Friday, August 30, 2013

August 30 - Ernest Rutherford

Physicist and chemist Ernest Rutherford was born on August 30, 1871, in New Zealand. A farm boy from the South Island, he spent most of his life as a professor at McGill University in Montreal and at Manchester University and Cambridge University in the UK. His early work in Canada was the basis for his Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1908) for discovering the concept of radioactive half-life, proving that radioactivity involves one chemical element changing into another, and differentiating types of radiation. His “gold foil experiment” at Manchester investigated the structure of the atom, showing for the first time the existence of the atomic nucleus and fostering development of the Rutherford (planetary) model of the atom, with orbital electrons. He is credited with first "splitting the atom" (1917) in a nuclear reaction in which he discovered and named the proton. In 1921, working with his student, Niels Bohr, he theorized about the existence of neutrons. Rutherford, the father of nuclear physics, is considered one of the greatest experimentalists since Michael Faraday.

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Thursday, August 29, 2013

August 29 - Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

Neoclassical painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres was born on August 29, 1780, in southwestern France. He displayed precocious talent for drawing. In Paris, he studied in the workshop of painter Jacques-Louis David, supported himself as a portraitist, then spent many years in Italy, where he was influenced by ancient art and the works of Raphael. He resisted the expressive, emotional aspects of early 19th century Romanticism in favor the line, sculptural form and balanced composition of David's Neoclassical school. Ironically, many of Ingres’ subjects are so exotic that they are viewed as romantic, including his many odalisques (female nudes) and historical paintings. His portraits are stunning examples of physical exactness and psychological insight into his subjects. Ingres's influence on artists has been significant, affecting masters such as Renoir, Degas, Modigliani, Seurat and Picasso. He was a precursor of modern art in his expressive distortions of form and space. Pictured: Napoleon I on His Imperial Throne (1806).

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

August 28 - The March on Washington

50 years ago: The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom took place on August 28, 1963, in the Nation’s Capital, with the Lincoln Memorial as its focal point. Marchers reached at least 300,000 in number, arriving from all over the United States by road, rail and air, especially by bus from eastern U.S. regions. As many as 450 buses originated from New York’s Harlem, and Maryland authorities reported that 100 buses an hour passed through the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel on the morning of the March. In all, more than 2,000 buses, 21 chartered trains, 10 chartered airliners and a sea of automobiles entered the Capital. The high point of the massive gathering was Rev. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which originally was titled “Normalcy, Never Again.” King’s now-famous peroration, in which he departed from his prepared text and built toward a climactic “Free at last!” was instigated by famed gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson, seated nearby, who called out to King, "Tell them about the dream, Martin! Tell them about the dream!"

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

August 27 - Drake's Oil Well, Titusville

The first commercially successful oil well was drilled on August 27, 1859, in Titusville, in the northwestern corner of Pennsylvania, by Colonel Edwin Drake, who worked for an early oil company. He had hired a salt well driller named William Smith. Oil was known to exist in the region, often as oil springs, but no practical means of extracting it was known. Petroleum’s primary use had been as a medicine for both animals and humans; later it became useful for asphalt, machine oil, lubricants and kerosene. At first the Titusville oil was transported in containers by teamsters, but by 1862 a new rail line connected with larger, east-west railroads. Pipelines were laid in 1865. Eight oil refineries were built in the area by 1868, and several iron works rose up to make drilling tools. Titusville’s population exploded from 250 to 10,000 virtually overnight. The first U.S. oil millionaire was Jonathan Watson, who owned the land on which Drake's well was drilled. At one point, Titusville was believed to have more millionaires per 1,000 people than any other place in the world.

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Saturday, August 24, 2013

August 24 - Gutenberg Bible

August 24, 1456, is believed to be the date on which the first version of the Gutenberg Bible was completed in Mainz, Germany. This claim has no basis in fact. Johannes Gutenberg’s Bible, written in Latin and technically known as the 42-line Bible, carries no date, though at least one copy is known to have been completed sometime in 1455, with large initial letters colored red by hand. The first dated book was Gutenberg’s colorful Mainz psalter (1457). Dated or not, the Gutenberg Bible was the first significant book printed in the West using movable type and the first major book produced on a printing press anywhere in the world. Today, 48 of about 180 of the Bibles are known to exist; only 21 are complete. Gutenberg first used movable-type printing around 1439 in Strasbourg, and he invented a process to mass-produce that metal type. His use of a printing press, similar to agricultural screw presses, and oil-based ink was supremely revolutionary. Most important, he combined the technologies into a coherent system to mass-produce books.

