Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Andrew Carnegie was born just before Victoria’s reign began. He moved from Fife, in Scotland, to Pennsylvania when he was thirteen years old, in 1840.

His first job was as a bobbin-boy in the factory where his father worked. He made $1.20 US per week. Week, mind you. During this time, he took advantage of Colonel James Anderson’s decision to open his library to working class boys every Saturday night. (Actually, he had to fight to get in, but that's another story.) Andrew was a great reader, and with over 4,000 volumes to choose from, he was a great borrower of Colonel Anderson’s books.

His second job was working in the telegraph office, for $2.50 per week. What a great improvement in wages! Soon, he became one of only three people to learn telegraphy by ear, enabling him to transcribe it without first writing down the dots and dashes. This brought him to the attention of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, who took him on at $4.00 per week. He was eighteen at the time. A rapid advancement through the company, profitable partnerships, wise investments, coupled with his natural charm and literary knowledge, meant that Andrew Carnegie became an extremely wealthy man. His next step was to use that wealth for others.

Mr. Carnegie built his first library in his home town of Dunfermline, Scotland, in 1883. It was followed by libraries throughout the United States, Britain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, the West Indies, Fiji, and Canada.

How different life would be today without our public libraries! While my town no longer has a “Carnegie Library” in service, several of the smaller towns in Ontario still use the building Andrew Carnegie built for them. It goes without saying that our current library system would not have come into existence without his libraries to run. For that, I am forever grateful.

The Ontario Library system is running a contest right now. The title is “Telling Our Stories” and if you’re an Ontario resident, you can vote for the stories you like the best. Everyone can read them. is the link.

At the time of his death, Andrew Carnegie had given away $350,695,653. While some of that money went to things besides libraries (Carnegie Mellon University, Carnegie Hall, etc.), the stories above highlight the incredible, continuing value derived from his investment.

Thanks, Andrew!

Folies Bergère stages first revue 1886

Once a much difference venue, today in 1886 the Folies Bergère introduced women in sensational (read: scandalous) costumes. The Place aux Jeunes debuted and the Folies Bergère became the premier nightspot in Paris because of it. Okay, because of their spectacular nude shows. Paris wanted strip shows, Paris got strip shows. Revues had as many as 40 sets, 1,000 costumes, and a stage crew of 200.

People were allowed to drink and socialize in the indoor garden, and the Folies Bergère became synonymous with Parisian carnal temptations.

Watch a video:
For those who read French:

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Victorian Artist, Franz Xaver Winterhalter

Dubbed the Painter of Princes, the most sought after Victorian haute portrait artist was Franz Xaver Winterhalter, (b.1805-d.1873). He painted on commission and in duplicate. Europe's courts and aristocratic homes were filled with his paintings.

Much of Winterhalter's work is on display in museums worldwide, including at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His iconic style is recognizable. In essence, he captured his subjects' serene expressions and poses that speak of an era which idealized genteel ways.

(Portrait displayed, Madame Barbe de Rimsky Korakov)

The Meiji Constitution 1890

Also known as The Constitution of the Empire of Japan or the Imperial Constitution.

Japan’s first Diet also convened today, since it was a cavet of the constitution. Put into effect after the Meiji Renewal, this constitution provided a constitutional monarchy based on the Prussian model. Basically, the Emperor of Japan was ruler and exerted considerable political power, but he had to share that power with the elected diet.

This constitution lasted until the Japanese defeat at the end of World War II.

From Hirobumi Ito, Commentaries on the constitution of the empire of Japan,translated by Miyoji Ito (Tokyo: Igirisu-horitsu gakko, 22nd year of Meiji,1889)Hanover Historical Texts Project:

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Hawaiian Independence Day 1843

The Kingdom of Hawaii is officially recognized by the United Kingdom and France as an independent nation. They would "consider the Sandwich Islands as an independent state, and never to take possession, neither directly nor under the title of protectorate, nor under any other form, of any part of the territory of which they are composed." Note how the U.S. didn’t join in on that statement.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Alfred Nobel Creates Prizes 1895

At the Swedish-Norwegian Club in Paris, Nobel signed his last will and testament, and set aside the bulk of his estate to establish the Nobel Prizes. They were to be awarded annually and without distinction of nationality.

Rumor has it that an erroneous publication in 1888 of his obituary by a French newspaper, condemning his invention of dynamite, made him decide to leave a better legacy to the world. The obituary stated Le marchand de la mort est mort ‘The merchant of death is dead’; "Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday."

