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29 December 2009

On this day in history: First Spanish Republic ended, 1874

In February, 1873 King Amadeo I abdicated from the Spanish throne. Three years earlier, following the revolution against Queen Isabella II, the Spanish parliament, the Cortes Generales, had elected Amadeo, an Italian prince, as King to reign as a constitutional monarch. Political infighting within the Cortes hampered his ability to respond to successive disasters: uprisings in support of the restoration of the Bourbon dynasty, known as Carlists; republican revolts; and even assassination attempts. Amadeo finally gave up and returned to Italy as the Duke of Aosta, after the increasingly radical government forced him to sign a decree to sack a group of artillery officers who had refused to take orders from their new commander.

The day after the abdication, the Cortes voted that Spain become a republic but could not agree on what form it should take, some preferred that Spain become a federation while others wanted a unitary republic. The divisions in Spanish society undermined the republic as they had done with the constitutional monarchy. In January, 1874 the Captain General of Madrid, Manuel Pavía, declared his opposition to the federalism, which resulted in the formation of a unitary government without the federalists and monarchists.

With the Cortes disbanded the fate of the nation rested in the hands of the military forces of the various factions. The republican army managed to reverse the territorial gains made by the Carlists before deciding not to oppose Brigadier Martínez Campos when he declared his support for the Bourbon Prince Alfonso, son of Isabella, on 29th December 1874. Having lost control of their armed forces the government of the first republic collapsed, paving the way for the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy.

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Restoration of the Portuguese monarchy: 1st December 1640
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23 December 2009

On this day in history: Voyager landed after record flight, 1986

In 1980, a former United States Air Force pilot called Dick Rutan met fellow pilot Jeana Yeager (no relation of Chuck Yeager) at an airshow in Chino, California. Romance blossomed between the two, and Yeager became a test pilot at Rutan's aircraft company, which he ran with his aerospace designer brother, Burt. Over lunch one day at the Mojave Inn in 1981, the three of them discussed making an aircraft capable of being the first aircraft to circumnavigate the World without landing or refueling.

Over the next five year's they refined the initial design that Burt sketched on a napkin to create Voyager. The aircraft had a lightweight fuselage made from carbon fiber, fiberglass and Kevlar. Engines powered propellers at the front and rear, with the front only used to provide the extra power for takeoff and the early part of the flight.

At 8.01am local time on 14th December 1986, Dick and Jeanna lifted off from the runway at Edwards' Air Force Base, California, to embark on their record-breaking flight attempt. Despite a tricky takeoff, in which Voyager's wingtips sustained damaged, and course changes necessitated by the weather and a lack of permission to fly in Libyan airspace, over the next five days the pair flew their westward course around the World. Approaching California one of the fuel pumps failed; nevertheless, they successfully landed back at Edwards' on 23rd December, having flown 26,366 miles (42,432 km) in nine days, 3 minutes and 44 seconds.

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Montgolfier Brothers first public balloon flight: 4th June, 1783
First Zeppelin flight: 2nd July, 1900
First successful powered aeroplane flight: 17th December 1903
First flight around the world: 28th September, 1924
Charles Lindbergh arrived in Paris: 21st May, 1927

22 December 2009

On this day in history: First gorilla born in captivity, 1956

In January 1951, a hunter called Bill Said brought three gorillas to Columbus Zoo in Ohio. Two of the apes, Millie Christina and Baron Macombo, stayed at the zoo as a mated pair. On 22nd December 1956, a female gorilla was born to them, the first gorilla to be born in captivity.

That morning, a young veterinary student and zoo-keeper called Warren Thomas noticed a change in Millie's usual behaviour, investigating further he found a baby gorilla still in the amniotic sac. He took the baby to the kitchen where broke open the sac to find the infant struggling to breathe. Thomas cleared the mucous from the baby's mouth and engaged in mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Even though the zoo staff overcame the initial crisis the baby still needed round-the-clock attention, spending time in an incubator. While she spent her time growing in strength zoo and city administrators decided to hold a competition to find a name for the infant gorilla. Their initial prize of $50 was boosted by a $100 donation from the actor Clark Gable. Nineteen people submitted the winning entry, Colo, derived from Columbus, Ohio.

Colo is now the oldest captive gorilla in the World, becoming a great-great-grandmother in 2003.

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21 December 2009

On this day in history: Rochdale Pioneers opened their first store, 1844

In 1844 a group of twenty-eight artisans in Rochdale, near Manchester, established the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers. While not the first co-operative in England, the Rochdale Pioneers set out a set of principles by which they hoped to avoid the problems of earlier such schemes and which formed the basis for the modern co-operative movement. In October 1844 they drew up these democratic secular principles in Laws and Objects of the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, summarising them as follows:

The objects and plans of this Society are to form arrangements for the pecuniary benefit, and the improvement of the social and domestic condition of its members, by raising a sufficient amount of capital in shares of one pound each, to bring into operation the following plans and arrangements.

The establishment of a store for the sale of provision and clothing, &c.

The building, purchasing or erecting a number of houses, in which those members desiring to assist each other in improving their domestic and social condition may reside.

To commence the manufacture of such articles as the society may determine upon, for the employment of such members as may be without employment, or who may be suffering in consequence of repeated reductions in their wages.

As a further benefit and security to the members of this society. the society shall purchase or rent an estate or estates of land, which shall be cultivated by the members who may be out of employment, or whose labour may be badly remunerated.

That as soon as practicable, this society shall proceed to arrange the powers of production, distribution, education, and government, or in other words to establish a self-supporting home-colony or united interests, or assist other societies in establishing such colonies.

That for the promotion of sobriety a Temperance Hotel be opened in one of the society's houses, as soon as convenient.

Eventually they raised £28 capital and on 21st December 1844, they opened their first store on Toad Street (now the Rochdale Pioneers Museum) to sell a meagre selection of goods including butter, sugar, flour, oatmeal and candles. They soon expanded their stock to include tea and tobacco. While they did not achieve all their goals, the Pioneers store was a model that many other followed inspiring a co-operative movement of over 1,000 stores within a decade.

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20 December 2009

On this day in history: Electricity generated by nuclear power for the first time, 1951

In 1934 the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi produced nuclear fission for the first time for which he received the Nobel Prize for Physics four years later. After receiving his prize, Fermi emigrated to the United States with his Jewish wife, Laura, to escape Mussolini's increasingly anti-semitic fascist regime in his homeland. He worked at Columbia University where he continued experimenting on nuclear fission before joining the project at the University of Chicago constructing the world's first nuclear reactor.

Following America's entry into the Second World War, the experimental work conducted on Chicago Pile-1 became part of the Manhattan Project, which was engaged in creating nuclear weapons. Following the end of the war, development began on more peaceful applications of reactor research, including the generation of electricity. To this end the United States government established the National Reactor Testing Station (NRTS) - now called the Idaho National Laboratory - in the Idaho desert in 1949.

