Little Bits of History

May 20

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 20, 2017

1521: The Battle of Pampeluna takes place. The battle was a part of the Italian War of 1521-26 and is sometimes called the Four Years War. France (with the help of Swiss mercenaries) and Venice were up against the Holy Roman Empire, Spain, England, and the Papal States. Charles V was elected as Holy Roman Emperor with backing from Pope Leo X as a means of repressing Martin Luther. The French-Navarrese expedition tried to reconquer Navarre, unsuccessfully and the Pope, Emperor, and Henry VIII signed an agreement against France and took up, once again, fighting in the Italian Peninsula and northeast France.

Pampeluna, also known as Pamplona, is in northern Spain, close to the French border. It is the capital city of Navarre, which was at this time in history, the Kingdom of Navarre. The small kingdom was sandwiched between Castile and Aragon with France to the north and with small pockets of English ruled lands around it. The French backed the Navarrese as they took up arms against the invading Spanish (both Castile and Aragon). On this day, Inigo Lopez de Loyola, was seriously injured when a Navarrese cannonball shattered his legs. The soldier so impressed the opposition with his bravery, tradition says they carried him all the way back to his hometown, Loyola.

The injuries required a long recovery time and during his imposed bed rest, he began meditations. This in turn, helped him turn his life around and he left the world of warriors and began his life as a priest. The man from Castile is known to us today as Ignatius of Loyola. He was born in 1491, the youngest of 13 children. His mother died soon after his birth. As a boy, he became a page in the service of a relative, the treasurer of the kingdom of Castile. He became enchanted by the stories of El Cid and joined the army at age 17. He was known as flamboyant young man, womanizer, and violent. With age, he became more diplomatic and came into the service of the Duke of Najera. After his injury, he returned home, underwent several surgeries to “fix” his legs (no anesthesia at the time) and eventually recovered, although one leg was shorter and he always walked with a limp.

As he recovered, he decided to redirect his life to the service of God and hoped to convert infidels in the Holy Land. A year later, when he could walk again, he went to a Benedictine monastery and had a vision. He hung up his sword and began to seriously study. He gathered together with six companions who worked together to form the Society of Jesus, aka the Jesuits. Their dedication to evangelism and apostolic ministry is legendary with founding of schools, colleges, universities, and seminaries around the globe. They are known for their intellectual research as well as piety and service. Ignatius of Loyola died in Rome in 1556 at the age of 64. He was beatified in 1609 and canonized a saint in 1622.

One rare and exceptional deed is worth far more than a thousand commonplace ones.

It is not hard to obey when we love the one whom we obey.

Teach us to give and not to count the cost.

Be slow to speak, and only after having first listened quietly, so that you may understand the meaning, leanings, and wishes of those who do speak. Thus you will better know when to speak and when to be silent. – all from Ignatius of Loyola

Meter or Metre – Or Yard

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 20, 2015
Pavillon de Breteuil

Pavillon de Breteuil

May 20, 1875: The Metre Convention or Treaty of the Metre is signed at the Pavillon de Breteuil. The international treaty was signed in Paris by representatives from 17 nations. The purpose was to coordinate international metrology (the science of measurement) and to develop the metric system. In England, in 1215, clause 25 of the Magna Carta set out standards of measurement throughout the realm. In 1707 when Scotland and England were joined into one kingdom, the Scots agreed to follow the prevailing British measuring system. Later in the century, Peter the Great, in order to facilitate trade between Britain and Russia, also adopted the British measurement system. Abuse of the units of measurements was one of the causes of the French Revolution.

Talleyrand, at the orders of the National Assembly of France, invited both British and American scientists to participate in establishing a new measurement system but was snubbed and so the Assembly introduced both the meter and the kilogram – the beginnings of the metric system – on their own. They made prototypes and in 1799 they were admitted to the Archives. Over the course of the decades, many other nations also adopted the metric system including Spain, the Netherlands, many South American republics and many of the Italian and German states. The International Postal Union adopted grams for permitted weights in 1863.

