Little Bits of History

May 13

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 13, 2017

1958: Ben Carlin arrives in Montreal. Frederick Benjamin Carlin was born in Australia in 1912. His mother died when he was four. He eventually became an engineer, like his father. He enlisted in the Indian Army during World War II as he had been living in China at the time. He worked in the Army Corps of Engineers. At the end of the war, he met a Red Cross nurse from America. Back in Maryland they were married in 1948. During the War, there were many amphibious vehicles used and one of the was Ford GPA (modified version of the Ford GPW Jeep) and one was found in an army vehicle lot. Carlin opined the thing could be used for a trip around the world, after a bit of modification. The idea stuck with him even after he married. He suggested they honeymoon by crossing the Atlantic in one of these vehicles. They didn’t.

Carlin did manage to buy a 1942 Ford GPA at a government auction and paid $901 for it. He tried to get Ford to sponsor his trip but they declined. Carlin added many features to the original craft and christened it Half-Safe. Together, Mr. and Mrs. Carlin attempted to make their first transatlantic crossing in 1948 leaving Montreal and made it only as far as New Jersey. They tried again a month later and had to return. More mechanical issues halted their third attempt. The fourth time they made it to Halifax, Nova Scotia. They gave up for a time while they made even more modifications. On July 19, 1950, they made their way from Halifax to Flores, the most western island of the Azores. And so they continued on their journey.

They made their way ever eastward and got through the Straits of Gibraltar and then brought their craft on land and drove through several European countries. They were forced to travel in fits and starts, partly because of funding issues and partly due to mechanical concerns. They were able to partially fund their journey with proceeds from the book Carlin wrote about their trip so far. Half Safe: Across the Atlantic in a Jeep sold about 32,000 copies and was translated into five languages. They drove and sailed and eventually made their way to Perth, Australia where Carlin was able to meet up with some of his family. Mrs. Carlin was tired of the journey and left her husband to finish alone.

He took off toward Asia and island hopped northwards. In Burma, Barry Hanley joined the trip and they made it as far as Japan before Hanley returned home. In Tokyo, Boyé Lafayette de Mente from Phoenix, Arizona joined the trip and they headed off to Alaska. They made it with some trouble and drove onward. De Mente left the trip and Carlin continued onward, now on land. He met his wife in San Francisco and then drove across the northern part of the US and on to Canada. He made it back to Montreal on this day after a trip covering 11,000 miles on sea and 62,000 miles on land. Carlin is the first and only person to circumnavigate the globe in an amphibious vehicle.

Don’t do anything by half. If you love someone, love them with all your soul. When you go to work, work your ass off. When you hate someone, hate them until it hurts. – Henry Rollins

Bravery is the capacity to perform properly even when scared half to death. – Omar N. Bradley

Humans are amphibians – half spirit and half animal. As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time. – C. S. Lewis

They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but it’s not one half so bad as a lot of ignorance. – Terry Pratchett

Tour of Italy

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 13, 2015
Luigi Ganna

Luigi Ganna

May 13, 1909: The first Giro d’Italia (Tour of Italy) begins from Loreto Place in Milan. The stage race bicycle race continues to this day and remains primarily in Italy but does occasionally pass through nearby countries. The race was first proposed in 1908 when the newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport was hoping to increase sales. The paper’s rival, Corriere della Sera had just been successful holding an automobile race and Tullo Morgangni sent telegrams hoping to institute a similar race for bicycles. La Gazzetta lacked the funds but the paper’s owners realized previous successes in the field made it possible. The race was announced on August 7, 1908 with the race date the following May.

Organizers needed 25,000 lira to fund the event. Primo Bongrani, a friend of the organizers and an accountant at the local bank, was able to go around Italy and ask for donations to help fund the race, an early gofundme. He was successful and the operating costs were met. The prize money came from a casino in San Remo after a former Gazzetta employee convinced them to contribute to the race. Even Corriere gave 3000 lira to help the race effort. On this day, 127 riders began the eight stage race covering 1,521 miles. Only 49 riders finished and Italian Luigi Ganna was the first race’s winner. He won in three stages and the General Classification and won 5,325 lira. The last rider in the general classification won 300 lira. The race’s director was paid 150 lira a month – just as a point of comparison.