That year construction work began on the Experimental Breeder Reactor 1 (EBR-1) at NRTS. Walter Zinn, who had also worked on the Manhattan Project, and his team at the Argonne National Laboratory designed EBR-1 as an attempt to prove that it was possible to create a breeder reactor rather than to become a working power plant. A breeder reactor is one that creates nuclear fuel at a rate that is greater than it can consume it.

On 24th August 1951 the reactor went critical for the first time. At 1:50pm on 20th December 1951, the power station produced electricity for the first time. It generated enough electricity to illuminate four 200watt light bulbs. The next day the scientists repeated the experiment, producing enough electricity for the EBR-1 building.

Two years later, it successfully began producing fuel as a breeder reactor. Experiments continued on the EBR-1, even after the reactor suffered a partial meltdown in November 1955, until it was deactivated in 1964. The following year EBR-1 became a National Historic Landmark.

To learn more about the reactor see the Experimental Breeder Reactor 1 fact-sheet available as a pdf file from the Idaho National Laboratory site.

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First French nuclear test: 13th May 1960
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19 December 2009

On this day in history: Emily Brontë died, 1848

Born on 30th July 1818 at the Parsonage in Thornton, near Bradford, Yorkshire, Emily Jane Brontë was the fifth of six children of Revd. Patrick Brontë and his wife Maria. Nearly two years after her birth, Emily's family moved to the small industrial town of Haworth where her father had accepted the post of curate, which offered greater financial security. Unfortunately, a year and a half after the family relocated, Maria died.

Their mother's older sister Elizabeth Branwell stayed on with the family after nursing Maria during the last months of her life. While the older Brontë girls clashed with their aunt when she extolled the virtues of fastidiousness and self-discipline, Emily did not. As well as learning domestic skills the girls also received instruction in more academic subjects along with their brother Branwell.

The four oldest girls were sent to the Clergy Daughters' School at Cowan Bridge, a newly founded institution that provided a formal education to the daughters of less wealthy Anglican clergymen. The poor conditions at Cowan Bridge resulted in a number of pupils contracting illnesses, including Emily's oldest two sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, both of whom contracted tuberculosis, wcich caused their deaths in 1825. Revd. Brontë brought Emily and her sister Charlotte home where he and Miss Branwell continued to educate them.

The four remaining siblings became a close-knit group, developing imaginary worlds that they began writing about. The four were separated when Charlotte attended Roe Head school in Mirfield. She later returned as a teacher there accompanied by Emily who went there as a pupil. After only three months Emily became so ill that she had to return home to be replaced at Roe Head by her sister Anne.

Divided from her sister Anne, with whom she was closest, Emily became more self-reliant and remained apart from the rest of her family. Much of her time was spent secretly writing poetry until she took the position of teacher at Law Hill girl's school near Halifax in 1838. She remained there for six months before another illness required that she return to Haworth.

Charlotte had the idea of setting up a school and persuaded their aunt to pay for her and Emily to attend a school in Brussels. Emily struggled through nine months of being the oldest pupil in a school where lessons were taught in French - a language she was not well versed in - before her father summoned her and Charlotte home because of the death of their aunt.

In 1845, Charlotte discovered one of Emily's poetry books, much to the annoyance of the younger sister. In spite of Emily's anger, the other Brontë children persuaded her to allow them to select poems to be submitted for publication along with other poems written by her sisters. A year later two girls published the collection called Poems pseudonyms of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell (Charlotte, Emily and Anne respectively).

Two years later, Emily, again under the name Ellis Bell, published the work for which she became famous: Wuthering Heights. This epic tale of the Earnshaws of Wuthering Heights and the Lintons of Thrushcross Grange confounded the critics of the day because of its innovative style. The publishers demanded that Emily contribute towards the publishing costs, even though they were using the Bell name to cash in on the success of Jane Eyre, written by Charlotte under the name Currer Bell.

The following year, Emily's brother Branwell died of tuberculosis - the symptoms of which had been masked by his alcoholism. At his funeral Emily contracted a cold that resulted in her own death on 18th December 1848. Following her death, Charlotte edited the two part Wuthering Heights into a single volume that was published under her real name.

The Project Gutenberg site hosts Poems and Wuthering Heights as well as other works by the Brontës.

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18 December 2009

On this day in history: First European landing on New Zealand, 1642

Born in 1603 in the Dutch province of Groningen, Abel Tasman entered the service of the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (Dutch East India Company). By the mid-1630s Tasman was serving as a mate on a trading ship out of Batavia (modern day Jakarta). In 1634 he became master of the Mocha, a small trading ship, and served as second in command on a mission of exploration of the North Pacific.

After a series of journeys to various locations on the Pacific coast of Asia, Tasman commanded a fleet sent to search for the "Unknown Southland and Eastland" believed to be in the South Atlantic. In August 1642 he set sail for Mauritius where he turned south-east for then little known Australia. In November he sighted the island that now bears his name, which he claimed for the Netherlands on 3rd December.

Tasman intended to turn north to explore the east coast of Australia, but strong winds took the fleet on an easterly heading. On 13th December the explorers sighted land: the north-west coast of the Southern Island of what is now known as New Zealand. While exploring the coast, the fleet had a number of encounters with the Maori including an attack on one of the Dutch ships, which goes some way to explaining why the fleet only made a brief landing on the 18th December.

The fleet continued to explore the islands before returning to Batavia via the Tongan and the Fiji islands. Tasman made another voyage of discovery in 1644 before becoming a senior official in Batavia. He continued to serve there until his death in October 1659, apart from a period of suspension as a result of him passing a death sentence on a man without trial.

Abel Janszoon Tasman's Journal of his Discovery of Van Diemen's Land and New Zealand in 1642 is available on the Project Gutenberg Australia site.

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First Europeans sight Tahiti: 18th June 1767
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17 December 2009

On this day in history: First successful powered aeroplane flight, 1903

At the dawn of the twentieth-century, the brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright left their cycle manufacturing business in Dayton, Ohio and travelled to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina to undertake experiments with flying machines. Over the next few years they made their annual pilgrimage to the sands of Kitty Hawk to refine the design of their manned gliders. Following successful test flights in the 1902 Glider, the brothers added an engine designed and built by one of their employees, Charlie Taylor, to their next model: the Wright Flyer I.

In December 1903, the brothers returned to North Carolina and assembled the Flyer while performing flight tests with the 1902 Glider. On the 14th, the brothers tossed a coin to decide which of them should pilot the Flyer for its maiden flight. Wilbur won, but he stalled the plane after pulling up too sharply.

Fortunately the aircraft did not suffer any major damage and was ready for another test flight within days. On 17th December 1903, Orville took his chance to make history. The flight lasted for twelve seconds in which time he covered a distance of 36.5m (120 feet). According to the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale this was the World's first "sustained and controlled heavier-than-air powered flight."

The Smithsonian Institution refused to recognise the Wright's flight, preferring to give the accolade to one of their former secretaries, Samuel Pierpont Langley. Following Orville's unsuccessful attempt blackmail the Smithsonian into recognising the Wright's achievement by threatening to allow another museum to have the Flyer, the aircraft become an exhibit at the Science Museum in London, in 1928. Fifteen years later, Orville allowed the aircraft to be relocated to the Smithsonian after he received assurances that no other successful flight will be recognised by the Institution on a date prior to that of the brothers.

