The short version: in the beginning, there was nothing, which then exploded.
The longer version: all the matter in the universe was compressed into the smallest possible volume. Try to understand that this is so much matter that the force of gravity warps the laws of physics as we know them. The whole thing is is under so much pressure that it explodes – forming the universe as we know it as the laws of physics change radically from picosecond to picosecond, and eventually energy cools and congeals into matter.
It’s like they say: “it all started with the Big Bang!”
In the early millenia of what is sometimes referred to as the Hadean era of the Earth, there were no rocks as we would commonly understand the term – it was too hot for them to form. Still, the Earth was slowly cooling and solidifying. It’s worth noting that the Sun itself was not as hot at this time – like the larger planets of our solar system, it was still accreting matter to itself. Rockballs like the Earth (and Mars and Venus) were largely done with this process (although the occasional meteor or cometary impacts still occurred).
By the end of this era, approximately 3,800,000,000 years ago, the Earth had cooled sufficiently to allow for the stable formation of rocks, and its surface had begun to split into tectonic plates. Most importantly for humanity’s future, life had begun: the earliest evidence of photosynthesis dates from around this time.
The majestic oceans of planet Earth were formed neither quickly nor simply. It took literally millions of years between the first surface water’s appearance and the creation of the primordial sea.
Several factors contributed to this: the gradual cooling of the Earth was the first and most important, but also important was the slow release of water from existing minerals, the condensation of steam, and even the addition of water in the form of ice from occasional cometary collisions with the planet.
The first waters soon became the habitat of early prokaryotes – whose biochemical processes led to the formation of still more water. Indeed, it is possible that the majority of water on the planet today exists as a result of these organisms.
The earliest known bipedal vertebrate, eudibamus cursoris was a small parareptile. The sole specimen that has been found (in Thuringia, Germany) measured about 25 cm long – about the size of a house cat. Reconstructions of it give it an appearance resembling a cross between a tiny velociraptor and a modern iguana.
The sole specimen of it known to science was discovered in 2000 by a paleontological team including David S. Berman, Robert R. Reisz, Diane Scott, Amy C. Henrici, Stuart S. Sumida and Thomas Martens. The species is believed to have existed for a span of about five million years or so.
Pangaea was a super-continent – an agglomeration of multiple continents – that came into being about 250 million years ago. It was composed of all the continents we know today fused into a single landmass, surrounded by a single ocean (called Panthalassa) – and was the last time such a thing occurred. In fact, it was slightly larger than the combined areas of the modern continents, as supercontinent formation tends to lead to lower sea levels.
Pangaea (the name comes from the Greek Pan meaning All and Gaea meaning Earth) existed during the Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras, and its best known inhabitants were the dinosaurs. It began to break up approximately 75 million years after it formed, although the continents would not reach anything approximating their modern positions until only about 35 million years ago, when the Indian subcontinent collided with Asia.
Everyone loves the dinosaurs. A lot of people – if the Jurassic Park films are to be believed – would like to see them come back. But without their extinction, we wouldn’t be here today.
Even now, it’s still not clear what exactly caused the extinction event – but the best known hypothesis is that of Luis and Walter Alvarez, which states that a meteoric or cometary impact caused a nuclear winter-like effect that altered the climate drastically, wiping out something like 75% of all species alive at the time. The effects were particularly felt by larger species – which included most dinosaurs.
In the wake of the event, now open evolutionary niches were occupied by mammals and birds, including our own ancestors.
Not actually true mammals, but instead mammaliformes, the members of the sub-class Allotheria are distinguished from other mammals chiefly by their dentition, which featured lower molariform teeth equipped with two longitudinal rows of cusps. Extant from the Late Triassic through to the Early Oligocene, the Allotheria were rodent-like animals in appearance.
They were widespread, found on all continents including Antarctica (which was considerably warmer in this era), and included in their ranks herbivores, carnivores and omnivores. Unfortunately for biodiversity, the last of them died out between 33.9 and 28.4 million years ago, give or take 100,000 years.
Australopithecus was an early proto-hominid that evolved in Eastern Africa around 4 million years ago. It consisted of a number of sub-species: A. anamensis, A. afarensis, A. sediba, and A. africanus; and two more sub-species whose genus is disputed: A. robustus and A. boisei. Over the course of two million years or so, the various Australopithecenes ranged across Eastern and Southern Africa.
The Australopithecines evolved about 2 million years after the split between the ancestral roots of humanity and chimpanzees (our closest relative), and one or more of the various sub-species of Australopithecus is likely to have been the progenitor of the Homo Genus, to which modern humanity (homo sapiens sapiens) belongs.
