Little Bits of History

College for the Promoting of Physico-Mathematical Experimental Learning

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 28, 2015
The Royal Society building

The Royal Society building

November 28, 1660: The 1660 committee of 12 announce the formation of a “College for the Promoting of Physico-Mathematical Experimental Learning”. Gresham College was established in London in 1597 as directed in the will of Sir Thomas Gresham. In the 1640s and 1650s, a group of scientists began to discuss their subject matter. They first met at Jonathan Goddard’s house and the first members were known as the 1645 group although others joined later. They disbanded in 1648. They were also called The Philosophical Society of Oxford and their original set of rules are kept even today at the Bodleian Library. After the Restoration, the group moved to Gresham College.

French scientists had been banding together at the Montmor Academy and there is some dispute over whether or not some of the big names in British science had been there prior to the formation of their new group. On this day, their official group was formed and by the second meeting, the King had given his blessing along with a royal charter which was granted on July 15, 1662 making the scientific-based group the Royal Society. The group has been a mainstay of British intellectualism and every monarch since 1550 has been a patron of the society.

Early meetings were not just papers being read, but there were experiments done with the entire group able to witness the outcome. The group also published foreign material for enlightenment of the members. They continued to be associated with Gresham College, but the Great Fire of London in 1666 had them change venues. The college was not destroyed, but the Lord Mayor appropriated the building until London could be rebuilt. They returned to Gresham in 1673. They hoped to create a distinct place for the Royal Society and attempted to collect funding to build it, but it was unsuccessful at the time.

Today, the Royal Society, which now does have it own building, is located at 6-9 Carlton House Terrace in London which is headquarters. And they have a presence at Chicheley Hall, Chicheley, Newport Pagnell in Buckinghamshire. Their motto is Nullius in verba (Take nobody’s word for it). Sir Paul Nurse heads the group comprised of 5 Royal Fellows, 1,450 Fellows, and 120 Foreign Fellows. They remain an independent scientific entity of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth with a purpose of promoting excellence in science. They not only offer a variety of publications, both in print and online, but also strive to bring translations of other print works to help spread knowledge. They host about 30 international two-day conferences yearly to help bring understanding to the world. They award good science and their most prestigious award is the Copley Medal, first awarded in 1731.

A fool’s brain digests philosophy into folly, science into superstition, and art into pedantry. Hence University education. – George Bernard Shaw

There is no national science just as there is no national multiplication table; anything that is national is not scientific. – Anton Chekhov

The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom. – Isaac Asimov

Science has everything to say about what is possible. Science has nothing to say about what is permissible. – Charles Krauthammer

Also on this day: The Pitch Experiment – In 2000, the eighth drop in the 73 year old Pitch Experiment dropped.
Night Life & Death – In 1942, the Cocoanut Grove burned.
Hot Off the Presses – In 1814, The London Times was printed using a steam operated press.
Attack – In 2002, the Mombasa attacks took place in Kenya.
There Goes the Groom – In 1528, William Shakespeare was given a marriage license.

There Goes the Groom

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 28, 2014
William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

November 28, 1582: Witnesses post bond guaranteeing no lawful impediments to marriage exist. Eighteen-year-old William Shakespeare and 26-year-old Anne Hathaway were issued a marriage license through the consistory court of the Diocese of Worcester the day before. Two of Anne’s neighbors posted bond and the chancellor allowed the marriage banns to be read only once rather than the customary three times. Six months later, Anne gave birth to a daughter, Susanna, who was baptized on May 26, 1583. Hamnet and Judith, twins born almost two years later, were baptized on February 2, 1585. Hamnet died of unknown causes and was buried on August 11, 1596. He was eleven. Little is known of Shakespeare’s whereabouts until he appeared on the London theater scene in 1592.

William was the son of John Shakespeare, an alderman and successful glover and Mary Arden, daughter of an affluent landowning farmer. His date of birth is unknown, but he was baptized on April 26, 1564. Traditionally, the date of birth is given as April 23, but this has been based on an 18th century historian’s mistake. Where Shakespeare was educated is also unknown although it is theorized it was at the King’s New School in Stratford which was a free school chartered in 1553 and was located about a quarter-mile from his home. Each school was of varying quality but most were based on the same curriculum – a basic Latin text was standardized by royal decree. The youngster would have been educated using classical Latin authors.

