This Month in History: February

Happy some land, which all for freedom gave,
Happier the men whom their own virtues save;
Thrice happy we who long attacks have stood,
And swam to Liberty thro’ seas of blood;
The time shall come when strangers rule no more,
Nor cruel madness vex from Britain’s shore.

Philip Freneau, a political writer, poet, and newspaper editor, celebrated America’s newfound freedom in his poem “American Liberty,” while also anticipating the spirit of expansion and manifest destiny that would shape the nation’s self-image for centuries.

 

  • Today in History — February 22

    Which was the first American ship to sail from the US to China in 1784?

    Empress_of_China_1891February 22, 1784 — The first US ship to conduct trade with China, “Empress of China,” sailed from New York today.

    Also known as Chinese Queen, this three-masted, square-rigged sailing ship of 360 tons was initially built in 1783 for service as a privateer.

    After the Treaty of Paris brought a formal end to the American Revolutionary War, the vessel was refitted for commercial purposes. She became the first American ship to sail from the newly independent United States to China, opening what is known today as the Old China Trade and transporting the first official representative of the American government to Canton.

    The first American merchant vessel to enter Chinese waters left New York harbor on Washington’s birthday, February 22, 1784. The Empress returned to New York on May 11, 1785 after a round voyage of 14 months and 24 days. The success of the voyage encouraged others to invest in further trading with China.

    The ship’s captain John Green (1736–1796) was a former U.S. naval officer, its two business agents (supercargos), Samuel Shaw (1754–1794) and Thomas Randall (1723–1797), were former officers in the U.S. Continental Army, and its syndicate of owners, including Robert Morris (1734–1806) were some of the richest men in the new nation.

    Sources: chinabusinessreview.com, 200 Years of U.S. Trade with China, wikipedia/ChineseQueen, Imperial China, Empress of China, Ron Wyden

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  • February 1

    What is National Freedom Day?

    National-Freedom-Day-Photo

    February 1, 1865 — Today is National Freedom Day, which celebrates the signing of a resolution that proposed the 13th Amendment of the Constitution, which outlaws slavery.

    It declares: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

    Congress passed it on Jan. 31, 1865, it was ratified by the following December.

    Maj. Richard Robert Wright, Sr., a former slave who founded the National Freedom Day Association, played a crucial role in creating the observance. A community leader in Philadelphia, Wright hoped to see a day that would be dedicated to celebrating freedom for all Americans.

    Sources: wikipedia/National_Freedom_Day, philadelphiaencyclopedia, timeanddate.com,

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  • February 2

    Who was Arthur St. Clair?

    1024px-ArthurStClairOfficialPortrait-restoredFebruary 2, 1787 — Arthur St. Clair was elected the 9th president of the Continental Congress today. One of his first jobs was to deal with Shay’s Rebellion, because American farmers were up in arms against state and local enforcement of tax collections and judgments for debt.

    Born in Scotland, St. Clair served in the British Army during the French and Indian War before settling in Pennsylvania, where he held local office. During the American Revolutionary War, he rose to the rank of major general in the Continental Army, but lost his command after a controversial retreat from Fort Ticonderoga.

    After the war, he served as president of the Continental Congress. During his term, the Northwest Ordinance passed, which provided a method for admitting new states to the Union from the Northwest Territory.

    St. Clair was then made governor of the Northwest Territory in 1788, and then the portion that would become Ohio in 1800. In 1791, St. Clair commanded the American forces in what was the worst ever US defeat against the American Indians. Politically out-of-step with the Jefferson administration, he was replaced as governor in 1802.

    St. Clair died in poverty in Greensburg, PA, on August 31, 1818. At the time, he lived with his daughter, Louisa St. Clair Robb and her family on the ridge between Ligonier and Greensburg. He was buried under a Masonic monument in St. Clair Park in downtown Greensburg. His wife of 58 years, Phoebe Bayard, died shortly after and is buried beside him.

    Sources: getlegal.com, wikipedia, ShaysRebellion, ourdocuments.gov,

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  • February 3

    Where was the world’s first commercial cheese factory established?

