Little Bits of History

June 26

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 26, 2017

1974: A Universal Product Code (UPC) is scanned at a retail outlet. A UPC is barcode symbology used in the US, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, throughout Europe, and some other countries. It is used for tracking trade items in stores. It is actually UPC-A and is a 12 digit code uniquely assigned to each trade item. European Article Number (EAN) aka International Article Number uses the same methodology. Both are overseen by the GS1 headquartered in Brussels, Belgium and Princeton, New Jersey. The standards allow for point of sale automation and are being broadened into other areas as well, such as pricing for health care.

Wallace Flint first proposed an automated system in 1932 which used punch cards. This method was even patented in 1949. It did not catch on. In the 1960s the railroads attempted another multicolor barcode system to track rail cars, but this was also abandoned. A group of grocery industry trade associations formed the Uniform Grocery Product Code Council  (today GS1-US) and partnered with Larry Russell and Tom Wilson to define the numerical format to be used. They partnered with several different technology firms who also offered opinions on the best way to code products. The Symbol Selection Committee chose a version which included readability for humans. Today, GS1-US has over 300,000 members from 25 different industries using the UPC system.

In late 1969, IBM assigned George Laurer to figure out how to make a supermarket scanner and label. Finding the right characters per inch took time and problems with ink spread were also an issue. Too much or too little ink caused errors. RCA was also working on the issue and developed numbers to be scanned with a straight line laser scanner, but readability was too large. The problem attracted scientists from around the world and a race to make a workable system ensued. Moving away from a circular bull’s eye type arrangement to a linear arrangement with different lines and numbers helped solve the problem. The solution was found and implementation was the next big hurdle.

Product manufactures need to procure a unique number for each of their products. Global standards allow for maintaining the uniqueness of each UPC code. Product packaging then had to be created to include the code so scanners would be able to use computers to look up the product and assign the pricing to the register. On this day, Marsh supermarket in Troy, Ohio began scanning groceries. The first product (from the entire shopping cart) to be scanned was a 10-pack of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit gum which rang up at 67 cents. Clyde Dawson was the customer and Sharon Buchanan was the cashier who began the sale at 8.01 AM. The gum went on display at the Smithsonian Institution.

Ever consider what pets must think of us? I mean, here we come back from a grocery store with the most amazing haul – chicken, pork, half a cow. They must think we’re the greatest hunters on earth! – Anne Tyler

The biggest thing you can do is understand that every time you’re going to the grocery store, you’re voting with your dollars. Support your farmers’ market. Support local food. Really learn to cook. – Alice Waters

I’m a terrible grocery shopper. I hardly ever do it. And if I do, there’s never more than three things in the bag. – Seth Meyers

You’ve got bad eating habits if you use a grocery cart in 7-Eleven. – Dennis Miller

A Star (Searcher) is Born

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 26, 2015
Charles Messier

Charles Messier

June 26, 1730: Charles Messier is born. The French astronomer was born in Badonviller and is most noted for publishing an astronomical catalogue filled with what is today called the 110 Messier objects. He was a comet hunter and he wished to help others distinguish between permanent and transient objects found in the sky. He began compiling this list in 1771 along with his assistant, Pierre Mechain. The hope was to avoid wasting time on these permanent features in the sky and make comet discovery more efficient. Giovanni Hodierna had published a similar list in 1654 but it had no impact on astronomy and Messier probably did not know about it.

The first edition of the catalog contained 45 objects which Messier numbered M1 to M45. The total list, as published by Messier, contained 103 objects but other astronomers have added some items since Messier’s death in 1817. After finding some notes of Messier’s M104 was added in 1921. Kenneth Glyn Jones added the last item, M110, in 1967. The Frenchman’s final catalog was published in 1781 even though it was called Connaissance des Temps for 1784, and the objects listed are still known by the Messier number.

Messier lived and worked at the Hotel de Cluny (today the Musee national du Moyen Age) in Paris. The objects found in the listing are only found in the night sky which he could observe. These items reside in the band of sky from the north celestial pole to latitudes of about -35.7⁰. Southern hemisphere items are not listed by Messier. What he was finding were nebulae and star clusters. He found something interesting on October 13, 1773 and it was later named the Whirlpool Galaxy. The object is located with the constellation Canes Venatici and has recently been calculated to be 23 ± 4 million light years from the Milky Way. Different methods of measurement give the distance between 15 and 35 million light years.

