Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 11, 2015
Gottfried Leibniz

Gottfried Leibniz

November 11, 1675: Gottfried Leibniz does some math. He was born in Leipzig in the Holy Roman Empire in 1646 and was interested both in mathematics and philosophy. His father was a Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Leipzig but died when his son was just six. Leibniz’s mother took over raising the boy and her influence greatly shaped his later philosophical processes. Young Gottfried inherited his father’s library which was vast and all-encompassing. While his formal schooling was limited to a small canon of authorities, his voracious consumption of his private library led to a far more liberal and wide-ranging education and gave him access to advanced philosophical and theological thought than was available to most men before moving on to university work. Since most of the works were written in Latin, Leibniz became proficient in the dead language.

He entered the University of Leipzig at the age of 15 and earned his Bachelor’s degree  in 1662 and his Master’s degree in philosophy in 1664. He went on to write several papers and dissertations on his subject of study and earned a Bachelor’s of Law in 1665. In 1666 at age 20, he wrote his first book. He was hoping to earn a Doctorate of Law, but the University refused to grant him such, probably due to his youth. Whatever the reason, the young man was miffed and left town and enrolled in the University of Altdorf, submitted his thesis, and earned a Doctorate of Law there in 1666. He turned down a teaching post and got a job as a secretary to an alchemical society in Nuremberg. He didn’t know much on the subject when he started, but soon taught himself and his reputation grew.

His philosophical endeavors took up his young adulthood and he came later to mathematics. Although the idea of function was implicit in both trigonometric and logarithmic tables of the time, Leibniz was the first to employ it explicitly. He not only used it for the calculus, but also in geometric concepts, although these uses were lost later. He is thought to have developed the calculus independent of Isaac Newton but the issue was hotly debated by both men as well as others in the mathematical community of the day. Leibniz went on to work with topology as well as other matters of science such as physics and geology (before it was even invented). The polymath had an astonishing range in his areas of interest and his ability to understand the world around him.

On this day, Leibniz (according to his notebooks) first used integral calculus. He was looking for the area of the graph of a function y = ƒ(x). Included in his notes were some new ways to encode the mathematical process such as integral sign ∫ representing an elongated S. He chose this sign based on the Latin summa and he used a d for differentials again based on Latin for differentia. While he did not publish anything until 1684, his notations are still used today and the product rule of differential calculus is still called Leibniz’s law. This is not the only law based on his use of the calculus, as the Leibniz integral rule is based on his dictum as to the proper time to differentiate under the integral sign.

Music is the pleasure the human mind experiences from counting without being aware that it is counting.

Finally there are simple ideas of which no definition can be given; there are also axioms or postulates, or in a word primary principles, which cannot be proved and have no need of proof.

I hold that the mark of a genuine idea is that its possibility can be proved, either a priori by conceiving its cause or reason, or a posteriori when experience teaches us that it is in fact in nature.

The ultimate reason of things must lie in a necessary substance, in which the differentiation of the changes only exists eminently as in their source; and this is what we call God. – all from Gottfried Leibniz

Also on this day: The War to End All Wars – In 1918, World War I ended.
This Isn’t the Hudson – In 1620, the Mayflower Compact was signed.
Mum’s the Word – In 1790, chrysanthemums were introduced into England.
Cold – In 1930, Einstein’s refrigerator was patented.
Fun at School – In 1750, the Flat Hat Club formed.

Fun at School

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 11, 2014
F.H.C. Society

F.H.C. Society

November 11, 1750: The Flat Hat Club forms. The F.H.C. Society was the first recorded collegiate society within the territory of what is today the United States. The initials stand for a secret Latin phrase which is likely either “Fraternitas, Humanitas, et Cognitio” or “Fraternitas Humanitas Cognitioque” which both mean brotherhood, humaneness, and knowledge. The Flat Hat Club is a backronym and probably refers to mortarboard caps worn by college students at the time. These are the same types of caps worn today only at graduation ceremonies.

The young men were students at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. The most famous member of the fraternity was Thomas Jefferson, third US President. George Wythe was also a member of the society and at the time of his membership, there were only six participants and the group served “no useful object”. By March of 1773, there was a second William and Mary Latin-letter fraternity – the P.D.A. Society, publically called Please Don’t Ask. This was a copy of the F.H.C. group. John Heath wanted to become a member of the P.D.A. group and was denied admission and so he began his own fraternity, Phi Beta Kappa Society.

