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30 September 2008

On this day in history: Vacuum cleaner patented, 1901

Hubert Cecil Booth began his engineering career as a draughtsman working in a team of engineers designing engines for new battleships for the Royal Navy. He then became the senior engineer for the design of three large Ferris wheels in Blackpool, Paris and Vienna. In 1901 he started his own business as a consulting engineer.

One of his first projects was inspired by an invention that blew dust out of railway carriage seats. Booth started work on a machine that would use a vacuum to suck the dust out of carpets. On 30th September 1901 Booth received the patent for the worlds first powered vacuum cleaner and he set up his British Vacuum Cleaner Company to produce the machines.

His first models were large oil powered devices that were drawn by horses to the building to be cleaned. Booth continued to refine his design, switching to electric motors and scaling them down for domestic use. His machines were used to clean Westminster Abbey before the coronation of Edward VII, and so impressed was the new king that he asked Booth to demonstrate his vacuum cleaners at Buckingham Palace following which they were installed there and at Windsor Castle.

After successfully defending his rights to the product following a legal challenge that went to the High Court, Booth focused on large-scale machines for the industrial market rather than making smaller machines for people's homes. He continued as chairman of his company until he retired at the age of eighty-one. He died a few years later, but his company lives on as a division of the pneumatic tube transport system producers Quirepace.

29 September 2008

On this day in history: Blackpool tramway opens, 1885

From the early nineteenth century, various towns and cities around the world introduced trams (streetcars) as a means of public transport. First horses and then steam engines provided the power for the trams until Werner von Siemens demonstrated his electric motor at the 1881 International Exposition of Electricity in Paris. A British engineer called Miochael Holroyd Smith became aware of electric traction and began experimenting with narrow-gauge electric tramways in 1883.

Spurred on by the success of these experiments, Smith demonstrated standard-gauge versions of his invention in Manchester and then in the seaside town of Blackpool. This latter demonstration led to the formation of the
Blackpool Electric Tramway Company in 1885, which commissioned Smith to construct a two-mile long tramway along the Promenade from Claremont Park to South Shore. Most of the directors of the company hailed from Smith's hometown of Halifax, as were the engineers that built the track.

The grand opening of the world's first effective electric tramway took place on 29th September 1885 presided over by Smith and the Mayor of Manchester, Alderman Harwood. The company operated the trams until 1892 when the Blackpool Corporation took them over and extended the network and installed overhead cables to supply the power rather than use a conduit in the track. The trams continue to operate to this day, managing to avoid the replacement of tramways in other cities by becoming a tourist attraction.

28 September 2008

On this day in history: First flight around the world, 1924

In 1923 the United States' Army Air Service decided to join the race to be the first to fly an aircraft around the world. Finding that none of their existing fleet were suitable for the task, the group of officers charged with organising the attempt received instructions from the War Office to evaluate the Fokker F-5 and the Davis-Douglas Cloudster. Rather than send details about the Cloudster, Donald Douglas chose to submit information about a modified version of the DT-2 torpedo bomber, called the Douglas World Cruiser, which the Air Service selected.

Douglas delivered a modified a World Cruiser with over five and a half times the original fuel capacity to the Air Service for testing. The aircraft met all the requirements and Douglas received an order for four more planes, the last of which arrived with the Air Service in March 1924. Douglas also delivered spare parts that were transported to various points along the proposed route for the flight.

On 6th April 1924, four World Cruisers — called the Boston, the Chicago, and the New Orleans — took to the air from Seattle, Washington for Alaska on the first leg of the attempt. A fourth plane — ironically called the Seattle — needed repairs and later set off to try to catch up with the other aircraft; however, it crashed into an Alaskan mountainside due to dense fog. Fortunately, the crew survived.

The remaining three planes continued on their journey, avoiding Russian air space because the Soviets had not given them permission to fly over their country. After flying across East Asia and the Middle East, the aircraft arrived in Paris on Bastille day (14th July). They then set off across the Atlantic via London and the north of England; however, on 3rd August the Boston had to land on the water (the planes were fitted with floats for the legs that crossed over large bodies of water) but it capsized while being towed by the ship that rescued the crew.

The Chicago and the New Orleans continued across the Atlantic landing at Iceland and Greenland. When they arrived in Canada they were joined by the test plane for the remaining legs that took them to Washington D.C. and Santa Monica, California, before returning to Seattle on 27th September 1924. The two crews — pilot Lt. Lowell Smith and 1st Lt. Leslie Arnold of the Chicago, and pilot Lt. Erik Nelson and Lt. Jack Harding of the New Orleans — had travelled over 25,000 miles in 175 days.

To learn more see C.V. Glines' article 'Around the World' on the Air Force Magazine Online site.

27 September 2008

On this day in history: The world`s first public railway opens, 1825

In the early nineteenth-century various groups group of businessmen decided to resurrect plans to improve transport links between the collieries of South Durham and the port of Stockton-on-Tees. The committees initially planned to cut a canal to re-route the River Tees but a lack of finance meant that no work was carried out. In September 1818, a joint meeting of interested parties considered whether a canal or a railway system would be more beneficial but since an agreement was not reached the businessmen decided to consult with a leading civil-engineer, John Rennie; however, the interested parties from the town of Yarm also invited the Welsh engineer George Overton to survey possible routes.

