Hernán Cortés was 34 years old when he led the Spanish Conquistador invasion of Mexico. The initial landing took place on the Yucatan Peninsula, in what was then Maya territory. Cortés’ force was only 500 strong, but they were armed with muskets and cannons, as compared to the arrows and spears used by their opponents.
Although initially peaceful, Cortés’ mission was one of conquest, and would eventually result in the destruction of the Aztec nation and its tributaries, and the Spanish conquest of Mexico.
Charles Mason, a fellow of the Royal Society and noted astronomer, and his sometime assistant, land surveyor and amateur astronomer, Jeremiah Dixon, were hired by certain wealthy interests in what was then the British colony of America to conclude a number of difficult boundary disputes in the young colonies.
Landing in Philedelphia in 1763, Mason and Dixon spent the next four years painstakingly measuring and fixing the proper boundaries between the various colonies, ceasing their work on October 18, 1867. (A team of their subordinates completed the survey in 1787.)
The lines they laid down, although resurveyed since that time, formed the basic lines of the borders between the colonies (and later the states) of Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Later, as these states took different sides in the Civil War, the line came to symbolise the political and cultural border between the southern and northern states.
An advance party for the First Fleet to colonise Australia entered Botany Bay on this day. The Governor of the colony, Arthur Phillip, sailed the armed tender Supply into the bay, and weighed anchor. Two days later, they were joined by the other ships of the Fleet. However, the poor quality of the soil led to the entire fleet decamping, and landing instead in Port Jackson 8 days later, at what was named Sydney Cove by the Governor.
The French explorer La Perouse entered Botany Bay on the same day, January 26, too late to claim the land for France. The British penal colony was, of course, never heard from again.
Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon were a pair of English astronomers who were hired by Thomas Penn and Frederick Calvert, respectively the proprietors of Pennsylvania and Maryland, to resolve a boundary dispute between the two colonies in 1763. The two had worked together for two years before that, Dixon serving as Mason’s assistant.
The survey took three years to complete – and the pair remained in America for another two years after that, being admitted to the American Society for Promoting Useful Knowledge, in 1768, before they left American in the same way they had entered it: via Philadelphia.
Nat Tuner was a black slave in Virginia who believed he was divinely inspired to lead his people to freedom. The rebellion he led in 1831 is the single largest slave rebellion in the history of the United States of America, with a death toll of at least 160 people (100 of them black, including Turner himself, 60 of them white).
The rebellion was a bloody and vengeful affair on both sides, but in the end, Turner’s slaves – for the most part lacking horses and firearms – had little chance against the white establishment. Many of them were killed in the fighting, and the few surviving ringleaders were tried and hung – by people who believed they were divinely inspired to deny them their freedom.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s design for the SS Great Western, which he designed (with some assistance from Thomas Guppy and other members of the Great Western Steamship Company) for the company whose name it bore, was a revolutionary design, and a breakthrough in ship construction. Brunel’s key insight was that the carrying capacity of a ship increases as the cube of its dimensions, whilst the water resistance only increases as the square of its dimensions – which meant that a larger ship was disproportionately more effective in speed and fuel economy.
The SS Great Western would become the model for all successful paddle steamships in the Atlantic, and its owners were able to turn a profit from it even though it was the only ship they ran for several years. It was later sold off after the dissolution of the company, passing through various hands and seeing service as a troopship during the Crimean War. It was broken up for salvage in 1856.
The Thames Tunnel, connecting Rotherthithe and Wapping, was the first of its kind – the only tunnel up to that point to have been excavated beneath a navigable river. Construction on it began in 1925, by Marc Isambard Brunel and his son Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The two used a new invention created by the older Brunel and his associate Thomas Cochrane, called a tunneling shield. The shield’s purpose is to prevent mud, water or other liquids from flooding the tunnel.
Even with this shield, the tunnelling took years – by the time it finally opened to the public in 1843, after floods and other delays, many had given up on it. But the tunnel proved to be a wonder of its era. It was intended for horsedrawn carriages, but attracted so much pedestrian traffic that it was used solely by pedestrians until 1869. In that year, it was purchased by a railway company and tracks were laid. Services still run through the tunnel today.
The Clifton Suspension Bridge was built more than a century after it had first been proposed, from a design by Isambard Kingdom Brunel that was completed by William Henry Barlow and John Hawkshaw after Brunel’s death in 1859. The bridge is particularly notable in that, unusually for a suspension bridge, the towers at each end are not symmetrical with each other.
