Little Bits of History

March 25

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 25, 2017

1911: The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory burns. The factory covered the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors of the Asch Building, a ten story high rise in New York City. The corner building was in the Greenwich Village area of Manhattan and is now known at the Brown Building and is part of the New York University. The factory, owned by Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, made women’s blouses, called shirtwaists. Most of the employees were young immigrant workers, mostly Jews and Italians. The women worked 52 hours a week, nine hours on weekdays and “just” seven hours on Saturday and earned between $7 and $12 per week or about $170 to $290 today.

As was customary at the time, the doors to the exits were kept locked to keep the employees from unauthorized breaks or taking stock. There were normally about 500 employees working, but this was a Saturday and there were only 217 people on the three floors. The shift ended at 5 PM and both owners and their children were in the shop. At 4.40 PM a scrap bin under a cutter’s table in the northeast corner of the eighth floor began to burn. The first fire alarm was called in by a passerby on the street at 4.45 PM when smoke was seen coming from a window. The cause of the fire was thought to be either a tossed unextinguished match or a cigarette butt thrown into a bin holding two months’ worth of cuttings. Next to the bin were hundreds of pounds of scraps from the cutting out of thousands of shirtwaists.

A bookkeeper on the eighth floor was able to telephone to the tenth floor to raise an alarm, but there were no audible alarms in the building. The people on the ninth floor knew about the fire immediately. The factory had two freight elevators, a fire escape, and stairways down to the street. Flames prevented access to one stairway and the other was locked. The foreman who had the key to the locked door had already made his own escape, without opening the door for others. Some people made their way to the roof and some crammed into elevators while they still worked. Soon the one open stairway was impassible in both directions. The fire escape was flimsy and may have been broken before the fire. It soon twisted and collapsed.

The fire company soon arrived, but ladders only reached to the sixth floor. The people trapped in the building tried jumping, either into an open elevator shaft or onto the street far below – or they waiting for smoke and fire to overtake them. In all, 146 people died, 123 women and 23 men. There were 71 survivors, including both owners. They were the lucky people who made it to the roof in time. Both owners were indicted for first- and second-degree manslaughter and were found guilty of wrongful death and paid out $75 per deceased person, much less than their insurance paid them (about $400 per victim). Blanck was arrested in 1913 for again locking employees into his factory and fined $20 for the offense.

I learned a new sound that day, a sound more horrible than description can picture – the thud of a speeding living body on a stone sidewalk. – Gunn Shepard, reporter on the scene

Word had spread through the East Side, by some magic of terror, that the plant of the Triangle Waist Company was on fire and that several hundred workers were trapped. Horrified and helpless, the crowds – I among them – looked up at the burning building, saw girl after girl appear at the reddened windows, pause for a terrified moment, and then leap to the pavement below, to land as mangled, bloody pulp. – Louis Waldman

But every time the workers come out in the only way they know to protest against conditions which are unbearable, the strong hand of the law is allowed to press down heavily upon us.- Rose Schneiderman

To investigate factory conditions in this and other cities and to report remedial measures of legislation to prevent hazard or loss of life among employees through fire, unsanitary conditions, and occupational diseases. – mission statement of the Factory Investigating Commission


Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 25, 2015
Venice *

Venice *

March 25, 421: Venice is founded. According to tradition, the area was populated by refugees from nearby Roman cities – Padua, Aquileia, Treviso, Altino, and Concordia as well as from the undefended countryside. The area had seen successive waves of Germanic and Hun invasion forces and the survivors headed to the marshy lagoons and set up homes on the many islands. These people were called the incolae lacunae or lagoon dwellers. The founding of Venice is given as noon on this day when the first church, San Giacomo, was dedicated on the islet of Rialto. As successive invasions took place, the rule of Venice often changed hands.

Between the 9th and 12th centuries, Venice developed into a city state. The other three city states were Genoa, Pisa, and Amalfi. Venice had a strategic advantage at the head of the Adriatic Sea and it made the city powerful in naval and commercial endeavors. The elimination of coastal pirates helped secure their position and the region became a flourishing trade center between Western Europe and the rest of the known world, especially the Byzantine Empire and the Islamic controlled area. Because of their interaction with the eastern world, they maintained close ties to Constantinople. Their rule of their colonies was fairly benign and rather enlightened for the era, which helped them maintain control.

