Little Bits of History

March 13

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 13, 2017

1988: The Seikan Tunnel opens. The Tsugaru Strait lies between the islands of Honshu and Hokkaido in Japan. Linking the two islands was considered during the Taisho period (1912-1925) but was not undertaken. Surveying began in earnest in 1946 after World War II ended and Japan lost territory overseas and had returning soldiers looking for work. In 1954, a typhoon sunk five ferries traveling in the Strait and killed 1,430 passengers. The next year, the Japanese National Railroad (JNR) increased pressure to build a tunnel connecting the two islands. Between 1955 and 1965, the ferries operated by JNR saw passenger rates double to over 4 million passengers a year and cargo levels rose to over 6 million tons. It was predicted that by 1971, the need for movement across the water would outstrip the docks’ ability to process passengers and cargo and there was no space to increase docks.

In September 1971, it was finally decided to build a tunnel. Construction on the 33.46 mile tunnel had 14.5 miles under the seabed. The track lies 330 feet beneath the sea and 790 feet below sea level. The now-dual gauge railway tunnel connects Aomori Prefecture on Honshu with the more northern island of Hokkaido. Both the standard gauge Hokkaido Shinakansen and the narrow gauge Kaikyo Line are able to traverse the tunnel. Construction efforts needed to overcome severe geological conditions and there were 34 workers killed during construction.

The estimated usage of the tunnel was exaggerated. The slowdown in the Japanese and world economies were at least in part to blame. Instead of traffic peaking in 1985, traffic peaked in 1978, ten years before the tunnel was able to be fully operational. The cost of construction was ¥538.4 billion ($3.6 billion in US currency). After the tunnel was completed, all rail traffic used the tunnel rather than ferries. However, passenger usage was less due to the cost and the availability of quicker air travel. There were overnight and luxury trains introduced, but they were not popular, still costing too much and taking too much time, especially after local air travel was deregulated.

There are two stations within the tunnel. They are to be used as emergency escape points in the event of a fire or other disaster. This is needed due to the length of the tunnel, the longest underwater tunnel in the world, with the caveat that the Chunnel has more tunnel underwater but the tunnel itself is shorter. The two station had, at one time, museums about the history of the tunnel which could be visited by special tours. These are no longer inexistence. The two stations remain the first of their kind, the first rail stations built underwater.

To survive, you’ve got to keep wheedling your way. You can’t just sit there and fight against odds when it’s not going to work. You have to turn a corner, dig a hole, go through a tunnel – and find a way to keep moving. – Twyla Tharp

The light at the end of the tunnel is just the light of an oncoming train. – Robert Lowell

Struggling is hard because you never know what’s at the end of the tunnel. – Don Rickles

If you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, you are looking the wrong way. – Barry Commoner

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Good Lord

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 13, 2015
Portrait of Lord Byron by Richard Westall

Portrait of Lord Byron by Richard Westall

March 13, 1809: Lord Byron takes his seat in the House of Lords. George Gordon Byron was born in 1788 and was an English poet and leading figure in the Romantic movement. His father was a Captain who first seduced the married marchioness of Caemarthen, who divorced her husband to marry the Captain and after she died, he found an heiress from Aberdeenshire, Scotland to marry. She was George’s mother. When George was ten, he inherited the English Barony of Byron of Rochdale. The Captain managed to squander both wives’ fortunes.

Byron’s education was spotty as his mother would often remove him from school. He was born with a foot deformity (or perhaps had a childhood case of polio) and overcompensated having “violent” bouts. He was sent to Harrow in 1801 and stayed until July 1805 and was an undistinguished student while there. He was known to lack a sense of moderation and proved this when he fell in love with Mary Chaworth in 1803, and then refused to return to school. He returned in 1804 and met John FitzGibbon, 2nd Earl of Clare who became a friend for life with the two meeting up again in Italy in 1821. He next went to Trinity College, Cambridge.