By the 1860s the prototypes were showing wear and some flexibility making them less than completely accurate. Napoleon III invited scientists from all over the world to participate in a conference concerning measurements but unfortunately, the Franco-Prussian War broke out and while they met, they did so without any German presence and decided to postpone any changes. A conference was convened in 1875 and members were tasked with defining international standards and prototypes created. They also created three organizations: the General Conference on Weights and Measures, the International Committee for Weights and Measures, and the International Bureau of Weights and Measures.

At the sixth meeting of the General Conference on Weights and Measures held in 1921, it was decided to cover all physical measurements instead of just length and weight. At the eleventh meeting in 1960, the system of units was overhauled and resulted in new criteria presented as the International System of Units or SI. SI covers the measurement of temperature, time, length, mass, luminous intensity, amount of substance, and electric current. Printing of symbols used in descriptions are also standardized with clarification for languages not using an alphabet (Chinese, Japanese, and Korean) as well how these should be displayed while printing.

I think that a particle must have a separate reality independent of the measurements. That is an electron has spin, location and so forth even when it is not being measured. I like to think that the moon is there even if I am not looking at it. – Albert Einstein

Accurate and minute measurement seems to the non-scientific imagination, a less lofty and dignified work than looking for something new. But nearly all the grandest discoveries of science have been but the rewards of accurate measurement and patient long-continued labour in the minute sifting of numerical results. – Lord Kelvin

Cold! If the thermometer had been an inch longer we’d all have frozen to death! – Mark Twain

Thus the metric system did not really catch on in the States, unless you count the increasing popularity of the 9mm bullet. – Dave Barry

Where’s … Waldo? – In 1570, the first modern atlas was published.
We Believe – In 325, the Council of Nicea opened.
I Feel the Need for Speed – In 1899, a NYC cabbie was jailed for speeding.
Sonnets – In 1609, Shakespeare’s sonnets were published.
From Disaster to Inspiration – In 1896, a chandelier fell at Palais Garnier.

From Disaster to Inspiration

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 20, 2014
Palais Garnier

Palais Garnier

May 20, 1896: The chandelier falls. The Palais Garnier is an opera house located in Paris, France. It was built between 1861 and 1875 for the Paris Opera, the primary opera company of France. It was built on Boulevard des Capucines in the 9th arrondissement of Paris and was originally called Salle des Capucines because of location. It soon became known as Palais Garnier in recognition of the architect, Charles Garnier. His opulent building was highly appreciated by those attending performances. Built during the Second Empire, it was the most expensive opera house to build along with being called “unquestionably a masterpiece of the first rank.”

On this date, one of the counterweights for the chandelier came free and broke through the ceiling into the auditorium below. It killed one member of the audience. It also served as an inspiration for Gaston Leroux in his classic 1910 gothic novel, The Phantom of the Opera. It was used by Andrew Lloyd Webber in his musical of the same name as well. The entire story was placed inside the opera house and it is one of the reasons it remains one of the most widely recognized opera houses in the world.

On December 30, 1860, Napoleon III announced a design competition for the building of an opera house for the Paris Opera, since their building had been destroyed by fire decades before. Their temporary home was no longer good enough. Applicants were given a month to submit entries and there were two phases for the competition and 171 entrants managed to complete the first phase. There were five finalists chosen and only four of these actually finished the final submission which was much more rigorous. The directions were received on April 28 and on May 29, 1861, Garnier’s was chosen for its “rare and superior qualities in the beautiful distribution of the plans, the monumental and characteristic aspect of the facades and sections”.

The site was excavated from August 27 to December 31, 1861 but even with pumps running continuously after October, the ground would not dry. Garnier solved the problem by building a double foundation to protect the superstructure from moisture (and make a great hiding place for a Phantom later). The cornerstone was laid on July 21, 1862. The style is unlike other building and when Empress Eugenie asked the not-yet-famous Garnier what style it was supposed to be, since it was unlike those in use at the time, the clever man replied, “Why Ma’am, it’s Napoleon Trois.” The building’s opulence is truly one of a kind.