Their power began to decline in the 15th century and as a port city, they were bombarded with waves of Black Death. The plague killed 50,000 people in just three years and sixty years later, in 1630, another third of Venice’s 150,000 population was killed. Portugal took over as the leader in ports for international trade and Venice’s economy was as decimated as her population. May 12, 1797 was the end of Venice’s Republic status when she fell to Napoleon Bonaparte. With the European continent in flux, rule of Venice changed hands several times. During World War II, the city remained fairly intact and precise strikes by the Royal Air Force on the German naval operations did virtually no structural damage to the city itself.

Today, the 160 square mile city is home to about 271,000 people with about 60,000 living in historic Venice. The historic city is divided into six areas or sestiere while the whole municipality is divided into six boroughs. Buildings are constructed on closely spaced alder wood piles which are still intact after centuries of submersion. The foundations of buildings rest on plates of limestone which rest on the piles. The water is oxygen-poor and the wood does not decay rapidly. The climate is humid subtropical and there is always danger of flooding since the elevation of the city is barely above sea level. Although once a bastion of trade, today, tourism leads many people to visit. Art and architecture combine to make it the 28th most visited city in the world with nearly 3 million visitors coming each year.

Though there are some disagreeable things in Venice there is nothing so disagreeable as the visitors. – Henry James

If you read a lot, nothing is as great as you’ve imagined. Venice is. Venice is better. – Fran Lebowitz

Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go. – Truman Capote

Is it worth while to observe that there are no Venetian blinds in Venice? – William Dean Howells

Also on this day: On Your Marks – In 1668, the first horse race was run in the American colonies.
Titan Discovered – In 1655, Christiaan Huygens discovered one of Saturn’s moons.
First Passenger Train – In 1908, the Oystermouth Railway began service.
Jobs – In 1894, Coxey’s Army began their march on Washington, D.C.
Richard the Lionheart – In 1199, Richard I of England was shot.

* Picture by Didier Descouens

Tagged with: ,

Richard the Lionheart

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 25, 2014
Richard the Lionheart

Richard the Lionheart

March 25, 1199: Richard I of England is shot. Also known as Richard the Lionheart, he was King of England from 1189 until his death. He was born on September 8, 1157 to King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. He was of the House of Plantagenet. He was the third of five sons and by the age of 16 had taken control of his own army and put down rebellions against his father taking place in Poitou. He was the central Christian commander of the Third Crusade. He was able to bring victories against Saladin but was unable to reconquer Jerusalem, leaving it in the hands of the Muslims.

He spoke two different dialects of French and spent most of his time in the Duchy of Aquitaine. Although born in England as the third son he was not expected to ascend to the throne. His oldest brother, William, died even before Richard was born. Henry the Young King was next in line and was actually given the position of King without being given any lands to rule over. He waged a war against his father and his younger brother and lost, dying in 1183. This left Richard as next in line for the English throne. King Henry II wasn’t willing to give any of his sons the lands or resources which could be used to overthrow the father. This was wise and eventually Richard and a younger brother, John, did rise up against their father. Henry named Richard as his successor and died two days later in Chinon after becoming ill.

Richard’s conquests in the Crusade included marrying Berengaria of Navarre. He was still betrothed to Alys back home, but this match gave ties to the King of Navarre, her father. There was much celebrating, but no children were forthcoming. While being victorious in some battles in the Holy Land, Richard was unable to actually win the war. While trying to sail back to England, his ship encountered bad weather and wrecked near Aquileia. He was forced to attempt a return over land, a much more treacherous proposition since he was in hostile territory. He was captured near Vienna by Leopold V, Duke of Austria. Richard was held prisoner at Durnstein Castle. He was handed over to the Holy Roman Emperor and a ransom was demanded. His mother helped secure the funds and he was returned home.