To learn more about these pioneering auronauts and their aircraft, see the Wright Experience site.

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Montgolfier Brothers first public balloon flight: 4th June, 1783
First Zeppelin flight: 2nd July, 1900
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Last commercial Concorde flights: 24th October, 2003

16 December 2009

On this day in history: Last recorded eruption of Mount Fuji, 1707

On 16th December 1707, Mount Fuji in Japan erupted. While this Hōei Eruption (as it became known) did not produce a lava flow, during its two week duration the eruption sporadically released hundreds of millions of cubic metres of volcanic ash into the atmosphere. This ash fell like rain on the nearby provinces of Izu, Kai, Musashi and Sagami, and witnesses recorded ash falling on Edo nearly 100km (60miles) away.

The eruption resulted in the opening of three new vents on the easterly side of the mountain and a small crater formed by a secondary eruption. Over the next year many effects of the eruption were felt including a flood of the Sakawa river caused by the fallen ash adding to the existing sediment in the riverbed. Mount Fuji has not erupted since Hōei, although it has yet to be declared inactive.

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15 December 2009

On this day in history: Fats Waller died, 1943

Thomas Wright Waller was born in New York City on 21st May 1904. His mother, Adeline, taught him to play the reed organ with which he later accompanied his father, the Reverend Edward Waller, an Abyssinian Baptist Church lay preacher. At school he played piano and at the age of 15 he started work as the organist at the Lincoln Theatre on 135th Street, in Harlem.

When his mother died in 1920, Waller moved in with pianist Russell B. T. Brooks and his family. Waller developed under the tutelage of James P. Johnson, who also recommended him for a vacancy at Leroy's nightclub, where he became an all-round entertainer. In 1922, Johnson took Waller to QRS ("Quality Reigns Supreme") to record piano rolls. On these rolls, Waller developed ragtime into what became known as stride piano.

That same year, the eighteen year old Waller started his audio recording career with Okeh, recording two solos: "Muscle Shoals Blues" and "Birmingham Blues". He also recorded as an accompanist for a number of blues artists. He became a huge success not only through his piano playing and song-writing on numbers such as "Squeeze Me", "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "Honeysuckle Rose", but also because of his stage personality as a loveable rogue.

While touring in Chicago in 1926, Waller was kidnapped and taken to the Hawthorne Inn, owned by Al Capone. There he found a party in full swing: it was Capone's birthday party and he was the surprise performer. Forced to play piano at gunpoint he later left the party, drunk and thousands of dollars better off, having received tips from Capone and other party-goers.

In the mid-1930s, while working on the West Coast, Waller appeared in two movies: Hooray for Love! (1935) and King of Burlesque (1936). He continued to tour, taking his band to Europe in 1938 and again in 1939; although, the outbreak of war cut the tour short. While in Britain he recorded his London Suite, six thematically linked solo piano pieces that demonstrated his aspirations as a serious composer.

He continued to tour extensively and returned to Hollywood to lead an all-star band in Stormy Weather in 1943. By that time his touring regime, his overeating and heavy drinking were taking a toll on Waller. He died of pneumonia on 15th December 1943, aged 39, while on a train near Kansas City, Missouri.

A 1941 promotional film of "Your Feet's Too Big"

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13 December 2009

On this day in history: John Sinclair released from prison, 1971

Born in Flint, Michigan, in 1941, John Sinclair became a major figure in the late 1960s counter-culture movement. He wrote for the underground press, organised free festivals and managed the garage rock band MC5. In 1968 he co-founded the White Panther Party with Lawrence Plamondon and his partner Leni Arndt, in response to an interview in which the co-founder of the Black Panther Party, Huey P. Newton, asked what white people could do to support the Panther's cause.

In July 1969, Sinclair was convicted of giving two marijuana joints to an undercover policeman. The presiding judge, Robert Colombo, sentenced him to between nine-and-a-half and ten years in prison. While incarcerated he wrote books, continued to direct activities of the White Panther Party, and engaged in an appeal against his conviction, questioning the constitutionality of Michigan's draconian marijuana laws.

His cause attracted widespread support, culminating on on 10th December 1971 with the "Free John Now Rally" at the Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor. The event was opened by the beat port Allen Ginsberg and featured music from John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, Stevie Wonder, Phil Ochs and Bob Seger. Abbie Hoffman (co-founder of the Youth International Party), Jerry Rubin (social activist), Bobby Seale (chairman of the Black Panthers) all made speeches, as did Sinclair himself, via a remote hookup.

The day before the event, the Michigan Senate had approved a bill to cut the maximum penalty for marijuana from ten years to ninety days. As a consequence the 15,000 who attending the eight hour concert were confident that Sinclair would soon be released. Indeed, on 13th December 1971, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled in favour of Sinclair and he was released from prison.

The Bentley Historical Library of the University of Michigan houses the John and Leni Sinclair Papers, and hosts a biography of John Sinclair on its website.

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11 December 2009

On this day in history: First trans-oceanic yacht race, 1866

At 1pm on 11th December 1866, three schooners sailed from Sandy Hook, Connecticut, their destination was the Needles, near Cowes in the Isle of Wight. The three yachts taking part in 'The Great Atlantic Yacht Race' were the Henrietta, owned by New York Herald publisher James Gordon Bennett, Jr., George A. Osgood's Fleetwing, and the Vesta, owned by the tobacco manufacturer, Pierre Lorillard. Each owner wagered $30,000 on what was the first ever trans-oceanic yacht race, and while Osgood and Lorillard remained in New York, Bennett set sail with his crew.

A flotilla of sailing craft escorted the three yachts from New York to the docks at Sandy Hook, which were lined with a cheering throng. One day into the race, the Henrietta opened a lead on the other two craft and later the Vesta, under the command of Captain Dayton, parted company with the Fleetwing commanded by Captain Thomas. The trailing yacht ran into trouble on the eighth day of the race when she encountered a heavy gale that caused six men to be washed overboard, all of whom were lost along with the yacht's jibboom.

The Henrietta won the race and the $90,000 prize (more than $2 million in today's money), taking 13 days, 21 hours and 55 minutes to complete the crossing. In spite of her earlier tragedy, the Fleetwing came second due to a navigational mistake by the pilot who joined the crew to guide them safely to their goal. Due to misty conditions, he mistook the lighthouse at St. Katherine for the one at the Needles.

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10 December 2009

On this day in history: The 300 Million Yen Robbery, 1968

On the morning of 10th December 1968, four bank workers from the Kokubunji branch of the Nihon Shintaku Ginko were transporting 294,307,500 yen (then over $800,000) in a company car. The cash was to be the bonus payments for the employees of Toshiba's Fuchu factory. Usually, only two staff would have been used as couriers, but since it was such a large amount the bank managers decided that they needed extra security.

As they reached the Tokyo Fuchu prison a young man in a traffic police uniform stopped the car. The man told the bank staff that their branch manager's house had been blown up, and that they had received a warning that another bomb had been placed on their car. They believed the man's story as they were aware of threatening letters that their manager had recently received.

