Historical Anecdotes Story Of London

Historical Anecdotes: A

Historical Anecdotes: A
by Anthony Waldstock

This is a series of articles that has grown out of the daily listings of what happened “On This Day”. Many of the events, particularly those related to science, seemed to us to need some more information than is possible in the daily listing format. Still others had amusing or informative anecdotes associated with them that we felt were worth sharing with our readers. The series is designed for browsing and dipping into and we have therefore set up a comprehensive system of links to make this as easy and as enjoyable as possible.

Historical Anecdotes: A

by Anthony Waldstock

This series of articles will present occasional anecdotal, amusing and factual notes behind the people and events on the This Day in History digests. Entries are determined by the daily posting of events in history with the first entries appearing for March 12th and are arranged alphabetically. With the steady increase of material, each letter of the alphabet now (April 17th 2002) has its own page. People are indexed according to their family or surnames whereas kings, popes, emperors etc. are listed according to their regnal names– e.g. Charles Boycott would be found under B, Pope Gregory under G and Queen Mary Tudor under M. Other items are indexed by the most significant word in the title, for example Artificial Ice will be found under I but Sad Iron will be found under S.

Links back to the monthly digests for “This Day in History” can be found at the bottom of the introductory page but each of the entries on the other pages will have a link to take you back to the specific date with which it is associated. Note that if you have come here from the Background Briefings link on the Home page, you can go back there by clicking on the site Masthead above. When appropriate, there are additional links back to other referring pages on the site such as the People of London page.

Within the series there are two sets of links. At the top of each page there will be a table of links to the other indexing letters to allow browsing by individual pages. At the bottom of each page you will also find a set of links which will allow you to scroll backward (Previous) and forward (next) through the pages. The pages are looped so the “Previous” link from A will be to Z and the “Next” link from Z will be to A. There will also be a central link back to this introduction page whose main content is an alphabetic list of the complete set of entries. From there, you will be able to browse the titles of the individual entries and jump directly to those that interest you. By definition, the number of entries will augment on a daily basis so it is worth checking back there frequently.

Links to Entries by Index Letter

acetylene Acetylene

In 1892, a process for commercial production of acetylene was discovered, by accident, by Thomas L. Wilson, of the Wilson Aluminum Company, in Spray, North Carolina. He was conducting experiments to produce metallic calcium by fusing lime and coal tar in an electric furnace. These were unsuccessful and he dumped the slag-like waste product into a nearby stream. The water reacted with the slag and liberated a gas which he recognised to be acetylene. The gas was previously known, but had only ever been made on a laboratory scale. Wilson immediately realised that he had hit upon a method for acetylene production on a commercial scale. Today, acetylene has a vital role in industrial and construction welding applications.Return to This Day in History

Achromatic lens

Chester Moor Hall was and English jurist and mathematician who invented the achromatic lens. This eliminates colour distortion (chromatic aberration) by using a combination of two lenses made of different kinds of glass. He used his lens in building the first refracting telescope which was free from chromatic aberration. The aberration can be reduced still further by using an apochromatic lens which is made up of three different kinds of glass.Return to This Day in History


In 1896, the first U.S. patent for an addressing machine, the Addressograph was issued to J.S. Duncan of Sioux City, Iowa. It was a development of the invention he had made in 1892. His earlier model consisted of a hexagonal wood block onto which he glued rubber type which had been torn from rubber stamps. While revolving, the block simultaneously inked the next name and address ready for the next impression. The “Baby O” model was put into production on the 26 Jul 1893 in a small back room of the old Caxton Building in Chicago, Illinois.Return to This Day in History

Georgius Agricola

Agricola (1494-1555) was German scholar and scientist who Latinised his real name of Georg Bauer, and wished to be known as Georgius Agricola. He is, today hailed as “the father of mineralogy.” His work paved the way for the systematic study of the Earth and of its rocks, minerals, and fossils. He made fundamental contributions to mining geology and metallurgy, mineralogy, structural geology, and paleontology. Having studied medicine, he became interested in mineralogy through his study of miners’ diseases. His most important work De Re Metallica was published a year after his death. In it he summarised all the practical knowledge that had been gained by the miners of Saxony. He was among the first to found a natural science upon observation. He is thought to have coined the word petroleum (“rock oil”).Return to This Day in History


Abu-Mashar, the leading astrologer of the Muslim world, was born in Balk in 787. He spent much ofhis life in Baghdad and his books were widely circulated. He did valuable work on the nature of the tides but this is now overshadowed by his fantastic theory of the world. According to this, the world, created when the seven planets were in conjunction in the first degree of Aries, will come to an end at a like conjunction in the last degree of Pisces. In his play Albumazar (London 1615) Thomas Tomkis cast him as a rascally wizard, thus creating the modern image of the man. In 1668, shortly after the after the Restoration, the play was revived in London with a new prologue by John Dryden.Return to This Day in History


In 1842, physician Dr. Crawford W. Long of Jefferson, Georgia, first used ether as an anesthetic during a minor operation. He placed an ether-soaked towel over the face of James Venable and removed a tumour from his neck. This event predated Morton’s public demonstration of ether by four years, but was not disclosed until 1849 in the Southern Medical Journal, which was after Morton’s widely publicized feat. However, Dr. Long’s accomplishment in 1842 is now widely considered to represent the discovery of surgical anesthesia. He was the subject on a U.S. stamp issued 8 Apr 1940.

