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Historical Anecdotes: M

Historical Anecdotes: M
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: M

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

Mass production

Eli Terry (1772-1852) was an American clockmaker who was the first to practice mass production. In 1793, Terry began making clocks in Plymouth, Connecticut and received the first clock patent issued in the U.S. In 1802, he developed wooden geared clocks, using the ideas of Eli Whitney’s new armory practice. He produced interchangeable gears that allowed the mass production of inexpensive household clocks. When the clocks didn’t sell, he introduced a new selling technique by becoming the first retailer to offer merchandise on a free-trial, no-money-down basis. Over the following years, Terry developed ways to produce wooden clock works by machine rather than by hand thus massively increasing the production rate. He is to clocks in the United States what Henry Ford is to automobiles.
Chauncey Jerome (1793-1868) was another American clockmaker whose products enjoyed widespread popularity in the mid-19th century. About 1838 he invented the one-day brass movement, which represented a marked improvement on the wood clock mechanism. Applying the mass-production techniques of Eli Whitney, Jerome flooded the United States with low-priced brass clocks. His clocks quickly spread to Europe. In the 1850s he became associated with unethical businessmen, and his company failed. He died in poverty in 1868.Return to March 13th

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Friction Match

In 1827, John Walker, a pharmacist who had a chemist’s chop at 59 High Street, Stockton-on-Tees, Co. Durham recorded his first sale of the friction matches he had invented the previous year. As is often the case, the humble match which we take so much for granted was discovered by accident. Walker had been experimenting with mixtures of chemicals trying to produce a readily combustible material for fowling-pieces. He used a wooden stick to stir a mixture of antimony and potash and when he scraped the end of it on the stone floor to remove a blob it ignited. The earliest recorded purchaser was a Mr Hixon, a solicitor in Stockton. On April 7th 1827, he bought 100 matches for one shilling and paid an additional 2d for the tin tube in which they were packed. The matches were originally made of cardboard but he soon moved to flat wooden splints. These were hand cut by the inmates of the Stockton almshouses.

He soon replaced the tube with a pasteboard box. This was supplied by a local bookbinder, John Ellis, who was charged a pennyha’penny for each box. A strip of sandpaper for striking the matches was included in each box. Walker enlisted the boys of the local grammar schools as another source of cheap labour to cut his matchsticks. He paid them a sixpence for every 100 sticks. One enterprising boy had the bright idea of going into mass production by using a jack-plane to cut the sticks. This indeed increase productivity sharply but the resulting sticks curved and would not lie flat in Walker’s box. Annoyed, Walker rather unfairly took it out on the boys and stopped employing them.

Walker never patented the invention and his sales were mostly to local people as a sideline to his pharmacy business. However, their fame spread beyond Stockton and other pharmacists began to manufacture friction matches themselves. The Safety Match was invented in Sweden in 1855 by Johan Edvard Lundstrom in Jonkoping. On the 15th of August that year, Francis May, of Bryant and May, acquired the British rights to the Lundstrom process.

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Joseph Carey Merrick

In 1885, a medical report of the deformities of Joseph Carey Merrick was presented to the Pathological Society of London by Dr. Frederick Treves. After a brief career as a professional “freak,” Merrick became the best-known resident patient of the London Hospital where he lived from 1886 until his death in 1890. Merrick, known as the “Elephant Man,” had a head that had become enormous – three feet in circumference- with large bags of brownish spongy skin hanging from the back of his head and across his face. His deformed jaws limited his speech to a splutter which was difficult to understand, and he was utterly unable to show facial expression. Modern researchers have identified his condition as an example of an extremely rare disease known as the Proteus syndrome.
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Metric System

In 1795, France adopted by law, the metre as the unit of length and this became the base of the metric system which we use today. Since there had been no uniformity of French weights and measures prior to the Revolution, the French Academy of Sciences was charged on 8 May 1790 to organise a better system. Delambre and Méchain measured the length of the arc of the Greenwich meridian which lies between Dunkirk to Barcelona. This then allowed them to define the metre as one ten-millionth part of the distance between either of the the poles and the equator.

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Microscope

In 1625, the word microscope was coined as a suggested term in a letter written on April 13th of that year by Johannes Faber of Bamberg, Germany, to Federigo Cesi, Duke of Aquasparata. Cesi was the founder of Italy’s Accademia dei Lincei [Academy of the Lynx], possibly the world’s first scientific society that took its name after the animal noted for its exceptional vision.
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Milk Bottles

The first successful milk bottles were introduced in New York on April 8th 1879 by the Echo Farms Dairy Company. In Britain, George Barham of the Express Dairy devised a bottle with a wired-on cap but this was not a success. Arthur Hailwood, a North Country dairyman, had more success three year later. He exhibited bottles of “filtered” and “medicated” milk at the Jubilee Exhibition in Manchester in 1877. He went on to market sterilised milk in swing-stoppered bottles in 1894. In 1906, Ernest Lane of the Manor Farm Dairy in East Finchley introduced pasteurised fresh milk in bottles, again with swing-stoppered caps. The aluminium-foil cap was invented in 1914 by Josef Jonsson of Linkoping in Sweden and first appeared in Britain in 1929.
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Dayton Miller

Dayton Clarence Miller was an American physicist and author of The Science of Musical Sounds (1916). His collection of nearly 1,650 flutes and other instruments, and other materials mostly related to the flute, is now at the Library of Congress. To provide a mechanical means of recording sound waves photographically, he invented the phonodeik (1908). During World War I, he was consulted about the possibility of using the phonodeik to help locate enemy guns. He also became expert in architectural acoustics.

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Robert Andrews Millikan

Robert Andrews Millikan was an American physicist who was honoured with the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1923 for his study of the elementary electronic charge and the photoelectric effect. He was the first to measure the charge on a single electron. To do this he used the now famous oil-drop experiment in 1911. In this, single oil drops were introduced into a chamber of air which was surrounded by an electric field. By bombarding the sealed chamber with x-rays, the molecules of the air were broken up into single charged ions. Individual oil drops attached themselves to these ions acquiring their charge and effectively making the ions visible to a telescope. By manipulating the electric field the charged drops could be made to move up or down according as the charge was positive or negative. The rate at which they moved would be proportional to the number of charges (ions) they had acquired. By comparing the rate of movement in the electric field and the (constant) rate of fall under the influence of gravity alone for drops with different numbers of charge, Millikan was able to calculate the value of a single (unit) electric charge. This was also the charge of the electron. He also coined the term “cosmic rays” during his study of the radiation from outer space.
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Monopoly

On march 7th In 1933, the game “Monopoly” was created and trademarked by Charles Darrow in Atlantic City. It was preceded by other real estate games. The first, called “The Landlord’s Game,” was invented by Lizzie Magie of Virginia (patented 1904). In it, players rented properties, paid utilities and avoided “Jail” as they moved through the board. Darrow set about creating his own version, modeled on his favorite resort, Atlantic City. He made numerous innovations for his game, which had a circular, cloth board. He color-coded the properties and deeds for them, allowing them to be bought, not just rented. The playing pieces were modeled on items from around his house. It was mass marketed by Parker Brothers in 1935.
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