The four exited the car while the policeman searched the underside of their vehicle. As they watched him, smoke and flames started to emanate from the bottom of the car and he shouted a warning that it was about to explode. The bank staff backed away from the vehicle only to see him get into the car and drive it away, leaving a smoke bomb on the road.

There followed the largest police investigation in Japanese history involving over 170,000 law enforcement officials. Nobody was ever convicted of the robbery and no money was recovered. In 1975 the statute of limitations on the crime passed and in 1988 all civil liabilities also ceased. The perpetrator has yet to make himself known, even though he has no fear of legal repercussions.

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9 December 2009

On this day in history: Publication of The Charge of the Light Brigade by Tennyson, 1854

On 9th December 1854, the weekly magazine The Examiner included a poem written by the poet laureate, Alfred, Lord Tennyson called "The Charge of the Light Brigade". The narrative poem tells of a disastrous cavalry charge during the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October that year as part of the Crimean War. The battle pitched combined British, French and Ottoman forces against the Russian fortified port of Sevastopol.

Because of a breakdown in communication, over six-hundred British light cavalrymen, led by the Earl of Cardigan, received orders to capture a heavily armed Russian redoubt (small enclosed fort) at the other end of a valley. The army commander, Lord Raglan, actually wanted them to prevent the Russians from removing naval guns from another complex of redoubts that they had captured. As it was, the Light Brigade lost over 150 men, either killed or taken prisoner, and around 120 men were injured. Over 300 horses were either killed in battle or destroyed afterwards because of their wounds.

News of the charge reached Britain weeks later. On reading about it in The Times, Tennyson was immediately inspired to write a poem about the engagement, according to his grandson, Sir Charles. The piece not only extolled the bravery of the troops but also reflected public dismay at the apparent futility of the charge; consequently, it quickly achieved popular acclaim, even being distributed to the troops serving in the Crimea.

The text of "The Charge of the Light Brigade" is available on Wikisource.

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8 December 2009

On this day in history: Greeks vote to abolish monarch, 1974

On 21st April 1967, a group of right-wing army officers seized power in Greece, fearing increased influence of left-wing politicians following the upcoming elections. King Constantine II initially supported the coup d'etat, but in December that year he led a failed counter-coup, which resulted in his exile. In May 1973 a number of naval officers mutinied against the military regime, providing the leader of military regime, Georgios Papadopoulos, with the pretext to declare a republic with himself as president in June, blaming the king for the revolt. A plebiscite held the next month confirmed his decision; although, many polling irregularities led to accusations that the vote had been rigged.

Papadopoulos' presidency did not last long. A student protest in November gave a hard-line member of the junta, Dimitrios Ioannidis, the opportunity to depose Papadopoulos. The counter-coup resulted in a loss of support for the regime from military officers, as did Ioannidis decisions to support a coup in Cyprus, which resulted in a Turkish invasion of the island in July 1974. Before the end of that month, a meeting of politicians and military officers established a national unity government to run Greece until elections could be held.

The elections, held in November, resulted in a win for the New Democracy party, confirming Konstantinos Karamanlis as Prime Minister. Karamanlis called for a referendum to decide whether Greece should be a republic or a monarchy. Even though he had been a supporter of royal authority in the past, Karamanlis made no attempt to persuade the people to vote for a monarchy.

On 8th December 1974, over four and a half million Greeks voted in the referendum, the majority of whom (69.18%) decided that Greece should be a republic. The result was met with massive celebrations and led to the creation of the Third Hellenic Republic. The former king would remain in exile until the government allowed him to make a short visit in 1981, to attend the funeral of his mother.

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England declared a republic: 19th May 1649
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6 December 2009

On this day in history: First edition of Encyclopædia Britannica published, 1768

Two Edinburgh businessmen, a bookseller and printer called Colin Macfarquhar and the engraver Andrew Bell, decided to publish a new encyclopaedia in response to the Encyclopédie edited by Denis Diderot and Jean Le Rond d'Alembert. They contracted a 28-year-old scholar called William Smellie to edit the publication. paying him £200. Smellie abridged and edited articles from other sources, producing longer articles of grouped subjects as well as the usual shorter articles. Bell produced engravings for the 160 illustrations and Macfarquhar printed the texts at his Nicolson Street premises.

On 6th December 1768, the first part of the Encyclopædia Britannica or, a Dictionary of Arts and Sciences compiled under a New Plan went on sale, credited to "A Society of Gentlemen in Scotland". It was the first of one-hundred thick quarto pamphlets costing sixpence each (or eight pence for a version on finer paper). The last part appeared in 1771, and later that same year the whole 2,391 page encyclopaedia went on sale bound in three collected volumes for £12 per set.

The venture proved to be a success although not without controversy. The midwifery section included illustrations of female pelvises and foetuses, which proved upsetting to some readers, notably King George III, who commanded that the offending pages be torn from every copy. Nevertheless, Macfarquhar and Bell decided to produce an expanded second edition in 1776, and the encyclopaedia continues to be published to this day, making it the oldest English-language encyclopaedia still in print.

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5 December 2009

On this day in history: Battle of Leuthen, 1757

In 1740, the newly crowned King Frederick II of Prussia annexed the prosperous Austrian province of Silesia. He wanted to connect his own disparate lands in Silesia and also prevent other European rulers doing the same. Frederick found his pretext for the invasion in an obscure 1537 treaty by which his dynasty should have inherited a number of Silesian princedoms.

The ensuing conflict, known as the First Silesian War, formed part of the larger War of the Austrian Succession, during which the French and Prussians challenged the power of Hapsburg empire. The Second Silesian War also formed part of this larger conflict, during which the Austrians failed to reclaim the province. The war ended with the signing of the 1745 Treaty of Dresden, by which the Austrian ruler, Maria Theresa, recognised Prussian rule in Silesia, in return for Frederick's recognition of her husband as Holy Roman Emperor.

In 1756 the European powers took up arms once more in the Seven Years' War with the Austrians and Prussians again in opposing camps. Fearing that the Austrians would make another attempt to retake Silesia, Frederick led a pre-emptive strike against Austria's Saxon allies. While he campaigned in Saxony, the Austrian forces managed to capture much of Silesia; so, following the defeat of French and Austrian forces at Rossbach, Frederick turned his attention to retaking Silesia.

On 5th December 1757, Frederick's army found an Austrian force twice its size near the village of Leuthen (now Lutynia, Poland). Frederick marched his troops towards the larger army before ordering his cavalry to make a diversionary assault on a nearby village before forming up to face the Austrian right flank. He then marched his infantry to the south behind a line of hills.

The Austrian commander, Prince Charles of Lorraine, had deployed his men in very long lines, knowing that the flanking attack was Frederick's favourite tactic. When he saw the Prussian cavalry face his right flank, he suspected that they were about to act as the spearhead of just such an offensive move; consequently, he sent his reserve and his cavalry to strengthen his right. Then, when he saw the Prussian infantry marching, Charles assumed them to be retreating.

