Little Bits of History

March 30

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 30, 2017

1909: The Queensboro Bridge opens. The bridge connects Manhattan with Queens in New York City and crosses the East River. Serious proposals for a bridge in that location were brought forth as early as 1838 but funding was an issue. In 1867 a private enterprise began to collect money but went bankrupt in the 1890s. In 1898, Greater New York City was created by combining Manhattan with Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island. A Department of Bridges was created and Gustav Lindenthal was the head. He worked with Leffert Buck and Henry Hornbostel to design a bridge and successfully brought forth plans in 1903.

Construction soon began but it took several years to complete the bridge. This was due to delays brought on by a collapse of one of the spans during a storm and labor unrest. Labor issues became so strained, at one point workers attempted to dynamite one span. When the bridge opened for traffic on this day, the cost was about $18 million (About $480 million today) and fifty people had died. Originally called Queensboro Bridge, today the official name is the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge but it is also called the 59th Street Bridge because of its location on the Manhattan side, between 59th and 60th streets.

There are three major spans. From Manhattan to Roosevelt Island is 1,182 feet. The span across the island is 630 feet. The span from the island to Queens is 984 feet. The side spans are 469 and 459 feet with a total length between anchorages at 3,724 feet and total length including approaches measuring 7,449 feet. The spans over water are cantilever designs and until the opening of Quebec Bridge in 1917, the longer Manhattan to Roosevelt Island span was the longest cantilever span in the North America. The bridge is double-decker with the upper level having four lanes of automobile traffic. From there you can see the cantilever trusses. The lower level has five lanes. The North Outer Roadway was converted in 2000 to a strictly pedestrian and bicycle path.

The bridge needed extensive renovation, a process which began in 1987 and was finally completed in 2012 at a cost of $300 million. In 2009, when the bridge was 100 years old, a centennial celebration was carried out with several different events. It was listed by the American Society of Civil Engineers as an National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark during that year. The name changed the next year to honor New York City mayor, Ed Koch. This was not a universally accepted idea. Regardless of the name, the bridge is popular with those navigating through the area and over 175,000 vehicles cross it each day.

Slow down, you move too fast / You got to make the morning last / Just kicking down the cobblestones / Looking for fun and feeling groovy – lyrics from Simon and Garfunkle, The 59th Street Bridge Song

The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world. – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding. – John Updike

There is no question that there is an unseen world. The problem is, how far is it from midtown and how late is it open? – Woody Allen

Please Be Sure It Is in the Form of a Question

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 30, 2015

Jeopardy! board

March 30, 1964: A new game show airs on NBC. Jeopardy! was created by Merv Griffin with inspiration from his wife, Julann. It was originally called What’s the Question? and was hosted by Art Fleming. He hosted from this date until January 3, 1975 and then from October 2, 1978 until March 2, 1979 and never missed a taping. During his tenure, he earned two Emmy Award nominations. While Fleming was hosting, Don Pardo narrated from 1964 until 1975 and then John Harlen took over from the 1978-79 years. These years covered a total of 2,900 shows.

The premise of the game lies in the question/answer format. The answers are revealed when the contestant selects a category and dollar amount. The three players than must ring in for a chance to provide a question for which the answer would be correct. If they are correct, they earn the dollar amount displayed and if they are wrong, they lose that amount of money. There are Daily Doubles hidden on the board and only the person who selected the square has a chance to play and has to choose the dollar amount of the wager. After the first round, dollar amounts are doubled for the second round with six new categories. Final Jeopardy! has all three contestants playing (if they have any money to wager) and after the answer is revealed, they have thirty seconds to formulate the question.

Jeopardy! went into daily syndication on September 10, 1984 and remains so. Since that time, Alex Trebek has been host and Johnny Gilbert has been the announcer. In that time, there has been nearly 7,000 shows (6,829 at the end of the 2014 season). Trebek, a Canadian-American, hosted other game shows before coming to Jeopardy! The show has won a record 31 Daytime Emmy Awards and is the only game show to have received a Peabody Award. In 2013, the show was ranked as number 45 of the 60 greatest shows in American history, as published in TV Guide. There have been regional adaptations for broadcast in other countries. Their 31st daily syndicated season began on September 15, 2014.

Along with the regular show, there are special events staged. Beginning in 1985, an annual Tournament of Champions would bring the top fifteen champions since the previous tournament together to complete. The Teen Tournament began as a once-a-year event in 1987 and the College Championship was instituted in the 1988-89 season. This is played by undergrad students from American colleges and universities. The Teachers Tournament and Celebrity Jeopardy were added as were some special events such as Super Jeopardy!, specials dedicated to the number of season on the air, reunion tournaments, and international tournaments. Ken Jennings holds the record for the longest winning streak (in the early days, contestants were retired after five wins). Brad Rutter is the all-time money winner taking in $4,355,102 during his tenure.

