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31 March 2009

On this day in history: Eiffel Tower inaugurated, 1889

In 1884, the French structural engineer and architect, Gustave Eiffel, started to draw up plans for a 300-metre tall iron tower. He submitted his design as an entrance arch to those responsible for the Exposición Universal de 1888, a World's Fair to be held in the Spanish city of Barcelona. The city governors, the Consistory of Barcelona, rejected the idea because they considered it not only to be too expensive, but also ill-fitting with the surrounding architecture.

Undaunted, Eiffel submitted his design to the planners of the Exposition Universelle, another World's Fair to be held in Paris in 1889 to celebrate the centenary of the French Revolution. His plans met with approval and work commenced in January 1887. Over the next two years hundreds of workers cleared the site by the River Seine, constructed the foundations, and fabricated and assembled over 18,000 different parts of the three platformed Tower using over 2,500,000 rivets.

On 31st March 1889, Eiffel and members of the Council of Paris climbed the 1,710 to the top of the construction, where he planted a French flag to inaugurate the 312 metre tall Tower that now bears his name. At that time it was the tallest tower in the world, a distinction that it held until the completion of New York's Chrysler Building in 1930, despite Eiffel only holding a permit for the Tower to stand for twenty years. Indeed, the original contest rules required that the structure be easily dismantled. Nevertheless, the addition of an antenna proved the Tower's value for radio and then later for television broadcasts.

Initially the object of disgust of the many Parisians who considered it to be an eyesore the Tower soon became a major tourist attraction, having over two-million visitors in its first year alone. The Eiffel tower has become arguably the most recognisable landmark in the city and a symbol of French pride. To learn more you can download a pdf file telling you All you need to know about the Eiffel Tower from the official website.

23 March 2009

On this day in history: Elisha Otis installed his first passenger elevator, 1857

Man has used hoisted platforms to move materials since ancient times, but the ever present danger of the rope or cable snapping prevented the widespread use of such devices to transport people. This was the case until the nineteenth century when the serial inventor Elisha Graves Otis and his sons, Charles and Norton, developed an automatic safety system. Born in August 1811 in Halifax, Vermont, Elisha Otis left home at nineteen years of age. He spent five years working as a wagon driver before moving to the Vermont Hills with his wife and young son. There he designed and built a gristmill, which he later converted into a sawmill. A lack of customers resulted in him turning his hand to vehicle manufacture.

Following the death of his wife, he remarried and set off with his two sons to start a new life in Albany, New York. He worked at a bedstead factory where he developed and patented a machine for turning the bedstead rails. He received a $500 bonus from his employers that he invested in his own engineering business. When the city of Albany redirected the stream from which he drew power, he moved to Bergen City, New Jersey, and worked as a mechanic. He then relocated to Yonkers, New York, where he took over management of an old sawmill that he intended to convert to a bedstead factory.

Otis realised that he needed to lift the debris out of the building, but he was concerned about the reliability of hoisted platforms. Along with his sons, he designed and tested a 'safety elevator'. They passed a rope through a sprung mechanism, which would be released if the rope broke pushing into toothed guide rails on either side of the lift, holding it in place. They founded the Union Elevator and General Machine Works Company to market their invention.

Otis made first public display of his elevator at the 1853 Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations in New York. He stood on the elevator which was drawn upwards whereupon he took an axe and severed the rope from which the elevator hung. The crowd gasped as the platform fell a few inches before being held in position by his device.

Otis received a succession of orders for his elevators over the following years, but only to transport goods. He finally received the contract to install a passenger elevator in the five-story E. V. Haughwout Building that was under construction at the corner of Broome Street and Broadway. The elevator cost $300, making its first journey on 23rd March 1857.

Elisha Otis continued to invent new devices until April 1861 when he died of diphtheria. The company he founded went from strength-to-strength under his sons' management. Their company installed Otis elevators in some of the most famous structures in the world including the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State Building.

