Little Bits of History

February 25

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 25, 2017

1866: The Calaveras Skull is found by miners. Working Calaveras County, California mines at a depth of 130 feet below the surface, miners discovered a skull beneath a layer of lava. They were able to get their find to Josiah Whitney who was, at the time, the State Geologist of California as well as a Professor of Geology at Harvard University. The year before, Prof. Whitney had published a paper on the co-existence of early humans, mastodons, and elephants. He was delighted to have this physical proof of his theory and he officially announced his confirmation of authenticity at a meeting of the California Academy of Sciences later in the year. He was certain Pliocene age (about 2.5 to 5.3 million years ago) humans were residing in North America which would make them the oldest humans on the continent.

While Prof. Whitney was sure of the veracity of the skull, other were not. In a San Francisco newspaper, a reporter claimed to have been told the skull was a practical joke. This was ignored. In 1879, Thomas Wilson, also of Harvard, ran a flourine analysis (the first time the test was used on human bone) and claimed the skull to be of far more recent provenance. While generally claimed as a hoax, Whitney refused to relinquish his belief as did his successor at Harvard, FW Putnam. Putnam, in an effort to find the truth, traveled to Harvard in 1901.

Putnam was told that in 1865 a Native American’s skull had been dug up from a local burial site and planted in the mine specifically to be found by later miners. Putnam allowed the story may or may not have been true and it was impossible to tell for sure if the skull was fake or not, but he was still sure it was the real thing. Others who found the usefulness of the ancient skull convenient for “proving” their philosophical or religious beliefs also claimed the skull was authentic. Just to further complicate matters, it was later found the skull in question was not even the original skull given to Whiney.

Around the same time Putman was traveling in California, William Henry Holmes of the Smithsonian Institution was also studying the skull. He determined the plant and animal fossils found along with the skull were, in fact, genuine. But the skull was not. It was not even feasible, according to Holmes, to believe that a human skull would be so unchanged after millions of years and would so closely resemble today’s human skull. The skull was declared, with some finality, to be a hoax. Apparently, the miners there did not really like Prof. Whitney, finding him a stuffy Easterner. They were delighted to have been able to trick the revered scientist. Radiocarbon dating in 1992 found the skull to be about 1,000 years old.

It may be impossible ever to determine to the satisfaction of the archaeologist the place where the skull was actually found. – FW Putnam

To suppose that man could have remained unchanged… for a million years, roughly speaking… is to suppose a miracle. – William Henry Holmes

In a secular age, an authentic miracle must purport to be a hoax, in order to gain credit in the world. – Angela Carter

Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge. – Carl Sagan

Pyrrhic Victory

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 25, 2015
Pilėnai Castle site

Pilėnai Castle site

February 25, 1336: Pilėnai Castle falls. The castle was located in Lithuania, the last remaining pagan country in Europe. Duke Margiris held his fortress against the Teutonic Knights siege for as long as he could. When it became evident the castle would fall to the much larger force outside, the people within made a momentous decision. Rather than submit to the Knights and allow them the profits of the booty within the walls, they rebelled. They first burned all their possessions and set the castle on fire. Then all the men, women, and children committed mass suicide. Chronicles mention there were 4,000 men defending the castle. The Teutonic Order was left with a pyrrhic victory.

The Teutonic Knights formed at the end of the 1100s in Acre, in the Levant. When Christian forces in the Middle East fell, the Knights moved to Transylvania in 1211 to help with defense of borders. The Kingdom of Hungary was under attack from the Kipchaks. While originally being helpful, by 1225, they were expelled by King Andrew II of Hungary because they attempted to place themselves under Papal sovereignty rather than pledging loyalty to the King. Five years later, with the Golden Bull of Rimini in hand, they began the Prussian Crusade and formed a joint invasion of Prussia with intent to Christianize the Baltic Old Prussians.

