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31 July 2010

On this day in history: Denis Diderot died, 1784

Born on 5th October 1713 in the city of Langres in eastern France, Diderot was destined for a life in one of the professions, initially as a clergyman and then as a lawyer. When he turned his back on a professional career to become a writer, his father disowned him. Diderot completed his rebellion by marrying below his station.

Diderot started out translating English texts into French before moving on to philosophical works and a collection of lewd stories. His work as a translator, counted in his favour when he received the commission for which he is most remembered, the Encyclopédie. The publisher of the Encyclopédie, Andre le Bréton, originally wanted a translation of Ephraim Chambers's Cyclopaedia of 1728, but after being swindled by the man he originally commissioned (an Englishman living in Paris called John Mills, who could neither write French, nor owned a copy of the Cyclopedia) he approached Diderot and Jean le Rond d'Alembert.

Diderot and d'Alembert took the work beyond its original remit, and used it to promote knowledge and undermine superstition. The 36 published volumes contained articles by the two editors as well as other luminaries of the enlightenment: Rousseau, Voltaire, Montesquieu, Quesnay. Many articles in the Encyclopédie excited controversy particularly those regarding religion in which the writers challenged Catholic dogma and praised Protestantism. In consequence the King Louis XV decreed that the entire work be banned in 1759, although the Encyclopédie continued to be produced through the support of powerful patrons, including the King's mistress, Madame de Pompadour.

Throughout his twenty-five year tenure as editor of the Encyclopédie, Diderot continued to write. He produced including works for and about the theatre in which he challenged the conventions of the day, as he did in his works of art criticism. In 1773, in order to furnish his daughter with a suitable dowry, he sold his library to Catherine the Great, consort of the Tsar of Russia, in whose court he spent some time before returning to France to spend the last decade of his life writing in relative obscurity.

Project Gutenberg has the text of John Morley's Diderot and the Encycloædists (1886), volume 1 and volume 2.

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Philosopher G.W.F. Hegel died, 14th November 1831

30 July 2010

On this day in history: Uruguay win first FIFA World Cup, 1930

Founded in 1904, FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association: 'International Federation of Association Football') soon fell into dispute with the International Olympic Committee about the sport's position in the Olympic games, particularly with regard to the issue of what constituted amateur status. When the organisers of the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics announced that soccer would not be part of the programme - due to the sport's lack of popularity in the United States - the FIFA president Jules Rimet decided to organise an international football competition. This competition took place in Uruguay, who were the current Olympic champions, in 1930, which was the bi-centenary of Uruguayan independence.

Thirteen national teams competed for the inaugural World Cup. Only four European teams travelled across the Atlantic to play the nine teams from the Americas. Initially, no European teams signed up, because their associations could not afford the expense of travel. In response, FIFA and the Uruguayans promised to cover the travel expenses of any European team. One notable absentee, the England team, failed to take part because the Football Association had withdrawn from FIFA three years before and declined a special invitation from the Uruguayan Football Association.

The competition format involved the division of teams into four groups. Each team played the others in their group once and the winners of each mini-league won a place in the semi-finals. In the semi-finals the winners of Group 1, Argentina beat the USA, winners of Group 4; the Group 3 winners and hosts Uruguay defeated Yugoslavia - strangely, the result of both games was 6:1.

On 30th July 1930, Uruguay faced their neighbours Argentina in the final at the Estadio Centenario, Montevideo in front of around 80,000 spectators. The hosts scored first, but Argentina responded with two goals to take a lead at half time. Three second-half goals for Uruguay sealed a 4:2 victory and they lifted the Jules Rimet Trophy for the first time.

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Foundation of first Irish football club: 20th September 1879
First black international footballer: 12th March 1881
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29 July 2010

On this day in history: Italian King assassinated, 1900

King Umberto I of Italy was born into the house of Savoy on 14th March 1844 and succeeded his father, Emmanuel II, in January 1878. Later that year the first attempt was made on Umberto's life when the anarchist Giovanni Passannante approached the king during a parade in Naples wielding a knife but Umberto warded off the attack with his sabre. The king commuted the resulting death sentence to one of penal servitude for the rest of Passannante's life.

This attack may have been part of a violent period of anarchist activity inspired by the tactic of 'propaganda by deed', which involved assassinations and bombings around the world. Umberto's conservatism and imperial ambitions made him a target, particularly following the Bava-Beccaris massacre of 1898.

This event was named after General Fiorenzo Bava-Beccaris, who ordered his troops to fire on a crowd demonstrating the rise in the price of bread in Milan. The volley of rifle and cannon fire killed between one- and four-hundred people, and injured up to one-thousand. Following the massacre, the king sent Bava-Beccaris a congratulatory telegram and later decorated him for his actions.

Across the Atlantic, an Italian immigrant living in Paterson, New Jersey, called Gaetano Bresci received news about the events in Milan. Bresci, a co-founder of the Italian language anarchist newspaper La Questione Social, decided to avenge the deaths of the demonstrators. In May 1900 he demanded the return of a loan from his comrades on the newspaper and, without a word of explanation, traveled back to his homeland to carry out the deed.

On the evening 28th July 1900, Umberto was attending a sporting event in Monza where he had a villa. While handing out prizes to winning athletes, the king was approached by Bresci who ran out of the crowd, drew his pistol, and fired three times. Umberto died from the wounds almost instantly. Following his trial, Bresci received a sentence of a life of hard-labour, but was found hanged in his cell less than a year later - the official verdict was suicide although many disputed this conclusion.

