March 6, 1899: German chemist Felix Hoffmann patents Aspirin, a chemically pure and stable form of acetylsalicylic acid, which he created in 1897. His lab notes remarked on its advantages over salicylic acid as a pain reliever. Simply put, Aspirin, or acetylsalicylic acid tasted better and was less likely to cause internal bleeding. The patent was brought into question when Arthur Eichengrün published a paper in 1949 in which he claimed to have planned and directed the synthesis of Aspirin. To this day the dispute not been resolved. Hoffman was also responsible for synthesising heroin (from heroisch, German for heroic), a preparation which his employer Bayer disingeniously marketed as a cure for morphine addiction.
March 7, 1897: Dr. John Kellogg serves the world's first cornflakes to his patients at a mental hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan. Dr Kellogg included this unsweetened form of the cereal in his patients' diets believing that their ailments could be cured by a regimen of exercise and vegetarian food. When his brother, Will Keith Kellogg, added sugar to the recipe and marketed cornflakes as a breakfast food the doctor sued him in an attempt to disassociate the Kellogg name from mass-produced breakfast cereals.
March 11, 105 AD: Chinese eunuch Ts'ai Lun invents paper using
bamboo, mulberry, and other fibers, along with fish nets and rags.
For his efforts (although it is possible these may have been those
of someone in an unrecognised lower social class) Emperor Han Ho
Ti, in whose court Ts'ai Lun served, granted him an aristocratic title
and great wealth. Ts'ai Lun later committed suicide by drinking
poison when he was ordered to prison at the end of the Han
dynasty accused of being involved in the murder of Consort Song,
grandfather of Emperor An of Han of the Song dynasty.
March 12, 1969: The supersonic aircraft, Concorde, makes its
first flight. In April 2003, Air France and British Airways, citing low
passenger numbers after a Concorde's only crash in July 2000 killed
all 100 passengers and nine crew on board the flight, announced
that they would retire Concorde later that year.
March 13, 1930: Clyde W. Tombaugh announces the discovery of
a ninth planet, named Pluto by eleven-year-old schoolgirl Venetia
Burney. In 2006 Pluto was reclassified as a dwarf planet since it
failed to fulfill the criteria in the official definition for "planet".
February 25, 1616: Tuscan physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher Galileo Galilei, renounces his belief that the earth moves around the sun. Galileo was ordered by Cardinal Bellarmine "to give up altogether the false doctrine ... and if you should refuse ... you should be imprisoned." Galileo made the renouncement knowing that this would not change the facts about the earth's motion.
March 1, 1921: Escapologist Harry Houdini patents a diver's suit.
March 2, 1784: French inventor Jean-Pierre Blanchard makes his first successful balloon flight. The flight, which took off from Paris' Champ de Mars, almost ended in disaster when Dupont de Chambon, angry at being refused a place on the flight , slashed at the balloons mooring ropes with his sword.
March 2, 1825: Work begins on the Thames Tunnel, the world's first tunnel under a navigable river. Marc Brunel, the engineer charged with managing the project had patented a tunnelling shield in 1818, inspired by the shipworm, Teredo navalis, which builds a hard shell to protect itself while it bores through swelling ships’ timbers.
June 17, 1867: Surgeon Joseph Lister begins using a carbolic acid solution to disinfect surgical instruments and swab wounds during surgical procedures. There is a marked reduction in the incidence of gangrene.
June 18, 1928: Aviator Amelia Earhart becomes the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean in a 21-hour flight from Newfoundland to Wales.
June 18, 1983: Mission specialist, Sally K. Ride becomes America's first woman in space when Space Shuttle Challenger is launched on its own second flight.
June 19, 240 BC: Greek astronomer and mathematician Eratosthenes estimates the circumference of the Earth to be 39,690 km, an error of less than 1%. As director of the Alexandria library he read that on the summer solstice at local noon in the Ancient Egyptian city of Syene, shadows of temple columns grew shorter. By noon, when the sun was directly overhead, they were gone. In his more northerly hometown of Alexandria, the angle of elevation of the Sun measured on the same day would be 1/50 of a full circle south of the zenith. Assuming that Alexandria was due north of Syene he concluded that the 950 km from Alexandria to Syene must be 1/50 of the total circumference of the Earth.
May 28, 1934: The Dionne quintuplets are born to Elzire Dionne at the family farm near Callender, Ontario. All five babies survive infancy. They are named Marie, Cecile, Yvonne, Emile and Annette. When they were 4 months old, the Canadian government, realising their potential as a tourist attraction, removed the girls from their parents and made them wards of the Crown under the Dionne Quintuplets' Guardianship Act. The infants were placed in a nursery and paraded, sometimes up to four times a day, before paying spectators until they were ten years old and the family won back custody of the sisters. Almost three million people visited "Quintland" between 1936 and 1943 and, at the time, was more popular than the Canadian side of Niagara Falls.
