March 08, 1917: February Revolution begins

In Russia, the February Revolution (known as such because of Russia’s use of the Julian calendar) begins when riots and strikes over the scarcity of food erupt in Petrograd. One week later, centuries of czarist rule in Russia ended with the abdication of Nicholas II, and Russia took a dramatic step closer toward communist revolution.

By 1917, most Russians had lost faith in the leadership ability of the czarist regime. Government corruption was rampant, the Russian economy remained backward, and Nicholas repeatedly dissolved the Duma, the Russian parliament established after the Revolution of 1905, when it opposed his will. However, the immediate cause of the February Revolution–the first phase of the Russian Revolution of 1917–was Russia’s disastrous involvement in World War I. Militarily, imperial Russia was no match for industrialized Germany, and Russian casualties were greater than those sustained by any nation in any previous war. Meanwhile, the economy was hopelessly disrupted by the costly war effort, and moderates joined Russian radical elements in calling for the overthrow of the czar.

On March 8, 1917, demonstrators clamoring for bread took to the streets in the Russian capital of Petrograd (now known as St. Petersburg). Supported by 90,000 men and women on strike, the protesters clashed with police but refused to leave the streets. On March 10, the strike spread among all of Petrograd’s workers, and irate mobs of workers destroyed police stations. Several factories elected deputies to the Petrograd Soviet, or “council,” of workers’ committees, following the model devised during the Revolution of 1905.

On March 11, the troops of the Petrograd army garrison were called out to quell the uprising. In some encounters, regiments opened fire, killing demonstrators, but the protesters kept to the streets, and the troops began to waver. That day, Nicholas again dissolved the Duma. On March 12, the revolution triumphed when regiment after regiment of the Petrograd garrison defected to the cause of the demonstrators. The soldiers, some 150,000 men, subsequently formed committees that elected deputies to the Petrograd Soviet.

The imperial government was forced to resign, and the Duma formed a provisional government that peacefully vied with the Petrograd Soviet for control of the revolution. On March 14, the Petrograd Soviet issued “Order No. 1,” which instructed Russian soldiers and sailors to obey only those orders that did not conflict with the directives of the Soviet. The next day, March 15, Czar Nicholas II abdicated the throne in favor of his brother Michael, whose refusal of the crown brought an end to the czarist autocracy.

The new provincial government, tolerated by the Petrograd Soviet, hoped to salvage the Russian war effort while ending the food shortage and many other domestic crises. It would prove a daunting task. Meanwhile, Vladimir Lenin, leader of the Bolshevik revolutionary party, left his exile in Switzerland and crossed German enemy lines to return home and take control of the Russian Revolution.

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March 07, 1876: Alexander Graham Bell patents the telephone

On this day in 1876, 29-year-old Alexander Graham Bell receives a patent for his revolutionary new invention–the telephone.

The Scottish-born Bell worked in London with his father, Melville Bell, who developed Visible Speech, a written system used to teach speaking to the deaf. In the 1870s, the Bells moved to Boston, Massachusetts, where the younger Bell found work as a teacher at the Pemberton Avenue School for the Deaf. He later married one of his students, Mabel Hubbard.

While in Boston, Bell became very interested in the possibility of transmitting speech over wires. Samuel F.B. Morse’s invention of the telegraph in 1843 had made nearly instantaneous communication possible between two distant points. The drawback of the telegraph, however, was that it still required hand-delivery of messages between telegraph stations and recipients, and only one message could be transmitted at a time. Bell wanted to improve on this by creating a “harmonic telegraph,” a device that combined aspects of the telegraph and record player to allow individuals to speak to each other from a distance.

With the help of Thomas A. Watson, a Boston machine shop employee, Bell developed a prototype. In this first telephone, sound waves caused an electric current to vary in intensity and frequency, causing a thin, soft iron plate–called the diaphragm–to vibrate. These vibrations were transferred magnetically to another wire connected to a diaphragm in another, distant instrument. When that diaphragm vibrated, the original sound would be replicated in the ear of the receiving instrument. Three days after filing the patent, the telephone carried its first intelligible message–the famous “Mr. Watson, come here, I need you”–from Bell to his assistant.

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March 06, 1899: Bayer patents aspirin

Now the most common drug in household medicine cabinets, acetylsalicylic acid was originally made from a chemical found in the bark of willow trees. In its primitive form, the active ingredient, salicin, was used for centuries in folk medicine, beginning in ancient Greece when Hippocrates used it to relieve pain and fever. Known to doctors since the mid-19thcentury, it was used sparingly due to its unpleasant taste and tendency to damage the stomach.