    440px-9-alimenti,_formaggi,Taccuino_Sanitatis,_Casanatense_4182.February 3, 1815 — The world’s first commercial cheese factory was established in Switzerland today in 1815.

    However, it was in the United States where large-scale production found real success. Credit goes to Jesse Williams, who today is known as the Father of Cheese. A dairy farmer from Rome, New York, in the spring of 1851 he started making cheese in an assembly-line fashion using the milk from neighboring farms. Within decades, hundreds of such dairy associations existed.

    The 1860s saw the beginnings of mass-produced rennet, and by the turn of the century scientists were producing pure microbial cultures. Before then, bacteria in cheese making had come from the environment or from recycling an earlier batch’s whey; the pure cultures meant a more standardized cheese could be produced. With the mass production of cheese making it more readily available to the poorer classes, simple cost-effective storage solutions for cheese gained popularity.

    Ceramic cheese dishes, or cheese bells, became one of the most common ways to prolong the life of cheese in the home, and remained the most popular in most households until the introduction of the home refrigerator in 1913.

    Did you know: The archaic myth of the culture-hero Aristaeus introduced bee-keeping and cheese-making before wine was known in Greece.

    Popular European cheeses, including French Brie, Dutch Gouda, English Cheddar and Italian Parmesan, date back to the mid to Middle Ages. Parmesan, in fact, is close to its original form. With the advent of industrial processing, however, many others were stripped of their defining local traits so they could be delivered to the mass market.

    The standardization of cheese, however, allowed them to eventually be distributed in countries that had never eaten cheese — including Asia, Africa, and South America.

    Sources: idfa.org, wikipedia/historyofcheese, culturecheesemag.com,

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  • February 4

    What were the Apache Wars, and how long did they last?

    Geronimo_camp_March_27,_1886February 4, 1861 — Apache Chief Cochise was arrested in Arizona today by the U.S. Army for raiding a ranch. He then escaped and declared war, beginning the period known as the Apache Wars, which lasted 25 years.

    Its origins started a year before the first conflict when a fraction of Mexico became part of the United States in the aftermath of the Mexican-American War. Native Mexicans became Native Americans for the series of conflicts where a significant part of the Westward Expansion Trails in the American frontier.

    The first conflicts between the Apache date to the earliest Spanish settlements, but the specific set of conflicts now known as the Apache Wars began during the Mexican-American War. The first United States Army campaigns specifically against the Apache began in 1849, and the last major battle ended with the surrender of Geronimo in 1886.

    Geronimo is probably the most notable Apache warrior of that time period, but he was not alone. He belonged to a Chiricahua Apache band. After two decades of guerrilla warfare, Cochise, one of the leaders of the Chiricahua band, chose to make peace with the US. He agreed to relocate his people to a reservation in the Chiricahua Mountains. Soon afterward in 1874, Cochise died. In a change of policy, the U.S. government decided to move the Chiricahua to the San Carlos reservation in 1876.[citation needed] Half complied and the other half, led by Geronimo, escaped to Mexico.

    In the spring of 1877, the U.S. captured Geronimo and brought him to the San Carlos reservation. He stayed there until September 1881. As soldiers gathered near the reservation, he feared being imprisoned for previous activities. He fled the reservation with 700 Apache and went to Mexico again.

    Sources: Encyclopedia of Indian Wars: Western battles and skirmishes 1850-1890, Geronimo, His Own Story, wikipedia/Apache_Wars, desertusa.com, biography.com,

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  • February 5

    Who manufactured the first adding machine?

    440px-Dorr_E_Felt_PortraitFebruary 5, 1887 — Dorr Eugene Felt (1862–1930) of Beloit, Wisconsin  began manufacturing his comptometer today, taking the adding machine to new heights.

    It was an invention 220 years in the  making, for the original creators of adding machines were Blaise Pascal and Wilhelm Schickard, who in 1642 built the first mechanical calculator. Pascal came up with an adding machine that could perform additions and subtractions directly and multiplication and divisions by repetitions. Schickard’s machine, invented several decades earlier, was supported by a mechanised form of multiplication tables.

