Little Bits of History

May 23

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 23, 2017

1906: Henrik Ibsen dies at the age of 78. He was born into a prosperous merchant family in Skien, Grenland, Norway. The family ancestors were Danish ship captains who settled in the port town and became merchants. When Henrik was seven, his father lost most of the family fortune and they were forced to move into their rural summer house and sell off most of the family holdings. The family’s misfortune would later turn up in several of the playwright’s work. Henrik’s father married into his step-father’s family and Henrik was also intrigued with what he called their “strange, almost incestuous marriage” which also became a topic for later plays.

When he was 15, Henrik was forced by economics to leave school and become an apprentice pharmacist in Grimstad. He would never return to his home town. He also began writing plays at the time. At age 18, he fathered an illegitimate child who he monetarily supported but never saw. Instead, he left for the big city, what would eventually be called Oslo, and hoped to matriculate into university. He was unable to pass the entrance exams and so continued writing plays. His first play was published under a pseudonym in 1850 when he was 22. It was never performed. His first play to make it the stage was also in 1850 and it was not a hit. He continued writing, without much success.

Ibsen was employed at Det Norske Theater for the next several years and was part of 145 plays as writer, director, and producer. During the time, he published five more unremarkable plays. Although still not a writing success, he gathered experience of the theater which would be useful later. He returned to Oslo for a job at Christiania Theatre, married, and his son was born. Still unsuccessful, he moved to Italy to begin a 27 year self-imposed exile. In 1865 he finally wrote his first acclaimed play, Brand. Two years later, Peer Gynt, influenced by his reading of philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, was produced. With success, Ibsen began to include even more of his own beliefs and judgments into what he called the “drama of ideas”.

He went on to write many impressive and still performed plays. Shakespeare is the only playwright with more plays still being performed. During the 20th century, the most performed play was A Doll’s House which Ibsen wrote in 1879. The controversial play explored women’s roles in marriage and allowed the wife/mother an escape from her bonds in order to find her true self outside the confines imposed by society. Many of his later works were considered scandalous at the time. Ibsen returned to Norway in 1891, but it was not the same place he had left decades before. Life was modernizing. He suffered several strokes during the 1900s and succumbed to the accumulative effects, on this day.

A forest bird never wants a cage.

A thousand words will not leave so deep an impression as one deed.

Never wear your best trousers when you go out to fight for freedom and truth.

Castles in the air – they are so easy to take refuge in. And so easy to build too. – all from Henrik Ibsen

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Federal Labor Union

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 23, 2015
Louis F. Budenz - 1947 *

Louis F. Budenz – 1947 *

May 23, 1934: The Battle of Toledo begins. The American Federation of Labor (AFL) was the first federation of labor unions in the US, founded in 1886 in Columbus, Ohio. The National Industrial Recovery Act passed on June 16, 1933 and it led to an increase in unions organizing throughout the country. AFL President William Green wanted to focus on the automotive industry since they had been able to get more attention in the press. The AFL began with the merging of craftsmen and auto workers who were using mass production methods and industrial unionism appealed to them. The AFL wished to be their voice and in that attempt were successful in getting an FLU (Federal Labor Union) at Buick and Hudson Motor Car Company in March 1934. They also had two FLUs at Fisher Body for a total of about 32,500 workers under their protection.

The four automotive FLUs threatened to strike if they were not recognized by management and demands met. President Roosevelt was afraid that an automotive strike would cripple efforts to end the Great Depression and so offered to negotiate. A solution was reached, but the AFL’s weak stance led to more than 14,000 workers leaving the union. The city of Toledo, Ohio had been devastated by the Depression when their largest employer, Willy-Overland, a car manufacturer, declared bankruptcy and the largest bank in the city collapsed. The city itself was near bankrupt and laid off hundreds of workers including 150 police. Toledo had a 70% unemployment rate.

Electric Auto-Lite Company was represented by FLU 18384 who also represented two other companies, both subsidiaries of Auto-Lite, and a third company which was unrelated. Because of this, if one company had a strike, the others would remain working and the union would remain solvent. FLU 18384 authorized a strike against Auto-Lite on April 12, 1934 and they were joined by the American Workers Party where Louis Budenz was executive secretary. He was a leading force in the strike in Toledo. The striking workers were joined by unemployed men from the AWP and effectively blockaded the company’s facility.