21 March 2009

On this day in history: The funeral of Pocahontas, 1617

In 1596 an Algonquian princess with the formal names of Matoaka and Amonute was born in an area known as Tenakomakah (modern day Virginia). She was the daughter of Wahunsunacawh who was the Chief or Powhatan of a confederation of tribes in that area, later known as the Powhatan Empire, and one of his many wives. Due to her carefree antics she received the nickname Pocahontas meaning 'playful one' and became her father's favourite daughter despite her lowly status within the family.

In May 1607 English colonists began to settle in the area. In December that same year, a group of Powhatan hunters captured a leading colonist called John Smith. According to his later account, they took him to one of their main settlements called Werowocomoco, where he was laid across the stone about to be beaten to death. The young Pocahontas threw herself across him and persuaded her father to spare his life. It is entirely possible that this was a symbolic act of adoption or a small part in a ritualised peace treaty. Either way, a bond developed between the young girl and the Englishman. She frequently visited the Jamestown colony, where she lived up to her nickname, turning naked cartwheels and larking about with the local boys. Smith later told of the time she risked her life to provide the colonists with food and by warning them of an impending attack planned by her father.

In 1609 Smith's return to England for medical care following an explosion and the resumption of the armed conflict between the English and the Native Americans resulted in an end to the contact between Pocahontas and the colonists. Not long later she may have married a Powhatan captain called Kocoum. Little is known of this union but it appears to have ended before 1613. By that time she was living in Passapatanzy, a village of the Patawomecks who traded with the Powhatans. According to Smith, she had been in the care of the Patawomeck chief, Japazaws, for a couple of years. He accepted a bribe from a group of colonists led by Captain Samuel Argall to trick Pocahontas onto their ship where they took her captive. The colonists intention was to trade her for a peace treaty and the English prisoners, weapons and tools held by her tribe.

Even though the Powhatans returned the prisoners and some of the equipment they had captured, the colonists were not satisfied and a year-long negotiation began. In that time Pocahontas remained captive in the town of Henricus where she fell under the influence of Reverend Alexander Whitaker, who persuaded her to embrace Christianity. While there she also succumbed to the romantic advances of John Rolfe, a pious tobacco planter who had recently lost his wife. After being baptised under the new name of Rebecca she married Rolfe on 5th April 1614. In January the following year, the couple had their only child, Thomas Rolfe. While the marriage did not secure the return of all the colonists' possessions, it did cement amicable relations between them and the Powhatans.

The promotion of the possibility of amicable relations between the Native Americans and Europeans was of great importance to the Virginia Company of London, which administered the colonies in that region. Upon hearing about the marriage of a native Princess to an English gentleman they ordered the colonial governor, Sir Thomas Dale, to bring Pocahontas to England. In June 1616, Rolfe, his wife and around a dozen of her countrymen including a holy man called Tomocomo, arrived at Plymouth. From there they travelled to London where she attended various society events as well as being received by Queen Anne. The Powhatans found the foul air of London disagreeable and within months they moved to the nearby village of Brentford, where Pocahontas had an emotional reunion with John Smith, who she thought to be dead.

The climate of the English winter did not agree with Pocahontas and in March 1617 the Rolfe's boarded ship to return to Virginia. Weakened by sickness, probably pneumonia or tuberculosis, she was in no fit state to make the arduous crossing of the Atlantic. She went ashore at Gravesend in Kent where she died. Her funeral took place on 21st March 1617 at St. Georges Church, a tragic end to the short life of a key figure in American history.

20 March 2009

On this day in history: Tunisian independence, 1956

In 1861, Tunisia became the first country in the Arab world to enact a constitution. Nevertheless, eight years later the former Ottoman possession declared itself bankrupt, partly as a result of political instability. Consequently, the country’s economy became the responsibility of a group of British, French and Italian financial commissioners.

The French and British thwarted Italian colonial ambitions in Tunisia before reaching an accord by which Britain would receive Cyprus in return for recognising that Tunisia was part of the French sphere of influence. The French then used a Tunisian incursion into her Algerian colony as a pretext to invade the country and bring an end to Italian influence over the Tunisian government.