Byron first took his seat in the House of Lords on this day but left London soon after to spend time on the Continent. He returned and on February 27,1812 gave his maiden speech as a defender of the Luddites. These English textile artisans were being put out of work by the automation taking place during the Industrial Revolution. Their dissatisfaction led to the breaking of industrial looms. One of their main areas of operation was Nottinghamshire. The Frame Breaking Act of 1812 made this a capital offense. In his speech, Byron made many sarcastic references to the “benefits” of the automated process which he felt made inferior goods at the price of putting people out of work. He was solidly against it.

The Act was rushed through as an emergency measure and received royal asset in March. There was agreement between both sides that something must be done and this was a last resort effort. The issue was with the more liberal side feeling not everything else had already been tried. About 60-70 Luddites were hanged while the statue was in force but not all death sentences were due to this act alone. Judges preferred to use previously enacted legislation to sentence. The Act was repealed in 1814. Instead of death, the new law required life transportation instead. Even that was repealed in 1817. Byron did not remain in England. He left for the Continent again in 1816 and remained there until his death. He was helping Greece with its fight for independence when he became ill. Treatment included bloodletting which eventually led to his death on April 19, 1824. He was 36 years old.

But whilst these outrages must be admitted to exist to an alarming extent, it cannot be denied that they have arisen from circumstances of the most unparalleled distress.

These machines were to them an advantage, inasmuch as they superseded the necessity of employing a number of workmen, who were left in consequence to starve.

By the adoption of one species of frame in particular, one man performed the work of many, and the superfluous labourers were thrown out of employment. Yet it is to be observed, that the work thus executed was inferior in quality, not marketable at home, and merely hurried over with a view to exportation.

The rejected workmen, in the blindness of their ignorance, instead of rejoicing at these improvements in arts so beneficial to mankind, conceived themselves to be sacrificed to improvements in mechanism. In the foolishness of their hearts, they imagined that the maintenance and well doing of the industrious poor, were objects of greater consequence than the enrichment of a few individuals by any improvement in the implements of trade which threw the workmen out of employment, and rendered the labourer unworthy of his hire.  – all from Lord Byron’s speech

Also on this day: The Talkies – In 1923, Lee de Forest demonstrated his process to record voices synchronized with film.
Microsoft IPO – In 1986, Microsoft had its Initial Public Offering.
Ballinglass Incident – In 1846, three hundred tenant farmers were evicted.
Dunblane Massacre – In 1996, a gunman entered the Dunblane Primary School with guns blazing.
Kitty Genovese – In 1964, Kitty was attacked and murdered.

Kitty Genovese

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 13, 2014
Kitty Genovese

Kitty Genovese

March 13, 1964: Kitty Genovese is murdered. She was stabbed to death near her home in the Kew Gardens neighborhood of Queens in New York City. While tragic in itself, the 28-year-old’s death became even more so when it was learned how she came to die. Although all the details remain unknown, there are some facts available to us. Some of the “facts” we have are also simply wrong. Kitty was the manager of a bar and was arriving home from work around 3:15 AM. She parked her car about 100 feet from her apartment door and walked the distance to get home for the night. She was approached by then 29-year-old Winston Moseley.

Genovese was frightened and ran toward the front of her building which was on a larger street but her attacker ran faster and caught her. He stabbed her twice in the back. Genovese yelled out, “Oh my God, he stabbed me! Help me!” It was a cold night and most people had their windows closed with only a few people realizing it was a cry for help from the street. One of the neighbors yelled out his window at the attacker and Moseley did run off. Genovese was seriously injured in the attack, but was out of view of the neighbors. Some initial calls to police were made but were deemed to be of low priority. Misinformation and misperception both played a part in the reports to police. Some witnesses saw the attacker get in his car and leave.

Only ten minutes later he was back and now wearing a hat. He began searching for his victim and eventually found the wounded woman barely conscious and in a doorway. She was too weak to get inside her building. She was now out of view of the street and out of view of the original site of attack. Moseley stabbed Genovese several more times with knife wounds to her hands showing some defensive moves on her part. While she was dying, Moseley raped her and then stole about $50 from her purse before leaving. The entire attack lasted about 30 minutes. A few minutes after the attack, a final witness called police and by 4:15 AM Genovese was taken by ambulance where died en route to the hospital.