On this day, with about 10,000 people picketing or watching the picketers, the sheriff had Budenz and four picketers arrested. As they were led away, a policemen began beating an old man and the crowd retaliated by throwing bricks and rocks. Soon an outright riot was in progress. The next day, at 5.30 AM, the Ohio National Guard was called out. Former President Taft’s son was brought in to mediate, unsuccessfully. The rioting continued for five days with two people killed and more than 200 injured. Other unions throughout the area backed up the strikers. Taft continued to work with both sides to reach an agreement which finally came on June 3. The union won some wage increases and when the company agreed to rehire all striking workers, a second strike was averted.

It is not the job of the Civil Service to get unions to accept government policy. Since governments change their policy all the time and unions never change theirs at all, it makes much more sense for us to get the government to accept union policy. – Sir Humphrey Appleby

Although it is true that only about 20 percent of American workers are in unions, that 20 percent sets the standards across the board in salaries, benefits and working conditions. If you are making a decent salary in a non-union company, you owe that to the unions. One thing that corporations do not do is give out money out of the goodness of their hearts. – Molly Ivins

When you have people together who believe in something very strongly — whether it’s religion or politics or unions – things happen. – Cesar Chavez

With all their faults, trade-unions have done more for humanity than any other organization of men that ever existed. – Clarence Darrow

Also on this day: Patience and Fortitude – In 1911, the main Research Library of the New York Public Library was dedicated.
Aaagh, Pirates – In 1701, Captain Kidd was hanged for piracy.
Two for the Price of One – In 1785, Ben Franklin claimed to have invented bifocals.
Squeezebox – In 1829, a patent for an accordion was granted to Cyrill Demian.
Bonnie and Clyde – In 1934, the two criminals were killed in an ambush.

* “Louis F. Budenz (1947)” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia –

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Bonnie and Clyde

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 23, 2014
Bonnie and Clyde

Bonnie and Clyde

May 23, 1933: A crime spree is stopped. Bonnie Elizabeth Parker (born October 1, 1910) and Clyde Chestnut Barrow (born March 24, 1909) were both from the Dallas, Texas area. Bonnie was the middle child in her family and her father died when she was four. Her mother moved the family to live with her parents and found work as a seamstress. Bonnie was a brilliant student and won top prizes in several categories. She dropped out of school her sophomore year and married Ray Thornton on September 25, 1926. They last saw each other in January 1929 but they never divorced. She moved back home and became a waitress often serving Ted Hinton who would later join the police department and help in her ambush.

Clyde was the fifth of seven children born to a poor farmer and they came to the Dallas region in the early 1920s as part of a resettlement from the impoverished suburban farms only to find themselves in the urban slums. The lived under their wagon for months until they could move into a tent. Clyde’s first arrest came in 1926 when he failed to return a rental car. He became a professional criminal with a long arrest record until he finally was sent to Eastham Prison Farm in April 1930 where he beat to death a man who was sexually assaulting him – his first murder. He was paroled in 1932. He was no longer looking for fame by robbing banks, but rather wanted revenge against the Texas prison system for all the abuses he suffered while incarcerated.

Bonnie and Clyde met in January 1930 at a friend’s house. At least that is the story given in several different histories. They got back together after Clyde’s release in February 1932. They committed a series of small crimes and in April, Bonnie and Ralph Fults were captured during a failed burglary while trying to steal guns. Bonnie was let go; Fults was sent to prison and never rejoined the now only Bonnie and Clyde gang (with associated and rotating members). The group of thugs swept across the Midwest and committed a number of different crimes with Clyde killing several people along the way.

The Texas Department of Corrections contacted former Texas Ranger Frank Hamer to go after the Bonnie and Clyde Gang. Hamer had been credited with 53 kills and been wounded 17 times. He accepted. On April 1, 1934, two highway patrolmen were killed by the Gang and the media got hold of the story, with much exaggerated detail. Bonnie and Clyde were on a rural road in Bienville Parish, Louisiana on this day when they were spotted by a posse of four Texas officer led by Hamer and including Hinton, who were in the company of two Louisiana officers. They were concealed in the bushes when around 9:15 AM, Bonnie and Clyde’s car approached. By the time it was all over, there were about 130 shots fired by the six law officers. Bonnie and Clyde were both dead. She was 23; he was 25.

