Day By Day

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

This Day In History

Today is National Felt Hat Day, so find yourself a hat and feel it.

Today marks a lot of world changing events -- some really big ones.

On this day in 1588 the Grand Armada of Spain was destroyed by a British fleet [and some extremely fortunate weather]. The defeat of the Armada is one of the great turning points in history because it preseved the independence of England, the English monarchy, and the English Church. Our world would be much different today if the Armada had been successful.

On this day in 1683 Germantown, Pennsylvania was founded by 13 immigrant families.

On this day in 1821 Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua gained their independence from Spain, so let us all wish a "Happy Independence Day" to the people of those nations.

And on this day in 1935 HMS Beagle arrived in the Galapagos Islands. On board was a bright young slacker named Charles Darwin who was inspired by what he saw there to begin formulating one of the great organizing ideas of modern times -- the theory of evolution.

On this day in 1904 Wilbur Wright flew. Actually, this date is somewhat arbitrary. All through the Summer and Fall of 1904 the Wright Brothers were attempting powered flight. On August 13th Wilbur flew 400 meters, and on September 20th he flew a complete circle of 1,244 meters. You can date the beginning of powered flight anywhere within that time frame. And lest we forget Orville, on December 1st he flew more than five minutes and covered nearly three miles. The reason for the vagueness is that the Wrights did not yet have a patent on their flight control mechanism [which was their key invention] and so kept most of what they did secret for fear that someone would steal their ideas. The key point to make is that the beginnings of powered flight were little more than a century ago. Just think of the stupendous advances in transportation technology that have taken place since then. For example 44 years to the day after Wilbur's flight a Sabre Jet clocked a speed of 1080 kph. We really do live in an age of miracles and wonders.

And this day in 1916 marks the beginning of tank warfare as the British army deployed, for the first time, armored vehicles [Mark I tanks, popularly but inaccurately called "Little Willies"] against the Germans at the Somme. This debut was not very successful, but it was the start of something big.

And on this day in 1928 the Cardinals set a National League record by stranding 18 baserunners in a game. Didn't matter much though because they beat the Phillies 8-6.

And on that very same day Alexander Fleming discovered that penicillin mold had anti-bacterial properties.

And on this day in 1935 Germany adopted the "Nuremberg Laws" which deprived Jews of their citizenship and made the swastika the official emblem of the German state.

And on this day in 1937 British PM Neville Chamberlain paid a courteous visit to Adolf Hitler at Berchtesgarten. The subject of the discussions was the future of Czechoslovakia. The amity of the visit didn't last long because Hitler had plans..., big ones.

Two years later Britain and Germany were at war and today is thought to mark the turning of the tide in the Battle of Britain. Today is still celebrated in the UK as "Battle of Britain Day".

And on this day in 1939 Pittsburgh's Waner brothers, Paul and Lloyd, hit back to back home runs -- the only time it's ever been done. Paul was extremely nearsighted, but he said that gave him an advantage as a hitter because to him the ball looked as big as a grapefruit. And while we're on the subject we should note that on this day in 1963 the San Francisco Giants fielded an outfield consisting of Felipe, Matty, and Jesus Alou.

And on this day in 1949 WJAC-TV in Johnstown began broadcasting.

And on this day in 1969 Steve Carlton struck out 19 Mets in one game.

And, for my wife who is a big fan, on this day in 1890 Agatha Christie was born. Happy Birthday Dame Agatha, wherever you are.

And this one is for me. On this day in 1894 Jean Renoir, son of the famous artist and IMHO the greatest film-maker of all time, was born.