The amount set aside for the Nobel Prize foundation was 31 million kronor or $4,223,500

Friday, November 24, 2006

Victorian Medicine

The Victorian era was a period of astonishing advances. In the field of medicine, introductions were made of both antiseptics and anesthetics, and the average life span increased.
Scientific thinking during this time changed from the miasma theory that was based on odors causing illnesses to an understanding of the role of bacteria. The standard of living improved as a result.
"By the end of the century Victorians understood the need for antiseptic surgery, anesthetics, and general cleanliness."
As far as treatments went, medical practitioners used opium, laudanum and chloroform. Surgical techniques advanced and became safer through the use of antiseptics, although many people still relied on herbal cures and ancient practices.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Franklin Pierce featured in the news today

Franklin Pierce was a Victorian mover & shaker who stood for both winning and losing causes.

A Day of Thanksgiving and Praise

On November 28, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln declared all government offices closed for a day of Thanksgiving. Magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale suggested that Lincoln make the day a nationwide observance. On October 3, 1863, Lincoln issued the following proclamation, setting apart the last Thursday of November as “a day of Thanksgiving and praise.”

By the President of the United States of America.
A Proclamation.
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward,
Secretary of State

Victorian Clipper Ship 1869

One of the last clipper ships to be built, in Dumbarton, Scotland, and the only one surviving to this day, the Cutty Sark stands now in drydock in Greenwich.

The Cutty Sark was destined for the China tea trade. However, she did not distinguish herself. In the most famous race, against Thermopylae in 1872, both ships left Shanghai on June 18, but two weeks later Cutty Sark lost her rudder after passing through the Sunda Strait, and arrived a week after Thermopylae, for a total passage of 122 days. Her legendary reputation is supported by the fact that her captain chose to continue this race with an improvised rudder rather than putting into port for a replacement. She still managed to be beaten by only one week.

Hart Crane's The Bridge immortalized Cutty Sark.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

1864 Hood enters Tennessee

Sherman's March Through Georgia

In a desperate attempt to draw Sherman out of Georgia, General John Bell Hood invaded Tennessee. It was a huge mistake.

The sad saga of the Army of Tennessee in 1864: In the spring, the army, commanded by Joseph Johnston, blocked Sherman's path to Atlanta from Chattanooga. During that summer, Sherman and Johnston fought a series of relatively small engagements as Sherman tried to flank the Rebel army. Johnston slowly retreated toward Atlanta, but kept his army intact.

Unfortunately for both the army and Georgia, Confederate President Jefferson Davis had seen enough territory lost to the Yankees, and in July 1864 replaced the defensive Johnston with the aggressive Hood. Hood made a series of attacks on Sherman outside of Atlanta that did nothing but diminish his own army's capabilities. After a one-month siege, Hood was forced to withdraw from Atlanta.

The invasion into Tennessee marked the start of a new campaign that was nothing but a disaster for the Confederates. Sherman took part of his force, cut loose from his supply lines, and began his March to the Sea. He sent the rest of the force under George Thomas back to Nashville to guard against Hood. Hood took the bait and charged toward Thomas in Franklin, Tennessee. It was a devastating defeat. But he didn't learn his lesson and continued on to attack Thomas at Nashville on December 15.

By the time Sherman made it to Savannah just before Christmas 1864, little remained of Hood's once-proud Army of Tennessee.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Lord Melbourne Gave Fatherly Advice to the Young Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria sought out the advice, daily if possible, from William Lamb, the Second Viscount Melbourne, who was her real father figure. She kept a journal. Nightly, she’d inscribe his answers to her questions about life. A list of some of his sage advice is as follows:
· wives beaten by husbands are able to profit from the pity evoked
· mothers-in-law are not known to get along with daughters-in-law
· most marriages aren’t happy
· large dogs are dangerous as pets
· birds migrate by following the coastline

Eventually, Victoria’s role as monarch prohibited her from continuing correspondence with the then retired Prime Minister, for reasons of propriety.

Persons of Consequence: Queen Victoria and Her Circle by Louis Auchincloss ISBN #0394504275

Inventor of the Phonograph


Accidental invention. As with many things in life, Edison stumbled on one of his great inventions while working on a way to record telephone communication at his laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey. Because of this, he was dubbed "Wizard of Menlo Park."

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Four Score and Seven Years Ago...

Most of us have heard those famous words, but I wonder how often anyone takes the time to reflect upon their meaning.

On November 2, 1863, many months after the battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863) had ended, Governor David Wills invited President Abraham Lincoln to make "a few appropriate remarks” at the consecration of a cemetery for the Union war dead.