Rather than retreating, Frederick marched his men round to engage the Austrian left flank, which crumbled. Charles tried to reform his troops, but the length of his lines meant that this was a slow process. Nevertheless, The Austrian cavalry saw an opportunity to outflank Frederick, but they were intercepted by the Prussian cavalry and the ensuing melee careered into the back of the Austrian lines, which broke.

Frederick's army of approximately 36,000 men and 167 guns defeated an Austrian force of around 80,000 men armed with 210 cannon. The Prussians lost 1,141 men with 5,118 wounded, compared to over 3,000 Austrian fatalities and around 7,000 wounded. The Prussians captured something in the order of 12,000 Austrians, while the rest of Charles' army fled to join the Austrian withdrawal from Silesia.

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4 December 2009

On this day in history: Montreux Casino fire, 1971

The Montreux Casino opened in November 1881 to provide entertainment for visitors to the Swiss resort on the shores of Lake Geneva. The casino developed a reputation as a music venue, attracting Stravinsky and Ravel. In the late 1960s, it also started hosting concerts by jazz, blues and rock artists, becoming the venue for the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1967, under the direction of Claude Nobs.

On 3rd December 1971, Frank Zappa and the Mothers were playing a concert in the casino's ballroom when one of the audience fired a flare gun at the ceiling. The flare ignited the rattan covering of the ceiling and the fire soon spread, destroying the entire casino complex. Claude Nobs rescued several young people who had been sheltering in the casino. Fortunately, the fire caused only a few injuries and no fatalities.

The incident inspired Deep Purple to write "Smoke on the Water". They were in Montreux at the time, intending to record their new album in the casino using the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio as the tourist season ended. The band eventually managed to record their album, Machine Head, which included "Smoke on the Water" at the Montreux Grand Hotel. The rebuilt Montreux Casino reopened in 1975 with its place in rock history assured.

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3 December 2009

On this day in history: Elvis` comeback special aired on TV, 1968

Elvis Presley had enjoyed unprecedented success in the late 1950s and early 1960s, but by 1968 his career was on the wane. He had released his last studio album in 1962 and since then he had concentrated on movie soundtracks; however, sales of these were also declining: the soundtrack for Speedway only reached number 82 in the US album charts. He had also not topped the Billboard Singles Chart since "Good Luck Charm" in 1962.

Elvis' manager, "Colonel" Parker, signed a deal with NBC for one of television special. Parker intended that the show have a Christmas theme with Elvis singing carols; however, the show's director and co-producer, Steve Binder, had other ideas. Binder proposed that the show involve extravagant choreographed versions of Elvis' hits. The singer agreed and filming of the big production numbers took place between June 20th and 23rd at Western Recorders in Hollywood.

After filming the staged songs, Elvis and his band would wind down with improvised performances of old blues and rock'n'roll songs. Seeing this, Binder suggested that they include intimate live footage in the special. Elvis was a nervous about this at first (he had not performed live since 1961) but with Binder's support and encouragement he performed four shows to small audiences on June 27th and 29th at NBC's Burbank studios accompanied by musicians including the surviving members of his original backing band.

The finished show, simply called Elvis, aired on the NBC network on 3rd December 1968 attracting 42% of the viewing audience. It received favourable reviews and resulted in a number 12 hit single "If I had a dream", which was specially written for the show, and the soundtrack of the show peaked at number 8 in the album charts. Buoyed by the success of the special, over the next few years, Elvis returned to the studio to record a series of acclaimed albums and resumed performing live, including a four week stint at the new International Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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1 December 2009

On this day in history: Restoration of the Portuguese monarchy, 1640

In 1580, King Philip II of Spain became the ruler of Portugal as King Philip I, following the death of the heirless King Sebastian I of Portugal two years earlier. A personal union between the two countries appealed to the Portuguese nobles, enabling Philip to see of the rival claimants to the throne. Portugal remained largely autonomous, administered by the Conselho de Estado ("Council of State") in Lisbon, which advised a Spanish viceroy.

The accession of King Philip IV of Spain (Philip III of Portugal) resulted in a change of policy in Madrid. Under the influence of the Count of Olivares, Philip IV increased taxes in Portugal and gave government posts there to Spaniards in an effort to make Portugal a Royal province. The taxes mainly affected merchants, while the Portuguese nobility lost their power and influence.

In 1640, the Spanish demanded that a Portuguese army be raised to quell a revolt in Catalonia, creating further dismay among the country's nobility and landowners. In response, a group of Portuguese aristocrats and gentlemen met at the house of Antão de Almada on 12th October. They included Miguel de Almeida, Francisco de Melo and his brother Jorge, Pedro de Mendonça Furtado, Antonio de Saldanha and John Pinto Ribeiro. The vowed to recover Portuguese independence and charged Pedro de Mendonça Furtado to contact the Duke of Braganza and offer him the crown.

On 1st December 1640, four bands of well-armed men attacked the royal palace. They killed Miguel de Vasconcelos, who was Secretary of State, and confined the Philip's cousin, the Duchess of Mantua, who ruled on his behalf as Vicereine of Portugal. The coup attracted immediate popular support and the Duke of Braganza entered the city as King John IV of Portugal.

John was crowned on 15th December, but he had already set about making plans to protect his newly acquired throne, creating a Council of War four days earlier. The ensuing Portuguese Restoration War lasted nearly twenty-eight years, but did not escalate beyond border skirmishes and cavalry raids. In February 1688, John's youngest son, Peter II, secured his monarchy and Portuguese independence when Spanish representatives and he signed the Treaty of Lisbon.

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30 November 2009

On this day in history: Capital punishment abolished in Tuscany, 1786

In 1765, Peter Leopold Joseph Anton Joachim Pius Gotthard succeeded his father, Holy Roman Emperor Francis I, as Grand Duke of Tuscany. For five years of his reign a group of counsellors selected by his mother administered the Grand Duchy. Finally, in 1770 he visited Vienna and secured full control over Tuscany.

Peter Leopold set about reforming the Grand Duchy. Although he was unsuccessful in his attempt to secularise his state, he did remove many of the restrictions on commerce and personal freedom that the Medici had instituted and his father had left in place. He also started the process of drawing up a political constitution.

His enlightened attitudes extended to the punishment of criminals. After reading Cesare Beccaria's 1764 treatise on penal reform, Dei delitti e delle pene ("On Crimes and Punishments"), he started blocking the application of the death penalty, with no executions taking place after 1769. On 30th November 1786, he promulgated a reform that banned torture, abolished the death penalty and ordered the destruction of all instruments of capital punishment, making the Grand Duchy of Tuscany the first modern state to permanently abolish the death penalty.

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28 November 2009

On this day in history: Most points scored by one player in NFL game, 1929

Born in Willow River, Minnesota, in 1903, Ernie Nevers developed his sporting prowess while at high school. He gained notoriety playing American football for Stanford University, being named as the Player of the Game in their 1925 Rose Bowl victory against the University of Notre Dame. The following year he made his professional sporting début as a pitcher for the St. Louis Browns baseball team, before also signing for the Duluth Eskimos AFL side as fullback.

