Little Bits of History

March 14

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 14, 2017

2015: Best Pi Day since the Julian calendar came into being. The first known celebration was in 1988 when Larry Shaw, a physicist at the San Francisco Exploratorium, first brought pies in to celebrate the mathematical constant π. A mathematical constant is a “special” number and there are several of them with pi being one of the most common and the only one to have a day set aside to celebrate it. Pi is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. It is an irrational number and although 22/7 is often used mathematically, it is imprecise. 3.14 is also imprecise as the actual number goes on and on and on forever without repeating integers.

The word pi and the word pie are pronounced the same in English and pies have the added feature of usually being round. It was in this spirit that Shaw brought people together in order to march around in circles before eating fruit pies brought in for the event. The Exploratorium continues to have a Pi Day each year and the practice has spread. Some countries who do not use the mm/dd method of posting a date celebrate Pi Day on July 22 since their dd/mm method gives them 22/7 to play with.

Pi can be calculated out quite far using very sophisticated mathematical procedures. However, the number is often shortened to just the first two places after the decimal point or 3.14 making March 14 the day to celebrate. But the number is much, much longer. Another fun day was in 1592 because that was the first time since the introduction of the Julian calendar the number extended and 3.141592 was reached. But on this day, 3/14/15, at 9:26:53 the date was nine decimal places out or the first ten digits of pi. And it managed to do this twice, once in the morning and for those not using a 24 hours clock, again in the evening.

In 2009, HRES 224, a non-binding resolution from the US House of Representatives recognized March 14, 2009 as National Pi Day. In 2010, Google had a Doodle with circles and the pi symbol to celebrate. In 2014, the entire month was considered to be Pi Month since it was 3/14. Massachusetts Institute of Technology has often mailed out their acceptance letters to arrive on Pi Day since they are a math and science based institution. Beginning in 2012, they began to post acceptances (privately) online at exactly 6.28 PM, which they have called Tau Time. Albert Eagle proposed, in 1958 that τ be used as a symbol for 1/2π because π resembles two τ symbols conjoined (ττ). And τ is tau.

Fischer, the great American chess champion, famously said, ‘Chess is life.’ I would say, ‘Pi is life.’ – Daniel Tammet

I recited Pi to 22,514 decimal points in five hours and nine minutes. I was able to do this because of weeks of study, aided by the unusual synaesthesic way my mind perceives numbers as complex multidimensional coloured and textured shapes. – Daniel Tammet

Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas. – Albert Einstein

Mathematics is the art of giving the same name to different things. – Henri Poincare


Sold to the Highest … Bidder?

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 14, 2015
Portrait of Caterina Cornaro by Titian, 1542

Portrait of Caterina Cornaro by Titian, 1542

March 14, 1489: Caterina Cornaro sells. She was the last Queen of the Kingdom of Cyprus. The Crusader kingdom on the island of Cyprus lies in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea and was established in 1192 after being conquered by King Richard I of England in 1191 during the Third Crusade. The House of Lusignan ruled the kingdom beginning with Guy of Lusignan from 1192-94. The rule came down through the generations until James II aka James the Bastard ruled from 1464-1473. The illegitimate son of John II of Cyprus and Marietta de Patras married then 14-year-old Venetian heiress, Caterina Cornaro, to gain political support. They were married by proxy and Caterina traveled to Cyprus and they were married in person in 1472.

James died a few months later, possibly poisoned by some of Catherine’s uncles. According to James’s will, Caterina (who was pregnant) became regent. James III was born in 1473 and was dead (also under suspicious circumstances) before his first birthday. The kingdom had been in decline and was a tributary state of the Mameluks since 1426. Mameluks are “property” or “owned slave” of the king and is an Arabic designation for slaves. Caterina ruled Cyprus from 1474 to 1489 but the island was essentially controlled by merchants of Venice and on this date she was forced to abdicate and sell the administration of the country to the Republic of Venice. She had been deposed in February and was forced to leave the country on May 14, 1489.