Overton's report favoured a scheme to build a railway at a cost of £124,000. In November 1818, after careful consideration of the report, the retired wool-merchant Edward Pease and the Darlington banker Johnathan Backhouse called a meeting at Darlington Town Hall to discuss the formation of a railway company. The plan received a favourable response resulting in the creation of the railway company the following month.

The first task of the company was to persuade Parliament to pass the required legislation. After two failed attempts, the Bill finally received Royal Assent in April 1821. To begin with the Stockton and Darlington Railway Company did little beyond decide upon the design of their seal and the wording of their motto, but finally, in early 1822, they appointed George Stevenson as their chief engineer. Construction started in May of that year and continued for the next three years.

On 27th September 1825, the Stockton and Darlington Railway held the formal opening of the line. The company invited local nobles and other dignitaries to travel in a special train along the twenty-five mile route from Shildon to Stockton. While the invited guests travelled in a special coach, the rest of the passengers travelled in a further fourteen coal wagons and, as if to underline the commercial nature of the venture, the train also included another twelve wagons laided with coal and goods.

At 9am, the large crowd of onlookers waved off the train, hauled by Stephenson's Locomotive No. 1. It took two hours to reach Darlington, where six coal wagons were removed from the train so that their contents could be given to the poor people of the town. The remaining train arrived in Stockton at 3.45pm welcomed by a cheering throng and a twenty-one gun salute.

See John Moore's Stockton and Darlington Railway Website for more information.

25 September 2008

On this day in history: The Solemn League and Covenant, 1643

The British Civil Wars of the mid-seventeenth century have many causes. King Charles I brought about one such cause in 1637 when he and Archbishop Laud attempted to bring the Scottish and English churches closer together by replacing the authoritative text to organisation of the Kirk, John Knox's Book of Discipline, with a new Book of Canons, and by introducing a slightly amended version of the English Book of Common Prayer into Scotland. Resistance to these reforms grew over the following year culminating in the Scottish National Covenant by the majority of Scots (sometimes under duress), uniting them in the common cause of resistance to reform of their national church.

King Charles' need for new taxes to fund military action against the Covenanters brought about the eleven years of Personal Rule when he called no parliaments. He quickly dismissed the Short Parliament of 1640 when they refused to grant him more money to fight the Scots, who then defeated Charles' army at Newburn. The king then called, what became known as, the Long Parliament, which was no more amenable to the king's wishes causing a conflict that dragged the country into civil war in 1642.

Initially the Royalist forces enjoyed success over the Parliamentarians, who decided to ally themselves with the Scottish Covenanters following the failure of peace negotiations with the king. The Parliamentarians and Scots shared common aims, both religious and military, so negotiations did not take long. On 25th September 1643 representatives of both Houses of Parliament and the Scottish commissioners signed The Solemn League and Covenant to create a military alliance to maintain the independence of the Scottish church and to bring about a reformation of religion in the rest of the British Isles as a protection against 'popery'. In the January of the following year, the Army of Covenant crossed the border into England, tipping the balance of forces in favour of the Parliamentarians.

The full text of The Solemn League and Covenant, it is available on the site

24 September 2008

On this day in history: Paracelsus died, 1541

Born Phillip von Hohenheim at the Swiss village of Maria Einsiedeln sometime in 1493, he followed his father into a career in medicine. Following the completion of his doctorate at the University of Ferrara, he worked as an itinerant physician and occasionally as a miner across Europe from the Netherlands to Russia. He ended up at the University of Basel where he held the chair of medicine.

After a legal row he was forced to leave the city after less than a year that he spent upsetting his fellow academics with his new ideas and refusal to accept traditional Galenic medical practice. Paracelsus pioneered the use of chemicals in the treatment of ailments and is credited with naming the element zinc. While he rejected some medical orthodoxies, such as magical theories, he maintained the hermetic idea of maintaining harmony within the body and was himself a practicing astrologer and alchemist.

After leaving Basel he travelled around Europe, Africa and Asia Minor as a seeker of occult knowledge, initially under the grand name of Philippus Theophrastus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim and then simply as Paracelsus (meaning 'equal to Celsus' - an ancient greek who wrote a famous tract on medicine). He continued to write on medical and occult subjects but often had problem finding publishers for his works. He died at the age of 48 (possibly under suspicious circumstances) on 24th September 1541. In the late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth Paracelsus' works achieved a wider acceptance and helped shape modern medicine.

To learn more see the Zurich Paracelsus Project pages hosted by the University of Zurich Institute and Museum for the History of Medicine.

23 September 2008

On this day in history: Nintendo founded, 1889

On 23rd September 1889, Japanese businessman Fusajiro Yamauchi founded a company he initially named Nintendo Koppai. Based in Kyoto, the company produced hand-made playing cards for a game called Hanafunda ('flower cards'). The popularity of the Yamauchi's cards enabled him to take on more employees and grow his company producing a variety of decks.