In 1897, Bayer employee Felix Hoffman found a way to create a stable form of the drug that was easier and more pleasant to take. (Some evidence shows that Hoffman’s work was really done by a Jewish chemist, Arthur Eichengrun, whose contributions were covered up during the Nazi era.) After obtaining the patent rights, Bayer began distributing aspirin in powder form to physicians to give to their patients one gram at a time. The brand name came from “a” for acetyl, “spir” from the spirea plant (a source of salicin) and the suffix “in,” commonly used for medications. It quickly became the number-one drug worldwide.

Aspirin was made available in tablet form and without a prescription in 1915. Two years later, when Bayer’s patent expired during the First World War, the company lost the trademark rights to aspirin in various countries. After the United States entered the war against Germany in April 1917, the Alien Property Custodian, a government agency that administers foreign property, seized Bayer’s U.S. assets. Two years later, the Bayer company name and trademarks for the United States and Canada were auctioned off and purchased by Sterling Products Company, later Sterling Winthrop, for $5.3 million.

Bayer became part of IG Farben, the conglomerate of German chemical industries that formed the financial heart of the Nazi regime. After World War II, the Allies split apart IG Farben, and Bayer again emerged as an individual company. Its purchase of Miles Laboratories in 1978 gave it a product line including Alka-Seltzer and Flintstones and One-A-Day Vitamins. In 1994, Bayer bought Sterling Winthrop’s over-the-counter business, gaining back rights to the Bayer name and logo and allowing the company once again to profit from American sales of its most famous product.

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March 05, 1963: Hula-Hoop patented

On this day in 1963, the Hula-Hoop, a hip-swiveling toy that became a huge fad across America when it was first marketed by Wham-O in 1958, is patented by the company’s co-founder, Arthur “Spud” Melin. An estimated 25 million Hula-Hoops were sold in its first four months of production alone.

In 1948, friends Arthur Melin and Richard Knerr founded a company in California to sell a slingshot they created to shoot meat up to falcons they used for hunting. The company’s name, Wham-O, came from the sound the slingshots supposedly made. Wham-O eventually branched out from slingshots, selling boomerangs and other sporting goods. Its first hit toy, a flying plastic disc known as the Frisbee, debuted in 1957. The Frisbee was originally marketed under a different name, the Pluto Platter, in an effort to capitalize on America’s fascination with UFOs.

Melina and Knerr were inspired to develop the Hula-Hoop after they saw a wooden hoop that Australian children twirled around their waists during gym class. Wham-O began producing a plastic version of the hoop, dubbed “Hula” after the hip-gyrating Hawaiian dance of the same name, and demonstrating it on Southern California playgrounds. Hula-Hoop mania took off from there.

The enormous popularity of the Hula-Hoop was short-lived and within a matter of months, the masses were on to the next big thing. However, the Hula-Hoop never faded away completely and still has its fans today. According to Ripley’s Believe It or Not, in April 2004, a performer at the Big Apple Circus in Boston simultaneously spun 100 hoops around her body. Earlier that same year, in January, according to the Guinness World Records, two people in Tokyo, Japan, managed to spin the world’s largest hoop–at 13 feet, 4 inches–around their waists at least three times each.

Following the Hula-Hoop, Wham-O continued to produce a steady stream of wacky and beloved novelty items, including the Superball, Water Wiggle, Silly String, Slip ‘n’ Slide and the Hacky Sack.

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March 04, 1933: FDR inaugurated

On March 4, 1933, at the height of the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt is inaugurated as the 32nd president of the United States. In his famous inaugural address, delivered outside the east wing of the U.S. Capitol, Roosevelt outlined his “New Deal”–an expansion of the federal government as an instrument of employment opportunity and welfare–and told Americans that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Although it was a rainy day in Washington, and gusts of rain blew over Roosevelt as he spoke, he delivered a speech that radiated optimism and competence, and a broad majority of Americans united behind their new president and his radical economic proposals to lead the nation out of the Great Depression.

Born into an upper-class family in Hyde Park, New York, in 1882, Roosevelt was the fifth cousin of Theodore Roosevelt, who served as the 26th U.S. president from 1901 to 1909. In 1905, Franklin Roosevelt, who was at the time a student at Columbia University Law School, married Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, the niece of Theodore Roosevelt. After three years as a lawyer, he decided to follow his cousin Theodore’s lead and sought public office, winning election to the New York State Senate in 1910 as a Democrat. He soon won a reputation as a charismatic politician dedicated to social and economic reform.