The French invasion force of about 36,000 troops quickly reached the capital, Tunis, and forced the Bey of Tunis, Muhammed as-Sadiq, to capitulate. He signed the Treaty of Bardo on 12th May 1881, which required French troops to withdraw from the country in return for French responsibility for the defence of Tunisia as well as control of the county’s foreign policy. Thus Tunisia effectively became a French protectorate.

A nationalist movement grew over the next thirty years culminating in a coalition of nationalist groups and the formation of a pro-Ottoman party, al-Ittihad al-Islami (“The Evolutionist”) in 1911. The end of that year saw the beginning of widespread civil disturbances, to which the French authorities responded with repressive measures against the nationalists including closure of newspapers and forced exile of their leaders. Nationalist organisations emerged between the two world wars, but each suffered from the repressive policies of the colonial administration.

Following the defeat of Nazi Germany, the French managed to maintain control of her North African colonies in the face of renewed nationalist struggles. An armed insurgency began during the mid-1950s centered on mountainous areas. The leaders of the Tunisian independence movement coordinated their efforts with those in Algeria and Morocco becoming the first of the three to achieve independence from France.

On 20th March 1956, Tunisia achieved its full sovereignty after two years of negotiations between the French and the Neo-Destour (“New Constitution”) party, which was backed by the trade unions. Tunisia became a constitutional monarchy with the Bey of Tunis, Muhammad VIII al-Amin Bey, as king. The next year the Prime Minister, Habib Bourguiba, abolished the monarchy and declared the Republic of Tunisia.

17 March 2009

On this day in history: Purple Haze released, 1967

In early 1966, Linda Keith, then girlfriend of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, befriended a guitarist called Jimi Hendrix during a visit to New York. While he was much in demand as a session musician, Hendrix had yet to achieve success in his own right. Keith introduced him to the Rolling Stones management, but they passed up on the opportunity. She then approached Chas Chandler, who was looking to manage artists following the recent break-up of his band, The Animals.

In September, Chandler persuaded Hendrix to travel to Britain where he teamed him up with the English musicians Noel Redding (bass) and Mitch Mitchell (drums) to form The Jimi Hendrix Experience. They swiftly recorded and released their first single, a version of the rock standard "Hey Joe". The trio returned to the studio during November to begin recording their debut album Are You Experienced?

As part of these sessions they recorded their second single, "Purple Haze" for the A-side, and "51st Anniversary" on the B-side. It had its UK release on 17th March 1967 following which it entered the British charts at number 39 before peaking at number 3. The US release of the single was on 19th June, but it only reached number 65 in the charts.

12 March 2009

On this day in history: First black international footballer, 1881

Andrew Watson was born in the British colony of Demerara (modern day Guyana) in May 1857. His father was a Scottish sugar planter called Peter Miller; his mother was a local girl named Rose Watson. He attended an English public school before studying Natural Philosophy, Mathematics and Civil Engineering at the University of Glasgow.

Watson excelled at association football while at school playing as a full back on either flank. While at university he became an amateur player for Maxwell F.C. before signing for Parkgrove F.C. in 1876 where he also became the match secretary. During the 1880s he played for and was secretary of the prestigious Glasgow club, Queen's Park. During his time there, Queen's Park won a number of Scottish Cup finals.

On 12th March 1881, Andrew Watson received his first Scotland cap in a game against England at Kennington Oval in London. Watson captained his side to a 6-1 victory. He represented his country on two other occasions against Wales a few days after his debut and again against England a year later at Hampden Park in Glasgow. Scotland won both matches 5-1.

In 1882 he joined Swifts F.C., a team based in Slough, England where he became the first black player to compete in the F.A. Cup. Two years later he transferred to the elite Corinthians team. After the end of his footballing career Watson emigrated to Australia where he died just after the turn of the century.