The Knights were led by Grand Master Hermann von Salza with the aid of Duke Konrad I of Masovia but the Knights quickly reneged against a Polish prince who helped them. Instead of collaborating, they took control of the Chełmno Land and created an independent Monastic State of the Teutonic Knights. They continued to add lands to their territory and conquered Livonia, too. The Kings of Poland accused the Knights of holding lands rightfully belonging to the secular kings. The Knights did not withdraw. Instead, they simply changed their focus. Rather than trying to Christianize Lithuania, they attacked many Christian neighbors to expand their base of control. With more lands, their wealth increased and they were able to hire more mercenaries and the cycle continued.

Lithuania’s first contact with the Christian religion predated the formation of the Duchy of Lithuania. The first meeting with Lithuania was recorded in 1009 and took place when Roman Catholic missionaries came to the area and baptized several rulers of the Baltic tribe of Yotvingians. The Lithuanians has more contact with the Kievan Rus who had adopted the Eastern Orthodox version of Christianity. Christian influence became evident in the 11th and 12th centuries when Christian names began to appear. Still the majority of the people were pagan. With Christianity knocking on her borders, Lithuania needed to adopt a state religion. While rulers were swayed by the political exigencies of one religion or another, East vs. West, the populace remained pagan. Official Christianization took place in 1387.

There’s something in every atheist, itching to believe, and something in every believer, itching to doubt. – Mignon McLaughlin

It is doubtless true that religion has been the world’s psychiatrist throughout the centuries. – Karl Menninger

All religions are the same: religion is basically guilt, with different holidays. – Cathy Ladman

God made so many different kinds of people. Why would he allow only one way to serve him? – Martin Buber

Also on this day: “Do you feel lucky?” – In 1836, Samuel Colt received a patent for his new revolver.
Gas Tax – In 1919, the first gas tax in the US was instituted.
Cut Off – In 1570, Pope Pius V excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I.
Battle Stations – In 1942, Los Angeles was under fire.
Sea Change – In 1933, the USS Ranger was launched.

Sea Change

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 25, 2014
USS Ranger

USS Ranger

February 25, 1933: The USS Ranger is launched. Also designated at CV-4, the ship was the first US Navy designed and built from the ground up as an aircraft carrier. It was a fairly small ship, as aircraft carriers go and subsequent ships were much larger. The USS Langley was the first ship to be converted to a carrier. The USS Jupiter was decommissioned on March 24, 1920 and renamed to Langley the next month. She was recommissioned on March 20, 1922 as CV-1, the first aircraft carrier. The USS Lexington (CV-2) was also refitted from battlecruiser to aircraft carrier in 1922. The USS Saratoga (CV-3) also began life as a battlecruiser and in 1922 turned into an aircraft carrier. All these former ships were not originally designed for the task, but had to be refitted in order to accommodate the planes.

Between World War I and World War II, eight aircraft carriers were created. Out of these eight ships, only three survived World War II with Ranger being one of them. Also surviving the war was Enterprise and Saratoga. Ranger was considered too slow to work with the Pacific Fleet and spent most of her wartime service in the Atlantic Ocean. Earlier designs were called the Lexington class and Ranger class followed with the USS Ranger being the only ship of this class. With the building of Ranger, much was learned and so with subsequent ships, a new class was named, the Yorktown class. Three ships of this type were built.

USS Ranger was laid down on September 26, 1931 by the Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co. in Newport News, Virginia. She was launched on this day sponsored by Lou Henry Hoover, wife of the President of the US. She was commissioned at the Norfolk Navy yard on June 4, 1934 and at that time, Captain Arthur Bristol was in command. Her initial flight operations were carried out off the Virginia Capes on June 21, 1934 and she left Norfolk on August 17. Her first training cruise took the ship to Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, and Montevideo. After returning to Virginia, she was placed in drydock for some repairs. She was back in the water soon after and sailed through the Panama Canal, visited Hawaii, and sailed to Alaska, the first cold weather test trials.