When Yamauchi retired in 1929, Nintendo was Japan's largest producer of playing cards. In the 1959, Yamauchi's grandson and president of Nintendo, Hiroshi Yamauchi, secured a deal with Disney to use their characters on playing cards. Despite the success of Nintendo's core business, during the 1960s Hiroshi decided to diversify the company's business portfolio by producing food, vacuum cleaners, setting up a taxi-cab company and a chain of hotels.

Unfortunately these ventures all failed, but during the 1970s Nintendo started a new profit-making line: electronic toys. The first of these was designed by an employee of Nintendo called Gunpei Yokoi who made a mechanical arm for his own amusement while working as a maintenance engineer. Realising he had found a talented designer, Hiroshi quickly moved Yokoi to product development where he went on to develop many of the electronic products for Nintendo that brought the company worldwide success.

22 September 2008

On this day in history: First performance of Das Rheingold, 1869

On 22nd September 1869, the National Theatre in Munich hosted the première performance of Das Rheingold ('The Rhine Gold'), the first part of Richard Wagner's four-part opera Der Ring des Nibelungen ('The Ring of the Nibelung'). Wagner had wanted the whole cycle to be performed together in new opera house specifically designed for that purpose; however, at the insistence of his patron, King Ludwig II of Bavaria, preview performances were given of the first two parts - the second being Die Walküre ('The Valkyrie'). Wagner began work on the opera in the summer of 1848 when he wrote a basic outline of a story based loosely on the myths of the Norse gods.

In Das Rheingold, a dwarf called Alberich who steals the Rhinegold from which he makes a magic ring that would enable its wearer to rule the world. The god Wotan wants the ring for himself, and on the advice of his fellow god, the cunning Loge, the two travel to the dwarven mines to steal the ring. Loge tricks Alberich into using a magic helmet to transform himself into a toad, whereupon the gods capture him and take him to the surface. In return for his freedom the gods demand that Alberich hand over all his treasure, including the ring, which the dwarf reluctantly does but not before cursing the ring to bring its wearer nothing by unhappiness.

At the premiere August Kindermann played Wotan, Heinrich Vogl played Loge, and Wilhelm Fischer appeared as Alberich. The whole cycle was not performed together until August 1876 when it was staged at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus ('Bayreuth Festival Theatre').

Kristian Evensen's Richard Wagner Website includes a more complete synopsis of Das Rheingold as well as the other parts of Der Ring des Nibelungen.

21 September 2008

On this day in history: The Hobbit first published, 1937

Some time in the early 1930s, the Oxford professor J. R. R. Tolkien was marking School Certificate papers when he found a blank sheet of paper. Suddenly inspired, he wrote the words: "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit." and returned to marking the papers. Over the next two years, Professor Tolkien drew on his love of mythology and his background as an scholar of Anglo-Saxon to write the story of a hobbit called Bilbo Baggins, who reluctantly joined Gandalf the wizard and a group of dwarves on their quest to find the treasure of the dragon Smaug.

Tolkien wrote the story to entertain his three sons but he also let others read it, including the his fellow Oxford don, C. S. Lewis. On another occasion he lent a manuscript to Elaine Griffiths, a family friend and student of his. In 1936, Susan Dagnall, a member of staff at the publishers George Allen & Unwin, visited Griffiths who suggested that Dagnall read Tolkien's story.

Dagnall reacted so favourably to the tale that she showed it to her boss, Stanley Unwin. Unwin gave the book to his ten-year-old son Rayner, who he paid to write a review of it. Rayner wrote, "This book, with the help of maps, does not need any illustrations it is good and should appeal to all children between the ages of 5 and 9." This recommendation was enough for his father who decided to publish the book.

On 21st September 1937, George Allen & Unwin, Ltd published the first edition of The Hobbit with illustrations by Tolkien including those on the dust cover. The book was very well received, with all 1500 copies of the first print run selling by December. Translated into over forty languages, The Hobbit went on to become an international best-seller, as was its sequel The Lord of the Rings.

Read Anne T. Eaton's 1938 review of The Hobbit from the New York Times.

20 September 2008

On this day in history: Foundation of first Irish football club, 1879

While on honeymoon in Scotland in 1878, a young businessman from Belfast called John McCredy McAlery watched soccer being played for the first time. McAlery, an accomplished sportsman, became enthralled by the sport and decided to introduce it to his native land. In October that same year, he arranged an exhibition match at the Ulster Cricket Grounds between the Scottish teams Queen's Park and Caledonians.

A year later he decided to go one better and found the first Irish football club. On 20th September 1879 a notice appeared in the Belfast newspapers the News Letter and the Northern Whig, which read:

Cliftonville Association Football Club (Scottish Association Rules.) Gentlemen desirous of becoming members of the above Club will please communicate with J. M. McAlery, 6 Donegall Street; or R. M. Kennedy, 6 Brookvale Terrace, Antrim Road. Opening practice today at 3.30.