    These two were followed by a string of inventors and inventions leading to those of Thomas de Colmar who launched the mechanical calculator industry in 1851 when he released his simplified arithmometer. It took him thirty years to refine his machine, patented in 1820, into a simpler and more reliable form.

    However, the machine didn’t gain widespread use until Felt and Chicago businessman Robert Tarrant partnered two years later. On Jan. 25, 1889, they incorporated the Felt & Tarrant Manufacturing Company, and sales took off.

    Felt later went on to invent more devices and acquired 46 domestic patents and 25 foreign ones. The original macaroni box prototype and the first Comptograph ever sold are now part of the Smithsonian Museum collection of antique calculators. Felt was awarded the John Scott Medal of The Franklin Institute in 1889. He also was the first ambassador for the Department of Commerce formed to study labor abroad after World War I.

    Sources: history-computer.com, wikipedia.org/adding_machine, wikipedia.org/Dorr_Felt,

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  • February 6

    What was the Treaty of Alliance?

    french-treaty 1778February 6, 1778 — The Treaty of Alliance with France — aka: the Franco-American Treaty — was a defensive alliance between France and the United States of America.

    Formed in the midst of the American Revolutionary War, it promised America of French military support in case of attack by British forces indefinitely into the future. Delegates of King Louis XVI of France and the Second Continental Congress, who represented the United States at this time, signed the treaty along with a Treaty of Amity and Commerce at the Hôtel de Crillon in Paris on February 6, 1778.

    The Franco-American alliance remained in effect until the 1800 Treaty of Mortefontaine, despite being annulled by the United States Congress in 1793 when George Washington gave his Neutrality Proclamation speech, announcing that America would stay neutral in the French Revolution.

    The treaty was negotiated by the American diplomats Benjamin Franklin, Silas Deane, and Arthur Lee, the Treaty of Alliance required that neither France nor the United States agree to a separate peace with Great Britain, and that American independence be a condition of any future peace agreement. In addition to the Treaty of Alliance, the Treaty of Amity and Commerce with France was signed on February 6, 1778, promoting trade and commercial ties between the two countries.

    Sources: wikipedia/TreatyofAlliance, loc.gov, mstartzman.pbworks.com,

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  • February 7

    Who performed the first ballet at the Bowery Theater today in 1827?

    Old_Bowery_Theatre,_Bowery,_N.Y,_from_Robert_N._Dennis_collection_of_stereoscopic_views_-_crop_2_-_jpg_versionFebruary 7, 1827 — Madame Francisquy Hutin and her troupe performed the ballet Deserter for the first time at the Bowery Theater in New York City.

    The playhouse, located on the Bowery in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, was founded by wealthy families who wanted to compete with the upscale Park Theatre.

    It saw its most successful period under the populist, pro-American management of Thomas Hamblin in the 1830s and 1840s.

    In the 1850s, the theater began catering to immigrant groups such as the Irish, Germans, and Chinese.

    Unfortunately, the building burned down four times in 17 years, and a fire in 1929 destroyed it for good.

    Sources: wikipedia/Bowery_Theater, celebrateandlearn.com, newyorker.com, balletconnections.com,

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  • February 8

    What was the first opera performed in the Colonies?

    floraFebruary 8, 1735 — The first opera performed in the Colonies opened today in Charleston, SC.

    A ballad opera entitled, Flora: Or Hob in the Well, debuted at the New World Theatre. The 18th-century English-language play is punctuated by popular songs of the time with lyrics to fit the action. The pieces were notorious for their slapstick humor and irreverent bawdiness.

    The plot: A wronged heiress, a faithful lover, a resourceful maid, and an avaricious uncle play out their roles in the first opera ever performed in the American colonies.

    Also noteworthy: Charleston hosted the first pantomime ballet performed in the Colonies, The Adventures of Harlequin and Scaramouch.

    Sources: wikipedia/TimelineofMusic, postandcourier.com, carolana.com, charlestoncitypaper.com,

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  • February 9

    Who signed the resolution to create the US National Weather Service?