In 1929 Nevers signed for he Chicago Cardinals NFL side, as player-coach. On 28th November, the Cardinals had a visit from their local rivals, the Chicago Bears, for the Thanksgiving Day fixture. The crowd of approximately eight-thousand watched as Nevers scored all forty points for the Cardinals in their 40-6 victory. He made six touchdowns and kicked four extra points to establish a record that still stands.

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27 November 2009

On this day in history: Première of Strauss' Also sprach Zarathustra, 1896

Richard Strauss was born in June 1864 in Munich, where his father, Franz, was the principal horn player at the Court Opera. Richard received a musical education from his father and started writing music at the age of six; yet, when he entered the city's university he chose to study philosophy and art history, rather than music. He spent a year at Munich University before moving to Berlin where he briefly studied music before securing a post as an assistant conductor in Meiningen, becoming principle conductor in 1885.

It was around that time that Strauss began composing tone poems, including Don Juan, op.20 (1889) and Tod und Verklärung ("Death and Transfiguration"), Op. 24 (1888-9). In 1894 he started sketching ideas for a tone poem inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophical novel Also sprach Zarathustra ("Thus Spoke Zarathustra"), finishing the piece on 24th August 1896. It lasts around thirty minutes, comprising an introduction - now best known as the theme to Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey - and eight other sections named after chapters in Nietzsche's book.

On November 27th 1896, Richard Strauss conducted the première of Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30 in Frankfurt. The piece proved popular, soon entering the classical repertoire. Nevertheless, some criticised Strauss' attempt at composing philosophical music, but he responded saying that he was setting philosophy to music, rather that his symphonic poem was an homage to Nietzsche's genius and an expression of the impact that the book had upon him.

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26 November 2009

On this day in history: The Great Storm of 1703

On the night of 26th November 1703, the gale force winds that had swept over Britain for a week reached a climax. Winds travelling at an estimated 120 mph blew down buildings and carried people and animals through the air. Gusts uprooting over four-thousand oak trees in the New Forest alone. 

The gales first struck the West Country causing widespread flooding in the Bristol area. In nearby Wells, Bishop Richard Kidder and his wife were killed when two chimney stacks collapsed on them while they slept. On land, over one-hundred people lost their lives, but the death toll was much higher at sea with many thousands dying: the Royal Navy lost thirteen ships and over fifteen-hundred men.

In London, the winds tore the roof off Westminster Abbey and many other churches lost their towers and spires. A row of houses near Moorfields collapsed and around seven-hundred ships in the docks were crushed into each other. Queen Anne took refuge in the basement of St. James Palace while part of its roof collapsed.

The storm abated the following morning, but strong winds continued to blow until 2nd December. The writer Daniel Defoe published a collection of eyewitness accounts of the devastation in a book called The storm: or, a collection of the most remarkable casualties and disasters which happen'd in the late dreadful tempest, both by sea and land (1704). He wrote:

In short, Horror and Confusion seiz'd upon all, whether on Shore or Sea: No Pen can describe it, no Tongue can express it, no Thought conceive it, unless some of those who were in the Extremity of it; and who, being touch'd with a due sense of the sparing Mercy of their Maker, retain the deep Impression of Goodness upon their Minds, tho' the Danger be past: and of those I doubt the Number is but a few.
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24 November 2009

On this day in history: American Woman Suffrage Association formed, 1869

In January 1866, at a meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society in Boston, Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Stone proposed the creation of a new organisation with the goal of universal suffrage. On 10th May, Anthony and Stone founded the American Equal Rights Association (AERA) along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Frederick Douglass. The relationship between black rights activists and woman suffragists was a difficult one, exposing the differences between the two, particularly regarding working with political parties and the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave citizenship to former slaves and their descendants.

These differences resulted in a split within the association during its May 1869 conference. While most participants welcomed the proposed Fifteenth Amendment, which would prohibit the denial of voting rates based on a man's "race, color, or previous condition of servitude", as a step in the right direction towards universal suffrage, a small group led by Anthony and Stanton that opposed any constitutional change that did not give votes to women. Within days of the end of the conference, Anthony and Stanton formed the woman-only National Woman's Suffrage Association (NWSA) to promote equal rights for women in all aspects of society.

On 23rd November 1869, Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe and Josephine Ruffin formed the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA). This group, which was open to members of both sexes, sought to continue the work of AERA in not only calling for votes for women, but also supporting the Fifteenth Amendment. The following year, the AWSA founded their own national magazine, the Woman's Journal, edited by Stone.

The passage of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870 removed one of the main points of contention between the two groups. The woman suffragists also began to see the downside of having two rival groups who were working to the same ends. After years of negotiation, the NWSA and AWSA merged to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1890.

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23 November 2009

On this day in history: First broadcast of Doctor Who, 1963

In December 1962, a Canadian-born science fiction fan called Sydney Newman took over as Head of Drama at BBC Television. The following March, he was given the task of filling an early evening slot in the Saturday schedule. His brief was to create a show that would appeal to children, teenagers and adults alike.

Earlier that year, the BBC Script Department's Survey Group had produced a report, which suggested that a science fiction story involving time travel be developed. Newman seized on the idea, setting up brainstorming sessions with scriptwriters. During these sessions, Newman came up with the character of the Doctor and the idea of a vehicle that was larger on the inside than on the outside.

The relatively inexperienced Verity Lambert eventually took over control of production of the series, assisted by Mervyn Pinfield as associate producer, and David Whitaker as scriptwriter. Lambert offered the lead role to the 55-year-old character actor William Hartnell, who was initially reticent to take on the role. She also cast Carole Ann Ford as the Doctor's granddaughter, Susan Foreman, and Jacqueline Hill and Ian Chesterton as two of Susan's teachers.

Filming of the first Doctor Who story, "An Unearthly Child", began at Lime Grove Studios on 27th September 1963, directed by Waris Hussein. Anthony Coburn's script needed rewriting because it was scheduled to be the second storyline. Consequently, elements of the original opening story, "The Giants" written by C. E. Webber, were added. Coburn suggested that the Doctor's ship, called the TARDIS, be disguised as a police box.

The show was filmed as if it were a play, offering little opportunity for retakes. As a result technical problems and performance errors necessitated that the first episode be filmed again. A number of changes were made to the story for the second shoot on 18th October, to make the Doctor's character less forbidding and Susan's character less strange.

The first episode aired at 5.15 pm on 23rd November 1963. It was watched by an estimated 4.4 million people, but failed to attract much attention (possibly because of coverage of the assassination of President Kennedy the previous day). As a result, the BBC decided to reshow the first episode directly before airing the second part the following week, attracting 5.9 million viewers, a figure that rose as the series continued, particularly with the introduction of the Daleks in the second series.

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22 November 2009

On this day in history: Blackbeard killed, 1718

The early life of the pirate known as Blackbeard remains something of a mystery, as does his real name. Edward Teach (or Thatch, or possibly Drummond) probably grew up in Bristol, England, before embarking on a life at sea. Apparently, he signed up with a privateer (a state-sponsored pirate) in Jamaica during the War of the Spanish Succession.