The race has been held yearly, except when interrupted by the two World Wars. The general classification is the most important of all classifications (including points and mountains classifications) for this race. Since 1931, the leader of the general classification has worn a pink jersey. Over the years, the classification system has been challenged and altered – and reverted back to the original method. The most wins of the general classification is a three way tie with Alfredo Binda, Fausto Coppi, and Eddy Merckx each winning five times. The first two are Italian and Eddy is Belgian. The most recent winner is Nairo Quintana from Colombia.

Luigi Ganna was born in 1883 and lived to be 73, dying in 1957. His biggest achievement in biking was this win, although he had also won prior to this event in the classic Milan – San Remo race. The 2014 Giro d’Italia was held from May 9 to June 1 and covered 2,141 miles. There were 21 stages with the race starting from Belfast with a 13.5 mile team time trial and ended in Trieste with a 106.9 mile flat stage. There were 198 riders from 22 teams entered. Quintana was the first Colombian to win the Giro. After three days in Ireland, the fourth day (a rest day) had the bikers moved to Italy where they were then able to ride from the “heel of the boot” up to the top, at Trieste for the finish.

Life is like a bicycle; you don’t fall off unless you stop pedaling. – Claude Pepper

Life is like a ten speed bicycle. Most of us have gears we never use. – Charles Schulz

Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race. – H. G. Wells

The bicycle is just as good company as most husbands and, when it gets old and shabby, a woman can dispose of it and get a new one without shocking the entire community. – Anna Louise Strong

Also on this day: Knork? Spork? – In 1637 Cardinal Richelieu changes table settings.
Star Light, Star Bright – In 1861, the Great Comet was first discovered.
Red Fort – In 1648, construction on the Red Fort was completed.
RFC – In 1912, the Royal Flying Corps was established in Britain.
Freedom Sails – In 1862, Robert Smalls sailed away in the USS Planter.

Freedom Sails

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 13, 2014
Robert Smalls

Robert Smalls

May 13, 1862: The USS Planter surrendered to the Union Navy. Robert Smalls was born a slave in 1839. On this date, he freed himself, his crew, and their families as they commandeered the ship and sailed it through Confederate lines and defected to the Union during the US Civil War. He sailed from the Charleston Harbor and broke through the Federal blockade to deliver the ship and now freed crew to help the Union. Born in Beaufort, Smalls’s master, Henry McKee, had sent him to Charleston, about 70 miles away to be leased out with the money earned returned to the master. Smalls eventually worked on the docks doing a variety of tasks until he became a wheelman – essentially a pilot of the ship, but a title reserved for whites only. He knew the harbor well.

In the fall of 1861, Smalls was assigned to steer CSS Planter. He served with diligence and on this night, the three white officers opted to spend the night ashore. At 3 AM, Smalls and seven of the eight enslaved crewmen decided to make a run toward the Union vessels and freedom. Smalls dressed in the captain’s uniform and donned a white straw hat similar to the captain’s. They backed the ship out of the Southern Wharf and stopped nearby to pick up their families who had been hiding and waiting for their rescue. They made their escape and brought to the Union not only the ship itself, but the four artillery pieces in the hold. Also aboard was a code book that revealed all the Confederate’s secret signals as well as mine and torpedo placements around the Charleston Harbor.

While still in the harbor, Smalls used proper signals so Confederate soldiers would not know he was stealing the ship. He sailed past five Confederate forts guarding the harbor, including Fort Sumter which was passed around 4.30 AM. As he neared the Federal blockade, he hoisted a white sheet. The first Union ship which approached was the USS Onward. As they prepared to fire, someone noticed the white flag and so Onward‘s captain approached and then boarded Planter. Smalls requested immediately to hoist the US flag and turned the ship over to the Union Navy.

