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18 July 2012

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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Nintendo founded: 22nd September 1889
Apple Macintosh went on sale: 24th January 1984

17 July 2012

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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Scottish monarch crowned King of England: 25th July 1603
Coronation of William IV: 8th September 1831
Queen Victoria`s first train journey: 13th June 1842

16 July 2012

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
The United States Mint established: 2nd April 1792
U.S. Congress authorised Two-Cent coin: 22nd April 1864

15 July 2012

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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Last bare-knuckle championship bout: 8th July 1889

14 July 2012

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
The Tennis Court Oath: 20th July 1789
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 2012

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
Lincoln Memorial dedicated: 30th May 1922
Work finished on Mount Rushmore sculpture: 31st October 1941

12 July 2012

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 centred 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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The Beatles hold the top five slots on U.S. singles chart: 4th April 1964
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8 July 2012

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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First Cuban world boxing champion: 15th July 1931

7 July 2012

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 owned by one Elijah West in the town of Windsor.

The 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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Josiah Henson born: 15th June 1789
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6 July 2012

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 2012

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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Peruvian independence declared: 28th July 1821
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4 July 2012

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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First Europeans sighted Tahiti: 18th June 1767
Venezuelan Declaration of Independence: 5th July 1811

3 July 2012

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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The world`s first public railway opened: 27th September 1825
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2 July 2012

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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Montgolfier Brothers first public balloon flight: 4th June 1783
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1 July 2012

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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Rosenbergs executed: 19th June 1953
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Stanislav Petrov averted a nuclear war: 26th September 1983

30 June 2012

On this day in history: Blondin crossed Niagara Falls on tightrope, 1859

The great circus performer known as Charles Blondin was born as Jean-François Émile Gravelet near St. Omer in France on 28th February 1824. His father, André Gravelet, was himself a tightrope walker as well as a veteran of Napoleon's grande armée. From the age of five, when he became spellbound watching a group of visiting entertainers, Jean-François wanted to be a tightrope walker. After receiving tuition from a former sailor, he convinced his parents to enrol him at the École de Gymnase, the famous school for acrobats in Lyon. Within months he made his professional début as "The Little Winder" and at the age of seven appeared before the King of Sardinia in Turin.

Tragically he became an orphan when he was only ten-years-old and after finishing his schooling he found a surrogate families in the circus troupes he travelled around Europe with for the next eighteen years. In 1851 he joined the Ravel Family of acrobats with whom he travelled to the United States to work for the leading circus impresario of the age: Phineas T. Barnum. While sailing across the Atlantic, Blondin (as he was now known) saved the life of a young nobleman who fell overboard during a storm.

In 1858, three years after arriving in America for the first time, Blondin conceived the feat that was to make his name: crossing the Niagara Falls on a tightrope. He planned the stunt meticulously but still had convincing his agent and prospective investors of the feasibility of the plan. Nevertheless, in spite of not being able to cross at his preferred location but with the support of a local newspaper, the Niagara Falls Daily Gazette, and a small amount of financial backing, he finally set a date for his exploit.

In the late afternoon on 30th June 1859, Charles Blondin stepped out on to the three-inch-wide,
1100-foot-long rope which spanned the falls 160 feet above the water. Between 10,000 and 25,000 spectators watched on as he carried his 30-foot-long 40lb balancing-pole to the middle of the rope, where he had a lie down and a drink from a bottle that he hoisted up from a boat moored below. He then completed the crossing. In all the spectacle lasted around seventeen minutes to the acclaim of the crowds. As the bands on both sides of began to pack up, he announced that would make a return journey, which he completed in around seven minutes.

Blondin crossed the Falls many more times, always with some sort of gimmick to attract the crowds: carrying a passenger; cooking an omelette half-way across; crossing on stilts. His celebrity status achieved, Blondin, his wife, and their five children toured the world making a fortune with his act before returning to Great Britain, which he became a subject of in 1868. Following some sort of financial disaster he was forced out of retirement in 1880 and his last performance was in Belfast in 1896 when he was seventy-one years of age. He died of diabetes the following year and was buried in Kensal Green

The Niagara Falls Public Library web site has a number of images of Blondin available from their Historic Niagara Digital Collections.

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29 June 2012

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, travelled back to his homeland to carry out the deed.