Roosevelt supported the progressive New Jersey governor Woodrow Wilson in his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, and after Wilson’s election in 1912 Roosevelt was appointed assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy, a post that Theodore Roosevelt once held. In 1920, Roosevelt, who had proved himself a gifted administrator, won the Democratic nomination for vice president on a ticket with James Cox. The Democrats lost in a landslide to Republicans Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, and Roosevelt returned to his law practice and undertook several business ventures.

In 1921, he was stricken with poliomyelitis, the virus that causes the crippling disease of polio. He spent several years recovering from what was at first nearly total paralysis, and his wife, Eleanor, kept his name alive in Democratic circles. He never fully covered and was forced to use braces or a wheelchair to move around for the rest of his life.

In 1924, Roosevelt returned to politics when he nominated New York Governor Alfred E. Smith for the presidency with a rousing speech at the Democratic National Convention. In 1928, he again nominated Smith, and the outgoing New York governor urged Roosevelt to run for his gubernatorial seat. Roosevelt campaigned across the state by automobile and was elected even as the state voted for Republican Herbert Hoover in the presidential election.

As governor, Roosevelt worked for tax relief for farmers and in 1930 won a resounding electoral victory just as the economic recession brought on by the October 1929 stock market crash was turning into a major depression. During his second term, Governor Roosevelt mobilized the state government to play an active role in providing relief and spurring economic recovery. His aggressive approach to the economic crisis, coupled with his obvious political abilities, gave him the Democratic presidential nomination in 1932.

Roosevelt had no trouble defeating President Herbert Hoover, who many blamed for the Depression, and the governor carried all but six states. During the next four months, the economy continued to decline, and when Roosevelt took office on March 4, 1933, most banks were closed, farms were suffering, 13 million workers were unemployed, and industrial production stood at just over half its 1929 level.

Aided by a Democratic Congress, Roosevelt took prompt, decisive action, and most of his New Deal proposals, such as the Agricultural Adjustment Act, National Industrial Recovery Act, and creation of the Public Works Administration and Tennessee Valley Authority, were approved within his first 100 days in office. Although criticized by many in the business community, Roosevelt’s progressive legislation improved America’s economic climate, and in 1936 he easily won reelection.

During his second term, he became increasingly concerned with German and Japanese aggression and so began a long campaign to awaken America from its isolationist slumber. In 1940, with World War II raging in Europe and the Pacific, Roosevelt agreed to run for an unprecedented third term. Reelected by Americans who valued his strong leadership, he proved a highly effective commander in chief after the December 1941 U.S. entrance into the war. Under Roosevelt’s guidance, America became, in his own words, the “great arsenal of democracy” and succeeded in shifting the balance of power in World War II firmly in the Allies’ favor. In 1944, with the war not yet won, he was reelected to a fourth term.

Three months after his inauguration, while resting at his retreat at Warm Springs, Georgia, Roosevelt died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 63. Following a solemn parade of his coffin through the streets of the nation’s capital, his body was buried in a family plot in Hyde Park. Millions of Americans mourned the death of the man who led the United States through two of the greatest crises of the 20th century: the Great Depression and World War II. Roosevelt’s unparalleled 13 years as president led to the passing of the 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which limited future presidents to a maximum of two consecutive elected terms in office.

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March 03, 1887: Helen Keller meets her miracle worker

On this day in 1887, Anne Sullivan begins teaching six-year-old Helen Keller, who lost her sight and hearing after a severe illness at the age of 19 months. Under Sullivan’s tutelage, including her pioneering “touch teaching” techniques, the previously uncontrollable Keller flourished, eventually graduating from college and becoming an international lecturer and activist. Sullivan, later dubbed “the miracle worker,” remained Keller’s interpreter and constant companion until the older woman’s death in 1936.

Sullivan, born in Massachusetts in 1866, had firsthand experience with being handicapped: As a child, an infection impaired her vision. She then attended the Perkins Institution for the Blind where she learned the manual alphabet in order to communicate with a classmate who was deaf and blind. Eventually, Sullivan had several operations that improved her weakened eyesight.

Helen Adams Keller was born on June 27, 1880, to Arthur Keller, a former Confederate army officer and newspaper publisher, and his wife Kate, of Tuscumbia, Alabama. As a baby, a brief illness, possibly scarlet fever, left Helen unable to see, hear or speak. She was considered a bright but spoiled and strong-willed child. Her parents eventually sought the advice of Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone and an authority on the deaf. He suggested the Kellers contact the Perkins Institution, which in turn recommended Anne Sullivan as a teacher.

