Day By Day

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

This Day In History

Today is "National Plush Animal Lovers Day" so get yourself a plush animal and love it [in an entirely appropriate way, that is].

This one'a a biggie: On this day in 312 AD the Emperor Constantine [the Great] defeated a challenger to the throne [Maxentius] at the battle of Milvian Bridge. He afterward [probably for political purposes] claimed that he had been inspired by a vision of a cross inscribed with the words "in this sign conquer" and sort of converted to Christianity. The significance of this conversion was that Christianity became a prestige religion throughout the Roman Empire and as a consequence spread throughout Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

On this day in 1636 "The College at New Towne" was founded in Massachusetts. Three years later it changed its name to Harvard College. It is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and is the alma mater of many members of the Obama Administration and Al Gore.

And on this day in 1740 Ivan VI became Czar of All the Russias. At the time he was less than ten weeks old. It didn't last long. Thirteen months later his cousin, Elizabeth [daughter of Peter the Great], deposed Ivan and had him and his family imprisoned. After a few months he was separated from his family and put into solitary confinement, seeing no human other than his jailer. He remained in that condition for twenty years. Finally, in 1762 word of his confinement leaked out and an attempt was made to release him. Under standing orders from the new empress Catherine the Great, Ivan was murdered by his jailers and buried in an unmarked grave. Being a Czar is not easy.

On this day in 1793 Eli Whitney applied for a patent on the "cotton gin". This was a labor-saving device designed to efficiently separate cotton fibers from embedded seeds [a process that previously had been done by hand]. The major historical significance of this invention is that it greatly increased the efficiency of cotton plantations and sparked a major economic revival of the southern States. It also revived the institution of slavery, which had been in steep decline in the late eighteenth century. Many contemporary observers had felt that there was no need to abolish slavery as it was likely to die out naturally over the course of the next few decades. However, as cotton production rose so too did the demand for slaves and the institution grew and rapidly spread into new parts of the country. Whitney was also a pioneer of industrial organization, building one of the first integrated factories in the country, and is credited by many [although this is controversial] with developing the concept of interchangeable parts.

This day saw the development of a few important cultural markers: the emergence of a large urban middle class with leisure time and disposable income; a massive wave of immigration that changed the cultural contours of the country; and a major failed effort on the part of government to control the behavior and attitudes of the American public.

On this day in 1858 Rowland H. Macy opened Macy's department store in New York. It was not the first department store [there were earlier ones in England and France], nor was it the first in New York, but by the 1920s it was the biggest one anywhere. Here's a link to information about several major stores, including some nice pictures of Wanamaker's in Philadelphia.

And on this day in 1886 President Grover Cleveland formally dedicated the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor.

And on this day in 1918 the Volstead Act was passed. Prohibition began.

Happy Birthday to the Bride of Frankenstein [1902] Elsa Lanchester was born in London. And on this day in 1914 Jonas Salk was born. While at the University of Pittsburgh he developed a polio vaccine. And in 1955 Bill Gates, America's richest college dropout, was born.