By 1781, the Flat Hat Club was disbanded and ceased to exist. After 1909, old documents were found containing references to the Society. Interest was once again piqued and the Society had a brief revival in the twentieth century – twice. The first time it was revived, it lasted until 1943 when world events caused the university population to dwindle and the society went dormant. The current iteration of the F.H.C. was begun in 1972 and it remains an all-male fraternity and most of the activities are secret within the university.

Fraternities have existed since ancient Greek times. Originally they were brotherhoods of men involved in similar activities. Trades guilds were the logical outcome of many fraternities and these guilds replaced prior groupings. Fraternities and sororities or sisterhoods have been part of college life since this date. They became far more established in the early 1800s. The oldest active US social fraternity is the Kappa Alpha Society founded in 1825 at Union College. Sigma Phi Society and Delta Phi Fraternity were both established in 1827 at the same school. While fraternities have been historical male members only, in September 2014, Wesleyan University in Connecticut ordered all fraternities on campus to become company-educational within the next three years.

Being part of a fraternity has given me the foundation for everything I do in my career from the loyalty to the determination; it laid the foundation for everything I’ve been able to enjoy. – Terrence J

I think that when people join clubs as simple as a sorority or a fraternity, a football team, a baseball team, it’s just – you want to be in a group. You want to be around people, you want to be with people. – Theo Rossi

For if you do, then shouldn’t we blame the whole fraternity system? And if the whole fraternity system is guilty, then isn’t this an indictment of our educational institutions in general? I put it to you, Greg – isn’t this an indictment of our entire American society? – Tim Matheson

I would say my fraternity was nothing but a bunch of farm boys; we weren’t really in the whole fraternity scene, but yeah, that’s a safe assessment of who I am. I’ve lived that life, growing up in agriculture and then going off to college and joining a fraternity, livin’ that life. – Luke Bryan

Also on this day: The War to End All Wars – In 1918, World War I ended.
This Isn’t the Hudson – In 1620, the Mayflower Compact was signed.
Mum’s the Word – In 1790, Chrysanthemums were introduced into England.
Cold – In 1930, Einstein’s refrigerator was patented.

This Isn’t the Hudson

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 11, 2013
Mayflower Compact

Mayflower Compact depiction

November 11, 1620: Forty-one passengers from the Mayflower sign the Mayflower Compact. The date is Old Style as the Gregorian calendar had not yet been accepted by England and her colonies. The Mayflower set sail from Southampton, England on September 6, again OS date. They were supposed to land near the mouth of the Hudson River at the northern edge of the Virginia colony. The trip was to have been made by two ships. The two ships left port on August 5 but soon the Speedwell developed a leak. They returned and repaired the ship, another leak became apparent, and finally only the Mayflower sailed with 102 passengers plus crew.

The trip took 66 days. The weather turned hostile and they were blown off course. Their charter with the London Company specified the location for the new colony. As they approached the harsher, wintry landscape near Cape Cod, Massachusetts, there was dissention in the ranks. In order to establish some sense of order and to stop the bickering among the passengers, the Mayflower Compact was written and signed. The ship was still anchored in Provincetown Harbor. They rowed in to shore and found snow covered ground with artificial mounds. They looted food stores from burial mounds.

The ship left the harbor and sailed down the coast, robbing caches of food and desecrating burial mounds. They lived this way through the winter, staying aboard the ship but foraging on land. The natives who were being robbed took action against the invaders, keeping them at bay. The people aboard the Mayflower were starving and affected with a mixture of scurvy, pneumonia, and tuberculosis. By spring, 49 passengers and half the crew were dead. They had settled near Plymouth to wait out the winter aboard ship. They built some rough huts and the weary travelers came ashore on March 21, 1621. The ship left the Pilgrims behind to return to England on April 5, 1621.

The original copy of the Mayflower Compact has been lost. William Bradford’s journal, Of Plymouth Plantation, and Edward Winslow’s Mourt’s Relation agree on the text of the document. The undersigned agreed to form just and equal laws to meet the general good. There were only male signatories. John Carver was the first to sign as the leader and first governor (elected that same day to a one-year term) of the Plymouth Colony. It was he who brokered a treaty with Chief Massasoit of the Wampanoag tribe for the Plymouth Colony site. He died in the spring of 1621, apparently of sunstroke.

