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Historical Anecdotes: F

Historical Anecdotes: F
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: F

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
[A][B][C][D][E][G][H][I][J][K][L][M][N][O][P][Q][R][S][T][U][V][W][X][Y][Z]

Comtesse de La Fayette

Marie Madeleine Pioche de la Vergne, Comtesse de La Fayette (1634-1693) was a French novelist and reformer of the French Romance genre. Her salons were frequented by Moliere, Boileau, and other important literary figures of the time and she played a leading part at the French Court right up to her death. When she was thirty-three she formed a liaison with the writer La Rochefoucauld who opposed Richelieu. This lasted until his death in 1680. Her novels are Zaide (1670) and the masterpiece La Princesse de Cleves(1678) which is a study of the conflict between love and marriage in the court-life of her time. Her precise style brought about a reaction against the long-windedness of the traditional Romance style of writing.
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Fire Escapes

On April 8th 1766, the first patent for a fire escape was granted to the London watchmaker David Marie. His device consisted of a wicker basket on a pulley and with a strong chain to support the basket and its occupants. In 1879, also on the 8th of April, a fire escape ladder was patented by the American inventor, J R Winters in New York.
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Fire-proof safe

Fire-proof safe In 1833, the first U.S. patent for a fireproof safe was issued to Charles A. Gaylor of New York City, as a “fire-proof iron chest” . He called his product the Salamander Safe. It was constructed from two chests, one within the other, with a space between to “inclose air of any non-conductor of heat”. He derived this name from the salamander, a mythical animal supposed to have had the power to endure fire without harm.
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Food Preservation

Nicolas Appert (1750-1841) was a French chef, confectioner, and distiller who invented the method of preserving food by enclosing it in hermetically sealed containers. Inspired by the French Directory’s offer of a prize for a way to conserve food for transport, Appert began a 14-year period of experimentation in 1795. Using corked-glass containers reinforced with wire and sealing wax and kept in boiling water for varying lengths of time, he preserved soups, fruits, vegetables, juices, dairy products, marmalades, jellies, and syrups.
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Joseph Fourier

Joseph Fourier displayed an early interest in mathematics but, in 1787, he decided to train for the priesthood and entered the Benedictine abbey of St Benoit-sur-Loire. His interest in mathematics continued, however, and he corresponded with C L Bonard, the professor of mathematics at Auxerre. Fourier was unsure if he was making the right decision in training for the priesthood, his letters to Bonard suggesting that he really wanted to make a major impact in mathematics. Deciding against the priesthood he left St Benoit in 1789, and read a paper on algebraic equations at the Académie Royale des Sciences in Paris. In 1793 he became involved in politics and joined the local Revolutionary Committee in Auxerre, where he held a teaching post. However, he was unhappy about the Terror which resulted from the French Revolution and he attempted to resign from the committee but found that this was impossible. In July 1794 he was arrested, imprisoned faced the guillotine. However, the political changes that followed the execution of Robespierre saw him released.

In January 1795 he resumed his mathematical studies at the newly instituted Ecole Normale in Paris. This institution had been set up for training teachers and it was intended to serve as a model for other teacher-training schools. He was appointed to a teaching post at the Ecole Centrale des Travaux Publiques but was again arrested on the earlier charges and again imprisoned. By September 1st 1795, following pleas by his pupils and some of France’s most eminent mathematicians and yet another change in ten political climate, he was back at the school, now renamed the Ecole Polytechnique. In 1797 he was appointed to the chair of analysis and mechanics. He was renowned as an outstanding lecturer but he does not appear to have undertaken original research during this time and in 1798 he joined Napoleon’s army as scientific adviser during the initially successful invasion of Egypt. However, on 1 August 1798 the French fleet was completely destroyed by Nelson in the Battle of the Nile, so that Napoleon found himself confined to the land that he was occupying. Fourier acted as an administrator as French type political institutions and administration was set up. In particular he helped establish educational facilities in Egypt and carried out archaeological explorations. While in Cairo Fourier helped found the Cairo Institute and was elected secretary to the Institute, a position he continued to hold during the entire French occupation of Egypt. Fourier was also put in charge of collating the scientific and literary discoveries made during the time in Egypt.

Napoleon abandoned his army and returned to Paris in 1799 where he soonmanaged to take absolute power in France. Fourier returned to France in 1801 with the remains of the expeditionary force and resumed his post as Professor of Analysis at the Ecole Polytechnique. However Napoleon appointed him Prefect of the Department of Isere and despatched the unhappy Fourier to Grenoble. His two greatest achievements in this administrative position was overseeing the operation to drain the swamps of Bourgoin and the construction of a new highway from Grenoble to Turin. He also spent much time working on the Description of Egypt which was not completed until 1810 when Napoleon insisted on changes in the text, rewriting history in places, before allowing publication. It was during his time in Grenoble that Fourier did his important mathematical work on the theory of heat. He began work on the topic began around 1804 and by 1807 he had completed his important memoir On the Propagation of Heat in Solid Bodies. The memoir was read to the Paris Institute on 21 December 1807 and a committee of eminent scientists was set up to report on the work. This memoir is now regarded as an important contribution to scientific thought but at the time it caused controversy. Finally, in 1811, the Paris Institute awarded the mathematics prize to Fourier for this work and his further on cooling of solids and terrestrial and radiant heat. The awarding committee was not entirely happy, mainly because they distrusted his expansions of functions as trigonometrical series. These are what we now call Fourier Series and are essential for complete description of many scientific processes.

Fourier’s political adventures were far from over. When Napoleon was defeated and on his way to exile in Elba, his route should have been through Grenoble. Fourier managed to avoid this difficult confrontation by sending word that it would be dangerous for Napoleon to go there. When he learnt of Napoleon’s escape from Elba and that he was marching towards Grenoble with an army, Fourier was extremely worried. He tried to persuade the people of Grenoble to oppose Napoleon and give their allegiance to the King. However as Napoleon marched into the town Fourier left in haste much to Napoleon’s anger but they were soon reconciled and Fourier was appointed Prefect of the Rhone. When he received orders that he was to remove all administrators with royalist sympathies, however, he resigned and returned to Paris after the defeat of Napoleon in 1815. Fourier was elected to the Académie des Sciences in 1817 and became Secretary to the mathematical section of the Académie in 1822. During his last years in Paris he resumed his mathematical researches and published a number of papers, some in pure mathematics and others on applied mathematical topics but his theory of heat still provoked controversy. After his death, Fourier’s work provided the impetus for later work on trigonometric series and the theory of functions of a real variable and he is now regarded as having made substantial contributions to the development of both physics and mathematics.

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