Smalls was made captain of the ship which was moved to Fort Pulaski where more wood was available for the steamship. He was the first black man to command a United States ship and served in that capacity until 1866. On May 30, 1862, the US Senate and House passed a private bill granting Smalls and his African-American crew half the value of the Planter which was listed as $9000. The true valuation was $67,000 and how the government thought that any of it should be retained for themselves remains a mystery. Smalls moved back to South Carolina after the war and served as a member of the State House of Representatives for two terms and then moved on the US House for three more terms (non-consecutive). He died in Beaufort in 1915 at the age of 75.

My race needs no special defense, for the past history of them in this country proves them to be equal of any people anywhere. All they need is an equal chance in the battle of life. – Robert Smalls

You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today. – Abraham Lincoln

Desperation is the raw material of drastic change. Only those who can leave behind everything they have ever believed in can hope to escape. – William S. Burroughs

It is vain for the coward to flee; death follows close behind; it is only by defying it that the brave escape. – Voltaire

Also on this day: Knork? Spork? – In 1637 Cardinal Richelieu changes table settings.
Star Light, Star Bright – In 1861, the Great Comet was first discovered.
Red Fort – In 1648, construction on the Red Fort was completed.
RFC – In 1912, the Royal Flying Corps was established in Britain.

Star Light, Star Bright

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 13, 2013
Drawing of the Great Comet of 1861

Drawing of the Great Comet of 1861

May 13, 1861: A great comet is discovered by a then-amateur astronomer in New South Wales, Australia. John Tebbutt was the grandson of one of the early free settlers of Australia. He received an extensive education, all in religious schools. One of John’s early teachers, Mr. Edward Quaife, introduced the boy to the wonders found in the night sky. When John turned 19, he began a more earnest study of the heavens using only a marine telescope and a sextant. Nine years later, he first found the Great Comet of 1861, one of the most brilliant comets known.

Comets are small bodies orbiting the sun in an elliptical pattern. As they near the sun, a coma or atmosphere called a tail, becomes visible. The tail is the result of solar radiation on the comet’s nucleus. The nucleus is made of ice, dust, and small rocks. They are quite small, measuring from 30 feet to 25+ miles in diameter. Aristotle called them komētēs meaning “stars with hair.” There were 3,535 reported comets as of June 2008 with more being discovered all the time. The number of naked-eye comets averages one per year.

To be considered as Great, a comet must be visible to many people when simply looking up into the sky. This is the result of several factors. The size and material of the nucleus are important. The more retained volatile material left, the more spectacular the tail as the comet nears the sun. Another factor is how near the sun the comet approaches. As a comet’s distance from the sun is halved, it becomes 8 times as bright. A final factor is how near the comet is to Earth during its perihelion (nearest to sun) phase.

The Great Comet of 1861 has the official designation of C/1861 J1 or 1861 II. It was visible to the naked eye for three months and was one of 8 Great Comets in the 19th century. The comet passed so close to Earth, the planet was inside the tail for two days. Tebbutt not only saw it first, but also correctly calculated its orbit. The comet orbits the sun every 408 years. It should reach its aphelion, the farthest point from the sun, in 2063. The next time it comes back this way will be in the 23rd century.

“Astronomy compels the soul to look upwards and leads us from this world to another.” – Plato

“If you wish to study what the solar system is made of you study comets.” – Donald Yeomans

“The most significant finding is the nature of the surface of the comet. We now know that it isn’t covered in a hard crust. It’s a fine-grained, loosely glued layer of organic powder and ice. You couldn’t make a snowball on Tempel 1.” – Peter Schultz

“We have successfully collected samples from the comet and we’re bringing them home for analysis in laboratories all over the world.” – Don Brownlee

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: John Tebbutt was born in 1834. His father was a store keeper who retired from that profession around 1843. He purchased land at the end of town (Windsor) and built a house there. This is where John began observing the sky when he was 19. After discovering the Great Comet of 1861, he was able to purchase a 3.25 inch refracting telescope and continued his watchfulness. He was offered a government position but turned it down. By 1864, he built his own observatory near his father’s house and with his new telescope as well as two smaller ones, watched for meteors. He published his results for the years 1863-66 in 1868. He continued to publish his observations for the next thirty years. He upgraded his telescopes when he could. Before he died in 1916, he published Astronomical Memoirs which covered his 54 years of work.