I call architecture frozen music. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Every great architect is – necessarily – a great poet. He must be a great original interpreter of his time, his day, his age. – Frank Lloyd Wright

We require from buildings two kinds of goodness: first, the doing their practical duty well: then that they be graceful and pleasing in doing it. – John Ruskin

Architecture is the art of how to waste space. – Philip Johnson

Also on this day: Where’s … Waldo? – In 1570 the first modern atlas is published.
We Believe – In 325, the Council of Nicea opened.
I Feel the Need for Speed – In 1899, a NYC cabbie was jailed for speeding.
Sonnets – In 1609, Shakespeare’s sonnets were published.

We Believe

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 20, 2013
Council of Nicea

Council of Nicea

May 20, 325: The first Ecumenical Council of the Christian Church is held at Nicæa, Bithynia. Roman Emperor Constantine I called for the council. He was Emperor of Rome from 306 although with some dispute. He solidified his rule by 324. He was born a pagan and converted to Christianity about age 40. Christians had been persecuted in Rome from at least 64 AD. When Constantine took the throne, the early church was free to grow.

There were several different “brands” of Christianity as practiced in various regions. The council was called to help the young church establish and set doctrines. There were between 250 and 318 in attendance (1,800 were invited) with Alexander of Alexandria presiding. One of the tenets to be decided upon was the nature of Jesus Christ. Arius, a priest from Alexandria, had been teaching Jesus was not one with God the Father, but invoked and brought to life only at conception. Since 318, Alexander and Arius had been in dispute over this issue. The council took a vote and only 2 members supported Arius.

The next issue was when to celebrate the Resurrection. The Bishops wanted to separate the feast of Easter from the Hebrew calendar’s celebration of Passover. The council did not set a concrete date or methodology to arrive at a date, but left the decision up to local dioceses. Eventually, another council would decide the matter.

What the council is most noted for is the codification of the Christian doctrine. They clarified and condensed the underpinnings of Christianity into the Nicene Creed. They established the eternal divinity of Jesus. They professed Jesus’ dual nature stating he became man and was killed on Earth only to rise from the dead and then ascend into heaven. There were 20 new Church laws or Canons established. The first of these banned self-castration. There were also administrative issues dealing with the hierarchy and funding of the church. The issues of heretical teachings were also addressed. The council ended on July 25, 325.

“We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten of the Father, that is, of the substance of the Father, God of God, light of light, true God of true God, begotten not made, of the same substance with the Father, through whom all things were made both in heaven and on earth; who for us men and our salvation descended, was incarnate, and was made man, suffered and rose again the third day, ascended into heaven and cometh to judge the living and the dead.” – beginning of the Nicene Creed

“The emperor himself, in very respectful letters, begged the bishops of every country to come promptly to Nicaea.” – Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913

“But if anyone in good health has castrated himself, if he is enrolled among the clergy he should be suspended, and in future no such man should be promoted.” – Canon 1

“This great synod absolutely forbids a bishop, presbyter, deacon or any of the clergy to keep a woman who has been brought in to live with him, with the exception of course of his mother or sister or aunt, or of any person who is above suspicion.” – Canon 3

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Constantine the Great or Constantine I or even Saint Constantine was born in 272 in what is present day Serbia. The amount of writing extant concerning this pivotal ruler is quite extensive. However, there is much politicization and propaganda including in the writings. Writings reflect more of the attitude of the author with some political Christian pamphlets and ecclesiastical histories giving a less than fair and balanced review of the leader’s life. There are also secular political tracts surviving which suffer the same fate with the authors’ biases in evidence. His place in history is quite prominent partly because of his geopolitical gains and partly because of his religious beliefs.  