There has been much speculation on the “lost years” – the time between the birth of twins and Shakespeare’s appearance in London in 1592. In one story, William fled after getting in trouble with the local squire, Thomas Lucy. Perhaps he poached a deer or maybe he wrote an unflattering ballad or even he wrote a scurrilous ballad after being prosecuted for poaching a deer. John Aubrey, writer of Brief Lives written 1669-1696, claimed Shakespeare had been a “schoolmaster in the country” based on stories from contemporaries of the playwright. Perhaps he had become an actor when the traveling troupe, Queen Elizabeth’s Men found themselves short staffed in Stratford. In some way, Shakespeare did eventually make his way to London.

The man is often regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s supreme dramatist. He is sometimes called the Bard of Avon and called England’s national poet. Some of his work has been lost over time. Today, there exist 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and some other verses. His plays have been translated into every major living language. They are performed more than those of any other playwright. It appears that he retired back to Stratford around 1613 at the age of 49 and died there three years later. Speculation abounds about his private life and his public works, even questioning whether he actually wrote the words attributed to him.

This bud of love, by summer’s ripening breath, / May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet. (Romeo and Juliet, 2.2)

Hear my soul speak: / The very instant that I saw you, did / My heart fly to your service. (The Tempest, 3.1)

If thou remember’st not the slightest folly / That ever love did make thee run into, / Thou hast not loved. (As You Like It, 2.4)

When Love speaks, the voice of all the gods / Makes heaven drowsy with the harmony. (Love’s Labour’s Lost, 4.3) – all from William Shakespeare

Also on this day: The Pitch Experiment – In 2000, the eighth drop in the 73 year old Pitch Experiment drops.
Night Life & Death – In 1942, the Cocoanut Grove burned.
Hot Off the Presses – In 1814, The London Times was printed using a steam operated press.
Attack – In 2002, the Mombasa attacks took place in Kenya.

Night Life & Death

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 28, 2013
Cocoanut Grove  fire

Cocoanut Grove fire

November 28, 1942: An overcrowded nightclub in Boston burns. The Cocoanut Grove had recently been remodeled and now had a new lounge opening off the main floor. The club had the capacity to entertain 460 patrons. There were about 1,000 people there on this cold November night. The restaurants, bars, and lounges in both the basement and on the main floor were decorated in the style of Casablanca, a Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman film released only two days earlier in New York City.

The Cocoanut Grove was decorated with paper palm trees and cloth draperies, some hiding the exits. There were other highly flammable objects, including furniture and other decorations. The Melody Lounge was an intimate spot in the basement. Goody Goodelle was performing on the revolving stage. It seems a young man unscrewed a light bulb in an effort to make it bit more intimate. Stanley Tomaszewski, a 16-year-old busboy, was told to fix the light. When the bulb slipped from his hand, he lit a match to find the socket and get it replaced. He blew out the match, but patrons recall seeing something ignite in the canopy over the table.

Waiters tried to extinguish the blaze that started at 10:15 PM. It quickly spread as the flames roared up the stairway and a fireball burst across the central dance floor. The fire continued to rapidly spread to an adjacent bar and into the new lounge. Within five minutes, the main clubroom was an inferno as well. Panicked patrons tried to escape. The main exit was a single revolving door which was soon jammed by bodies on both sides. Other doors opened inwards and as the crush of bodies surged toward them, they were unable to be opened.

The fire left 492 people dead. Fire officials stated that at least 300 lives could have been saved had the exits been clearly marked and if the doors had opened outward. The disaster changed the way burn victims were treated. Antibiotics, then relatively new, were employed with remarkable success. Vaseline covered gauze was used and other advances in burn care were made. While studying the fire in 1997, it was found that a faulty refrigerator was leaking methyl chloride and was responsible for the flash fire acceleration.

“Everybody panicked. I knew there was a door across the dining room, but about 150 people were headed for it, and everybody was pressed together, arms jammed to our sides.” – John Rizzo, fire survivor

“At the foot of the stairs, I was lucky enough to get on my feet. Everybody was scrambling, trying to break doors to the stock room. I said forget it, they don’t go outside. I saw a heavy lady, Mrs. (Katherine) Swett, the cashier. I said, ‘Take the money, let’s go,’ but she said, ‘I can’t leave the money.’ Later, I saw a big person burned to death, and it was her.” – John Rizzo, fire survivor

“At the Cocoanut Grove, people did not respond intelligently. Some watched flames cross the ceiling, and it was not until one person started upstairs that others did. Even then, a hat-check girl wanted people to pay for coats. The way to overcome this is to teach people how to react to fear.” – Dr. Anne Phillips