John Dillinger had matinee-idol good looks and Pretty Boy Floyd had the best possible nickname, but the Joplin photos introduced new criminal superstars with the most titillating trademark of all – illicit sex. Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker were wild and young, and undoubtedly slept together.

[Hamer’s, Simmons’s, Jordan’s and Hinton’s] various testimonies combine into one of the most dazzling displays of deliberate obfuscation in modern history.

Such widely varied accounts can’t be dismissed as different people honestly recalling the same events different ways.

Motive becomes an issue, and they all had reason to lie. Hamer was fanatical about protecting sources. Simmons was interested in resurrecting his own public image … Jordan wanted to present himself as the critical dealmaker. Nobody can account for Ted Hinton’s improbable reminiscences. – all from Jeff Guinn

Also on this day: Patience and Fortitude – In 1911 the main Research Library of the New York Public Library is dedicated.
Aaagh, Pirates – In 1701, Captain Kidd was hanged for piracy.
Two for the Price of One – In 1785, Ben Franklin claimed to have invented bifocals.
Squeezebox – In 1829, a patent for an accordion was granted to Cyrill Demian.

Aaagh, Pirates

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 23, 2013
William "Captain" Kidd

William “Captain” Kidd

May 23, 1701: William “Captain” Kidd is hanged. Captain Kidd is probably one of the best know pirates of all time. However, some new evidence has come to light that supports the idea that he was not a pirate at all, but a privateer. The difference lies in a technicality. A pirate is someone who commits robbery on the high seas. A privateer is a pirate with a commission or authorization of a government or sovereign. Privateering was an accepted part of naval warfare from the 16th to 19th centuries.

William was a Scottish sailor born around 1645 and was a “trusted and well beloved” captain by 1695 when a group of wealthy Whig English noblemen asked Kidd, through a governor in the colonies, to attack several known pirates and any enemy French ships he encountered. Kidd commanded the Adventure Galley, a 284 ton ship with 34 cannons and oars – making it perfect for the task of capturing pirate ships.

Kidd and his crew failed to salute a British Navy ship before even leaving London. The ship was boarded and many of the crew were pressed into service for the Navy. Kidd sailed away shorthanded but captured some French ships and pressed sailors from those crews into service on his ship, bringing his staff up to the required numbers. Eventually escaped prisoners alleged Kidd’s cruelty but it may have been his mutinous crew who were inhumane. He remained at sea for years, spanning most of the globe, and as he was returning to New York City he found out he was wanted for piracy.

One of the original investors offered Kidd protection and then took him as prisoner back to England, hoping to save himself from accusations of piracy. Kidd refused to name his backers. A Tory regime was now in charge. Kidd thought he would be rewarded for his silence. Instead he was charged not only with piracy, but murder as well. His Whig backers, afraid of repercussions, made sure Kidd’s funds were depleted and Kidd stood trial without representation. He was found guilty of all charges and sentenced to hang. The first attempt to hang the Captain ended with the rope breaking. Kidd was hanged again, this time successfully, and his body left in a cage above the Thames to act as a warning to others.

“Pirates who were hired by many countries, especially in times of war, were businessmen and capitalists of every background searching for a profit in the Atlantic Ocean. Governments armed pirates’ ships and directed the pirates to attack ships of other warring countries.” – Frank Lambert

“It must have been quite a sight as that big pirate ship came loose and ran aground during the hurricane.” – Paul Collins

“If you can’t find something here, you can’t find it anywhere, … There’s a pirate in everyone!”” – Michael Egan

“With the first ‘Pirates,’ we believe we elevated pirates to pirate chic. It’s not about the pirates you knew about 10 years ago. It just seemed these things were meant to be together, these movies and this race.” – Donald Evans

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Piracy is the name of a specific crime under customary international law as well as a number of crimes under municipal or state law. Privateering was commerce raiding and outlawed by the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 by the signatories of those documents. There is no beginning date for this crime, but it is assumed that piracy developed at the same time as seafaring commerce. The first recording about piracy comes from the Sea Peoples threating the Aegean and Mediterranean in the 14th century BC. In classic antiquity both the Illyrians and Tyrrhenians were considered pirates but so were the Greeks and Romans. The Phoenicians also used piracy to obtain boys and girls sold into slavery.