On the evening of 29th 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 June 2012

On this day in history: Battle of Berestechko begins, 1651

In the mid-seventeenth century, one of the largest and most populace states in Europe was the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (also known by the rather delightful name 'Most Serene Commonwealth of the Two Nations'). This elective monarchy extended from Poznan in the west to Smolensk in the east; it included Latvia and much of modern day Estonia, Belarus and Ukraine. As such the Commonwealth's population consisted of many ethnic groups, not all of whom were content to be ruled by a Polish-Lithuanian monarch.

In 1648, a number of ethnic groups within the Ukraine rebelled against the Roman Catholic King John II Casimir. Initiated by Cossacks the war of liberation soon attracted their fellow Orthodox Christians: Ukrainian peasants and Crimean Tatars. The rebels - commanded by Bohdan Khmelnytskyi, a Zaporozhian Cossack who gave his name to the uprising - managed to drive the Polish nobles, Catholic priests, and Jewish leaseholders from their land in the first few months of the insurgency - massacring those who did not flee. Meanwhile, the King was building an army to take back the Ukraine.

On 28th June 1651, the largest battle of the seventeenth century began when approximately 140,000 rebels engaged just over 50,000 Commonwealth soldiers under the command of the king at Berestechko in the western Ukraine. The battle lasted for three days by the end of which between forty- and seventy-thousand rebels lay dead (including women and children at their camp), while the Polish-Lithuanian army had lost less than one-thousand men. The rebels were forced to capitulate and signed the Treaty of Bila Tserkva on 28th September.

In spite of the defeat, Khmelnytskyi (aka Chmielnicki) had not given up hope of forcing the Commonwealth out of the Ukraine, but he realised that he needed allies to do so. Initially he approached the Ottoman Sultan who offered the rebels vassal status; however, the Ukrainians were not keen on a Muslim overlord. So it was that Khmelnytskyi signed the Treaty of Pereyaslav in 1654, making the Ukraine a vassal state of the co-religionist Russian Tsar, finally ending Polish-Lithuanian domination of the Ukraine.

Herman Rosenthal's article on gives a Jewish perspective of the Cossacks' Uprising.

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27 June 2012

On this day in history: First electronic Automatic Teller Machine installed, 1967

In 1939 the Armenian-American inventor Luther George Simjian came up with the idea of a automated mechanical cash dispenser for banks. He registered twenty payments for his invention and finally persuaded the City Bank of New York (now Citibank) to run a six-month trial of one his machines; however, lack of customer demand resulted in the removal of the meachine. According to Simjian, "It seems the only people using the machines were a small number of prostitutes and gamblers who didn't want to deal with tellers face to face."

The idea was revived in the 1960s by the Scottish inventor John Shepherd-Barron, who apparently came up with the idea while in the bath. While considering ways in which he could have access to his money anywhere in the world, he realised that he could create a vending machine for money. When he approached Barclays Bank with his idea they jumped at the chance.

On 27th June 1967 the world's first electronic ATM came into service at Barclays' Enfield Town branch, in North London. The first customer to use the machine was the actor Reg Varney, most famous for his roles in situation comedies. On this pioneering system, the customer inserted a cheque impregnated with the slightly radioactive carbon 14 which the machine detected and then dispensed an envelope containing a ten pound note. One year prior to the installation of Shepherd-Barron's machine, another Scottish inventor called James Goodfellow patented the Personal Identification Number (PIN) technology, which is used on ATM machines around the world today.

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26 June 2012

On this day in history: First Victoria Crosses presented, 1857

During the state opening of Parliament in 1854 Queen Victoria praised her forces currently engaged in the Crimean War leading Capt. G.T. Scobell, M.P, to suggest...

[...] that an humble address be presented to Her Majesty to institute an 'Order of Merit' to be bestowed upon persons serving in the Army or Navy for distinguished and prominent personal gallantry during the present war and to which every grade and individual... may be admissible.

In March 1855 the Government announced that such an order of merit would be instituted. Queen Victoria herself had a role in approving the text of the Warrant and the design of the medal, which was finally settled upon in March 1856. Mr C.F. Hancock, a London jeweller, was given the appointment to produce 106 specimens. The medal was to be made from the bronze of Chinese cannons seized from the Russians at the siege of Sebastopol in 1855 (although analysis confirms that through the years different sources of metal have been used).

