Day By Day

Thursday, October 15, 2009

This Day In History

On this day in 1529 Ottoman armies led by Suleiman ("the Magnificent") finally retreated from the walls of Vienna. For more than a century Muslim armies had relentlessly attacked and conquered Christian realms in Eastern Europe. This was their first significant defeat. Historians are divided as to whether Suleiman intended the conquest of the entire continent or whether he simply saw Vienna as an easy prize after having conquered Hungary. Either way this marked the maximum expansion of the Ottoman Empire into Europe. Christianity would survive and eventually turn back the tide of Muslim conquest in the East as it already had done in Spain.

On this date in 1878 Thomas Alva Edison founded the Edison Electric Light Company. This company in the 1880's was combined with other Edison business ventures under the name "Edison General Electric" and eventually, when combined with other independent companies, emerged as the General Electric Corporation we all know and love today. Well..., maybe not love exactly.

Thomas Edison is one of the most fascinating figures in American history. Born into poverty, homeschooled [he only had three months formal education], and lacking any marketable skills, he achieved success through hard work, relentless self-improvement, and a fascination with practical science. He was an obsessive tinkerer. When as a young man in the 1860's he secured a job as a telegrapher he immediately began experiments to improve the technology. This led to the first of his patents; by the time his career ended he held 1093 of them, including patents on the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and the first practical long-lasting light bulb. His greatest contribution, however, was his creation at Menlo Park, New Jersey of an industrial research laboratory that systematized the process of invention. It is not too much to say that he had a greater positive impact on the lives of more people around the world than any political figure in our history.

On this day in 1894 a French artillery officer, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, was accused of selling military secrets to Germany. His trial and conviction became one of the most famous political dramas of modern French (and European, for that matter) history. Dreyful, it turned out, had been falsely charged and his trial had been a sham. When evidence clearing him emerged the Army had tried to cover it up. The whole thing, charges and counter-charges, was fought out in the popular press, largely due to a series of exposes written by Emil Zola, who rode this story to international fame and fortune. Argument centered on the fact that Dreyfus was Jewish and evolved into a general discussion of anti-semitism, militarism, and the role of Jews and the military in French life. Some historians credit the "Dreyfus Affair" with playing an important role in fostering modern anti-semitism. Others note it's contribution to the emergence of a coherent class of intellectuals who functioned as critics of the society and culture that sustained them.

Happy birthday to three of my least-favorite intellectuals: Friedrich Nietzsche [1844]; John Kenneth Galbraith [1908], and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr [1917]. Don't get me started....

And, most importantly, on this day in 1933 the Philadelphia Eagles played their first NFL game. They lost to the Giants 56-0.