Also on this day Where’s … Waldo? – In 1570 the first modern atlas is published.
I Feel the Need for Speed – In 1899, a NYC cabbie was jailed for speeding.
Sonnets – In 1609, Shakespeare’s sonnets were published.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 20, 2012

Possibly William Shakespeare

May 20, 1609: A book of poems purportedly by William Shakespeare is published. The title page reads “SHAKE-SPEARS SONNETS; Never before Imprinted.” There are 154 sonnets included in the work. Two of them (Sonnets 138 and 144) had been published in 1599 and the other 152 had never been printed previous to the edition put out by T. T. The publisher is thought to be Thomas Thorpe and it is unknown if the manuscript was authorized or not. There is an odd dedication to Mr. W. H which is signed by T.T. Mr. W. H.’s identity is unknown but several names have been offered as possibilities: William Herbert (Earl of Pembroke), Henry Wriothesley (Earl of Southampton), William Harvey, William Hall, Willie Hughes, Shakespeare himself, and other.

Sonnets 1 through 126 are written to a young man with the first 17 encouraging him to marry and procreate, to share his beauty with posterity. Sonnets 18-126 have the poet expressing his love for the young man. Some give a platonic explanation for these poems while others contend Shakespeare was homosexually involved. Sonnets 127-152 are written to the poet’s mistress with another aspect of love surfacing. The final two sonnets are allegories. The final sonnets, about the last thirty, point to issues of love – the young man and the mistress engaged in infidelity, control of the poet’s lust, issue with the world at large.

There is ongoing debate about who wrote William Shakespeare’s entire body of work. Some say there was one other writer, others point to a group of writers. There is little biographical information about the Bard of Avon and no reliable image exists today allowing us to know what he looked like. There are some paintings believed to be Shakespeare, but they are not verified. His vocabulary was vast with ≈ 29,000 different words used in his writing. Some point to his lack of formal university education being at odds with his brilliant use of the English language.

Shakespeare not only wrote poetry, he also wrote a variety of plays. He wrote twelve comedies, eleven tragedies, ten histories and five romances. William married Anne Hathaway in 1582. The couple had three children. Then in 1585, all record of Shakespeare ends until he showed up in London in 1592, a period known as the “Lost Years.” There is little hard fact about the literary great and much speculation continues. The works, whoever wrote them, are enduring.

From fairest creatures we desire increase, / That thereby beauty’s rose might never die, – from Sonnet 1

O thou, my lovely boy, who in thy power / Dost hold Time’s fickle glass, his sickle, hour; – from Sonnet 126

If it were, it bore not beauty’s name; / But now is black beauty’s successive heir, – from Sonnet 127

In loving thee thou know’st I am forsworn, / But thou art twice forsworn, to me love swearing,: – from Sonnet 152, all from William Shakespeare

Also on this day:

Where’s … Waldo? – In 1570 the first modern atlas is published.
We Believe – In 325, the Council of Nicea opened.
I Feel the Need for Speed – In 1899, a NYC cabbie was jailed for speeding.

I Feel the Need for Speed

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 20, 2011

Speed limit sign

May 20, 1899: New York City cab driver, Jacob German is arrested and jailed for speeding. His electric taxi was moving at the horrific rate of twelve miles per hour. This led to the first enactment of a speed limit for cars in the US. Connecticut passed a law in 1901 limiting speeds to 12 mph in the city and a much more lenient speed of 15 mph outside city limits. It was not the first speed limit in the New World. In 1652, New Amsterdam passed a law against wagons, carts, and sleighs being run, rode, or driven at a gallop. Drivers and conductors of wagons, carts, and sleighs within the city had to walk next to their vehicles and lead the horse, or be fined what would amount to about $150 today. Fines were doubled and tripled on subsequent infractions and restitution for damages was also enforced.

Up until 1973, speed limits were set by each state rather than for the country as a whole. Some states had limits as high as 75 mph with Kansas lowering to this speed from 80 mph. In 1973, there was an oil crisis when in October OPEC nations plus Egypt, Syria, and Tunisia declared an oil embargo. This was retaliation for the US’s resupply of the Israeli military during the Yom Kippur war. The embargo stayed in place until March 1974.

By the end of November 1973, the country was feeling the effects of a limited crude oil supply. President Nixon proposed a 50 mph national speed limit for cars while trucks and buses could speed along at 55 mph. He also wanted to ban ornamental lighting and gasoline sales on Sunday. Other measures were listed, as well. Truckers stated different speed limits for different vehicle types were not safe. Nixon signed the Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act on January 2, 1974 and made it mandatory to lower limits to 55 mph if states wanted to receive federal funding for road repair.