The earliest species to evolve in the genus homo was Homo habilis, which is believed to have evolved in Africa from Australopithecene ancestors (although which of several species of australopithecus was the direct ancestor is not known). The genus homo would go on to become the most successful species in the entire history of the earth, until it created a global ecological catasprophe in the early to mid twenty first century, which destroyed all the members of that genus, and almost every other genus above the size of bacteria.
(By the way, if you’re reading this, you’re either a homo, or an extraterrestrial intelligence that’s very tolerant of our immaturity.)
(Man, I love that pun.)
The earliest known member of the genus Homo, habilis evolved on the savannah of Africa between 2.5 and 2 million years ago. They are believed to have been the earliest part of our evolutionary chain to have been fully bipedal, to have lost (almost all of) the body hair that other primates have, and to have lived entirely on the ground – although possibly still gathering fruit from and seeking shelter in trees, much as we still do.
The reasons for this evolutionary move are many, but some of the more important ones include greater access to water, increased dietary variety and increased use of tools in hunting, which also made defence against predators easier than it had been for their australopithicene ancestors.
Okay, this one’s a bit of a reach, but work with me here.
At some point, boats were invented. We do not when, or where, or by whom. Nor, Mr Brown’s opinions aside, do we know what gender the inventor had.
What we do know is that, at the very latest, humans arrived in Australia having traveled by boat approximately 65,000 years ago. However, some evidence suggests that boats were actually invented in the Indonesian archipelago somewhere around 900,000 years ago.
The earliest known example of tool making by a hominid species, the Mousterian tools were created by members of the species homo neanderthalensis. They were primarily a flint-based technology, consisting mostly of cutting and scraping tools. Their name derives from Le Moustier in France, where such tools were discovered. However, it is unlikely that Le Moustier is the actual site of the tools’ origin, as similar tools have been found throughout Europe, the Near East and North Africa. Wherever they were invented, they clearly disseminated widely and – one assumes – swiftly.
The advent of tool making is the beginning of humanity’s technology-enabled conquest of the world. Up until this point, our ancestors were one species among many – a little smarter than most, but not especially better adapted than any other. Tool making changed that, making hominid species deadlier and more efficient hunters, and leading in time to the technological civilization that anyone reading this lives in today.
In the traditions of the Indigenous Australian peoples, their ancestors were created with the land, at the dawn of what is called the Dreamtime, the Dreaming or Alterjinga.
Science tells it a little differently. The original ancestors of the people now known as the Australian Aboriginals emigrated to Australia at some point between 40,000 and 120,000 years ago, with an increasing amount of evidence supporting the earliest date. Due to the wide variation of dates, it is unclear whether they arrived here after a sea crossing, or via a landbridge now submerged. It is not known where they first set foot in Australia, nor how many separate waves of migration occurred.
What is for certain is that these people dwelt in Australia with little or no contact with the rest of the world (the Macassar fishing fleets being one of the few exceptions), for thousands of years before European settlement in 1788. Whether or not one accepts the Dreamtime legend, there remains an undeniable case for considering them to be the traditional owners of the land, displaced and disenfranchised by European imperialism.
It’s unclear exactly what killed the mammoths off, although there are two leading contenders: the end of the last Ice Age made climates generally warmer (although the last ice age ended several thousand years before the extinction was complete) and predation – the predator in question being, of course, us.
At one point, mammoths were found across most of the northern reaches of Europe, Asia and America, in several different species, but bit by bit, these were hunted to extinction. The shrinking of their optimal habitat as the ice retreated probably made the hunting easier, but their extinction was a certainty as soon as our ancestors developed a taste for mammoth-meat.
The last known population of mammoths, that on Wrangel Island in the Arctic Sea to the north of Chukotka (the easternmost part of Asia), became extinct in about 1650 BCE, having survived their relatives on St Paul Island, Alaska, by about 1100 years.
One of the most well-known Middle Eastern poets in the West, largely due to an apparently neverending series of translations of his Rubaiyat, Omar Khayyám was also a mathematician, an astronomer, and as his poetry tends to indicate, a philosopher. He’s one of the few people in history that could have dealt with Leonardo da Vinci as an equal, a true polymath whose work remains influential even today. Notably, he was one of the reformers who modified the Persian Calendar in 1079 – the new calendar, known as the Jalali calendar, is still in use (with some minor corrections) in Iran and Afghanistan.
Of course, he was also damned cool – legend has it that he was a boyhood friend of Hassan i Sabbah (and if you don’t know who he was, you’re in for a surprise), while modern historical research has uncovered evidence suggesting that he devised a heliocentric model of our Solar System centuries before Copernicus. Frankly, he’s a candidate for interesting historical fictions just waiting to happen.
Columbus’ expedition to the Far East was going well. He left Spain on August 3, and by October 7, the expedition sighted a large flock of birds. Finally, a sailor named Rodrigo de Triana (aboard the La Pinta) sighted land at about 2AM on October 12.