USS Ranger was in the Atlantic Ocean, returning from a European tour when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 8, 1941. Ranger served as flagship for the Atlantic Fleet with two different Rear Admirals at the controls. She ferried planes and pilots across the Atlantic and as the largest carrier, she led four other carriers to Vichy-ruled French Morocco for the Battle of Casablanca. She continued throughout the war with intermittent port calls for repairs and upgrades. She survived the war and returned to Philadelphia Naval Shipyard on November 19, 1945. She was decommissioned from the shipyard on October 18, 1946 and was sold for scrap on January 31, 1947.

Neither should a ship rely on one small anchor, nor should life rest on a single hope. – Epictetus

A community is like a ship; everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm. – Henrik Ibsen

If the highest aim of a captain were to preserve his ship, he would keep it in port forever. – Thomas Aquinas

There’s this misconception that the Navy is this cruise ship, and you get to go out and sail around, and every now and then, you have to swab the deck. But, no, it is a very impressive group of young people that live at sea, in this place that’s very uncomfortable. They exude a pride that is well-deserved. – Tom Hanks

Also on this day: “Do you feel lucky?” – In 1836, Samuel Colt received a patent for his new revolver.
Gas Tax – In 1919, the first gas tax in the US was instituted.
Cut Off – In 1570, Pope Pius V excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I.
Battle Stations – In 1942, Los Angeles was under fire.

Gas Tax

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 25, 2013
Gas pump

Gas pump

February 25, 1919: Oregon becomes the first state to impose a gasoline tax at the rate of 1¢/gallon. Eventually all 48 states and the District of Columbia levied their own version of this revenue enhancing scheme. By 1932, a federal gasoline tax was further added at the same rate of 1¢/gallon. US citizens are currently paying a federal tax of 18.4¢/gallon as well as taxes paid to the state. Maine charges drivers 27.6¢/gallon while Alaska tacks on only 8¢/gallon. Gasoline tax in the US is dedicated to transportation – road construction and maintenance or mass transit subsidies.

This form of revenue is used by other governments as well. Canada has both federal and provincial rates of taxation. As an added bonus, some municipalities also tax the fuel. In the Yukon 16.2¢/L (60¢/gallon) is the tax while in Vancouver it is 30.5¢/L ($1.142/gallon). The federal government takes 10¢/L (37¢/gallon) in taxes and the average Canadian fuel tax is 31.9¢/L or $1.195/gallon. Diesel and aviation fuels are taxed at lower rates.

Australia has several different rates for different types of fuels and there are grants possible to reduce or remove certain fuel taxes. In the UK, road fuels are taxed at £0.5035/L with a £0.2 reduction for biodiesel and bioethenol. However, there is a VAT (Value Added Tax) also imposed at 17.5% on the fuel and on the tax. All these combined taxes account for 65.24p/L or $5.043/gallon. The Netherlands has a fuel tax that is now specifically set aside for road creation and road and public transport maintenance at the rate of €0.684/L or $3.50/gallon (as of 2007).

Germany adds 65.45 Euro-Cents/L for conventional unleaded petrol. They then add 19% VAT to the fuel and the Fuel Tax which adds up to a whopping €1.37/L or $7.615/gallon (September 2007 figures). All this taxation leads many drivers on The Continent to cross borders to fill their tanks in a cheaper country. In China, the National People’s Congress has exerted enough pressure on the government to make them forego this type of income – so far.

“Like mothers, taxes are often misunderstood but seldom forgotten.” – Lord Bramwell

“The point to remember is what the government gives it must first take away.” – John S. Coleman

“Taxes are not levied for the benefit of the taxed.” – Robert A. Heinlein

“All money nowadays seems to be produced with a natural homing instinct for the Treasury.” – Prince Phillip

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: In the US, the federal tax on gasoline remains at 18.4¢/gallon. It was last raised in 1993 and is not tied to inflation. State taxes vary and add on average, about 50¢/gallon. Diesel fuel is taxed at a different rate and the feds add 24.4¢ to each gallon. As of October 2012, the state with the lowest additional tax was still Alaska with a rate of 26.4¢ per gallon for gas and 32,4¢/gallon of diesel. They were they only state in the twenty-cent range. There were fourteen states who added in 30-39¢/gallon and 21 states tacked on 40-49¢. Nine more states added 50-59¢/gallon and the remaining states added 60-69¢ with New York adding the most at 69¢/gallon. Monies collected by this tax are used for the transportation infrastructure.

