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30 April 2010

On this day in history: Louisiana Purchase Treaty signed, 1803

In 1763, the Treaty of Paris was signed ending the Seven Years War between Great Britain and France. One of the articles required that the French give up all their colonies in North America. As such, Spain took control of the vast territory of Louisiana. Seven years later, the French and Spanish secretly signed the Third Treaty of San Ildefonso returning de jure control of the territory to the French, even though it remained under de facto Spanish control.

When Thomas Jefferson, then President of the United States, received news of this retrocession he sent Robert Livingston and James Monroe to France to negotiate the purchase of the city of New Orleans. Their initial overtures were rejected by the French; however, a year later, with the recently signed Peace of Amiens in tatters making a resumption of war between France and Great Britain more likely, Napoleon Bonaparte decided to offer not only New Orleans, but the whole of the Louisiana territory to the United States. Bonaparte realised that the territory would have been a tempting target for the British, and he could use the profits from the sale to fund the war.

Despite opposition in the U.S. the treaty was signed in Paris on 30th April 1803 by Livingston and Monroe on behalf of the U.S. and by the marquis de Barbé-Marbois for the French. The U.S. government made two payments in return for Louisiana: the first for sixty million francs ($11,250,000) and the second of 20 million francs ($3,750,000) would be paid to U.S. citizens to cover claims made by them against the French nation. The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty on 20th October. The Americans took control of New Orleans on 20th December 1803, and the rest of the territory following a formal ceremony on 10th March the following year.

The Avalon Project at the Yale Law School website includes pages dedicated to the Lousiana Purchase, including the text of the treaty.

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Louisiana claimed for France: 9th April 1682
Treaty of Paris signed: 10th February 1763

29 April 2010

On this day in history: Alfred Hitchcock died, 1980

On 29th April 1980, the 'Master of Suspense', film director Alfred Hitchcock died of renal failure at his home in Bel-Air, Los Angeles. Just a few months earlier, he had been knighted for his services to the film industry.

He was born in relatively humble circumstances in Leytonstone, East London on 13th August 1899. Alfred's schooling finished when he was fourteen having to find work because of the death of his father. Nevertheless, he continued to study at night school while he worked as a draughtsman. In 1920 he started his first job in the film industry, illustrating the titles for silent movies.

His talents did not go un-noticed: following a stint as an assistant director in Germany, Hitchcock returned to Britain to direct for Gainsborough pictures. Success brought him a move to British International Pictures and the chance to direct his first film for which he also wrote the script: The Ring (1927). Hitchcock went on to direct the seminal British films The Thirty-Nine Steps (1935), Young and Innocent (1937), and The Lady Vanishes (1938).

The success of Hitchcock's work attracted the interest of Hollywood studios and in 1937 he sailed to America. During the 1950s and 1960s Hitchcock made movies that would give him recognition as a master of the craft: Dial M for Murder (1953), Rear Window (1955), (1958), VertigoNorth by Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960), The Birds (1963). Hitchcock continued to work in cinema and television until his death.

To find out more about the man and his work see the Alfred Hitchcok Wiki.

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28 April 2010

On this day in history: French abolished slavery for the second time, 1848

On 26th August 1789, just over a month after the fall of the Bastille, the National Constituent Assembly adopted The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. The first article of this document declared, "Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be based only on common utility." Despite this declaration of principle it was not until 4th February 1794, that the National Convention - then under the control of the Jacobins and at the height of the Revolutionary Terror - decreed that slavery be abolished in all French colonies:

The National Convention declares the abolition of Negro slavery in all the colonies; in consequence it decrees that all men, without distinction of colour, residing in the colonies are French citizens and will enjoy all the rights assured by the constitution.

Following the fall of Robespierre and the Jacobins, those that took over the reigns of government in France tried to undo what they saw as the excesses of the Revolution. As such, on 20th May 1802 the Consulate - with Napoleon elected as First Consul - reintroduced slavery to France and her colonies. Napoleon went on to become sole ruler of France until he was defeated and the Monarchy was restored.

In February 1848 the government of King Louis-Philippe I collapsed and a liberal provisional government declared the Second Republic. Two months later, the anti-slavery campaigner Victor Schoeler and president of the commission for the abolition of slavery oversaw the passage of the decree to end slavery in French territories for the second time. The first article read:

"Slavery will be completely abolished in all the colonies and the French possessions, two months after the promulgation of the present decree in each of them. From the promulgation of the present decree in colonies, any corporal punishment, any sale of not free persons, will be absolutely forbidden ."

