Little Bits of History

March 18

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 18, 2017

1850: American Express is founded in Buffalo, New York. It began as an express mail service, aka special delivery service when Henry Wells, William G Fargo, and John Warren Butterfield merged their companies to create a larger business. Two years later, Wells and Fargo wished to expand out to California and were thwarted so they started Wells Fargo & Co. American Express was originally headquartered on the corner of Jay Street and Hudson Street in Manhattan. They held a monopoly on moving goods, securities, and currency along with other items throughout New York State. They eventually partnered with other express companies, including Wells Fargo, along with railroads and steamship companies and went nationwide.

In 1882 American Express went into the money order business to compete with the USPS. In the late 1880s, William Fargo’s brother was traveling in Europe and despite having traditional letters of credit, found it difficult to get money in any but the largest European cities. Upon his return, he had Marcellus Berry create a better way – the Traveler’s Cheque was launched in 1891. This service made American Express an international company. At the outbreak of World War I, American Express in Europe was one of the few companies willing to assist Americans stranded there by the war. The British selected them as their official express service, delivering letters, money, and parcels to British POWs and the end of the war, they were delivering 150 tons per day to POWs in six countries.

President Theodore Roosevelt had them investigated for monopolizing the railroad express service. Nothing immediately happened, but during World War I, President Woodrow Wilson needed to commandeer the railroads for troop movements and other war efforts. The monopoly was broken and a new company formed, much of which had been former American Express business assets.

American Express first proposed to offer a travel charge card in 1946 but they did not enter the field until 1958, eight years after Diners Club became the first independent credit card company. American Express cards were so popular, 250,000 were issued before the launch date. The next year, they began to issue plastic cards, an industry first. They began to issue Gold and Platinum cards to different markets and for a time had Optima cards as well. It wasn’t until the 1980s that American Express began their push to become a financial service super company. For more than a decade, new companies were purchased to expand the investment banking side of the business. The last of these were sold off in 1994.

 Money won’t create success, the freedom to make it will. – Nelson Mandela

A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business. – Henry Ford

A wise man should have money in his head, but not in his heart. – Jonathan Swift

When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life; now that I am old I know that it is. – Oscar Wilde


Conspiracy of 1741

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 18, 2015
Conspiracy of 1741, slave burned at the stake during the madness

Conspiracy of 1741, slave burned at the stake during the madness

March 18, 1741: The New York governor’s house in Fort George catches fire. Soon after, the church connected to the house was also ablaze. The locals tried to extinguish the fire but it soon grew out of control and threatened to spread to even more buildings, especially worrisome was the building housing all the city documents. The windows were broken and the documents were thrown outside to save them. They were moved to City Hall. A fire broke out the next week and was quickly put out and the following week a warehouse caught fire. Three days later a cow stable caught fire and on the following day, someone passing through a wealthy neighborhood saw coals near some hay and extinguished the smoldering hay and thus keeping the neighborhood from going up in flames.

As the numbers of fires increased, so did the idea that it was not accidental, as was often the case when fires were used for cooking and heating and buildings were made of easily combustible wood. On April 6, four fires were started and a black man was seen running away while a while man yelled after him, “A negro, a negro.” It was then the fires were seen as a conspiracy and the entire plot was seen as a slave insurrection. This was not a completely unfounded idea as Manhattan in New York City was home to the second largest slave population in the colonies, after Charleston, South Carolina. This gave rise to the Conspiracy of 1741 also called the Negro Plot of 1741 or the Slave Insurrection of 1741.

There was economic competition between poor whites and slaves. A severe winter and war between England and Spain added to the mix along with anti-Catholic and anti-Spanish sentiments. There had been recent slave revolts in South Carolina and Saint John in the Caribbean. The slave seen running away, Cuffee, was arrested and within a few days, 100 slaves had been jailed. Mary Burton, a 16-year-old Irish indentured servant had been arrested for theft. She testified against others, claiming the poor whites and slaves were trying to burn the city, kill all the white men, take the white women for their own, and then elect a new king and governor. Eventually, about 200 people were arrested and as panic spread and a few testified against the others, over 100 people were hanged, exiled, or burned at the stake. Most of the “guilty” were hanged or burned, but it is unclear how many died.

Today, historians do not agree as to whether there was a conspiracy at all and if there was, what scale it reached. During the cases, the prosecution was inconsistent, changing accusations and their case of a slave revolt morphed into a Popish plot of Catholics. The two supposed leaders of the revolt were Caesar, a slave, and John Hughson, a white cobbler and tavern keeper. They were executed and their bodies were left to rot in public. At least 72 men were deported from New York and sent to various other regions among the American colonies.

