Little Bits of History

Manhattan Bridge

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 31, 2015
Manhattan Bridge under construction

Manhattan Bridge under construction

December 31, 1909: The Manhattan Bridge opens. The bridge connects Manhattan and Brooklyn and is maintained by New York City Department of Transportation. The suspension bridge was designed by Leon Moisseiff and construction began in 1901 and was finished in 1912, although the incomplete bridge opened on this date. Two other suspension bridges crossed the East River and this was the third and last built. The upper level was originally used for streetcars and the original walkway on the South side of the bridge was closed for forty years, only reopening in 2001. At that time, a dedicated bicycle path was opened on the North side.

It was not until 1910 that the triumphal arch and colonnade were drawn up. This addition was part of Manhattan’s “City Beautiful” campaign. The construction of the addition was not completed until 1915. When the bridge opened on this day, the tracks included did not connect to anything. It wasn’t until 1912 that the streetcars were actually functional. The total length of the bridge is 6,855 feet with the longest span measuring 1,480 feet. Today, there are seven lanes of roadway, 4 tracks for the B, D, N, and Q trains of the New York City Subway, and the pedestrian and bicycle lanes. The towers rise to a height of 336 feet with a clearance of 135 feet below the bridge. This is one of four toll-free bridges spanning the East River and over 70,000 people cross it each day.

Moisseiff’s innovative design was the first suspension bridge to use Josef Melan’s deflection theory for stiffening the deck. Because of this, it is considered to be the forerunner of modern suspension bridges as it served as a model for many of the long-span bridges built in the first half of the last century. It was also the first suspension bridge to use a Warren truss in its design. Moiseiff was born in Riga, Latvia in 1872 and studied at the Baltic Polytechnic Institute for three years before coming to America when he was 19 years old. He was forced to flee because of political pressures against Jews in his home land. He finished his studies at Columbia University and earned a degree from there in civil engineering in 1895.

He gained a national reputation when he designed this bridge. He advocated for all-steel bridges and a move away from the stone and concrete bridge of before. His work with deflection theory, which stated that longer the spans in the bridges, the more flexible they could be, helped to make him famous enough to be called in to help with the Golden Gate Bridge. He was one of the leading suspension bridge builders in the 1920s and 30s and was awarded The Franklin Institute’s Louis E. Levy Medal in 1933. He went on to design the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, one of the most derided bridges in the country. The bridge collapsed just a few months after it was completed in 1940. Moisseiff died in 1943 after suffering a heart attack and the arrogance of his final bridge design, the Tacoma Narrows, overshadowed much of his earlier brilliant work.

Men build too many walls and not enough bridges. – Isaac Newton

Ugly programs are like ugly suspension bridges: they’re much more liable to collapse than pretty ones, because the way humans (especially engineer-humans) perceive beauty is intimately related to our ability to process and understand complexity. – Eric S. Raymond

The bridges you cross before you come to them are over rivers that aren’t there. – Gene Brown

A bridge is only a bridge, a highway in the sky. – Herb Caen

Also on this day: Dupont Plaza Hotel – In 1986, three unhappy employees set the hotel on fire.
Quarters – In 1960, the farthing was finished.
Longacre Square – In 1904, New Year’s Eve was celebrated in NYC.
Granted – In 1600, Queen Elizabeth I granted a Royal Charter.
Long Lease – In 1759, Arthur Guinness signed a lease.

Long Lease

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 31, 2014
Arthur Guinness

Arthur Guinness

December 31, 1759: Arthur Guinness signs a lease. He was born in County Kildare, Ireland in 1725 and in 1752 his godfather bequeathed him £100. He invested the money and opened a brewery. He signed a 9,000 year lease for £45 per year on this day for the St. James Gate Brewery in Dublin. On May 19, 1769 he began exporting his ale when he shipped six and a half barrels to Great Britain. Throughout most of the history of the company, they have sold only three versions of a single beer type. They had on offer porter or single stout, double or extra, and foreign stout for export.

The beverage is made from water, barley, roast malt extract, hops, and brewer’s yeast. Part of the barley is roasted to give Guinness its famous dark color and characteristic taste. It is both pasteurized and filtered. It has a reputation for being a “meal in a glass” but it contains only 198 calories which is less than found in skimmed milk or orange juice was well as other non-light beers. In the late 1950s or early 1960s, the traditional wooden casks were abandoned and Guinness was put into aluminum kegs which were jokingly called “iron lungs”. Some studies claimed Guinness was good for the heart and there were some antioxidant compounds found in the drink. There are no more antioxidants than found in certain fruits and vegetables.