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

August 22 - Claude Debussy

Composer Claude Debussy was born on August 22, 1862, outside Paris. He began piano lessons at age 7 and spent 11 years in the Paris Conservatoire, starting at age 10. He was argumentative, challenging the rigidity of the academy, and experimented with dissonance. In the 1890s he was a frequent member of the Symbolist gatherings of poet Stéphane Mallarmé, and though he was influenced by the music of Richard Wagner, he preferred to compose in short, accessible musical forms. In 1894 he wrote his “Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune” (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun), a revolutionary “symphonic poem” for a small ensemble rather than an orchestra. It was inspired by a poem of the same title by Mallarmé, who initially objected to having his work transformed into music. It is titled a prelude because Debussy intended to write a three-movement suite. The work is considered pivotal in music history, a score (later turned into a ballet) that marks the origin of modernism in music. The opening flute solo is one of 20th-century music’s most memorable passages.

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

August 20 - Eero Saarinen

Architect Eero Saarinen was born on August 20, 1910, in Finland. He and his father, Art Nouveau architect Eliel Saarinen, shared the same birthday. Eero was 13 when the family came to the United States and became associated with the Cranbrook Academy, an influential cradle of art and design in Michigan. After studying at Yale and serving in World War II in the CIA’s predecessor agency, he entered the 1947 architectural competition for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis. His design not only established his own eclectic style, marked by simplicity and sweeping, graceful curves, but also created a landmark for the nation and the modern era. His Gateway Arch (1965), in the form of a flattened catenary arch, is the tallest man-made U.S. monument and the world’s tallest arch. Saarinen is also celebrated for the design of major icons of modernism and the “jet age,” including the “Tulip Chair” (1955-56), the TWA Flight Center (1962) at New York’s JFK Airport, and Dulles International Airport (1962) near Washington, D.C.

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Friday, August 16, 2013

August 16 - 1936 Summer Olympics, Berlin

August 16, 1936, was the final day of the 1936 Summer Olympics, held in Berlin, Germany. The event, officially called the Games of the XI Olympiad, was awarded to Berlin over Barcelona by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1931, two years before Adolf Hitler seized power. When the Nazi regime established racist and anti-Semitic policies, the IOC began to consider changing its decision, but relented when the Nazis gave assurances that Jewish athletes would be allowed to compete on a German team. The promises were hollow. Launched on August 1, the Games were held in a tense, politically charged atmosphere. Though Hitler said they would not be used to promote Nazi ideology, pro-Aryan pamphlets were everywhere. Berlin and the massive sports complex, Reich Sports Field, comprising four stadiums, were heavily bedecked in Nazi banners and symbols. The Games were televised for the first time, via closed circuit to theatres in Berlin, and were the first to have a torch relay that transported the Olympic flame from Greece.

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

August 15 - Napoléon Bonaparte

Napoléon Bonaparte was born on August 15, 1769, on the island of Corsica into a family of noble Italian ancestry. He trained as an artillery officer in France, rose under the French First Republic (1792), staged a coup d'état in 1799, and in 1804 was proclaimed emperor. Thereafter, for 17 years, he waged a series of conflicts, the Napoleonic Wars, against every major European power. Though he ended the chaos and lawlessness that followed the Revolution, critics consider him a tyrant who was untroubled by wars causing thousands of deaths – perhaps six million – or the plunder of conquered regions. He disrupted economic life in Europe for a generation. He is widely regarded as one of history’s greatest military commanders because of the success of his military campaigns, in which he sought to destroy rather than outmaneuver enemy armies, many of which outnumbered his own. Napoléon is known to have had great intellectual powers and a hypnotic personality. The Duke of Wellington said his battlefield presence was worth 40,000 soldiers.