    PSM_V32_D302_Cleveland_AbbeFebruary 9, 1870 — The US Army established the US National Weather Service today. A joint resolution of Congress was signed by President Ulysses S. Grant with the mission to “provide for taking meteorological observations at the military stations in the interior of the continent and at other points in the States and Territories…and for giving notice on the northern (Great) Lakes and on the seacoast by magnetic telegraph and marine signals, of the approach and force of storms.”

    The agency was placed under the Secretary of War as Congress felt “military discipline would probably secure the greatest promptness, regularity, and accuracy in the required observations.”

    Within the Department of War, it was assigned to the U.S. Army Signal Service under Brigadier General Albert J. Myer. General Myer gave the National Weather Service its first name: The Division of Telegrams and Reports for the Benefit of Commerce.

    The Bureau’s first chief meteorologist was Cleveland Abbe (pictured above) who developed probabilistic forecasts using daily weather data sent by the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce and Western Union. In his earlier role as the civilian assistant to the chief of the Signal Service, Abbe urged the Department of War to research weather conditions to provide a scientific basis behind the forecasts; he would continue to urge the study of meteorology as a science after becoming Weather Bureau chief.

    The agency first became a civilian enterprise in 1890, when it became part of the Department of Agriculture. The Bureau would later be moved to the Department of Commerce in 1940.

    Sources: wikipedia/National_Weather_Service, weather.gov, nws.noaa.gov,

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  • February 10

    Who created the first diving suit?

    Divers_-_Illustrated_London_News_Feb_6_1873-2February 10, 1774 — Today, Andrew Becker created a leather-covered diving suit with a helmet featuring a window. Becker used a system of tubes for inhaling and exhaling, and demonstrated his suit in the River Thames, London, during which he remained submerged for an hour.

    But the first diving dress designs were developed by two English inventors in the 1710s. John Lethbridge built a completely enclosed suit to aid in salvage work. It consisted of a pressure-proof air-filled barrel with a glass viewing hole and two watertight enclosed sleeves.

    This suit gave the diver more maneouverability to accomplish useful underwater salvage work. After testing this machine in his garden pond (specially built for the purpose) Lethbridge dived on a number of wrecks: four English men-of-war, one East Indiaman (both English and Dutch), two Spanish galleons and a number of galleys.

    He became very wealthy as a result of the salvages. One of his better-known recoveries was on the Dutch Slot ter Hooge, which had sunk off Madeira with over three tons of silver on board.

    In the 1830s, a German-born British engineer Augustus Siebe developed the standard diving dress. He expanded on improvements already made by another engineer, George Edwards, and produced his own design — a helmet fitted to a full length watertight canvas diving suit. Later dresses were made with waterproofed canvas invented by Charles Mackintosh. From the late 1800s and throughout most of the 20th century, most Standard Dresses consisted of a solid sheet of rubber between layers of tan twill.

    Sources: wikipedia.org/Diving_suit,

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  • February 11

    What is the power of anthracite?

    a014b1fdeb98703287cb6a92a9aff7aaFebruary 11, 1808 — Anthracite coal was first burned as an experiment today in Wilkes-Barre, PA, by Judge Jesse Fell. He placed it on an open grate in a fireplace as an alternative to wood. It lit, warmed the room, and thus became a viable heating alternative.

    A hard, compact variety of coal that has a sub metallic luster, anthracite has few impurities, high carbon content, and also has the highest calorific content of all types of coal — more than bituminous coal and lignite.

    By the Spring, entrepreneurs John and Abijah Smith shipped the first commercially mined load of anthracite to the Susquehanna River from Plymouth, Pennsylvania, marking the birth of commercial anthracite mining in the US. From that first mine, production rose to an all-time high of over 100 million tons in 1917.

    Anthracite usage was inhibited by the difficulty of igniting it. This was a particular concern in smelting iron using a blast furnace. But with the invention of hot blast in 1828, which used waste heat to preheat combustion air, anthracite became a preferred fuel, accounting for 45% of US pig iron production within 15 years.

    From the late 19th century until the 1950s, anthracite was the most popular fuel for heating homes and other buildings in the northern US, until it was supplanted by oil burning systems and more recently natural gas systems. Many large public buildings, such as schools, were heated with anthracite-burning furnaces through the 1980s.

