Historical Anecdotes Story Of London

Historical Anecdotes: S

Historical Anecdotes: S
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: S

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

Sad Iron

Mrs Potts’ Trade Card

In 1871, Mary Florence Potts of Ottumwa, Iowa patented the “Mrs. Potts’ sad iron. This was a detachable handle for the then used pressing irons. It enabled a person to heat a number of iron bodies on a stove, using each in turn with one handle. It was widely manufactured and licensed in the U.S. and Europe with advertising featuring her picture. The body of the iron was cast hollow and was later filled with an insulating material, such as plaster of Paris, cement or clay. Mrs. Potts claimed in her patent that this material held the heat longer so that more garments could be ironed without reheating the iron. Three irons, one handle and one stand were sold as a set. This is now a collector’s item. Return to This Day in History

Safety pin

In 1849, the first U.S. patent for a safety pin was issued to Walter Hunt of New York City. Desperately short of cash, he came up wit the idea and within the space of three hours had made a model. When the patent was granted he immediately sold the rights for $400. However, other forms of safety pin existed prior to this patent. On the following 12th of October, a safety pin was independently patented by the Englishman Charles Rowley, who was unaware of Hunt’s patent.Return to This Day in History


John Montague, 4th Earl of Sandwich (1718-1792) was a British politician, inventor and explorer. Capain Cook named the Sandwich Islands – now Hawaii – for him. As first lord of the admiralty (1771-82) during the American Revolution, he was held responsible for the navy’s disastrous unpreparedness for war. He died at the battle of Solebay, during the third Anglo-Dutch war when his ship was set on fire by Dutch fireships and eventually sank. He is, however, best remembered as the inventor of the “sandwich”. A complete folklore has built up around this but the facts are relatively straightforward. Montagu, in common with many others of his time, was an inveterate gambler and frequented the gaming house of London for long hours at a stretch. He was known in the Gaming Houses as Jemmy Twitcher. Rather than leave the gaming table to eat he had the waiters bring him a piece of meat between two slices of toasted bread to sustain him until the gaming was done. The first occurrence of this time-saving device is noted for 1762. His taste for excitement extended to other areas. He was a member of the secret society founded by Sir Francis Dashwood and known as the Kinghts of St Francis of Wycombe. The group became known as the Mad Monks of Medmenham on account of their obscene cavortings in the ruins of Medmenham Abbey in Buckinghamshire.Return to This Day in History


Alfred Mosher Butts was an American architect, artist and photographer, who invented the board game Scrabble. He carefully analyzed how often each letter is used and this allowed him to determine the “points value” of each. His original game was based on the crossword puzzle and anagrams and originally called Criss Cross. It was launched in 1931 on a hand drawn board and with letters glued onto balsa wood tiles. It was renamed as Scrabble, and marketed by James Brunot in 1948.Return to This Day in History

William Scoresby

Was an English explorer, scientist and clergyman, born in Whitby, North Yorkshire. He pioneered scientific study in the Arctic and contributed to the knowledge of terrestrial magnetism. Following the advice of Sir Joseph Banks of the Royal Society in London, Scoresby recorded all the natural phenomena that he witnessed on his Arctic voyages. This was the first time that such detailed observations had been made and his drawings and paintings recorded whaling incidents, animals and plants never before seen by Europeans. He drew snowflakes from observations under the microscope, showing for the first time, the hexagonal shapes that have become familiar as a result of his work. He also realized that the colours of the Arctic Sea were due to the presence of plankton. Drawing on his study of terrestrial magnetism, he made improvements to the standard Admiralty compass and eventually all Royal Navy ships were fitted with Scoresby compasses.Return to This Day in History