The following primary sources are available online:

Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen (26th August 1789) at the excellent Liberty, Equality, Fraternity pages

Decree of the National Convention of 4 February 1794, Abolishing Slavery in all the Colonies, also at Liberty, Equality, Fraternity

Decree of the abolition of the slavery (27th April 1848) at the History of Slavery in Martinique web site.

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Constitution of Vermont abolished slavery: 7th July 1777
Josiah Henson born: 15th June 1789
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27 April 2010

On this day in history: Duel of the Mignons, 1578

During the French Wars of Religion, two factions developed at court. One loyal to Henry III, King of France (pictured on the left) and the other supporters of Henry, Duke of Guise (shown on the right). In April 1578, men from both groups pledged to fight a duel, possibly to resolve a dispute over the affections of a young lady.

So, on 27th April, Henry III's favourites, known as mignons ('dainties') - Jacques de Caylus, Jean d'Arcès and Louis de Maugiron - engaged in battle with the Guise faction - Charles de Balzac, Georges de Schomberg, and Ribérac. Only d'Arcès and Balzac survived the duel; Maugiron and Schomberg died on the field; Caylus took thirty-three hours to die from his wounds.

This duel may have been a re-enactment of the battle between two sets of triplets called Horatii and the Curiatii. These two sets of brothers fought in order to decide the result of a war between ancient Rome and the central Italian city of Alba Longa. Although, this may have been a later attempt to romanticise the pointless loss of life.

To read a (somewhat biased) account of the duel and the Wars Of Religion in France you can read the Memoirs of Henry the Great at Google Books. This Henry was the King of Navarre who became King Henry IV of France after converting from Protestantism to Catholicism, saying that "Paris is worth a mass."

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Louis XIV revokes the Edict of Nantes: 22nd October 1685
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26 April 2010

On this day in history: Tanganyika and Zanzibar unite, 1964

On 26th April, 1964, the United Republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar was born. In October of that year the country was renamed the United Republic of Tanzania (a portmanteau of Tanganyika and Zanzibar).

In December 1961, the East African state of Tanganyika achieved independence from the British, as a constitutional monarchy under a sultan, who was removed from power in June of the next year when the country became a republic. The British military had administered Tanganyika since the end of the First World War, before that it had been under the colonial control of the German East Africa Company. Prior to that, the Sultan of Oman ruled the area after he helped the indigenous population drive Portuguese colonists from the coast.

The Sultan of Oman also ruled the archipelago of Zanzibar from where he also forced the withdrawal of the Portuguese. In the nineteenth-century the islands became a British protectorate under the Sultan of Zanzibar. The British protection was part of their campaign against the slave trade, the islands' ports being an important to the trade. In December 1963, Britain granted Zanzibar full independence as a constitutional monarchy. Like Tanganyika, it became a republic, but only after a bloody revolution that cost thousands of lives.

See the U.S. Department of State's website for information about Tanzania, including the history of its constituent parts.

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25 April 2010

On this day in history: Guillotine used for first time, 1792

On 25th April 1792, a highwayman called Nicolas-Jacques Pelletier received the dubious honour of being the first person executed using the guillotine. The device was named after Joseph-Ignace Guillotin who was not - as is often thought - the inventor of the machine. In fact, he was a physician who petitioned the National Constituent Assembly, of which he was a member for Paris, in October 1789 with six articles of penal reform. The second of these read:-

In all cases where the law imposes the death penalty on an accused person, the punishment shall be the same, whatever the nature of the offence of which he is guilty; the criminal shall be decapitated; this will be done solely by means of a simple mechanism.

It was not until 1791 that the Assembly approved a motion that everyone condemned to death should be dispatched by having their head severed, and established a committee to review possible methods of decapitation. A year later, a German harpsichord maker named Tobias Schmidt produced the first prototype device under instruction from the head of the committee, the King's physician, Antoine Louis. He continued to refine the design while testing the machine on dead animals and human cadavers. One key feature that he added to increase the effectiveness of the guillotine was to have an angled blade.

The guillotine was not the first mechanism to employ a falling blade or weight to decapitate criminals. Records exist of similar devices being used in the fifteenth-century at Halifax in England ('The Halifax Gibbet') and from 1564 in Scotland ('The Maiden'). According to tradition 'The Halifax Gibbet' had been in use since the thirteenth-century. These certainly formed the blueprint for the French design.