10 March 2009

On this day in history: French Foreign Legion established, 1831

In July 1830, King Charles X of France signed into law a series of decress known as the July Ordinances in order to re-establish an absolute monarchy to curtail an increasingly radical elected government. The ordinances suspended the freedom of the press, dissolved the elected legislature and disenfranchised the commercial bourgoisie. Within three days a popular insurrection had removed Charles from the throne. Eventually Louis-Phillipe, the duc d'Orléans, took the throne as a constitutional monarch having established his egalitarian credentials during the earlier French Revolution. Under the new constitution, only French nationals could serve in the army. Nevertheless, there were many foreignors still in France: those attracted by the promise of the earlier revolutions and former foreign soldier's in Napoleon's Grande Armée.

On 10th March 1831, King Louis-Phillipe established the French Foreign Legion to enable these foreignors to fight to achieve France's colonial ambitions in Algeria, which had proved to be an unpopular posting with French soldiers. The Legion remained outside the regular French army, thus circumventing the constitutional ban on foreign soldiers, although French citizens - especially those considered to be disruptive influences - were also encouraged to join.

Four years later the Foreign Legion took part in their first actions on European soil in support of Isabella II in the First Carlist War. Over the following decades they also served in Italy and Mexico. During the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), the authorities waived the rule that légionnaires could not serve within Metropolitan France because of shortages of experienced soldiers. As well as serving in various Colinial campaigns, légionnaires fought in both world wars and continue to see action today.

9 March 2009

On this day in history: Pink`s War began, 1925

Richard Charles Montagu Pink was born in November 1888 in Winchester, Hampshire. He attended Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, before becoming a midshipman in the Royal Navy in 1904. Pink achieved the rank of lieutenant by the outbreak of war in 1914, at which point he joined the newly created Royal Naval Air Service. While serving with the staff of the Admiralty air department, Pink was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-colonel.

Before the end of the war the Royal Naval Air Service merged with the Army's Royal Flying Corps to form the Royal Air Force, which Pink transferred to as a staff officer. After the end of the war, Pink served in Africa before his redeployment to north-west India as wing-commander of 2 (India) wing at Risalpur in 1923. In the July of the following year, the British forces in India began operations to subdue rebellious tribes in the territories of southern Waziristan that bordered Afghanistan. Within months each of the tribes had submitted to British authority except those allied to the Abdur Rahman Khel tribe.

Sir Edward Ellington, the RAF commander in India, decided to carry out an air operation with no army support to force the tribesmen to capitulate. He gave command of the operation to Pink, who chose Tank as his base of operations. He took the Bristol F2B fighters of 5 squadron to base of Miramshah, where they joined 27 and 60 squadrons of de Havilland DH9A bombers [pictured].

After dropping leaflets warning the local population of impending attacks, on 9th March 1925 the squadrons strafed the tribes' camps in the mountains. Over the next fifty-four days the RAF dropped 250 tons of bombs on the rebels in day and night raids for the loss of only one aircraft and the deaths of two personnel. This relentless campaign forced the rebels to sue for peace, which was agreed in a meeting at at Jandola on 1st May.

6 March 2009

On this day in history: Toronto incorporated, 1834

In the middle of the eighteenth-century the French established a trading fort on the north-western shore of Lake Ontario called Fort Rouillé, which remained occupied for around a decade. Later that century, following American Independence, many of those colonists who remained loyal to Britain chose to leave the United States, some of whom settled in Upper Canada founding the township of Toronto. The name probably derives from the Mohawk word tkaronto, which refers to an area with trees standing in water.

In 1787 the British Crown bought over 250,000 acres (over 100,000 hectares) of land around the settlement from the native population of Mississauga Ojibwa. Six years later the first lieutenant governor of Upper Canada, John Graves Simcoe, renamed the township to York in honour of George III's second son, Frederick, Duke of York. At the same time, York became the capital of Upper Canada, in place of the less-defensible town of Newark.

Over the next four decades, York expanded into a city of more than 9,000 residents. This growth created a need for local amenities and a government to manage them. This required the incorporation of the city, which happened on 6th March 1834. In order to distinguish the city from New York City as well as the many other places with that name in the province the newly incorporated city reverted to its former name, Toronto.