May 31, 1578: The Roman catacombs are uncovered by labourers digging for pozzolana, a kind of volcanic ash that is used to make concrete structures.
June 5, 1981: In Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a newsletter published by the U.S. Centre for Disease Control (CDC), Dr Michael Gottlieb describes a disease, later known as AIDS, among gay men that causes unexplained fever, dramatic weight loss and a severely compromised immune system. The patients that Gottlieb examined presented with Pneumocystis carinii, a fungal pathogen which causes pneumonia, and the DNA virus, cytomegalovirus. Some developed Kaposi's sarcoma, a rare skin cancer.
June 5, 1977: The first personal computer, the Apple II, goes on sale, an invention of Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs. The processor had a speed of 1MHz (today's Macs are almost 3 gigahertz) and shipped with a miniscule 64 kilobytes of memory.
June 7, 1958: English physician, Ian Donald, describes how he was able, with the use of ultrasound, to make the life-saving diagnosis of a huge, easily removable, ovarian cyst in a woman who had been diagnosed by others as having inoperable stomach cancer.
June 7, 1975: The first home videocassette recorder, the Sony Betamax, goes on sale in Japan. The following year, Sony's competitor JVC introduces the Video Home System, VHS, which becomes the more popular format.
June 8, 1983: Aaron, Jessica, and Chenara Guare, the first triplets resulting from in-vitro fertilization, are born at the Flinders Medical Centre in Adelaide, Australia.
June 10, 1943: The ball point pen is patented by Hungarian journalist László Bíró for a second time. Bíró first patented the pen, which used faster drying newspaper ink instead of India ink contained in a cartridge, in Paris in 1938. When he and his brother Georg, a chemist, escaped Nazi occupation and moved to Argentina, they filed another patent, and formed Biro Pens of Argentina. The design was licensed by the British, who produced ballpoint pens for Royal Air Force aircrew, who found that they worked much better than fountain pens at high altitude. In 1950 Marcel Bich bought the patent for the pen, which soon became the main product of his Bic company.
June 10, 2000: London's Millenium Bridge, a footbridge across the Thames is opened by Queen Elizabeth. When pedestrians crossing it felt an unexpected swaying motion they nicknamed it the Wobbly Bridge. The bridge was closed and modified, and further modifications eliminated the "wobble" which was found to be caused by a 'positive feedback' phenomenon known as Synchronous Lateral Excitation entirely.
April 22, 1915: Modern chemicals are used in war for the first time when German troops release chlorine gas on the front lines at Ypres, Belgium during WW I. Wind blows the cloud of yellow-green gas over the French trenches killing 5000 soldiers. Chlorine gas causes suffocation, constriction of the chest, tightness in the throat, and oedema of the lungs. As little as 2.5 mg per litre (approximately 0.085 percent by volume) in the atmosphere causes death in minutes.
April 25, 1792: Highwayman Nicholas-Jacques Pelletier becomes the first person to be dispatched using the guillotine. In France, beheading had been decreed as the default method of execution available to all classes, as a nod to the tenets of the Revolution, which required that all people be treated as equals. Before the law was passed, death by decapitation, considered to be the most humane way to die was available only to the nobility. Ordinary prisoners suffered slow death by hanging or were tied to a breaking wheel where they had their limbs broken and usually died from shock and dehydration. The guillotine was developed when Sanson, the official executioner, pointed out that beheading all criminals using the sword was impractical since it required a skilled executioner with a lot of strength, a very steady hand and a good eye, in order to sever the criminal's head with a single stroke.
April 12, 1888: A French newspaper mistakenly publishes an obituary for Alfred Nobel, inventor of dynamite, calling him "a merchant of death". It was actually his brother Ludwig who had died, but the label he was given made Nobel realise he needed to improve his public image and prompted him to establish the Nobel prizes.
April 14, 1912: David Sarnoff, a 21-year-old telegraph operator managing a powerful Marconi radio telegraph station from the roof of Wanamaker's department store in New York, picks up a message of distress call of the Titanic relayed from ships at sea: "S.S. Titanic ran into iceberg, sinking fast." Sarnoff , who later went on to found NBC, stayed at his post for 72 hours, receiving and transmitting the first authentic information on the disaster, relaying the names of the rescued from the Carpathia telegraph operator to newsmen and the families of those on board the Titanic.
April 15, 1726: Writer William Stukeley has a conversation with Isaac Newton during which Newton makes mention of the notion of gravity. Later Stukeley recalls in his book Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton's Life: "It was occasioned by the fall of an apple, as he sat in contemplative mood. Why should that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground, thought he to himself. Why should it not go sideways or upwards, but constantly to the Earth's centre."
