following in his footsteps and taking up astronomy. Hall died in 1907 at the age of 78.

Beauty is the first test: there is no permanent place in the world for ugly mathematics. – G. H. Hardy

I am acutely aware of the fact that the marriage between mathematics and physics, which was so enormously fruitful in past centuries, has recently ended in divorce. – Freeman Dyson

Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas. – Albert Einstein

In mathematics, as in physics, so much depends on chance, on a propitious moment. – Stanislaw Ulam

Also on this day: NAFTA – In 1992, NAFTA negotiations concluded.
Personal Computer – In 1981, IBM released a new personal computer.
Model T – In 1908, the first Model T was produced.
Boon for Butterick – In 1851, Isaac Singer received a patent for a sewing machine.
Cleopatra – In 30 BC, the Egyptian leader died.

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Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 12, 2014
Bust of Cleopatra

Bust of Cleopatra

August 12, 30 BC: Cleopatra VII dies. We know her simply as Cleopatra and she was the last of the Egyptian Pharaohs. The Greek rulers of Egypt had been in place since the time of Alexander the Great. King Ptolemy I declared himself the savior of the Egyptians who came to accept the Greeks as successors to the pharaohs. All the male rulers took the name Ptolemy while the queens were usually Cleopatra, Arsinoe, or Berenice. None of the earlier Ptolemies learned to speak Egyptian which is why many important documents, along with the Rosetta Stone, had Greek included as one of the languages. Cleopatra was the exception and learned to speak Egyptian as well as representing herself as the reincarnation of the Egyptian goddess Isis.

Cleopatra originally ruled with her father Ptolemy XII and later with her brothers, Ptolemy XIII and XIV. She married both of her brothers as was the custom but she eventually became sole ruler of Egypt. She and Julius Caesar had a relationship which solidified her position in Egypt. Their son, Caesarion, was eventually raised to co-rule with his mother. After Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, Cleopatra and Mark Antony joined forces against Caesar’s legal heir, Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, or as more familiar to history, Augustus. Cleopatra and Mark Antony had three children – a set of twins (one boy and one girl) and another son.

During this era of unrest, the best way to attain control of the throne was to have murdered anyone who might lay claim to it or harm one’s heirs. Cleopatra had her sister murdered, but did so on the temple steps which outraged the Roman citizenry. Antony’s liaison with the Egyptian did not help his standing in Rome. He spent the next years living in Alexandria and married Cleopatra according to Egyptian rites, although he was married to Octavia Minor, sister of another of the triumvir rulers. Eventually, after some successful battles, Antony was crowned co-ruler of Egypt with Cleopatra. There were enemies in Rome who were watching to see if Cleopatra was amassing strength to take over control of the empire.

Antony and Octavian’s relationship continued to fall apart over the years and in 33 BC, war was declared by Rome against Egypt. Mark Antony committed suicide when no other options were open to him. Octavian had him cornered and rather than submit, he stabbed himself on August 1, 30 BC. Cleopatra was permitted to bury her husband after she, too, had been captured. She made several attempts to also kill herself and was finally successful on this day. Whether she allowed an asp to bite her or whether she applied a poison to herself is in question. Others surmise that Augustus had her killed. Whatever the method, she was 39 years old at the time.

In praising Antony I have dispraised Caesar.

I will not be triumphed over.

My honour was not yielded, but conquered merely.

Fool! Don’t you see now that I could have poisoned you a hundred times had I been able to live without you. – all from Cleopatra

Also on this day: NAFTA – In 1992, NAFTA negotiations conclude.
Personal Computer – In 1981, IBM released a new personal computer.
Model T – In 1908, the first Model T was produced.
Boon for Butterick – In 1851, Isaac Singer received a patent for a sewing machine.

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Personal Computer

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 12, 2013
IBM model 5150

IBM model 5150

August 12, 1981: The IBM personal computer is released. IBM model 5150 ran IBM BASIC/ PC-DOS 1.0 as the operating system. Other microcomputers were already on the market. IBM’s major competitors were Commodore, Atari, Apple, and Tandy. IBM came out with a desktop computer, the 5100, in 1975. It was an all-in-one machine with the computer, monitor, keyboard, and data storage in one piece for ≈ $20,000 ($87,000 in 2009 USD). The 5100 was designed for professionals and scientific “problem-solvers” and not for business or personal use.

Trying to break into the home market, IBM assembled a specific team to quickly design a personal computer. The Project Chess group was based in Boca Raton, Florida with Don Estridge directing the twelve member team. They designed their computer in a year by using “off the shelf” parts from a variety of original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). The team chose to use an already developed IBM monitor and an existing Epson printer. They used an open architecture, allowing for other companies to produce peripheral components.