Nine days later the Cliftonville team, including McAlery, played their first game at Cliftonville Cricket Club against a team of rugby players called the Quidnunces to whom they lost 2:1.

Aware that the locals would soon lose interest in a sport with only one club, McAlery aided the Knock Cricket and Lacrosse Club in the formation of their own football team. As happened across the Irish Sea, many other cricket clubs formed their own football teams in order to compete in a winter sport. In November 1880 there were enough of them to form the Irish Football Association with McAlery taking on the role of secretary.

To learn more of the history of Cliftonville F.C., see the history page on the official web-site

19 September 2008

On this day in history: New Zealand women gained the right to vote, 1893

During the nineteenth century women's suffrage movements emerged in democratic nations around the globe drawing upon the liberal philosophies of the Enlightenment. In New Zealand campaigners such as Kate Sheppard and Mary Ann argued that an extension of the franchise would increase the moral tone of politics and do more to protect the family, which was seen as the traditional sphere for women. These arguments persuaded a number of male politicians to support universal suffrage including John Hall, Robert Stout, Julius Vogel and William Fox - all of whom held office as Prime Minister of New Zealand.

In 1878, 1879, and 1887 the lower house of parliament passed amendments to electoral bills granting votes to women, but on each occasion the upper house, called the Legislative Council, blocked the amendment. In 1893 the Electoral Bill, which extended the franchise to all adult females (including Maori women), passed the House of Representatives. It would have been vetoed by the upper house as before had it not been for the heavy handed tactics of the Liberal Prime Minister, Richard Seddon.

Seddon opposed votes for women, but realising that a large proportion of his own party supported an extension of the franchise he decided to publicly support the Bill while applying pressure on members of the Legislative Council to veto it. In the opinion of two councillors, he applied a little too much pressure and they switched position in protest voting to support the measure, which the Council then passed by twenty votes to eighteen. On 19th September 1893, the Governor of New Zealand, Lord Glasgow, gave Royal Assent to the bill, and in November and December of that year, women voted for the first time in the national election.

The New Zealand History online site includes a number of pages dedicated to 'New Zealand women and the vote', including articles, a timeline and a gallery.

18 September 2008

On this day in history: first crossing of the English Channel in an autogyro, 1928

In January 1923, the world's first successful rotorcraft, the Autogiro, successfully completed its maiden flight. The Spanish engineer Juan de la Cierva designed the aircraft, which later became known as an autogyro. Like a helicopter, an autogyro gains lift from rotating rotor blades, but unlike a helicopter there is no power applied to the rotor, rather it spins due to a phenomenon known as autorotation. This enables the craft to fly at slower speeds, a problem that dogged Cierva's earlier designs for a bomber.

In 1926, following a demonstration of an autogyro to representatives of the British Air Ministry the year before, he moved to England where he set up the Cierva Autogyro Company funded by the Scottish industrialist James G. Weir. Cierva continued to refine and develop his designs culminating in the C.8 design, which he entered in the 1928 Kings Cup Air Race. Despite its retirement from the race the C.8 completed a three-thousand mile tour of Great Britain.

Spurred on by the success of the tour, Cierva then decided to fly the C.8 to France. At 10:00am on 18th September 1928, he departed from Croydon Airport at the controls of his autogyro accompanied by a Farman Goliath aeroplane of the French Air Force. Around 35 minutes later he landed at Lympne in Kent, and after a brief rest he set off across the English Channel - the first attempt to do so in any rotorcraft. He landed at St. Inglevert near Calais at 11:15am where he refueled the C-8 and had lunch.

At 12:35pm he took off on the next leg of the journey, arriving in Abbeville at 1:40pm. At 3:10pm he took to the skies for his final destination, Le Bourget Airport in Paris, where he arrived at 4:15pm to the delight of the large crowd that gathered there to greet him.

While the London to Paris flight went completely according to plan, Cierva was not so fortunate a few days later: he crashed his autogyro during a demonstration at Le Bourget. Undeterred, he repaired his aircraft and set off on a tour of Europe visiting Berlin, Brussels and Amsterdam.

Eight years later, Cierva set off again on a flight to the Continent from Croydon Airport, but this was to end in tragedy. The Dutch DC-2 stalled on take off, hit the roof of a building at the end of the runway and burst into flames. An ironic end to a man who dedicated his life to solving the problem of stalling aircraft.

17 September 2008

On this day in history: Joshua Norton declared himself Emperor of the United States, 1859

Joshua Abraham Norton was born somewhere in Britain on 4th February 1819. Little is known of his early life, although he lived for some time in South Africa where he served in the military. In 1849 he arrived in San Francisco, California, with a sizeable fortune.

He invested his money creating a successful business selling supplies to the many prospectors drawn by the California Gold Rush. Over the next few years his fortune grew to an estimated quarter of a million dollars. About this time he decided to join a group seeking to control the rice supply to the city, which had a large Chinese population.