The first presentation was made in Hyde Park on 26th June 1857 where Queen Victoria decorated 62 servicemen for showing valour "in the face of the enemy" during the Crimean War. The first recipient was Commander Henry Raby RN who was recognised for his part in rescuing a wounded soldier while under fire during an attack on the Redan on 18th June 1855. Fourth in line was Charles Davis Lucas, a mate in the Royal Navy who, three years earlier, had thrown a live shell overboard after it landed on deck of his ship, the HMS Hecla. This act of bravery was the earliest to have been rewarded with the medal. The VC remains the highest military decoration awarded in the United Kingdom.

The Victoria Cross Society website includes a biography of Charles Lucas on its page of sample journal articles.

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25 June 2012

On this day in history: First doctorate conferred on a woman, 1678

On 25th June 1678, the University of Padua conferred the first ever doctorate on a woman: Lady Elena Lucrezia Cornaro-Piscopia. She was born in the Palazzo Loredano, Venice, on 5th June 1646 to John Baptist Cornaro-Piscopia, Procurator of San Marco, and his wife Zanetta Giovanna Boni. At the age of seven Elena began her studies under the mentorship of the Aristotelian John Baptist Fabris. Fabris persuaded Elena's father to do all he could to further his daughter's education. Having the money and influence to do so he recruited Professor Alexander Anderson of Padua, Professor Luigi Gradenigo - the librarian at San Marco, and other tutors to school Lady Elena in a variety of disciplines. She became fluent in at least seven languages, including ancient Greek and latin, and because of this became known as Oraculum Septilingue. She also studied mathematics, astronomy, philosophy and theology - the latter two being her favourites.

In 1672 Lady Elena's father sent her to the University of Padua to complete her studies. Initially she had no intention of attaining academic qualifications, rather she simply wanted to continue learning. Nevertheless, because of her father's insistence and in spite of the resistance of some academics and churchmen, who would not permit a woman to become a Doctor of Theology, she was eventually allowed to prepare for the examination for Doctor of Philosophy with Professor Carlo Rinaldini as her tutor.

Six years later, the Cathedral in Padua hosted the public ceremony in which Lady Elena received the doctoral insignia: the laurel wreath placed on the head; the ring on the finger; and the ermine cape over her shoulders. In attendance were the professors of the University of Padua, invited academics from the Universities of Bologna, Ferrara, Perugia, Rome, and Naples, as well as other notable scholars and many of Venetian politicians.

Elena turned her back on the life of privilege and devoted herself to charitable works, becoming a Benedictine oblate. On 26th July 1684, eight years after receiving the doctorate, and at only thirty-eight years of age, Lady Elena Lucrezia Cornaro-Piscopia died of what is believed to have been tuberculosis. The whole city of Padua mourned the loss of this remarkable woman who continues to be remembered: a year after her passing the University of Padua struck a special medal in her honour; a statue of her still stands outside the University; and further afield, Vassar College, New York, has a stained glass window that depicts her presenting her thesis on that day Cathedral of Padua when she became the first woman to receive a doctorate.

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24 June 2012

On this day in history: Münster Rebellion ended,1535

In the sixteenth century a number of increasingly vocal critics of the practices and beliefs of the Catholic church emerged. These criticisms, taken as a whole, became known as the Protestant Reformation, the effects of which were felt across Europe as new churches emerged. Switzerland, in particular, was a hotbed of religious reform being birthplace of Calvinism and the Anabaptist faith, although some historians maintain that the latter also had roots in Holland and the Rhineland.

The Anabaptists were so called because they deferred baptism until somebody is old enough to chose to enter the faith. Not only did Anabaptists want religious reform but also formed a social reform movement, which became increasingly radicalised during the Peasants' War, a series of popular revolts that flared up across the Holy Roman Empire in 1524 and 1525. The princes and bishops restored order, re-established the status quo, and in some places, they made conditions even harsher for the common people, many of whom were radicalised and so became Anabaptists.