It is, perhaps, ironic that John Snow’s popular fame rests on his “having given anaesthetic to Queen Victoria when she had her children”. In fact, he did much more than this for the public health of Britain see the entry on Cholera below. Early in his career he became interested in anesthetic agents. In 1847, shortly after anesthetic ether was introduced into Great Britain he published a short article about the effects of the treatment. Besides ether as an anesthetic agent, he also focused on chloroform and in the course of his career he anaesthetised 77 obstetric patients with chloroform. Typically, he delayed administering the anesthetic until the patient approached the second stage of labor. He also limited the dose so that the patient experienced a satisfactory analgesia, but was not rendered completely unconscious.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert first showed interest in chloroform in 1848. However, probably because of the reservations of her physicians, no anaesthetic was administered during the birth of her seventh child, Prince Arthur, in 1850. Such reservations had disappeared in 1853 when se gave birth to her eight child, Prince Leopold. John Snow gave her chloroform, but used an open-drop method rather than the inhaler he had earlier invented. Fashionable society in London soon followed the Queen’s lead, and the use of anesthesia began to gain in popularity. Four years later, the Queen had Princess Beatrice, her ninth and final child, also with Dr. John Snow providing chloroform. He again used the open-drop approach, likely at her or her physician’s request. There is an entire web site hosted by UCLA and dedicated to the work and career John Snow.Return to March 15th

Return to March 30th

Halton Christian Arp

The American astronomer who is noted for challenging the theory that red shifts of quasars indicate their great distance. (Doppler red shift is the displacement of the lines in the spectra of certain galaxies towards the red end of the visible spectrum and is taken as an indication that the Universe is expanding. Gravitational or Einstein red shift, on the other hand is caused by the presence of a high gravitational field.) Arp is one of the key figures in the contemporary debate on the origin and evolution of galaxies in the universe. His landmark compilation of peculiar galaxies led him to challenge the fundamental assumption of modern cosmology, that red shift is a uniform indicator of distance. Astronomers have debated Arp’s assertion that quasars are related to peculiar galaxies since the late 1960’s. Most astronomers believe that quasars are unrelated to the peculiar galaxies. Yet, no one has been able to explain why the quasars seem to be more numerous around the peculiar galaxies.Return to This Day in History

Artificial Insemination

Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov was a Soviet biologist who developed a method of artificially inseminating domestic animals. The Italian biologist Spallanzani had shown that it was possible, but Ivanov developed the practical procedure. By 1901 he had founded a centre for the artificial insemination of horses and in the period 1908-17 about 8,000 mares were treated by his method. By 1932 the practice had been extended to farm animals and by this date artificial insemination had been used on 180,000 mares, 385,000 cows and 1,615,000 ewes.Return to This Day in History

Joseph Aspdin

Aspdin was an English pioneer in the development of the cement industry. The eldest son of a bricklayer, he became interested in making advanced cements for rendering brickwork. On 21 Oct 1824, he patented Portland Cement. This is a calcined mixture of limestone, clay and water and he gave it this name because he thought its colour resembled Portland Stone. He established his first cement works at Kirkgate in Wakefield (1825-38) and established a new works there in 1843. He retired the following year, and the business was taken over by his elder son, James. His younger son had already set up his own business in Rotherhithe, London (1841) where he manufactured an improved cement. Brunel used William Aspdin’s cement in his Thames railway tunnel because of its greater strength.Return to This Day in History


John Aubrey, English Antiquary and author (1626-97) studied Law but was never called to the Bar. In 1652 he succeeded to estates in Wiltshire, Herefordshire and Wales but was forced, through lawsuits, to part with all of them by 1670. His books followed in 1677. He lived the remainder of his life in danger of “arrests” but was prote4cted by Hobbes, Ashmole and others. He collected a large mass of folklore but only his Miscellanies was published in his lifetime. His best known work, Brief Lives was not published until 1813. He investigated Stonehenge and was the first antiquarian to make the unfortunate and erroneous claim that it was a Druid temple. The series of postholes from an early phase of the monument are named for him (Aubrey holes).Return to This Day in History