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Historical Anecdotes T

Historical Anecdotes T
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: T

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][L][M][N][O][P][Q][R][S][U][V][W][X][Y][Z]

Taximeter

In 1907, the first petrol driven motor cabs in London were fitted with a new device called the taximeter. Its purpose was to indicate to both driver and passenger the distance travelled and so avoid arguments about the fares to be paid at the end of a journey. The word derives from French (taxe = price) and Greek (metron = measure). The taximeter was invented by Wilhelm Bruhn in 1891. The taximeter gave the cab its modern name. See London Cabs
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Teflon

In 1938 Roy J. Plunkett, a researcher at Du Pont, and his technician Jack Rebok accidentally discovered the chemical compound polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). Plunkett was researching chemical reactions of the gas perfluoroethylene in order to synthesize new types of refrigerant gases. Rebok found an apparently defective cylinder of this gas. There was no pressure when the valve was opened, even though the weight of the cylinder was the same as that of a full cylinder. Rebok suggested sawing it open to investigate. Inside was a slippery white powder. Plunkett’s analysis found that it had unusual properties – a very effective solid lubricant in powdered form which was chemically inert and had a very high melting point. It had been formed by an unexpected polymerization which they went on to repeat. Du Pont realised the commercial potential and marketed PTFE as Teflon.
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Thames Tunnel

On March 25th 1843, the Thames Tunnel linking Rotherhithe and Wapping was finally opened. Designed by Brunel, work had started in 1825 and cost many lives, more due to the serious pollution of the river than to drowning. Originally intended as a route for vehicular traffic, financial constraints meant that the necessary carriage ramps were not built and it therefore opened as a pedestrian tunnel only. It was the first tunnel to be completed under the Thames and was 1,300 feet long and 35 feet wide. Its reception was less than overwhelming – the Times referred to it as the great bore – and there were a number of gimmicks, including banquets inside it, to popularise it. However it was never a financial success and it was sold in 1865 to the East London Railway and is today part of the London Underground system.
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Titan

In 1655, the Dutch scientist Christian Huygens (1629-95) discovered Titan, Saturn’s largest satellite. He also determined its period of revolution but he didn’t name it. Almost two centuries later Sir John Herschel, who discovered Uranus, assigned names to the seven moons of Saturn that were known at that time. Saturn’s largest moon was named simply “Titan,” since the word means “one that is great in size, importance, or achievement.” Huygens also discovered the rings of Saturn through a telescope of his own design. He also invented the pendulum clock and the first accurate time-keeping device. His many contributions to mathematics, astronomy, time measurement and the theory of light are now considered of fundamental importance.
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Tolpuddle Martyrs

In February 1834, six farm labourers from Tolpuddle, near Dorchester, were charged with having administered illegal oaths. They had acted under the influence of the Grand National Consolidated Trade Union which sought to bring down the ‘capitalist’ system by means of a general strike. The Government response had been to outlaw ‘illegal oaths’. On March 18th 1834, the six were sentenced to seven years’ transportation to Australia. After a sustained campaign, their sentences were remitted in 1836 and all six returned to England.

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Richard Trevithick

In 1802, Richard Trevithick, a Cornish engineer, took out his patent for the first full sized road locomotive. He had demonstrated a prototype to the public on 24 Dec 1901 when his invention carried a number of men up Beacon Hill outside Camborne, with his cousin Andrew Vivian at the controls. The event gave rise to the popular Cornish song “Going up Camborne Hill”. By 1904 he was ready to oblige the first passengers to be carried in a railway train drawn by steam locomotion. The location was the Penydarren Railway near Merthyr Tydfil in Wales and the passengers were the ironmasters Samuel Homfray and Richard Crawshay together with Anthony Hill, a visiting Government Engineer. On February 20th 1904 they were carried over the 9¾ mile line from Penydarren to Abercynon Wharf.

The engine had been constructed as a stationary unit for driving a steam-hammer and converted into a locomotive simply by mounting it on a wagon chassis. The coach in which the passengers travelled was an ordinary road vehicle fitted with axles which were the same width as those of the locomotive. The rails on which the train travelled were also flanged. Two days later, the euphoric Homfray won 500 guineas from Hill after betting that the train could carry a ten-ton load of bar-iron in five wagons along the entire length of the track. The hapless Hill not only had to witness Trevithick’s locomotive easily transporting the iron cargo at a constant five mph but also had to watch it cope with the extra weight of the seventy spectators who had spontaneously climbed aboard to enjoy the ride!

Trevithick also experimented with a steam carriage as a road locomotive and in 1812, he invented the Cornish boiler. In this boiler, the hot flue gasses were used to heat the water, thus substantially improving the efficiency of the operation. Trevithick’s combined improvements made the new design of Cornish engine do double or treble the work of the James Watt type. The Trevithick boiler became the standard, supplanting the Watt type just as that had supplanted the original Newcomen boiler. Trevithick had no business acumen and died a pauper in 1833.Return to February 6th

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