Despite being seen as a more humane method of execution than the axe or the sword, the guillotine became a symbol of Revolutionary Terror. Thousands of victims went to "look through the Republican Window" (as it was called), including King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette. Many revolutionaries were also sent to the 'National Razor' (as it was also known): George Danton, Camille Desmoulins, Jacques Hébert, and the man most commonly blamed for the Terror, Maximilien Robespierre. Dr Guillotin himself only narrowly escaped the device that bore his name. Towards the end of the Terror, the authorities arrested him after he received a letter from Count Mere requesting that Guillotin look after his wife and children following his execution. Fortunately the doctor was released after the fall of Robespierre in 1794.

Visit Jørn Fabricius' excellent web site The Guillotine Headquarters to learn more about this iconic machine.

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Louis XVI executed: 21st January 1793
France abolished death penalty: 9th October 1981

24 April 2010

On this day in history: West German embassy siege in Stockholm, 1975

On the 24th April 1975, members of a group of armed revolutionary group from Germany known as the Red Army Faction entered the West German embassy in Stockholm, Sweden. They took the embassy staff hostage in the hope that they could negotiate the release of their fellow revolutionaries held in German prisons. These prisoners included Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof, whose names were used by the media referring to the group as the Baader-Meinhof Gang as opposed to the Red Army Faction.

Whatever they were called, the group of self styled urban guerrillas had formed in the early 1970s after Meinhof and three others had helped Baader escape custody from a library in a research institution where he had been allowed to study, without handcuffs. Baader was serving a sentence for involvement in two fire bombings in response to the clampdown on radical student activities in West Germany. The group followed an extreme form of Marxist-Leninist ideology, which they saw as justification for their campaign of political assassinations that they funded by robbing banks. Needless to say, the West German government saw them as terrorists, not only for their actions but for their links to Palestinian groups such as Fatah and Black September.

The West German police captured several members of the RAF in June and July 1972. There was no further action by the Faction until the embassy siege three years later carried out by members of a radical anti-psychiatric group who had allied themselves with the RAF. The six hostage-takers - Hanna-Elise Krabbe, Karl-Heinz Dellwo, LutzTaufer, Bernhard Rössner, Ulrich Wessel and Siegfried Hausner - killed one hostage, the Military Attache, Baron von Mirbach when the Swedish police did not withdraw when the group demanded it. The German Chancellor, Helmut Schmidt, refused to negotiate with terrorists, and in response the RAF shot another hostage: an economic attaché called Hillegaart.

As the Swedish police stormed the embassy the explosives, with which the hostage-takers had rigged the building, accidentally ignited. The RAF members and the remaining hostages were all injured in the blast with Siegfried Hausner dying from his wounds. Nevertheless, this was far from the end of the RAF. In 1977, West Germany was rocked by a campaign of assassinations, which became known as the 'German Autumn'. Yet, following the apparent suicides of the principle activists in the RAF during 1976 and 1977, the group became less active until they finally called off their campaign in April 1992.

To learn more about the RAF see (the somewhat sympathetic article) 'A Brief History of the Red Army Fraction' on the World History Archives web site. Alternatively you can read the 'Who were the Baader-Meinhof gang?' article on the BBC web site.

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23 April 2010

On this day in history: Shakespeare died, 1616

On 23rd April 1616 William Shakespeare died at the age of 52 at his home in Stratford-Upon-Avon. Widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language, Shakespeare is also believed to have been born on April 23rd; although, the only extant record is of his baptism on the 26th April 1564 at Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-Upon-Avon.

Following his marriage in 1582 to Anne Hathaway, who was eight years his senior, Shakespeare established himself as an actor and playwright in Elizabethan London. He worked for a variety of patrons including the Earl of Pembroke and the Earl of Southampton. He also appeared before Queen Elizabeth I on various occasions and was one of the owners of the Globe Theatre.

Having made his fortune, Shakespeare retired to Stratford. His plays were still performed and a collection of his sonnets was published in 1609. Following his death from unknown causes, he was buried at Holy Trinity Church in a grave that is marked with an epitaph written by the man himself.

Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbeare
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be the man that spares these stones,

And cursed be he that moves my bones.

For more information on the 'Bard of Stratford' see the biographical essay at the Shakespeare Resource Center site, which also includes an excellent set of links.

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22 April 2010

On this day in history: U.S. Congress authorised Two-Cent coin, 1864

On 22nd April 1864 the U.S. Congress passed an Act to authorise the issuance of a two-cent coin. This Act also gave the the U.S. Treasury discretionary powers to decide what inscriptions were stamped on the lower denomination coinage. As a result of this legislation the two-cent coin was the first U.S. currency to carry the inscription 'In God We Trust'.

Before this time the coins and notes in circulation bore no overtly Christian references; however, the increased religious feeling during the American Civil War led to many appeals landing on the desk of the Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon P. Chase, requesting that the country's currency show some reference to God. Other coins were also redesigned to carry the inscription, 'In God We Trust', which eventually became the motto of the U.S.A. in 1956. The following year the motto appeared on bank notes for the first time.