No one witnessed the entire assault and many thought they were seeing a fight between an established couple or a group of friends. Moseley had no prior record and was married with two children. He was arrested six days later while committing a home burglary. On the night of the murder, he had left home about 2 AM and began looking for a victim. While in custody, he admitted to two other murders and committing “30 to 40” burglaries. Psychiatric examinations suggested he was a necrophile. His lawyers were hoping for a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity but after seven hours of deliberation, the jury came back with a guilty verdict and death sentence. He remains in prison at the Clinton Correctional Facility. He is now 79-years-old. Kitty is buried in New Canaan, Connecticut.

There is no witness so terrible and no accuser so powerful as conscience which dwells within us. – Sophocles

Perfect Valor is to do, without a witness, all that we could do before the whole world. – Francois de La Rochefoucauld

My witness is the empty sky. – Jack Kerouac

One of the privileges of the great is to witness catastrophes from a terrace. – Jean Giraudoux

Also on this day: The Talkies – In 1923, Lee de Forest demonstrated his process to record voices synchronized with film.
Microsoft IPO – In 1986, Microsoft had its Initial Public Offering.
Ballinglass Incident – In 1846, three hundred tenant farmers were evicted.
Dunblane Massacre – In 1996, a gunman entered the Dunblane Primary School with guns blazing.

Microsoft IPO

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 13, 2013


March 13, 1986: Microsoft has its Initial Public Offering (IPO). This is when a company first issues common stock or shares. An IPO is risky for buyers and sellers. New companies offer a portion of the company’s future for an influx of capital. Setting a price for an IPO can also be fraught with danger. If the price is set too low, shares are sold without the company enjoying the full benefit. It is referred to as “money left on the table” meaning more capital could have been generated. Overpricing will mean shares do not sell or if they do, the price soon falls, losing credibility for the company.

Bill Gates and Paul Allen founded Microsoft on April 4, 1975. While still a student at Harvard, Gates read about Altair 8800 (an early microcomputer) in Popular Electronics. He offered to demonstrate his BASIC programming language to MITS, creators of Altair. He and Paul Allen developed an interpreter for the system even without owning an Altair system before making the offer. The demonstration was successful and Gates dropped out of school. He and Allen moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico where MITS was located.

Microsoft is a portmanteau word for microcomputer and software. The name originally held a hyphen, but it was dropped in November 1975 and in November 1976 the name was trademarked. ASCII Microsoft (now Microsoft Japan) was the first international office and was opened in 1978. On January 1, 1979 the company moved from New Mexico to Bellevue, Washington. Steve Ballmer joined the team in 1980. When restructuring to be incorporated in Washington, the name changed to Microsoft, Inc. and Bill Gates became president of the company and Chairman of the Board with Paul Allen as Executive VP.

The company released an operating system in 1980, a variant of UNIX. Microsoft Word introduced us to WYSIWYG (whiz-ee-wig) or What You See Is What You Get, in 1983. Disk Operating System or DOS was the cornerstone of the Microsoft empire. Microsoft worked with and around IBM to bring the DOS-based computer to market. It became a hit worldwide. With the IPO, an influx of capital allowed the company to expand. The rise in stock prices has created 4 billionaires and an estimated 12,000 millionaires from Microsoft employees.

“In my own work, I’ve tried to anticipate what’s coming over the horizon, to hasten its arrival, and to apply it to people’s lives in a meaningful way.”

“We’ve had some tough times, but we’ve hung in there.”

“What should exist? To me, that’s the most exciting question imaginable. What do we need that we don’t have? How can we realize our potential?”

“The possible is constantly being redefined, and I care deeply about helping humanity move forward.”

“I still have the original tapes that had the BASIC that we brought from Boston to Albuquerque that had the first versions of BASIC on them.” – all from Paul Allen

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: Today, with headquarters in Redmond, Washington, Microsoft still has Bill Gates as Chairman with Steve Ballmer as CEO. In 2012, their revenue was $73.72 billion with $21.76 billion in operating income and $16.97 billion in net income. There total assets were listed as $121.2 billion. Paul Allen has an estimated net worth of $15 billion and is the 48th richest man in the entire world. Bill Gates has an estimated net worth of $66 billion and was the wealthiest man in the world from 1995 to 2009, except for 2008 when he was ranked third. In 2011, he was the second wealthiest man in the world and the richest man in America. He is also the CEO of Cascade Investment and the Chairman of Corbis along with being co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Also on this day: The Talkies – In 1923, Lee de Forest demonstrated his process to record voices synchronized with film.
Ballinglass Incident – In 1846, three hundred tenant farmers were evicted.
Dunblane Massacre – In 1996, a gunman entered the Dunblane Primary School with guns blazing.