Columbus, being the shy, retiring flower that he was, later claimed that he had seen land first, which almost certainly had nothing to do with the reward of 10,000 maravedís. Columbus named the island San Salvador, although the resident indigenes had already named it Guanahani. Exactly which island in the Bahamas or Turks and Caicos this corresponds to is an unresolved topic; prime candidates are Samana Cay, Plana Cays, Grand Turk, or San Salvador Island (which was named San Salvador in 1925 in the belief that it was Columbus’ San Salvador).
Technically, this is actually the date of Copernicus’ death, however, since no authoritative dating other than ‘shortly before his death’ exists for the publication of ‘De revolutionibus orbium coelestium’, I have chosen to use this date.
‘De revolutionibus orbium coelestium’, or in English, ‘On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres” is the single most famous work regarding the heliocentric theory of the solar system, i.e. the theory that the planets revolve around the Sun. It inspired considerable controversy in its day, which is one reason why Copernicus published it when he did – the historical evidence suggests that it was written between 1510 and 1530 – and effectively disproved the Platonic theory that the sun and planets revolved around the Earth.
James Cook, better known to history as Captain Cook, was born in Yorkshire, the second of eight children. After a period of service and learning in the merchant navy, Cook joined the Royal Navy in 1755, and rose through the ranks to become Captain of his own ship. In this role, he would distinguish himself as one of the greatest navigators and surveyors the world has ever seen.
He is best remembered for his three voyages to the Pacific, where he lead missions that were the first Europeans to set foot on New Zealand and the eastern coast of Australia, and the first people ever to cross the Antarctic circle, among other accomplishments. Even during his lifetime, Cook was so respected the world over that during the American Revolution, the rebel navy had orders not to fire on his ship, but to render him assistance as ‘a friend to all mankind’.
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.
The first ever steam train was built by Richard Trevithick in Wales in the early 19th century. On its maiden journey, on February 21, 1804, the unnamed steam locomotive hauled a train along tracks from the Pen-y-darren ironworks, near Merthyr Tydfil to Abercynon in south Wales. It was the world’s first ever railway journey. (The phrase ‘steam train’ would not be coined until 1822, but it applies to this vehicle.)
From there, the idea took off like wildfire. Railways opened up the vast plains of Australia and North America to settlement, while in Europe, they drove the Industrial Revolution to heights of productivity without precedent in human history. And although steam would in time give way to diesel and electricity as the fuel of choice for running railways, the importance of trains for hauling freight and passengers would only grow as the years went by.
Probably the most famous member of Shoshone tribe of North American Indians, Sacajawea (or Sacagawea, depending on your translation) is best-remembered as the native guide who helped Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on their journey up the Missouri river, and on to the Pacific Ocean.
Sacajawea was vital to the success of the mission, as without her knowledge of the Shoshone tongue, Lewis and Clark would not have been able to barter with that tribe for badly needed supplies. Lewis and Clark tended to refer to her as ‘the Indian woman’ in their journals – but those same journals make it very clear that the entire expedition would likely have died, either from starvation or encounters with hostile Indians, without her knowledge of the lands, tribes and tongues of the areas they explored, and her apparently considerable skills in diplomacy.
Benjamin Banneker was born a free black man in Virginia in 1731 – his mother was also a free black, his father a former slave now free. Largely self-educated, in 1791 he was a member of the team that surveyed the boundaries of the newly declared District of Columbia. His primary duty was to take astronomical observations to ascertain the exact locations of the various points the survey visited.
The following year, Banneker turned his skill at astronomy to creating an ephemeris, which he then published in an almanac. The almanac sold well enough that he continued to make them annually until 1797. He became a man of some note, and was a regular correspondent of President Thomas Jefferson, with whom he argued about slavery and other political issues. He died after retiring from public life, aged 74.
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.
A British explorer who, along with his fellow explorer Richard Burton, was among those to search for the source of the Nile, John Hanning Speke was the lucky one who actually found it. In 1856, he and Burton had journeyed to East Africa and worked their way inland looking for evidence of the Nile. They were the first Europeans to sight Lake Tanganyika, but that Burton fell ill.
Pressing on without him, Speke was the first European to find Lake Victoria, and named it in honour of his Queen. He returned to England before Burton, and became famous on the strength of this discovery, but history remembers Burton better (as he was a better writer, a more daring explorer, and a more shameless self-publicist). Speke is remembered in Uganda, one of the countries that the lake’s shores touch, with a mountain named after him.
One of the most controversial books in the world, On the Origin of Species (often called Origin of the Species is one of the foundational texts of modern science. Not only is almost the entirety of modern biology built on its foundation, but it remains an excellent (if imperfect) example of the scientific method.