The perfect pint of Guinness is achieved by a special technique called the double pour. This should take exactly 119.5 seconds – just short of two minutes. Since that is longer than other beers, they made a slogan “good things come to those who wait”. Even so, many people are unwilling to wait and so another option is available. Exactap is a beer dispenser owned in a trust by its American inventor and marketed via DigitalDispense USA LLC and can pour a prefect Guinness in just four seconds without overfilling. There are 600 of the dispensers in Dublin alone. The glass should be slightly tulip shaped and the beer is poured into a tilted glass until ¾ of the way full. Then the beer is forced through a restrictor plate to get the famous head of foam at the top of the glass holding the 42.8° F beverage.

Today, the beer is one of the most successful brands worldwide. It is brewed in almost 60 countries and is available in more than twice that many. They have an annual sales total of 1.8 billion US pints or 850 million liters. It is the best-selling alcoholic drink in Ireland where Guinness & Co. makes nearly €2 billion annually. The company moved headquarters to London in 1932. They merged with Grand Metropolitan plc in 1997 and is now part of Diageo, a British based multinational alcoholic drinks producer. They are also the owners of Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker, and Baileys, so the brew is in good company.

My favorite food from my homeland is Guinness. My second choice in Guinness. My third choice – would have to be Guinness. – Peter O’Toole

I’m more of a Smithwick’s or Bulmer’s girl than a pint of Guinness. – Emily Ratajkowski

I’ve been watching what I eat. When I was putting on all the weight, I was drinking Guinness and not eating. I didn’t have room to because I was drinking all the time. – Robbie Williams

I admit I was drinking a Guinness… but I did not swallow. – Kinky Friedman

Also on this day: Dupont Plaza Hotel – In 1986, three unhappy employees set the hotel on fire.
Quarters – In 1960, the farthing was finished.
Longacre Square – In 1904, New Year’s Eve was celebrated in NYC.
Granted – In 1600, Queen Elizabeth I granted a Royal Charter.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 31, 2013
Old British coins

Old British coins

December 31, 1960: The farthing ceases to be legal tender in the United Kingdom. The word itself means “fourth part” and the coin itself was worth ¼ of a cent or 1/960 of a pound sterling. The coins were first minted in the 13th century and were made of silver. As the least valuable coin, few were hoarded and so few survive to date. Many of these small change coins were “cut coinage” where pennies were literally cut into smaller pieces. The earliest minted farthings come from the reign of King Henry III (1216-1272) rather than King Edward I (1272-1307) as previously thought.

There is some speculation that Henrician farthings were experimental coinage. By Edward II’s reign, two mints were producing the coin, one in London and a second in Berwick. The coin’s use appeared to have been sporadic and some kings’ mints did not press any farthings: Henry VI, Edward IV, and Edward V. Later monarchs also did not have silver farthings because they had become too small to be struck. King James I (1603-1625) solved the problem by issuing copper coins.

The privilege of minting coins was licensed to various families with the possibility of profit always present. Under the Commonwealth (1649-1660), no farthings were used. King Charles II (1660-1685) saw a need for small value coins and eventually moved from copper to a tin and copper coin. Farthings were imprinted with a picture of the monarch along with a legend written in Latin or English. Queen Elizabeth II only had farthings made with her image from 1953-1956.

With prices rising, more people were less inclined to accept a large number of coins for even small purchases. A push came to end production which took place in 1956. The coins in circulation continued to be used as legal tender until this date. Today, the pound sterling (£) is valued at 100 (new) pence rather than the old system where a pound was worth 20 shillings, each of which was worth 12 (old) pence. The first decimal coins were issued in 1968. The last redesign of British currency took place in 2008.