The family, not close knit by any standards, were not all pleased at his return. However, there was some reconciliation. Richard went on another conquest at Normandy and began to search for a new spot to build his castle/fortress. On this day, he was walking around his recently built castle perimeter and not wearing chainmail. A defender of the castle pointed a crossbow at the King but did not fire. Rather, an arrow struck the royal personage near his shoulder/neck region. Although a doctor came to his aid, the wound festered and became gangrenous. The shooter was seeking revenge against the killing of his family. Richard forgave the boy, but after the King’s death on April 6, the crossbowman was found and flayed alive and hanged by one of Richard’s mercenary captains.

I am born in a rank which recognizes no superior but God. – Richard I to Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor

He was a bad king: his great exploits, his military skill, his splendour and extravagance, his poetical tastes, his adventurous spirit, do not serve to cloak his entire want of sympathy, or even consideration, for his people. – William Stubbs

Everyone likes flattery; and when you come to Royalty you should lay it on with a trowel. – Benjamin Disraeli

Being born into the Royal Family is like being born into a mental asylum. Marrying into it is not something to be taken lightly. – John Lydon

Also on this day: On Your Marks – In 1668, the first horse race was run in the American colonies.
Titan Discovered – In 1655, Christiaan Huygens discovered one of Saturn’s moons.
First Passenger Train – In 1908, the Oystermouth Railway began service.
Jobs – In 1894, Coxey’s Army began their march on Washington, D.C.

Titan Discovered

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 25, 2013
Christiaan Huygens

Christiaan Huygens

March 25, 1655: A Dutch scientist finds the moon – around Saturn. Christiaan Huygens was a mathematician, astronomer, and physicist. He discovered light was made of waves, helped develop modern calculus, and made advances in sound perception. He found wondrous things in the night sky, from moons to nebula. He designed a 50 power refracting telescope to see what was out there. He found the first moon of Saturn’s 60 known moons.

Titan is the tenth largest body in the solar system. The Sun, 7 planets, and Ganymede (one of Jupiter’s moons) are larger. Titan has a radius of 1,600 miles. Mercury, the smallest planet, measures 1,515 miles while our own Moon is 1,079.4 miles. Saturn, the second largest planet, has a radius of 36,184 miles which is more than 9 times the radius of Earth. Titan is cold with a surface temperature around -289⁰  F. It has a thick atmosphere and clouds, the only moon in the solar system to have either.

Huygens was inspired by Galileo’s discovery of the first four moons of Jupiter. Huygens discovered what he called “Saturni Luna” or Saturn Moon and between 1673 and 1686 Giovanni Cassini discovered four more moons around the gas giant. Huygens first thought the rings around Saturn were solid, but they have been proven to be ice chunks and rocks. The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft first entered orbit around Saturn on June 30, 2004. The craft, named for the 17th century scientists, began in-depth and close-up study of the planet system.

The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft was launched October 15, 1997 and was a combined project of NASA/ESA/ASI. The Cassini orbiter separated from the Huygens probe on December 25, 2004 and the probe reached Titan on January 14, 2005. It entered the atmosphere, landed, and continued to send data for 90 minutes after touchdown. The information sent back from both the orbiter and the probe shows us a planet-like moon with many parallels to Earth. Titan has lakes, rivers, channels, dunes, rain, snow, clouds, mountains, and maybe volcanoes. The mission’s life has been extended another two years and will hopefully reveal even more secrets hidden in space.

“[The Cassini-Huygens mission] will probably help answer some of the big questions that NASA has in general about origins and where we came from and where life came from.” – Bob Mitchell

“At first the Huygens camera just saw haze over the distant surface.” – Erich Karkoschka

“We have at last glimpsed the surface of the fabled world, Titan, Saturn’s largest moon and the greatest single expanse of unexplored territory remaining in the Solar System today.” – Carolyn Porco

“The light on the night side of Saturn is brighter than a full moon here on Earth … even though [Saturn is] ten times further from the Sun … because you’ve got these rings everywhere just filling the night sky.” – Andrew Ingersoll