Charles Darwin had spent many years developing this theory, beginning with initial observations in 1835 during his voyage on the Beagle, and working on it in earnest for more than 15 years prior to publication. Darwin was entirely unprepared for the controversy he kicked off, although one suspects that he’d merely be saddened and confused by the low esteem in which a majority of Americans currently hold his theory.
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
Joseph Merrick (often incorrectly called John) was one of the most notoriously deformed human beings ever to live. Among other unusual features, he had thick, lumpy skin with enlarged lips, and a bony lump growing from his forehead. One of his arms and both of his feet became enlarged, and at some point during his childhood he fell and damaged his hip, resulting in Merrick becoming perpetually lame.
He made a living (of sorts) as a circus freak for many years (about the only work he could get – Merrick had no illusions about how others regarded his appearance, although those able to look beyond that generally reported him to be friendly and well-mannered, if understandably shy), until a Dr Frederick Treves arranged for him to reside in a hospital in London. It was here that Merrick spent the last six years of his life, being examined by the finest medical minds that the Victorian Era had to offer, and remaining (even to this day) enigmatically undiagnosable. Merrick was only 27 when he died, apparently from injuries caused in his sleep by his enlarged head bones. Most of what is known about him today comes from the writings of Treves, which were unfortunately rather subjective.
I (User:Belovedfreak) have emailed the Royal London Hospital Archives to request information regarding the author. The Trust Archivist for Barts and The London NHS Trust has confirmed that they do not know the name of the photographer, and no such name is included on the carte de visite. – Photograph downloaded from Sideshow Wiki (direct image link)
The image hosted at the Sideshow Wiki is a copy of an original carte de visite of Joseph Merrick that is owned by Royal London Hospital Archives.
Royal London Hospital ref: RLHLH/P/3/24/2.
The carte de visite in the Royal London Hospital Archives had been in the possession of the Rev. H. Tristram Valentine, who was Chaplain at the London Hospital from 1885–1889., Public Domain, Link
As mentioned in:
If I Had A Million Dollars — Bare Naked Ladies
Daniel Hale Williams was one of the first Afro-American men to achieve prominence as a surgeon. He served as the surgeon-in-chief of Freedman’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. from 1896 to 1898, and also established a teaching college for nurses at the hospital. Other notable achievements include being a charter member of the American College of Surgeons (and the first ever black member) and founding the first non-segregated hospital in America.
But he is best known for performing one of the earliest successful heart surgeries, a pericardium repair on a stabbing victim named James Cornish. Cornish convalesced for 55 days after the operation, but made a full recovery. Cardiac surgery would develop little for another 50 years, until World War Two prompted surgeons to investigate it more closely, and the pioneering work of Williams and others was belatedly recognized.
By Unknown – Source now defunct; images fetched from the Wayback Machine. Description page at . Image at ., Public Domain, Link
As mentioned in:
Black Man — Stevie Wonder
Although there has been considerable controversy over the years regarding who actually invented radio – controversy not helped by Marconi himself being at times over-willing to claim credit for the work of others – it is now generally agreed that it was Marconi himself who first invented radio. (The disputes mostly revolve around who invented various later refinements of Marconi’s original patent.)
That patent – British Patent 12039 “Improvements in Transmitting Electrical impulses and Signals, and in Apparatus therefor” – was applied for on June 2 of 1896, with the complete specification being provided on March 2 of the following year, and the patent as a whole being accepted on July 2, 1897.
Unfortunately for Marconi, Tesla had been granted similar patents in America, and the two men would spend decades locked acrimonious dispute over the matter. In fact, in America it would only be resolved by a court decision after both men had died – the court found in favour of Tesla. But perhaps Marconi won anyway – it’s his name, not Tesla’s, which is used as a synonym for ‘radio’ even today.
There has never been anything quite like it.
On June 30, 1908, something – we still don’t know what – streaked across the skies of Siberia, and exploded in the vicinity of Tunguska. At that time, Siberia was even more wild and uninhabited than it now is. The nearest witnesses were miles away, and most of the world remained blissfully unaware that anything had happened there.
But in 1920, Russian scientists began an investigation of the site that is still going on. They have discovered that the event was mostly likely a meteor that detonated in the air above Tunguska, devastating the taiga for miles in every direction in a manner very similar to that of a large thermonuclear explosion. If the course of the object had varied by only a few degrees, it might easily have hit somewhere else, where the damage and loss of life would have been considerably greater. As it is, there were no known deaths – although records, particularly of the nomadic Evenki people who lived in the region at that time, were not well-maintained.
Theories abound as to what might have caused the enormous explosion, and it says something that the crash-landing of alien spaceship is one of the tamer ones.