Gaetano Bresci

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28 July 2010

On this day in history: Peruvian independence declared, 1821

In 1532, the Spaniard Francisco Pizarro took advantage of a civil war that raged between two Inca princes by engineering a coup d'état and becoming the effective ruler of the Inca empire. Ten years later, the Spanish created the Viceroyalty of Peru which survived into the nineteenth century in spite of native revolts. Nevertheless, in the early 1800s the Napoleonic invasion of the Iberian Peninsular and deposition of King Ferdinand VII weakened Spanish colonial power and strengthening independence movements across South America.

Starting in 1812, Spanish landowners rose up twice against the royalist regime, firstly in the Huánuco region and then in the Cuzco region a couple of years later. The colonial oligarchy suppressed both revolts and Peru became the last bastion of Spanish rule on the Continent. Nevertheless, they could not hold back the tide, an army commanded by Simón Bolívar attacked from the north and the Argentinian forces of General José de San Martín campaigned in the south of Peru, winning a series of victories against the royalist army.

On 28th July 1821, San Martin declared Peru independence in front of an ecstatic crowd in Lima. The next year an elected body, the Primer Congreso Constituyente del Perú de 1822 (Constituent Congress of Peru of 1822), assumed control of the independent regions with San Martin as Protector. With the defeat of the remaining royalist forces two years later at the Battle of Ayacucho, independence was secured.

A video about Peruvian independence with English subtitles

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27 July 2010

On this day in history: Bank of England founded, 1694

The stability promised by the 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688 fostered economic growth in England. Nevertheless, the public finances were still weakened from over fifty years of turbulence and mismanagement. As a result, political pressure grew for the creation of a national bank. Consequently the government received many proposals to a create such an institution that could mobilise the nation's wealth.

In 1691, the Scotsman, William Paterson, who had experience banking from his time in Amsterdam, was part of a group that made one such proposal; however, the government rejected it. Undeterred, he made another proposal three years later along with the merchant Michael Godfrey. This time the government accepted the plan to create a bank to administer a fund for public borrowing.

An Act of Parliament passed through the Houses of Parliament, and on 27th July 1694 the investors were incorporated as the Governor and Company of the Bank of England after being granted their Royal Charter. Paterson became one of its directors; Godfrey became the deputy governor; with another London merchant, John Houblon, as the bank's first governor. Within a few days the bank opened for business at the Mercers' Hall in Cheapside, London, having lent the government £1.2 million.

The Bank of England site includes a pdf file of the Tonnage Act of 1694 that founded the bank.

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First European banknotes: 16th July 1661
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26 July 2010

On this day in history: South Vietnamese opposition politician sentenced, 1968

With no end in sight to the conflict between his country and North Vietnam, Trương Đình Dzũ stood as a candidate in the 1967 South Vietnamese presidential elections on a peace ticket with a dove as his campaign symbol. He proposed negotiation with the Viet Cong, holding out the possibility of a coalition government, to end the Vietnam War. Trương Đình Dzũ received around 17% of the vote putting him in second place behind General Nguyen Van Thieu on 38%.

Under the political regulations of the time advocation of negotiation with the communists was forbidden, but it was not against the law. So when the authorities placed Trương Đình Dzũ under arrest it was for illegally opening a bank account in San Francisco. Following a trial by a Special Military Court he was sentenced to five years hard labour on 26th July 1968. As a result of public opinion at home and international pressure, Trương Đình Dzũ only served five months of the sentence.

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The Catonsville Nine: 17th May 1968
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25 July 2010

On this day in history: Scottish monarch crowned King of England, 1603

James Charles Stuart became King James VI of Scotland on 24th July 1567 following the forced abdication of his mother - the unpopular Mary Queen of Scots - when he was only one year old. Consequently four consecutive regents ruled Scotland until he was ready to take the reigns of power in 1581. Twenty-two years later, he also became monarch of Scotland's powerful southern neighbour.

Because Queen Elizabeth I of England died without issue, James was the rightful heir because his great-grandmother was Margaret Tudor, elder sister of King Henry VII. Elizabeth's chief minister, Sir Robert Cecil had engaged in secret correspondence with James even before the Queen's death to ensure a smooth succession. Thus, on 24th March 1603, hours after Elizabeth breathed her last, the English ministers proclaimed James to be King of England and sent a letter to him requesting his presence in London.

After the long journey south, on 25th July 1603, he was crowned King James I of England and Ireland at Westminster Abbey, not only ending the Tudor dynasty and beginning that of the House of Stuart, but also bringing all the countries of the British Isles together in personal union. James firmly believed in the divine right of Kings, and ideal that he passed on to his children. Yet, it was this notion of a God-given right to rule that was to cause so much friction between his son, King Charles I, and the English Parliament, which resulted in civil war and Britain becoming a republic.

A year after his coronation James proclaimed himself King of Great Britain. The text of this proclamation is available on the Heraldica website.

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Ivan the Terrible crowned Tsar: 16th January 1547
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24 July 2010

On this day in history: First rocket launched from Cape Canaveral, 1950

At the end of the Second World War, the United States government prioritised the extraction of key German scientists and the technology they worked on. Key to this operation - codenamed 'Paperclip' - were the brains behind the V-2 rockets, especially the project leader, Dr. Vernher von Braun. Von Braun and his team were relocated to the U.S. along with three-hundred train loads of V-2 rocket parts.

In 1946 the U.S. army began testing the reassembled rockets at White Sands in New Mexico. Over the next few the operation grew, bringing in experts from all three armed services, universities and the aeronautics industry. The development of ballistic missiles, particularly as a delivery system for nuclear warheads, required a new purpose built test-site.