This was the last Crusader state and it had become a colony of Venice. However, Caterina was permitted to keep the title of Queen and was made the Sovereign Lady of Asolo, a county in the north of Italy. The region soon was known as a bastion of literary and artistic development as the arts. This was mostly due to it being the fictitious setting for Pietro Bembo’s platonic dialogues on love. Caterina died in Venice in 1510, at the age of 55.

The earliest known human activity on the island dates to around the 10th millennium BC and is home to some of the oldest water wells in the world. Rule of the land has changed hands uncounted times. Today, the Republic of Cyprus is an independent nation having separated from the United Kingdom on February 19, 1959 and proclaiming its independence on August 16, 1960 with Independence Day on October 1, 1960. They joined the European Union on May 1, 2004. The island covers 3,572 square miles and around 1 million people call it home. Greek and Turkish are the two official languages and Armenian and Cypriot Arabic are also both spoken there. The government is a unitary presidential constitutional republic and Nicos Anastasiades is President.

I’ve been waiting over 40 years to come to Cyprus, and it has not disappointed – the birthplace of Aphrodite, the Crossroads of Civilization, and, I might add, a genuine strategic partner to the United States of America. – Joe Biden

Cyprus was a breath away from economic collapse. It was a big battle in which we came out wounded, but upright and determined to make a fresh start. – Nicos Anastasiades

It’s a Cyprus of misery and soup kitchens and a state which cannot meet basic obligations. It can only cause me grief. – Nicos Anastasiades

The people of Cyprus have sent a strong message… of stability, credibility and change. – Nicos Anastasiades

Also on this day: Cotton is King – In 1794, Eli Whitney was granted a patent for the cotton gin.
PCN – In 1942, Penicillin was first used on a patient.
Roughest and Toughest – In 1950, the FBI instituted the Ten Most Wanted list.
Cut That Out – In 1937, the Mit Brennender Sorge was read at Catholic Masses in Germany.
Oil, Oil Everywhere – In 1910, the Lakeview Gusher Number One went out of control.

Oil, Oil Everywhere

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 14, 2014
Lakeview Gusher Number One

Lakeview Gusher Number One

March 14, 1910: The Lakeview Gusher Number One goes out of control. The Lakeview Oil Company was drilling in the Midway-Sunset Oil Field, located in California. The oil field is the largest known in California and the third largest in the US. It was discovered in 1894 and through 2006 had produced nearly 3 billion barrels of oil. By the end of 2008 it was estimated there were about 532 million barrels left in the ground. Lakeview began drilling their Number One well on January 1, 1909. With the initial drilling, only natural gas was found. They continued to drill and partnered with Union Oil who wanted to build storage tanks at the location.

The technology of the day didn’t have the many safety features which have been implemented since and one of the features lacking was blowout preventers. These valves are used to seal, control, and monitor oil and gas wells and cope with extreme pressures as well as uncontrolled flow. By controlling for these factors, a blowout can be prevented. When drilling depth reached 2,440 feet on March 14, 1910, the pressurized oil blew through the well casing and a gusher started. Initial daily flow lost was 18,800 barrels per day. Crews were rushed in to try to contain the black gold by building sand bag dams and dikes.

Eventually, peak flow reached 90,000 barrels per day and as much oil as possible was diverted via pipline to storage tanks 2.5 miles away. Even with all these efforts nearly half of the oil spewing forth was lost. Since about 9,400,000 barrels gushed up before it was able to be capped in September 1911, it means 4.5 million barrels were lost to evaporation or soaking into the ground. It took 544 days to stop the leak. About 1,230,000 tons of crude spilled during that time. This is far greater than any other leak on land or water. There are several oil spills which have an unknown quantity of crude lost. With 492,000 tons lost, the Deepwater Horizon spill is the second worst on record.

Taylor Energy wells Platform 23051 in the Gulf of Mexico and operated by the US, is an ongoing spill. Somewhere between 70 and 109 tons of oil have been lost since September 2004 when hurricane Ivan struck. Most of the leaks have been contained but the spill is still being serviced by Ocean Saratoga and monitored by the United States Department of the Interior. The leak has been oozing for over 3,400 days. The Kuwait Oil Fires of January to November 1991 destroyed around 6 million barrels of oil per day before the last fire was extinguished. This is, of course, different than an accidental leak situation. Initial efforts to put out the fires were hampered by the mines set around the fields during the Persian Gulf War.

