Historical Anecdotes Story Of London

Historical Anecdotes: C

Historical Anecdotes: C
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 Anecdotess: C

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 10th 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


In 1950, a new radioactive element, atomic number 98 and named “californium” was announced by scientists at the University of California at Berkeley. This is a synthetic chemical element of the actinide series of the periodic table with the isotope californium-245. It was produced by bombarding curium-242 (atomic number 96) with helium-ions in the 60-inch cyclotron. Since then, longer lived isotopes have been created, including californium-251 with an 800-year half-life. Microgram quantities of compounds such as the oxychloride CfOCl, the oxide Cf2O3, and the trichloride CfCl3 have also been produced. Another isotope, californium-252, with a half-life of 2.65-years, has industrial and medical applications as a very intense point source of neutrons.Return to This Day in History

John Canton

Canton (1718-72) was a British physicist and teacher. After educating himself in science, he developed a new method of preparing powerful artificial magnets and was elected a Member of the Royal Society in 1749. In July 1752, he was the first Englishman to repeat French experiments which verified Benjamin Franklin’s hypothesis that lightning was just a huge electric spark. Following this, he studied the polarity of the charge on a cloud. He invented a portable electroscope to detect charge present in a system, and he remains well-known for electrostatic induction experiments. In 1762, Canton also proved that water is slightly compressible. Noting compass needle irregularities during a prominent aurora borealis he made the first observations of magnetic storms between 1756 and 1759.Return to This Day in History

Carpet Sweeper

The American inventor of the carpet sweeper, Melville Bissell, and his wife Anna, owned a crockery shop in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She suffered from asthma and the dust from the packing around the crockery was affecting her health. To ease the situation, and, it seems, in some desperation, Bissell invented a device to keep the shop floor dust-free. He patented it as a carpet sweeper on September 19th 1876.

The couple were not slow to recognise the commercial possibilities of the sweeper and set up an assembly room above the shop. The inner mechanism and the cases were made by women working at homes. Tufts of hog bristles were bound with string, dipped in hot pitch, inserted in brush rollers and trimmed them with scissors. Anna Bissell collected the parts from the women’s homes and brought them back to the store, in clothes baskets, for assembly. After Melville’s death on March 15th 1889, she managed and developed the business on her own.Return to This Day in History

Mount Cenis

Germaine Sommeiller was the French engineer who built the Mount Cenis (Fréjus) Tunnel (1857-70). This tunnel through the Alps was the world’s first important mountain tunnel. It is an 8 miles long double track railway tunnel under Mont Cenis and was built to unite Italian Savoy (north of the mountains) through Switzerland with the rest of Italy to the south. It is more than double the length of any previous tunnel ever built. In 1861, after three years of tedious hand-boring eight inches a day into the Alpine rock face, Sommeiller introduced the first industrial-scale pneumatics for tunnel digging. He built a special reservoir, high above the tunnel entrance, to produce a head of water that compressed air (to 6 atmospheres) for pneumatic drills, which able to dig up to 20 times faster. On the morning following Christmas-day 1870, the following telegram was received in London:The working parties in the opposite headings of the Mount Cenis Tunnel are within hearing distance of each other. Greetings and hurrahs were exchanged through the dividing width of rock for the first time at a quarter past four o’clock on Christmas afternoon.Return to This Day in History


Count (Louis-Marie-) Hilaire Bernigaud Chardonnet died on March 12th 1924. He was a French chemist and industrialist who pioneered the development and manufacture rayon, the first commonly used artificial fibre. When he displayed it at the Paris Exposition of 1891, where he called it Chardonnet silk, he caused an out and out sensation.Return to This Day in History


European society first heard of Cholera in 1817 in reports from travelers returned from the India. The disease, naturally, followed these and traders along the paths of traditional Muslim commerce and by the late 1820’s, aided by the increasing rail and steamship travel, it migrated beyond its normal territory. It reached Moscow in 1831 and western Europe by the winter of 1831-32, hitting the Americas in the spring of 1832. During the 1830s it raged through the cities of Europe. The hardest hit were the malnourished poor crowded into the slum areas so that many believed theories suggesting that environmental and moral factors predisposed the poor and improvident to the disease rather than the clean, godly and prudent.

