Little Bits of History

February 21

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 21, 2017

1677: Benedito de Espinosa dies. We know him as Baruch Spinoza. He was a Dutch philosopher of Sephardic Jewish/Portuguese origin and born in the Dutch Republic. His family had moved to Amsterdam after the Portuguese Inquisition began forcing conversions on the Iberian peninsula. These exiles found acceptance in Amsterdam and were proud of their heritage, survival, and community. The senior Spinoza was a successful merchant as well as active in the local synagogue. The port city also brought many ships in and along with their products for sale came an influx of people, ideas, and experiences. This helped to foster a city of tolerance.

Spinoza grew up speaking Portuguese but also knew Hebrew, Spanish, Dutch, and Latin. He may have also spoken French. He had a traditional Jewish upbringing and educational opportunities. He may have been headed towards becoming a rabbi but at the age of 17, when his older brother died, he quit school and joined the family importing business. At the age of 20, he was learning Latin from a former Jesuit who was a radical democrat who may have been responsible for introducing his young pupil to scholastic and modern philosophy, up to and including the heretical Rene Descartes. After the senior Spinoza died, Baruch went to teach at his Jesuit mentor’s school.

It was at this time that Spinoza became acquainted with many other Christian religions as well as anti-clerical belief systems. He slowly broke away from his Jewish beliefs and eventually was expelled from the Jewish community as a heretic. He spent the rest of his life writing and studying as a private scholar. He was able to publish only one work under his own name during his lifetime, Descartes’ “Principles of Philosophy”. He kept working on what would become his masterpiece work, published posthumously, Ethics.

In his famous book, he posited that God did exist but was abstract and impersonal. He was opposed to Descartes’ mind-body dualism but also disagreed with other anti-Cartesian philosophies. Spinoza believed in strict determinism, today rather akin to quantum mechanics. Spinoza rationalized that everything in Nature, that is everything that exists, is one Reality or one substance and there is only one set of rules which govern all. He saw God and Nature as two names for the same thing. Reality is perfection and anything we find imperfect is due to our lack of understanding. Our inability to understand is because the universe is vast and complex but our striving to understand more and better is our salvation.

All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare.

Peace is not an absence of war, it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice.

The endeavor to understand is the first and only basis of virtue.

Ambition is the immoderate desire for power. – all from Baruch Spinoza

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Pen vs. Sword

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 21, 2015
Cherokee Phoenix, then and now

Cherokee Phoenix, then and now

February 21, 1828: The Cherokee Phoenix is first published. The initial issue was the first paper published in a Native American language. The newspaper was printed in both English and Cherokee. Published in New Echota, the capital of the Cherokee Nation, it continued printing until 1834. In the early 1800s, the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee, and Seminole) were living as autonomous nations in what is today called the American Deep South. The lands they occupied were valuable for farming and hunting and the new US government was being pressured into removing them so that whites could take over the lands.

The Cherokee were being pressured to move from Georgia to lands west of the Mississippi River. The General Council of the Cherokee Nation began the newspaper with the help of missionary Samuel Worcester, who cast the type for Cherokee syllabary (similar to an alphabet). Elias Boudinot was the first editor. He was a member of a prominent Cherokee Nation family born in 1802 as Gallegina Uwati and also known as Buck Watie. He was educated at a missionary school in Connecticut and came to believe in acculturation as a means to assure Cherokee survival. The paper planned to showcase Cherokee achievements as well as build unity within the Nation.

The first issue was four pages, each with five columns. Translation between Cherokee and English was slow, so at first they would only print three columns in Cherokee each week. This first issue contained praise for the creation of the syllabary by Sequoyah as well as an editorial by Boudinot criticizing white settlers coveting Cherokee lands. The idea of Tribal removal gained speed and so the paper arranged a fund-raising publicity tour. New subscribers were attracted from all areas of the US and Europe. Eventually the paper went to a completely English publication in order to attract a wider readership. The paper was renamed in 1829 as the Cherokee Phoenix and Indians’ Advocate.

Boudinot believed removal was inevitable and felt protection by treaty would be beneficial. He was not in the majority of Cherokee citizens. He was removed from his post as editor. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 was passed with the help of Andrew Jackson. The Cherokee were put into forced marches and between 2,000 and 6,000 of the 16,543 displaced Cherokee died of exposure, disease, or starvation while traveling what came to be known as the Trail of Tears. Boudinot had championed the Treaty of New Echota of 1835 but John Ross, Principal Chief would not sign it. Boudinot’s wife died in 1836 and he and his children moved to Indian Territory after her death. He and three other Treaty Party leaders were assassinated in June 1839 by the National Party, followers of Ross.