Formula for success: rise early, work hard, strike oil. – J. Paul Getty

The use of solar energy has not been opened up because the oil industry does not own the sun. – Ralph Nader

The extraction of oil, coal and minerals brought, and still brings, a cost to the environment. – Bono

We have to rethink our whole energy approach, which is hard to do because we’re so dependent on oil, not just for fuel but also plastic. If plastic vanished, there would be total chaos. We have to think quite carefully about using oil and its derivatives, because it’s not going to be around forever. – Margaret Atwood

Also on this day: Cotton is King – In 1794, Eli Whitney was granted a patent for the cotton gin.
PCN – In 1942, Penicillin was first used on a patient.
Roughest and Toughest – In 1950, the FBI instituted the Ten Most Wanted list.
Cut That Out – In 1937, the Mit Brennender Sorge was read at Catholic Masses in Germany.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 14, 2013


March 14, 1942: Orvan Hess, an obstetrician/gynecologist, consults with John Bumstead, internist, and the two decide to treat Anne Miller with an experimental new drug. Ms. Miller had been treated medically and surgically and was still close to death. Dr. Hess went to visit Dr. Bumstead and found him sleeping in the library. While waiting for him to wake up, Dr. Hess read an article in the Reader’s Digest entitled “Germ Killers From Earth” about soil bacteria used to fight streptococcal infections in animals. Further research revealed a new drug not yet used on humans. After only one injection, Ms. Miller began her recovery. The new drug? Penicillin.

Discovery of the drug is usually given to Sir Alexander Fleming in 1928 with development of the drug credited to Howard Walter Florey. Like many other discoveries, there is not always clear ownership. Ernest Duchesne wrote a paper about Penicillium in 1897, but his young age kept it from being taken seriously. Old papers from a Costa Rican doctor, Clodomiro Picado Twight, show he was experimenting with this phenomenon between 1915 and 1927. Fleming’s documented breakthrough has been dated to September 28, 1928.

The mold called penicillin was first seen to inhibit the staphylococcus plate cultures. Next, a method was needed to produce the best, highest-quality mold that would reproduce quickly. Funding at the University of Oxford was short as England was already embroiled in WWII by 1939. Research moved to Peoria, Illinois and with a lucky break, in 1941 the best mold was found to grow on cantaloupes that were found in a market next to the research center.

Today there are not only many types of penicillins, but many different types and generations of antibiotics. Unfortunately, these antibiotics can be misused. One common problem is when a patient does not take the entire prescription. As people start to feel better, many stop taking the drugs but not all the offending organisms have not yet been destroyed, allowing for a relapse. Antibiotics are not effective against viruses but are often prescribed more as a palliative measure than sound medical practice. Both of these factors lead to the development of antibiotic resistant strains of infecting organisms.

“The wages of sin is penicillin.” – unknown

“I don’t think that anybody believes that by giving somebody penicillin we’re playing God, … but we have to ask the question about how far it’s appropriate to go in extending life.” – Jeffrey Kahn

“They are getting a little help, but nothing near the amount of help that would make a difference. I liken it to having a dose of penicillin for one person and distributing it to 10 people. No one gets cured.” – Jeff Rubin

“Next to hot chicken soup, a tattoo of an anchor on your chest, and penicillin, I consider a honeymoon one of the most overrated events in the world.” – Erma Bombeck

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: Alexander Fleming was a Scottish scientist born in 1881. His father was a farmer and Alexander was the third of four children. Young Alec was seven when his father died. He moved to London to attend the Royal Polytechnic Institution. When he was 20, he inherited some money from an uncle and it was then that his older brother, Tom, encouraged Alexander to go to medical school. He began at St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School in 1903 and graduated in 1906. He then joined the research department at the school and studied bacteriology with Almroth Wright, a pioneer in vaccine therapy and immunology.