The bridge operated as a toll bridge upon its opening and it remains one today, still in operation more than 150 years after its construction. It was also the site of the first modern bungee jump, in 1979
It is probably the best known maritime tragedy in history. The RMS Titanic, the largest passnger ship afloat and pride of the White Star Line, was three days out of Southampton on its maiden voyage to New York City when it collided with an iceberg and sank. Of the 2223 passengers and crew, fully 1517 of them were drowned, largely due to an insufficiency of lifeboats.
It’s a matter of historical record that the eight members of the ship’s band continued to play as the ship sank, in a feat of gallantry intended to keep spirits high. All eight of these men died in the sinking. Debate has raged over what their final song was. Some claimed that is was ‘Autumn’, others that it was ‘Nearer My God To Thee’. The debate is further complicated by the fact that ‘Autumn’ could have referred to either hymn tune known as “Autumn” or the tune of the then-popular waltz “Songe d’Automne” (although neither of these tunes were included in the White Star Line songbook). Similarly, there are two arrangements of ‘Nearer My God To Thee’, one popular in Britain and the other in America (and the British one sounds not unlike ‘Autumn’) – and a third arrangement was found in the personal effects of band leader’s fiance.
Miners had been striking for a number of basic rights – an eight hour work day, the right to shop at stores not run by the mining companies, wage increases and actual enforcement of the laws governing mining – since September 1913. Obviously, this attempt by poor working class men to resist their exploitation by the boards of the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company, the Rocky Mountain Fuel Company, and the Victor-American Fuel Company could not be tolerated. An example would have to be made.
An example duly was, but it wasn’t the one that the rich men expected.
On April the 20th, Colorado National Guard members – actually mostly company hired men wearing the uniforms of such – attacked the site of striker’s camp in Ludlow. They killed a number of the strikers – including two wives and eleven children, along with captives who were summarily executed – that day. Only one conviction resulted – one of the strike breakers was convicted of assaulting a union leader who was later killed while a prisoner that day.
This is because management is the best friend that the working man ever had.
Although the effects of the Depression had been gaining momentum since Black Tuesday, on October 29, 1929, and several smaller banks had already fallen, the collapse of the Bank of the United States kicked things up a notch or two. The Bank, at that time the third largest bank in New York City (and twenty-eighth in the United States), sent shockwaves through the economy after a run on its savings began at its Bronx branch on December 10, 1930.
The panic that led to the run on the bank caused it to fail when it did (although it quite possibly would have collapsed even without this, although not until months or even years later) – and the collapse of the bank led to runs on other banks, which led to more collapses. The Great Depression deepened after 1930, and in many countries, did not end until the wartime economies of World War Two changed the playing field again.
Named for then US Secretary of State George Marshall, the Marshall Plan is one of the largest foreign aid schemes ever put in place by any nation. Beginning in 1948 and ending in 1951, the Marshall Plan gave over 12 billion dollars worth of aid to various Western European nations, intending to help them rebuild after World War Two.
In all, 16 nations – Portugal, Iceland, Ireland, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, West Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland, Switzerland, Austria, Norway, Sweden, Greece and Turkey – received differing amounts to assist in reconstruction, particularly of their industrial capacity and general infrastructure. The plan was originally supposed to last until 1953, but America was unable to afford this largess and the war in Korea at the same time.
To be fair, it wasn’t that much of a cover-up on the part of the company. The deed of sale for the site, sold by Hooker Chemicals to the Niagara Falls School Board in 1953 for $1 does specifically mention the presence of the toxic waste, mostly so that the company’s legal liability for the 21,000 tons of chemicals including caustics, alkalines, fatty acids and chlorinated hydrocarbons – residue and waste from the manufacturing of dyes, perfumes, solvents for rubber and synthetic resins – could be limited. The company specifically enjoins against building on the site, because they had a very good idea of how dangerous these chemicals were.
The school board went ahead and built primary schools on the area, and later houses were built as well. Presumably, no members of that school board lived in the area or sent their children to school there. In 1976, journalists began investigating rumours regarding the abnormally high rates of birth defects and diseases in the area – leading to a poorly kept secret becoming front page news across America.
While there had been rumours about payola in the music industry for years, the practice became more prevalent in the 1950s as radio overtook jukeboxes as the primary way music was listened to. In 1959, the US Senate began to investigate these claims, dragging the whole sordid practice of pay for play into the light. DJs testified to taking payments of as much as $22,000 to play songs, and careers were ruined and reputations tarnished.