One place where the seeds of radical religious and social reform took root was the German of Münster. Ruled by a bishop, Franz von Waldeck, and council of guild leaders, the citizens looked to religious leaders to bring about social change. The Anabaptist pastor Bernhard Rothmann declared that a new prophet would soon arrive to liberate the people of the city. This 'prophet' was a Dutch baker called Jan Matthys, who along with Rothmann and Jan Bockelson, a tailor from Leyden, whipped up such religious sentiment within the populace that in February 1534 they managed to drive the council and bishop from the city and install their own mayor, Bernhard Knipperdolling, a guild leader and Anabaptist convert.

In Easter of that year, Matthys set out to conquer the rest of the world believing that the Day of Judgement was at hand, but he and his thirty followers died at the hands of the bishop's besieging army. Bockleson took over as religious and political leader and instituted a number of social reforms including the legalisation of polygamy and instituting the community of goods. He claimed to be a descendent of King David and as such was the absolute ruler of the new 'Zion'.

Nevertheless, this new 'Zion' was not to last. On the night of 24th June 1535, the bishop's forces finally gained entry to the city using information gained from Heinrich Gresbeck, who had been a guard on the city walls and was captured while trying to flee. The bishops forces quickly took the city, capturing the Anabaptist leaders and killing almost all of the male population. Bockelson and Knipperdolling were tortured and eventually executed in January 1536, their mutilated bodies were displayed in cages hung from the steeple of St. Lambert's Church, which are still there today.

The Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopaedia Online has a more detailed account of the Münster Anabaptists.

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23 June 2012

On this day in history: The Antarctic Treaty came into force, 1961

On the 15th October 1959 representatives of the twelve countries met in Washington D.C. to negotiate a treaty regarding the future of Antarctica. The twelve nations - Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States - were those that had undertaken scientific activity on the frozen continent during the International Geophysical Year, which lasted from July 1957 to December 1958. Poland requested to join the negotiations, having sent some scientists to the Russian Antarctic station, but this request was denied since they could sign the proposed treaty at a later date.

In the fifteen months prior to the conference, working groups had met to do much of the groundwork in a climate of cooperation that was uncommon during the Cold War. The spirit of compromise extended into the treaty negotiations. On 30th November the representatives announced that they had reached agreement on all fourteen articles of the treaty. These articles, which applied to all land and ice shelves below 60 degrees south latitude, included a ban on weapons tests on the continent, an undertaking to share scientific information, a guarantee of free movement in the area, and the empowerment of the International Court of Justice to settle and disputes.

On 1st December 1959, the treaty was opened for signatures. The governments of the twelve original nations each ratified the treaty. Chile was the last to do so, signing the treaty on the day that it came into force, 23rd June 1961. Since then representatives of thirty-four other nations have also signed the treaty.

The website of the Office of Polar Programs at the U.S. National Science Foundation includes the complete text of the 1959 treaty.

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22 June 2012

On this day in history: Caribbean immigrants arrive on the Empire Windrush, 1948

The Second World War had left the United Kingdom with a labour shortage, just when it needed as many workers as possible for the task of reconstruction. To alleviate this shortage the Royal Mail Lines placed an advertisement in the Jamaica's Daily Gleaner newspaper in April 1948. The advertisement offered a ticket Kingston, Jamaica to England for only £28 and 10 shillings on the ex-German troopship Empire Windrush, which was due to dock in the Caribbean on its journey from Australia back to the Britain.

Many of the 492 people that took up this offer were ex-servicemen - mostly from the Royal Air Force - who either hoped to rejoin the RAF or wanted to take up the promise of work and a better life in their "mother country". Many Britons were not pleased at the thought of immigrant workers, and Parliament debated the matter while the ship was crossing the ocean. Nevertheless, many of the passengers had served during the war for "King and Country" and all carried British passports, so there was no legal cause to turn them away.

On 24th May 1948, the Empire Windrush set sail on her month long journey across the Atlantic, which ended on 22nd June when she docked at Tilbury in Essex. On arrival, just under half of the West Indians received temporary accommodation at the Clapham South deep shelter in London - built as an air-raid shelter during the war beneath the underground railway station.
Over two hundred of them found work straight away, mostly in the newly instituted National Health Service and with London Transport. The nearest labour exchange (office where they could find work) was in nearby Brixton, an area where many of them found homes, bestowing upon that area its multi-racial heritage.