While the motto continued in usage until the current day, the two-cent coin did not fair so well. It was only produced for ten years. You can read about the rise and fall of the two cent piece at the Coin Community web site. Also, the U.S. Treasury web-site includes a page telling the history of the 'In God We Trust' motto.

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21 April 2010

On this day in history: Emperor Haile Selassie visited Jamaica, 1966

Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia, had been the central figure in the Rastafarian faith since the foundation of the movement in the early 1930s. The indigent population in Jamaica saw him as God incarnate. He was the only independent black monarch in Africa; by tradition, a descendent of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. To Rastafarians he is still a Messiah figure fulfilling certain biblical prophesies: he was the 'King of Kings' and the 'Conquering Lion of Judah'.

It is no surprise that when the Emperor visited Jamaica on 21st April 1966, a rapturous crowd of thousands of Rastafarians received him. Taken aback by the fervour of their welcome, the Emperor returned to the plane until he was given assurances that he would be protected from the throng. The visit continued with the Emperor meeting the ageing Prime Minister, Sir Alexander Bustamante, and receiving an honourary degree at the University of the West Indies.

April 21st has become a sacred date to Rastafarians, celebrated every year as 'Groundation Day' when they hold a Nyahbinghi meeting, during which they celebrate His Imperial Majesty with music, chanting and prayer.

>To find out more about the Emperor's visit and Rastafarianism in general, visit the Rastafari section of the web-site.

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20 April 2010

On this day in history: Pasteurization developed, 1862

Louis Pasteur was born on 27th December 1822 in Dole, eastern France. He attended the Ecole Normale Supérieur in Paris between 1843 and 1846 when he received a doctorate in chemistry and embarked on a career in science.

After working in the field of optics he moved on to the study of biology and medicine for which he was to become famous. Pasteur theorised and then demonstrated by experiment that the fermentation of liquids was a result of external causes: particles that entered the liquid from the surrounding air. This displaced the popular theory of the time, which was that fermentation was a spontaneous process within the liquid.

On 20th April, 1862, Pasteur and his friend Claude Bernard conducted an experiment to test Pasteur's theory that heat could be used to kill molds and bacteria in fermenting milk. The experiment was a success and the process of heating beverages to destroy harmful organisms was called pasteurization in honour of its inventor. Pasteur went on to work in the field of immunology before his death in 1895.

For a longer biography of Louis Pasteur, see this page on the site.

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19 April 2010

On this day in history: Independence of Belgium and Luxembourg recognized, 1839

In the years following the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte, his vanquishers redrew
the map of Europe, resulting in the creation of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. It incorporated modern day Belgium and Holland.

Ethnic, cultural, and religious differences between the northern and southern territories resulted in the Belgian Revolution of 1830: a performance of the patriotic opera, La Muette de Portici, being the spark that lit the riotous fires. After an unsuccessful attempt by King William I to retake Brussels, a provisional government was established in the city in September 1830 and a declaration of independence was made in the following month.

Nevertheless, the country of Belgium was not recognised as an independent sovereign state until the Treaty of London was signed on the 19th April 1839 by the major powers of Europe. This treaty guaranteed the independence of Belgium and Luxembourg, and the perpetual neutrality of Belgium. This latter clause was key in the declaration of war by the British against the Germans when the Kaiser's army invaded Belgium in 1914.

The site has extracts of the Treaty of London available to read. As is the chapter of George Endmundson's History of Holland, on the Authorama site, which focuses on the Belgian Rebellion.

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18 April 2010

On this day in history: Thomas Bodley knighted, 1604

The Bodleian Library at Oxford University is one of the most famous in the world. It was named after an ex-diplomat and fellow of Merton College, Thomas Bodley. Bodley used the wealth he had acquired by marrying the widow of a pilchard magnate to save the library. The University used his money to house the existing collection of books and around 2,500 new texts donated by Bodley and others. The library opened its doors to the public in November 1602, four years after the University accepted Bodley's largess.

Two years later, on 18th April, 1604, King James I of England (James VI of Scotland) knighted Bodley. That same year the King, who was already a patron of the Library, granted the Bodleian an endowment of lands. When he died in 1613 the library also received a large part of Sir Thomas' fortune which, in part, has enabled it to survive until the present day.

For more information on Sir Thomas Bodley's life see the biography at the NNDB web-site; for more details of the Bodleian visit the History page on the Library's web-site.