    Sources: wikipediaAnthracite, thefreedictionary.com,

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  • February 12

    Who founded the colony of Georgia?

    james-oglethorpeFebruary 12, 1733 — James Edward Oglethorpe (December 1696-June 1785) founded the colony of Georgia today.

    The British general, member of Parliament, and philanthropist, was also a social reformer who hoped to resettle Britain’s poor in the New World — especially those in debtors’ prisons.

    Prior to conceiving the Georgia colony, Oglethorpe chaired a Parliamentary committee on prison reform, which documented horrendous abuses in three debtors’ prisons. He viewed this as part of the larger problem of urbanisation, which was depleting the countryside of productively employed people and depositing them in cities, particularly London.

    As a possible solution, he and a group of associates petitioned in 1730 to form the Trustees for the Establishment of the Colony of Georgia in America. On November 1732, the first ship, led by Oglethorpe, departed for the New World on the ship Anne.

    They arrived in South Carolina in late 1732, and settled near the present site of Savannah. Oglethorpe negotiated with the Yamacraw tribe for land (and became great friends with Chief Tomochichi of the Yamacraw), and built a series of defensive forts.

    Oglethorpe and his fellow trustees were granted a royal charter for the Province of Georgia between the Savannah and Altamaha rivers on June 9.

    While Oglethorpe was widely acclaimed in London, his expansionism was not welcomed in all quarters. The Duke of Newcastle, who directed British foreign policy, had tried to restrain Oglethorpe’s efforts in the colony for fear of offending the Spanish, whom Newcastle wished unsuccessfully to court as an ally. Newcastle eventually relented, and became a supporter of the colony admitting “it will now be pretty difficult to give up Georgia.”

    Sources: wikipedia.org/Oglethorpe, georgiaencyclopedia, landofthebrave, visit-historic-savannah,

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  • February 12

    Happy Birthday Abraham Lincoln!

    February 12, 1809 — Abraham Lincoln is born today in 1809. An American politician and lawyer, he served as the 16th President of the United States from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865.

    Lincoln led the United States through its Civil War—its bloodiest war and perhaps its greatest moral, constitutional, and political crisis.

    In doing so, he preserved the Union, abolished slavery, strengthened the federal government, and modernized the economy.

    Born in Hodgenville, Kentucky, Lincoln grew up on the western frontier in Kentucky and Indiana. Largely self-educated, he became a lawyer in Illinois, a Whig Party leader, and was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives, in which he served for eight years. Elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1846, Lincoln promoted rapid modernization of the economy through banks, tariffs, and railroads.

    Because he had originally agreed not to run for a second term in Congress, and because his opposition to the Mexican–American War was unpopular among Illinois voters, Lincoln returned to Springfield and resumed his successful law practice. Reentering politics in 1854, he became a leader in building the new Republican Party, which had a statewide majority in Illinois. In 1858, while taking part in a series of highly publicized debates with his opponent and rival, Democrat Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln spoke out against the expansion of slavery, but lost the U.S. Senate race to Douglas.

    In 1860, Lincoln secured the Republican Party presidential nomination as a moderate from a swing state. Though he gained very little support in the slaveholding states of the South, he swept the North and was elected president in 1860. Lincoln’s victory prompted seven southern slave states to form the Confederate States of America before he moved into the White House – no compromise or reconciliation was found regarding slavery and secession.

    Subsequently, on April 12, 1861, a Confederate attack on Fort Sumter inspired the North to enthusiastically rally behind the Union. As the leader of the moderate faction of the Republican Party, Lincoln confronted Radical Republicans, who demanded harsher treatment of the South, War Democrats, who called for more compromise, anti-war Democrats (called Copperheads), who despised him, and irreconcilable secessionists, who plotted his assassination. Politically, Lincoln fought back by pitting his opponents against each other, by carefully planned political patronage, and by appealing to the American people with his powers of oratory.

    His Gettysburg Address became an iconic endorsement of the principles of nationalism, republicanism, equal rights, liberty, and democracy.

    Sources: wikipedia/AbrahamLincoln,

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  • February 13

    Which city saw the first appearance of cholera today in 1832?