Also on this day: “Do you feel lucky?” – In 1836, Samuel Colt received a patent for his new revolver.
Cut Off – In 1570, Pope Pius V excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I.
Battle Stations – In 1942, Los Angeles was under fire.

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Battle Stations

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 25, 2012

Headline from the LA Times

February 25, 1942: In the early morning hours the Battle of Los Angeles takes place. In December 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. On February 23, 1942, a Japanese submarine I-17 shelled the Ellwood Oil Field near Santa Barbara, California. The shelling did $500-$1,000 in damages and there were no casualties. The sub was last seen heading south, toward LA. Tensions were high with people fearing another mainland attack. During the night of February 24-25 something was seen. Air raid sirens were blaring and at 2:25 AM a total blackout was ordered.

Thousands of air raid wardens were called out. They patrolled the streets making sure Los Angeles remained blanketed by darkness. At 3:16 AM the 37th Coast Artillery Brigade commenced firing. During the course of the bombardment over 1,400 12.8-pound anti-aircraft shells were fired. Shelling ceased at 4:14 AM. It took 20 minutes for the unidentified objects to move from the airspace over Santa Monica to the airspace of Long Beach, a distance of ≈ 20 miles. The all clear signal was given at 7:21 AM. Three civilians were killed by friendly fire and another three died of heart attacks during the night, attributed to the stress of the sirens and shelling.

There has been speculation about what was flying over LA that night. Several spotlights from the ground converged on a section of the night sky. There were several bright points of light outlying the area of convergence and a large smudge was seen in the center. Some people saw a flying saucer in the convergence zone. Hours after the incident, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox held a press conference and called the encounter a false alarm and blamed it on “war nerves.” The LA Times ran the headline the following day saying “Army Says Alarm Real.”

Several high ranking officers of the War Department, the Navy, and the Army were involved in sorting out what happened. Secret memos went between the officials of the various branches of the military and made their way to President Roosevelt. Today, there is as much confusion about the Battle of Los Angeles as there was during the war years. No planes were downed. No weather balloons were shot out of the sky. Was the raid simply a practice run? Was it something to scare 2,000,000 people, as Representative Leland Ford accused? Or were there real UFOs lurking over LA?

At 0306 a balloon carrying a red flare was seen over Santa Monica and four batteries of anti-aircraft artillery opened fire, whereupon “the air over Los Angeles erupted like a volcano.” From this point on reports were hopelessly at variance. – The Army Air Forces in World War II, under the editorship of Wesley Frank Craven, James Lea Cate

The divergence of views between the War and Navy departments, and the unsatisfying conjectures advanced by the Army to explain the affair, touched off a vigorous public discussion. – The Army Air Forces in World War II, under the editorship of Wesley Frank Craven, James Lea Cate

At the end of the war, the Japanese stated that they did not send planes over the area at the time of this alert, although submarine-launched aircraft were subsequently used over Seattle. – The Army Air Forces in World War II, under the editorship of Wesley Frank Craven, James Lea Cate

Why is it that men who can go through severe accidents, air raids, and any other major crisis always seems to think that they are at death’s door when they have a simple head cold? – Shirley Booth

Also on this day:

“Do you feel lucky?” – In 1836, Samuel Colt received a patent for his new revolver.
Gas Tax – In 1919, the first gas tax in the US was instituted.
Cut Off – In 1570, Pope Pius V excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I.

Cut Off

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 25, 2011

Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I by Nicholas Hilliard

February 25, 1570: Pope Pius V excommunicates Queen Elizabeth I. Christianity came to Britain with the Romans in the first or second century. There were three Romano-British bishops at the Council of Arles in 314, predating the council of Nicaea in 325 where the Catholic Church began to formalize the books of the Bible as well as their beliefs or creed. The Church of England is aligned with the early Western church. Early Christians were not particularly good at converting the native pagans so Pope Gregory I send Augustine of Canterbury to evangelize. He built the Gregorian mission and the church dates itself from this time, 597.