Unless it’s an emergency, don’t bother me after 6:00 p.m. and on weekends. – Merv Griffin

It’s very important in life to know when to shut up. You should not be afraid of silence. – Alex Trebek

I think what makes ‘Jeopardy!’ special is that, among all the quiz and game shows out there, ours tends to encourage learning. – Alex Trebek

It’s so much fun that the money is just icing on the cake. There seems to be a lot of icing. – Ken Jennings

Also on this day: Pencil plus – In 1858, erasers were added to pencils.
Seward’s Folly – In 1867, the US purchased Alaska from Russia.
It’s a Knock Out – In 1842, a general anesthetic was first used for surgery.
Underground – In 1954, Toronto’s Yonge Street subway opened.
Fifteen – In 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment to the US Constitution was adopted.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 30, 2014
Fifteenth Amendment to the US Constitution

Fifteenth Amendment to the US Constitution

March 30, 1870: The Fifteenth Amendment to the US Constitution is adopted. The Amendment prohibits both federal and state governments from denying a citizen the right to vote regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude”. The issue of gender would take a while longer to overcome. As the American Civil War was coming to a close, Congress repeatedly debated what the rights of former slaves should be. In 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation was issued and in 1865 the Thirteenth Amendment was added to the Constitution, formally abolishing slavery. But what should happen with the freed slaves was still under debate.

Part of the issues stemmed from how congressional representation would be changed. The seats in the House of Representatives is calculated based on the population of the area in question. Prior to the War, slaves were counted as three-fifths of a person for this calculation. If freed slaves were going to be counted as whole people, it was imperative to give them a way to cast a vote to fill these newly established seats. The Reconstruction Era was rife with unrest on how to go about solving this new problem. Many Southern states adopted Black Codes to limit the participation of newly freed slaves in any of their own governance.

The Civil Rights Act of 1865 was passed in the hope of mitigating some of the rules from the new laws put in place by the whites controlling Southern state government. Blacks were restricted in their movements, forced into year-long labor contracts, unable to own firearms, and unable to sue or testify in courts. In short, the new laws were legally trying to keep the freed men in a slave-like condition. The Civil Rights Act passed Congress, but President Johnson vetoed it. Three weeks later, Congress overturned the veto and it became law – obviously with much work still to be done.

Next up was the Fourteenth Amendment which guaranteed citizenship to the freed slaves but purposely left out voting rights. Even so, it was bitterly contested and finally was adopted on July 28, 1868. Now the problem with voting was addressed. Worry about native-born and foreign-born citizens was also a concern but the 15th Amendment finally was approved by the House and then the Senate in February 1869. Nevada was the first to ratify it on March 1869 and the last state to ratify it was Tennessee, which finally cast a vote on April 8, 1997 having rejected it on November 16, 1869. While finally able, by law, to cast a vote did not entirely clear up the problem, it did pave the way for African-American men to be considered full citizens in the US.

Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. – Fifteenth Amendment of the US Constitution

Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation. – Fifteenth Amendment of the US Constitution

The Fifteenth Amendment does not confer the right of suffrage upon any one. It prevents the States, or the United States, however, from giving preference, in this particular, to one citizen of the United States over another on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. – the Supreme Court

[The passage of the amendment] confers upon the African race the care of its own destiny. It places their fortunes in their own hands. – James Garfield

Also on this day: Pencil plus – In 1858, erasers were added to pencils.
Seward’s Folly – In 1867, the US purchased Alaska from Russia.
It’s a Knock Out – In 1842, a general anesthetic was first used for surgery.
Underground – In 1954, Toronto’s Yonge Street subway opened.

Seward’s Folly

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 30, 2013
Alaska map superimposed over the lower 48 states

Alaska map superimposed over the lower 48 states

March 30, 1867: America buys Alaska. William H. Seward was the Governor of New York and then a US Senator; he became the Secretary of State in 1861 under President Abraham Lincoln. He was a vocal abolitionist and a great force within the newly formed Republican party. As John Wilkes Booth entered the President’s box at Ford Theater, Lewis Powell went to the Seward house. William had been involved in a serious carriage accident nine days earlier. Powell gained access by claiming to have medicine for the still-recovering man. Seward’s son was attacked on the stairway and left in critical condition. Seward was stabbed in the face and neck by the intruder, but survived. He bore the scars of the attack for the rest of his life.

He remained the Secretary of State under Andrew Jackson. He negotiated with Russia for the purchase of Alaska. The 586,412 square miles were purchased for $7,200,000 or 2¢/acre ($120 million adjusted for inflation). The purchase was dubbed “Seward’s Folly” or “Seward’s Icebox.” It was also known as Johnson’s “polar bear garden.” Today, Seward’s Day is celebrated on the last Sunday in March and the following Monday is a state holiday for government workers in Alaska.