“The world is an old woman, and mistakes any gilt farthing for a gold coin; whereby being often cheated, she will thenceforth trust nothing but the common copper.” – Thomas Carlyle

“Remuneration! O! That’s the Latin word for three farthings.” – William Shakespeare

“Virtue knows to a farthing what it has lost by not having been vice.” – Horace Walpole

“To see that many penny farthings all lined up is an amazing sight.” – Stuart Warburton

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: The British Pound is the official currency of the United Kingdom, Jersey, Guernsey, the Isla of Man, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, the British Antarctic Territory, and Tristan da Cunha. Guernsey and Jersey both produce their own local issues of sterling. It is the coinage along with one other for various other areas around the world. It is the fourth most traded currency in the foreign exchange market with the US dollar, the euro, and the Japanese yen being the first three. These four currencies together form the basket of currencies which calculate the value of IMF special drawing rights. The Dollar is weighted 41.9%, the Euro as 37.4%, Sterling at 11.3% and the Yen at 9.4%. Sterling is also one of the most held reserve currency in global reserves, coming in third for that designation after the dollar and the euro.

Also on this day: Dupont Plaza Hotel – In 1986, three unhappy employees set the hotel on fire.
Longacre Square – In 1904, New Year’s Eve was celebrated in NYC.
Granted = In 1600, Queen Elizabeth I granted a Royal Charter.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 31, 2012
James Lancaster

James Lancaster

December 31, 1600: Queen Elizabeth I grants a Royal Charter. The recipients were “George, Earl of Cumberland, and 215 Knights, Alderman, and Burgesses” under the name, Governor and Company of Merchants of London trading with the East Indies. It is better known as the East India Company. They were originally given a fifteen year monopoly on all trade with all countries east of Cape of Good Hope and west of the Straits of Magellan. The first East India Company voyage took place in 1601 under the command of Sir James Lancaster. Their direct competition was the already working Dutch East India Company, as the British still attempted to break into the lucrative spice trade.

Their first voyage found them opening a factory in Bantam on the western end of the Island of Java. From there, they could export pepper, an important part of their trade for the next twenty years. The factory stayed open until 1683. By 1608, the Company ships were docking at Surat in what is today the Indian state of Gujarat. Soon they had built their first factory in India at Machillpatnam along the Bay of Bengal. Their profits were high and this sparked the new leader of England, King James I, to grant subsidiary licenses to others. However, in 1609, King James renewed the Charter for the Company, this time for an indefinite period. Included in this new charter was a clause that would void it if the Company was unprofitable for three consecutive years.

Even with the support of the Crown, trading was not all smooth sailing. Unfortunately for the British, there were already both Dutch and Portuguese traders in India and these three entities would often be in conflict. The British had a major victory over the Portuguese in the Battle of Swally in 1612. With this victory, they created a greater foothold on mainland India. That same year, a treaty between Sir Thomas Roe and Nuruddin Salim Jahangir gave exclusive rights to the East India Company to reside and build factories in Surat. In return, the British were to supply the Emperor with goods available only from the European market.

The Company grew and grew. They eventually were able to hold a complete monopoly, first with trade and then with colonial expansion. Local rulers were unwilling to simply give up their control to the British and so military expansion was needed to subdue the locals and take control. The East India Company was famous for some of the exports, saltpeter and opium perhaps the most notable. As the British empire expanded and circled the globe, the Indian tea exportation also led to some issue with other British holdings. Over the centuries there were many laws enacted to help sustain the Company, but it finally was dissolved in 1874. India itself finally was freed from British rule in 1947.

Nay, be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought. – Henry David Thoreau

No nation was ever ruined by trade. – Benjamin Franklin

Men cannot not live by exchanging articles, but producing them. They live by work not trade. – John Ruskin

This high official, all allow, is grossly overpaid; there wasn’t any Board, and now there isn’t any Trade. – A. P. Herbert

Also on this day:

Dupont Plaza Hotel – In 1986, three unhappy employees set the hotel on fire.
Quarters – In 1960, the farthing was finished.
Longacre Square – In 1904, New Year’s Eve was celebrated in NYC.

Longacre Square

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 31, 2011

Longacre Square, New York City, 1880

December 31, 1904: New York City hosts a New Year’s Eve celebration held at Longacre Square. This major intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue actually encompasses several blocks. It stretches from West 42nd Street to West 47th Street and includes the blocks between Sixth and Eighth Avenues. In the heart of Manhattan, it is smaller than Red Square in Moscow and Trafalgar Square in London. However, it is still recognized worldwide. Today it is called Times Square and is the site of a major New Year’s Eve party each year.