In an effort to combat the public reaction to the scandal, the National Association of Broadcasters announced heavy fines for DJs caught accepting such bribes. Later, they restructured the industry to make programme directors at each station instead responsible for deciding what to play – a decision that actually made payola easier for the record labels. It is widely believed that the practice of payola continues to this day with little change other than that the DJs no longer see a dime from it.
César Chávez is perhaps the most famous Latino or Mexican-American civil rights activist in history. He was a very astute user of the media, and made the union cause very sympathetic to the American public.
One of the major steps in this process was the formation of the he National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) in 1962. Later called the United Farm Workers, which was created by the merger Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) led by Filipino organizer Larry Itliong, and the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) led by Chávez.
Like most other cities the world over, Los Angeles moved away from the inflexibility of light rail public transportation after the Second World War. An increasing emphasis on car ownership gripped the West, leading to booms in freeway construction, service station openings and closures of all sorts of rail lines, light and heavy. Most of the light rail lines of Los Angeles were replaced by bus routes – often, the lines were purchased by bus companies with the express intention of doing so.
The last of the Red Cars – those operated by the Pacific Electric company – ran on the Los Angeles to Long Beach line until April 9, 1961. The last of the Yellow Cars ran almost two years longer, before the last service on the J, P, R, S and V routes on March 30. All of these were replaced by bus lines on March 31, 1963. It was the end of an era.
When it was first created, the Neutron Bomb was hailed as a triumph of efficiency and progress. In theory, it would kill the population of its affected area, while leaving the buildings standing. The bomb would have a lesser degree of heat and concussive force than an ordinary nuclear bomb, but a greatly increased amount of radiation.
The bomb was never used in a combat situation, and its production has been largely discontinued. The United States, the Soviet Union, China and France all had developed neutron bombs, but no country is currently known to deploy them.
Up until 1966, the National Coal Board had allowed the excavations from the Aberfan mine to be piled up on the hill above the village. The total volume of this debris is unknown, but the estimated volume of just the portion that broke away on October 21, 1966 is in the vicinity of 150,000 cubic metres. Safety inspectors were typically more concerned with safety issues inside the mine than outside, but even so the NCB had been warned repeatedly over the years leading up to this disaster.
The warnings went unheard until that deadly Friday, when heavy rains contributed to the slide of the debris onto the town. The debris covered a farm, twenty houses along Moy St, Aberfan, and a large portion of Pantglas Junior School. The total death toll was 144 people, including 5 teachers at the school, and 115 students aged between 7 and 10 years old. It remains one of the worst mining disasters of the modern era.
Between 1868 and 1969, there were thirteen separate fires on the Cuyahoga River, the worst occurring in 1952. It was one of the most polluted watercourses in all of the United States. But the 1969 fire, although not the most damaging, was the one with the most lasting effects. Public outcry over the fire led to the creation of the Clean Water Act, Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, and the creation of the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA).
Water quality on the Cuyahoga has improved, and most of the largest individual sources of pollution have been cleaned up, but the problem remains one that needs guarding against to prevent a recurrence.
Rupert Murdoch was already a media magnate in his native Australia, and in New Zealand as well, when he entered the British media market in 1968. His initial foray was to purchase the “News of the World”, but the following year, he picked up the struggling daily “The Sun”, which was five years old and in serious trouble. He shifted it to a tabloid format with an emphasis on page three girls and sports – he also saved money by using a single printing press for both papers (they had previously each had their own).
The revamped paper first appeared in its tabloid format on November 17, 1969 – the first headline was “HORSE DOPE SENSATION”, and its redesigned masthead was deliberately in imitation of its main competitor, “The Daily Mirror”. In the years that followed, “The Sun” would become one of the dominant newspapers in the United Kingdom (and its success helped to fund Murdoch’s later expansion into the American market). Along the way, Murdoch has made powerful enemies at every turn – but he’s also made even more powerful friends, especially on the right wing of politics in the countries where his enterprises operate.
Early in the morning of July 22, 1971, the oil tanker Tamano briefly ran aground in Casco Bay, Maine. No one noticed this, or the twenty foot long gash in the side of the ship that was now leaking oil into the bay. This particular display of oil transport competence was brought to you by Texaco, and followed the same depressing trajectory as any other oil spill.