Dunblane Massacre

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 13, 2012

Dunblane class photo. Almost all these children were victims of the massacre.

March 13, 1996: The Dunblane massacre takes place at Dunblane Primary School. The killing spree remains the deadliest single targeted mass murder in the United Kingdom. A lone gunman entered the school armed with two 9 mm Browning HP pistols and two Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum revolvers. He also brought 743 rounds of ammunition. His Browning was loaded with full metal jacket and hollow point bullets in an alternating pattern. Full metal ammo allows for a higher muzzle velocity while hollow points are used to cause more damage on penetration of the target.

The lone gunman was 43-year-old Thomas Watt Hamilton, an unemployed shopkeeper and a former Scout leader (1973). He entered the school shortly after 9:30 AM. He went to the gym where he opened fire on the class of five- and six-year-olds there. He killed or wounded all but one child. He left through the emergency exit and shot at a mobile classroom. The teacher there had heard all the noise and ordered the students to hide under their tables. No one was injured. He next fired on a group in the hall and injured the teacher who was with several students. Hamilton returned to the gym and fired the last of his 109 shots. He committed suicide.

The entire event lasted just three minutes. Fifteen children and one teacher were killed immediately. Another eleven children and three adults were taken to the hospital where another child died of his injuries. The Queen sent a message of sympathy and Prime Minister John Major also sent condolences (he was in Egypt). William Wilson, chief constable of central Scotland, said officers were called at 9:38 and arrived to find the carnage and the dead gunman.

Hamilton’s motives remain unclear. He had been investigated for inappropriate behaviors with young boys. He had taken pictures of semi-naked boys without parental consent, with more than one complaint of this nature filed. The Scout Association had fired him and refused to reinstate him to his post. He claimed accusations of pedophilia had led to the collapse of his business. George Robertson and Hamilton had argued at Robertson’s house. Their relationship caused speculation and Robertson sued and won a case of libel. The “why” remains unanswered. The gym was torn down in April of 1996 and within the next two years, the entire school was refurbished.

The tragedy of life is not that man loses but that he almost wins. – Heywood Broun

The tragedy of life is what dies inside a man while he lives. – Albert Schweitzer

A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic. – Joseph Stalin

Our tragedy is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it… the basest of all things is to be afraid. – William Faulkner

Also on this day:

The Talkies – In 1923, Lee de Forest demonstrated his process to record voices synchronized with film.
Microsoft IPO – In 1986, Microsoft had its Initial Public Offering.
Ballinglass Incident – In 1846, three hundred tenant farmers were evicted.

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Ballinglass Incident

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 13, 2011

Depiction of an eviction during this time

March 13, 1846: Three hundred tenant farmers are evicted. The years 1845 through 1852 were called the Great Famine or an Gorta Môr in Ireland. Outside Ireland, the time was referred to as the Irish Potato Famine. During these years, the population of Ireland dropped by 20-25%. About one million people died of starvation and another million emigrated. Potato blight had destroyed the crops and was a proximate cause of the ongoing disaster. Potato crops throughout Europe were affected, but in Ireland, about 1/3 of the population depended on the crop for their sustenance.

The issue is a watershed time for the Emerald Isle. This disaster changed both the island’s demographics as well as causing a worldwide diaspora. The problems did not stem only from crop failure, but also mismanagement of the government. Ireland was governed by Great Britain. Executive power was held by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and Chief Secretary for Ireland, both appointees of the British government. There were many restrictive laws passed and much of Ireland land was in the possession of British landlords. The Irish, predominantly Catholic, were at odds with the British, famous for their intolerance of Catholics.