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17 April 2010

On this day in history: Bay of Pigs, 1961

On the morning of 17th April, 1961, a force of Cuban counter-revolutionary exiles, known as Brigade 2506, landed at the Bay of Pigs in an attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro's regime. The attack was carried out with the support of the United States of America: the plan having been drafted by the C.I.A. while Dwight D. Eisenhower was still President, but was carried out during John F. Kennedy's presidency. Kennedy required the original plan to be scaled back, so that it the attack would look less like a U.S. military operation and more like an operation that the exiles could plausibly carry out.

Following an attack by light bombers of the exile air force, launched from Nicaragua on Cuban airfields, the main assault on the Bay of Pigs began. The failure of the air attack to destroy the Cuban air force resulted in the surviving planes wreaking havoc on the counter-revolutionary invasion force and their air support. Fighting continued, as a 20,000 strong Cuban force repulsed the invading troops, leading to the collapse of the attack on 19th April.

The failed invasion caused a rapid deterioration of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuban governments, which worsened during the Cuban Missile Crisis of the following year, and have improved little in successive decades.

To find out more about the Bay of Pigs Invasion, read the original New York Times report on the attack, and the article about the invasion on the JFK Library and Museum web site.

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16 April 2010

On this day in history: Battle of Culloden, 1746

Following the 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688, some Britons, known as Jacobites, wanted James II restored to the throne. After James' death in 1701, the Jacobite cause shifted to his son, also called James but commonly known as 'the Old Pretender'. There were two major Jacobite risings in Britain in 1715 and 1745. Both of these rebellions began with the Highlanders in the north of Scotland with whom the Stuart cause was still popular.

The 'Fifteen' (as the 1715 revolt was known) began when the Earl or Mar raising the Highland Clans in insurrection and ended when the 'Old Pretender', following the advice of his counsellors, abandoned his troops and returned to exile in France. Thity years later the 'Forty-Five' was led by James' son, the charismatic Charles Edward Stuart, also known as the 'Young Pretender' or 'Bonnie Prince Charlie'. Initially Charles' campaign was a great success: his troops took Edinburgh and pushed into England making it as far as Derbyshire. But a lack of support from English Jacobites worried Charles' counsellors, and he grudgingly accepted a retreat to their power base in Scotland.

Battle of Culloden, by David Morier

The Hannoverian government in England raised an army, which - under the command of the King George II's son, the Duke of Cumberland - finally caught up with the Jacobite forces in April 1746 near Inverness. Against the wishes of his generals, Charles decided to fight a decisive battle. The battle lines were drawn on 16th April, 1746, with Charles' 7,000 strong army of mostly Highland Scots facing Cumberland's force of Lowland Scots, English troops and even a few Highlanders. The superior artillery of the Hanoverian army and dissent within the Jabocite ranks resulted in a clear victory for Cumberland, the flight of Charles back to exile, the brutal repression of Highlanders and the end of the Jacobite cause. This was the last battle fought on British soil (although some historians and commentators maintain that the Battle of Orgreave, during the Miners' Strike in 1984, should be considered as such).

If you wish to read more about the Battle of Culloden check out the site.

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15 April 2010

On this day in history: Samuel Johnson`s Dictionary published, 1755

"Dictionary, s. a book explaining the words of any language alphabetically; a lexicon"

The above definition is taken from Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language, first published on 15th April 1755. Johnson was born in 1709 in Lichfield, Staffordshire. He attended Pembroke College, Oxford, for a just over a year until a lack of funds forced him to leave. After working as a teacher he eventually moved to London where he became an essayist contributing to various journals. A skilled writer, he went on to become one of the leading literary figures of his age.

Whilst not the first dictionary in the English language - that honour belongs to Robert Cawdrey's A Table Alphabeticall of 1604 - Dr. Johnson's dictionary is widely regarded as one of the most influential. The first edition contained definitions of 42,773 words and took about nine years to compile. You can read more about Dr. Johnson and his dictionary in Jack Lynch's guide on the Rutgers University web-site. For those that are interested in the earliest dictionary of the English language, University of Toronto's website hosts a hypertext copy of Cawdrey's A Table Alphabeticall.

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14 April 2010

On this day in history: First Volvo car produced, 1927

Eighty years ago today the Swedish vehicle manufacturer Volvo produced their first car. On 14th April, 1927, the first ÖV4 - nicknamed the 'Jakob' left the company's Hisingen factory in Gothenburg driven by Sales Director, Hilmer Johansson. The ÖV4 - Öppen Vagn 4 cylindrar ("Open Carriage 4 cylinders") - had a 1940cc engine producing 28hp; however, the cabriolet design did not suit the Swedish climate.