In 1853, the group purchased all the supplies of rice they could find to corner the market. Unfortunately for them, two ships laden with the grain arrived in port creating a glut of the foodstuff. The price of rice plummeted bankrupting Norton and the resultant litigation left him penniless. He moved away from the city and into obscurity.

In 1857 he returned to San Francisco. Soon it became clear that he had, at the very least, developed an eccentric streak or completely lost his mind. He walked the city streets dressed in military uniform with a beaver hat on his head, believing himself to have been made Emperor of California by decree of the state legislature.

On 17th September 1859, he went one step further by declaring himself Emperor of the United States. The editor of the city's newspapers, the San Francisco Bulletin, decided to humour him and publish his declaration:

At the peremptory request and desire of a large majority of the citizens of these United States, I, Joshua Norton, formerly of Algoa Bay, Cape of Good Hope, and now for the last 9 years and 10 months past of S. F., Cal., declare and proclaim myself Emperor of these U. S.; and in virtue of the authority thereby in me vested, do hereby order and direct the representatives of the different States of the Union to assemble in Musical Hall, of this city, on the 1st day of Feb. next, then and there to make such alterations in the existing laws of the Union as may ameliorate the evils under which the country is laboring, and thereby cause confidence to exist, both at home and abroad, in our stability and integrity.

Over the next two decades the people of San Francisco, like the newspaper editor, responded warmly to Norton making him something of a local celebrity. Other newspapers published his edicts and Norton started to issue his own currency. Citizens bowed and curtsied to him in the street and he ate for free in various restaurants.

In 1867 a rookie policeman arrested him, believing he required confinement in an asylum. The public outcry that followed Norton's incarceration led the Chief of Police to fear a breakdown in civil order and he released his self-styled majesty after issuing a lengthy apology. From that time on the city's police saluted Norton when he passed.

Joshua Norton, the first emperor of the United States, collapsed and died of sanguineous apoplexy early in the evening on 8th January 1880. Newspapers across the United States printed the news of his demise, with the Cincinnati Enquirer devoting 16 inches to the story. An estimated ten thousand people came to pay their respects while he laid in state, and a two mile funeral cortege followed his body from the morgue to the Masonic Cemetery.

If you wish to learn more about this eccentric character read R. E. Cowan's excellent biographical essay Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico (1923)

16 September 2008

On this day in history: Wall Street Bombing, 1920

At just after midday on 16th September 1920, on the busy corner of Wall Street and Broad Street, a bomb left in horse drawn cart exploded firing around five-hundred pounds of cast-iron slugs into the lunchtime crowd. A timer triggered the detonation of about one-hundred pounds of dynamite, which vaporised the horse and wagon, killed thirty-eight people and injured four-hundred more. The explosion also caused more than two-million dollars worth of damage to the surrounding buildings, including the J. P. Morgan Inc. bank on the opposite side of the street.

Nobody claimed responsibility for the attack, which is seen by many as the first car-bombing, but a note was found in a mailbox on the corner of Cedar Street and Broadway that read "Remember we will not tolerate any longer. Free the political prisoners or it will be sure death for all of you. American Anarchist Fighters." This note and the choice of target in the centre of American capitalism suggest that the attack was part of the anarchist 'propaganda of the deed' campaign that started in the late nineteenth-century, leading some historians to point the finger at Galleanists, supporters of Italian anarchist Luigi Galleani - two of whom, Sacco and Vanzetti, had been arrested in Massachusetts earlier that year.

14 September 2008

On this day in history: First man-made object to reach the Moon, 1959

After their successes in putting the first man-made object into space the scientists of the Soviet space programme set their sights on a more remote target. Between September 1958 and June 1959 the Soviet Union launched a series of rockets carrying probes that they hoped would reach the Moon. All of the first three attempts failed to leave the Earth's atmosphere and while fourth probe, Luna 1, was successfully launched it missed the Moon by about 6,000km and became the first man-made object to enter orbit around the Sun. During the fifth attempt, the guidance systems of the R-7 rocket failed and the mission was aborted.

Early in the morning on 12th September 1959, a R-7 Semyorka rocket launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan carrying the lunar probe. This probe, called Luna 2, successfully separated from the third stage of the rocket and both headed off towards the Moon. Along the way it confirmed the presence of the solar wind, which was first detected by Luna 1. The next day Luna 2 expelled a bright cloud of sodium gas to aid the scientists in tracking its progress and so that they could observe the behaviour of gases in space.

At a little after 10pm UTC, on 14th September the scientists stopped receiving transmissions from Luna 2 indicating that it had impacted with the Moon. The probe landed somewhere in the Palus Putredinus ('Marsh of Decay'). Before crashing instruments on Luna 2 demonstrated that, unlike the Earth, the Moon had no radiation belts nor a significant magnetic field.

The Luna programme continued until 1976 by which time NASA had sucessfully made manned missions to the Moon, something the Soviets never achieved. To read more visit the Zarya site, which includes web-pages dedicated to the Luna missions.