Lincoln accepted the invitation, probably viewing the event as an appropriate time to honor the war dead, as well as reveal his evolving thinking about the war, not merely as a fight to save the Union but as an opportunity to establish freedom for all those under the law.

On November 19, 1863, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Lincoln spoke the now-famous words. At the time, the President drew criticism because of the brevity of his comments. Yet those “few appropriate remarks” have gone on to be one of the most memorable speeches of all time:

Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation: conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war. . .testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated. . . can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war.
We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate. . .we cannot consecrate. . . we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.
It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us. . .that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion. . . that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain. . . that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom. . . and that government of the people. . .by the people. . .for the people. . . shall not perish from the earth.

Well said, Mr. President.

For more information on the Gettysburg Address or Abraham Lincoln, visit:

Saturday, November 18, 2006

First Time Zones

And we can thank railroad companies for that, telling us just how much power they had at their heyday. At noon today in 1883, the American and Canadian Railroads began using 4 separate time zones to differentiate between scads of local times.

Local time was based on "High Noon" in just about each town, and I can't even imagine the nightmare it was to travel from Boston to New York to Philadelphia and constantly resetting your watch. Worse than jetlag! But as railroads shrunk the time it took to get from town to town, this way of keeping time was a logistical nightmare. Railroad timetables in major cities listed dozens of different arrival and departure times. All for the same train and each linked to a different local time zone.

So the companies divided the continent into four time zones, zones that are very close to what is still used today. Most Americans and Canadians quickly embraced their new time zones, since railroads linked them with the rest of the world. However, the federal government was different. It wasn’t until 1918 that Congress officially adopted the railroad time zones and put them under the supervision of the Interstate Commerce Commission.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Suez Canal opens


French Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoleon III, attended the inauguration ceremony. It took 15 years to complete the 100 mile canal across the Isthmus of Suez.

In 1856, the Suez Canal Company was formed and granted rights to operate the canal for 99 years after completion. (WWII changed that.) At first forced laborers used picks and shovels. Later, when the Europeans arrived to work it, so did the dredgers and steam shovels. This may have been a coincidence. Labor disputes and cholera interrupted the work, and the 1869 date was actually 4 years behind schedule.

Ferdinand de Lesseps, its builder, would later failure at an attempt to build a canal across the Isthmus of Panama.

Today, an average of 50 ships navigate the canal daily, carrying more than 300 million tons of goods a year.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Most Victorian Crosses Won in a Single Day 1857

Siege of Lucknow or the First War of Indian Independence.

Sir Colin Campbell easily crossed the nearly dry Charbagh Canal and advanced on the Secundrabagh, which housed most of the rebels. After its walls were breached by covering artillery fire, the 93rd Highlanders, part of the 53rd Regiment of Foot, the 4th Punjab Infantry, and various other detachments stormed it. It was a horrific defeat for the rebels. According to Campbell, some 2,000 rebels died. Later that day, Campbell's forces also stormed the Shah Najaf mosque, only a few hundred yards from the British defenders of the Chuttur Munzil.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Deposed - Brazil's Last Emperor 1889

Actually, it was only Brazil's 2nd emperor, but Pedro II did have a 49 year reign. He was a good leader, and the economy grew and people prospered under him. Until he alienated certain sects of society (think the military and growing urban middle class). So the military decided they'd do a better job ruling than he would.

Pedro left for Europe and died in exile 2 years later.

There's actually more to it than that, and a very interesting story with Portugal's crown prince, Don Pedro, declaring Brazil an independent country under his rule. But he was a lousy ruler, and Portugal was probably lucky he wasn't their leader. Pedro I abdicated in favor of his 5 year-old-son. Who, it turned out at age 15, didn't inherit his father's bad-ruler genes.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Moby-Dick published 1851

It was a total failure. While not his first, or his last story published, most of which were well received, Moby-Dick wasn't even a blip on the classic radar. What eventually made it a classic? I have no idea, that particular piece of information isn't to be found.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Friday, November 10, 2006

Railroads During the Civil War

As the most advanced form of transportation on land at that time, railroads were important to both armies during the Civil War. Railroads were used to transport troops, supplies and weapons. The armies also used them to gain information on enemy troops and for tactical missions, including close combat.
An advancing army often had to rebuild a railroad that the opposing army had derailed. Armies often fought over control of the rails.
Armed trains carried combat ready troops and artillery. The locomotive was placed at the train's center, so it could be protected. Flatcars were at the ends loaded with armed troops and artillery. Passenger or boxcars were in between.
Trains of the Civil War era were the precursors to "tanks, armored personnel carriers, engineer vehicles and self-propelled artillery."