During the Parliamentary debates on immigration, the politicians who promoted imported labour suggested that the workers that the foreign workers would only stay for a short while, and indeed many of the West Indians thought the same. Nevertheless, many chose to stay and raise families in their new home. The journey of the Empire Windrush marked the beginning of a new - and as is often the case, troubled - era of multiculturalism in Britain.

The BBC History website has a number of pages devoted to the Empire Windrush generation, including the memories of some of the ship's passengers.

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Foundation of first permanent British colony in the Caribbean: 28th January 1624 Emperor Haile Selassie visited Jamaica: 21st April 1966

21 June 2012

On this day in history: Mechanical reaper patented, 1834

In the early nineteenth-century, a Virginian called Robert Hall McCormick spent his time developing various inventions on his farm in Rockbridge County. In 1831, he passed the development of one such invention, a mechanical reaper, to his son, Cyrus, who was still in his early twenties but showed an aptitude for business. Cyrus improved upon his father design and received a patent for the McCormick Reaper on 21st June 1834. The machine required only two men to operate it: one rode the horse that pulled the machine; the other raked the cut grain from the platform on which it collected. In one day two men using the reaper could cut as much grain as over a dozen men working with scythes.

In spite of the labour-saving potential of the machine, initials sales were not promising; by the end of 1846 he had sold fewer than one hundred machines. Undaunted he moved to Chicago, the following year, where he found success by using original marketing techniques - such as sending out trained salesman to demonstrate the machines - and by benefiting from the city's status as an industrial centre and railway hub, which aided manufacture and distribution. Not long after relocating his brothers, William and Leander, joined him as partners in the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company.

The McCormick's continued to develop the machine, as well as other farming machinery, which they sold around the world. Sales undoubtedly benefited from the awards and honours bestowed upon Cyrus and his machine: the reaper won a gold medal at the 1851 Great Exhibition, in London; and the French Academy of sciences elected Cyrus as a corresponding member.

Cyrus died in 1884, passing the company to his grandson Cyrus Hall McCormick III. It was he who, two years later, presided over the darkest event in the company's history: the Haymarket Affair of 4th May 1886. Nevertheless, the McCormick's company went from strength to strength, staying at the forefront of the manufacture and sale of not only farming equipment but also non-agricultural vehicles, weapons, and domestic appliances.

You can download a pdf copy of the original 1834 patent document from

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20 June 2012

On this day in history: The Tennis Court Oath, 1789

On 5th May 1789 the Estates General of France met at Versailles for the first time in 175 years to ratify various proposed reforms that the King's ministers hoped would end the financial crisis that France found itself mired in. Rather than discuss the new taxes, the representatives of the third-estate were more interested in discussing the organisation of the Estates General. Their concern was that whilst they represented the vast majority of the nation, the other two estates - the clergy and the nobility - would vote together against them since each estate only had one vote.

Attempts at diplomacy between the estates failed, and on 17th June the representatives of the third-estate - by then calling themselves les communes ('the commons') - and a number of delegates from the other two estates who had joined them renamed themselves the National Assembly. They defiantly declared that that since they represented most of the French people then national sovereignty resided with them; although, initially at least, they still recognised the authority of King Louis XVI whose consent they would seek in order to pass any new laws.

Louis, however, was not about to be dictated to. Rather, on 19th June, he chose to go to the National Assembly, annul any degrees it had made, command the clerical and noble delegates to return to their respective orders, and then draw up popular legislation to bring the third-estate back into the fold. He ordered that the hall in which the National Assembly met be locked and a guard be placed there to prevent them meeting while he met in session with leading courtiers to plan how to proceed.

Consequently, on 20th June 1789 the National Assembly found itself without a place to meet. The delegates commandeered an indoor-tennis court that was close by. Once gathered inside, the recalcitrant deputies took a collective oath in defiance of the King to continue meeting until an acceptable constitution be established for the French nation. This act of unity and defiance that consolidated the revolution enjoyed widespread popularity in France. As a result Louis had little choice but to order the remaining delegates of the first- and second-estate to join the National Assembly.

The History Guide site has a page with the full text of The Oath of the Tennis Court.

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Paris celebrated la Fête de la Fédération: 14th July 1790
Guillotine used for first time: 25th April 1792
September Massacres begin: 2nd September 1792
Louis XVI executed: 21st January 1793
French National Convention dissolved: 26th October 1795

19 June 2012

On this day in history: Rosenbergs executed, 1953

In 1936 Julius Rosenberg met Ethel Greenglass through the Youth Communist League. They both lived in New York and came from working-class Jewish families. Three years after their first meeting they were married. That same year Julius gained a degree in electrical engineering from the City College of New York.