13 September 2008

On this day in history: Michelangelo began work on his sculpture of David, 1501

In the mid-fifteenth-century the Operai - a group responsible for overseeing work on the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence - commissioned twelve large sculptures of Old Testement figures for the cathedral's buttresses. They arranged the purchase and transportation of a large piece of marble for a sculpture of David, King of the Israelites. The Operai first commissioned Agostini di Duccio and then Antonio Rossellino to work on the sculpture but neither made much progress, and the block, which became known as 'The Giant' lay outside the cathdral workshop for twenty-five years.

In 1501 the Operai decided to find an sculptor capable of turning 'The Giant' into a work of art. They consulted Leonardo da Vinci and others but the twenty-six year old Michaelangelo persuaded them to give him the commission. He received the official contract in August of that year and on 13th September he began work on the statue.

Michaelangelo worked on the statue for the next three years, producing a seventeen foot (5.17m) representation of a naked David at the moment he decided to fight Goliath. In January 1504, with the statue nearing completion, a committe of artists including da Vinci and Botticelli convened to decide the best location for the statue. Eventually they decided to a position in the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio, the Florentine seat of government, where it was unveiled on 8th September 1504. The statue remained there until 1873 when it was relocated to the Accademia Gallery in the city. A replica was placed in its original position in 1910.

12 September 2008

On this day in history: Lascaux cave paintings discovered, 1940

On 12th September 1940, four teenagers, Georges Agnel, Simon Coencas, Jacques Marsal, Marcel Ravidat were playing on a hill overlooking the village of Montignac in the Dordogne, France. The four boys noticed a hole in the ground created when a large pine tree fell some years before. They enlarged the hole and climbed in.

The group fell into an underground passage which led to a larger cave covered with paintings of animals. The boys returned the next day and used a rope to descend into the underground complex. They found a number of other caves with a variety of paintings and engravings on the walls.

On hearing about the discovery ither villagers explored the caves and they were soon joined by the leading archeologists of the day who excavated the main entrance to the site. Following the end of the Second World War the cave paintings, estimated to be 16,000 years old, became a major tourist attraction. By 1955, the caves attracted over a thousand visitors per day.

Around that time, scientists noticed that the carbon-dioxide from the breath of visitors was having an effect on the paintings. Consequently, the Ministry of Cultural Affairs closed the caves to the public in 1963 to protect the art. Twenty years later, the Lascaux II centre opened close to the caves containing a facsimile of part of the original complex.

Visit the official Cave of Lascaux website to learn more.

11 September 2008

On this day in history: First World`s Parliament of Religions, 1893

In 1893 Chicago hosted a World's Fair called the World's Columbian Exposition to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' arrival in the Americas. With so many people visiting the city during that year, organisers for many other parliaments and congresses chose to stage their events in Chicago. One of these was the first Parliament of the World’s Religions, which ran for sixteen days beginning on the 11th September.

This was the first formal conference attended by representatives of Eastern and Western religions. While delegates from several new religions were in attendance, including Spiritualism and Christian Science, there were a few notable absentees, such as Sikhs and indigenous or nature-worshipping faiths. Nevertheless, the conference marked the beginning of inter-faith dialogue and the start of Western interest in Eastern spirituality as more than exotic curiosities.

The Tuepflis Global Village Library includes details of the programme of events for the 1893 Parliament in English, with notes in German.

10 September 2008

On this day in history: Battle of St George`s Caye, 1798

Starting in the early seventeenth century, Spanish colonists made repeated incursions into the British logging settlement in what is now Belize. During the 1770s, the Spanish deported the British woodcutters, known as Baymen, to Cuba. The 1786 Convention of London granted Baymen, the right to cut and export timber but forbade them to build fortifications, set up a colonial government or establish agricultural plantations as, according to the agreement, the settlement was officially recognised as belonging to Spain.

The Convention did not settle the issue. By the mid-1790s, Baymen suspicions of an immanent Spanish attack resulted in them requesting aid from the Lieutenant Governor in Jamaica, who sent them muskets and ammunition, and the declaration of martial law in February 1797 by the Superintendant of the settlement, Thomas Barrow. In June of that year, at a public meeting the Baymen voted 65 to 51 against evacuation. Over the next year the Baymen received reports of the recruitment of an invasion force in Mexico and in July 1798 on receiving word that the Spanish fleet had reached Cozumel, they took the extraordinary step of arming their slaves.

After a few minor engagements, on 10th September 1798, the Spanish and British fleets lined up near St. George's Caye where the prominent Baymen lived. Nine large Spanish ships approached the Baymen's motley assortment of six craft which opened fire. After about two and a half hours the battle was over, with the Spanish forces fleeing in confusion, never to return.

In Belize the victory is celebrated on 10th September every year as a national holiday.

8 September 2008

On this day in history: Coronation of William IV, 1831

On 8th September 1831, the Duke of Clarence was crowned King William IV of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and also King of Hanover. The sixty-nine year old William was the third son of George III, and ascended to the throne following the death of his older brother George IV whose only legitimate child, Princess Charlotte, died in childbirth in 1817. Under George III, the popularity of the monarchy had declined, due ,in part, to his extravagance. Consequently, the public greeted William's insistence that his coronation cost a fraction of that of his brother with warm approval.