“I wish I’d died with the others in the fire.” – Barney Welansky, club owner

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: The Cocoanut Grove was the place to go in Boston after Prohibition was repealed. The club, during the dark times of Prohibition was a speakeasy and located at 17 Piedmont Street. The building was converted from a garage and warehouse complex into a one and a half story complex containing dining rooms, bars, and lounges. Early on, it was known as a criminal hangout lending it an air of mystique. The first owner was gunned down, gangster style and the new owner made claims of ties to the Mafia. Barnet Welansky was a tough businessman and hired teens at low wages and street thugs as waiters and bouncers. He hid exits and even bricked one exit up to keep patrons from leaving without paying. He was recovering from a heart attack at Massachusetts General Hospital on the night of a fire, the very place where many of the burn victims were brought for treatment.

Also on this day: The Pitch Experiment – In 2000, the eighth drop in the 73 year old Pitch Experiment drops.
Hot Off the Presses – In 1814, The London Times was printed using a steam operated press.
Attack – In 2002, the Mombasa attacks took place in Kenya.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 28, 2012

Ruins left after the Mombasa attacks

November 28, 2002: The Mombasa attacks take place. Mombasa is the second largest city in Kenya and is on the coast of the Indian Ocean. The former Arabic sultanate of Mvita had its capital here and the Mombasa Republican Council still demands secession from Kenya. Nearly a million people live here, about 2% of the population of Kenya. Most of the citizens are Christians, but the percentage of native religions and Muslims vary widely. The temperatures are tropical and the months of April and May have very heavy rainfall. In November, the weather is balmy. They are the home of Kenya’s only large seaport. They are also have an international airport.

The attacks on this day were twofold. One was “successful” while the other resulted in failure. An Boeing 757 owned by Arkia Airlines (based out of Israel) took off from Moi International Airport. The charter company had regular weekly service which flew tourists from Tel Aviv to Mombasa and back. About 1.25 miles from the airport, two shoulder-launched Strela 2 (SA-7) surface-to-air missiles were fired at the plane. They missed. There is speculation that the plane was using an infrared countermeasure system which confused the SAM’s seeker system. There were witnesses who saw small flames above the wings which could mean that decoy flares had been fired. The shell casings were found, but the plane was unharmed.

At about the same time as the plane being fired upon, another attack was underway. A blast occurred when a red all-terrain vehicle crashed through a barrier and entered the lobby of the Paradise Hotel. Sixty guests had just checked into the hotel, all of them from Israel. Thirteen of the guests were killed and other 80 guests were injured. Also killed in the attack were ten Kenyans who worked at the hotel. Most of the natives were traditional dancers who were there to welcome the newly arriving 140 guests who were coming from the Israel state-sponsored jet.

After the attacks, four Israeli military Hercules planes arrived, carrying teams of doctors and psychologists. They helped people on the ground and evacuated the injured as well as any other tourists who wanted to leave. A previously unknown group calling themselves the Army of Palestine took credit for the attacks. Three specific people were named as suspects, one from Kenya, one from Comoros, and one from Sudan. The attacks were officially condemned by the UN Security Council as well as Israel, Kenya, the US and the UK. Efforts have been made to keep the air-to-ground missiles out of the hands of civilians.

Every man is wise when attacked by a mad dog; fewer when pursued by a mad woman; only the wisest survive when attacked by a mad notion. – Robertson Davies

In every man there is an instinctive and passionate reaction if his person or liberty is attacked. – Arthur Keith

No amount of humanitarian assistance can protect people from being attacked. – Jan Egeland

There are two things which cannot be attacked in front: ignorance and narrow-mindedness. They can only be shaken by the simple development of the contrary qualities. They will not bear discussion. – Lord Acton

Also on this day:

The Pitch Experiment – In 2000, the eighth drop in the 73 year old Pitch Experiment drops.
Night Life & Death – In 1942, the Cocoanut Grove burned.
Hot Off the Presses – In 1814, The London Times was printed using a steam operated press.

Hot Off the Presses

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 28, 2011

Steam-powered printing press

November 28, 1814: The London Times is printed using a steam-powered press for the first time. This made newspapers cheaper and with a greater ability to be mass-produced. The German inventors, Friedrich Koenig and Andreas Bauer, were working on their steam-powered press in London. John Walter of The Times was interested in the new machine. It was tested in secret so as to not upset the pressmen who were working at the paper. When it was found to be satisfactory, The Times produced their product with the new technology.