“I am glad my ancestors arrived on the Mayflower, but I am gladder that there are nine generations between us.” – William Lyon Phelps

“My ancestors didn’t come over on the Mayflower, but they were there to meet the boat.” – Will Rogers

“What we know today is that children all over America have the right to learn – whether their ancestors came to America on slave ships or the Mayflower.” – Mark Pryor

“It is a pity that instead of the Pilgrim Fathers landing on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock had not landed on the Pilgrim Fathers.” – Chauncey Depew

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: The Mayflower was a Dutch Cargo fluyt, meaning it was built for transoceanic sailing. There were no armaments in this type of ship in order to increase cargo space. The Mayflower’s maiden voyage was some time before 1609 and her trip in 1620 is her most famous. She was usually crewed by 36-50 men. The upper deck was 80-90 feet with an overall length of 100-110 feet. There were probably four decks. It is known that for this particular journey there were 33 crew aboard along with the 102 passengers. She was rated at 180 tons which meant that the hold could accommodate 180 casks of rum or wine. Prior to the sailing in 1620, Captain Christopher Jones had repeatedly sailed across the English Channel taking English woolens to France and returning with French wine to London. Other items were also traded. In 1620 Captain Jones and Robert Child each owned a quarter share of the ship and it was from them that Thomas Weston chartered the ship for this historic trip.

Also on this day: The War to End All Wars – In 1918, World War I ended.
Mum’s the Word – In 1790, Chrysanthemums were introduced into England.
Cold – In 1930, Einstein’s refrigerator was patented.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 11, 2012

Einstein’s refrigerator

November 11, 1930: US Patent # 1,781,541 is granted. The patent is for an absorption refrigerator which has no moving parts. It was granted to Leó Szilárd and his former teacher Albert Einstein. The two men invented the thing in 1926 and it was an improvement on the original design by Swedish inventors Baltzar von Platen and Carl Munters in 1922. Early refrigerators were filled with toxic elements used for cooling. The two scientists became involved in home refrigeration after they read about a family killed after a seal leaked toxic fumes into their home. With Einstein’s experience with patent offices, the two men were able to secure 45 patents in a variety of countries for the three designs they developed between 1926 and 1933.

The machine they designed was a single-pressure absorption refrigerator which used ammonia as the pressure-equalizing fluid and butane as the refrigerant. Water was the absorbing fluid and there were no moving parts. The machine did not need electricity to function but did need a heat source. That could have been a small gas burner or even solar energy. It could have also been electricity. The science behind the machines working was simplified and the chemicals used were safer to humans. The Einstein refrigerator has been described as “Noiseless, inexpensive to produce and durable.” There is renewed interest in this type of refrigerator which could be used in areas without electricity.

Szilárd was born in Budapest, Austria-Hungary in 1898. He was a physicist and inventor. He received other patents with other famous scientists. He and Enrico Fermi patented the idea of a nuclear reactor. Szilárd wrote to his old teacher for a signature to a letter which helped propel the institution of the Manhattan Project which built the atomic bomb. He conceived the electron microscope, the linear accelerator, and the cyclotron. He did not build these things and did not publish in scientific journals, therefore he never won the Nobel Prize, although others working with his ideas did.

In 1947, Szilárd was horrified by the atomic weapons, so he switched areas of study and became interested in molecular biology. He began working with Aaron Novick. He must have returned to weaponry because in 1950 he proposed a cobalt bomb which might destroy all life on the planet. He did say in an interview that violence wasn’t necessary and we could avoid its use with negotiation between enemies. He went on to write a book about the moral and ethical nature of the Cold War. He was diagnosed with bladder cancer and underwent cobalt therapy at Sloan-Kettering Hospital, a therapy he himself developed. Doctors warned that higher doses of cobalt would kill him, but he insisted and said he would die without the treatment anyway. Instead, the cancer was conquered. A few years later, he died in his sleep of a heart attack. He was sixty-six.

A scientist’s aim in a discussion with his colleagues is not to persuade, but to clarify.

I’m all in favor of the democratic principle that one idiot is as good as one genius, but I draw the line when someone takes the next step and concludes that two idiots are better than one genius.

If you want to succeed in the world, you don’t have to be much cleverer than other people. You just have to be one day earlier.