During his reign, William became known as the 'Sailor King' because of his career in the Royal Navy. He became a midshipman at the age of thirteen, serving in the American War of Independence. In 1785, he became a lieutenant and the next year he took command of HMS Pegasus as its Captain. Four years later, he was promoted to Rear-Admiral, but he really wanted to be made a Duke like his brothers.

Faced with his father's reluctance, William threatened to run for parliament as MP for Totnes in Devon. Disgusted by the thought of the issue being made public, the George III relented and made William Duke of Clarence and St. Andrews. He took a seat in the House of Lords where he spoke out against the abolition of slavery, but spoke out for the abolition of the penal laws against dissenting Christians.

His short reign of seven years is marked by the amount of reform legislation that Parliament passed in that time. Not only the Reform Act of 1832, which made many changes to the British electoral, but also the amendment of the Poor Law in 1834, the Factory Acts of 1831 and 1833 set limits on child labour, and the 1833 act abolishing slavery in the British Empire. While the king did not welcome all these reforms, he didn't actively thwart the will of the House of Commons, which became more powerful during his reign.

William was succeeded by his niece, Princess Victoria of Kent. She could not become Queen of Hanover because the state's Salic Law forbade a woman becoming monarch; so, William's brother Ernest Augustus became King of Hanover. Thus the personal union of the UK and Hanover ended when William died in 1837.

6 September 2008

On this day in history: Swaziland becomes independent, 1968

Following the end of the Second Boer War (aka the Anglo-Boer War) in 1902, British troops entered the territories occupied by the Swazi people and attached it to the defeated Transvaal Colony as an imperial possession. Four years later, the British Government granted Transvaal limited self-government and set up a separate colonial administration for Swaziland. A resident commissioner governed the region according to orders issued by the British High Commissioner for South Africa.

When it came to making decrees High Commissioner consulted with the resident commissioner, the Swazi royal family and the European settlers. This latter group gained a degree of democratic representation in 1921, when the authorities established the European Advisory Council, who were mandated to advise the commissioner on non-Swazi affairs. In 1944, the British attempted to set up a puppet monarchy, giving the 'Paramount Chief' (as they called the king) authority over his people to make such decrees as he was told by the resident commissioner.

The lack of co-operation from King Sobhuza II, resulted in the British giving him unprecedented autonomy within their African possessions in 1952 and started preparing the Swazi people for independence. In the early 1960s political parties started to emerge in Swaziland, the most powerful of which was the Imbokodvo National Movement (INM) convened by the traditional Swazi leaders including the king. When elections for a legislative council were held in 1964, the INM won all twenty-four elective seats.

Following their election victory the INM adopted many of the more radical policies of the other parties they defeated, including a call for immediate independence. Following talks with the British government, the INM secured an agreement for Swaziland to become a constitutional monarchy with full independence being granted following parliamentary elections in 1967. Consequently, on 6th September 1968 Swaziland became an independent state.

The INM also won the first elections following independence in 1972. Nevertheless, a good showing by the Ngwane National Liberatory Congress, who received around 20% of the vote, resulted in the King Sobhuza dissolving parliament and repealing the 1968 constitution. Swaziland became an absolute monarchy until 1979 when he established a new parliament of elected representatives and his own appointees.

5 September 2008

On this day in history: First President of Senegal elected, 1960

Born in October 1906 at the coastal city of Joal, Léopold Sédar Senghor, started his formal education at a religious boarding school aged eight. In 1922 he entered a seminary in Dakar to become a clergyman, but it became clear that a religious career was not for him. He then completed his baccalaureate at a secular institution and received a scholarship to study literature in France.

In 1928 Senghor sailed for France. He studied at various institutions in Paris finally passed the Agrégation in French Grammar in 1935. Following graduation he became a schoolteacher in Tours and then on the outskirts of Paris. In 1939, Senghor enrolled as an officer in the French army but was captured by the Germans a year later, narrowly avoiding the death sentence meted out to other African prisoners.

He spent two years in prison camps, occupying himself writing poetry (for which he would later receive international acclaim), before the Germans released him on medical grounds. He resumed his teaching career and became involved with the resistance. After the war he became dean of the École Nationale de la France d'Outre-Mer, an institution for instructing colonial administrators.

Around this time Senghor became involved in politics. He was elected to the National Assembly as a deputy for Senegal-Mauritanie. In 1948, the radical socialist Mamadou Dia and the more moderate Senghor co-founded the Bloc Démocratique Sénégalais, which merged with other socialist parties to form the Bloc Populaire Sénégalais during the mid-50s.

In January 1959, Senegal and the French Sudan merged to form the ill-fated Mali Federation, which became fully independent from France in April 1960. Senghor was president of the Federation but he powerless to prevent it breaking up within months, due to political infighting. The French Sudan became the Republic of Mali, and the Republic of Senegal was formed.