In October 1949, President Harry S. Truman established the Joint Long Range Proving Grounds at the chosen location: Cape Canaveral in Florida. Nine months later, on 24th July 1950, the army launched a modified V-2 rocket called Bumper 8. The rocket reached an altitude of around 10 miles.

Following the establishment of NASA in 1948, Cape Canaveral became the launch centre for historic missions into space including the launch of the first American satellite, Explorer 1, in 1958; the 1961 Freedom 7 mission that carried Alan Shepherd on a suborbital flight for NASA's first manned space mission; and, John Glenn's orbital flight the next year. The Apollo and Space Shuttle programmes launched from the Kennedy Space Center on the nearby Merritt Island. Nevertheless, the launch site at the Cape continued to be used for the Viking missions to Mars and the Voyager programme, and is still used today for the launch of unmanned missions.

The NASA web site includes the text of The Kennedy Space Center Story, chapter one of which details the early flights from the Cape.

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First man-made object to reach the Moon: 14th September 1959
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23 July 2010

On this day in history: First international sports federation founded, 1881

On 23rd July 1881, delegates from the gymnastic federations of Belgium, France and the Netherlands met at the Belgian festival of gymnastics at Liège, Belgium. They had gathered at the invitation of the president of the Gymnastic Society of Belgium, Nicolaas J. Cupérus, to create the Bureau des Fédérations Européennes de Gymnastique ('Office of European Gymnastic Federations') - the world's first international sports federation.

Cupérus served as the president of the federation for its first 43 years, during which time it welcomed new members and became associated with the nascent modern Olympic movement. In 1921 the organisation became the Fédération Internationale de Gymnastique ('International Gymnastic Federation') as it accepted national federations from non-European countries. At that time it had sixteen members and a participant in the organisation of the Olympic games, drawing up rules of competition and scoring methodology.

You can learn more about the history of the organisation from the article, Culturel Base Of The Human Motricity, available on the FIG website.

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First modern Olympiad: 6th April 1896
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22 July 2010

On this day in history: French singer Sacha Distel died, 2004

Born Sacha Alexandre in Paris on 29th January 1933, Sacha Distel went on to become a popular singer around the world. The nephew of the bandleader Ray Ventura, Sacha started his musical career at the age of 16 as a jazz guitarist. By the mid-1950s he had become one of the hottest jazz guitarists in France, voted best guitarist in the French Jazz Hot magazine in 1956 and again for the next seven years. Nevertheless, he realised that he would not achieve fame unless he started to sing.

He made his début as a singer in 1958 at a casino in Algiers. He achieved wider attention with his version of 'Scoubidou (des pommes, des poires)' released in 1959. A year later he starred in his first feature film Les Mordus, but it was as a crooner that he established his fame. By the end of the decade he was appearing on television shows in the United States and Britain, largely due to the popularity of his version of 'Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head'.

The 1970s were Sacha's heyday as an international star; he spent more time in Britain than in his native land. His celebrity status across the Channel was marked by his 1980 performance Queen Mother's 80th birthday at Buckingham Palace. In the 1980s his fame declined around the world; yet, he remained popular in France.

Sacha returned to London to appear in the musical Chicago, but three years later, on 22nd July 2004, Sacha Distel died of cancer aged 71 at Rayol-Canadel in the south-east of France.

If you understand French you can read a detailed biography of Sacha Distel on his official page.

Sacha Distel performing 'Le Soleil de ma vie' ('The Sunshine of My Life')
with his one-time paramour Brigitte Bardot

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21 July 2010

On this day in history: The world`s first woman Prime Minister, 1960

In 1947, the British Colonial office created the role of Prime Minister of Ceylon, in preparation for the island's Dominion status and independence, which was granted a year later. The first three incumbents of the position all represented the conservative United National Party (UNP), but following the 1956 elections, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) formed a coalition government, with the party's founder, Solomon Bandaranaike, as Prime Minister. Three years later a Buddhist monk assassinated Solomon Bandaranaike for reasons that are still not clear, consequently his wife, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, took over as president of the SLFP.

On 21st July 1960, following a campaign in which she became known as 'the weeping widow' because of the amount of tears she shed on the campaign trail while vowing to continue her husband's policies, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, led the SLFP to an election victory and became the world's first elected woman Prime Minister. Her pro-Sinhalese policies alienated the Tamil population creating a conflict that rages to this day. In 1965, the UNP took power once more but they were again defeated by the SLFP in 1970, and Bandaranaike became Prime Minister for her second term, during which she oversaw Ceylon transformation into the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka 1972.

To learn more about the world's first woman Prime Minister, see the BBC website page dedicated to Sirimavo Bandaranaike following her death in 2000.

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New Zealand women gained the right to vote: 19th September 1893
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20 July 2010

On this day in history: English Football Association legalised professionalism, 1885

Within decades of the Football Association's creation in 1863, its ethos of amateur contest began to be undermined. According to the rules of the FA - the world's first governing body for soccer - no footballer should receive payment for playing in any FA endorsed event. Nevertheless, in 1879 the Lancashire club Darwen F.C. reached the quarter-final of the FA Cup fielding two professional Scottish players: Fergie Suter and Jimmy Love.

By the mid-1880s the controversy surrounding professionalism had created a schism between the more middle-class amateur clubs of the south of England, and the more working-class clubs in the northern towns. In response to the expulsion of Accrington F.C. in 1883, and year-long suspension of Preston North End a year later, thirty-one broke away from the FA to form the rival British Football Association in 1884. In order to assert its authority over the game, the members of the FA had to agree to change their rules.