Also on this day Knork? Spork? – In 1637 Cardinal Richelieu changes table settings.
Red Fort – In 1648, construction on the Red Fort was completed.
RFC – In 1912, the Royal Flying Corps was established in Britain.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 13, 2012

Royal Flying Corps

May 13, 1912: The Royal Flying Corps is established. The RFC was the over-land air branch of the British Army. King George V signed a royal warrant on April 13, 1912 calling for the establishment of a flying cadre to support ground troops. The Air Battalion of the Royal Engineers became the Military Wing of the Royal Flying Corps on this date. Their primary responsibility at inception was to support the British Army by coordinating artillery and using photographic reconnaissance. After meeting German pilots midair, the pilots first began tossing insults, then began tossing bricks. From that point, they went on to strafing runs and strategic bombing of ground targets.

Initial branch strength was set at 133 officers. By the end of 1912 twelve manned balloons and 36 airplanes were available to help with recon work to effect winning battle plans during World War I. They were under the control of the Director of Military Training which covered both land and sea operations. The Navy had different priorities than the Army and wanted greater control of aircraft. By 1914 the Royal Naval Air Service separated from the Army Royal Flying Corps, although both used the same flying school to train pilots and crew.

RFC’s first fatal crash came on July 5, 1912 when Captain Eustace B Loraine and Staff Sergeant R.H.V. Wilson were killed. An order stating, “Flying will continue this evening as usual” came down and so began a tradition. There were 150 squadrons formed while RFC remained active. Composition of a squadron was based on the role assigned to it with each commanded by a Captain. Squadrons were then formed into Wings. These would further be combined into Brigades and there were eight of these before the dissolution of the branch.

By the end of the war, the Royal Air Force (RAF) had been established. During the beginning years, pilots went from recon fights to armed battles. Overall, pilots for Britain had flown about 900,000 hours on operations. They had dropped 6,942 tons of bombs. RFC claimed 7,054 German aircraft had been destroyed. All this came at a cost with 9,378 Corpsmen killed or missing in action and another 7,245 wounded. There were 5,182 pilots in service at the end of the war with only 2% of them belong to the RAF. Today’s RAF has 41,330 active personnel and 827 aircraft at their command.

Another popular fallacy is to suppose that flying machines could be used to drop dynamite on an enemy in time of war. – William H. Pickering, ‘Aeronautics,’ 1908

When my brother and I built the first man-carrying flying machine we thought that we were introducing into the world an invention which would make further wars practically impossible. – Orville Wright

To affirm that the aeroplane is going to ‘revolutionize’ navel warfare of the future is to be guilty of the wildest exaggeration. – Scientific American, 16 July 1910.

Aviation is fine as a sport. But as an instrument of war, it is worthless. – General Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superiure de Guere, 1911

Also on this day:

Knork? Spork? – In 1637 Cardinal Richelieu changes table settings.
Star Light, Star Bright – In 1861, the Great Comet was first discovered.
Red Fort – In 1648, construction on the Red Fort was completed.

Red Fort

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 13, 2011

Red Fort (photo by Svnitbharath)

May 13, 1648: Construction on Delhi’s Red Fort is complete. It is also sometimes called Lal Qil’ah or Lal Qila. It was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in the walled city of Old Delhi and served as the home to the Imperial Family of India. It was also the capital of the Mughals until 1857. At that time, the Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, found himself exiled by the British Indian government.