Three years earlier, two employees of ball bearing manufacturer AB SKF, Assar Gabrielsson and Gustaf Larson, decided that Sweden needed a car industry. So, they founded Volvo - Latin for 'I roll' - as a subsidiary of AB SKF. The company went on to produce their first truck in 1927; in 1934, they manufactured their first bus; and after World War II, a very successful line of tractors.

For more information about Volvo through the years, see the history page on their web site.

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13 April 2010

On this day in history: First official Poet Laureate to British Crown, 1668

Whilst there had been various unofficial royal poets previously, the first person to be officially recognised as Poet Laureate by letters patent was John Dryden who received the honour from King Charles II on 13th April, 1668. Born into the Puritan landowning gentry in August 1631, Dryden grew up in Northamptonshire before attending Westminster School, as a King's Scholar. After graduating from Trinity College, Cambridge, Dryden relocated to London where he found a position with the Protectorate Government.

In 1658, he published his first major work, Heroique Stanzas. Two years later he produced an enthusiastic panegyric poem, Astraea Redux, in celebration of the Restoration of the monarchy. Over the following decade Dryden's fame as a poet and literary critic grew resulting in his laurietship. Charles also conferred upon him the title of historiographer royal in August 1670.

Following the ascension to the throne of King James II, an avowed Catholic, in February 1685, Dryden converted to the same faith. Apparently, this was not to curry favour with the new monarch who had rapidly promoted many Catholics to high public office. Dryden was a critic of this policy, which - in his view - was counter-productive. Indeed, in 1688, a number of powerful political magnates approached William of Orange and his Stuart wife, Mary, with the offer of the Crown in order to protect Protestantism in Britain.

James went into exile, and Dryden lost his position as poet laureate to his rival, Thomas Shadwell, because he would not swear allegiance to the new monarchs. He continued to write until his death from gangrene in 1700. He was initially buried in a parish church before being interred in Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey.

You can find out more about Dryden and his works on his page at the Bartleby web site. Project Gutenberg also hosts a number of Dryden's works.

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12 April 2010

On this day in history: Galileo interrogated by the Inquisition, 1633

Following the publication of Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, the Inquisition summoned Galileo Galilei to Rome for interrogation. Galileo had managed to alienate Pope Urban VIII by ridiculing Urban's geocentric opinions in the Dialogue, ending the protection that the Pontiff had previously given to Galileo. The insult was probably unintentional but it was enough for the Pope to allow the Inquisition to effectively charge Galileo with heresy. They charged him with promoting the Copernican idea that the Earth orbited the Sun, rather than being the centre of the Universe as per the orthodox geocentric view.

The interrogation began on 12th April, 1633, and lasted for until the 30th April. During the questioning, Galileo was detained in the Inquisition's building, albeit in luxurious apartments. Following a plea bargain where Galileo would recant some of his claims in return for a more lenient sentence, the Church officials sentenced him to house arrest, under which he remained for the rest of his life.

To learn more about Galileo see the Galileo Project website at Rice University.

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11 April 2010

On this day in history: Launch of Apollo 13, 1970

On 11th April 1970, a Saturn V rocket launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida carrying the crew of the Apollo 13, James A. Lovell, John L. Swigert and Fred W. Haise, on what was intended to be the third manned landing on the Moon. Two days into the mission a faulty oxygen tank caused an explosion that damaged the oxygen supply and electrical systems of the Command Module, Odyssey. The astronauts and ground crew faced a race against time to find a solution to the life threatening situation and achieve a return to Earth.

The astronauts used the Lunar Module, Aquarius, as a 'lifeboat', reducing energy consumption and making repairs to the oxygen supply system. The three travelled around the Moon, using its gravity to set a course back to Earth. Following a difficult journey the crew managed to splashdown safely on 17th April.

To learn more about the Apollo 13 see the Lunar Surface Journal for the mission at the NASA web site.

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10 April 2010

On this day in history: Emiliano Zapata assassinated, 1919

Born in August 1879, Emiliano Zapata Salazar became a mediero (sharecropper) and horse trainer in his home village of Anenecuilco in the small central Mexican state of Morelos. He campaigned for the rights of his fellow villagers, whose land was subject to often violent seizure from the holders of large estates in the area, known as hacendados. In response to the Porfirio Díaz dictatorship favouring the wealthy hacendados, Zapata - by then an elected spokesman for the village - started to employ armed force to reclaim the disputed lands.