Also on this day Patience and Fortitude – In 1911 the main Research Library of the New York Public Library is dedicated.
Two for the Price of One – In 1785, Ben Franklin claimed to have invented bifocals.
Squeezebox – In 1829, a patent for an accordion was granted to Cyrill Demian.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 23, 2012

The accordion.

May 23, 1829: Cyrill Demian receives a patent for a new musical instrument. Cyrill was a maker of pianos and organs. He and his two sons, Karl and Guido, were living in Vienna, Austria when they submitted their patent. Consign: No. 1433 listed a new type of instrument consisting of a small box with “feathers of metal plates and bellows fixed to it” making it easy to carry and play. The new music maker was seven to nine inches long, three-and-a-half wide, and two inches high. The bellows were fixed above the box with five claves fixed below. The makers claimed, “Even an amateur of music can play the loveliest and most moving chords of three, four, and five voices with very little practice.” What instrument? The accordion.

The accordion is part of the free-reed aerophone family and is sometimes called a squeezebox because of the way the notes are created. The bellows are compressed while pressing on keys or buttons. This causes valves or pallets to open and the air rushes across strips of metal, called reeds. These brass or steel strips vibrate, creating the tones. The melody is played using buttons or keys on the right while accompaniment is played on the left using bass and pre-set chord buttons. The instrument can be considered to be a one-man band since it needs no other backup music.

Music has been with humans since the dawn of time. Chinese history traces music back to the court of the “Yellow Emperor,” Huang Ti or around the year 3000 BC. The ruler wanted music resembling the song of the phoenix bird and Ling Lun was said to have created the cheng, the fist known instrument to use a vibrating reed to produce musical tones. This instrument was shaped like a phoenix and used thirteen to 24 bamboo pipes, a small gourd was the resonator box and wind chamber, and a mouthpiece was attached. This was the first step towards the creation of the accordion.

Somewhere around 1770, the cheng became known in Europe. Some say this was the introduction of the free-vibrating reed principle in Europe while others point to earlier instruments using a similar technique in 12th and 13th century England. Small portable keyboards using bellows and reeds were used to accompany madrigal singers but went out of popularity because they frequently went out of tune. Demian’s patent is considered to be the first for a true accordion and the first to use the name for the instrument. Although there were many similar musical devices around in the 19th century, Demian’s instrument was the one that garnered the most attention and spread the popularity of the instrument.

Conversation didn’t seem necessary when I put the accordion down and swung some young lady around the floor. – Lawrence Welk

Do you know that my very first experience as a composer was a ‘Concerto for Accordion?’ – Alfred Schnittke

I am not a demon. I am a lizard, a shark, a heat-seeking panther. I want to be Bob Denver on acid playing the accordion. – Nicolas Cage

Ford used to come to work in a big car with two Admiral’s flags, on each side of the car. His assistant would be there with his accordion, playing, Hail to the Chief. – Richard Widmark

Also on this day:

Patience and Fortitude – In 1911 the main Research Library of the New York Public Library is dedicated.
Aaagh, Pirates – In 1701, Captain Kidd was hanged for piracy.
Two for the Price of One – In 1785, Ben Franklin claimed to have invented bifocals.

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Two for the Price of One

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 23, 2011

Bifocals described

May 23, 1785: Benjamin Franklin writes a letter claiming he invented double lenses spectacles. Our ancient ancestors had to cope with poor of failing eyesight as there were no corrective measures available to them. Seneca, born around 4 BC, read while looking through a globe of water to achieve some means of magnification. Nero watched gladiators while gazing through an emerald, not as magnifying lens, but as sunglasses.