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.
Alexander Graham Bell, best known as the inventor of the telephone, was 75 when he died, and still refused to have a telephone in his laboratory. He regarded his most famous – and most transformative – invention as a nuisance and a distraction from his serious work. The telephone itself had arisen out of Bell’s true interests in acoustics, which grew out of his work as a teacher for the deaf: he had wanted to invent a device that would make it possible for the deaf to hear, the fact that he may well have stolen the idea from Elisha Gray notwithstanding.
The telephone is merely his best known invention – Bell held the patent for that, but also for 17 other inventions (some of them held in common with other, but most in his own right). Bell’s death was the result of complications arising from his diabetes. He left behind a legacy that has, over the course of less than 150 years and with many followers building on his work, transformed the world beyond recognition. One wonders what he’d think of the iPhone.
Tutankhamun, or King Tut, was one of the most mysterious of the Egyptian pharaohs, largely because his successors had tried very hard to eradicate all records of his existence. Fortuitously, this meant that his tomb was lost for centuries, and not found until the 1920s, allowing archaeologists a good idea of what a pharaonic tomb that hadn’t been plundered and vandalised looked like.
The innermost chamber of it, where the boy king himself lay, was the last part to be unsealed. Archaeologist Howard Carter, the leader of the dig, was the first to see into the tomb. When asked what he saw, he replied “Wonderful things”. He was right. The collection of artifacts from this tomb is the most complete existing for any Egyptian ruler, and has traveled the world many times in the century since its discovery.
Garrett Morgan was not the first to invent or patent a traffic signal, but he was the first to invent one that could be changed at a distance, via a mechanical linkage. (He also patented a gas mask.) Morgan was a black man living in Cleveland, Ohio, who was a successfully businessman and well-liked citizen of his town in a time long before the Civil Rights movement.
No doubt he still suffered from quite a deal of racism, and there’s a certain irony in that his inventions probably saved far more white lives than they did black lives. Morgan is remembered in Cleveland as the first black man there to own a car, and also for his heroic rescue of trapped minors (using his own gas mask invention) in 1916, for which he received awards and acclaim.
John Scopes was arrested for teaching evolution in Dayton, Ohio, because the god-fearing people of Dayton felt that evolution contradicted the sacret teachings of the Bible. The trial was a media circus (by 1925 standards, when they didn’t have a 24 hour news cycle) and ignited a national debate about evolution across America.
It would ultimately result in the conviction of John Scopes for one of the most ridiculous ‘crimes’ ever invented by superstitious idiots.
In the 1920’s, aviators were heroes. They were bold explorers and experimenters, pushing back the boundaries of the known. And none of them loomed larger in the public eye than Charles “Lucky” Lindbergh.
At the age of 25, this formerly obscure US Air Mail pilot was catapulted to fame and fortune when he completed the remarkable feat of being the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic. Flying a custom-built single engine monoplane named The Spirit of St Louis, he took off from from Roosevelt Field on Long Island shortly before 8AM on May 20, and landed 35 hours later at Le Bourget Field in Paris.
This exploit won him the Orteig Prize, a sum of $25,000. He was also feted and decorated, receiving the Medal of Honor from the USA and the Legion of Honour from France, among other awards.
Born in 1904, Dr Charles Drew was one of the first black surgeons in the United States – although that is far from being his only claim to fame.
His work in the fields of blood transfusions and storage led to breakthroughs in the field, culminating in the development of large scale blood banks that saved thousands of lives of Allied soldiers and civilians during the war. He also protested the segregation of blood supplies along racial lines, on the ground that there was no scientific basis for it (as indeed, there is not). He lost his job over this stance, but it did not deter him from it.
He also became the first black man to be selected to serve as an examiner of the American Board of Surgery.
Nikola Tesla, the inventor of alternating current, and a personal and business rival of Thomas Edison for decades, died penniless and alone in a hotel in New York. Despite his many inventions and great fame, he had few friends and virtually nothing to show for his work by this, his 87th year of life.
Tesla has been more fondly remembered in fiction than in history, where he is often the archetypal Mad Scientist – and hero or villain with about equal frequency.
It was supposed to be a headache cure.
What Dr Albert Hofmann and his assistants were searching for, in their lab in Berne, Switzerland, was a better cure for the common headache. It was originally synthesized on November 18, 1938, but it seemed a failure, and was put aside. Hofmann barely gave it another thought, but five years later, he decided to give it another look.
Examining it, he accidentally dosed himself with an unknown quantity on April 16, 1943. The effects he experienced are now very familiar, even to those who’ve never directly felt them, and although it took him some time, he figured out what had happened. Three days later, he took the first ever deliberate acid trip, ingesting 250 micrograms, and experienced similar effects. Famously, he rode his bike home from the lab while feeling the effects, which is why this day is sometimes referred to as Bicycle Day by the kind of people who think acid’s pretty cool.