By 1849 John Snow had become convinced that the disease was caused by a water-borne bacterium and, in 1854, began to study the household spread of cases. He devised ‘spot’ maps (probably the first to do so) to chart the local spread of the disease. Using a simple street map he marked every cholera death in the area around the public pump on Broad Street, in London. He then interviewed the families of each new case to determine where they got their drinking and washing water. The pump was strongly implicated by his evidence and on September 7th 1854 he persuaded the city’s aldermen to remove its handle. Using his evidence, the sanitarians of New York brought the 1866 outbreak under swift cntrol by the simple expedients of supplying fresh water to the slums and disinfecting the houses of the victims. There is an entire web site hosted by UCLA and dedicated to the work and career John Snow.Return to This Day in History

Chondrite Meteorite

In 1806, a chondrite meteorite, one which carries carbon-based, organic chemicals, was unequivocally identified for the first time. Its arrival on earth was noted at 5:30 pm, outside Alais, France on March 15th. The organic chemicals it carried suggested the possibility of life,, on whatever body was the source, somewhere in the universe.Return to This Day in History

Circulation of the Blood

William Harvey (1578-1657) was the English physician discovered the true nature of the circulation of the blood and of the function of the heart as a pump. Functional knowledge of the heart and the circulation had remained almost at a standstill ever since the time of the Greco-Roman physician Galen (130-201). Harvey’s precise methods were to set the pattern for research in biology and other sciences for succeeding generations. Today he shares with his fellow Englishman William Gilbert (1540 –1602), who made fundamental research into magnetism, the credit for initiating accurate experimental research throughout the world.Return to This Day in History


Johann Christoph Denner (1655-1707) was the German maker of musical instruments who invented the clarinet. He accomplished this in the late 1600s by making improvements to the chalumeau the first true single reed instrument. He and his son Jacob are also credited with introducing the innovating speaker key. This is an extra key now fitted to a reed instrument to facilitate the production of harmonic notes. It was designed to facilitate the technique known as overblowing. In this, wind instruments are played in such a way that the upper harmonics are produced instead of the fundamental notes and is much more common with brass instruments. On the clarinet, overblowing occurs at the twelfth harmonic whereas the other woodwind instruments overblow at the octave (eighth harmonic). In short, it has far more overtones than the others and this is a major factor in its unique sound. The addition of the speaker key, however, causes the overblow on the clarinet to sound as a true G, which is the interval of a twelfth. This difference between the clarinet and the other woodwinds is due to the fact that the clarinet as a cylindrical bore where all the others have a conical bore. It had become established as a regular member of the orchestra by the middle of the eighteenth century.Return to This Day in History

Christopher Clavius

Christopher Clavius (1537-1612) entered the Jesuit Order in 1555 and obtained his education within the Order. After attending the University of Coimbra in Portugal,moved to Italy and studied theology at the Jesuit Collegio Romano in Rome. He remained at the Collegio Romano were he was Professor of mathematics for the rest of his life visiting Naples in 1596 and Spain the following year. He became interested in the problems of the calendar and was appointed by Pope Gregory XIII to his Commission on the Calendar. The Calendar then in use was that introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BCE. However, the leap-year rule created 3 leap years too many in every period of 385 years. As a result, the actual occurrence of the equinoxes and solstices slowly moved away from their calendar dates. Since the date of the spring equinox determines the date of Easter this was causing serious problems for the Church.

Clavius proposed introducing a new calendar in October 1582. To bring the dates of the equinoxes back into line eleven days would have to be lost. He therefore made the proposal that Wednesday, Oct. 4, 1582 should be followed by Thursday, Oct. 15, 1582. He also proposed that leap years occur in years exactly divisible by four, except that years ending in 00 must be divisible by 400 to be leap years. Gregory accepted the recommendationsand today we still use this, Gregorian, calendar. It is so accurate that no further reform of the calendar will be necessary for many centuries. It was adopted in much of Europe in 1582 but was not accepted in Britain and her colonies (including America) until September 2nd 1752. Sweden adopted it the following year but Russia and the Balkan states waited until the early 20th century. Japan adopted it in 1873 and it was introduced in China in 1912 but did not become established there until after 1949.

Although Clavius produced little new mathematics of his own, he did more than any other German scholar of the 16th Century to promote a knowledge of mathematics. He was the first mathematician to use the decimal point. He also produced a number of instruments including one to measure fractions of angles sundials and a quadrant for use in surveying.Return to This Day in History


Georg Brandt (1694-1768) was a Swedish chemist and the first person to discover a metal unknown in ancient times. This is cobalt which he isolated and named in 1730. In 1733 he published findings on the composition and solubility of arsenic compounds then researched antimony, bismuth, mercury, and zinc. His work on methods of producing hydrochloric, nitric, and sulfuric acids was published in 1741 and 1743. One of the first chemists to completely forswear alchemy, he devoted his later years to exposing fraudulent alchemical processes for producing gold. Ancient Egyptians used tiny amounts of cobalt to make their glass blue. Cobalt is added to steel to make it harder and gives it a higher melting point. Traces of it are found in meat and dairy products as vitamin B-12.Return to This Day in History