Close to the Whirlpool Galaxy is NGC 5195, also sometimes called Messier 51b. These two galaxies are one of the most famous pair of interacting galaxies in the sky. Many amateur astronomers can easily find the pair and they can even be seen with a good pair of binoculars. Professional astronomers study the Whirlpool galaxy in order to better understand galaxy structure, especially spiral arm galaxies. The galaxy is thought to be made of 160 billion solar masses with a black hole in the center, surrounded by a ring of dust. The distinctive spiral arm structure is thought to be the result of the interaction with the companion galaxy, NGC 5195.

What caused me to undertake the catalog was the nebula I discovered above the southern horn of Taurus on September 12, 1758, while observing the comet of that year.

This nebula had such a resemblance to a comet in its form and brightness that I endeavored to find others, so that astronomers would not confuse these same nebulae with comets just beginning to shine.

I observed further with suitable refractors for the discovery of comets, and this is the purpose I had in mind in compiling the catalog.

After me, the celebrated Herschel published a catalog of 2000 which he has observed. This unveiling the sky, made with instruments of great aperture, does not help in the perusal of the sky for faint comets. Thus my object is different from his, and I need only nebulae visible in a telescope of two feet [focal length]. – all from Charles Messier

Also on this day: Helicopters – In 1934, the FW-61 helicopter was flown for the first time.
Cyclone – In 1927, Coney Island opened a new ride.
Pied Piper – In 1284, a piper led 130 children out of Hamelin.
CN Tower – In 1976, the Ontario tower opened to the public.
Fast France – In 1906, the first Grand Prix race was held.

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Fast France

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 26, 2014


June 26, 1906: The first Grand Prix de l’Automobile Club de France begins. Commonly called the 1906 French Grand Prix, it was a motor race held for two days on closed public roads outside the city of Le Mans. It was organized by the Automobile Club of France (ACF) at the urging of the French automotive industry. It was hoped that it would compliment the Gordon Bennett races which limited each competing country’s number of entries regardless of the size of its industry. France had the largest automobile industry in Europe at the time and opted to not limit the number of entries by any country.

The course was 64.11 miles long with the circuit going over mostly dust roads sealed with tar. Six laps were to be completed each day by each driver for a combined 769.36 miles driven. The race lasted for more than twelve hours and was won by Ferenc Szisz from Hungary. He was driving for the Renault team. Coming in second was Felice Nazzaro of Italy who was driving a FIAT and third place was won by Albert Clement of France driving a Clement-Bayard. The fastest lap of the race was driven by Paul Baras, also of France but driving a Brasier, who completed the first lap of 64.11 miles in 52:25:4. He held onto the lead for three laps when Szisz took the lead and held onto it for the rest of the race.

Hot conditions melted the road tar and dust was kicked up by the speeding cars and hit the drivers of following cars with the plume of dirt often blinding them and making driving even more dangerous. Several tires were punctured and Michelin had introduced a detachable rim with a tire already in place which could be quickly swapped, which saved a great deal of time. This allowed for Nazzaro to pass Clement on the second day since the FIAT used the tires and Clement’s card did not. The Renault victory led to an increase in sales of the French car in the years following the race. The success of the race prompted a repeat the next year and incited the Germans to create their own German Grand Prix in 1907.

Many other nations joined in the fun of the endurance road race between 1906 and 1949. By the end of World War II, only four races of Grand Prix caliber were held. They restructured in 1947 and the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) was formed. Beginning in 1950, the FIA would link several national Formula One Grands Prix to create a world championship for drivers. A points system was developed and seven races were granted championship status. The first World Championship race was held at Silverstone in the United Kingdom. Ferrari appeared in the second World Championship race and is the only manufacturer to compete throughout the entire history of the event and is still competing in 2014.