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: Christiaan Huygens was born in 1629 at The Hague, Dutch Republic. His father was a friend of René Descartes. Christiaan studied law and mathematics at the University of Leiden and the College of Orange in Breda. He worked for a short time as a diplomat before returning to the sciences. He was elected to the Royal Society in 1663 and moved to Paris. There he held a position at the French Academy of Sciences under the patronage of Louis XIV. His paper, “Astroscopia Compendiaria” was published in 1684 and introduced his new aerial (tubeless) telescope. He became ill in 1681 and moved back to The Hague. After a failed attempt to return to Paris in 1885 (due to the revocation of the Edict of Nantes), he remained in the Dutch Republic and died there in 1695 at the age of 66.

Also on this day: On Your Marks – In 1668, the first horse race was run in the American colonies.
First Passenger Train – In 1908, the Oystermouth Railway began service.
Jobs – In 1894, Coxey’s Army began their march on Washington, D.C.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 25, 2012

Coxey's Army encamped

March 25, 1894: Coxey’s Army begins their march to Washington, D.C. The march was organized by Jacob Coxey. The country was in the midst of an economic depression – the worst to date. The Panic of 1893 began with the fall of two of the largest employers in the nation. The collapse of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad and National Cordage induced a panic in the stock market with cascading effects. Banks called in loans forcing many businesses into bankruptcy. The Panic lasted four years. In that time, over 15,000 businesses closed along with 600 banks, 74 railroads, and many steel mills.

Nationwide unemployment reached 20-25%. Ohio was especially hard hit with unemployment reaching 50% of industrial workers. Without income, families became homeless and lacked money for food. The men wanted to work; to provide for their dependents. Jacob Coxey lived in Massillon, a steel town in northwest Ohio. He called for the unemployed to join forces and march to Washington, D.C. to demand jobs. He was seeking government created jobs for the “involuntary idle.” The official name for the protest march was Commonweal in Christ but the marchers became known as Coxey’s Army.

About 100 men gathered at Massillon and set out on foot for Washington, D.C. The shortest distance over today’s roads is 350 miles. The route used would have covered closer to 450 miles. The army slowly picked up supporters along the way. Other contingents from various parts of the country also marched and the armies converged. By the end of April there were 500 men approaching Washington. The armies arrived at a 260 acre farm in Maryland. Eventually there were 6,000 unemployed men camped out. Coxey led several hundred into the capital and he and several other leaders were arrested for walking on the grass of the United States Capitol grounds.

While not a resounding success by itself, the Coxey Army was the first noteworthy popular protest march. After Coxey’s arrest the men dispersed but Washington had taken notice. Populism was seen as a threat and was feared by politicians. The economy improved slowly. Coxey led a second march on Washington in 1914. He ran for a variety of political positions from state and federal congressional seats to a run for the Presidency itself. He lost most of his bids. He was elected as mayor of Massillon from 1931 to 1933 but could not manage to be reelected. His last bid for any election came in 1941. He died in 1951 at the age of 97.

In dreams he sees an army. Then Coxey awakes and sees only fifty tramps. – from the New York Times

Nearly 100 recruits … arrived. … Most of them are tramps who camped in the woods surrounding the town during the night. A number of them slept in the lock-up, but were released this morning. – from the New York Times

A man willing to work, and unable to find work, is perhaps the saddest sight that fortune’s inequality exhibits under this sun. – Thomas Carlyle

The shock of unemployment becomes a pathology in its own right. – Robert Farrar Capon

Also on this day:

On Your Marks – In 1668, the first horse race was run in the American colonies.
Titan Discovered – In 1655, Christiaan Huygens discovered one of Saturn’s moons.
First Passenger Train – In 1908, the Oystermouth Railway began service.

Tagged with: ,

First Passenger Train

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 25, 2011

Oystermouth Railway's passenger train

March 25, 1807: The Oystermouth Railway begins carrying passengers, the first time trains were used for this purpose. Today, the rail line is called the Swansea and Mumbles Railway but locals call it the Mumbles Train. It is located in Swansea, Wales. It was built by an Act of Parliament in 1804 in order to move limestone from Mumbles to Swansea and then to areas beyond. It was originally a horse drawn rail system. Benjamin French first proposed the idea of carrying passengers and offered the railroad £20 for the right to offer this service for twelve months. The rail system upgraded over time and remained in use until 1960.