Also on this day: Cotton is King – In 1794, Eli Whitney was granted a patent for the cotton gin.
Roughest and Toughest – In 1950, the FBI instituted the Ten Most Wanted list.
Cut That Out – In 1937, the Mit Brennender Sorge was read at Catholic Masses in Germany.

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Cut That Out

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 14, 2012

Pope Pius XII

March 14, 1937: The papal encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge (MBS) is read at Masses throughout Germany. The name translates to “with burning anxiety” and was released under the name of Pope Pius XI. It was actually written by the Cardinal Secretary of State, Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli. The Secretary of State oversees issues in the political or diplomatic realms of the Catholic Church. The post was first created by Pope Leo X in 1551 with Girolamo Dandini the first Secretary. In 1937 there were political and diplomatic issues the Church wanted to comment on, so the encyclical was secretly printed and distributed.

In 1937 Passion Sunday (called Palm Sunday today and is the Sunday before Easter) fell on March 14. Unlike most papal documents, MBS was written in German rather than Latin. It strongly criticized Nazism and condemned anti-Semitism. It pointed out breaches in agreements and warned of the falsity of Nazi ideology. The encyclical decried the Nazi philosophy of one race’s superiority over all others and insisted it was incompatible with Christianity. It condemned the paganism of the national ideology and the Nazi conception of God. It criticized the “insane and arrogant prophet” taken as meaning Hitler.

Hitler’s regime did not take kindly to the criticism. This was the first denunciation of Nazism by any major body or organization. A crushing response followed. There were reprisals throughout Germany with “staged prosecutions of monks for homosexuality, with the maximum publicity.” Dutch bishops joined the protest, defending the Jews and the Germans then increased their retaliations against the Dutch. They gathered 92 converts, deported them, and finally killed them. In Poland, the Nazis murdered over 2,500 monks and priests while far more were imprisoned. In the Soviet Union, more Catholics met with severe persecution.

Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli went on to become Pope Pius XII. His papacy began on March 2, 1939 and ended October 9, 1958. He was born in Rome on March 2, 1876 to an aristocratic family with ties to the papacy. He became a priest in 1899 and rose through the ranks. He was involved in world politics from the beginning working in a sub-office of the Vatican Secretary of State. He had three major goals for his papal reign, all completed prior to his death. His role in World War II is still hotly debated. Some feel he did not do enough to save those persecuted by the Nazi regime.

The brutality of the retaliation made an enormous impression on Pius XII. – John Vidmar

‘Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and unto God the things which are God’s.’ One would like to add: Give unto man things which are man’s; give man his freedom and personality, his rights and religion. – Pope Pius XII

If a worker is deprived of hope to acquire some personal property, what other natural stimulus can be offered him that will inspire him to hard work, labor, saving and sobriety today, when so many nations and men have lost everything and all they have left is their capacity for work? – Pope Pius XII

I hear around me reformers who want to dismantle the Holy Sanctuary, destroy the universal flame of the Church, to discard all her adornments, and smite her with remorse for her historic past. – Pope Pius XII

Also on this day:

Cotton is King – In 1794, Eli Whitney was granted a patent for the cotton gin.
PCN – In 1942, Penicillin was first used on a patient.
Roughest and Toughest – In 1950, the FBI instituted the Ten Most Wanted list.

Roughest and Toughest

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 14, 2011

J. Edgar Hoover

March 14, 1950: A new feature as added to the Federal Bureau of Investigation [FBI] repertoire. Late in 1949, J. Edgar Hoover, the sixth director of the FBI, was lunching with Editor-in-Chief, William Kinsey Hutchinson from the International News Service, the forerunner of UPI. Hutchinson asked Hoover how the bureau went about catching the toughest criminals. This led to a discussion about how one determined who was the toughest criminal. Hutchinson wrote an article about their conversation and it received a great deal of positive feedback.

Hoover began the list of the Ten Most Wanted Fugitives on this date. There is no ranking within the list, all ten are simply the baddest of the bad. The “bad guys” have included seven women. Each criminal is given a number as they are added to the list. At the end of the first 50 years of the program, there have been 494 fugitives on this list.