Pronouncement of experts to the effect that something cannot be done has always irritated me. – all from Leó Szilárd

Also on this day:

The War to End All Wars – In 1918, World War I ended.
This Isn’t the Hudson – In 1620, the Mayflower Compact was signed.
Mum’s the Word – In 1790, Chrysanthemums were introduced into England.

Mum’s the Word

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 11, 2011


November 11, 1790: Chrysanthemums are introduced into England. Also called mums or chrysanths, which is the genus name and there are about thirty different species. The perennial flowering plants originally grew in Asia and came to England via China. In China, these flowers were cultivated as an herb as far back as the 15th century BC. In Chinese art, the mum is one of the Four Gentlemen, the other three being the orchid, bamboo, and plum blossom.

The mum is said to have traveled to Japan in the 8th century AD where the Emperor adopted it as his official seal. The “Festival of Happiness” in Japan celebrated the mum. When it arrived in Europe, Linnaeus named it for the golden color possessed by the flower he had seen.

Today’s mums have been bred to be much more flamboyant than their wild cousins. They can be daisy-like, decorative, pompons, or button variety. They have been used as part of hybrids and thousands of enthusiasts have developed them for horticultural purposes. While they were originally yellow or golden, today they are also available in white, reds, and purples. They are broken into two groups – Garden Hardy and Exhibition. The hardy variety can be perennials able to left in the ground even in northern latitudes.

Not just pretty, these flowers have a variety of other uses. In Asia, some of the white or yellow mums can be used to make tea or the leaves can be used as greens in cooking. Pyrethrum mums are also a natural insecticide after the flowers are pulverized. Put into a suspension, they attack the nervous system of insects and keep the female mosquito from biting. These showy flowers have also been proven to reduce indoor pollution. Extracts from mums have been shown to have potential medical benefits as an anti-viral agent, antibacterial, and antimyotic. All this and they retain cultural significance and symbolism in both Asian and European countries.

“Chrysanthemums from gilded argosy / Unload their gaudy senseless merchandise. – Oscar Wilde

“Why don’t you get a haircut? You look like a chrysanthemum.” – P. G. Wodehouse

“Ah, tell me not that memory sheds gladness o’er the past, what is recalled by faded flowers, save that they did not last?” – Letitia Landon

“Art is like a border of flowers along the course of civilization.” – Lincoln Steffens

Also on this day:
The War to End All Wars – In 1918, World War I ended.
This Isn’t the Hudson – In 1620, the Mayflower Compact was signed.

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The War to End All Wars

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 11, 2010

Photograph taken in the forest of Compiègne after reaching an agreement for the armistice ending World War I.

November 11, 1918: World War I, The Great War, The War to End All Wars, the First World War ends at 11 AM when Germany signs an armistice agreement. On June 28, 1914 one of those shots heard ′round the world was fired when Gavrilo Princip, a member of the Black Hand group fighting for Slavic independence, shot and killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife. The Archduke was in line for the throne of Austria-Hungary.

The escalation from a civil war for independence to a world conflagration was swift. The two sides were eventually to include the Allies with member nations: France, Italy, Russia, Serbia, British Empire, the US, and other minor players against the Central Powers with member nations: Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, Germany, and the Ottoman Empire.

During the four years of warfare, the Allies suffered over 5.5 million dead, nearly 13 million wounded, and more than 4 million missing. The Central Powers lost nearly 4.4 million, with close to 8.4 million wounded and over 3.6 million missing. The battles raged across Europe and into Africa.

The end came in the same swift manner as the beginning. Bulgaria signed an armistice on September 29, 1918. The Ottoman Empire followed on October 30 and Austria-Hungary signed on November 3. Germany succumbed within days. The victors met in Paris and created the Versailles Treaty which laid blame for the entire war at the feet of Austria-Hungary and Germany. They were made to pay war reparations and were saddled with the guilt of the vast war and monumental death toll. Thus the war to end all wars laid the seeds for the next outbreak of worldwide violence.

“If any question why we died / Tell them, because our fathers lied.” – Rudyard Kipling

“Cannon is expensive, cannon fodder cheap.” – John Gunther

“Soldiers are made on purpose to be killed.” – Napoleon

“They wrote in the old days that it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country. But in modern war there is nothing sweet nor fitting in your dying. You will die like a dog for no good reason.” – Ernest Hemingway

“Sometime they’ll give a war and nobody will come.” – Carl Sandburg

Also on this day, in 1620 the Mayflower Compact was signed.