Little Bits of History

January 31

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 31, 2017

1846: Milwaukee, Wisconsin is incorporated. The area had been inhabited by a number of Native American tribes who moved into the area from the Green Bay region after European settlers moved in. Eventually, three small towns grew up around the Milwaukee River. Solomon Juneau’s Juneautown was on the east side of the river and was established in 1818. Byron Kilbourn founded Kilbourntown to the south and George Walker settled Walker’s Point to the south, both in 1834. Animosity between the three towns began as soon as Kilbourn arrived and began marking out the streets for his new town – totally ignoring Juneautown’s existence. Kilbourn also told any steamers delivering goods to his docks that the opposite side of the river was an Indian trading post.

In 1840, the Wisconsin Territorial Legislature found the current ferry system on the Milwaukee River to be inadequate and ordered the building of a bridge. Juneautown was the first to build a bridge with Juneau’s support. Kilbourn built a bridge crossing the Menominee River. Three more were built over the Milwaukee River within the next few years but Kilbourn was unhappy with this citing hazardous conditions for ships visiting his docks. On May 3, 1845, a schooner rammed into one of the bridges. Rumors spread that it was a deliberate act because east ward residents had refused to pay for maintenance. A meeting was held and it was found the bridge that Juneau built was an “insupportable nuisance”.

The Milwaukee Bridge War broke out when the west warders collapsed the bridge and east warders gathered weapons, including an old cannon. They loaded their weapons and moved to the other side of the river and took their large gun and pointed it at Kilbourn’s house. They did not fire when they learned Kilbourn’s young daughter had just died. The fight for which bridges would be kept and which would be destroyed waged as there was little consensus as to which was the best bridge for both sides of the river. As tempers cooled, it was decided three new bridges would be built for the new town combining all three of the prior smaller towns. Milwaukee’s current bridges are a testament to this old feud as many of them run at angles reflecting the different street layouts of the two major participants.

Today, Milwaukee is the largest city in Wisconsin and the fifth-largest in the Midwestern United States. The city covers 90.80 square miles and nearly 600,000 people live there with about 1.5 million people living in the greater metropolitan area. Even before its founding, the region was known as a prime port and it remains so today. Milwaukee is also famous for its brewing of beer and was once the home of the world’s four largest beer breweries. Six different Fortune 500 companies have their international headquarters in the city.

When I was a teenager in Milwaukee in the 1980s, life was pretty boring, and I found myself riveted by the sheer melodrama of everyday life of the 1960s. – Rick Perlstein

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

We should make a major financial commitment to improving our roads and bridges. – Bernie Sanders

There is nothing in machinery, there is nothing in embankments and railways and iron bridges and engineering devices to oblige them to be ugly. Ugliness is the measure of imperfection. – H. G. Wells

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Battle of Bolimow

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 31, 2015
Battle of Bolimow

Battle of Bolimow

January 31, 1915: The Battle of Bolimow is fought. The armies of Germany and Russia met near Bolimow, Poland – a small village in central Poland located between Lodz and Warsaw. The German Ninth Army was led by August von Mackensen while the Russian Second Army was led by Vladimir Smirnov and Vasily Gurko. The day’s events were inconclusive and the battles would continue at the Second Battle of the Masurian Lakes which was fought between February 7 and February 22, 1915. This battle was a victory for the German Empire.

The Battle of Bolimow is noted as the first attempt by the Germans at a large-scale use of poison gas. They fired 18,000 “T-shells” at Russian positions. The shells were filled with xylyl bromide (also called methylbenzyl bromide or T-stoff). It is a poisonous organic compound and is colorless with a pleasant smell. It is chemically written as C8H9Br and was used as a tear gas. Xylyl bromide is highly toxic and was used as a chemical weapon since the early days of World War I. The French were the first to use tear gas grenades against the Germans as early as August 1914. But today’s date is the first time it was brought into battle on a large scale. It was a complete failure.