Happy Bicycle Day, everyone!
The world entered a new age – the nuclear age – when the scientists and soldiers of the Manhattan Project test detonated the first ever atomic bomb at White Sands in Nevada. Less than a month later, two more bombs just like it would destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki, bringing World War Two to an abrupt end.
On the day, however, no one knew quite how destructive the bomb would be (some worried that it would ignite the entire atmosphere of the planet, for example), or how long its effects would last. But after the explosion, Robert Oppenheimer’s apropos quote from the Bhavagad Gita was generally agreed to be the most apt: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”
One of the elements of the actinide group, Californium was first synthesized on approximately February 9, 1950 by researchers at the University of California. After checking and replicating the initial experiment, its discovery was announced a month later, and the element named for the university (and state) where it had been created.
Unusually for a synthetic element, it was later discovered in naturally occurring forms, albeit as a result of extremely rare phenomena. Californium also has practical uses, notably in initiating nuclear reactions and in the creation of higher elements – ununoctium (element 118) was synthesized by bombarding californium-249 atoms with calcium-48 ions
“Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health” was first published by L. Ron Hubbard in 1950. It is a canonical text of Scientology, often referred to as “Book One” of the Scientological holy books. One of the best-selling self-help books in American history, it is also one of the most widely reviled, as the Church of Scientology, like all churches, does not lack for enemies.
“Dianetics” itself is a mixture of biology and psychology, none of it more recent than 1949, and most of it soundly debunked – in some cases, even before the book was written. In particular, the book is frequently criticised for its lack of either qualifiers to its claims or evidence to support them.
No doubt all these critics are merely dupes of Xenu and his thetans.
The nuclear tests at Enewetak were part of a series called Operation Greenhouse. The bombs in the Greenhouse series were smaller in size, weight and amount of fissile material used. At the time they were made, the US had already begun creating a stockpile of such weapons in advance of testing.
Operation Greenhouse was not the first test of the Eisenhower administration, but it was the first to take place at the Pacific Proving Grounds (which were, technically, not even US territory, being instead land held under a United Nations mandate). The aggressive testing schedule of 1951 was largely in response to Soviet Union’s first successful nuclear test in August 1949.
One of the wonder-fabrics of the Fifties, Dacron was the trade name of a particular polyester sold by Du Pont Chemical – the first from that company and the second overall (after Terylene). Its actual chemical name is Polyethylene terephthalate. It was first sold in New York, where it was used to make a variety of garments, most prominently men’s suits. Although a fashion sensation at the time, it has dropped out of favour since the technophiliac Fifties, and is no longer used as much in clothing.
Modern applications for Dacron include ropes (especially for nautical use) and artificial organs, especially hearts – both applications where Dacron’s lack of biodegradability is desirable.
CIA director Allen Dulles ordered the creation of the MKUltra project intending it to create techniques to fight what was believed to be an extensive Communist brain-washing program (at various times identified as being conducted by one of, or some combination of, North Korea, China and the USSR). Its scope became broader than that, attempting to create drugs for mind control, for compelling the truth from interrogation subjects, for duplicating the symptoms of various diseases, for stimulating or retarding aging, and more. Often, subjects were experimented on without their knowledge or consent, leading to several nervous breakdowns and at least one confirmed suicide, as people who did not know they were drugged assumed that they were losing their minds.
The project ran from 1953 through to 1973, although many of the records of it were destroyed in 1974 (a measure ordered by CIA director Richard Helms as the Watergate scandal mounted). This lack of records helped to conceal the extent and outcomes of the program when they were investigated by both the Church Committee and the Rockefeller Commission, but enough was found to confirm much of what was suspected of the program, and the information made public. A further investigation took place in 1977, after the discovery of MKUltra records that had escaped the destruction of the rest due to being misfiled. Afterwards, several of those drugged in the program sued the government for the lack of informed consent, not all of them successfully. Even now, it is not clear whether we know everything about the MKUltra program.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is one of the world’s most prestigious scientific publications in the world. Its first issue, published on December 10, 1945, was only two pages in length. It has grown since then.
In June of 1947, its cover featured, for the first time, what became known as the Doomsday Clock. This would become the regular cover for Bulletin, throughout the run of its print edition, and even today’s online version, which has no cover per se, maintains the clock. The number of minutes before midnight – measuring the degree of nuclear, environmental, and technological threats to mankind – is periodically corrected; when it was first published, the clock was set at seven minutes to midnight.