Following the United States' entrance into the Second World War, Julius joined the Army Signal Corps and worked on radar equipment. A year later, in 1943, the Rosenbergs stopped publicly endorsing communism and cancelled their subscription to the Daily Worker, the newspaper of the Communist Party USA. Nevertheless, the pair were still in contact with leading American communists through whom they made the acquaintance of Alexandre Feklisov, a Soviet spy.

By chance, in 1944 Ethel's brother, David Greenglass, started working on the United States' nuclear weapon programme, the Manhattan Project. Towards the end of that year, the Rosenbergs allegedly persuaded him to pass technical details of the programme to the Soviets to help them also develop a nuclear weapon. According to Feklisov, Julius also recruited a number of other people with access to information on top secret projects to spy for the Russians.

In early 1950, British Intelligence arrested Klaus Fuchs, another scientist working on the Manhattan Project, on charges of espionage. Eventually, the trail of spies and couriers led back to David Greenglass and the Rosenbergs, all of whom were arrested. In January 1951, the US Grand Jury indicted the three of them and the trial of the Rosenbergs began in March that year. Following a guilty verdict on the charge of conspiring to commit espionage, the presiding Judge, Irving Kaufman, sentenced them both to death. Greenglass, who testified against his sister and brother-in-law, received a fifteen year sentence, of which he served ten years.

On 19th June 1953, a special session of the US Supreme Court finally dismissed requests for a stay of execution. So, that evening, first Julius and then Ethel were executed by electrocution at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility at Ossining, New York. They left behind two orphaned sons, Robert and Michael, who were finally adopted by the songwriter Abel Meerpol - famous for writing the Billie Holliday song 'Strange Fruit' - and his wife Anne. Controversy still surrounds the Rosenberg's (particularly Ethel's) role in the spy ring, as well as their trial and execution.

The University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law host a complete transcript of the Rosenberg Trial on their website.

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18 June 2012

On this day in history: First Europeans sighted Tahiti, 1767

In August 1766, the Royal Navy frigate HMS Dolphin set sail under the command of Samuel Wallis, on her second journey of discovery and circumnavigation. Following victory in the Seven Years' War, three years earlier, the Royal Navy hierarchy decided to explore the Pacific Ocean in order to develop new trade routes and possibly find a new route to the all-important East Indies. Hence Commodore John Byron's journey of circumnavigation, on the Dolphin, which was the first to be completed in less than two years.

In Dolphin, Wallis knew he had a ship that was up to the task; however, he would be accompanied on his voyage by HMS Swallow, a sloop that was far from ship-shape, under the command of Philip Carteret. The two ships became separated after sailing through perilous Straits of Magellan. In spite of the decrepit condition of his craft, Carteret managed to complete his mission arriving back in England three years after setting sail, having discovered various new landmasses including Pitcairn Island and a series of atolls that now bear his name.

After losing contact with the Swallow, Wallis directed his crew to sail across the South Pacific; but scurvy and ill favoured winds forced him to head northwards. In the warmer seas he also discovered a number of islands then unknown to Europeans and on 18th June 1767 he sighted Tahiti, where the Dolphin and her crew remained for the next five weeks. In the first few days saw sporadic attacks by Tahitians on the crew, but these stopped after many locals were injured or killed by cannon fire.

Wallis could do little to quell the disturbances because he had been stricken with fever even as the health of his men improved. Indeed, when the Dolphin returned to England in May 1768, her commander's health was still in a poor state in spite of his efforts to maintain the health of his crew by using a three shift rotation so that the sailors could have more rest, maintaining stores of fruit and vegetables, and by keeping clothes and bedding as clean and dry as possible - innovations that were all used by the famous Captain Cook during his voyages of exploration.

To learn more about the voyages of Byron, Cateret, Wallis and Cook the National Library of Australia's web site hosts a hypertext version of John Hawkesworth (Ed.), Account of the Voyages ... in the Southern Hemisphere (London, 1773), Vol 1 and Vol 2 & 3

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17 June 2012

On this day in history: Mumtaz Muhal died, 1631

On 17th June 1631, the third wife of the Islamic ruler of India, the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, died during childbirth. Mumtaz would probably have been lost to posterity had it not been for the mausoleum that the Emperor had built in her honour. One of the greatest buildings of the world and a testament to love: the Taj Mahal.