They chose an Intel 8088 (8-16 bit) over the Intel 8086 and Motorola MC68000 processors. The latter types were 16-bit and were considered to be “too powerful.” They then needed an Operating System (OS) for the new computer. Digital Research had written one called CP/M, but they said they could not help IBM because they were too busy. So Big Blue asked a small company famous for its BASIC Programming Language. Luckily, Bill Gates and Microsoft were free to help. Gates had bought the rights to QDOS which was modified and became PC-DOS and then MS-DOS. The first 5150 came with 16 KB RAM and no floppy disk drives. It sold for ≈ $1,600 ($4,200 in 2009).

The keyboard came with the standard QWERTY layout, but also featured 10 function keys and a number pad. The function key is programmed to perform an action when struck. Some functions occur with a combination of keystrokes. Keyboards need to be different for various countries, even when using the same Latin alphabet. Some languages use diacritical marks and other symbols. Still other languages use non-Latin letters. East Asian languages create a whole different problem due to thousands of possible characters in the languages. If this all seems confusing, just press F1 for help.

“Home computers are being called upon to perform many new functions, including the consumption of homework formerly eaten by the dog.” – Doug Larson

“User, n. The word computer professionals use when they mean ‘idiot.'” – Dave Barry

“Computers make it easier to do a lot of things, but most of the things they make it easier to do don’t need to be done.” – Andy Rooney

“The most overlooked advantage to owning a computer is that if they foul up, there’s no law against whacking them around a little.” – Eric Porterfield

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: MS-DOS, which stands for Microsoft Disk Operating System, was created specifically for this early IBM computer. It became the underlying Operating System for many early IBM-based personal computers and gave Microsoft the income to fund itself out of the operating system category and into the entire software industry. There were eight different versions of MS-DOS between 1981 and its discontinuation in 2000. It was eventually replaced with Windows which is a GUI or Graphical User Interface system. DOS only takes 8 MB of installation space, and at the time, disk space was at a premium. Today, the size of hard drives is immense (in comparison to the early computers) and the expectations of what a computer can and should do increased as well.

Also on this day: NAFTA – In 1992, NAFTA negotiations conclude.
Model T – In 1908, the first Model T was produced.
Boon for Butterick – In 1851, Isaac Singer received a patent for a sewing machine.

Boon for Butterick

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 12, 2012

Drawing of the 1851 Singer sewing machine

August 12, 1851: Isaac Singer is issued US Patent #8294. Singer was born in Pittstown, New York on October 27, 1811. He fathered his first child at the age of ten. By age twelve, he ran away from home and a disagreeable stepmother. He went to live with an older brother who had a machine shop. There, he leaned the trade. Seeking fame and fortune, Isaac became an actor. His reviews were not spectacular. He married in 1830 and had two children with his wife.

In 1836, he became an agent for a company of players. While in Baltimore, he met and proposed to another woman, but didn’t marry her. In 1837, both his wife and his mistress gave him children. Isaac didn’t officially divorce his first wife until 1860. His mistress was quite upset when she found out her lover already had a wife. Isaac ran away again, this time to Chicago. He continued to work in both the acting world and the machine world. He was granted his first patent in 1839. He and his mistress got back together and in 1849 the two and their eight children moved back to New York. Isaac would eventually father 20 children.

Lerow and Blodgett sewing machines often came to him to repaired. These early machines were difficult to make and to use. Singer believed they would be more reliable and easier to work if the shuttle moved in a straight line rather than the circle the older machines used. He also elected to use a straight rather than a curved needle. The patent he received on this day incorporated these changes. His new and improved machines was the first practical sewing machine and was able to produce 900 stitches per minute – a vast improvement over the 40 stitches per minute an accomplished seamstress could produce.

In 1856, the sewing machine patent wars broke out. The three primary combatants were Singer, Grover and Baker, and Wheeler and Wilson. They all accused each other of patent infringement. Rather than spend all their profits suing each other, they opted to pool patents and all could produce and sell machines. To manage this, Elias Howe also needed to be included and his terms specified he be paid a royalty on each machine sold. I.M. Singer and Co. made 2,564 machines in 1856. In 1860 he opened a new plant and in that year produced 13,000 sewing machines. By using interchangeable parts, the price dropped and sales increased exponentially.

My attention was first directed to sewing machines late in August, 1850. I then saw in Boston some Blodgett sewing machines, which Mr. Orson C. Phelps was employed to keep in running order. I had then patented a carving machine, and Phelps, I think, suggested that if I could make the sewing machine practical I should make money.