Alaska was purchased in March, but the official surrender of the lands did not take place until October 18. The change of the colors took place in Sitka, the largest city in the US. (The city is approximately the size of Connecticut.) Legend says the Russian soldiers had difficulty lowering their flag. One soldier climbed the flagpole to release a knot and the Russian flag fluttered free and landed on a bayonet, speared. The new US flag was raised without difficulty. The natives of the area, the Tlingit, claim the Russians only owned Sitka and had no right to sell all of Alaska to anyone.

Alaska was first a district and became a territory on August 24, 1912 and then the 49th state on January 3, 1959. The capital is Juneau but there have been repeated attempts to move it to Anchorage, so far without success. Alaska covers as much area as Texas, California, Montana, and Idaho with a little left over. More people live in Alaska than in either North Dakota or Vermont. There are 12 times as many people living in New York City than in the entire State of Alaska and there are 23.5 times as many people living in Shanghai, China – the most populous city in the world.

“The image problems Alaska faces, and the global misconceptions of Alaska, are as great today as when Alaska was mislabeled Seward’s Folly.” – Rob Allyn

“To the lover of wilderness, Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world.” – John Muir

“The state of Alaska has been waiting a long time to let the United States of America, which they’re part of, share in their abundance of oil, and today we finally have said that it’s time.” – Pete Domenici

“Alaska is a land of great opportunity for scientific research.” – Charles Groat

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: Alaska is the largest state in overall area, but it is also one of the most spread out states and is larger by itself than all but 18 sovereign countries. It is larger than the 22 smallest US states combined and if placed over the 48 contiguous states, would stretch from one ocean to the other and nearly from the northern border to the south. The most populous region of Alaska is the South Central area with Anchorage being the largest city. It was settled in 1914 and the unified borough and city cover 1961 square miles. The city itself is home to about 226,000 but the metro area includes 381,000 residents. Juneau is larger and covers 3255 square miles (city and borough) but only has a population of 17,000 with a metro population of 32,000.

Also on this day: Pencil plus – In 1858, erasers were added to pencils.
It’s a Knock Out – In 1842, a general anesthetic was first used for surgery.
Underground – In 1954, Toronto’s Yonge Street subway opened.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 30, 2012

Yonge Street subway under construction

March 30, 1954: The Yonge Street subway opens. In 1861 Toronto Street Railway Company (TSRC) was granted a 30 year franchise by the City of Toronto. The private company would provide public transportation. Horse drawn streetcars were available during warmer months and horse drawn sleighs were used in the winter. Thirty years later, the City took over the service for a short time before writing another 30 year franchise to the still privately owned TSRC.

In 1892 the first electric streetcar was put into service and by 1894, all of Toronto was using them. In 1912 Toronto Civic Railway (TCR), a city department, began operation and expanded streetcar routes as Toronto itself grew. In 1920 Toronto Transportation Commission (TTC) was established as TSRC’s franchise was coming to term. TTC took control in 1921 and added 575 new Peter Witt streetcars and began to rebuild streetcar tracks. That same year the first motor buses were introduced.

TTC took over control of many of the greater metropolitan area transport systems and by the end of the 1920s was running bus lines, ferry services, and the streetcars. Services kept expanding and by 1933 new markers were used (white poles with red bands at top and bottom) and placed to identify stops. During World War II usage increased as women entered the job market. More traffic meant upgrades – again. After five years of construction, Canada’s first subway line opened on this date. Later that afternoon, the last streetcar was taken out of service.

Today called the Yonge – University – Spadina line, it is still in service and operated by the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC – renamed in 1954). It runs weekdays from 6 AM to 1:30 AM with changes in schedules for weekends and holidays. The line is 18.8 miles long now and has 32 stations. In 2009 a sweeping plan was announced to upgrade the system. Newer trains and more stops would be built and environmental concerns would be addressed. The plan will take about a decade to complete. There are many ways to pay for your trips on the subway: Metropass, weekly or daily passes, or a conventional pass. Fares are $3.00 for adults, $2.00 for seniors and students, and 75¢ for children.

No one is asking what happened to all the homeless. No one cares, because it’s easier to get on the subway and not be accosted. – Richard Linklater

You don’t look at each other on the subway. – Simon Pegg

Her logic was a combination of half-truths and clichés, her worldview a compound of misconceptions deriving from a history of our nation as written from the perspective of a subway tunnel. – John Kennedy Toole

I would solve a lot of literary problems just thinking about a character in the subway, where you can’t do anything anyway. – Toni Morrison

Also on this day:

Pencil plus – In 1858, erasers were added to pencils.
Seward’s Folly – In 1867, the US purchased Alaska from Russia.
It’s a Knock Out – In 1842, a general anesthetic was first used for surgery.