    Cholera_395.1February 13, 1832 — London saw its first appearance of Cholera Morbus today.

    The infection of the small intestine by some strains of the bacterium Vibrio cholerae cause watery diarrhea, vomiting and muscle cramps, as well as severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalance.

    Spread mostly by water and food that has been contaminated with human feces containing the bacteria, insufficiently cooked seafood can also be a source. Humans are the only animal affected. Seven cholera pandemics have occurred in the past 200 years, with the 7th pandemic originating in Indonesia in 1961.

    From the Greek word χολή kholē “bile”, the disease originated in the Indian subcontinent and has been prevalent in the Ganges delta since ancient times. It first spread by trade routes (land and sea) in the Bengal region of India starting in 1817 through 1824, and spread to Russia.

    The second pandemic lasted from 1827 to 1835 and affected North American and Europe particularly due to the result of advancements in transportation and global trade, and increased human migration, including soldiers.

    The third pandemic erupted in 1839, persisted until 1856, extended to North Africa, and reached South America, for the first time specifically infringing upon Brazil. Cholera hit the sub-Saharan African region during the fourth pandemic from 1863 to 1875.

    The fifth and sixth pandemics raged from 1881–1896 and 1899–1923. These epidemics were less fatal due to a greater understanding of the cholera bacteria. Egypt, the Arabian peninsula, Persia, India, and the Philippines were hit hardest during these epidemics, while other areas, like Germany in 1892 and Naples from 1910–1911, experienced severe outbreaks.

    The final pandemic originated in 1961 in Indonesia and is marked by the emergence of a new strain, nicknamed El Tor, which still persists today in developing countries.

    Sources: wikipedia/Cholera, choleraandthethames, mernick.org.uk, branchcollective.org, sickcityproject,

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  • February 14

    Who discovered Lake Tahoe?

    Fremont_Pyramid_Lk300February 14, 1844 — Lt. John C. Frémont is the first European to discover Lake Tahoe in the US today.

    But John Calhoun Johnson, founder of “Johnson’s Cutoff” (now U.S. Route 50), was likely the first white man to see Meeks Bay and from a peak above the lake he named Fallen Leaf Lake after his Indian guide.

    His first job in the west was in the government service, carrying the mail on snowshoes from Placervilleto Nevada City, during which time he named the lake “Lake Bigler” in honor of California’s third governor John Bigler.

    In 1853 William Eddy, the surveyor general of California, identified the lake as Lake Bigler. During the Civil War, Union advocates objected to the name, because Bigler was an ardent secessionist. Due to this, the U.S. Department of the Interior introduced the name Tahoe in 1862. Both names were in use: the legislature passed legislation declaring the official name to be Lake Bigler in 1870, while to most surveys and the general public it was known as Lake Tahoe.

    The lake didn’t receive its official and final designation as Lake Tahoe until 1945.

    Upon discovery of gold in the South Fork of the American River in 1848, thousands of gold seekers going west passed near the basin on their way to the gold fields. European civilization first made its mark in the Lake Tahoe basin with the 1858 discovery of the Comstock Lode, a silver deposit just 15 miles (24 km) to the east in Virginia City, Nevada.

    From 1858 until about 1890, logging in the basin supplied large timbers to shore up the underground workings of the Comstock mines. The logging was so extensive that loggers cut down almost all of the native forest.

    JCFrémontWho was John Fremont? An American military officer, explorer, and politician, Fremont (January 21, 1813 – July 13, 1890) became the first candidate of the anti-slavery Republican Party for the office of President of the United States. During the 1840s, when he led four expeditions into the American West, that era’s penny press and admiring historians accorded Frémont the sobriquet The Pathfinder.

    During the Mexican–American War, he was a major in the U.S. Army, took control of California from the Bear Flag Republic in 1846. Frémont then proclaimed himself military Governor of California; however, for that he was convicted in court martial for mutiny and insubordination.

    Historians portray Frémont as controversial, impetuous, and contradictory. Some scholars regard him as a military hero of significant accomplishment, while others view him as a failure who repeatedly defeated his own best purposes. The keys to Frémont’s character and personality may lie in his being born illegitimately, his ambitious drive for success, self-justification, and passive-aggressive behavior.

