Friday, 25 April 2014

Today’s the Day

Anniversaries & Events in Academia & Elsewhere

April 25

Not a bad day at all for happenings worldwide in history. It was on this very day back in 1507 that geographer Martin Waldseemuller first used the name America (Matthias Ringmann is sometimes also credited with him) in honour of the Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci, when making a large twelve-panel wall world map, Cosmographia Universalis, based on the travels of Columbus and Vespucci.
 It seems that Waldseemuller later became racked with doubts about Vespucci’s actual involvement in discovering America, seeing he afterwards labelled it as Terra Incognita, or Unknown Land.

On April 25 1684, a patent was granted for the humble thimble, though the identity of the person that took it out has proved incredibly difficult to discover. Still, there can’t be many people sadder than someone who applies for a patent for a thimble, can there? With the sole exception, perhaps, of the fellow who spends his time trying to find out who this thimble-patenter might have been. Daniel Defoe must have thought April 25 a lucky day, seeing he chose it for publishing Robinson Crusoe, a little something he drummed up when he wasn’t busy spying. His name was actually Foe but he added the De later, claiming descent from the family of De Beau Faux. That means “of Good False,” don’t it?

Nicolas Pelletier didn’t think it quite such a lucky day from his particular angle, which happened to be underneath the rapidly descending blade of Madame Guillotine as it claimed its first victim, who was so unbourgeois as to be a common highwayman. In readiness for the event, the authorities had thoughtfully painted the contraption red …

Moving on to 1850, Paul Julius Reuter (that name rings a bell) used forty pigeons to carry stock market prices. He was originally a Jewish German and called Israel Beer Josafat, by which stroke of changing it thus deprived us of the chance today to be talking about the Beer News Agency. Pity. Over in Vienna, in 1886, Sigmund Freud opened his practice at Rathausstrasse 7 (it means 7 Town Hall Street) but it is not true that in the early days he used to write the appointments of his patients on small pieces of paper, later to become known in the trade as Freudian Slips. April 25 1915 saw the landing of 78,000 ANZAC troops at Gallipoli, though by January 9, having lost some 50,000 of them, it was high time to go. The Australians and New Zealanders shot all their horses and mules first but we considered that most awfully unBritish behaviour, so we simply left ours there to starve instead.

It was a better kind of day for Boris Yeltsin in 1993, when Russia elected him their new President, though not such a good one in 2007 as it was when his funeral was held. He was the first head of state to have been buried in a church service in one hundred and thirteen years. Well, being the original Pickled Gherkin, they weren’t going to risk cremating him, now were they?

This day 1990, the Hubble space telescope was put into orbit, which is when they discovered it had one tiny flaw … it couldn’t focus on anything far away. They managed to fix it in the end. Edwin Hubble, after whom the telescope is named, spent much time trying to get astronomy to be considered as a branch of physics rather than a field in its own right, though this was mainly so that astronomers might get the Nobel Prize (for Physics), a move which the Committee stoutly resisted. Right up until 1953, shortly after Hubble’s sudden death. The prize cannot be awarded posthumously …

Oh, yes, and this day in 1953 some scientists published an article announcing the discovery of the structure of something called DNA.

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