The drop in speed limits were supposed to save gas during this crisis but were also supposed to saves lives as we all traveled at safer speeds. There was, according to one study, an 83% noncompliance rate with the new law. Speeding tickets were lucrative for the patrols monitoring the nation’s highways. Some states were less amenable to federal interference and while they lowered the speed limits, they did not enforce them. There were minimal fines unless one was ticketed for exceeding the speed limits than had been in place before the enactment of the Act. The law was repealed in 1995 with many states resuming their limits pre-1974, a few raising them, and few lowering them.

“A lot of cars are built to go faster than the speed limit allows, but that doesn’t mean it’s legal to do so.” – Wayne Dellinger

“I have never had an accident, but I really have to be cautious. I drive slower now, and I also watch the speed limit.” – Arlene Melton

“There’s already a law in place for speed limits, and that’s a safe operating speed. It (a speed limit) doesn’t solve a darn thing. We just knew it was a Band-Aid fix to a much larger problem.” – Jim Marsh

“The speed limit will be 22 miles per hour, day-to-day, and 28 (mph) for corporate outings and go-cart clubs. At 22 mph, you’ll think you’re flying.” – Dan Taylor

Also on this day:
Where’s … Waldo? – In 1570 the first modern atlas is published.
We Believe – In 325, the Council of Nicea opened.

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Where’s … Waldo?

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 20, 2010

Theatrum Orbis Terrarum - Theater of the World

May 20, 1570: Gilles Coppens de Diest at Antwerp issues Abraham Ortelius’ Theatrum Orbis Terrarum – the first modern atlas containing 53 maps of the world. There were Latin, Dutch, French, and German editions printed. The atlas listed 87 authors for the enclosed maps and it remained in demand until 1612.

In 1573, seventeen supplementary maps were published. Even with frequent updates, due to the rate of discovery at the time, the outlines for North and South America were incorrect. Earlier map books were based on the Ptolemy’s Geographia from the second century AD. These maps contained the Mediterranean basin with Europe and Asia as well as Northern Africa. The Americas were entirely unknown at the time.

The accuracy in mapmaking improved over time. With more exploration of the globe, more data was obtained to improve at least the coastline shape. Technology helped shape maps by providing tools that gave more accurate measurements, such as the telescope and sextant. Perspective was a problem, as well. With modern air and space technology, maps can be generated from above the location.

Problems with cartography include taking three dimensional landmasses and placing them on a two dimensional sheet of paper. Globes give a more accurate picture of land masses than maps do. There is also difficulties with naming conventions. Some difficulties arise when there are two names for the same place as Gdansk or Danzig, Poland. There can also be issues when making a map in writing style and translating names from a different style, as from Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet. As power shifts occur, naming of places and even whole nations can change, making maps obsolete. With improved technology, our maps are more accurate today, but even so, rivers erode and change course, coastlines change after storms or with daily erosion, earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis all change the topography. The shifting Earth doesn’t hold still for time or tide.

“A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing.” – Oscar Wilde

“The world can doubtless never be well known by theory: practice is absolutely necessary; but surely it is of great use to a young man, before he sets out for that country, full of mazes, windings, and turnings, to have at least a general map of it, made by some experienced traveler.” – Lord Chesterfield

“You can always tell a Midwestern couple in Europe because they will be standing in the middle of a busy intersection looking at a wind-blown map and arguing over which way is west. European cities, with their wandering streets and undisciplined alleys, drive Midwesterners practically insane.” – Bill Bryson

“Two important characteristics of maps should be noticed. A map is not the territory it represents, but, if correct, it has a similar structure to the territory, which accounts for its usefulness.” – Alfred Korzybski

“If the map doesn’t agree with the ground, the map is wrong.” – Gordon Livingston

Also on this date:
In 325, the
Council of Nicea began.
In 1899, the first
speeder in America was ticketed.

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