Aerodynamics are for people who can’t build engines. – Enzo Ferrari

It is amazing how may drivers, even at the Formula One Level, think that the brakes are for slowing the car down. – Mario Andretti

To achieve anything in this game you must be prepare to dabble in the boundary of disaster. – Sterling Moss

Speed has never killed anyone, suddenly becoming stationary… that’s what gets you. – Jeremy Clarkson

Also on this day: Helicopters – In 1934, the FW-61 helicopter is flown for the first time.
Cyclone – In 1927, Coney Island opened a new ride.
Pied Piper – In 1284, a piper led 130 children out of Hamelin.
CN Tower – In 1976, the Ontario tower opened to the public.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 26, 2013
The Cyclone

The Cyclone

June 26, 1927: Coney Island opens a new ride. Coney Island is now a peninsula at the southern tip of Brooklyn, New York. Coney Island Creek separated the small island from the mainland. Plans to dredge the creek and use it for a ship canal were changed to filling in the creek and creating a contiguous landmass. The Lenape tribe called the island Narrioch. The Dutch settlers called it Conyne Eylandt – meaning rabbit island. After the Civil War, excursion railroads and streetcar lines reached the island and it was soon a vacation spot. Resorts and amusement parks sprang up.

The first carousel on Coney Island was built in 1876. Live musicians provided music while happy customers whirled in a circle. Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs went on sale there in 1916. Three main amusement parks as well as many smaller ones helped draw several million people to Coney Island each year. In 1920, the Wonder Wheel was opened. The steel frame Ferris wheel had both stationary and rocking cars, held 144 riders, stood 150 feet high and weighed 2,000 tons. It still runs at Deno’s Park. In 1927, the Cyclone opened on this date. It is one of the oldest wooden roller coasters still operating in the US.

Two roller coasters were already operating successfully on Coney Island. Jack and Irving Rosenthal bought a parcel of land with Giant Racer, the first roller coaster built in the US, sitting on it. They tore down the coaster and paid Vernon Keenan $100,000 ($1.2 million today) to design another one. The cost to build the Cyclone has been listed as both $146,000 ($1.7 million today) and $175,000 ($2 million today). The ride cost a quarter to ride when it opened. Adjusting for inflation, that would be $3 today. It cost $8 to ride the coaster in 2008. The ride is 2,640 feet long with a height of 85 feet. Maximum speed reached is 60 mph and the ride lasts 1 minute and 50 seconds.

Roller coasters were based on ice slides constructed in Russia in the 1600s. Who put the wheels on the sleds is lost to history. France led the way with the first ride with cars that were locked to the track. They also created a ride with 2 cars racing each other and one with a complete circuit all in 1817. In 1846, again in France, a looping coaster (but non-circuit) debuted. In 1885, at Coney Island, a powered chain lift coaster opened for business. The coasters continued to get bigger, faster, and higher. They incorporated more inversions, steeper drops, and added extras such as sounds, floorless cars, and propulsions systems.

“Life is a roller coaster, you have your ups and downs unless you fall off.” – unknown

“I went on a children’s roller coaster once when I was maybe 12-or some age when I was considered a little old to be on a kiddy ride. Absolutely terrified. Thought I was going to die.” – Rachael Leigh

“Everybody likes a roller coaster ride.” – Pete Waterman

“Enthusiasm is NOT the same as just being excited. One gets excited about going on a roller coaster. One becomes enthusiastic about creating and building a roller coaster.” – Bo Bennett

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: The Cyclone remains popular even now. There have been three deaths on the ride. The first in 1985 occurred when a 29-year-old man stood up on the ride and hit his head on a crossbeam. The second took place in 1988 when a 26-year-old maintenance worker took a solo ride during his lunch break and stood up as the car began its descent. He fell from the ride and landed 30 feet below on a crossbeam. He died instantly. The last was in 2005 when a 53-year-old man broke several vertebra while riding. He had surgery and died four days later from complications from that. Not all the stories are sad. In 1948, a coal miner with aphonia, the inability to produce vocal sounds, was riding the roller coaster. He had not spoken in years, however, as the cars dropped over the first fall, he said, “I feel sick” and then when the train returned to the station, he fainted after he realized he had spoken.

Also on this day: Helicopters – In 1934, the FW-61 helicopter is flown for the first time.
Pied Piper – In 1284, a piper led 130 children out of Hamelin.
CN Tower – In 1976, the Ontario tower opened to the public.