Sullivan, age 20, arrived at Ivy Green, the Keller family estate, in 1887 and began working to socialize her wild, stubborn student and teach her by spelling out words in Keller’s hand. Initially, the finger spelling meant nothing to Keller. However, a breakthrough occurred one day when Sullivan held one of Keller’s hands under water from a pump and spelled out “w-a-t-e-r” in Keller’s palm. Keller went on to learn how to read, write and speak. With Sullivan’s assistance, Keller attended Radcliffe College and graduated with honors in 1904.

Helen Keller became a public speaker and author; her first book, “The Story of My Life” was published in 1902. She was also a fundraiser for the American Foundation for the Blind and an advocate for racial and sexual equality, as well as socialism. From 1920 to 1924, Sullivan and Keller even formed a vaudeville act to educate the public and earn money. Helen Keller died on June 1, 1968, at her home in Westport, Connecticut, at age 87, leaving her mark on the world by helping to alter perceptions about the disabled.

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March 02, 1904: Dr. Seuss born

On this day in 1904, Theodor Geisel, better known to the world as Dr. Seuss, the author and illustrator of such beloved children’s books as “The Cat in the Hat” and “Green Eggs and Ham,” is born in Springfield, Massachusetts. Geisel, who used his middle name (which was also his mother’s maiden name) as his pen name, wrote 48 books–including some for adults–that have sold well over 200 million copies and been translated into multiple languages. Dr. Seuss books are known for their whimsical rhymes and quirky characters, which have names like the Lorax and the Sneetches and live in places like Hooterville.

Geisel, who was born on March 2, 1904, in Springfield, Massachusetts, graduated from Dartmouth College, where he was editor of the school’s humor magazine, and studied at Oxford University. There he met Helen Palmer, his first wife and the person who encouraged him to become a professional illustrator. Back in America, Geisel worked as a cartoonist for a variety of magazines and in advertising.

The first children’s book that Geisel wrote and illustrated, “And to Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street,” was rejected by over two dozen publishers before making it into print in 1937. Geisel’s first bestseller, “The Cat in the Hat,” was published in 1957. The story of a mischievous cat in a tall striped hat came about after his publisher asked him to produce a book using 220 new-reader vocabulary words that could serve as an entertaining alternative to the school reading primers children found boring.

Other Dr. Seuss classics include “Yertle the Turtle,” “If I Ran the Circus,” “Fox in Socks” and “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.”

Some Dr. Seuss books tackled serious themes. “The Butter Battle Book” (1984) was about the arms buildup and nuclear war threat during Ronald Reagan’s presidency. “Lorax” (1971) dealt with the environment.

Many Dr. Seuss books have been adapted for television and film, including “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” and “Horton Hears a Who!” In 1990, Geisel published a book for adults titled “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” that became a hugely popular graduation gift for high school and college students.

Geisel, who lived and worked in an old observatory in La Jolla, California, known as “The Tower,” died September 24, 1991, at age 87.

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March 01, 1932: Lindbergh baby kidnapped

On this day in 1932, in a crime that captured the attention of the entire nation, Charles Lindbergh III, the 20-month-old son of aviation hero Charles Lindbergh, is kidnapped from the family’s new mansion in Hopewell, New Jersey. Lindbergh, who became an international celebrity when he flew the first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927, and his wife Anne discovered a ransom note demanding $50,000 in their son’s empty room. The kidnapper used a ladder to climb up to the open second-floor window and left muddy footprints in the room.

The Lindberghs were inundated by offers of assistance and false clues. Even Al Capone offered his help from prison. For three days, investigators found nothing and there was no further word from the kidnappers. Then, a new letter showed up, this time demanding $70,000.

The kidnappers eventually gave instructions for dropping off the money and when it was delivered, the Lindberghs were told their baby was on a boat called Nelly off the coast of Massachusetts. After an exhaustive search, however, there was no sign of either the boat or the child. Soon after, the baby’s body was discovered near the Lindbergh mansion. He had been killed the night of the kidnapping and was found less than a mile from home. The heartbroken Lindberghs ended up donating the mansion to charity and moved away.

The kidnapping looked like it would go unsolved until September 1934, when a marked bill from the ransom turned up. The gas station attendant who had accepted the bill wrote down the license plate number because he was suspicious of the driver. It was tracked back to a German immigrant and carpenter, Bruno Hauptmann. When his home was searched, detectives found a chunk of Lindbergh ransom money.

Hauptmann claimed that a friend had given him the money to hold and that he had no connection to the crime. The resulting trial was a national sensation. The prosecution’s case was not particularly strong; the main evidence, besides the money, was testimony from handwriting experts that the ransom note had been written by Hauptmann. The prosecution also tried to establish a connection between Hauptmann and the type of wood that was used to make the ladder.