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

August 14 - Cologne Cathedral

On August 14, 1880, the completion of Cologne Cathedral was celebrated as a national event in Prussia (now Germany), 632 years after first construction had begun. Officially the High Cathedral of St. Peter, the foundation stone of the immense Gothic church was laid on August 15, 1248, on a site that dated back to an ancient Roman temple. Dominated by two massive spires, the stone edifice was planned as a cathedral to house a sacred reliquary traditionally believed to hold the remains of the Three Wise Men (aka Three Kings), taken from Milan in the 12th century. After the nave and transept were temporarily roofed in 1560, construction stopped for reasons never explained. Work did not resume until 1823, when Prussia acquired Catholic portions of North-Western Germany, including the Ruhr, after Napoleon’s defeat. A civic association raised two-thirds of what today would be more than $1 billion in building costs; the Prussian state paid the remainder. Damage inflicted on the cathedral by Allied bombing in World War II was repaired by 1956.

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

August 13 - William (Bill) Bernbach

Advertising executive and copywriter William (Bill) Bernbach was born on August 13, 1911, in the Bronx, New York City. He graduated from New York University in 1932 and worked his way from the mailroom to advertising at Schenley Distillers. After World War II, he worked in advertising jobs, then in 1949 joined with Ned Doyle, whom he’d met at Grey Advertising, and Mac Dane, who ran a small agency, to found Doyle Dane Bernbach, later known as DDB. For years, Bernbach was the creative force behind the writing and many simple but memorable ad campaigns at DDB, frequently marked by humor, unusual perspectives, tastefulness and respect for the reader’s intelligence. Major examples were “We Try Harder” (1963) for Avis, the controversial “Daisy” political ad for Lyndon Johnson (1964), the “Mikey!” ads for Life Cereal (1972), and “It's so simple” for Polaroid (1977). Bernbach is celebrated for DDB’s work for Volkswagen, which included the iconic “Lemon” and “Think Small” ads (1959). The latter was ranked the best ad campaign of the 20th century.

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Monday, August 12, 2013

August 12 - Edith Hamilton

Author and teacher Edith Hamilton was born on August 12, 1867, in Dresden, Germany, and raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She attended Bryn Mawr College and in 1895 became the first woman to study at the University of Munich in Germany. She then became headmistress of Bryn Mawr Preparatory School for Girls in Baltimore, where she became known as a classicist during 26 years of teaching. Upon retiring, she moved to New York, wrote scholarly articles on Greek drama and myths, and, at age 62, published her first book, The Greek Way (1930), which compared life in ancient Greece to that in modern Greece. It was followed by The Roman Way (1932), which similarly addressed Roman life. In 1942 Hamilton published Mythology, which retells stories of Greek, Roman and Norse mythology via the literature of the classics. Today it remains a key introduction to myths at the high school and university levels. She traveled to Greece for the first time in 1957, at age 90, where the city of Athens made her an honorary citizen.

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Sunday, August 11, 2013

August 11 - Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary

On the morning of August 11, 1934, the first prisoners arrived at the Federal prison on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay. Previously a military prison, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons acquired the installation as the nation’s first maximum security civilian penitentiary. Until it closed in 1963, it was the “prison system’s prison.” Its isolated location constituted complete exile for hardened, worst-offending criminals and troublemakers from other federal prisons. Most were bank robbers and murderers. Staff was trained in security, but not rehabilitation. Daily existence was harsh. Prisoners had four rights: medical attention, shelter, food and clothing. Recreation and family visits were earned through hard work. In the first years of operation, prisoners weren't allowed to talk at all except for brief periods. Bad behavior resulted in hard labor, being shackled to a 12-pound ball-and-chain, or lock-down in solitary confinement. Notorious prisoners included Al “Scarface” Capone (convicted of tax evasion) and murderer Robert Stroud (the “Birdman of Alcatraz”).

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Saturday, August 10, 2013

August 10 - Musée du Louvre

The Musée du Louvre first opened in Paris on August 10, 1793. The Assembly of the Revolutionary government had previously declared that the 16th-century Palais du Louvre, along the River Seine, would be "a place for bringing together monuments of all the sciences and arts." Its opening occurred on the first anniversary of Louis XVI’s imprisonment and the nationalization of his royal collection, which comprised more than 500 paintings and scores of objets d'art as well as works seized from émigrés and the Church. Other works were subsequently brought in from Northern Europe and the Vatican. Citizens were admitted free, three days a week. Walls were completely filled with paintings, floor to ceiling. The Louvre grew under Napoléon I, who built a northern wing parallel to the Grand Galerie and hauled in more art works. After Waterloo, many owners of the works scrambled to retrieve what Bonaparte had taken. Today’s renovated museum, “Le Grand Louvre,” with its glass pyramid designed by architect I.M. Pei, was completed in 1988-89.