The six inch artillery shells contained an explosive charge along with seven pounds of xylyl bromide. The winter weather was a factor in the failure. It was too cold to permit a decent aerosol effect and most of the agent was blown back onto the German lines or fell harmlessly to the ground. The dosage was also insufficiently concentrated to do much damage. The gas was again tried in a similar attack at Nieuwpoort in March 1915 and it, too, was unsuccessful. The gas was easy to make and was widely used throughout the rest of the war.

On this day, with the tear gas not effective, the German commanders called off the attack. The Russians sent in 11 divisions in a counter attack. Gurko, a career officer, led his men into what became a German artillery attack using conventional artillery shells. The Russians suffered 40,000 casualties while the Germans suffered 20,000. Today, poison gasses are under the heading of chemical warfare and about 70 different chemicals have been used or stockpiled during the 20th century. Chemical weapons are divided into three categories. The first has few, if any, legitimate uses. The second are chemicals which have no large-scale industrial uses but may have some small-scale legitimate uses. The last have large-scale industrial uses but still can be used as weapons.

Throw poison in the form of powder upon galleys. Chalk, fine sulfide of arsenic, and powdered verdegris may be thrown among enemy ships by means of small mangonels, and all those who, as they breathe, inhale the powder into their lungs will become asphyxiated. – Leonardo da Vinci

There was no sense in this objection. It is considered a legitimate mode of warfare to fill shells with molten metal which scatters among the enemy, and produced the most frightful modes of death. – Lyon Playfair

Why a poisonous vapor which would kill men without suffering is to be considered illegitimate warfare is incomprehensible. War is destruction, and the more destructive it can be made with the least suffering the sooner will be ended that barbarous method of protecting national rights. No doubt in time chemistry will be used to lessen the suffering of combatants, and even of criminals condemned to death. – Lyon Playfair

Russians should be eventually cleared out of the mountain range with gas. – 1943 German telegram to command at Kuban

Also on this day: Sticking to Business – In 1930, 3M marketed Scotch tape.
Radiation Trap – In 1958, James Van Allen was given the means to describe the eponymous bands.
Love Bug – In 1747, The London Lock Hospital opened as the first venereal disease clinic.
The Only One – In 1945, Eddie Slovik was executed.
Battle of May Island – In 1918, tragedy at sea struck.

Battle of May Island

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 31, 2014
Battle of May Island

Battle of May Island

January 31, 1918: Battle of May Island begins. The combatants for this action were the British Navy and the British Navy. Operation E.C. 1 had several ships from the Royal Navy moving from Rosyth in Scotland to the North Sea for a fleet exercise. The night was foggy or misty and visibility was poor. As the ships moved near the Isle of May in the Firth of Forth (the waters of the estuary from the River Forth where it flows into the North Sea), they began a series of collisions.

Although the date indicates that the “battle” took place during World War I, it was an entirely accidental in nature and there were no enemy ships involved. About forty ships left Scotland in the afternoon and their final destination was to be Scapa Flow in Orkney where they would rendezvous with the entire Grand Fleet the next day. The ships included the 5th Battle Squadron comprised of three battleships and their destroyer escorts, the 2nd Battlecruiser Squadron made up of four battleships and their escort destroyers, two cruisers, and two flotillas of K-class submarines each led by a light cruiser. The two flotillas were the 12th Submarine and the 13th Submarine Flotillas each having four subs. These subs were specially designed to operate in concert with battle fleets. They each measured 339 feet long (large for the time) and used steam turbines for power. This gave them a speed of 24 knots and allowed them to keep pace with the fleet.

Around 6.30 PM, the vessels began their journey all in a single file which stretched nearly 30 miles long. Since there was some suspicion of German U-boats in the area, all ships traveled with only a dim stern light and keeping radio silence. As the ships passed the Isle of May, they changed course and speed, increasing to 20 knots. As the first group of subs passed the island, a pair of lights was seen and the flotilla altered course. K14’s helm jammed and the line was broken. As her helm was fixed, she tried to get back in line. A second sub lost sight of the line and veered off, too. The rest of the ships were unaware of the problem.