News is history shot on the wing. – Gene Fowler

The flood of print has turned reading into a process of gulping rather than savoring. – Warren Chappell

In the spider-web of facts, many a truth is strangled. – Paul Eldridge

A newspaper consists of just the same number of words, whether there be any news in it or not. – Henry Fielding

Also on this day: The Washington Monument – In 1885, the Washington Monument was dedicated.
Karl Marx – In 1848, The Communist Manifesto was published.
Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz – In 1931, Miles Laboratories introduced Alka-Seltzer to the world.
Incas – In 1918, the last Carolina Parakeet died.
Candid Camera – In 1947, Edwin Land demonstrated a new type of camera.

Candid Camera

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 21, 2014
Edwin Land

Edwin Land

February 21, 1947: Edwin Land demonstrates a new type of camera and film. Land had studied chemistry at Harvard, but left after his first year. He went to New York City and invented inexpensive filters which would polarize light – Polaroid film. Since he was a private citizen, he had no access to a university laboratory so he snuck into Columbia University at night to use their lab. He used the New York City Public Library for his research and was able to look through their stacks for information on polarizing substances. His big idea came when he realized he did not need to grow one large crystal for his film, but could instead use millions of micron-sized polarizing crystals aligned perfectly. Aligning them perfectly was the next step.

After figuring all this out, Land returned to Harvard for further study but never completed his degree. He was a poor student not because he couldn’t do the work, but because after he found the solution, he had no interest in writing up the answers. His physics instructor, George Wheelwright, was so impressed with his student that together they formed the Land-Wheelwright Laboratories in 1932, with the older man providing funding. They began with creating filters for sunglasses and were successful in this project. With that in hand, a series of Wall Street investors were willing to fund greater expansion. A new name was given to the company in 1937, the Polaroid Corporation.

Under the Polaroid trademark, Land continued to work on his film with the major thrust of the work going toward sunglasses and scientific work. The other uses for the polarization process became more important, especially as he worked with the military during World War II. One of his projects included developing dark-adaptation goggles. He also worked on target finders and the first passively guided smart bombs. Another project was developing a system to reveal camouflaged enemy positions in aerial photography called Vectograph.

After the war, he got back to working on the film and on this day, he presented his work to the Optical Society. The first camera of this type was the Polaroid Land Camera Model 95 and was first sold to the public in November 1948. It took about one minute to have a developed picture in hand. The film would be exposed, the process would begin, and as it was completed, the negative sheet would be torn from the film, with the positive image available. Only black and white photos were possible until 1963 when Land introduced Polacolor pack film, able to produce color pictures. Land retired in 1983 and the cameras were still produced, but without his name added. He died in 1991 at the age of 81 and at the time of his death, his personal assistant shredded all his personal papers and notes.

An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail.

Creativity is the sudden cessation of stupidity.

Marketing is what you do when your product is no good.

It’s not that we need new ideas, but we need to stop having old ideas. – all from Edwin Land

Also on this day: The Washington Monument – In 1885, the Washington Monument was dedicated.
Karl Marx – In 1848, The Communist Manifesto was published.
Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz – In 1931, Miles Laboratories introduced Alka-Seltzer to the world.
Incas – In 1918, the last Carolina Parakeet died.

Karl Marx

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 21, 2013
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

February 21, 1848: A new book is published in London by two Germans. The original print run was written in German and the 17,000 word treatise was finally translated into English in 1850. The authors were Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and their work was entitled The Communist Manifesto. There were several revisions made between 1872 and 1890. The work was translated into Russian in 1882. Various English translations are used and some include modified text.

Engels was born in Prussia in what is now Germany in 1820. His father was a textile manufacturer and at age 22 young Engels was sent to England to work in a textile mill where his father was part owner. Already influenced by Georg Hegel, the move to England only enhanced his disregard for the ruling or wealthy classes. Engels met Karl Marx in Paris in 1844 and the two became friends. They co-authored The Holy Family, an attack on a group of German philosophers called the Young Hegelians.