Thomas Seymour

Thomas, Lord Seymour of Sudeley, (1508-49) was a member of the historic and ambitious Seymour family which originally came from St Maur in Normandy, from which the name is derived. They obtained lands in Monmouthshire in the 13th century and in the 14th ,thorough marriage to an heiress, at Hatch Beauchamp, in Somersetshire. His sister was Jane Seymour, third wife to Henry VIII and mother of Edward VI. After Henry’s death his elder brother, Edward Duke of Somerset, became Lord Protector during Edward’s minority. In 1547, Thomas was appointed high admiral of England and married Henry’s widow Katharine Parr. During that marriage the Princess Elizabeth lived with them for a time and there were rumours of a dalliance, although nothing was proven. He schemed against his brother in attempting to marry Edward VI to their cousin Lady Jane Grey. After the death of his wife he attempted to marry Elizabeth. This was too good an excuse for Somerset to pass up and he had him committed to the Tower for treason. He was executed on March 20th 1549.Return to This Day in History

Sir William Napier Shaw

Napier Shaw (1854 – 1945) was an English meteorologist whose introduction of the millibar, a unit of measurement of air pressure, and the tephigram, a graph of temperature changes, made a fundamental contribution to the development of modern meteorology.Return to This Day in History


Henry Shrapnel (1761-1842) was an English army officer who invented the shrapnel shell. In 1784, then an obscure lieutenant in the artillery, he began experiments, on his own time and at his own expense, on an antipersonnel weapon that consisted of a hollow spherical projectile filled with shot and an explosive charge and designed to scatter the shot and shell fragments in midair. It was not until 1803, after years of experiment and refinement, that the device was adopted by the Army authorities. Known as the Shrapnel Shell, it was first used in battle in 1804 when the British Fleet seized Surninam from the Dutch.

An early champion was the Duke of Wellington who used it in 1808 and again at the Battle of Waterloo. The Shell contained smallshot or spherical bullets, usually of lead, along with an explosive charge to scatter the shot and the shattered fragments of the shell casing. Each projectile was effectively a shotgun which was fired by means of the time fuse. The result was a cone of bullets which swept an area generally much larger than the area made dangerous by the burst of a high explosive shell of the same calibre. During the Second World War, it was found that the explosive charge fragmented the casing of the Shrapnel shell so effectively that the use of the shrapnel balls was unnecessary. Since then, shrapnel has been used to refer to the actual shell fragments, as well as to fragments of an explosive bomb or mine.

Shrapnel had spent 28 years and several thousand pounds in perfecting the device. Yet, despite personal letters of praise from Wellington and other field Commanders, the British Authorities decided that he merited no personal financial, or other, reward for the invention.Return to This Day in History

William Smith

Smith (1769-1839) was the English engineer and geologist who developed the science of stratigraphy. This describes the origin, composition, sequence and correlation of geological strata. It forms the basis of historical geology and has practical application in mineral exploration, especially in petroleum industry. Smith’s great geological map of England and Wales (1815) set the style for modern geological maps, and many of the names he applied to the strata are still in use today.Return to This Day in History

Solvay Process

Ernest Solvay (1838-1922) was a Belgian industrial chemist who invented what is now called the Solvay Process 1863. This was the first commercially viable ammonia-soda process for producing soda ash (sodium carbonate) from the bicarbonate. Sodium carbonate is widely used in textile treatment, photography, cleaning, the manufacture of products such as glass and soap and as a food additative. Although A.J. Fresnel had shown in 1811 that sodium bicarbonate could be precipitated from a salt solution containing ammonium bicarbonate, many engineering obstacles had to be overcome. Solvay’s successful design involved an 80 foot tall, high-efficiency, carbonating tower in which ammoniated brine trickled down from above and carbon dioxide rose from the bottom. Plates and bubble caps helped create a larger surface over which the two could react to form the sodium bicarbonate.Return to This Day in History


In 1841, the first U.S. patent for starch processing (No. 2000) was granted to Orlando Jones of City Road, Middlesex, England. Traditionally, corn was steeped in water for several weeks to separate the starch by a fermentation process, but this had a rather limited yield. Jones’ patent described a process which extracted starch from rice and which shortened the production time, increased the yield, and left by-products in a condition suitable for further uses. A hundred pounds of rice were macerated for up to 24 hours in fifty gallons of a caustic alkali solution, which contained about 200 grains of real soda or potash to the gallon. The rice was then washed, drained, milled, sieved, further macerated and settled, yielding a deposit of starch which was drained, washed and dried. The process was later applied to corn. (Corn starch is now used in deodorants, to heal nappy (diaper) rash, and to thicken gravy).Return to This Day in History