It’s a Knock Out

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 30, 2011

Anesthesia Machine today

March 30, 1842: Dr. Crawford Long first uses ether as a general anesthetic during a procedure to remove a tumor from a man’s neck. He placed an ether-soaked towel over the man’s face while he excised the lesion. Long charged $0.25 for the anesthetic and $2.00 for the surgery. Long was born in Danielsville, Georgia in 1815 and graduated from medical school in 1839.

Ether was discovered in 1275 by Raymundus Lullus and first synthesized in 1540 by Valerius Cordus. Ether can be and has been used recreationally. Long was probably introduced to the flammable liquid in med school during “ether frolics” which were deemed more acceptable than a drinking binge. Dr. Long used ether for many procedures but did not publish his findings until 1849. By that time, William Morton, a Boston dentist, had given a public demonstration of the wonder drug at Massachusetts General Hospital. Morton was given credit for discovering general anesthesia for years.

Incas had a method for decreasing pain perception. They had coca leaves to chew while holes were drilled in skulls to allow evil spirits to escape. Unfortunately, it was the doctor who chewed the cocaine containing leaves and then spit into the wound to dull the sensation while he continued to drill the holes. Patients in other parts of the world were given opium or specially treated wines to dull the pain of medical intervention.

Today, administering anesthesia is a whole medical specialty. Anesthesiologists are doctors who “pass gas” while anesthetists are specially trained nurses doing the same thing. Anesthesia is general – completely asleep or unconscious; regional – epidurals, spinals, and limb blocks such as a Bier block; and local – where a small area is injected with medication that deadens nerve endings in a small area.

“Oh, what delight for every feeling heart to find the new year ushered in with the announcement of this noble discovery of the power to still the sense of pain, and veil the eye and memory from all the horrors of an operation. … WE HAVE CONQUERED PAIN.” – from the People’s Journal of London

“Alcohol is the anesthesia by which we endure the operation of life.” – George Bernard Shaw

“It’s not the operation itself that is the concern, it’s the anesthesia. That’s a bigger risk than the operation.” – Sanjay Gupta

“Anyone who tells you it’s painless can only honestly be referring to the period the person is under anesthesia.” – Eric Collins

Also on this day:
Pencil plus – In 1858, erasers were added to pencils.
Seward’s Folly – In 1867, America bought Alaska.

Tagged with: ,

Pencil plus

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 30, 2010


March 30, 1858: US Patent number 19,783 is granted to Hyman L. Lipman of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for a pencil with an eraser attached. According to the patent, the pencil was made in the usual manner, except that one quarter of length was reserved for holding a piece of prepared India-rubber. This allowed the eraser to stay with the pencil for ease of use.

Pencils contain not only those handy erasers but the writing material as well. We commonly refer to the substance as lead, but it is in fact, graphite and has been since 1564 when a large graphite source was discovered in Borrowdale, England. Before graphite, the pencil wasn’t anything more than a piece of lead. With the introduction of this darker substance, a casing was needed to keep the graphite from breaking.

First the graphite was wrapped in string and finally it made its way inside a wooden casing. They were finally mass produced in Nuremberg, Germany starting in 1662. They were not painted because it was felt that the high quality wood casings were an advantage. The best source of graphite was found in China. The color yellow is a sign of royalty and respect in that country. In order to advertise that one’s pencils contained Chinese or superior graphite, manufacturers started painting them yellow.

Pencils are classified in various ways. The hardness, the blackness, and the fineness of the lead are indicated by letters or numbers, depending on where it is made. There are various types of pencils based on their marking materials (graphite, charcoal, carbon, colored, grease, and watercolor). Pencils are classified by their use (carpenter’s, copying, erasable color, non-reproducing, stenographer’s, and golf pencils). There are four different shapes (triangle, hexagon, round, and bendable). And there is a whole different class by manufacturer, especially based on mechanical pencils.

“Everyone makes mistakes. That’s why there is an eraser on every pencil.” – Japanese proverb

“To err is human, but when the eraser wears out ahead of the pencil, you’re overdoing it.” – Josh Jenkins

“The average pencil is seven inches long, with just a half-inch eraser – in case you thought optimism was dead.” – Robert Brault

“University President: Why is it that you physicists always require so much expensive equipment? Now the Department of Mathematics requires nothing but money for paper, pencils, and erasers…and the Department of Philosophy is better still. It doesn’t even ask for erasers.” – Isaac Asimov

Also on this day, in 1867 America bought Alaska.

Tagged with: ,