The machine was completed in eleven days. About nine o’clock in the evening we got the parts together, and tried it. It did not sew. Exhausted with almost unremitting work, they pronounced it a failure, and left me one by one until only Zieber was with me.

We went back, adjusted the tension, tried the machine, and it sewed five stitches perfectly, then the thread snapped. But that was enough to secure my forty dollars.

To all whom it may concern: Be it known that I, Isaac Merritt Singer of the City, County and State of New York have invented certain new and useful improvements in the machine for sewing seams in cloth. – all from Isaac M. Singer

Also on this day:

NAFTA – In 1992, NAFTA negotiations conclude.
Personal Computer – In 1981, IBM released a new personal computer.
Model T – In 1908, the first Model T was produced.

Model T

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 12, 2011

1908 Ford Model T ad from Oct. 1, 1908 Life magazine

August 12, 1908: The first production Model T Ford is produced. The car was also called by other names: Tin Lizzie, Flivver, T-Model Ford, and T. With the production of this inexpensive car, automobiles became popular in the US. Suddenly, these horseless carriages were affordable for middle class Americans and they purchased them in droves. The first Model T left the Piquette Plant in Detroit, Michigan on September 27, 1908.

There were many other cars produced by Henry Ford as prototypes between 1902 and 1908. The Ford Motor Company began with the Model A car but did not have 19 production models between that car and this. The car just before the Model T was, however, Model S which itself was an improvement over the Model N. Between A and T there were 19 different cars, but some never went into production and were merely prototypes. The Model T was named the most influential car of the 20th century.

The car was designed by Childe Harold Wills along with Joseph A. Galamb and Eugene Farkas. The rest of the design team included Henry Love, C.J. Smith, Gus Degner, and Peter E. Martin. Production began in 1908 but the model years are from 1909 to 1927. There were 15 million cars produced. The top speed of this early car was 40-45 mph drawn from a 177-cubic-inch engine. This four-cylinder en bloc engine could get 13-21 miles per gallon and could run on gasoline, kerosene, or ethanol stored in a ten gallon fuel tank.

By 1918, half the cars in the US were Ford’s Model T. Between 1908 and 1914 they came in a variety of colors, none of them black. Early Ts were painted grey, green, blue, or red. After 1914, they were only painted black, a durable and cheap color for the cars. Over the years, more than 30 different types of black paint were used. Henry Ford was present on May 26, 1927 when the 15 millionth car rolled off the assembly line at the Highland Park factory. The Flivver had been the first mass produced automobile built on an assembly line using completely interchangeable parts and marketed to the middle class. It revolutionized car manufacturing.

“A bore is a person who opens his mouth and puts his feats in it.”

“An idealist is a person who helps other people to be prosperous.”

“Capital punishment is as fundamentally wrong as a cure for crime as charity is wrong as a cure for poverty.”

“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” – all from Henry Ford

Also on this day:
NAFTA – In 1992, NAFTA negotiations conclude.
Personal Computer – In 1981, IBM released a new personal computer.

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Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 12, 2010


August 12, 1992: Negotiations for NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement] reach a conclusion. The agreement between Canada, Mexico, and the United States took effect on January 1, 1994. There are several different regional trading blocs. NAFTA is the largest in area, population, gross domestic product, and per capital income. It is tied for the lowest in number of countries participating.

The implementation lifted tariffs on a majority of traded goods between the three nations. Over a 15 year period, most other remaining barriers to cross-border investment and trading of goods and services would be eliminated. Several major industries were affected, including car and textile manufacturing, agriculture, telecommunications, financial services, energy, and trucking.

As with any treaty, there are pros and cons. After more than ten years, Mexican protesters state that the treaty favors the US and Canada’s big business ventures over the needs of indigenous Latin Americans. Jobs created in Mexico are low-paying and far from where the workforce lives. The small family farm cannot sell produce because of international undercutting of prices. Labor unions in the US have been fearful of jobs moving to a less expensive market.

The agreement was signed in 1992 by then-President George Bush, Sr. However, President Bill Clinton had to use all his power to get the treaty passed by Congress. It passed with a vote of 234 to 200 in the House and 61-38 in the Senate. The flag of NAFTA is trifold with portions of the three participating nations’ flags melded into one.

“Trade knows no flag.” – Andrew Carnegie

“Nothing can be more surely established than that a Government which interferes with any trade injures that trade.” – Walter Bagehot

“What’s good economics is bad politics; what’s bad economics is good politics.” – Eugene W. Baer

“Economics: The science of the production, distribution and use of wealth, best understood by college professors on half rations.” – Elbert Hubbard

Also on this day, in 1981 IBM releases their first personal computer.

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