On 5th August 1960, the Senegalese people went to the polls to elect their first President. The charismatic Senghor won the election, with Dia becoming Prime Minister. Two years later, Senghor sacked Dia for allegedly plotting to seize power in a coup, a charge he was found guilty of leading to his imprisonment for twelve years.

A rewritten constitution placed more power in the hands of the President, a position which Senghor held until 1980. In 1983, he became the first African to become a member of l'Académie française. Senghor died in December 2001, at Verson in Normandy where he spent his last years.

The University of Florida website includes a page with a short biography of Senghor and a collection of excerpts from his poetry.

4 September 2008

On this day in history: Great Fire of London destroyed St. Paul`s Cathedral, 1666

Tuesday 4th September 1666, was the day when the Great Fire of London wreaked the most devastation. Starting at just after midnight on the previous Sunday at Thomas Farriner's bakery in Pudding Lane, the fire raged for across the capital fanned by strong winds. The Lord Mayor of London, Sir Thomas Bloodworth, delayed the decision to demolish surrounding houses to create fire-breaks, when he finally gave the order the bakery blaze had developed into a fire-storm.

Many thought that St. Paul's Cathedral offered the ideal refuge because of its heavy stone walls and position in an open plaza. As such it became a temporary warehouse for goods rescued from nearby businesses as the fire encroached, including the stock of printers and booksellers of the adjoining Paternoster Row. Unfortunately, the cathedral was covered in wooden scaffolding for the planned restoration work by Christopher Wren, which caught fire on the Tuesday evening. John Evelyn described the destruction of St. Paul's in his diary:

The burning still rages, [...] the stones of Paul's flew like grenados, the melting lead running down the streets in a stream, and the very pavements glowing with fiery redness, so as no horse, nor man, was able to tread on them, and the demolition had stopped all the passages, so that no help could be applied.

Mercifully, during the following day the wind dropped and the fire-breaks halted the spread of the fire. By modern estimation, the fire destroyed around 13,500 houses, 87 parish churches, 44 company halls, and other major buildings, including the Royal Exchange, the Bridewell Palace (then used as a prison), and St. Paul's. Rather than refurbish the old building, Christopher Wren was given the task of desigining and building its replacement, which stands to this day.

The Internet Archive includes a copy of the 2nd Part of Evelyn's Diary and Correspondence, which includes his account of the fire.

3 September 2008

On this day in history: first man to drive an automobile at over 300 mph, 1935

Sir Malcolm Campbell's fascination with automotive speed began while he was in Germany learning the family trade, diamond dealing. On three successive occasions from 1906 he won the London to Lake End trials motorcycle races before graduating to racing cars at Brooklands in 1910. After the end of the First World War, he set his sights on the land speed record.

In 1924 he drove a 350HP V12 Sunbeam at over 146 mph at Pendine Sands, on the south coat of Wales, taking the land speed record for the first time. He went on to take the record another eight times, mainly due to his rivalry with fellow Briton, Henry Segrave. The last time he took the record was on 3rd September, 1935 at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.

The car Campbell used for the attempt was called Bluebird, like his other racing and record-breaking cars. Designed by Reid Railton, the power plant in this version was a 2,300hp 36.7 litre supercharged Rolls-Royce V12, enough to propel machine and driver to an average speed of over three-hundred miles per hour on the two runs in both directions over a measured mile. Initially, the American Automobile Association calculated an average speed of 299.875 mph, but they later revised this to 301.397 mph.

Following his return to Britain, Campbell received a knighthood and set his sights on the water speed record, which he set four times. Campbell died after a long illness in 1948. His son, Donald, followed in his father's footsteps making attempts at the land and water speed records, breaking both in 1964, before his tragic death attempting to retake the water speed record in 1967.

A website dedicated to Sir Malcolm Campbell has a page of images and press clippings of his 1935 record breaking attempt.

2 September 2008

On this day in history: September Massacres begin, 1792

A lack of central authority during a period of national crisis led to one of the worst events of the French Revolution. On 2nd September 1792, news of the fall of the fortress at Verdun and the Prussian invasion of France and reached Paris. The last remaining deputies in the Constituent Assembly - soon to be replaced by the Legislative Assembly - ordered that the tocsin (alarm bell) be rung and that the alarm guns be fired.

The massacres began as a crowd attacked a group of non-juring priests on their way to imprisonment in the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés because they had refused to take the oath of loyalty to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. The crowd mutilated and killed all twenty-four of them. Over the next few days, crowds broke into other prisons in Paris to attack the inmates. Some assailants feared that the prisoners would become counter-revolutionaries once the Prussians took Paris; some worried about the capital's diminishing food stocks; others just wanted bloody retribution.

Many other non-juring clergymen suffered the same fate as the twenty-four priests, including three bishops and over two-hundred priests. Imprisoned aristocrats also became a target for the killers, notably the Princesse de Lamballe, sister-in-law to the Duc d'Orleans and friend of Queen Marie Antoinette. Approximately twelve-hundred prisoners died during the five days of attacks.