When the revolution against Díaz ignited in 1910, Zapata was allied with the opposition headed by Francisco I. Madero. Zapata took command of the insurrectionist force that formed in Morelos, called the Ejército Libertador del Sur (Liberation Army of the South). Madero overthrew Díaz, but the new President's lack of interest in the peasants' cause resulted in Zapata reforming his army, which prevailed against Madero's forces. In 1913, the counter-revolutionary General Victoriano Huerta removed President Madero from office and installed a military dictatorship that violently suppressed the indigenous population and peasantry, who responded by swelling the ranks of Zapata's army.

Undefeated in battle, his enemies hatched a plan to ambush Zapata and his forces. One of Huerta's Generals, Pablo González, pretended to want to switch sides and support the revolution. He contacted Zapata to arrange a meeting at the Hacienda de San Juan; however, the meeting was a trap. On the 10th April 1919, at the Hacienda de San Juan, near the city Ayala, Morelos, González soldiers opened fire killing Zapata.

The lasting image of Zapata is that of a romantic revolutionary hero, like Che Guevara. You can read more about him at the site.

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9 April 2010

On this day in history: Louisiana claimed for France, 1682

On 9th April, 1682, René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, claimed the Mississippi basin in the name of the France by erecting a cross and a column, and by burying a inscribed copper plate. He had canoed down the Mississippi River with eighteen Native Americans from Fort Crevecoeur, which was located near what is now Peoria, Illinois. He named the region, la Lousiane (Louisiana), in honour of King Louis XIV.

Cavelier, a destitute ex-Jesuit, had travelled in search of a new life in the Americas in 1667. He became an explorer based in New France, now part of Canada, and journeyed extensively throughout North America under the patronage of the Governor General of New France, Louis de Buade de Frontenac, who secured a title and a fur concession for him. He was murdered whilst on an expedition in Texas on 19th March, 1687, by mutinous members of his party.

You can read more about Cavelier in his biography on the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online site.

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8 April 2010

On this day in history: French Protestants granted freedom of worship, 1802

The revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louix XIV in October 1685, made Protestant worship in France illegal. This remained the case until they received limited toleration during the French Revolution. Following his rise to power, Napoleon Bonaparte promulgated the law of 18 Germinal an X on 8th April 1802, which granted full religious tolerance to French Protestants.

In the 121 articles of this law, also known as les Articles Organiques (the Organic Articles), Bonaparte sought to regulate public worship in France and to limit the divisive forces it could unleash. 44 of the articles applied to the Protestants. They received the freedom to worship, but they were to have no national synod, which may have created a state within the state. Rather, the law established regional church organisations known as consistoires.

The remaining 77 articles set down the relationship between the French state and the Catholic church. Pope Pius VII protested against the effective nationalisation of the Gallican Church and its subordination to state regulation. Nevertheless, Bonaparte's power meant that the pontiff had little choice but to sign the document.

You can read more about the Organic Articles in an article on the Catholic Encyclopedia site.

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7 April 2010

On this day in history: First recorded sale of friction matches, 1827

On 7th April 1827, John Walker, of Stockton-on-Tees in County Durham, England, sells the first friction matches in his chemist shop to a local solicitor called Hixon. Walker served his apprenticeship with the Stockton surgeon Watson Alcock, before learning the druggist trade in York and Durham. He opened his druggist and chemist shop at 59, High Street, Stockton in 1819.

His keen interest in chemistry resulted in his accidental invention of these 'friction lights', as he called them, the year before. He wiped a stick covered with a mixture of potassium chlorate and antimony sulfide on his hearth at his home. The scientist Michael Faraday attempted to persuade Walker to take out a patent on his invention, but he chose not to claiming that he was a doctor and not an inventor.

In 1829 a Londoner called Samuel Jones became the first to commercially exploit the matches. Like Walker he did not patent the matches or the name by which he marketed them: 'Lucifers'. Many other chemists made and sold their own 'Lucifers' and the name stuck, much to the annoyance of Walker who so disliked the name that he stopped selling his own invention during the 1830s.

For more information of John Walker see the Stockton Borough Council website.

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6 April 2010

On this day in history: First modern Olympiad, 1896

On 6th April 1896, the Greek King, George I, officially opened the first summer Olympic games of the modern period at the Panathinaiko Stadium in Athens, Greece, with the words: "I declare the opening of the first international Olympic Games in Athens. Long live the Nation. Long live the Greek people." There then followed a performance of the Olympic Hymn, composed by Spyridon Samaras, with words by Kostis Palamas.

The event was the brainchild of the French educator and historian, Baron Pierre de Coubertin. Two years earlier he shared his hopes for the games:

May joy and good fellowship reign, and in this manner, may the Olympic Torch pursue its way through ages, increasing friendly understanding among nations, for the good of a humanity always more enthusiastic, more courageous and more pure.