While the Irish grew crops other than potatoes, those other crops were mostly exported by the British landlords. The Irish were left with nothing but potatoes. When that crop failed, the Irish were left without food. The spoor causing the blight remains in the soil and destroys the following crops as well, making this a mounting problem as time passes. As crops failed, the farmers were unable to pay their rents and could be evicted.

The small village of Ballinglass in Galway County, had 300 residents living in 76 families. They were, relatively speaking, fairly wealthy. They had the money to pay their rent. Instead, they were forced from their homes. Mrs. Gerrard, their landlord, wished to use the farm for grazing, a more profitable endeavor. After the people were evicted, their houses were destroyed by the army and police. Their neighbors were not permitted to take them in. The order was never rescinded.

“I am deeply grieved, but there is no doubt concerning the truth of the evictions at Ballinglass. Seventy six families, comprising 300 individuals had not only been turned out of their houses, but had even – the unfortunate wretches – been mercilessly driven from the ditches to which they had been taken themselves for shelter..these unfortunate people had their rents actually ready..” – Lord Londonderry in the House of Lords on March 30, 1846

“The Almighty, indeed, sent the potato blight, but the English created the Famine.” – John Mitchel

“Upon the famine arose the wide spread system of proselytism … and a network of well-intentioned Protestant associations spread over the poorer parts of the country, which in return for soup and other help endeavoured to gather the people into their churches and schools…The movement left seeds of bitterness that have not yet died out, and Protestants, and not altogether excluding Friends, sacrificed much of the influence for good they might have had…” – Alfred Webb

“The children exhibit the effects of famine in a remarkable degree, their faces looking wan and haggard with hunger, and seeming like old men and women.” –  William Forster

Also on this day:
The Talkies – In 1923, Lee de Forest demonstrated his process to record voices synchronized with film.
Microsoft’s IPO – In 1986, Microsoft went public.

The Talkies

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 13, 2010

Lee de Forest

March 13, 1923: Lee de Forest demonstrates his sound-on-film or “Phonofilm” process, and talking movies are born. De Forest was born in Council Bluffs, Iowa in 1873. His father, a minister, moved the family to Alabama to accept the Presidency of Talledega College while de Forest was still a child.

De Forest earned a PhD from Yale and went to work for Western Electric after his graduation. However, he spent most of his life as an independent inventor with over 300 patents to his credit. He lived his life under a cloud of controversy and many of these inventions and patent applications led to lawsuits regarding primacy of concept.

The first movie ever made was done in California in 1878 when Eadweard Muybridge filmed a horse in fast motion using a series of 24 cameras. Ten years later, the earliest surviving movie, Roudhay Garden Scene, was filmed in England. A patent was issued in 1889 to William Friese-Greene for his “chronophotographic” camera which was capable of ten frames per second and used perforated celluloid film. The first practical movie camera, the Kinetograph, was produced by Thomas Edison’s lab. Robert W. Paul got the idea of showing these movies to a group audience rather than individual viewers. In late 1895, in Paris, Antoine Lumière began projecting films to a paying audience.

The silent era of movies remained for the first thirty years. There was no way to synchronize the sound to the film until this time. However, there were sound effects, music and other sounds, and sometimes even commentary spoken by the projectionist were part of the silent film – making it not quite silent. Hollywood embraced the idea of talking films slowly. In 1926 Don Juan debuted and was a box office hit but said to be a fluke or just a fad. With the release of  The Jazz Singer in 1927, history – or at least film history – was changed forever. De Forest received an Oscar in 1959 for his contribution to the film industry.

“It would have been more logical if silent pictures had grown out of the talkies instead of the other way around.” – Mary Pickford

“You know, when I first went into the movies Lionel Barrymore played my grandfather. Later he played my father and finally he played my husband. If he had lived I’m sure I would have played his mother. That’s the way it is in Hollywood. The men get younger and the women get older.” – Lillian Gish

“I’ve spent several years in Hollywood, and I still think the movie heroes are in the audience.” – Wilson Mizner

“In the middle of my third Hollywood picture The Magician, the earthquake hit Hollywood. Not the real earthquake. Just the talkies.” – Conrad Veidt

Also on this day, in 1986 Microsoft had its IPO.