When that conflict ended in 1713, Teach, like many sailors decided to continue the profitable life of a pirate, rather than sign up for a harsher life in the merchant marine or the Royal Navy. He joined Benjamin Hornigold's crew in 1716, and soon received command of one of Hornigold's fleet in recognition of his aggression. The following year, they captured the twenty gun, 300-ton French warship, La Concorde de Nantes, originally a British ship called Concord, which Teach took command of.

Teach renamed the ship Queen Anne's Revenge and doubled its number of guns to forty. In this heavily armed vessel, Blackbeard was able to fight off any Royal Navy ships sent to capture him, while he continued to capture and plunder merchant ships. Reputedly he attacked at least eighteen vessels in a six-month period, developing a reputation as a fearsome pirate.

The legends that surrounded Blackbeard meant that his reputation was often enough for ships to surrender to him, giving him the confidence to undertake his most audacious plan: a blockade of Charleston, South Carolina. With Hornigold having given up piracy and accepted a pardon, in May 1718 Blackbeard took a flotilla of four vessels to the mouth of Charleston harbour, where they plundered eight or nine merchant ships, ransoming their prizes for a chest of medicine before making their escape.

The following month, Queen Anne's Revenge and one of the smaller ships ran aground at Topsail inlet (now Beaufort inlet), North Carolina. Blackbeard may have done so on purpose in order to limit his crew to his most trusted men, who would consequently receive a larger share of the booty. He sailed to the North Carolina port of Bath Town, where he obtained a pardon from Governor Charles Eden and married a planter's daughter.

The governor of the neighbouring colony of Virginia, Alexander Spotswood, suspected Blackbeard's continued piracy under the protection of Governer Eden in return for a share of the spoils. Even though Blackbeard was operating beyond Spotswood's jurisdiction, the Governor of Virginia decided to finance a expedition by both land and sea to expose the conspiracy and cement his own position, which was under threat from his council. He put a price of £100 on Blackbeard's head and sent two hired sloops, the the Ranger and Jane, to locate the pirate ships.

On 22nd November 1718, Lieutenant Robert Maynard and his fifty-four men engaged Blackbeard and his brigands at an inlet on Ocracoke Island, North Carolina. As Blackbeard made a run for it in the Adventure, Maynards sloops gave chase but ran aground. After re-floating, Maynard ordered his crews to row after the pirates, there being insufficient wind to deploy sails.

As Jane pulled alongside Adventure, the pirates fired a broadside killing its captain and several of the crew. Maynard continued the pursuit, hitting Adventure's rigging and forcing her ashore. Maynard then ordered his men to hide in the holds and prepare for the pirate boarding party. In the ensuing mêlée Blackbeard was killed, reportedly he had been shot five times and suffered twenty stab wounds.

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21 November 2009

On this day in history: First appearance of Sweeney Todd, 1846

The 21st November 1846 issue of Edward Lloyd's 'penny dreadful' The People's Periodical and Family Library contained the first part serialised story entitled The String of Pearls: A Romance. The story, which was published in eighteen weekly editions, tells of the mysterious disappearance of a naval officer called Lieutenant Thornhill, who is last seen entering the Fleet Street premises of a barber called Sweeney Todd. Thornhill was in possession of the string of pearls from the title.

The pearls were a gift for a girl named Johanna Oakley from her lover, Mark Ingestrie, who is presumed lost at sea. She joins forces with Colonel Jeffery, a friend of Thornhill's, to investigate the disappearance of the two men. Eventually, they uncover the grisly facts: Todd is killing rich patrons of his shop for their valuables, while his partner in crime, Mrs. Lovett, disposes of the bodies by using them as filling for her pies.

The story may have been based on an infamous murder from 1784 (the year before the setting of the Sweeney Todd story). A journeyman barber was shaving a gentleman, told of the barber of his exploits with a young woman who lived nearby. The barber assumed that the woman in question was his wife and slit his throat from ear to ear.

While the author of the The String of Pearls remains anonymous, the work is generally attributed to Thomas Peckett Prest; although, it may have been the work of James Malcolm Rymer. Both men wrote 'penny dreadfuls' for Lloyd, and both may have wanted to protect their professional reputations as composer and civil engineer respectively.

The text of The String of Pearls is available at the Victorian London website.

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20 November 2009

On this day in history: Recording of Funky Drummer, 1970

On 20th November 1970, "The Godfather of Soul", James Brown, went into the King Records studio in Cincinnati, Ohio to record a session with his band, the James Brown Orchestra. The band included drummer Clyde Stubblefield, who had worked with Brown since the mid-60s, drumming on the hit records "Cold Sweat", "I Got the Feelin'" and "Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud". While the band played an extended vamp, Brown improvised lyrics in a style he had made his own.

At one point Brown sings:

I wanna give the drummer some of this funky soul we got here
You don't have to do no soloing, brother
Just keep what you got
Don't turn it loose, 'cause it's a mother

Stubblefield then played eight bars of a slightly modified version of his earlier riff. When the rest of the band joined in once more, Brown announced that the tune is called "The Funky Drummer", apparently in recognition of Stubblefield.

Brown's prescience regarding the drum break has since been proven - even though the song was only a minr hit following its release in March 1970. It has become one the most (if not the most) frequently used sample of all time. Not only has it appeared on songs by hip-hop artists such as the Beastie Boys, De la Soul, DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Ice T, LL Cool J, NWA, Run DMC, Public Enemy and Salt'n'Pepa, but it has also been used by Depeche Mode, Enigma, Fine Young Cannibals, New Order, Prince, and Sinead O’Connor.

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19 November 2009

On this day in history: Pelé scored his 1000th goal, 1969

The most famous footballer of all time was born Edison Arantes do Nascimento in the city of Três Corações in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. In spite of his father - João Ramos do Nascimento, nicknamed Dondinho - being a professional footballer, Pelé grew up in poverty in the city of Bauru, São Paulo. Nevertheless, he developed his sporting skills using makeshift footballs such as socks filled with newspaper or grapefruit.

Pelé joined the junior team at Santos at the age of fifteen, before joining the senior squad a year later as a forward. He scored a goal in his début match against Corinthians on 7th September 1956, going on to be the stop scorer in the division. Less than a year after signing a professional contract he played his first game for the national side scoring Brazil's only goal in a 2-1 defeat to Argentina, becoming the youngest ever player to score in an international: he was aged only sixteen years and nine months.

In 1958, he also became the youngest player to take part in a FIFA World Cup. He scored six goals throughout the competition, including two goals in Brazil's 5-2 victory over Sweden in the final. Brazil retained the World Cup in 1962, with Pelé getting on the score-sheet only once.

The 1960s proved to be a golden decade for Santos. Pelé's team won six national championships and two continental trophies. By the end of the decade he approached a milestone in his career: his thousandth goal in senior football.

Anticipation increased during the 1969 season as he approached the landmark. On 19th November, Santos travelled to play Vasco Da Gama in the huge Maracana Stadium with Pelé's goal tally numbering 999. The 125,000 strong crowd watched as he was twice denied in the first half: first by the crossbar; then by a magnificent save from Vasco goalkeeper, Andrada.