Over the next nine days 241 athletes from fourteen nations participated in forty-three events. The nine sports competed in were athletics, cycling, fencing, gymnastics, shooting, swimming, tennis, weightlifting, and wrestling. Only men took part in the inaugural modern Olympics. Women athletes had to wait another four years until the second Olympiad in Paris to compete.

You can read more about the 1896 games on the official site of the International Olympic Committee.

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4 April 2010

On this day in history: The Beatles hold the top five slots on U.S. singles chart, 1964

In April 1963, The Beatles had their first number one hit single in the United Kingdom. "From Me To You" was the first of eleven consecutive singles released by the Liverpool quartet on EMI's Parlaphone label to reach the top spot in the U.K. The chart success ushered in a phenomenon that became known as 'Beatlemania': the almost hysterical devotion of mainly young female fans.

Having achieved unprecedented success in their homeland, John, Paul, George and Ringo set their sights on the United States. EMI's American label, Capitol Records, declined to release "From Me To You" and the earlier single, "Please Please Me." Instead, both appeared on the Vee-Jay Records label in 1963 but neither received radio airplay and consequently failed sell - "From Me To You" only reached number 116 in the charts.

Swan Records released the Beatles' next U.S. single, "She Loves You", also failed to make a breakthrough. Nevertheless, before the year ended news of 'Beatlemania' reached the States creating an interest in the band prompting Capitol to release their next single "I Want To Hold Your Hand". The demand for the record was insatiable, with over a quarter of a million copies selling in the first three days of release. The single became the Beatles' first U.S. number one when it reached the top spot on 1st February 1964.

Over the following weeks Swan and Vee-Jay re-released the earlier three singles, with the latter also releasing other songs that they held the rights to including some through their subsidiary label Tollie Records. Capitol also released their latest single "Can't Buy Me Love" while discs produced by its Canadian sister label crossed the border to be sold in the U.S. Their record sales received a boost when they travelled to the U.S. for the first time as a band in February 1964. The media gave extensive coverage to the visit that included a live appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show watched by approximately seventy-four million viewers.

On 4th April 1964, the Beatles achieved the unprecedented feat of occupying all of the top five spots on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. The number one slot was occupied by "Can't Buy Me Love" on Capitol; "Twist and Shout" on Tollie was number two; number three was "She Loves You" on Swan Records, "I Want to Hold Your Hand" (Capitol) held the number four position, and at five was Vee-Jay's "Please Please Me". Furthermore, they also had another seven singles placed lower down the top 100: at 31, "I Saw Her Standing There" (Capitol); at 41, "From Me To You" (Vee-Jay); at 46, "Do You Want To Know A Secret" (Vee-Jay); at 58, "All My Loving" (Capitol of Canada); at 65 "You Can't Do That" (Capitol); at 68, "Roll Over Beethoven" (Capitol of Canada); and at 79, "Thank You Girl" (Vee-Jay). Neither feat has ever been matched, and both heralded the so-called 'British invasion' of the U.S. pop charts.

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2 April 2010

On this day in history: The United States Mint established, 1792

On 2nd April 1792, the U.S. Congress passed An act establishing a mint, and regulating the Coins of the United States, more commonly known as The Coinage Act. This legislation established the United States Mint at the seat of government, then Philadelphia, and several official positions within the mint to conduct its business: a Director, an Assayer, a Chief Coiner, an Engraver, and a Treasurer. The act allowed for the roles of Chief Coiner and Engraver to be filled by one person.

The act also established a decimal system of currency for the country and set the various denominations of the coins. The three highest value coins were all made from gold: $10 Eagles, $5 Half Eagles, and $2.50 Quarter Eagles. Next came five silver coins: $1 Dollars or Units, $0.50 Half Dollars, $0.25 Quarter Dollars, $0.10 Dismes, and $0.05 Half Dismes. The $0.01 Cent and $0.005 Half Cent were to be made from copper.

Section 10 described the legends and devices to be stamped on the coins:

Upon one side of each of the said coins there shall be an impression emblematic of liberty, with an inscription of the word Liberty, and the year of the coinage; and upon the reverse of each of the gold and silver coins there shall be the figure or representation of an eagle, with this inscription, "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA" and upon the reverse of each of the copper coins, there shall be an inscription which shall express the denomination of the peace, namely, cent or half cent, as the case may require.

According to the legislation, anyone could bring gold or silver bullion to the mint and have it made into coins free of charge or immediately exchange bullion for the equivalent weight in coins. If you wish to read the full text of the act it is available on the Library of Congress web site.

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