The New Year’s Eve celebrations of 1904-1906 were brightened by fireworks. Since 1907 a lighted ball has been dropped from One Times Square. The first ball was made of iron and wood and weighed 700 pounds. It was illuminated by 100 25-watt light bulbs. In 1920 a 400 pound ball made of iron replaced it. During World War II (1942 and 1943) the ball was not dropped because of wartime light restrictions. Instead, at midnight there was a moment of silence in deference to all those fighting for freedom around the world.

In 1955 a new aluminum ball was put in place and weighed only 150 pounds. During the 1980s with an ad campaign of “I Luv NY” and the era of the Big Apple, lights were changed to red and a green stem was added. By the end of the decade, white lights again were in place. In 1995, upgrades to the ball added rhinestones and strobe lights with a computer controlled light show. For the worldwide millennial celebration of 2000, a totally new Waterford Crystal ball was made weighing 1,070 pounds. The exterior was lit with 168 halogen bulbs to enhance the 504 crystal triangles. The interior was lighted with 208 clear bulbs and 56 bulbs each in red, yellow, green, and blue. Another 96 high intensity strobe lights were added. The entire 696 lights and 90 rotating crystals were computer controlled.

New Year’s Eve is the final day of the Gregorian calendar. Western culture celebrates with parties spanning the transition of one year to the next. New Zealand is the first country to celebrate each year because of its position close to the International Date Line. Fireworks are a popular entertainment feature around the globe. Champagne is often used to help welcome the new year or perhaps to help forget the old. However you look at it, may you find peace in the New Year.

“Youth is when you’re allowed to stay up late on New Year’s Eve. Middle age is when you’re forced to.” – Bill Vaughn

“Despite the common assumption that New Year’s Eve is a wall-to-wall party, this poll finds that most people will be safe at home celebrating with friends and family, with the Times Square countdown in the background.” – Maurice Carroll

“The Old Year has gone.  Let the dead past bury its own dead.  The New Year has taken possession of the clock of time.  All hail the duties and possibilities of the coming twelve months!” – Edward Payson Powell

“New Year’s Day:  Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions.  Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.” – Mark Twain

Also on this day:

Dupont Plaza Hotel – In 1986, three unhappy employees set the hotel on fire.
Quarters – In 1960, the farthing was finished.

Dupont Plaza Hotel

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 31, 2010

December 31, 1986: Three disgruntled employees set a fire that kills 97 and injures 140 more at the Dupont Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Local 901 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters was in negotiations with the hotel for a raise in wages for the union member employees. Three employees started a fire on the ground floor outside the Ballroom and Casino areas at around 3:30 PM. Intense heat blew out the plate glass window, causing a flashover. Within twelve minutes almost 100 were dead.

Flammable liquid was placed in a storage area with plastic covered furniture. The furniture was mostly made of synthetic, petroleum-based materials. Both the plastic and the furniture released an intense heat and poisonous gases as they burned. Most of the dead suffered from smoke inhalation, many burned beyond recognition. In the week prior to this fire, three other fires had been set and contained. Management had employed an extra 30 security guards to patrol the hotel. Surviving guests tell of a work slowdown and many knew of the union-management discord but they were unable to move because other hotels in the area were fully booked.

Guests had heard gossiping among the employees. There had been radio commercials and handbills passed out from the union stating that those who were thinking of celebrating New Year’s Eve at the penthouse party at the hotel should know that the party would be inadequately staffed and guests may wish to party elsewhere. These were not intimidating commercials. Ten minutes before the fire broke out, the union turned down management’s last offer prior to a strike that was to begin at midnight.

Guests told of workers leaving their posts thirty minutes before the fire. Union official report that they were coming to a union meeting held in the ballroom. Union officials deny any fore-knowledge of the fire. It is thought that those setting the fire were hoping to damage the building but did not mean to cause mass murder. The hotel is now under the Marriott name.

“The essence of trade unionism is social uplift. The labor movement has been the haven for the dispossessed, the despised, the neglected, the downtrodden, the poor.” – A. Phillip Randolph

“With all their faults, trade unions have done more for humanity than any other organization of men that ever existed. They have done more for decency, for honesty, for education, for the betterment of the race, for the developing of character in men, than any other association of men.” – Clarence Darrow

“You can’t do it unless you organize.” – Samuel Gompers

“We must learn to live together as brothers or we are going to perish together as fools.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Also on this day, in 1960 the British stopped honoring the farthing (a quarter of a penny) as legal tender.