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Friday, August 9, 2013

August 9 - Smokey Bear

On August 9, 1944, Smokey Bear first appeared on a public service poster issued by the U.S. Forest Service along with state foresters and the Wartime Advertising Council. It showed a bear pouring a bucket of water on a campfire. Concern about fire prevention had been heightened during World War II because fewer men were available to fight them, but especially because Japan viewed wildfires as a potential weapon against the U.S. West Coast. Starting in 1942, Japan’s military used air raids (mainly in Oregon), incendiary bombs and fire balloons to attempt to start forest fires. Use of Walt Disney’s “Bambi” on wartime educational prevention posters was only temporary. A cooperative prevention program settled on using a bear, whose name “Smokey” was inspired by a heroic New York City firefighter’s nickname. The slogan "Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires" was developed in 1947 (altered in 2001 to say “Wildfires”). The heyday of Smokey’s popularity extended largely through the mid-1960s. Pictured: Smokey then and now.

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Thursday, August 8, 2013

August 8 - Graf Zeppelin

On August 8, 1929, the Graf Zeppelin, a German-built and -operated, hydrogen-filled, rigid airship, began a “Round-the-World” (Weltrundfahrt) demonstration flight that officially began and ended at Lakehurst, NJ. The project was backed by William Randolph Hearst’s media empire, which included the New York Daily Mirror and news services. Hearst paid $200,000 ($2.5 million today) for media rights, though costs were also offset by lucrative carriage of commercial and commemorative mail. Flying east, the airship stopped at Friedrichshafen, Germany (its home), Tokyo and Los Angeles before returning to Lakehurst. The circumnavigation took slightly more than 21 days and covered 20,651 miles. Named after a German count, the Graf Zeppelin was inaugurated in 1928 with the goal of offering regular transatlantic passenger service. In 1932 it began providing passenger, mail and freight service between Germany and Brazil. It ceased operations, however, immediately after the spectacular destruction of the Hindenburg airship at Lakehurst in May 1937.

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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

August 7 - The Duomo, Florence

On August 7, 1420, construction began on the dome (Duomo) of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower) in Florence, Italy. The structure was engineered by architect Filippo Brunelleschi, who had won a competition sponsored by the city’s wool merchants’ guild, which had fears about building a dome above the 140-foot octagonal space already built to support it. No dome that wide then existed except Rome’s Pantheon, which is supported on massive walls. The competition involved great architects attempting to stand an egg upright on a marble slab. Brunelleschi succeeded by striking one end of an egg sharply on the flat marble, leaving it upright. His dome contains two shells, whereby workers sat atop the inner, lightweight shell to build the heavier outer shell. Rings hug both shells of the octagonal dome, and supporting “ribs” run through the rings. The herringbone pattern of the brick structure transfers weight to the supports. The project, structurally completed in 1436, and its crowning lantern occupied most of Brunelleschi’s life.

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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

August 6 - Alfred Tennyson

“To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” … English poet Alfred Tennyson was born on August 6, 1809, in Lincolnshire, northeast of London. His collection Poems Chiefly Lyrical (1830) became popular and gained him the attention of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and others. His Poems of 1842, containing works such as the dramatic monologue “Ulysses” (later called “a perfect poem” by T.S. Eliot), increased his fame, and in 1850 he was named Britain’s Poet Laureate on the death of William Wordsworth. He held that position until his death in 1892, the longest tenure of any laureate before or since. Many lines of Tennyson’s poetry have entered common parlance in English, including: “‘Tis better to have loved and lost/ Than never to have loved at all,” and "Nature, red in tooth and claw"(both from “In Memoriam A.H.H.”); and "Theirs not to reason why,/ Theirs but to do and die" (from “The Charge of the Light Brigade”). Extreme near-sightedness made reading and writing difficult for Tennyson. As a result, he composed entire poems in his head.