The oldest lens found at Nineveh (see April 23) dated from about 600 BC but it was used to focus light for burning things. By 1000 AD, a reading stone or magnifying glass was invented. It was laid directly over print to work as a magnifying aid. Eventually the idea changed to two smaller framed lenses held in front of the eyes. The Chinese created paired lenses about 2,000 years ago, but these were used to protect the eyes from evil spirits and did not correct for vision.

In 1268, Roger Bacon described corrective lenses in Opus Majur and in 1289 di Popozo wrote about them and called them “spectacles.” While the first lenses were simply magnifiers, by the 16th century concave lenses were made for correction of near-sightedness. It took over 300 years to correct one design flaw – keeping the lenses correctly positioned in front of the eyes. First they were placed in frames that were perched on the nose – pince-nez. Some noses were simply not up to the task. By the 17th century, silk ribbons were tied to the frames and looped around the ears. In 1730 rigid side pieces were added and in 1752 they were finally hinged.

Contacts were first described in 1845 but none were tried until 1889. They were not very successful at that time. By the 1940s many varieties of contacts were available, most made of some form of glass. These could be tolerated only for short periods of time. With the introduction of plastic lenses and the further refinement of the product, by 1964 6 million Americans were wearing contacts.

“I wear my wife’s eyeglasses because she wants me to see things her way.” – Jayson Feinburg

“Rose-colored glasses are never made in bifocals. Nobody wants to read the small print in dreams.” – Ann Landers

“I had some eyeglasses. I was walking down the street when suddenly the prescription ran out.” – Stephen Wright

“Bifocals effectively work the same way they have since they were invented by Benjamin Franklin. But as any of more than 40 million people in America who need bifocals know, they’re a pain.” – Nasser Peyghambarian

Also on this day:
Patience and Fortitude – In 1911 the main Research Library of the New York Public Library is dedicated.
Aaagh, Pirates – In 1701, Captain Kidd was hanged for piracy.

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Patience and Fortitude

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 23, 2010

The facade of the New York Public Library

May 23, 1911: The main Research Library of the New York City Library system, built on Fifth Avenue is dedicated in a ceremony presided over by President Taft. Samuel J. Tilden made a $2.4 million bequest to establish a public library in New York City. Prior to this, there were two reference libraries for the public, one established by John Jacob Astor and a second by James Lenox. Lenox Library was at the site of the current NYC main library.

The Sumerians were the first people we know of to set aside space for the gathering together of written material. They did so in the third millennium BC. The tradition was carried on throughout the Middle East. They not only gave a space for storage of written material, but devised a way to store it for easy access and retrieval – an early Dewey Decimal System. The ancient Greeks and Romans spread libraries throughout Europe. With the invention of the printing press with movable type, mass production of books became more feasible. Cheap paper and ink helped move the process along.

“Libraries are the memory of humankind, irreplaceable repositories of documents of human thought and action,” claims the New York Public Library’s website. There are many famous book repositories such as the Oxford Bodleian Library, the Bibliothèque, the British Library, and the Library of Congress. Libraries are open to the curious, those who seek to learn. The New York Public Library has four major areas of The Research Libraries as well as branch libraries giving more people access to the books. There are two majestic marble lions guarding the portal to the main library. They were carved out of Tennessee marble and their names are Patience and Fortitude, well they are called that today. They have had many names over the decades, but have held these monikers since the 1930s.

Today, NYC Library has 86 branches with five central circulating libraries. Queens and Brooklyn have their own libraries, too. Nearly 2 million New Yorkers hold library cards for the research and branch libraries. They have 49 million pieces in their collections including a Gutenberg Bible and Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica by Isaac Newton. The yearly operating budget is nearly $300 million.

“The library is the temple of learning, and learning has liberated more people than all the wars in history.” – Carl T. Rowan

“Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future.” – Ray Bradbury

“It was from my own early experience that I decided there was no use to which money could be applied so productive of good to boys and girls who have good within them and ability and ambition to develop it as the founding of a public library.” – Andrew Carnegie

“How little our libraries cost us as compared with our liquor cellars.” – John Lubbock

Also on this day:
In 1701,
William Kidd was hanged for piracy.
In 1785, Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter claiming he invented bifocals.