    Sources: wikipedia/JohnFrémont, wikipedia/LakeTahoe, tahoe.com, tahoefund.org, tahoetopia.com,

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  • February 14

    Happy Valentine’s Day: A short history

    Also called Saint Valentine’s Day or the Feast of Saint Valentine, today we celebrate an annual holiday that originated as a Western Christian liturgical feast day. It honored one or more early saints named Valentinus, and is recognized as a significant cultural and commercial celebration in many regions around the world, although it is not a public holiday in any country.

    The day first became associated with romantic love within the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century, when the tradition of courtly love flourished. In 18th-century England, it evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards (known as “valentines”).

    In Europe, Saint Valentine’s Keys are given to lovers “as a romantic symbol and an invitation to unlock the giver’s heart”, as well as to children, in order to ward off epilepsy (called Saint Valentine’s Malady).[6] Valentine’s Day symbols that are used today include the heart-shaped outline, doves, and the figure of the winged Cupid. Since the 19th century, handwritten valentines have given way to mass-produced greeting cards.

    Today in the United States,  about 190 million Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, not including the hundreds of millions of cards school children exchange. Additionally, in recent decades Valentine’s Day has become increasingly commercialized and a popular gift-giving event, with Valentine’s Day themed advertisements encouraging spending on loved ones. In fact, in the United States alone, the average valentine’s spending has increased every year, from $108 a person in 2010 to $131 in 2013.

    Learn more here.

  • February 15

    What was the Harmony Society?

    Johann_Georg_Rapp_1757_-_1847February 15, 1805 — About 400 German followers formally organized the Harmony Society in Butler County, PA today, placing all their goods in common.

    Its leader was Johann Georg Rapp (November 1, 1757 – August 7, 1847), who wrote, “Thoughts on the Destiny of Man,” in 1824, which he outlined his ideas and philosophy.

    Rapp let newcomers into his Society, but it took a year-long trial period, and many found the Harmonists’ religious life too difficult. During a period of religious zeal in 1807-1808, most of the group adopted the practice of celibacy. However, Rapp’s son, Johannes, was married in 1807; and it was the last marriage on record until 1817. Although Rapp did not entirely bar sex initially, it gradually became a custom and there were few births in later years.

    After Rapp’s death in 1847, a number of members left the group, which slowly became more protective of itself, ad did not allow many new members. It disbanded and the land and financial assets were sold off by 1906.

    Today, many of the Society’s remaining buildings are preserved. All three of their settlements in the US have been declared National Historic Landmark Districts by the National Park Service.

    Sources: wikipedia/HarmonySociety, "Thoughts on the Destiny of Man", readings.com,

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  • February 16

    Who wrote “Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard”?

    by John Giles Eccardt,painting,1747-1748February 16, 1751 — “Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard” was published today by Thomas Gray (December 26, 1716 – July 30, 1771) — an English poet, letter-writer, classical scholar and professor at Cambridge University.

    Completed in 1750, the poem’s origins are unknown, but it said to have been inspired by Gray’s thoughts following the death of the poet Richard Westin in 1742.

    Originally titled, “Stanzas Wrote in a Country Church-Yard,” the poem was completed when Gray — an English poet, letter-writer, classical scholar and professor at Cambridge University — was living near St Giles’ parish church at Stoke Poges.

    It was sent to his friend Horace Walpole, who popularised the poem among London literary circles. Gray was eventually forced to publish the work on 15 February 1751, to pre-empt a magazine publisher from printing an unlicensed copy of the poem.

    Claimed as “probably still today the best-known and best-loved poem in English,” the Elegy became popular. It was printed many times and in a variety of formats, translated into many languages, and praised by critics even after Gray’s other poetry had fallen out of favour.

    Later critics tended to comment on its language and universal aspects, but some felt the ending was unconvincing, failing to resolve the questions the poem raised; or that the poem did not do enough to present a political statement that would serve to help the obscure rustic poor who form its central image.