The months that followed saw massive environmental damage to the local area, a partial cleanup of the spill at taxpayer expense, and a completely typical denial of liability by the oil company – who passed the buck to the shipping company they’d outsourced to and blamed the government for not making the shipping channels safer. Incredibly, the latter point Texaco actually won a court case over.
Founded by Roy and Gaye Raymond, Victoria’s Secret grew, although slowly, over its first five years. In 1982, when the Raymond’s sold it to Leslie Wexner, the business consisted of five lingerie stores. Wexner aggressively expanded it, and by the early nineties, there were 350 stores, many of them in malls, and the company’s annual turnover had grown to over a billion dollars.
However, the company has struggled in recent years, due to changing consumer tastes and a run of bad publicity. Such as this song:
The first prophet of Objectivism, the author of “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead”, and one of the greatest fantasy writers of the twentieth century, Ayn Rand was 77 years old when she died. The medical diagnosis was heart failure; on a more metaphorical, it’s pretty clear that a writer who so baldly exposed selfishness had experienced a failure to have a heart some decades earlier.
Rand was a divisive figure – she opposed the Vietnam War but condemned draft dodgers; she thought homosexuality was “disgusting” and “immoral” but still supported its decriminalisation, she believed in “free love” but was notoriously jealous and possessive of her lovers – and a staunch critic of the welfare state.
She died supported by government benefits, as she could not afford medical treatment on her own.
In the early Eighties, getting a rock star to advertise your fizzy sugar drink was the done thing. Both Pepsi and Coca Cola got some of the biggest names of the era – David Bowie, Tina Turner, Billy Joel and others all recorded versions of their songs with the lyrics changed to spruik their sponsor’s drinks. But then Pepsi announced that they had won this arms race. They would produce an ad with the biggest star in the world, the King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson.
The ad was shot in late January, 1984. It was never completed and has never been screened, due to the events of January 24. On that day, Michael Jackson was injured in a pyrotechnics accident, setting his hair on fire and leaving him with second degree burns. Jackson suffered extreme pain from the burns, and developed a pain killer habit as a result. It was a terrible accident, one that too many marks the beginning of Jackson’s decline as an artist.
The Bhopal disaster (also referred to as the Bhopal gas tragedy) is the worst industrial catastrophe in the history of the world.
It occurred on the night of December 2–3, 1984 at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India. A number of chemicals – most notably methyl isocyanate gas – leaked out of the plant, and literally hundreds of thousands of people were exposed to it. Many of them were killed.
Estimates vary on the death toll. The official immediate death toll was 2,259 and the government of Madhya Pradesh has confirmed a total of 3,787 deaths related to the gas release subsequently. Other governmental agencies estimated 3,000, 8,000 and even 15,000 deaths from diseases and injuries resulting from the disaster. In 2006, a government affidavit gave a figure 558,125 injuries including 38,478 temporary partial and approximately 3,900 severely and permanently disabling injuries.
Union Carbide continues its business today, its safety standards not much improved from 1984.
Under the terms of the Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act of 1984, it became possible for duly appointed local authorities (reporting in turn to state authorities, under the overall coordination of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission) to declare moratoriums on fishing for the Atlantic Striped Bass – known to fisherman as the Striper – for periods of up to 30 days. But these moratoriums could also be renewed more or less indefinitely, until it was determined by the authority that the population of the fish had recovered sufficiently.
While in most locations, populations of the Atlantic Striped Bass did indeed recover – although the process took around a decade – that was little consolation to the fisherman who lost their livelihoods in the meantime.
The oil tanker MV Braer was en route from Bergen, Norway to Quebec, Canada when it ran aground. Two days prior to the spill, the ship had suffered contamination of its fuel by sea water after cracks in the fuel lines had formed. In the early morning of January 5, the contamination became so great that the engine could no longer function. Dead in the water, the 242 metre long oil tanker, laden with 85,000 tonnes of Gulfaks crude oil, was at the mercy of the elements. And the elements were not feeling merciful.
The winds were blowing between Force 10 and 11 that night (a range from 89-117 kmh, or 55-73 mph), driving the now uncontrollable tanker towards the rocks of Sumbergh Heads. In the event, she ran aground at Garths Ness, and although a great amount of oil leaked out, the combination of the violence of the storm and the nature of the oil (Gulfaks is unusually biodegradable) dispersed the oil more quickly that might otherwise have been the case. The environmental toll was still vast and preventable, but it would only have been worse had the oil not been Gulfaks. A small mercy, perhaps, but a mercy just the same.