April 6, 1938: Chemist Roy Plunkett accidentally discovers polytetrafluoroethylene, later known as Teflon, when a canister containing tetrafluoroethylene, a gas used in refrigeration, fails to discharge. When Plunkett opened the canister up he discovered that the gas had polymerised into a smooth, slippery white powder. Teflon is used for non-stick cookware bacause it can repel substances at high temperatures. In the 1980's it lent its name to US president Ronald Reagan, who became known as the Teflon President for his uncanny ability to avoid being tarnished by the scandals that plagued his administration.
April 10, 1633: Bananas appeared on sale in Britain for the first time, exhibited in the shop window of Thomas Johnson of Snow Hill, London. According to recent archaeological evidence, the banana was first cultivated at Kuk Swamp in the Papua New Guinean highlands at least 6,500 years ago.
April 1, 2004: After a tradition of April Fools' Day hoaxes, Google releases a web-based email service called Gmail.
April 1, 1875: Sir Francis Galton publishes the first newspaper weather map in The Times of London. Today it is a standard feature of newspapers worldwide.
April 2, 1935: Scottish physicist, Sir Robert Watson-Watt is granted a patent for RADAR – RAdio Detection And Ranging. His work played a vital role in the defence of Britain against German air raids in 1940.
April 3, 1449: John of Utynam receives a patent, the first ever issued in England, for a method for making coloured glass, granted for a term of 20 years by King Henry VI. Flemish-born John of Utynam made the stained-glass windows for the king's new institutions Eton College and King's College, Cambridge.
April 3, 1973: The first call on a mobile telephone is made by its inventor Martin Cooper to his rival Dr. Joel S. Engel, Bell Labs' head of research.
May 11, 1811: The original Siamese twins, Chang and Eng are born of Chinese parents in Siam, which today is known as Thailand. They were discovered in 1829 by British merchant Robert Hunter and displayed as a curiosity. Once their contract expired, they went into business for themselves, emigrated to the United States, assumed the name Bunker, bought a plantation, married sisters Adelaide and Sarah Jane Yates and between them fathered 21 children. They died within hours of one another on January 17, 1874.
May 11, 1997: Computer Deep Blue beats Russian chess champion Garry Kasparov in a six game tournament. The computer, which was progammed specifically to beat the master, was retired by IBM after its highly-publicised victory.
May 13, 1637: French statesman, Cardinal Richelieu, creates the table knife. Until this time, daggers had been used to cut meat and pick teeth. Richelieu had the points of all the knives to be used at his table rounded off.
May 16, 1988: U.S. Surgeon-General C. Everett Koop declares that nicotine is addictive.
April 28, 1926: Nuclear physicist Erwin Schrödinger writes a letter to Albert Einstein, introducing a new term: wave mechanics.
April 30, 1897: Director of the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, Joseph John Thomson announces the existence of the electron at a Friday Evening Discourse of the Royal Institution. Thomson claimed that what he called a "corpuscle", a small body, was a thousand times smaller than the atom. The electron was the first elementary particle to be discovered.
April 30, 1878: Louis Pasteur presents his germ theory of disease, which proposed that many diseases were caused by tiny organisms, at the French Academy of Science. He was met with opposition from some scientists, whose contrary opinions he called "fatal to medical progress."
April 30, 1665: Samuel Pepys makes a reference in his diary to the Great Plague in London: " Great fears of the sicknesses here in the City, it being said that two or three houses are already shut up. God preserve us all."
May 4, 1536: Francesco Lapi, a Florentine merchant, uses the @ symbol in a letter. It’s the first recorded use of the “at” sign outside a monastery.
May 6, 1840: Britain introduces adhesive postage stamps.
May 8, 1886: Dr John Stith Pemberton begins selling Coca Cola for the first time at a soda fountain at Jacob's Pharmacy in Atlanta Georgia. Pemberton's beverage was modelled on cocawine, an alcoholic beverage that combined cocaine and wine. When the Prohibition laws were introduced in Georgia, he created a non-alcoholic version, which cut the wine but kept the coca leaves which meant that the cocaine content per glass was about 9 milligrams. The cocaine was excluded in 1903. According to a history on the Nigerian Bottling company website, Pemberton spent $50 on production and $75 on advertising and sold an average of only nine glasses a day in the first year.
May 9, 1936: The Hindenburg Zeppelin arrives at Lakehurst, New Jersey, USA, from Germany, for the first time, beginning a regular trans-Atlantic passenger service between the two countries. A year later, almost to the day, on May 6, 1937, it caught fire and was destroyed, killing 35 of its 97 passengers. The incident, known as the Hindenburg disaster, challenged public confidence and marked the end of the use of rigid airships as a means of passenger transport.
May 21, 1916: Daylight Saving Time is introduced in Britain as a wartime measure to save fuel. In 1907, builder William Willett, presented a proposal for shifting the clock to better use the hours of daylight in summer. Parliament considered implementing a seasonal one-hour change, but it failed due to lack of support. A little more than a year after Willett's death, the idea was finally adopted.