At the general meeting of the FA in March 1885, a majority of representatives voted to legalise professionalism but they did not amount to the two-thirds required to change the rules. A sub-committee formed to negotiate a settlement, and on the evening of 20th July 1885, FA members met at Anderton's Hotel on Fleet Street, London, to hear its report, which read:

The sub-committee [...] in their opinion it is now expedient, in the interests of association football, to legalize the employment of professional football players, but only under certain restrictions.

They consider that no player can be termed an amateur who receives any remuneration or consideration above his necessary hotel and travelling expenses, but that, under certain conditions, professionals - viz, players receiving for playing more than those expenses - may be allowed to take part in all cup, county, and inter-association matches... [source The Times (21st July 1885), p. 5]

The restrictions included residency requirements, such as being born within six miles of a club's ground or HQ, or living within that radius for two years in order to play for the club in the FA Cup. A list of registered professionals was to be kept, and they were to be barred from serving on any FA committees.

The FA delegates voted 35 to 12 in favour of the recommendations and amended the laws of the game accordingly. Over the next few decades, professionalism began to dominate the game of soccer with many staunchly amateur clubs falling by the wayside. Following the arrival of television (particularly satellite TV) today's top flight footballers now receive enormous salaries to play what was once a wholly amateur sport.

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18 July 2010

On this day in history: Intel founded, 1968

In the late '60s, the chemist and physicist, Dr. Gordon E. Moore, and the co-inventor of the integrated circuit, Robert N. Noyce departed Fairchild Semiconductor to set up their own company: initially NM Electronics but soon renamed Integrated Electronics Corporation, or Intel for short. Since Intelco was already used as a trademark by an hotel chain, Moore and Noyce had to buy the rights to the name in order to trade as Intel.

With money raised by the venture capitalist Arthur Rock, who became Intel's first chairman, Moore and Noyce founded their new company on 18th July 1968, based in Santa Clara, California, which was at the centre of the are soon to be known as Silicon Valley. At the outset, Intel focused on the production of semiconductors, particularly Static Random Access Memory chips for use in computers.

Dr. Gordon E. Moore and Robert N. Noyce in 1974

When the personal computing boom started, Intel were well placed to make the most of it, inventing the x86 line of computer processors, which IBM used in their PCs. Today Intel are the major manufacturer of semiconductors in the world producing a range of computing devices.

The corporate history of the company is available on their Intel Museum Worldwide site.

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17 July 2010

On this day in history: King George V changed his family name, 1917

Three years into the Great War, anti-German feeling was running high in Britain. To appeal to nationalist sentiment King George V decided to change the name of the British royal house to the House of Windsor from the Germanic sounding House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, which had been the house of the royal family since Queen Victoria married Prince Albert, son of the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. The new, quintessentially English, name is that of a town to the west of London with a long history of royal connections not least because of the castle there, which is one of the royal residences.

So, on 17th July 1917, George V issued an Order-in-Council that decreed that everyone descended from Queen Victoria would change surname to Windsor, excluding any married women and their children (and those who were on the German side - not least his cousin, the German monarch Kaiser Wilhelm II - who were to be ostracized). Furthermore, he also relinquished all of his German titles and those of the members of the newly renamed House of Windsor. Many of George's male relatives who lost German aristocratic titles received British peerages in compensation, thus his cousin, Prince Louis of Battenberg, became 1st Marquess of Milford Haven and took the surname Mountbatten, which is an Anglicisation of Battenberg.

The text of the King's proclamation is available on the Heraldica website.

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16 July 2010

On this day in history: First European banknotes, 1661

In November 1656, King Karl X Gustav of Sweden signed two charters creating two private banks under the directorship of Johan Palmstruch, a trade commissioner born in Riga. Palmstruch modeled the banks on those of Amsterdam where he had become a burgher. One bank offered clients a facility to deposit money and issue cheques; the other offered loans financed by short term giro deposits.

In 1660 the copper content of Swedish coins was reduced prompting many of the banks' customers to demand their older coins, which were now worth more as scrap metal than as currency. Since the money had already been lent out, the bank did not have enough coinage to fulfill these requests. Faced with this liquidity problem, Palmstruch's solution was to issue Europe's first banknotes that could be used as currency and exchanged for their value in coinage.

On 16th July 1661, Stockholms Banco issued the first set of Kreditivsedlar ('credit paper') in round denominations - 5, 25, 100 and 1000 kopparmynt. This financial innovation brought new pitfalls. The bank issued too many notes reducing their purchase value and leading to a flood of people wanting to exchange their notes for coins; however, the bank did not have sufficient coins to meet demand. The bank had no novel solution to this new liquidity problem, as a result it was liquidated in 1667.

Charged with irresponsible book-keeping Palmstruch was stripped of his title and sentenced to either death or exile. After the Swedish government reprieved the death sentence Palmstruch (now called Wittmacher) served a two-year prison sentence and died a year after his release.

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First banknotes issued in America: 3rd February 1690
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15 July 2010

On this day in history: First Cuban world boxing champion, 1931

On July 15th 1931, Eligio Sardiñas Montalvo - better known as Kid Chocolate or the Cuban Bon Bon - knocked out Benny Bass in the seventh round of their Junior Lightweight title bout at the Baker Bowl, Philadelphia to become the first Cuban world champion boxer. The victory gave him celebrity status and he became a regular guest at society parties.

Born in Havana on 6th January 1910, the young Eligio watched films of boxing matches from which he learned the art. Having fought as an amateur and sparred with many great boxers of the day, in 1927 he went professional. The next year he relocated to New York City to fight the quality of opponent necessary for his shot at the championship.