Within 75 minutes, two subs had sunk, four more had been damaged as had HMS Fearless, the light cruiser leading the flotilla. In all, 104 men died. There were 55 casualties frokm K4, 47 from K17, and two more from K14. The accident was kept secret during the war with a quiet court martial held. Most of the information was not released until the 1990s. Surveyors working the area in 2011 for an offshore wind farm published sonar images of the two submarines lost in the exercise.

The fear of death is the most unjustified of all fears, for there’s no risk of accident for someone who’s dead. – Albert Einstein

There is no such thing as accident; it is fate misnamed. – Napoleon Bonaparte

There is no such thing as chance; and what seem to us merest accident springs from the deepest source of destiny. – Friedrich Schiller

What men call accident is God’s own part. -Philip James Bailey

Also on this day: Sticking to Business – In 1930, 3M marketed Scotch tape.
Radiation Trap – In 1958, James Van Allen was given the means to describe the eponymous bands.
Love Bug – In 747: The London Lock Hospital opened as the first venereal disease clinic.
The Only One – In 1945, Eddie Slovik was executed.

Belting One Out

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 31, 2013
Van Allen Belts

Van Allen Belts

January 31, 1958: The means for defining bands of radiation around Earth become available to James Van Allen. Van Allen was an American scientist from the University of Iowa where he earned a PhD in nuclear physics in 1939. He went first to the Carnegie Institution and then joined Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) where he worked on proximity fuses used to detonate explosive devices automatically. In 1942 he joined the Navy and served as an assistant gunnery officer.

After the war, he returned to APL and began to be interested in the study of the upper atmosphere. The Explorer I was the US answer to the Sputnik launches. It was the first successfully launched US spacecraft rising into space on this date. The cigar-shaped satellite orbited the Earth every 115 minutes 220 miles above the surface. It carried instruments to measure cosmic rays, micrometeors, and its own temperature. On board, at Van Allen’s insistence, was a Geiger counter, an instrument to measure radiation.

The possibility of trapped ionized radiation was already under investigation. The radiation belts were confirmed from the Explorer 1 and Explorer 3 missions. The actual mapping of the belts was done by Sputnik 3, Explorer 4, Pioneer 3, and Luna 1. There are two distinct radiation belts of energetic electrons with protons forming a single belt. There is an inner and outer belt. While similar radiation bands have been discovered around other planets, the Van Allen Belts refer specifically to Earth’s radiation bands.

The two belts are formed by different processes. They are harmful to satellites and can cause damage to sensitive equipment. Humans are also susceptible to the radiation which is difficult to shield against. While we don’t know exactly how the belts are formed, there is one company claiming they can drain the inner belt to 1% of its natural energy level within a year. They would use High Voltage Orbiting Long Tethers which would be long strands of highly charged cables. The radiation in the belts would intercept the cables, change directions, and dissipate into space. The lessened radiation would make the region far safer for space jockeys.

“I don’t think the human race will survive the next thousand years, unless we spread into space. There are too many accidents that can befall life on a single planet. But I’m an optimist. We will reach out to the stars.” – Stephen Hawking

“The Earth is just too small and fragile a basket for the human race to keep all its eggs in.” – Robert Heinlein

“There are so many benefits to be derived from space exploration and exploitation; why not take what seems to me the only chance of escaping what is otherwise the sure destruction of all that humanity has struggled to achieve for 50,000 years?” – Isaac Asimov

“The dinosaurs became extinct because they didn’t have a space program. And if we become extinct because we don’t have a space program, it’ll serve us right!” – Larry Niven

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: James Van Allen was born in Iowa in 1914. His boyhood home housed a museum regarding his life and contributions to science. It was scheduled for demolition, however Lee Pennebaker purchased the house and saved it from destruction. His plan for the structure was to donate it to the Henry County Heritage Trust. Their plan for the old house is to move it next to Saunders School and in that location it will become the Henry County museum. Mount Pleasant, the city of his birth is the county seat of Henry County and is a small community in the southeast corner of the state. In 2010 there were 8,668 people living there.