The idea of a system for hauling goods has been traced back as far as something called a rutway used by ancient Greeks and Romans. A trackway from Diokos across the Isthmus of Corinth measured between 3 ¾ and 5 ¼ miles long; it was used for at least 650 years. It was open to any who could pay for the service. The rutway went out of use in the first century AD and the idea was lost. In 1550, hand propelled tubs were in use for moving cargo. The idea spread from Germany, the country of origin, to other European countries.

In 1798, Lake Lock Railroad opened to carry coal from the Outwood area to the Aire in West Yorkshire, England. This is arguably the first rail system. In 1802, another railway was built in Wales called the Carmarthenshire Tramroad. The first steam locomotive railway, Pennydarren, was also built in Wales. The rails moved to Scotland next in 1808 and in that year Richard Trevithick set up a circular railway so people could experience a train ride. For one shilling, people got to ride the train in a circle before disembarking. They apparently liked it.

By 1812, steam locomotives were being used commercially in Leeds. In 1825, a publicly subscribed railway using steam locomotives was instituted for carrying freight. Passengers were still moved using horse draw railcars. On September 27, 1827, the first railway in continental Europe opened for business. On July 4, 1828, the first railway in the US (the B&O) began construction of tracks between Charleston and Savannah. Rail transport continued to improve both for freight and passenger service. Today we have bullet trains reaching speeds of 217 mph. in 2007, a heavily modified train in France reached a speed of 357.2 mph, a world record.

“Nothing was more up-to-date when it was built, or is more obsolete today, than the railroad station.” – Ada Louise Huxtable

“A private railroad car is not an acquired taste. One takes to it immediately.” – Eleanor Robson Belmont

“The introduction of so powerful an agent as steam to a carriage on wheels will make a great change in the situation of man.” – Thomas Jefferson, 1802

“Only fools want to travel all the time. Sensible men want to arrive.” – Metternick

Also on this day:
On Your Marks – In 1668, the first horse race was run in the American colonies.
Titan discovered – In 1655, the moon of Saturn was discovered.

On Your Marks

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 25, 2010

Narragansett Pacer

March 25, 1668: The first horse race in America takes place in New York at Salisbury Plain on Long Island. The grassy plain measured about 4 miles by 16 miles and easily accommodated the running of a two-mile  course. All of this was done in the spirit of encouraging a better breed of horse, but trophies were awarded at the spring and fall meetings.

Back in the mother country, King Charles II made horse racing popular after regaining the throne in 1660. Cromwell had banned racing, however Charles reopened New Market and encouraged the citizenry to attend races. He introduced the old Roman custom of racing silks and initiated the use of poles at furlong intervals.

Narragansett Pacer was the first truly American breed of horse, and although its line is in doubt, the horse seems to be a cross between English and Dutch horses. The first breeding center was established in Rhode Island west of the Narragansett Bay, hence the name.

Horses were used for industry and travel as well. The first use of horses to deliver the mail was on January 22, 1673 when mail service was set up between Boston and New York. Having well-bred horses helped to maintain the colonies that were spread over a vast area.

“The spirited horse, which will try to win the race of its own accord, will run even faster if encouraged” – Ovid

“He’s an amazing horse. No horse I’ve ever seen in any race stumbled like that. And I don’t know any horse stayed up after going that close to the ground. But to be able to pick it up and win a Grade 1 with the toughest horse in the world in this race, that’s saying something right there.” – Jeremy Rose

“She’s a very nice filly; very correct and well balanced. I love her sire, and she just looks the part of a racehorse. I buy horses who I think can win Grade 1 races.” – John Oxley

“If you treat your wife like a thoroughbred, you’ll never end up with a nag” – Zig Ziglar

Also on this day, in 1655, Christiaan Huygens discovered Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.

Tagged with: ,