In November 1931, Eligio went up a weight division to face Lightweight champion Tony Canzoneri, at Madison Square Garden, New York. He failed in this second title bid, and in 1933 he lost his Junior Lightweight belt to Frankie Klick. Following his unsuccessful attempts to regain the title he retired, revealing that he was suffering from syphilis.

The very next year, Kid Chocolate returned to the ring winning 47 out of 50 fights, but not against the sort of opposition that would provide another championship bid. In 1938 he retired again, never to return to the ring. Instead he returned to a quiet life in Cuba and increasing obscurity, particularly after the 1959 revolution. Nevertheless, his boxing career was recognised by the Cuban authorities in the 1970s; he was provided with a state-funded house, in which he died in 1988.

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14 July 2010

On this day in history: Paris celebrated la Fête de la Fédération, 1790

In June 1790, the French National Assembly approved the Paris Commune's proposition that a celebration be held to mark the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille. The centrepiece of these festivities involved a display of national unity on the Champs de Mars, the mustering fields that were then some way outside Paris. Volunteers from the city and beyond, drawn from all walks of life, rushed to prepare the site for the gathering in what became known as the journée des brouettes ('day of the wheelbarrows').

Despite the haste of preparations the central altar, triumphal arches, royal tent, and two earthwork terraces built for the 400,000 spectators were in place for la Fête de la Fédération on 14th July 1790. The day began with a procession to the Champs de Mars, led by artistic emblems extolling freedom and marking the defeat of tyranny, followed by representatives of the sixty districts of Paris, each also carrying a suitable emblem. When the vainqueurs de la Bastille (those involved in the storming of the prison) marched into the arena they were greeted by a roar from the throng as was Marquis de Lafayette, commander in chief of the National Guard, each unit of which had sent two men out of every hundred.

At around half an hour past midday, King Louis XVI arrived with his wife and were escorted to their tent. Once the king was settled, the members of the National Assembly, all dressed in black, approached the altar took a civic oath, each member being permitted to chose their own wording. For the President of the National Assembly it took the form:

I swear forever to be faithful to the Nation, to the Law and to the King, to maintain with all my powers the Constitution as decreed by the National Assembly and accepted by the King.
Louis then approached the alter and proclaimed:
I, King of the French, swear to the nation to use the power given to me by the constitutional law of the State, to maintain the Constitution as decided by the National Assembly and accepted by myself, and to enforce the execution of the laws.

A message of unity of king and nation witnessed by not only the French people, but also guest dignitaries from abroad.

The storming of the Bastille was also marked with official ceremonies in other towns and cities across the nation, which also saw many unofficial celebrations and feasts that lasted for four days. Nevertheless, in spite of the coming together of monarch and people in public display the French Revolution was far from completed and the harmony was soon to evaporate.

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Meeting of the French Estates-General: 5th May 1789
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Feudalism abolished in France: 4th August 1789
Parisian women bring Louis XVI back to Paris: 6th October 1789
France reorganised into 83 départements: 4th March 1790
Guillotine used for first time: 25th April 1792
September Massacres begin: 2nd September 1792
Louis XVI executed: 21st January 1793

13 July 2010

On this day in history: Hollywood sign dedicated, 1923

In 1923 the owner of the Los Angeles Times, Harry Chandler, the banker and railroad owner, General M. H. Sherman, and developer Sidney H. Woodruff formed a real estate syndicate to develop a 500-acre site in the Hollywood Hills called Hollywoodland. They hoped to attract wealthy visitors from the East Coast who wanted a winter holiday home. As part of the marketing campaign, Chandler decided to build a giant illuminated sign on the advice of another developer called H.J. Whitley, who had already used a similar sign for his Whitley Heights development.

The Crescent Sign Company received the $21,000 contract to erect thirteen letters on the southern side of Mount Lee. The company's manager, Thomas Fisk Goff, designed the sign, which originally read 'HOLLYWOODLAND'. Each letter was 50 feet (15 metres) high, and 30 feet (9 metres) wide, constructed from telegraph poles, scaffolding poles and metal sheets. These were covered with 4,000 20-watt bulbs, which lit up at night in three parts, first 'HOLLY', then 'WOOD', and finally 'LAND'.

On 13th July 1923, the official dedication ceremony for the sign took place. Originally intended to be a temporary structure, the sign soon became a landmark. Nevertheless, it fell into disrepair following the bankruptcy of the development corporation in the early 1940s. At the end of the decade a number of letters had collapsed, but a public outcry prevented the removal of the sign. The city's Chamber of Commerce repaired the sign; however, they decided to remove the last four letters, so that the sign read 'HOLLYWOOD'.

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Eiffel Tower inaugurated: 31st March 1889
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12 July 2010

On this day in history: First Rolling Stones gig, 1962

In 1960 two former class mates from Dartford in Kent met each other for the first time in years on a railway train. The two were Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, who re-established their friendship and moved into a flat in the Chelsea area of London. Their shared love of rhythm and blues music led them to form a band called Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys with their mutual friend Dick Taylor.

At this time London had a nascent R&B scene centered on a band named Blues Incorporated founded in 1961 by Alexis Korner and Cyril Davis. The following year the pair established a regular "Rhythm and Blues Night" at the Ealing Jazz Club, where aspiring musicians had the opportunity to perform with the band. Both Jagger and Richards sat in on performances as did guitarist Brian Jones.