Also on this day: Sticking to Business – In 1930, 3M marketed Scotch tape.
Love Bug – In 747: The London Lock Hospital opened as the first venereal disease clinic.
The Only One – In 1945, Eddie Slovik was executed.

The Only One

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 31, 2012

Private Eddie Slovik

January 31, 1945: Private Eddie Slovik is executed for desertion. Edward Donald Slovik was born February 18, 1920 in Detroit, Michigan. He was in trouble with the law frequently. His first arrest came when he was twelve. Over the next five years, he was caught breaking and entering, disturbing the peace, and committing petty theft. He went from stealing brass from a foundry to car theft. Jailed in October 1937, he was paroled in September 1938. Back in jail in January 1939 for auto theft, he was paroled again in April 1942.

Eddie got a job in Dearborn, Michigan working for Montella Plumbing Company. There, he met Antoinette Wisniewski. They married on November 7, 1942. The young couple lived with her parents. Because of his criminal record, Eddie was listed as 4-F and ineligible for the draft. In 1943 the US military reclassified him to 1-A and he was called up late in the year. He was sent to Camp Wolters in Texas for basic training. He began military service on January 24, 1944 and after completing training was shipped to France. He arrived in Europe on August 12 and was assigned to Company G of the 109th Infantry Regiment, US 28th Infantry Division.

Eddie deserted his unit twice. On October 8 Eddie approached his commander, Cap. Ralph Grotte, and said he was “too scared” to join a rifle unit and asked to be assigned to a rear unit instead. Request denied. On October 9 he approached an MP and said he would “run away” if forced to the front lines. He was brought before Lt. Col. Ross Henkest and made his request in writing. Request denied. Instead he was put in the stockade.

Eddie was court-martialed on November 11 and charged with desertion. He was found guilty and sentenced to death (his criminal record was a contributing factor). The army was having a tremendous problem with deserters. Eddie wrote to Supreme Allied Commander, Dwight D. Eisenhower and asked for clemency. Request denied. He was buried in a numbered grave along with 96 other Americans executed (for murder and rape). During World War II 21,049 US military personnel were convicted of desertion and 49 were sentenced to death. Eddie was the only one to be executed. His family repeatedly requested permission to bring Eddie home. He was finally brought back to Michigan and buried next to his wife in 1987.

Everything happens to me. I’ve never had a streak of luck in my life. The only luck I had in my life was when I married you. I knew it wouldn’t last because I was too happy. I knew they would not let me be happy. – Eddie Slovik, in last letter to his wife

I’m okay. They’re not shooting me for deserting the United Stated Army—thousands of guys have done that. They’re shooting me for bread I stole when I was 12 years old. – Eddie Slovik

Private Slovik was killed by the United States for the crime of refusing to serve the United States with a rifle and a bayonet, for desertion to avoid the hazardous duty of close combat; and … the only American to be executed for such an offense. – William Bradford Huie

I got no sympathy for the sonofabitch! He deserted us, didn’t he? He didn’t give a damn how many of us got the hell shot out of us, why should we care for him? – a member of the firing squad

Also on this day:

Sticking to Business – In 1930, 3M marketed Scotch tape.
Radiation Trap – In 1958, James Van Allen was given the means to describe the eponymous bands.
Love Bug – In 747: The London Lock Hospital opened as the first venereal disease clinic.

Love Bug

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 31, 2011

Treponema pallidum - the helix organism causing syphilis

January 31, 1747: The London Lock Hospital opens for business as the first venereal disease clinic, it was developed to treat syphilis. A charitable society was formed in July of the previous year and in November, they purchased a house at Grosvenor Place, near Hyde Park Corner in London. The founder, William Bromfield, was able to have the clinic opened the following year and within that first year, almost 300 people were treated. Unsuccessfully, because at the time, syphilis was incurable.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease caused by Treponema pallidum, a spirochete bacterium.  It is called the “Great Imitator” because the symptoms are the same as in other diseases and it was often misdiagnosed. The only definitive diagnosis for syphilis is made via a blood test and the only true cure is an antibiotic. Penicillin, the first antibiotic, was discovered circa 1928 and didn’t come to market until the 1940s.