Newspapers, by definition, carry news. They also contain information that might not be considered “news” and advertisements to help with the cost of production. The first daily sheet we know of is Acta Diurna (Daily Events) that Julius Caesar had posted around Rome in 59 BC. The earliest printed papers came from Beijing, China in 748.

Johannes Gutenberg brought us the printing press in 1451 which made mass production easier. The first German newspaper was brought to market in 1502 while the first English language paper was available by 1513. In 1609 the first regularly published paper was in print in Europe, Germany’s Avisa Relation oder Zeitung. The first paper in North America was published in Boston in 1690. With rising literacy rates, the numbers of different papers printed, and the numbers of the papers sold both increased.

Today, 75% of the 100 best-selling papers are printed in Asia. In 2005 China had the greatest total circulation with 93.5 million papers sold per day. India was next with 78.9 million per day while Japan sold 70.4 million per day. The US was next with a marked drop to 48.3 million per day. Yomiuri Shimbun, Asahi Shimbun, and Mainichi Shimbun, all from Japan, are the best-selling papers in the world. Germany’s Bild is the only non-Asian paper in the top ten best seller list. The lists of circulation records are for paid circulation, which is what advertisement fees are based upon. The numbers do not include online portals and the number of hits these papers receive with their non-print versions.

“Newspapers:  dead trees with information smeared on them.” – Horizon, “Electronic Frontier”

“Histories are a kind of distilled newspapers.” – Thomas Carlyle

“The evil that men do lives on the front pages of greedy newspapers, but the good is oft interred apathetically inside.” – Brooks Atkinson

“Trying to determine what is going on in the world by reading newspapers is like trying to tell the time by watching the second hand of a clock.” – Ben Hecht

Also on this day:
The Pitch Experiment – In 2000, the eighth drop in the 73-year-old Pitch Experiment drops.
Night Life & Death – In 1942, the Cocoanut Grove burned.

The Pitch Experiment

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 28, 2010

The University of Queensland pitch drop experiment, demonstrating the viscosity of bitumen.

November 28, 2000: The eighth drop in The Pitch Experiment falls. Professor Thomas Parnell began the experiment in 1927 at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. The goal of the experiment was to show that some substances that appear to be solids are in fact, liquid. Pitch is a viscous, slow-moving liquid, usually bitumen. Tar pitch flows at room temperature. Slowly. Very, very slowly.

The pitch was placed in a sealed funnel by Professor Parnell and then allowed to settle. Three years later, it was deemed to have settled and the tip of the funnel was opened and the liquid was now allowed to flow. It eventually formed a drop that fell into the receptacle beneath. Pitch will shatter when struck with a hammer, seeming solid, but it flows as a liquid. There were no controls set and the flow of the liquid remains affected by temperature.

The first drop fell during December of 1938, the second in February 1947. Professor Parnell died in 1948 and the experiment came under the supervision of John Mainstone. The next drops fell April 1954, May 1962, August 1970, April 1979, July 1988, and finally November 2000. No one has ever seen a drop actually fall. There was a webcam set up filming the experiment in 2000, but it malfunctioned at the critical time.

Parnell and Mainstone were awarded the Ig Nobel Prize, a parody of the Nobel Prize, which is awarded for efforts that at first seem silly and yet eventually make you think. Mainstone accepted the award. He has since stated that there is enough pitch for the experiment to continue for at least another 100 years, if someone can watch over it. Not exactly a time-consuming task. Back when the experiment was set up, it was not considered that the rooms would be air conditioned. They have been. The last drop was the largest drop ever seen and the receptacle was not of sufficient size for it to allow for the drop to entirely break from the funnel. There does need to be some modifications. The tests seem silly, but they have given help to the study of viscosity and shown that pitch is 100 billion times more viscous than water.

“It is the sort of experiment that does require patience.” – John Mainstone

“Patience is the companion of wisdom.” – Saint Augustine

“You must first have a lot of patience to learn to have patience.” – Stanislaw J. Lec

“The chemist who can extract from his heart’s elements compassion, respect, longing, patience, regret, surprise, and forgiveness and compound them into one can create that atom which is called love.” – Kahlil Gibran

Also on this day, in 1942 the Cocoanut Grove fire destroys the nightclub and kills 492 patrons.