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Historical Anecdotes: H

Historical Anecdotes: H
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: H

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][F][G][I][J][K][L][M][N][O][P][Q][R][S][T][U][V][W][X][Y][Z]

Thomas Hancock

Hancock (1737-1793) was the English inventor and manufacturer who founded the British rubber industry. His chief invention, the masticator, worked rubber scraps into a shredded mass of rubber that could be formed into blocks or rolled into sheets. He perfected this in 1821 and set up a partnership with the Scottish chemist Charles Macintosh, who had invented a waterproof fabric that was impregnated with rubber and gave his name to the resulting raincoat. Hancock supplied Macintosh from England’s first Rubber Factory which he had established at Goswell Mews, Goswell Street London in 1820. The process of vulcanization was discovered in 1839 independently by Hancock and an American, Charles Goodyear. That made possible a resilient rubber product, and led eventually to the large-scale usage of rubber in bicycle and tyres for the motor car.
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John Harrison

Harrison (1693-1776) was the English horologist who invented the first practical marine chronometer, which enabled navigators to compute accurately their longitude at sea. He was prompted to begin this work after a reward was offered by the British government for new navigational tools to avoid further disasters at sea. As ever, the bureaucratic hoops that he had to pass through and the governments reluctance to pay anything to anyone at all but killed him. It is all brilliantly captured in Dava Sobel’s little book Longitude
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Jean de Hautefeuille

He was French physicist who built a primitive internal-combustion engine which was designed to operate a pump. The piston was pushed back by the explosion of a small charge of gunpowder, and then returned as the combustion gases cooled. This created a partial vacuum. He wrote on many topics, including acoustics, optics, tidal phenomena, and watch mechanisms. He also invented the micrometer microscope to measure the size of minute objects.
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Heliograph

Sir Henry Christopher Mance (1840-1926) was a British scientist and engineer who invented the heliograph This is a signaling device that employs two mirrors to gather sunlight and send it to a prearranged spot as a coded series of short and long flashes. Mance joined the Persian Gulf Telegraph Department of the government of India in 1863 and helped lay the first submarine telegraph cables in the Persian Gulf. He also invented the Mance method of detecting and localizing defects in submarine cables. After his heliograph was successfully used during the second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-80), it was adopted generally by the British army and was widely used in India.Return to This Day in History

John Holland

On March 17th 1898, the first practical submarine was demonstrated by John Holland off Staten Island in New York for 100 minutes. Holland’s submarine was not the first underwater boat, but is credited as the first practical one. He was born in the small village of Liscannor on the coast of County Clare in Ireland in 1841. He joined the Irish Christian Brothers and taught in a number of their schools in Ireland. He first developed an interest in submarines during 1869 whilst teaching in Dundalk and, in 1873 after fifteen years, he left the order and emigrated to the United States.

A year after his arrival in the U.S. he took up a position as a teacher at St. John’s Parochial School in Paterson, NJ. Once again, his thoughts turned to the problems of submarine navigation. His younger brother, Michael, introduced him to members of the Irish Fenian Brotherhood in 1876. The Brotherhood financed the construction of his first three submarines. However, disagreements within the Brotherhood resulted in the theft of the Fenian Ram and the 16-foot model of the craft in November 1883. After this, Holland severed his relationship with the Brotherhood and took a job as a draftsman at Roland’s Iron Works in New York City. The following year, he accepted a position with Army Lieutenant Edmond Zalinski’s Pneumatic Gun Company and Zalinski began promoting the idea of a submarine armed with a pneumatic gun. This led to the construction of the Zalinski boat on the grounds of Fort Lafayette in 1885 and 1886.

In 1888, the United States Navy Department announced an open competition for the design of a submarine torpedo boat that would meet the following specifications:

  • Speed: 15 knots on the surface, 8 knots submerged.
  • Power endurance: 2 hours submerges at 8 knots, provisions for 90 hours.
  • Ease of maneuvering: circle in no greater space than 4 times her length.
  • Stability: assured normal or positive buoyancy at all times.
  • Structural strength: sufficient to withstand pressure at depth of 150 feet.
  • Power of offense: torpedoes with 100-pound charge of gun cotton.

Holland won the competition, but no contract was awarded.

On March 3, 1893, Congress appropriated $200,000 to cover another competition for a submarine torpedo boat. With financial backing from a young lawyer named Elihu B. Frost, The Holland Torpedo Boat Company was formed that spring. assumed the role of secretary treasurer and John Holland became a manager with a salary of $50.00 per month. The rumor was that Holland had won the competition but the Navy Board decided to examine another design before making an official announcement. However, the money to fund construction of a submarine was diverted to other construction projects and construction of Holland’s new vessel, the Plunger was delayed for two years. Eventually Holland became frustrated dealing with the Navy Department and in 1896, got approval from the Holland Torpedo Boat Company to build his sixth submarine as a private venture – free from Navy interference. The Holland VI took shape on the ways of Lewis Nixon’s Crescent Shipyard in Elizabethport New Jersey during 1897 trials began the following March.

The Navy purchased the Holland VI on April 11, 1900 and after many discussions concerning the size of the submarine fleet and what to do with the submarines, the Naval Appropriation Act of 7 June 1900 provided for the construction of five improved Holland boats. These were 53-foot craft propelled by gasoline while on the surface and by electricity when submerged. Construction, by the Electric Boat Company began later that year. Holland went on to design a submarine capable of 22 knots but when he presented this to the Navy, they concluded
“that while the inventor unquestionably could achieve the speeds he claimed for his boat, the dangers inherent in such a swift craft were too great to accept; further, the speed of a vessel running submerged should never exceed six knots because of the difficulties of navigating underwater.”

All attempts by John Holland to re-enter the submarine business were effectively thwarted by the Electric Boat company who filed a suit against him
“applying for an injunction, and claiming substantially that [he] had agreed to assign to them all [his] inventions and patents during the term of [his] natural life.”
They also filed suit to prevent him from using the name “Holland” and alleged that he had entered a verbal contract never to compete with the Electric Boat Company. Holland was beaten and he quietly withdrew from public life. He died from pneumonia on August 12th 1914. The Holland submarine, however served as a blueprint for modern submarine design. By the eve of World War I, Holland and Holland-inspired vessels were a part of large naval fleets throughout the world
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Hubble Space Telescope

In 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope was deployed from the Space Shuttle Discovery into an orbit 381 miles above the Earth. It was the first major orbiting observatory and carryied a 94½ inch primary mirror with several instrument packages and cameras able to record various parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. The name honours the American astronomer, Edwin Powell Hubble who first described the rate at which the universe is expanding. Despite an investment of $1.5 billion dollars, there were initial problems due to a design flaw in the mirror, but a correcting set of optics were installed in December 1993. Overall, the telescope is 43 feet long and 14 feet wide and now provides images with a clarity otherwise impossible due to the effect of the earth’s atmosphere.
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