Still, the evidence and intense public pressure were enough to convict Hauptmann and he was electrocuted in 1935. In the aftermath of the crime—the most notorious of the 1930s—kidnapping was made a federal offense.

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February 28, 1953: Watson and Crick discover chemical structure of DNA

On this day in 1953, Cambridge University scientists James D. Watson and Francis H.C. Crick announce that they have determined the double-helix structure of DNA, the molecule containing human genes.

Though DNA–short for deoxyribonucleic acid–was discovered in 1869, its crucial role in determining genetic inheritance wasn’t demonstrated until 1943. In the early 1950s, Watson and Crick were only two of many scientists working on figuring out the structure of DNA. California chemist Linus Pauling suggested an incorrect model at the beginning of 1953, prompting Watson and Crick to try and beat Pauling at his own game. On the morning of February 28, they determined that the structure of DNA was a double-helix polymer, or a spiral of two DNA strands, each containing a long chain of monomer nucleotides, wound around each other. According to their findings, DNA replicated itself by separating into individual strands, each of which became the template for a new double helix. In his best-selling book, The Double Helix (1968), Watson later claimed that Crick announced the discovery by walking into the nearby Eagle Pub and blurting out that “we had found the secret of life.” The truth wasn’t that far off, as Watson and Crick had solved a fundamental mystery of science–how it was possible for genetic instructions to be held inside organisms and passed from generation to generation.

Watson and Crick’s solution was formally announced on April 25, 1953, following its publication in that month’s issue of Nature magazine. The article revolutionized the study of biology and medicine. Among the developments that followed directly from it were pre-natal screening for disease genes; genetically engineered foods; the ability to identify human remains; the rational design of treatments for diseases such as AIDS; and the accurate testing of physical evidence in order to convict or exonerate criminals.

Crick and Watson later had a falling-out over Watson’s book, which Crick felt misrepresented their collaboration and betrayed their friendship. A larger controversy arose over the use Watson and Crick made of research done by another DNA researcher, Rosalind Franklin, whose colleague Maurice Wilkins showed her X-ray photographic work to Watson just before he and Crick made their famous discovery. When Crick and Watson won the Nobel Prize in 1962, they shared it with Wilkins. Franklin, who died in 1958 of ovarian cancer and was thus ineligible for the award, never learned of the role her photos played in the historic scientific breakthrough.

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February 27, 1827: New Orleanians take to the streets for Mardi Gras

On this day in 1827, a group of masked and costumed students dance through the streets of New Orleans, Louisiana, marking the beginning of the city’s famous Mardi Gras celebrations.

The celebration of Carnival–or the weeks between Twelfth Night on January 6 and Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Christian period of Lent–spread from Rome across Europe and later to the Americas. Nowhere in the United States is Carnival celebrated as grandly as in New Orleans, famous for its over-the-top parades and parties for Mardi Gras (or Fat Tuesday), the last day of the Carnival season.

Though early French settlers brought the tradition of Mardi Gras to Louisiana at the end of the 17th century, Spanish governors of the province later banned the celebrations. After Louisiana became part of the United States in 1803, New Orleanians managed to convince the city council to lift the ban on wearing masks and partying in the streets. The city’s new Mardi Gras tradition began in 1827 when the group of students, inspired by their experiences studying in Paris, donned masks and jester costumes and staged their own Fat Tuesday festivities.

The parties grew more and more popular, and in 1833 a rich plantation owner named Bernard Xavier de Marigny de Mandeville raised money to fund an official Mardi Gras celebration. After rowdy revelers began to get violent during the 1850s, a secret society called the Mistick Krewe of Comus staged the first large-scale, well-organized Mardi Gras parade in 1857.

Over time, hundreds of krewes formed, building elaborate and colorful floats for parades held over the two weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday. Riders on the floats are usually local citizens who toss “throws” at passersby, including metal coins, stuffed toys or those now-infamous strands of beads. Though many tourists mistakenly believe Bourbon Street and the historic French Quarter are the heart of Mardi Gras festivities, none of the major parades have been allowed to enter the area since 1979 because of its narrow streets.

In February 2006, New Orleans held its Mardi Gras celebrations despite the fact that Hurricane Katrina had devastated much of the city with massive flooding the previous August. Attendance was at only 60-70 percent of the 300,000-400,000 visitors who usually attend Mardi Gras, but the celebration marked an important step in the recovery of the city, which counts on hospitality and tourism as its single largest industry.

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