In September of 1953, Volume IX, Number 7, the Clock was set to 2 minutes to midnight – the closest they had ever been. The hands remained here until January of 1960, and in the following years, would peak at 17 minutes to midnight. In 2018, the hands were once again set to 2 minutes to midnight, where they remain to this day.
In the early days of space exploration, no government seemed ready to send humans into space. After all, no one knew what sort of effects exposure to conditions in space would have on human biology. But dogs and monkeys were fair game.
The United States launched monkey flights between 1948 and 1961, and France launched two monkey space flights in 1967. Most – but not all – monkeys were anesthetized before lift-off. Each monkey flew only one mission, although there were numerous back-up monkeys also went through the programs but never flew. Monkey species used included rhesus monkeys, cynomolgus monkeys, squirrel monkeys and pig-tailed macaques.
Able, was a rhesus monkey, and Miss Baker, a squirrel monkey, and on May 28, 1959, aboard the JUPITER AM-18, they became the first living beings to successfully return to Earth after traveling in space. They travelled in excess of 16,000 km/h, and withstood 38 g (373 m/s²). Their names had no particular significance, being simply taken from a phonetic alphabet.
Able died on June 1, 1959 during surgery but Baker lived into old age, dying on November 29, 1984, She is buried on the grounds of the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and Able was preserved, and is now on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum.
In 1960, no one knew who Jane Goodall was, or how she would revolutionise our ideas about chimpanzee behaviour and intelligence, and by extension, about human behaviour. When she arrived at Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania, she was 26 year old best known as a protege of Louis Leakey who had worked with him at Olduvai Gorge in the late Fifties.
Over the course of more than five decades now, Goodall has devoted herself to scientific research and to ecological activism, but in 1960, no one could have imagined the important figure that Jane Goodall would become. Today, it’s almost impossible to imagine the field of chimpanzee studies without her.
It was a bold announcement at the time – at any time, really. When JFK addressed a joint session of Congress, and announced that the USA would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, he can’t have been sure it could be done. Sure, it was still only 1961 – technological utopianism was the order of the day – but the United States was lagging behind the Soviet Union at that point.
As we now all know, it turns out that it could be done – although with only six months to spare – and Armstrong and Aldrin’s walk on the moon in July 1969 is the most inspiring legacy that John F. Kennedy left behind him.
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.
On November 15, 1966, two young couples from Point Pleasant, West Virginia were out for a pleasant drive. Steve and Mary Mallette and Roger and Linda Scarberry later told police that they saw a large white creature whose eyes “glowed red” when the car headlights picked it up. They described it as a large flying man with ten-foot wings following their car.
Unknown to them, five others had sighted the creature three days earlier, but theirs was the first account to make the news, appearing in the Point Pleasant Register the following day. Over the next month, the creature, now called ‘the Mothman’, was sighted several more times, but after the collapse of a nearby bridge and the resulting deaths of 46 people, sightings dried up for a time – a fact that led many to speculate that the Mothman was a harbinger or prophet of the event.
Or was he?
Ever since Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin filmed a hairy humanoid at Bluff Creek, California, on October 20, 1967, people have been arguing about it.
Patterson was widely believed to be a con-man, and the odds of someone who was specifically looking for Bigfoot finding her are, let’s face it, long. And the blurry footage shows what could easily be some dude in a Star Trek alien costume. (Indeed, Janos Prohaska, costume designer for Star Trek, was among the most vocal skeptics.)
On the other hand, cryptozoologists like to point out the unusual gait of the bigfoot, which they claim is nothing like that of a human, or the fact that there had been sightings at Bluff Creek before this time – although the skeptics claim that as an argument for their side, too…
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.
Really, what needs to be said?
Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins took off from the Kennedy Space Center, near Cape Canaveral, Florida, on July 16. Four days later, the lunar landing module, carrying Armstrong and Aldrin, landed on the Moon. They were supposed to take a sleep break, but Armstrong was impatient to walk on the moon – and who could blame him?
It was July 21 (UTC) by the time they began the EVA. They stayed on the lunar surface for about 150 minutes (15 minutes longer than was originally a plan). During this time, the two spoke to President Nixon in the White House, planted an American flag on the Moon, performed a number of scientific experiments and took numerous photographs, all of them now iconic images.
Despite what you may have heard, it is highly unlikely that the landings were faked. I do not believe that they were, and neither does Buzz Aldrin.
The commander of the Apollo 14 mission, Alan Shepard holds several unique distinctions. He is the only member of the Mercury 7 astronauts to have walked on the Moon and also the oldest person to have walked there (in terms of age at the time he did it). His mission was the first to broadcast colour video from the surface of the Moon and made the most accurate landing of all the Apollo missions. And, of course, he is the first man to have hit golf balls (two of them) on the Moon.