In the second half, a defender appeared to bring Pelé down in the penalty area. The referee pointed to the spot and the Santos left-back, Rildo, stepped up to take the kick, but the team captain, Carlos Alberto, decided that Pelé should take the spot kick as his team-mates retreated to the half-way line in order that he may compose himself.

Pelé slotted the ball into the bottom-left-hand corner to score the goal known popularly as O Milésimo ("The Thousandth"). As photographers and spectators ran onto the pitch and surrounded the goal, he stood in the net repeatedly kissing the ball and thanking it for all it had given him. He was then carried aloft around the pitch while the entire crowd celebrated his achievement.

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18 November 2009

On this day in history: King`s Cross Fire, 1987

On 18th November 1987 at around 7.30pm a fire was discovered in a machine room at King's Cross St Pancras underground station. The machine room was beneath an escalator that connected the Piccadilly line with the mainline station. Subsequent investigations concluded that a discarded match on the escalator was the most likely cause of the fire.

Even though the evening rush hour was coming to an end, hundreds of commuters were still in the station, the busiest on London's Underground network. Initially there was little concern as the fire appeared to be small, producing little smoke. Unfortunately, the fire soon spread over the partly-wooden escalator before a flashover engulfed the ticket office in flames and smoke, trapping many passengers underground.

By that time, the first fire-fighters had arrived including London Fire Brigade Station Officer Colin Townsley, who was on the concourse when the flashover occurred, while he stopped to help a woman who was struggling to exit the station. Townsley was one of the thirty-one fatalities caused by the fire, most of who had been caught in the ticket hall during the flashover. Fourteen ambulances were used to take the sixty-plus people who received injuries as a result of the fire to various London hospitals.

150 fire fighters battled the blaze until it was declared extinguished at 1.46 the next morning. Nevertheless, emergency crews remained at the scene until the following evening. A number of bodies were recovered from the station, including one that was not identified until 2004 as a 73-year-old homeless man from Falkirk, Scotland, called Alexander Fallon.

ITN news footage of the disaster

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17 November 2009

On this day in history: Suez Canal opened, 1869

In the late eighteenth-century, Napoleon Bonaparte charged a survey team with the task of discovering the remnants of an ancient waterway that once joined the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. Their findings appeared in the series of publications known as Description de l'Égypte published between 1809 and 1826. Although engineers deemed the route unsuitable for a new canal, the benefits of such a waterway inspired the French diplomat Ferdinand de Lesseps to secure a concession from the viceroy of Egypt, Said Pasha, to form a company construct a ship canal.

This authorisation, secured in 1854, granted a ninety-nine year lease on the land for the canal operators Compagnie Universelle du Canal Maritime de Suez ("The Suez Canal Company"), which incorporated in 1858. International scepticism resulted in most of the available shares being bought by French citizens. The Egyptian state purchased the remaining forty-four percent of the shares in the company in order that the project progress.

The construction began in 1859 employing tens of thousands of workers, most of whom were Egyptian forced labourers. Fearing a challenge to their domination of world trade, the British sent armed Bedouin to lead a revolt of the labourers. The viceroy condemned the use of slavery, halting work on the canal until the practice of involuntary labour ceased.

Following ten and a half years construction, on 17th November 1869 workers breached the barrage on the Suez plains reservoir filling the canal with water. Later that day the first ships sailed the 199 miles (192km) of canal joining the two seas. Ten days later the Egyptian Khedive, Ismail Pacha, officially opened the waterway.

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15 November 2009

On this day in history: Only spaceflight of Buran, 1988

In 1974 engineers of the Soviet Union began work on the Buran ("Blizzard") project, which was a response to NASA's Space Shuttle programme. The Russian engineers favoured a design for a lighter reusable spacecraft where the entire body of the craft created lift, but the military leadership demanded that they copy the delta-wing design of the American Shuttle. Six years later, construction commenced on the spacecraft, with the first full-scale prototype reaching completion in 1984 and the first of the two completed production vehicles appearing in 1986.

As with the NASA design, in order to achieve space flight the Buran needed an external source of thrust that would be jettisoned when no longer needed. Buran employed an Energia rocket supplemented by four smaller liquid-fuel Zenit booster rockets, unlike the Shuttle, which uses two solid-fuel booster rockets connected to a fuel tank. The Energia made a successful test-launch in May 1987, paving the way for an unmanned test-flight of Buran.

At 3am local time on 15th November 1988 orbiter OK-1.01 lifted off from the launch pad at Baikonur Cosmodrome. The space flight lasted 206 minutes, during which Buran orbited the Earth twice before making a successful automatic landing on a runway back at Baikonur despite of a powerful cross-wind. Nevertheless, the success of the test flight was not enough to save the project, which was mothballed due to lack of funds and the shifting political situation in the Soviet Union before President Bosis Yeltsin officially cancelled the project in 1993.

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14 November 2009

On this day in history: Philosopher G.W.F. Hegel died, 1831

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was born on 27th August 1770 in Stuttgart, which was then part of the Duchy of Württemberg where his father served as a revenue officer. Hegel learnt Latin from his mother at a young age and later attended the Stuttgart Gymnasium. At his father's suggestion he embarked on a career as a protestant clergyman, enrolling at the University of Tübingen seminary in 1788.

On completing his studies in 1793, Hegel decided not to become a man of the cloth and started work as a private tutor in Berne, Switzerland. He had developed an deep interest in philosophy and began to study the works of Immanuel Kant and Johann Fichte. Nevertheless, he had not abandoned his study of religion as demonstrated by his writings of that time: Life of Jesus and The Positivity of Christian Religion.

In 1796, Hegel co-wrote The First Programme for a System of German Idealism with his friend the philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling. The next year he left for Frankfurt to take up a new tutoring job, but the bequest he then received following his father's death enabled him to return to education. In 1801, he found an non-salaried position at the University of Jena where he continued his studies, wrote and lectured.

Having exhausted the legacy from his father, in 1807, Hegel moved to Bamberg to take the position of editor of the Bamberger Zeitung newspaper. A year later he received the appointment of headmaster at a Gymnasium in Nuremberg. By this time he had published his first solo philosophical work, Phänomenologie des Geistes ("Phenomenology of Mind"), in which he detailed his dialectic method.

While teaching in Nuremberg, Hegel published the first part of his Wissenschaft der Logik ("Science of Logic") in 1812. The last part entered print in 1816, the same year that he received various offers of university professorships. He chose to take up the appointment from the University of Heidelberg, but two years later he became the chair of philosophy at the University of Berlin, where he published his Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts ("Elements of the Philosophy of Right") in 1821.

In 1830, the sixty-year-old Hegel became rector of the university and during the following year King Frederick William III of Prussia decorated him in recognition of his services to the state. Later that same year Hegel left Berlin during a cholera epidemic. Nevertheless, he died in his lodgings in Kreuzberg on 14th November 1831.

The German texts of a number of Hegel's works are available on Project Gutenberg. To learn more about Hegel's thought see his entry on the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy site.

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