Intel’s first Pentium microprocessor was the Pentium P5. Released on March 22, 1993, it was an x86 compatible chip that was an instant hit. Intel promoted it – and subsequent releases in the Pentium series – heavily. For a while there, it seemed like you couldn’t turn around without seeing one those damned “
CyberdyneIntel Inside” logos.
The Pentium remains, to this day, the single most well known brand of CPU on the planet – today’s song is certainly proof of that.
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is primarily intended to end tariffs between the USA, Canada and Mexico, allowing for the free trade of goods and services between them. Of course, it also revisited copyright to bring certain films back out of the public domain (because there’s such a thing as too much freedom where Hollywood is concerned), and some agricultural tariffs were not covered by it either.
All in all, twenty years on, NAFTA’s legacy is a mixed one, having ultimately turned out to be neither as bad as some feared or as good as some promised. Economics is many things, but none of them is ever simple.
In September 2000, the World Economic Forum met at the Crown Casino complex in Melbourne, Australia. Over three days, they discussed matters of great importance that would affect the lives of millions of people the world over.
Meanwhile, outside, one of the largest assemblages of protestors ever seen in Australia gathered and tried to make cogent points about the millions of lives that would be affected by the WEF’s decisions, which might not be entirely pleased by the results of them. In this goal, they were thwarted by that stalwart upholder of the privileges of the rich, the Victorian Police Force. Opportunities to harass people who upset their lords and masters don’t come along every day, after all.
Of course, unlike previous efforts by VicPol, this one was widely filmed and photographed, with many of the images captured directly contradicting the statements by the police regarding their violations of their own procedures, of the civil rights of the protestors, and oh yeah, of a little thing called The Law (you know, the thing the police swear an oath to uphold).
It was only the beginning of the end, but by the time it was done, one of the greatest success stories of American business would be revelaed to be one of the greatest lies in American business. Enron was an energy provider originally based in Houston, Texas, but which grew to become an international titan with interests in gas, electricity and even non-energy fields such as communications. It was lauded for its innovations in business.
However, it turned out that the most innovative thing about them was their interesting new accounting practices: Enron’s single greatest contribution to the history of American business was their creative – and illegal – account keeping. By the time the SEC concluded their investigation, Enron would have declared bankruptcy and their director, Ken Lay, would be convicted on ten counts of assorted frauds. He died of a heart attck before he commenced his prison sentence.
The Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Depository is exactly what it sounds like: a facility located inside Yucca Mountain, Nevada. It was exhaustively researched as a potential facility throughout the eighties and nineties, and finally given the go ahead in 2002. It is intended that it be a safe place to store radioactive materials for up to a million years (the longest anticipated time for the materials in question to remain radioactive).
Although construction has commenced, there have been numerous delays, and the Obama administration has repeatedly cut the funds available for the project, which is now unlikely to be ready for use before 2020.
So that’s something to look forward to.
On July 24, 2002, a team of 18 miners in the Quecreek Mine (in Somerset County, Pennsylvania) accidentally broke through into an older, poorly documented mine. The second mine, the Saxman Coal Mine, was flooded, and the water quickly spread into the Quecreek Mine as well. Half of the miners escaped easily, but nine others were cut off by the rising flood.
After several days of drilling, all nine men were safely rescued on July 28, 2002, after five days underground. The men were suffering from starvation and exposure, but all of them were airlifted to hospitals, where they all made full recoveries. Only one of the nine men still works in a mine as of this writing.
Bunny Greenhouse was a rising star in the United States Army Corps of Engineers until the year 2000. Suddenly, under a new CO, her previously spotless performance appraisals were less so, something Greenhouse attributes to racism and sexism (claims which the US Army is yet to investigate).
In 2005, she testified before a public committee hearing of the Democratic Party regarding the Army’s deals with Halliburton, in particular with regard to waste, inefficiency, fraud, abuse of power and general corruption. Naturally, this led to the end of her military career, as the Bush White House apparently believed that free speech was something whistleblowers should be made to pay for.
Her actual words that day were an indictment of Halliburton, and by extension, the political, military and economic climate in which that company thrives: she described Halliburton’s dealings as “the most blatant and improper contract abuse I have witnessed during the course of my professional career.”