In May 1962, Jones placed an advertisement in Jazz News announcing that he was holding auditions for a new R&B group. Jagger and then Richards joined the group, which also included the pianist Ian Stewart. According to Richards, Jones was having a telephone conversation with the manager of a venue who asked what his group was called. Stuck for an answer he looked down at the sleeve of The Best of Muddy Waters that happened to be on the floor at the time. The first track on the album was Rollin' Stone Blues, and so The Rollin' Stones (as they were called then) were born.

Their big chance arrived in July when the BBC invited a stripped-down Blues Incorporated to play a live radio session for the Jazz Club show, meaning that they were unavailable to perform their regular slot at the Marquee Club. Blues Incorporated vocalist Long John Baldry took the headline spot with the Stones' as the support act. On 12th July 1962, Jagger, Jones, Richards and Stewart took to the stage along with Dick Taylor on bass and Tony Chapman on drums. They played a variety of R&B standards, including their opening number, the Leiber and Stoller song "Kansas City", and rock and roll songs, such as Chuck Berry's "Back in the USA".

A year later the band played their first gig outside Greater London at the Outlook Club in Middlesbrough. By that time the Stones' regular line-up [as pictured] had been put in place with Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts added as bassist and drummer respectively, and Stewart been demoted to road manager at the insistence of their manager, Andrew Loog Oldham; however, Stewart continued to play keyboards on the groups recordings. The band had also released their first single a cover version of Chuck Berry's "Come On", which reached number 21 in the UK charts.

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8 July 2010

On this day in history: Last bare-knuckle championship bout, 1889

In 1881, the Massachusetts boxer John L. Sullivan insulted Richard Kyle Fox, proprietor of the weekly sports and theatre journal entitled the National Police Gazette, when he refused to visit Fox's table in a Boston Saloon. Over the following years Fox dedicated himself to finding a fighter who could defeat Sullivan, who defeated the reigning American champion, Paddy Ryan, in 1882 before embarking on a coast-to-coast tour of the United States winning fights in over one-hundred towns. Meanwhile, Fox thought he had found his man in the form of Jake Kilrain from Long Island and set about goading Sullivan into a fight by saying that he was afraid to face Kilrain.

Eventually, in January 1889, both sides agreed on a bare-knuckle contest to take place within 200-miles of New Orleans under the London Prize Ring rules. Both parties also agreed to a $10,000 wager on the outcome. The governors of both Louisiana and Mississippi both opposed the fight taking place in their respective states, but the promoter Bud Reneau managed to secure a venue on the land of Colonel Charles W. Rich in Richburg, Mississippi.

On 8th July 1889 around three-thousand spectators gathered to watch the fight. They jeered the local sheriff who read a proclamation banning the contest, under the orders of Governor Lowry. In spite of the proclamation, both contestants ceremonially threw their hats into the ring and entered the ring a little after 10am.

Over the next two hours and sixteen minutes the two fought only pausing at the end of a round, which only occurred when one of them hit the ground, as per the London Prize Ring rules. Kilrain's tactic was to try and dodge Sullivan's lunges while wearing him out by jabbing and wrestling his opponent. Despite vomiting during the forty-fourth round Sullivan's stamina held out. At the beginning of the seventy-sixth round Kilrain's cornerman followed the advice of a doctor who said that their fighter's life was in jeopardy and threw a sponge into the ring to signify that they had conceded. While Kilrain lay on the floor in floods of tears, some of the crowd carried the jubilant Sullivan aloft while others grabbed splinters of the rings posts, lengths of rope and even clumps of turf as souvenirs of the last bare-knuckle championship bout.

The authorities issued arrest warrants for both fighters and consequently they were both taken into custody - Sullivan in Nashville and Kilrain in Baltimore - before being returned to face trial in Mississippi. Having been found guilty of prizefighting Sullivan paid a fine of $500, while Kilrain was found guilty of assault and battery and not only received a fine for the same amount, but was also sentenced to six month is jail. Colonel Rich paid Kilrain's fine and bought his sentence meaning that Kilrain served his time as a guest in Rich's home.

To learn more about the Sullivan - Kilrain fight see The University of Southern Mississippi's McCain Library and Archives page on the subject.

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7 July 2010

On this day in history: Constitution of Vermont abolished slavery, 1777

The adoption of the Constitution that created the Republic of Vermont on 7th July 1777 was the result of two disputes: the first between the American colonists and the British crown; the second between the people of the New Hampshire Grants - lands granted by the Governor of New Hampshire, which later became Vermont - and the New York authorities who claimed administration of the lands. Following a declaration of independence from both Britain and New York, as the state of New Connecticut, the people of the Grant lands received advice that they would need a constitution in order to receive admission into the United States (which they achieved in 1791 when Vermont became the fourteenth state of the U.S.A). The Constitution was drafted and ratified at a tavern in the town of Windsor owned by a Elijah West.

Constitution of the - now renamed - Republic of Vermont comprised nineteen articles that guaranteed the basic political and civil rights of its citizens. It was based on the radical democratic Constitution of Pennsylvania, including articles giving voting rights to all freemen, requiring the provision for free education and abolishing slavery - making Vermont the first North American state to make slavery illegal.

The full text of the 1777 Constitution is available at the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration site.

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6 July 2010

On this day in history: AK-47 entered production, 1947

On 6th July 1947, the most iconic weapon of the second half of the twentieth century entered production at the Izhevsk Mechanical Works. The Kalashnikov AK-47 7.62 mm automatic assault rifle takes its name from its creator Mikhail Kalashnikov and the year of its design. Originally designed for the Red Army, who introduced it in 1949, the AK-47 has appeared as many variants in Russia and from other countries, which have made it under license up to the present-day.