It goes without saying that a civilization which leaves so large a number of its participants unsatisfied and drives them into revolt neither has nor deserves the prospect of a lasting existence. – Sigmund Freud

The right to revolt has sources deep in our history. – William O. Douglas

Most commonly revolt is born of material circumstances; but insurrection is always a moral phenomenon. Revolt is Masaniello, who led the Neapolitan insurgents in 1647; but insurrection is Spartacus. Insurrection is a thing of the spirit, revolt is a thing of the stomach. – Victor Hugo

Revolt and terror pay a price. Order and law have a cost. – Carl Sandburg

Also on this day: New London, Texas – In 1937, a school explosion took place in Texas.
Jacques Trumped – In 1314, Jacques de Molay was burned at the stake.
Tri-State Tornado – In 1925, a destructive tornado traveled across three state.
We’ve Got the Power – In 1937, a pedal craft flew the distance.
Martyrs to the Cause – In 1834, the Tolpuddle Martyrs were sentenced.

Martyrs to the Cause

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 18, 2014
Tolpuddle Martyrs contemporary illustration

Tolpuddle Martyrs contemporary illustration

March 18, 1834: The Tolpuddle Martyrs are sentenced to deportation. The Ordinance of Labourers passed in 1349 and is often considered the beginning of English labor law. It fixed wages and imposed price controls as well as required everyone under the age of 60 to work. There were a few other items to the law. Although often revised and ignored, it wasn’t repealed until 1863. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, there was an influx of unskilled and semi-skilled workers into the job markets. Trade unions began to form and the government sought to control public unrest due to unfair work practices. So they passed the Combination Act in 1799 which banned trade unions and collective bargaining.

Unions were already widespread and although there was an effort to rid the country of them, they simply would not go away. By 1824/25, the Combination Act was repealed and unions were no longer illegal. In 1832, the Reform Act extended the right to vote but still did not grant universal suffrage. Six men in Tolpuddle in Dorset, England founded the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers  whose main purpose was to protest against the lowering of agricultural wages due to an excess of workers and a mechanization of the farming process. They refused to work for less than ten shillings per week – although the wages at the time had already fallen to seven shillings and would eventually drop to six.

James Frampton, a local landowner, wrote to the Prime Ministers, Lord Melbourne, to complain about this union behavior. He mentioned an old, obscure law from 1797 prohibiting men from swearing an oath to each, which was part of the initiation into the Friendly Society. James Brine, James Hammett, George Loveless, James Loveless (brothers), Thomas Standfield (George’s brother-in-law), and John Standfield (Thomas’s son) were all arrested and brought to trial before Judge Baron John Williams. They were found guilty and transported to Australia for seven years.

The men became popular heroes and 800,000 signatures were collected demanding their release. Their supporters organized one of the first successful political marches in the UK. In 1836, Lord John Russell, recently appointed to Home Secretary, allowed for the men’s release from their sentence, all except James Hammet who had a prior criminal record. Four of them men returned to England. Hammet was released in 1837. The four who returned to England first went to Essex and then moved to London, Ontario, Canada. Today, there is a museum for the men and their impact on trade unions in England located in Tolpuddle, Dorset. There is an annual festival held in their honor as well.

The strongest bond of human sympathy outside the family relation should be one uniting working people of all nations and tongues and kindreds. – Abraham Lincoln

Labor cannot stand still. It must not retreat. It must go on, or go under. – Harry Bridges

The only effective answer to organized greed is organized labor. – Thomas Donahue

The scaffold has never yet and never will destroy an idea or a movement. – Joseph Ettor

Also on this day: New London, Texas – In 1937, a school explosion took place in Texas.
Jacques Trumped – In 1314, Jacques de Molay was burned at the stake.
Tri-State Tornado – In 1925, a destructive tornado traveled across three state.
We’ve Got the Power – In 1937, a pedal craft flew the distance.

Jacques Trumped

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 18, 2013
Jacques de Molay burned at the stake

Jacques de Molay burned at the stake

March 18, 1314: Jacques de Molay is burned at the stake on the Île de la Cité. De Molay’s date of birth is uncertain but it is guessed to have been somewhere between 1244-1250. He is believed to have been born of minor nobility in the county of Burgundy. He joined the religious Order of Beaune in 1265, around age 20. He went East in 1270 to Outremer and served his Order there. It is not known if he had any official office before the fall of Acre in 1291.

Acre was the last crusader city when it fell to the Egyptian Mamluks. Those who could, escaped to Cypress which became the headquarters for the Kingdom of Jerusalem. De Molay and Thibaud Gaudin made it to Cypress. Gaudin was the leader of the Order, but de Molay felt changes were necessary. The Crusades were apparently over and a new mission or focus was needed. Gaudin died in April 1292 and de Molay became the 23rd and last Grand Master of the Knights Templar.