May 23, 1994: British doctors come up with an answer to the mystery of the "flesh eating bug" which caused an outbreak of Necrotizing fasciitis in Gloucestershire earlier that year. The disease was attributed to a cluster of unusually intense infections by the common Steptococcus bacterium, a pathogen normally associated with sore throats and fever.
May 23, 1785: Benjamin Franklin writes a letter documenting his invention of bifocal spectacles: "I have only to move my eyes up and down as I want to see far or near." The invention had limited popularity at a time when even ordinary glasses in the colonies cost as much as $100 per pair.
Aug. 25, 1973: CT scan goes into use in the United States. Originally referred to as a CAT (Computer Aided Tomography) scan, the process uses a series of X rays to create virtual slices of tissue, which doctors can use to pinpoint the location of abnormalities. It was developed at Tufts University in the UK by South African physicist Allan Cormack (his main field was particle physics so he worked on the scanner in his spare time) and Godfrey Hounsfield of EMI Laboratories, an achievement which secured them the 1979 Nobel Prize in Medicine. The first CT scanner took several hours to acquire the raw data for a single scan or "slice" and took days to reconstruct a single image. Current systems can collect up to 4 slices of data in 350 milliseconds and can reconstruct a 512 x 512-matrix image from millions of data points in less than a second.
November 6, 1956: Construction of the Kariba High Dam begins across the Zambesi river between North and South Rhodesia (now Zambia and Zimbabwe). Completed in June 1959, the dam is the largest of its time, rising 128m from the river bed. Lake Kariba, the reservoir created by the dam, extends for 280km with a storage capacity of 180km³. It supplies 1320 MW of electricity and generates 6400 GWh per annum. During its construction 57 000 Tonga people were forced to resettle. According to anthroplogist Thayer Scudder, today most of these people are still "development refugees" who "live in less productive, problem-prone areas, some of which have been so seriously degraded within the last generation that they resemble lands on the edge of the Sahara Desert."The dam also had the effect of dividing the Tonga people; although the Gwembe Tonga on the Zambian side and the Zimbabwean Tonga, were once united, with some having lost their language and culture they are now considered to belong to different groups.
December 25, 1750: Benjamin Franklin, in one of his many experiments with electricity, attempts to kill a turkey by hooking it up to two Leyden jars, and accidentally electrocutes himself: "I have lately made an Experiment in Electricity that I desire never to repeat. Two nights ago being about to kill a Turkey by the Shock from two large Glass Jarrs containing as much electrical fire as forty common Phials, I inadvertently took the whole thro' my own Arms and Body."
December 26, 1982: Time magazine's Man of the Year accolade, given for "greatest influence for good or evil" is awarded to its first non-human recipient, the computer.
December 27, 1831: Charles Darwin begins his voyage as ship's naturalist aboard the HMS Beagle. Darwin, a 22-year-old fresh out of university, developed his theory of natural selection from observations he made and the specimens he collected on the five year voyage, which made stops in Brazil, the Galapagos islands and New Zealand.
October 25, 1952: The Tappan Stove company introduces the first microwave oven for domestic use. It has two cooking speeds, a stainless steel exterior, glass shelf, top browning element and a recipe card drawer. At $1,300 sales are disappointingly slow. The technology was originally sold to Tappan by Raytheon, a company specialising in defense systems; today it is the world's largest producer of guided missiles. Percy Spencer, an employee at Raytheon, discovered the ability of microwaves to cook food when he was building magnetrons (a microwave-generating vacuum tube) for radar sets and noticed that a peanut chocolate bar that he had in his pocket began melting. Raytheon filed a U.S. patent for Spencer's microwave cooking process and, in 1947, built the Radarange, the first microwave oven in the world. It stood almost two metres from the ground, weighed 340 kg and cost about US$5000.
December 15, 2001: After a $27 million effort to keep it from tilting so much it might fall over, Italy's Leaning Tower of Pisa reopens its doors to tourists. Several plans to stop the slow but steady decrease of the angle between the tower and the ground were hatched after the Italian government elected to close the tower to tourists in 1989. One suggestion was to drill 10,000 holes in the tower to make it a little lighter. Another was to build an exact replica leaning in the other direction to prop up the existing one. When these proposals were rejected, the only solution seemed to be to dismantle the entire structure and rebuild it stone by stone until engineers decided that if they could get the high side of the foundations to sink a little it might straighten out the sinking side. 100 tons of lead weights were placed on the lip of the north-side and drills were used to remove soil from the 800-year-old foundation. After three years they had succeeded in straightening the tower by 45 centimetres and it was declared stable for at least another 300 years. In May this year engineers announced that the tower had stopped moving altogether.