Worldwide, more AK-47s have been produced then any other comparable rifle. Its durability and ease of use mean it became the ubiquitous weapon of civil wars, revolutionary struggles and insurgencies around the world. Revolutionaries have adopted it as a quintessential symbol of liberation through armed struggle, as seen in the flags of Mozambique and Hezbollah.

To learn more about this iconic weapon and its designer see the AK site.

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First machine-gun patented: 15th May 1718

5 July 2010

On this day in history: Venezuelan Declaration of Independence, 1811

The Napoleonic Wars in Europe resulted in a power vacuum in Spain, which provided an opportunity for the independence movements in Spain's South America colonies. In April 1810, the cabildo (municipal council) of Caracas seized control of the provincial government in the name of King Ferdinand VII, who Napoleon Bonaparte had deposed and imprisoned in France. The municipal governments in the capital cities of the other Venezuelan provinces followed Caracas' lead.

In March 1811, representatives from the provinces convened at the First Venezuelan Congress and soon began to debate whether they should become an independent state. Under the leadership of Francisco de Miranda and Simón Bolívar the independence movement was victorious, and on 5th July 1811, the Congress delivered a Declaration of Independence to create the American Confederation of Venezuela (more commonly known as the First Republic of Venezuela). Almost immediately Venezuela plunged into a twelve year civil war between republicans and royalists who wanted to remain under Spanish control.

In 1812, the republic collapsed due to internal disputes, a Spanish blockade and a major earthquake. Nevertheless, it was re-established by Bolívar in the following year, but it lasted less than twelve months. Eventually, in 1823 the republicans defeated the forces of a resurgent Spain and achieved Venezuelan independence within a larger federal state, Gran Colombia, which declared had independence in 1819 and comprised other Spanish colonies including present-day Colombia, Ecuador and Panama and parts of of Brazil, Costa Rica, Guyana and Peru.

The texts of the Venezuelan Declaration of Independence and Constitution of 1811 are both available in Spanish and English at the Rice University Digital Scholarship Archive.

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4 July 2010

On this day in history: Creation of the Republic of Hawaii, 1894

In 1810, King Kamehameha the Great conquered all the Hawaiian islands and formed them into a unified monarchy. His dynasty lasted until 1872, when King Kamehameha V died with no direct heir and no named successor. As required by the constitution, the legislature elected his successor. They chose his cousin who was crowned King William Charles Lunalilo.

This most liberal of kings had a short reign and was succeeded by the more conservative King David Kalākaua I, who the island élite forced to accept a new constitution in 1887 (the so-called Bayonet Constitution), which not only removed most of his executive powers but also disenfranchised the native islanders and the poor. When his successor, Queen Lydia Liliuokalani, tried to institute a new constitution the Hawaiian League, made up of native businessmen and white citizens and residents, formed Citizen's Committee of Public Safety, which succeeded in a bloodless coup d'etat on 17th January 1893 and installed a provisional government.

From the outset, the Hawaiian League's intended for Hawaii to become part of the United States of America. However, following the presidential election defeat of Benjamin Harrison, who supported annexation, by Grover Cleveland, who did not, they decided to establish a republican government to thwart any attempt by President Cleveland to restore the monarchy. The Provisional Government convened a Constitutional Convention in the spring of 1894, which drafted a constitution.

On 4th July 1894, the Republic of Hawaiʻi came into existence with Sanford B. Dole as president. A failed royalist counter-revolution led by Robert William Wilcox six months later implicated the former queen, who faced trial for "misprision of treason," because she knew that weapons to be used in the insurgency had been secreted on the grounds of her residence. The trial resulted in a guilty verdict and she received a sentence of five years imprisonment with hard labour; although, she only served eight months under house arrest and a few months later received a pardon.

In 1897 William McKinley became US President. He was more amenable to annexation of Hawai'i, and negotiations between the two governments resumed. Following the passage of a bill through the Senate and the House of Representatives, on 12th August 1898, Hawaii became United States Territory.

To learn more about US involvement in the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and to read various treaties between the two states and Hawaiian constitutions, see the excellent Morgan Report wiki.

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3 July 2010

On this day in history: Steam locomotive world speed record, 1938

In the 1930s a fierce rivalry developed between the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) and the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) as both attempted to see of the threat of the motor-car and offer the shortest journey times along their mainline routes from London to Scotland. The two main protagonists in this quest for speed were the chief mechanical engineers for the two companies: Sir Nigel Gresley of the LNER, and Sir William Stanier of the LMS. In the second half of the decade, both men designed new locomotives that captured the public imagination by the application of streamlining.

Gresley was to unveil his design first, the A4 class 4-6-2 pacific locomotives, which entered service hauling the Silver Jubilee train from London King's Cross to Newcastle. During its inaugural journey, on 27th September 1935, A4 class locomotive 2509 Silver Link set a new speed record of 112 mph. The train was a commercial success and the LNER introduced more services hauled by streamlined locomotives over the next few years.

Not to be outdone, Napier decided to add streamlining to his new design, the Princess Coronation class 4-6-2 pacific locomotives. On 29th June 1937, locomotive 6220 Coronation pulled a special LMS train from London Euston to Crewe carrying newspaper reporters in order to gain as much publicity as possible for their new Coronation Scot service. The driver T. J. Clarke managed to exceed the A4's record speed (but not that of the German locomotive which now held the world record) just as the train approached its destination requiring him to brake hard in order that the train did not overshoot the platform at Crewe.