De Molay tried to engender support for the re-taking of the Holy Lands. Instead, the Pope tried to merge the Knights Templar with another religious military order, the Hospital. Grand Masters from both resisted. The Holy Lands remained in the hands of the Egyptians, but de Molay did manage to check the advance of the Mamluk troops. De Molay wooed the Mongols for support, but even with their help, Jerusalem remained out of reach. The Templars were defeated at the Siege of Ruad, essentially ending the dreams of conquest.

The Knights Templar took oaths of individual poverty. The Order as a whole was wealthy. They were the bankers of Europe and King Philip IV of France was deeply in debt to them. Rumors were spreading through Paris concerning the Order. The King, in a surprise raid across all France, had all the Knights Templar arrested on October 13, 1307. Their property was confiscated and they were tortured into confessions of heresy. Although de Molay retracted his confession, he was executed along with many followers. Without leadership, the Knights were overrun and their Order was dissolved.

“To say that which is untrue is a crime both in the sight of God and man. Not one of us has betrayed his God or his country. I do confess my guilt, which consists in having, to my shame and dishonor, suffered myself, through the pain of torture and the fear of death, to give utterance to falsehoods imputing scandalous sins and iniquities to an illustrious Order, which hath nobly served the cause of Christianity. I disdain to seek a wretched and disgraceful existence by engrafting another lie upon the original falsehood.” – Charles Addison quoting Jacques de Molay’s last words

“A true knight is fuller of bravery in the midst, than in the beginning of danger.” – Sir Philip Sidney

“Poor Knight! he really had two periods, the first – a dull man writing broken English, the second – a broken man writing dull English.” – Vladimir Nabokov

“Do not mix de galloping of your horse, my knight, with the beating of your heart.” – Old Chinese Proverb

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: King Philip IV of France was also known as Philip the Fair and was King of France from 1285 until his death in 1314, just eight months after de Mornay’s death. Philip was of the House of Capet and became King at the age of 17. (Some sources say he was 16.) He began to consolidate his power almost immediately and at any cost. He left unpopular decisions to his ministers and was also called “a useless owl” by contemporaries. He married Joan I of Navarre and thus brought Champagne and Brie under his rule. He had seven children, four of which survived to adulthood. His three sons would all eventually become kings of France and his daughter married the King of England.

Also on this day: New London, Texas – In 1937, a school explosion took place in Texas.
Tri-State Tornado – In 1925, a destructive tornado traveled across three state.
We’ve Got the Power – In 1937, a pedal craft flew the distance.

We’ve Got the Power

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 18, 2012


March 18, 1937: A new aircraft stays aloft for one kilometer or 0.62 miles. The plane was designed by Enea Bossi and built by Vittorio Bonomi. It was flown by Emilio Casco. It has been debatably credited with being the first to achieve human-powered flight. In 1932 Bossi heard of a plane able to fly with a one horsepower engine. He began to calculate the minimum power required for a manned flight. He came up with 0.94 hp and was convinced human-powered flight was possible. He did further research in Philadelphia and Paris. He then began to design an aircraft.

In 1933 Germany offered a prize to anyone who invented human-powered flight. By 1936 Italy also sponsored a contest for this achievement. The prize was 100,000 lire for any Italian who could manage a one kilometer flight. Bossi, who was born in Italy, had emigrated and was an American citizen, so ineligible. He still wanted to try. He created the Pedaliante (Italian for Pedal Glider). The monoplane had a 58 foot wingspan with an area of 252 square feet. The weight as designed was 160 pounds but the rules specified construction requirements. The end result was a craft weighing 220 pounds.

Casco was a powerful bicyclist and a major in the Italian Army. He was chosen to pilot the Pedaliante. His first test flight saw him powering the plane for nearly 300 feet. This was said to be the first human powered flight. Casco’s strength and endurance were credited with the successful outcome with critics saying the flight was not possible for normal people. It was felt the increased weight had hindered the pilot and so the propeller size was increased to give more thrust. After more practice runs, the next modification was adding a catapult launch.

The contest was held at Cinisello airport near Milan. Casco reached a height of 30 feet and made the required distance. The catapult launch disqualified the craft from winning the prize. The plane made 80 flights (43 without using the catapult) before it was retired in 1938. Many have tried to create a better human powered plane. The current record holder is an MIT Daedalus 88 piloted by Kanellos Kanellopoulos. On April 23, 1988 he flew from Crete, Greece heading for Santorini. He flew 74 miles in 3 hours and 54 minutes and crashed into the water just 23 feet short of his goal. Headwinds destroyed his craft and he swam safely to shore.