The simple fact that the disease could not be cured did not in any way diminish the treatment plans. There were herbal treatments that at least caused no harm. The most common treatment for the disease was to give the patient mercury, itself a toxic substance. Mercury was given by mouth, rubbed into the skin, or turned into a gas while the patient lay in an enclosed, hot box. It was found that high fevers made the symptoms disappear, so patients were intentionally given malaria, which after allowed to run its course for a time, was then treated with quinine.

Widespread outbreaks of the disease in Europe were first written about in 1495. Some claim that Columbus brought the disease back with him. Others claim that evidence exists that syphilis was always in Europe and that relaxed morality and greater mobility was the reason for the spread of the disease. Alfred Crosby postulates that syphilis is a form of Yaws disease, similar to tuberculosis. He claims that Yaws was transmitted to the New World at an earlier time and evolved there as syphilis and was then brought back by the men aboard Columbus’s trio of ships. Many famous and infamous people have been linked with the disease: popes, kings and queens, artists, authors, musicians, and philosophers as well as a chess master and a master criminal.

“Nature [is] that lovely lady to whom we owe polio, leprosy, smallpox, syphilis, tuberculosis, cancer.” – unknown

“It is unthinkable for a Frenchman to arrive at middle age without having syphilis and the Cross of the Legion of Honor.” – Andre Gide

“Even diseases have lost their prestige, there aren’t so many of them left. Think it over… no more syphilis, no more clap, no more typhoid… antibiotics have taken half the tragedy out of medicine.” – Louis Ferdinand Celine

“But when I go really far back in time, to the days when everyone was dying of cholera and syphilis and bubonic plague, I want nothing to do with those periods. I mean, nobody showered. That’s why perfume became such a popular item.” – Matt Dillon

Also on this day:
Sticking to Business – In 1930, 3M marketed Scotch tape.
Van Allen Belts – In 1958, Explorer I launched.

Sticking to Business

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 31, 2010

Scotch tape dispenser

January 31, 1930: 3M markets Scotch tape. Richard Drew developed the handy adhesive tape for the 3M corporation. It is a trademarked brand name, but is used generically across America. The clear tape was an improvement over the previously made masking tape. Drew not only developed the adhesive for the new material, cellophane, but went on to invent Duct tape as well. He was the inventor of masking tape five years prior to this.

The term “Scotch” in the name is not at all flattering. While the adhesive was being tested, it came loose because it was not fully coated with the active ingredients. The remark was a pejorative aside reflecting the stereotype of Scotch stinginess. Not one to let the moment pass, 3M created Scotty McTape, a kilt wearing cartoon lad to be the product mascot from 1944 and continuing on for two decades. The Wallace tartan plaid was added to the brand in 1945.

3M makes over 275 different kinds of tape, eighty-eight of them bearing the Scotch label. The company not only made tape, but has a variety of other ventures including defense materials, fabric protection, and videotape. The term “Scotch” is also added as a prefix to other products made by the company, Scotchguard and Schotchlite.

Perhaps the best known and most used product from 3M is the Post-It note. The original square yellow readherable paper now comes in a variety of shapes and a panoply of colors and has been widely copied by other manufacturers. Art Fry used Spencer Silver’s adhesive to create the handy removable papers. Silver invented the adhesive in 1968 and it took five years before Fry figured out a better use than simply bookmarking pages in a hymnal. The 1977 product launch wasn’t immediately successful but by 1980 the product was sold nationally and the next year also introduced in Canada.

“We patched it up with chewing gum and Scotch tape.” – Norm Hewitt

“The entrepreneurial approach is not a sideline at 3M. It is the heart of our design for growth.” – Lewis Lehr

“One only needs two tools in life: WD-40 to make things go, and duct tape to make them stop.” – G. Weilacher

“I was reading a book… ‘the history of glue’ – I couldn’t put it down.” – Tim Vine

Also on this day, in 1958 Explorer I was launched and the Van Allen Belts were found.

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