CN Tower

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 26, 2012

CN Tower

June 26, 1976: The CN Tower in downtown Ontario opens to the public. Even prior to completion, it was the tallest “free-standing structure on land.” It overtook the Ostankino Tower in Moscow while under construction. The Russian tower, completed in 1967, stands 1,640 feet high. The Canadian tower rises 1,815 feet into the sky. It held the record for 31 years until September 12, 2007 when the Burj Dubai (now called Burj Kahlifa) surpassed it. The CN Tower remains the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere.

The tower was built by Canadian National, a railway company. In 1995 ownership of the tower changed but locals wished to keep the “CN” in the tower’s name. It now stands for Canada’s National Tower. The tower was built by the railroad because the transport company was expanding into TV and radio communications. The idea took hold and became official in 1972, four years after first proposed. In the 1960s and 70s, several skyscrapers were built in Ontario making it difficult to broadcast communication signals effectively. Because of the tall buildings, a tower over 980 feet needed to be built.

Construction began on February 6, 1973 with a huge excavation. A hole 49.2 feet deep at the center was created by removing 56,000 tons of dirt and shale. The base was constructed using 9,156 cubic yards of concrete with 450 tons of rebar and 36 tons of steel cable. In four months, the base was complete. The main support pillar was built using a hydraulically raised platform. Each day, as the concrete set, the hydraulic jacks raised the platform about 20 feet higher. Concrete was poured continuously by a team of 1,532 people who finished on February 22, 1974.

August 1974 saw the beginning of the outer construction the engineering innovations throughout construction were remarkable. The antenna was raised by crane, but during construction the helicopter Sikorsky S-4 Skycrane became available and finished the installation. The tower opened to the public on this day although the official opening was held October 1. More than two million international visitors come yearly to see the tower which cost CND$63 million to build (≈ $228 million today). The tower was designed by John Andrews Architects in conjunction with WZMH Architects.

A well-ordered life is like climbing a tower; the view halfway up is better than the view from the base, and it steadily becomes finer as the horizon expands. – William Lyon Phelps

Be as a tower firmly set; Shakes not its top for any blast that blows. – Dante Alighieri

Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility. – Saint Augustine

A tree trunk the size of a man grows from a blade as thin as a hair. A tower nine stories high is built from a small heap of earth. – Lao Tzu

Also on this day:

Helicopters – In 1934, the FW-61 helicopter is flown for the first time.
Cyclone – In 1927, Coney Island opened a new ride.
Pied Piper – In 1284, a piper led 130 children out of Hamelin.

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Pied Piper

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 26, 2011

Oldest surviving picture of the Pied Piper, painted in 1592

June 26, 1284: The Pied Piper leads 130 children away from Hamelin, Germany. This is the traditional date given the legendary tale. According to the story, Hamelin was inundated with rats when fortuitously, a man dressed in multi-colored [pied] clothing appeared. He said he was a rat catcher and promised to rid the town of rats for a fee. The man played a musical pipe and led the rats to the Weser River, where all but one of the rats drowned. At that point, the townspeople were rid of the rats and so refused to pay the piper.

Infuriated and seeking revenge, the Pied Piper waited for Saint John and Paul’s day or June 26. While the adults were in church, the Piper all dressed in green, began to play his pipe. The 130 boys and girls of the town followed the man out of town and into a cave and they were never seen again. One poor lame child could not keep up and was saved. A deaf child could not hear the music and was saved. A blind child could not see where everyone was going and was saved. These three children told the adults what had happened. There are different ending, depending on the version. In some, the children are returned after payment is met and in some the children are not.

The earliest evidence of this tale is found in a stained glass window placed in the Church of Hamelin around 1300. The window was destroyed in 1660, but we have records of what was depicted. The window is said to have been created in memory of the tragic event. There is no record, other than the window, telling of actual events. Modern day scholars have tried to make sense of the story. They believe it may be allegorical in nature. A plague of some sort carried off the children and the Pied Piper is simply Death.