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Jack the Ripper kills last known victim 1888

Her name was Mary Jane Kelly. Jack the Ripper is the pseudonym of the unidentified serial killer (or killers) active in Whitechapel and adjacent districts of London in the latter half of 1888.The name is from a letter to the Central News Agency by someone claiming to be the murderer, published at the time of the killings.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Victorian Discoveries

1895: German physicist, Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen, observed the first X-Ray in his Wurzburg, Germany lab. He was trying to determine whether cathode rays could pass through glass and noticed a glow coming off a chemically coated screen.

He dubbed the ray ‘X’ because of the unknown nature of the ray. He won every German accolade, streets, towns, (probably babies) and honorary doctorates and memberships in learned German society. In 1901, he won the Nobel Prize in physics.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Canada's transcontinental railway completed 1885

Craigellachie, in the mountains of British Columbia, was witness to the last spike driven into Canada's first transcontinental railway. It took 5 years for the Canadian Pacific Railway to get the 4,600 kilometers of single track all connected. Several smaller lines were also conencted to the larger CPR, uniting the country as never before.

Believe it or not, it was completed 6 years ahead of schedule.

And for those in America, I hope everyone voted!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Congratulations, Mr. President...and Mr. President

In 1860, Abraham Lincoln is elected the 16th president of the United States of America

In 1861, Jefferson Davis is elected the 1st president of the Confederate States of America

Both were natives of Kentucky. Lincoln was the first Republican elected with only 40% of the popular vote, but defeating 3 other candidates. Davis ran unopposed. Lincoln was a lawyer and a Whig representative to Congress before running for president in the heavily divided 1860 election. Davis attended West Point, served in the Black Hawk War of 1832, was a close advisor to then-General Zachary Taylor (former father-in-law) during the Mexican War, before becoming a senator and Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Victorian Fans Were Ever Popular

Nearly every woman owned a fan. Like many essential items during the 19th Century, the times dictated that fans be made as beautiful as possible. Fans were nevertheless just plain useful in many climes, as well as essential to pass along courtly secrets while whispering. Fan etiquette played an important role during Victorian functions.

This month, many of Queen Victoria’s fans and those of her family and contemporaries will be on display at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace. The collection can also be viewed online in their e-gallery. The article entitled Unfolding Pictures in Majesty Magazine, Vol 27 No 11 highlights some of the fans that will be on display in The Queen’s Gallery mid-month.

Empress Eugénie, wife-consort of Napoleon III of France, was from Granada, Spain where fans were used for everyday affaires and were known to always be in motion. Eugenie brought much of her rich Spanish heritage to the popular and dominant French court, including her love of fans. She was known for making statements with her fans, as were many of the ladies of her era, by matching the fans to ensembles or by wearing plain ensembles that made extravagant fans stand out.

Fans served many purposes. The rules dictated that fans remained closed while one was in the presence of a sovereign, so many fans displayed unique identifying embellishments along their sides. Monograms were popular as well as artwork of family and portraits of children of the fan’s owner. Symbols of rank were also appropriate to display on fans, or simply one-of-a-kind artwork. Prized and valuable fans were typically attached to a wrist to be dropped or retrieved, according to a lady’s purposes.

Due to their artistry, fans became a favorite collectible during the 19th Century. Even during church services, fans were noted to be constantly expressing their bearers emotions, especially in Spanish speaking countries and Colonies. Some regions designed their own signals around fan usage. In Puerto Rico, young ladies were known to flirt or otherwise indicate if they were or weren’t available for romance. The speed at which a fan passed across a lady's breasts was the clue. Other regions also utilized their own unique communications with fans.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Black Bart's last stagecoach robbery 1883

After 8 years of robbing stage coaches – but never passengers – Charles E. Bolton drops an important clue as to his identity and is captured shortly thereafter. Black Bart never shot anyone, and had a habit of leaving short poems, all signed, Black Bart, the Po-8. He was sentenced to 6 years in San Quentin, but served just over four. In actuality, he stole only $18,000.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Time Zones 1868

New Zealand officially adopts a standard time to be observed nationally.

Standard time zone: UTC/GMT +12 hours
Daylight saving time: +1 hour
Current time zone offset: UTC/GMT +13 hours

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Gold Standard 1893

Gold or silver, silver or gold? For much of the 1800s, that was the question over which should be the basis for the nation's currency. Finally, in 1893, Congress voted to turn back the 3 year old Sherman Silver Purchase Act, which generated $155.9 million in Treasury notes. But then silver’s price declined, and in the Panic of 1893 people redeemed their cash for the higher-priced gold.