4 March 2009

On this day in history: France reorganised into 83 départements, 1790

Prior to the revolution, the admininstration of France involved a confused overlapping patchwork of local authorities. In order to rationalise the administration of the country and to reduce regional loyalties based on aristocratic ownership of the land, in September 1789 Jacques-Guillaume Thouret presented a report by the Constitution Committee to the Constituent Assembly that proposed the division of France into smaller administrative regions. Three months later the Assembly adopted a plan to create 83 roughly rectangular départements of similar size, each named after geographical and other natural features.

On 4th March 1790 the new administrative structure came into effect. The electorate of each département would vote for 36 council members and a procureur-général-syndic, a legal officer, each serving for two years with half the council facing re-election each year. The council elected eight of their number to to deal with all aspects of local administration.

3 March 2009

On this day in history: Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, 1918

Following the seizure of power in Russia by the Bolsheviks during the October Revolution of 1917, the Second Congress of the Soviet of Workers', Soldiers', and Peasants' Deputies passed The Decree on Peace proposing the immediate withdrawal of Russia from war against Germany and her allies. In December the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic and the Central Powers - Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire - signed an armistice and started peace negotiations. Months passed before the Russians delegation, led by Leon Trotsky in his role as People's Commissar for Foreign Relations, withdrew from the talks because they could not accept the German's demands for the cessation of territory.

The Germans responded by repudiating the ceasefire, seized much of the Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic States before threatening the Russian capital, Petrograd. The Russians had little choice but to return to the negotiating table. On 3rd March 1918 the representatives of the belligerents signed a treaty at Brest-Litovsk in modern day Belarus.

The terms of the treaty were even more unfavourable to the Russians than those they had previously rejected. The fourteen articles of the treaty included provisions for the Central Powers to take effective control of the Baltic states, Finland, Belarus and the Ukraine. The Russians were also to return those lands captured from the Ottoman Empire. In return the Ottoman's accepted the creation of the Democratic Republic of Armenia.

The treaty did not last long: the Ottomans invaded Armenia just two months after the signing of the treaty; then the Germans renounced it in November 1918 as a response to Bolshevik attempts to provoke revolution in Germany. Russia itself annulled the treaty after the Allied victory over Germany and her allies. Over the next three years the Soviet Union reclaimed some of its lost territory in a series of military campaigns.

The text of The Peace Treaty of Brest-Litovsk is available on the World War I Document Archive site.

1 March 2009

On this day in history: Radioactivity discovered, 1896

Born in Paris in December 1852, Henri Becquerel followed the family trade and became a scientist. His father, Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel, and his grandfather, Antoine César Becquerel, discovered the photovoltaic effect and both contributed to scientific knowledge about luminescence and phosphorescence. Both Alexandre-Edmond and Antoine César occupied the chair of applied physics at the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, and in 1892 Henri followed suit.

In 1896, Henri Becquerel decided to investigate the x-rays that Wilhelm Röntgen had discovered at the end of the previous year. He deduced an experiment to test his theory that phosphorescent materials absorbed sunlight and then emitted it in the form of x-rays. He wrapped photographic plates in heavy cardboard to prevent their exposure to sunlight. Onto these plates he placed some fluorescent potassium uranyl sulfate crystals with coins and cut metal shapes between the crystals and the wrapped plates.

He left the experiment out in the sunshine and when he developed the plates he saw the outlines of the coins and metal shapes. Thinking that the experiment had proven his theory he presented his initial findings at the Académie des sciences. Nevertheless, he wanted to confirm his theory with further experimentation but several days of overcast conditions in Paris resulted in him leaving the experimental materials in a drawer.

On 1st March 1896 he decided to develop the photographic plates anyway, expecting to see only faint images. To his surprise he saw very clear images of the metal shapes. During a meeting of the Académie held the next day he explained that the uranium salts emitted a radiation without the influence of sunlight.

In further experiments with other non-phosphorescent uranium salts he found the same results and concluded that the element uranium emitted a new form of radiation. His discovery inspired the husband and wife team of Pierre and Marie Curie to conduct further research into radioactivity. In 1903 the Curies and Becquerel jointly received the Nobel Prize in Physics.