Another theory is the “emigration” theory. This is widely held and seems supported by outside sources. In the Middle Ages, older children would willingly abandon their parents and move away and found their own village. This was especially true in Eastern Europe. Several villages are known to have been founded in this manner. In this case, the Piper would be the leader of the children. It is also possible that the village of Hamelin was depopulated as destitute or greedy parents sold their children to a recruiter who took the children elsewhere. Orphans and illegitimate children could be off-loaded in this manner.

“Among the various interpretations, reference to the colonization of East Europe starting from Low Germany is the most plausible one: The ‘Children of Hameln’ would have been in those days citizens willing to emigrate being recruited by landowners to settle in Moravia, East Prussia, Pomerania or in the Teutonic Land. It is assumed that in past times all people of a town were referred to as ‘children of the town’ or ‘town children’ as is frequently done today. The ‘Legend of the children’s Exodus’ was later connected to the ‘Legend of expelling the rats’. This most certainly refers to the rat plagues being a great threat in the medieval milling town and the more or less successful professional rat catchers.” – from the official website for the town of Hameln

“Pied Piper: As a rule / I refrain from calling any man a fool. Heed me now. / I’ll wait until yon clock strikes the hour. / Don’t let me go away / Without my pay.” – from The Pied Piper of Hamelin [1957  TV show]

Pied Piper: [speaking of the plague of rats] Leaders of virtue; character builders, / To rid your town of this verminous pox, / My fee is fifty thousand guilders.
First Counselor: Fifty thousand guilders?
Second Counselor: You’ve lost your mind! – from The Pied Piper of Hamelin [1957  TV show]

Mayor of Hamelin: You have an invention?
Pied Piper: I attract attention/ Chiefly with a secret charm/ On creatures that do people harm;/ The mole, the toad, the newt and viper./
Pied Piper: Who doesn’t know of the Pied Piper? – from The Pied Piper of Hamelin [1957  TV show]

Also on this day:
Helicopters – In 1934, the FW-61 helicopter is flown for the first time.
Cyclone – In 1927, Coney Island opened a new ride.

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Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 26, 2010

Focke-Wulf FW-61

June 26, 1934: The Focke-Wulf FW-61, the first fully controllable production helicopter, is flown for the first time. Professor Heinrich Focke and engineer Gerd Achgelis began the design of this type of flying machine in 1932. Focke and Georg Wulf, along with Dr. Werner Naumann founded Focke-Wulf-Flugzeugbau GmbH in 1923. Wulf died in a monoplane accident in 1927. The company continued. Focke and Achgelis used a training aircraft frame and attached single-engine rotors on each side of the fuselage in place of the wings, the first successful helicopter. Focke was ousted from his own company by shareholder pressure in 1936. He and Achgelis form an eponymous company in 1937.

Helicopters are much more complex, expensive, and limited by speed, range, and payload when compared to fixed-wing aircraft. However, they are more maneuverable, can take off and land vertically, and can hover or reverse direction. Today, there are hybrid aircraft which combines some elements of fixed-wing flight along with some of the helicopter.

Fixed wing flight is generated by the relative motion between the air and the curved fixed wing. Lift is created as the airstream passes by something that deflects it. This is in accordance with Newton’s third law of motion. The helicopter uses the same principal but with rotating “wings.”

The FW-61 achieved a top speed of 76 mph during its testing in 1936. Because of the aerodynamic limitations of rotors, it is thought that the maximum attainable speed of any helicopter is 250 mph. The world’s fastest helicopter was a modified ZB500 G-Lynx with a top recorded speed of 249.10 mph. The US military “Black Hawk” has a cruising speed of 150 mph and a maximum speed of 220.

“I grew up in a neighborhood so rough, I learned to read by the light of a police helicopter.” – Bill Jones

“There are still too few helicopters to reach more than 1,000 remote villages with lifesaving supplies that children urgently need.” – Ann Veneman

“There is a continued need for more helicopter capacity, to move in the inaccessible areas. The terrain here is very difficult and winter is approaching.” – Hilary Benn

“The helicopter is a very potent business tool to shuttle mid-level folks to Wall Street, … The biggest issue is the time that the client saves. If you’re going from Manhattan to Washington, the fastest way to go is by helicopter.” – Mike Moran

Also on this day, in 1927 the Cyclone opened at Coney Island.