Shepard came home to the hero’s welcome that astronauts traditionally received, and was promoted from Captain to Rear-Admiral after the successful completion of his mission. He retired from the US Navy and NASA, becoming a successful businessman, and eventually died from leukemia in 1998, 21 years to the day from Armstrong’s first moon walk.
His golf balls are presumably still somewhere on the lunar surface.
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.
A noted populariser of the ideas of Alfred Korzybski, especially general semantics, Samuel Ichiye Hayakawa was a Japanese-American academic. He wrote numerous books on semantics and language, some of which remain in use as textbooks even today (notably his “Language in Thought and Action” which is now in its fifth edition).
Hayakawa was the president of San Francisco State College from 1968 to 1973. As president, his most notable action was the creation of an Ethnic Studies department after pressure from Black Panther and student protesters. In 1977, he became a member of the United States Senate (California, R), a role which he held until 1983. He died in 1992 at the age of 85.
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.
Of all the events I’ve classified as Dateless here – meaning that, for one reason or another, no way existed to date them accurately, this is the most peculiar. But the information does not seem to be anywhere on the web – even Microsoft’s own site does not record the release date of this, the earliest version of their cd-rom encyclopaedia, Microsoft Encarta.
Encarta is in many ways a bridge between traditional encyclopedias such as the Britannica, and internet based encyclopedias such as Wikipedia. While its editing policies and hard-coded nature are in the tradition of the Britannica, its searchability represented a massive advance, as did its use of hyperlinking between articles and the inclusion of animations or archival footage to help illustrate articles.
If anyone reading this owns any copy of Encarta, I’d be curious to know whether Encarta’s entry for itself lists its original release date.
The Skunk Ape is an unusual cryptid. For one thing, there are actual photographs of it, taken by an anonymous photographer who has never come forward (but who did send them to a newspaper as part of the Myakka Skunk Ape Letter). For another, it is one of the most commonly reported cryptids, usually seen in northern Florida (where Myakka lies), or less often, in Arkansas or North Carolina. (For the record, none of these three states border each other, and there are no reports from the states in between, so if the skunk ape is real, there may be three separate populations of it.)
The Myakka Skunk Ape Letter was typed by a person or persons claiming to be a female senior citizen living near Myakka in Sarasota County, Florida. In it, the writer describes the ape as seven foot tall in a crouching position (which would make it the tallest hominid known to science), and expresses fears about the creature attacking people (fears which have yet to materialise). It remains unclear whether the letter and its accompanying photos are fakes or not, but the lack of other confirmed sightings of the Myakka Skunk Ape in the Twenty First Century argues against their veracity.
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.
At 6:10AM on the morning of August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made a landfall on the Louisiana coast near Buras-Triumph. After moving along the coast, it made another landfall near the border of Louisiana and Mississippi. Hurricane Katrina was the most destructive natural disaster to strike the United States in recorded history. The confirmed death toll was 1836 (in May 2006), however this is a conservative estimate, and does not include more than 700 people missing, nor indirect deaths.
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Federal Emergency Management Agency displayed a level of incompetence that was close to unbelievable. The level of it was such that corruption or deliberate malice seemed more likely explanation, just as this song suggests:
Originally discovered in 1930, Pluto was at that time classed as a planet, and named for the Roman god of the Underworld. However, as the years went by, evidence mounted that it was not truly a major planet. Although it did have moons of its own, it also had an eccentric orbit (which crosses that of Neptune, the next furthest out planet) and a lower mass than any other planet.
The discovery that Pluto was just one of a number of bodies in the Kuiper Belt, many of them with comparable size and mass, also weakened the arguments for considering it a planet. Finally, a new definition of what a planet issued by the International Astronomical Union on August 24, 2006, excluded Pluto. On September 13, Pluto was named a Dwarf Planet, alongside Ceres, Haumea, Makemake, and Eris – all of which, other than Ceres, are also Kuiper Belt objects.
The Large Hadron Collider or LHC is the world’s largest and highest-energy particle accelerator. Built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) with the intention of testing various predictions of high-energy physics, it lies in a tunnel beneath the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva, Switzerland. The LHC is 27 kilometres in circumference, and as low as 175 metres below ground level at its deepest points.
The LHC is intended to collide opposing particle beams for the purpose of testing various predictions of high-energy physics, notably the existence of the hypothesized Higgs boson and of the large family of new particles predicted by supersymmetry. The beams will be composed of either protons at an energy of 7 TeV per particle, or lead nuclei at an energy of 574 TeV per nucleus.
On 10 September 2008, proton beams were successfully circulated in the main ring of the LHC for the first time. However, only 9 days later, operations were halted due to a serious fault between two superconducting bending magnets. Repairs and the installation of additional safety features have pushed back the operating date of the LHC, which is now planned to recommence operations in mid-November 2009.