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Monday, August 5, 2013

August 5 - Neil Armstrong

Engineer, pilot and astronaut Neil Armstrong was born on August 5, 1930, near Wapakoneta, Ohio. He majored in aeronautical engineering on a Navy scholarship at Purdue University, then entered the Navy as a pilot in 1949. After flying combat missions in the Korean War, he joined the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and became an astronaut in 1962. He made his first space flight in 1966 as command pilot of Gemini 8, and was the first civilian astronaut to fly in space. In the early hours of July 21, 1969, after having landed on the Moon on NASA’s Apollo 11 mission, Armstrong uttered the words "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind" after descending from the lunar module and stepping on the Moon’s surface. He revealed in 1983 that he did not did not prepare those words in advance, but only after landing on the Moon, explaining that, since the odds of a successful touchdown were only 50-50, “it didn't seem to me there was much point in thinking of something to say if we'd have to abort landing."

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Sunday, August 4, 2013

August 4 - Louis Vuitton

Artisan and entrepreneur Louis Vuitton was born on August 4, 1821, in the Jura region of France near Switzerland. He left home at age 14 for Paris, where he apprenticed with a successful box-maker and packer. This craft was respectable and essential in 19th-century Europe, and Vuitton made a name for himself among fashionable Parisians as a maker of boxes (trunks) for garments and fashions. Under the French Empire of Napoleon III in the 1850s, Empress Eugénie hired Vuitton as her personal box-maker and packer. He founded his eponymous company in 1854 and began producing distinctive luggage that could be stacked, differing from trunks with rounded tops (designed for water run-off). It was also stylish, first covered in gray, waterproofed canvas, then in popular brown and beige stripes (pictured), widely imitated by other luggage-makers. Vuitton’s earliest custom trunks were made for storing tennis racquets, hats, silverware, cologne, hairbrushes, wine and even a bed. His son Georges introduced the LV Monogram in 1896.

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Saturday, August 3, 2013

August 3 - Christopher Columbus set sail

521 years ago: On the evening of August 3, 1492, Italian navigator Christopher Columbus set sail from Palos de la Frontera in southwest Spain, north of Gibraltar, with three ships, seeking a western ocean route to China and India, which offered rare commodities and opiates. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to Ottoman Turks, the land route had become more difficult and risky. Columbus had read widely in astronomy, geography and history, including works of Ptolemy of Alexandria, who had estimated the size and radius of a spherical Earth in the 1st century. Columbus’ plan to sail to the Indies via the “Ocean sea” (the Atlantic) was not radical, since educated Westerners had understood the world to be round since Aristotle’s time (4th century BCE). Columbus had won sponsorship for his expedition from the Crown of Castile, later called Spain, after failing twice in Portugal. The ships he commanded sailed first to the Canary Islands; five weeks later they reached an island in what is now the Bahamas. The natives’ gold ear ornaments interested him greatly.

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Friday, August 2, 2013

August 2 - Calvin Coolidge

90 years ago: On August 2, 1923, Calvin Coolidge became President of the United States when Warren Harding died suddenly while on a speaking tour in the West. Coolidge was at his family home in Plymouth Notch, Vermont, in the same house where he was born. It had neither electricity nor a telephone. He received word of Harding’s passing by messenger, and was sworn in by his father, a notary public, by the light of a kerosene lamp in the family parlor at 2:47 a.m. the next morning. He then went back to bed. The oath was readministered the next day in Washington. His speech to Congress in December was the first to be broadcast over the radio. He was elected in 1924 to his only full term and chose not to run again. A Progressive Republican of the Roaring ‘20s, Coolidge supported the civil rights of African Americans and Catholics and refused to appoint known members of the Ku Klux Klan (which lost most of its influence during his term). He is known for laissez-faire policies and his statement, “the chief business of the American people is business.”

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Thursday, August 1, 2013

August 1 - William Clark

Explorer and public servant William Clark was born on August 1, 1770, on his family’s plantation in eastern Virginia. He grew up in what is now Kentucky and, at age 19, joined a militia to fight Indians in the Ohio Valley. Later he became an officer in an extension of the U.S. Army, but retired in 1796 due to poor health and managed the Clark plantation. He had met Meriwether Lewis while in the army and, in 1803, Lewis asked him to be his co-leader in the Corps of Discovery, the three-year transcontinental expedition across the Louisiana Purchase territory to the Pacific Coast, commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson. Clark was responsible for record-keeping and map-making. The pair returned to St. Louis, whence they had begun, in September 1806, with maps, sketches, journals and artifacts. Jefferson appointed Clark the Indian agent and brigadier general of the militia for the Louisiana Territory, and he became governor of the Missouri Territory in 1813. In 1822 he was appointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs.

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