Mumtaz Muhal was born Arjumand Banu Begum in April 1593. Her father was a Persian noble and brother of the wife of the Emperor Jahangir. At the age of fourteen she was betrothed to marry Prince Khurram Shihab-ud-din Muhammad, but the court astrologers delayed their marriage for five years until the most conducive date for a happy marriage in 1612.

Whether by craft or coincidence the astrologers were proven right: the couple were inseparable. Arjumand - now renamed Mumtaz Muhal ('Chosen One of the Palace') - accompanied Khurram on his travels across the Mughal Empire even travelling with his entourage on some of his military campaigns. After ascending to the Peacock Throne in 1628, Prince Khurram - now Shah Jahan ('King of the World') - gave Mumtaz his imperial seal, because he loved and trusted her so.

Three years later, while accompanying her husband on a campaign in the Deccan Plateau, Mumtaz went into labour in the town of Burhanpur but died during the birth of their fourteenth child, a daughter called Gauhara Behum. According to contemporary accounts Shah Jahan was heartbroken: he mourned in solitude for a year after which he emerged a broken man. He set about having a tomb built that would be a suitable memorial to their love. The result was the Taj Mahal in Agra.

The plinth and tomb took twelve years to build, and further buildings were added over the next ten years. Following the completion of the Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan's third son by Mumtaz, Aurangzeb, seized power and confined him to the nearby Agra Fort. When Jahan died, eight years later he was interred alongside his beloved Mumtaz.

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16 June 2012

On this day in history: First woman in space, 1963

Immediately after the Soviet Union's success in putting the first man into space in 1961, the head of cosmonaut training on the Russian space programme, Nikolai Kamanin, suggested to his superiors that it was their patriotic duty to again beat the Americans by being the first to put a woman into space. Chief Designer Korolev agreed and in October 1961 the search began for likeable woman who was an avowed Communist with experience of parachuting - piloting skills were not required as the Vostok spacecraft flew automatically. Five women received the call to train as cosmonauts, including Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova, a textile worker and daughter of a war hero.

The five women began the exhaustive period of training and testing: centrifuge rides; isolation tests; rocket theory; parachute jumps; piloting jet fighters, physical exercise; and, weightless flights. In spite of being the least qualified - the other four had received higher education, and included engineers and test pilots - Tereshkova faired better in front of the Communist selection board than the other finalist, Valentina Ponomareva, who had excelled in all the other tests. Since the flight was essentially a propaganda exercise, Korolev nominated Tereshkova, and Premier Krushchev - who had the final say - agreed.

On the morning of 16th June 1963, Vostok 6 launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan with the call sign "Seagull". While in space Tereshkova kept a log and took photographs, while the ground staff monitored her physical condition. Controversy surrounds the flight: some reports claimed that she became emotionally distraught, and she certainly vomited during the flight; however, the flight lasted longer than initially intended leaving her nothing to do with no support from the ground staff; she claimed that rather than the weightlessness it was the poor food she had been given that made her sick; and - as was later confirmed - she noticed that there had been an error in the automatic orientation of the capsule, which the ground crew confirmed and corrected.

Tereshkova's ordeal did not end until she safely returned to earth. After ejecting out of the capsule during its final descent (as all cosmonauts did) she noticed that she was parachuting towards lake that was to large for her to swim to the edge of in her state of exhaustion. Fortunately the wind blew her back over dry land. Nevertheless, from a propaganda point of view the mission was a complete success. Tereshkova's flight had a longer duration than all the American space-flights, thus far, put together. She was also significantly younger than all the NASA astronauts. The Soviet hierarchy quashed any attempts to discredit her, whether based in fact or chauvinism.

After the flight, Tereshkova married another cosmonaut, Andrian Nikolayev (an event which was again used for propaganda purposes leading some to think it had been contrived by the Soviet leadership), graduated as a engineer, and became a prominent politician and international representative of the USSR.

To read a biography of Valentina Tereshkova see the Encyclopedia Astronautica site.

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