Just over a year later, the LNER were ready to reclaim the world record from the Germans and the British record from the LMS. On 3rd July 1938, the newly built A4 locomotive 4468 Mallard was hooked to a set of carriages to conduct braking tests. However, the presence of a dynamometer car (carrying speed test equipment) suggested that an attempt on the speed record had been secretly planned, especially considering that the driver chosen to conduct these tests, Joseph Duddington, was renowned within the LNER for his ability to take a locomotive to its limits.

Indeed, on the return run between Grantham and Peterborough, on a straight stretch of track with a slight incline known as Stoke Bank, 4468 Mallard reached a speed of 126 mph. The exertions on the locomotive caused part of a cylinder to melt so after the train limped back to Peterborough, it had another locomotive attached to the front for the journey back to London to receive the plaudits of the press who had been informed of the success. Gresley only claimed a maximum speed of 125 mph, because, he said, the 126mph recorded by the instruments in the dynamometer car could only have been maintain for a few feet. Either way, it was enough to take the official world speed record for a steam train, a record that has remained unbroken for the last seventy years.

The LNER Encyclopaedia web site includes a history of the A4 Pacifics, and the Locos in Profile web site has a similar page dedicated to the LMS Coronation class.

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2 July 2010

On this day in history: First Zeppelin flight, 1900

In 1852, the French engineer, Henri Giffard, flew seventeen miles in the first powered airship. For the next fifty years other powered airships flew but each with the same limitation: size. This restriction was because non-rigid airships (or blimps) maintain their shape through the pressure of the gases within the envelope. Towards the end of the century various engineers began to work on designs for rigid airships, which could be much larger and have a far greater range. Foremost among these visionaries was the German Count, Ferdinand von Zeppelin.

In 1899, von Zeppelin started to manufacture a rigid airship based on the design of David Schwarz, a Croatian wood merchant. The design was used by the German entrepreneur Carl Berg to procure a contract to build an airship for the Prussian Government. After Schwarz died in 1897, Berg teamed up with von Zeppelin, who had seen the potential in rigid airships during the 1870s and could raise the capital required to fund the venture, and the German designer Theodor Kober who completed the design. Berg, von Zeppelin and a third investor, formed the Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Luftschiffart (Society for the Promotion of Airships).

At a little after 8pm on 2nd July 1900, the Zeppelin LZ1 left its floating hanger on Lake Constance in southern Germany, and took to the skies: the first successful untethered rigid airship flight. The LZ1 was made from aluminium (supplied by Berg) covered in cotton cloth. It was over 400 feet long, nearly 40 feet wide, and was powered by two 15-horsepower Daimler internal combustion engines, which each turned a pair of propellers. The flight lasted seventeen minutes in which time the five passengers travelled 3.7 miles reaching a maximum altitude of 1,300 feet before landing back on the Lake

In spite of problems with the design and mechanics the LZ1 flew twice more before being scrapped. Nevertheless, the Society attracted no further investment and the three partners liquidated it. Undaunted, von Zeppelin continued to develop airships financed from his own pocket, as well as a lottery and private donations - which, somewhat perversely, flooded in following a well publicised crash landing of one of his airships. Within ten years of the first flight of the LZ1, his company was producing commercial airships, which were so popular that they became synonymous with him.

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1 July 2010

On this day in history: Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty signed, 1968

In November 1959, the Irish Minister for External Affairs, Frank Aiken, first proposed an international agreement to halt the increase in nations with nuclear weapons with a view to eventual disarmament. This United Nations General Assembly adopted the proposal in resolution 1380 (XIV), which suggested

.. that the ten-nation disarmament committee [...] should consider appropriate means whereby this danger may be averted, including the feasibility of an international agreement, subject to inspection and control, whereby the Powers producing nuclear weapons would refrain from handing over control of such weapons to any nation not possessing them and whereby the Powers not possessing such weapons would refrain from manufacturing them.

The next year, again by the initiative of Aiken, the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 1576 (XV) that called upon the countries with nuclear weapons to voluntarily halt the proliferation of such devices.

In 1961, the Assembly adopted a further two resolutions: the first, 1664 (XVI), initiated by Sweden about the conditions of the agreement; the second, 1665 (XVI), was another Irish initiative to put the onus on those states with nuclear weapons to conclude an agreement. In 1965, three years after the world was brought to the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the USA and then USSR both submitted draft treaties to the United Nations Disarmament Committee. That same year, eight non-aligned states initiate the adoption of resolution 2028 (XX), which listed the five principles that would form the basis of the treaty. The next year the United Nations General Assembly adopted two more resolutions to maintain the momentum towards the goal of an agreement: 2149 (XXI) and 2153 (XXI).

In August 1967, the USA and USSR separately submit draft treaties with identical texts, and in December of that year the UN General Assembly adopts another resolution, 2346 (XXII), requesting that the Eighteen-Nation Committee on Disarmament report on its progress by March 1968. Two months before the report is due the USA and USSR submit a joint draft treaty, which, after a few amendments, is adopted by the Assembly in resolution 2373 (XXII)
On 1st July 1968, at separate ceremonies in London, Moscow and New York, representatives from sixty-two nations signed the treaty. Nevertheless, the treaty was not immediately brought into force. Various governments, including those of the Soviet Union and United States, needed to ratify the treaty. This process stalled because of the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, and was not completed until 5th March 1970 when the treaty finally came into effect. Today, 189 countries are party to the treaty with four notable exceptions: India; Israel; Pakistan; and, North Korea. The first three never ratified the treaty, whereas North Korea ratified it in 1985 but later withdrew.

The United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs website includes a page dedicated to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which makes the text of the treaty available to download in pdf format in various languages.

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