Coca Cola

the intellectual and temperance drink and claimed that it cured, hangovers, headaches and dyspepsia. It probably did since “coca” element in its name refers to one of its main ingredients – cocaine, the alkaloid drug derived from the dried leaves of the coca plant Erythroxylon coca and which causes temporary elation and hallucinations. In 1891, Pemberton sold the rights of the drink to the Atlanta pharmacist Asa Briggs Candler who registered the name as a Trade-mark in 1893. It was normally sold to drug stores as a syrup to which carbonated water was added but in 1894 Joseph Biedenham of Vicksburg, Mississipi, was licensed to bottle the drink for the first time. Thereafter it saw a steady rise in popularity. The coca plant extract remained a principal ingredient until 1905 after Congress had banned cocaine. The company made some changes to the original recipe and replaced the concaine with caffeine.Return to March 12th

Return to March 29thReturn to May 8th

Cold fusion

In 1989, two Utah scientists claimed at a press conference that hey have produced nuclear fusion at room temperature. Martin Fleischmann and Stan Pons described an experiment in which they performed electrolysis on heavy water (deuterium-oxide, D2O) with a Palladium (Pd) cathode They were attempting to absorb the deuterium onto the Pd metal and thus initiate nuclear fusion reactions. They claimed to have observed of neutrons, gamma rays, and heat production in a bench-top device, with up to several times more heat energy coming out than the energy put in for electrolysis. Dr. Steve Jones of Brigham Young University made a joint announcement of neutron observation from a similar, but independent experiment of his own design.

The prospect that energy producing nuclear fusion could be achieved in test tube experiments costing a few thousand dollars (while traditional fusion researchers still struggled with huge sophisticated machines costing hundreds of millions of dollars) was astonishing. Scientists across the world immediately began trying to repeat the experiment and replicate the results. Many of the replication attempts failed, and the original work was called into question. Dr. Jones retracted his neutron measurements, as did Pons and Fleishmann. Their gamma ray observations were also shown to be questionable, though they maintained their claim of heat production. Most scientists abandoned the effort, dismissing it as experimental errors, and moreover noting that cold fusion was impossible according to standard atomic theory. Pons and Fleishmann resigned their university posts, and moved to a Japanese-funded lab in France to continue their work in secrecy, free from further harassment.

However, the edition of the prestigious journal Science which was published on March 8th 2002 carried a report from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory which suggested that cold fusion might indeed be possible. The results of a series of experiments there was not published until it had been extensively reviewed by other scientists for a full twelve months. There are still many sceptics but the world at large awaits…..Return to This Day in History

Cooling process Cooling process

Pierre Prévost (1751-1839) was a Swiss physicist who identified the fact that the effects of heat could be explained in terms of the flow of a single fluid. At the time, the explanation of these effects was based on the model devised by the French chemist Lavoiser (1743-1794). In this model there were the two “imponderable fluids” of cold and caloric. Prévost ‘s insight was the recognition that the cooling process was the loss of heat, not the gain of cold. He deduced that all bodies contained some measure of heat at any temperature, and that heat would flow from a hotter body to a colder body. He also recognised a state of equilibrium for a body that may not be changing its temperature., At equilibrium it would be radiating heat to its surroundings and receiving heat at the same rate from its surroundings. He advanced his interpretation in order to refine the caloric theory but it also remained true when the cooling process was described by the kinetic theory (heat is the energy produced when particles move) developed by Maxwell (1831-1879) seventy years later.Return to This Day in History


In 1860, M L. Byrn of New York was issued a patent for an improved corkscrew – a “covered gimlet screw with a ‘T’ handle”. He claimed that the design would provide greater strength and durability. It could also, he asserted, be manufactured at less cost than earlier construction methods by using a spiral twist of steel wire that gradually tapered from the handle to the point. Byrn claimed the gimlet-type screw with wider threads would also be strong enough to “remove a bung of the hardest wood from a barel or hogshead.”Return to This Day in History

The Corn Laws

The Corn Laws were first introduced in 1689 and were designed to encourage the export and limit the importation of grain when prices fell below a fixed value. It was intended to protect British landowners. The original fixed point was modified in 1828 when a sliding scale of prices was introduced. They were not popular with British business men and an anti-corn law League was formed in Manchester in 1839. This consisted of businessmen and publicists led by John Bright a radical carpet manufacturer and Richard Cobden a cotton printer. They argued forcibly that the Corn Laws increased the costs of industry and waged their campaign but inside and outside parliament. They exploited to the full their opportunities in the Newspapers, public meetings and petitions and the new Penny Post and the final abolition of the system by the Peel administration in 1846 was widely seen as a triumph for middle-class opinion.Return to This Day in History


The first recorded cremation in Britain took place on September 26th 1769 when the body of Honoretta Pratt was burned in her open grave at the burial ground attached to St George’s Hanover Square. The process did not acquire legality until 1884 when a justice of the Crown Court in Cardiff made a landmark ruling. By then, the Cremation Society at Woking, Surrey had built, in 1878, a crematorium which they were prevented from using because of opposition from the Home Office. Following the Cardiff ruling however, they were able to begin operations. The first officially sanctioned cremation took place on March 26th 1885. The name of the subject was withheld but the Times reported that it was “a lady well known in literary and scientific circles”.Return to This Day in History