Red Fort is a complex of buildings and is comprised of not only beautiful architecture, but much ornamental work as well. It merges Persian, European, and Indian artistic influences which resulted in a uniquely Shahjahani style. Even before national efforts to maintain the historic site, the buildings were maintained locally leaving them in better condition today than otherwise would have occurred. One enters the compound by the Lahore Gate which leads to a long covered bazaar lined with shops. This street is called Chatta Chowk and it leads to a large open space originally used for the fort’s military functions. The military was on the west and the palace was located in the east. The southern end is the Delhi Gate.

There are several important structures included at the site. The Diwan-i-Aam is a gate. Behind it lies a second open space used for large imperial audiences. The Diwan-i-Khas is a pavilion. It is clad completely in marble and the pillars are beautifully carved and set with semi-precious stones. The Nahr-i-Behisht are the imperial private apartments. Running through all these pavilions is a continuous water channel running to the river Yamuna. Zenana is the women’s quarters and Moti Masjid is the mosque. Hayah Bakhsh Bagh is a large formal garden.

Today, the Red Fort is a tourist attraction with thousands of visitors coming each year. On August 15 each year, the Prime Minister of India addresses the nation and does so from this location. There is a sound and light show describing the Mughal history and is part of the tourist attractions offered each evening. While it is still in great shape overall, some of the features have decayed with time and others have been harmed by vandals and looters. At one point home to 3,000 people, the residential palaces were destroyed by the British after they captured the fort in 1857.

“But nothing in India is identifiable, the mere asking of a question causes it to disappear or to merge in something else.” – E. M. Forster

“Europe is merely powerful; India is beautiful.” – Savitri Devi

“I like the evening in India, the one magic moment when the sun balances on the rim of the world, and the hush descends, and ten thousand civil servants drift homeward on a river of bicycles, brooding on the Lord Krishna and the cost of living.” – James Cameron

“In India, one has to plan according to the monsoons.” – Roland Joffe

Also on this day:
Knork? Spork? – In 1637 Cardinal Richelieu changes table settings.
Star Light, Star Bright – In 1861, the Great Comet was first discovered.

Tagged with: ,

Knork? Spork?

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 13, 2010

Cardinal Richelieu

May 13, 1637: Cardinal Richelieu creates a table knife by rounding the points off every knife used at his table. Up to this point, daggers were used both to cut food and to pick teeth after eating. Armand Jean du Plessis was consecrated as a bishop in 1608 at the age of 23. He entered politics and became a Secretary of State in 1616. He rose in both careers and became a cardinal in 1622 and the first Chief Minister of the French King in 1624. He was a great patron of the arts and enjoyed the theater, at the time a rather disreputable venture. The man himself was also an author of both political and religious works and he sponsored the playwright Pierre Corneille. Richelieu began the Académie fancaise, the premier French literary society. He was also Miss Manners’ predecessor.

Spoons have been in use since prehistoric times, probably first using shells as scoops. The Greek and Latin words for spoon are related to a specific type of shell. In China, food was chopped to bite sized pieces prior to cooking negating the need for any knives at table so chopsticks were introduced 5000 years ago.

Forks were used by ancient Greeks to help hold meat in place while carving and for serving; they had two tines. By the 600s, forks were being used at table in the royal courts of the Middle East. The custom spread through Europe over the centuries. Forks as eating utensils were brought to England in 1533 along with Catherine de Medici. Both the French and English commoners thought the fad was an affectation and relied on the tried and true method of using their hands instead.

With each addition of cutlery to the proper table has come the rules for using same. Which knife or fork is to be used when and with what types of foods is strictly written down by manners mavens. It is easy to remember to work from the outside in, and using both a knife and fork for each course. So dining can be pleasurable. Setting the table is problematic.

Formal table setting

“Is it progress if a cannibal uses a knife and fork?” – Stanislaw Lem

“Nobody knows the age of the human race, but everybody agrees that it is old enough to know better.” – unknown

“Never offend people with style when you can offend them with substance.” – Sam Brown

“Manners require time, and nothing is more vulgar than haste.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Also on this day, in 1861 an Australian amateur astronomer discovered the Great Comet of 1861.