Donald Eugene Webb has been on the list since May 4, 1981 for the brutal beating and shooting murder of a police officer. Billie Austin Bryant was on the list in 1969 for the very short time of two hours when he killed two FBI agents and robbed a bank after his prison break. A name is taken off the list when the fugitive is captured or dies. Rarely, five times so far, the name is taken off the list when charges are dropped. There have been a few instances when an eleventh name is added as was done in the case of tracking James Earl Ray, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassin. Thomas J. Holden was the first to make the list after committing a triple murder in Chicago and then fleeing across state lines.

The list is placed in all Post Offices and television’s America’s Most Wanted has also profiled some of these fugitives. There are also pictures posted on the Internet. With the help of citizens, the success rate for capture is 94% with 463 of the list’s residents being placed in custody with public assistance helping in 152 cases. The FBI also maintains other lists such as the most wanted terrorists, kidnapped and missing persons, parental kidnappings, and unknown bank robbers.

“We are a fact-gathering organization only. We don’t clear anybody. We don’t condemn anybody.”

“Above all, I would teach him to tell the truth. Truth-telling, I have found, is the key to responsible citizenship. The thousands of criminals I have seen in 40 years of law enforcement have had one thing in common: every single one was a liar.”

“Banks are an almost irresistible attraction for that element of our society which seeks unearned money.”

“The cure for crime is not the electric chair, but the high chair.” – all from J. Edgar Hoover

Also on this day:
Cotton is King – In 1794, Eli Whitney was granted a patent for the cotton gin.
Penicillin – In 1942, Orvan Hess used the new drug to treat his patient.

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Cotton is King

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 14, 2010

A cotton gin on display at the Eli Whitney Museum.

March 14, 1794: Eli Whitney receives a patent for the cotton gin, making it possible to grow cotton profitably. The “gin” is shortened from engine and has nothing to do with the alcoholic beverage. Prior to this invention, it was an extremely labor-intensive process to remove the usable portion of the cotton plant from the seed pods. Early versions of a cotton gin were simple iron or wood rollers and a flat piece of wood or stone and were in use by the fifth century. They were difficult to use and needed special skill to operate. Dual roller processes were introduced in the middle ages.

Whitney was born in Massachusetts and graduated from Yale. He was in need of employment to pay off his debts and moved to Georgia and the home of Catherine Littlefield Greene. There, he was faced with the problems inherent in getting the cotton ready for the textiles mills. There is some disagreement over who first invented the cotton gin, but Whitney was the man with the patent. This modern version of the device may have been invented by the boss, but women were not granted patents.

During the early days of the US, there were two main exports, tobacco and indigo – a substance used for dying cloth. Prior to the gin, it was possible for a person to prepare about one pound of cotton per day. With the cotton gin, a few men, and a mule, fifty pounds of cotton could be processed in the same amount of time. The ease of marketing the product increased the planting and also the need for help on the plantation, thereby increasing the slave trade.

The use of the engine caused an expansion in the cotton industry. There were 750,000 bales of cotton grown in 1830 and 2.85 million bales in 1850. The cotton gin did make the work of cleaning the cotton easier, but the cotton still needed to be picked, and that took an increase in labor. Slave labor became even more important to the plantation South. Today’s cotton gins are huge and the whole process includes the removal of seed along with the many other processes that get the plant ready in bales for shipment.

“[Matthews wonders if Google will go the way of Eli Whitney.] The cotton gin changed America, … It revitalized the South and boosted the British textile industry, and had a thousand other effects. And this earned the inventor, Eli Whitney, almost nothing.” – Mark Matthews

“The place was packed as full of smells as a bale is of cotton.” – Rudyard Kipling

“One of my primary objects is to form the tools so the tools themselves shall fashion the work and give to every part its just proportion.” – Eli Whitney

“The cotton-gin not only created the historical patterns of American capitalism. It laid an indelible impress on European development as well.” – C.L.R. James

Also on this day, in 1942 Penicillin was first used on a human.

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