William Symington was a British engineer who, in 1801, developed a successful steam-driven paddle wheel. He used it the following year to propel one of the first practical steamboats. This was the Charlotte Dundas which was commissioned by Lord Dundas and designed for the Forth and Clyde canal. Symington used a piston rod coupled to a crankshaft by a connecting rod, a simple design that went on to become standard for steam ships. The 56-ftCharlotte Dundas successfully underwent trials on the canal and was capable of towing two barges of 70 tons along a 19.5mile stretch of the canal. However, she was abandoned shortly afterwards at the canal company’s Tophill depot at Camelon near Falkirk, because of concern that the wake from her stern paddle wheel would damage the canal bank.Return to This Day in History

Steam turbine

Charles Gordon Curtis (1860-1953) was the U.S. inventor who devised the steam turbine that is widely used in electric power plants and for marine propulsion. He was a patent lawyer for eight years during which career he patented the first U.S. gas turbine in 1899. He patented the Curtis multiple-stage steam turbine in 1896 and sold the rights to General Electric in 1901. The Curtis generator was the most powerful steam turbine in the world and represented a significant advance in the capacity of steam turbines. It required one tenth of space required by the pumps it replaced and was considerably lighter. Its efficiency rating was also extremely high, delivering a high power output but costing much less than contemporary reciprocating steam engine-driven generators of the same output.Return to This Day in History


Stenotype In 1876, the stenotype was patented by John C. Zachos of New York City. This was the first U.S. patent for a device which printed legible text in the English alphabet at a high reporting speed, a process he called a “typewriter and phonotypic notation”. The type was fixed on eighteen shuttle bars, two or more of which could be simultaneously placed in position. The impression was given by a plunger common to all bars. He called his new system of shorthand “stenophonotypy”Return to This Day in History


A sunspot is a dark patch on the sun’s visible surface (photosphere). It is caused by a localised fall in temperature to about 4,000 degrees Kelvin. (4,273 degrees Celsius). Most spots have a central dark spot (umbra) surrounded by a lighter penumbra. Most spots occur in clusters and last for approximately two weeks. The number of sunspots which are visible fluctuates over an eleven-year cycle – known as the sunspot cycle. The precise cause of the drop in temperature is not known but is thought to result from the presence of intense localised magnetic fields which interfere with the convection currents which bring hot gases to the photosphere. In 1947, the largest sunspot group recorded was observed on the sun’s southern hemisphere. Its size was estimated at 7 billion square miles, or an area of 6100 millionths of the Sun’s visible hemisphere.Return to This Day in History

Supermarket Trolley

In 1937, the first supermarket trollies (shopping carts) were introduced at the Humpty Dumpty supermarket in Oklahoma City. They were invented by the supermarket owner Sylvan Goldman. With the aid of a mechanic, Fred Young, Goldman designed the first shopping cart based on the folding chair. Wheels were placed where the bottoms of the chair legs were. In place of the chair seat, Young and Goldman, stacked two metal baskets on top of each other. This cart could be stored by folding it up like a folding chair. In 1947, Goldman made a big improvement in the design with carts that could be stored by simply nesting one cart into another – the basic design is still in use today.Return to This Day in History


The term Syzygy is used to describe the situation that occurs when the sun, the moon (or a planet) and the earth are in a straight line. This occurs when the sun and the moon (or a planet) are either in conjunction (on the same longitude as seen from the earth) or in opposition (on the opposite sides of the earth). On March 10th 1982 a Grand Syzygy occurred when all nine planets were aligned on the same side of the Sun. The planets are spread out over 98 degrees on this date. The four major planets, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, span an arc of some 73 degrees.Return to This Day in History