When all think alike, then no one is thinking. – Walter Lippman

Creativity, as has been said, consists largely of rearranging what we know in order to find out what we do not know. Hence, to think creatively, we must be able to look afresh at what we normally take for granted. – George Kneller

It’s easy to come up with new ideas; the hard part is letting go of what worked for you two years ago, but will soon be out of date. – Roger von Oech

Creativity is not the finding of a thing, but the making something out of it after it is found. – James Russell Lowell

Also on this day:

New London, Texas – In 1937, a school explosion took place in Texas.
Jacques Trumped – In 1314, Jacques de Molay was burned at the stake.
Tri-State Tornado – In 1925, a destructive tornado traveled across three state.

Tri-State Tornado

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 18, 2011

A Herald Examiner headline covering the Great Tri-State Tornado of 1925.

March 18, 1925: Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana are hit by a destructive tornado. It is the deadliest tornado in American history. There were 695 confirmed fatalities, more than twice as many as the second deadliest tornado, the 1840 Great Natchez Tornado. The tornado traveled 219-234 miles in a continuous track, the longest recorded trail ever recorded. It lasted for 3.5 hours and crossed parts of the three states listed above. It was not officially rated but is recognized as an F5 tornado on the Fujita scale.

There were a total of nine confirmed tornadoes in this outbreak, but the other eight paled in comparison to the one above. There were two F2, four F3, and two F4 tornadoes along with the F5 described above. When these are added in, the death total jumps to 747 confirmed. It was a stormy day in other areas, with several other tornadoes touching down in Tennessee, Kentucky, and other parts of Indiana. Alabama and Kansas also saw tornado activity. With the other outbreaks, the number of dead on this particular day rose to 795 confirmed with thousands more injured in the storms.

There has long been discussion over whether or not this F5 tornado was one continuous tornado or several different ones in a tornado family. Data collection was less sophisticated back then. Although it seems highly unlikely, new research shows there was no break in the path and may have been actually longer in length than previously thought, bringing the length to the newer 234 mile mark.

The funnel was first sighted at 1:01 PM local time, north-northwest of Ellington, Missouri. The supercell storm nearly annihilated Annapolis and continued on a northeast line. There were eleven dead in Missouri. The tornado crossed the Mississippi River and hit Gorham, Illinois at 2:30 PM local time and destroyed the town. The average forward speed was about 62 mph and reached speeds of 72 mph as it continued eastward cutting a swath nearly a mile wide. Murphysboro alone lost 234 people and there were at least 613 dead in Illinois. The tornado continued across the Wabash River and into Indiana. It finally dissipated about 4:40 PM about three miles southwest of Petersburg, Indiana, leaving another 71 dead in that state.

“Today, the technology is there to give early and normally ample warning when a powerful tornado approaches. When a tornado strikes, all of us are at risk.” – Spencer Bachus

“Rainbows apologize for angry skies.” – Sylvia Voirol

“There’s always a period of curious fear between the first sweet-smelling breeze and the time when the rain comes cracking down.” – Don Delillo

“Any proverbs about weather are doubly true during a storm.” – Terri Guillemets

Also on this day:
New London, Texas – In 1937, a school explosion took place in Texas.
Knights Templar – In 1314, Jacques de Molay was burned at the stake.

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New London, Texas

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 18, 2010

The remains of the London School after the explosion of March 18, 1937

March 18, 1937: The worst school explosion in the US takes place in New London, Texas when a gas line explodes. New London was one of the richest school districts in the nation since a hot oil strike in 1930 gave the town money to invest in their schools. The school was built at a cost of $1 million in 1930 dollars or nearly $13 million today. It had the first football stadium with lights.

The school was first designed to be steam heated, however it was later decided to install 72 separate gas heaters and have them use the natural gas that Parage Gasoline Company was going to discard. The piping had a leak but natural gas is odorless. Even though some students were complaining of headaches, no one was suspicious of the leak.

Thursday, March 18 found the students preparing for an Interscholastic Meet the next day at Henderson. Parents were in the gymnasium – a separate building – at a PTA meeting. The younger children had already gone home for the day. At 3:05 PM, an explosion occurred. It is thought that a sanding machine’s switch threw a spark that ignited trapped natural gas in the crawlspace. It is estimated that 296 to 319 students and teachers died in the explosion either by fire or by the explosion itself.

The nation as a whole responded and locals helped clear away the rubble. National news reporters were told that they needed more helping hands than reporters and also helped with the clearing of the fallen building. After this accident, thiols, awful smelling substances, were added to natural gas so that leaks could be found before catastrophe set in.

“The school is the last expenditure upon which America should be willing to economize.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” – Attributed to both Andy McIntyre and Derek Bok

“To the uneducated, an A is just three sticks.” – A. A. Milne

“He who opens a school door, closes a prison.” – Victor Hugo

Also on this day, in 1314 the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar was burned at the stake.