Things went along pretty smoothly, with the English Church under papal authority for nearly 1,000 years. However, in 1534, King Henry VIII was having difficulty continuing his line. He married and divorced several women in hopes of gaining a healthy son to carry on the Tudor line and forestall another bloody civil war. The Pope was displeased with Henry VIII’s willful disobedience and the religious difficulties began. Henry married six times and had four children, two sons and two daughters. His older son [Henry FitzRoy] died at the age of 17 and his younger son [Edward VI] managed to be crowned king at the age of nine, but died before his sixteenth birthday. His mother was Jane Seymour and they were Protestants.

Eventually Mary I of England came to the throne. Mary was the daughter of Catherine of Aragon and a strong Catholic. She tried to purge the British Isles of the evils of Protestants and became known as Bloody Mary while doing so. She reigned until 1558. Mary died childless at the age of 42 during an influenza epidemic. Her half-sister, Elizabeth, rose to the throne. She was the daughter of Anne Boleyn and was raised Protestant. She had been imprisoned by Mary for almost year, on suspicion of helping Protestant rebels.

Rather than persecuting Catholics, one of Elizabeth’s first moves as queen was to establish an English Protestant church and making herself as Queen of the land the Supreme Governor. The Elizabethan Religious Settlement eventually evolved into today’s Church of England. The Pope responded and declared Elizabeth a heretic and a servant of crime. He not only excommunicated her via the Papal bull, Regnans in Excelsis or “ruling from on high,”  but also any who obeyed her orders.

“Do not tell secrets to those whose faith and silence you have not already tested.”

“Fear not, we are of the nature of the lion, and cannot descend to the destruction of mice and such small beasts.”

“God forgive you, but I never can.”

“He who placed me in this seat will keep me here.” – all from Elizabeth I

Also on this day:
“Do you feel lucky?” – In 1836, Samuel Colt received a patent for his new revolver.
Gasoline Tax – In 1919, Oregon institutes the first state tax on gas.

“Do you feel lucky?”

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 25, 2010

1836 Colt Revolver

February 25, 1836: An American patent is granted to Samuel Colt for his Colt revolver. Colt was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1814. His father, who owned a textile mill, taught his son about machinery. At the age of 16, Colt became a sailor. Legend states that while observing a capstan, he came up with the idea for a revolver pistol. Colt received a European patent for his multi-shot pistol in 1835.

This innovative idea was met with resistance, and Colt went out of business for some time. He declared bankruptcy in 1842 and spent four years in litigation. He secured his patent and again went back to producing guns in 1848. Colt created the first industrialized firearm factory. He hired Elisha K. Root, an axe manufacturer of renown, to help get state-of-the-art equipment for making truly interchangeable parts for his guns.

Prior to his revolver’s debut, handguns were loaded singularly, fired, and then reloaded. Colt created a circular chamber holding several bullets that align with the firing mechanism and barrel one bullet at a time. There are single-action guns which require one to pull back the hammer and then press the trigger as well as double-action guns which only require that one pull the trigger.

Colt was not “just” an arms manufacturer. He also worked with explosives and developed the first remote detonation. He developed technology that helped to lay the first underwater telegraph cable. He also popularized nitrous oxide as an anesthetic. He was a Colonel of the Connecticut Regiment during the Civil War.

“God made all Men, Samuel Colt made them equal.” – 19th century saying

‘‘The world is filled with violence. Because criminals carry guns, we decent law-abiding citizens should also have guns. Otherwise they will win and the decent people will lose.’’  – James Earl Jones

“The very atmosphere of firearms anywhere and everywhere restrains evil interference – they deserve a place of honor with all that’s good.” – George Washington

“There is no arguing with Johnson; for when his pistol misses fire, he knocks you down with the butt end of it” – Oliver Goldsmith

Also on this day, in 1919 Oregon became the first state to impose a gasoline tax.