Marx was in 1818 and also born in Prussia. His father abandoned his Jewish heritage and converted to Lutheranism in order to practice Law. Karl married against family wishes and lived in poverty. Both he and his wife eventually inherited money from their families. Even so, they and their 7 children lived hand-to-mouth. Marx received a doctorate in philosophy in 1841. His own philosophical thoughts have been misinterpreted by both Marxists and anti-Marxists.

The Communist Manifesto is divided into prologue, three sections and conclusion. The Preamble is where the authors state Communism is seen as a specter and only needs explanation to eliminate fears. The first section is “Bourgeois and Proletarians” and explains historical materialism and the history of class struggle. The second section is “Proletarians and Communists” and it defines and defends Communism and lists the ten principles of The Communist Manifesto. The third section is “Socialist and Communist Literature” and it distinguishes between the two ideologies. Lastly is the conclusion where communist struggles in specific areas are discussed.

“The theory of Communism may be summed up in one sentence: Abolish all private property.”

“The production of too many useful things results in too many useless people.”

“Sell a man a fish, he eats for a day, teach a man how to fish, you ruin a wonderful business opportunity.”

“Philosophy is to the real world as masturbation is to sex.” – all from Karl Marx

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: Georg Hegel was born in 1770 and was an influential German philosopher. He was a major figure in German Idealism and his accounts of an idealized history helped to shape European philosophy. His teachings included the method for which mind and nature integrated and worked to mitigate contradictions until one was ultimately integrated and united into an ideal. Life itself in full of contradictions and the goal is to be able to assimilate without reducing the extremes, but to realize an ethical life.

Also on this day: The Washington Monument – In 1885, the Washington Monument was dedicated.
Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz – In 1931, Miles Laboratories introduced Alka-Seltzer to the world.
Incas – In 1918, the last Carolina Parakeet died.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 21, 2012

Carolina Parakeet

February 21, 1918: The last known Carolina Parakeet dies at the Cincinnati Zoo. The last wild specimen was killed in Florida in 1904. Incas, the male parakeet at the zoo, died within a year of Lady Jane, his mate. Incas died in the same cage that had housed Martha, the last passenger pigeon, who had died at the zoo in 1914. It was not until 1939 that the Carolina Parakeet was determined to be extinct. Once plentiful in the Eastern US, the area’s only native parrot came to this ignominious end for a variety of reasons. Their habitat was cleared away for agriculture, the newly introduced honeybee took over nesting areas, and they were hunted by farmers. Their green and yellow feathers were also prized.

The North American continent, like all others, have lost a host of species across time. In the last 10,000 years the avian community has altered considerable. The Merriam’s Teratorn disappeared ≈ 8000 BC and another five species are known to have become extinct before 1500 AD. Since that time, we know we have lost 25 different species of birds, the Carolina Parakeet among them. Although there have been claims of sightings, none have been confirmed. There are another seven North American birds that are probably extinct.

A species is extinct when the last member dies. It becomes functionally extinct when only a few members survive and they are not able to reproduce. It is imperative to have a clear definition of a species in order to determine if a replacement or daughter species has evolved. Species can also become locally extinct but exist elsewhere on the planet. Some species are known to be extinct in the wild but remain alive in zoos or other artificial environments.

Those species not extinct are extant. When numbers in an extant species drop, they become threatened or endangered. Even endangered species are sub-classified as critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable, conservation dependent, near threatened, and least concern. There is controversy over what criteria is used in order for a species to make the list. Ecologists, striving to learn more about endangered species, leave their own mark on the survival, say environmentalists. Biodiversity as enacted by conservationists may not leave room for ecological succession.

Ninety-nine percent of species put on this list are not extinct. That is not a failure; that’s an enormous success. – Norm Dicks

This is recognizing that beyond architectural beauty, natural beauty is something that can’t be replaced. Once these bird species go extinct they’re not coming back. – Adrian Benepe

The fact that no species has gone extinct that’s been protected under the Act…is a resounding success. – Peter Galvin

This is a totally unusual conservation dilemma – species going extinct in a relatively pristine environment. Now we’re basically trying to save as many as we can as we try to figure out our next step. – Alejandro Grajal

Also on this day:

The Washington Monument – In 1885, the Washington Monument was dedicated.
Karl Marx – In 1848, The Communist Manifesto was published.
Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz – In 1931, Miles Laboratories introduced Alka-Seltzer to the world.

Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 21, 2011

Alka-Seltzer dissolving in water

February 21, 1931: Miles Laboratories introduces Alka-Seltzer to the world. Dr. Franklin Miles began Miles Laboratories in 1884 in Elkhart, Indiana. He marketed some patent medicines that remained on the market for years. In 1928 there was a severe flu epidemic. Hub Beardsley, then president of Miles Lab visited the local newspaper to find that the men working there were remaining healthy. Tom Keene, the editor, told Beardsley that they took aspirin and baking soda at the first sign of illness and did not succumb to the flu.

Beardsley asked his chief chemist, Maurice Treneer, to come up with a concoction that the company could market. Treneer made up something. Beardsley took 100 of the tablets with him on a cruise and as people became ill with the flu, he passed out his free samples and found that they worked. One Alka-Seltzer dropped into water made a refreshing drink.

The mixture is effervescent, caused when an acid mixes with the baking soda whose chemical name sodium bicarbonate. It worked well to ease indigestion while the aspirin in the drink helped to ease minor pains. The brand mascot was a funny little guy made of an Alka-Seltzer tablet and wearing a second one as a hat and was named “Speedy” to help get the idea across about how quickly the drink worked. Speedy had a high-pitched voice provided by Dick Beals.

By the 1960s, the popularity of the drink was waning. Hip young people thought of it as an old person’s remedy. It was associated with hangovers and indigestion and was just uncool. A new ad campaign blitz helped to increase sales for a few of reasons. First the campaign was catchy with a new tune, “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz / Oh what a relief it is.” Secondly, the spots were original and entertaining. And most of all, they recommended dropping two tablets into the water instead of just one. Miles Laboratories was bought by Bayer in 1979. Today there is plain Alka-Seltzer along with nine effervescent varieties of Alka-Seltzer Plus, four kinds of liquid gel caps, and three varieties of liquids. Most brands do not contain aspirin today, but instead use acetaminophen.

“If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.” – Satchel Paige

“I have never developed indigestion from eating my words.” – Winston Churshill

“Culture is a little like dropping an Alka-Seltzer into a glass-you don’t see it, but somehow it does something.” – Hans Magnus Enzensberger

“Alka-Seltzer has some of the most famous advertising of all time and the brand has withstood the test of time. This was a way to tap into the 75th anniversary. Tapping into the familiar, tried and true seemed a very natural place to go.” – Jay Kolpon

Also on this day:
The Washington Monument – In 1885, the Washington Monument was dedicated.
Communist Manifesto – In 1848, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published their seminal work.

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The Washington Monument

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 21, 2010

The Washington Monument

February 21, 1885: The Washington Monument is dedicated. The cornerstone was laid on July 4, 1848. Due to an interruption of funds and the intervening Civil War, the capstone was not set until December 6, 1884. On October 9, 1888, it was finally officially opened to the public. It was the world’s tallest structure at 555 ft feet until the Eiffel Tower was completed. There are 893 steps to climb to reach the top if you choose to ignore the elevator.

George Washington was among the Founding Fathers of the United States. He was the only man to be unanimously elected to the Presidency after his successful leadership of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. He was adamant about the checks and balances in the young government, and worked hard to create the triangle of shared power between the Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary branches. He created, by virtue of being first, many precedents for the roles of President as well as expectations for the other two branches of the young nation. Even though encouraged by others, he chose to downplay the power inherent in the position and made the role of President one of far less pomp and bluster.

The marble, granite, and sandstone obelisk was designed by Robert Mills who died nearly thirty years before the obelisk was finished.. His original design called for a Grecian rotunda to be built at the base. Because of the interruption in the construction of the monument, there is a difference in shading of the marble that is visible approximately 150 feet  (about 27%) up, showing where construction was resumed in 1876.

Sitting atop the obelisk is a pyramidion 55 feet in height and weighs 627,000 pounds. The capstone is made of aluminum – a valuable metal about equal to silver at the time – that weighs 100 ounces and was the largest-to-date single cast piece of the metal. It was displayed at Tiffany’s in New York City prior to installation. At Tiffany’s, it was set on the floor so people could jump over it. They were able to say they leapt over the top of the Washington Monument.

“Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.”

“Associate with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for it is better to be alone than in bad company.”

“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.”

“It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.”

“The basis of our political system is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government” – all from George Washington

Also on this day, in 1848 The Communist Manifesto was published.