    Sources: thomasgray.org, poetryfoundation.org, "Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard", wikipedia/ThomasGray,

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  • February 17

    Which US city is the first to be lit by gas street lamps?

    illuminazione stradale a gasFebruary 17, 1817 — Baltimore is the first US city to be lit by gas street lamps today.

    At the corner of North Holliday Street and East Baltimore Street, local businessmen and socialites gathered outside the museum of artist Rembrandt Peale for a demonstration under the glow of artificial light. Forward-thinking Peale aimed to form a business around his gas light innovations, the exhibition targeting potential investors.

    The gamble worked, and several financiers aligned with Peale, forming The Gas Light Company of Baltimore (the precursor to Baltimore Gas & Electric). Less than a year later, the first public gas street lamp was lit in a ceremony one block south of City Hall. The Gayety Theatre is across the street.

    Sources: monumentcity.net, wikipedi./RembrandtPeale, fundinguniverse.com,

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  • February 18

    What was California’s first incorporated city?

    California-MapFebruary 18, 1850 — The California Legislature created nine Bay Area counties today. Within weeks, Sacramento became California’s first incorporated city on February 27, 1850 — followed by San Jose, San Diego and Benicia on March 27, 1850. (Jurupa Valley became the state’s most recent and 482nd incorporated municipality on July 1, 2011.)

    Settlement in the state of California dates back to the 16th and 17th centuries when various Native American tribes inhabited the territory, before being explored by a number of European expeditions. It was then claimed by the Spanish Empire as part of Alta California in the larger territory of New Spain. Alta California became a part of Mexico in 1821, following its successful war for independence.

    It was ceded to the United States in 1848 after the Mexican–American War. The western portion of Alta California was organized as the State of California, which was admitted as the 31st state on September 9, 1850. The California Gold Rush starting in 1848 led to dramatic social and demographic change, with large-scale immigration from the east and abroad with an accompanying economic boom.

    Today, the majority of California’s cities and towns are located within one of five metropolitan areas: the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area, the San Francisco Bay Area, the Riverside-San Bernardino Area, the San Diego metropolitan area and the Sacramento metropolitan area.

    The state recognizes two kinds of cities: charter and general law. General law cities owe their existence to state law and are consequently governed by it; charter cities are governed by their own city charters. Cities incorporated in the 19th century tend to be charter cities. All ten of the state’s most populous cities are charter cities.

    Sources: wikipedia/California, nps.gov, ducksters.com, counties.org,

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  • February 19

    Where did the first coal-burning locomotive make its trial run?

    Baldwin_Locomotive_Works,_Erecting_Floor,_1896February 19, 1831 — The first US coal-burning locomotive made its trial run today in Philadelphia.

    Owned by the Baldwin Locomotive Works, the company was the largest producer of steam locomotives — a surprise to its founder, Matthias W. Baldwin (December 1795 -September 1866), a jeweller and whitesmith.

    In 1825, he had formed a partnership with a machinist, and engaged in the manufacture of bookbinders’ tools and cylinders for calico printing. Baldwin then designed and constructed for his own use a small stationary engine, the workmanship of which was so excellent and its efficiency so great that he was solicited to build others like it for various parties, and thus led to turn his attention to steam engineering.

    The original engine was in use and powered many departments of the works for well over 60 years, and is currently on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.

    In 1831, at the request of the Philadelphia Museum, Baldwin built a miniature locomotive for exhibition which was such a success that he received that year an order from a railway company for a locomotive to run on a short line to the suburbs of Philadelphia.

    Sources: wikipedia/BaldwinLocomotive, wikipedia/MatthiasBaldwin, todayinsci.com, uh.edu,

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  • February 20

    Celebrate President’s Day with a history lesson: What is the story behind dueling in America?

    pistols_1428753cFebruary 20, 1839 — Today, Congress passed legislation barring the practice of dueling in the District of Columbia.

    Passage of the law was inspired by a 1838 duel in which Kentucky Rep. William Graves killed Maine Rep. Jonathan Cilley at the Bladensburg Duelling Grounds near the DC-Maryland border. The House, choosing not to censure Graves or the two other congressman present at the duel, instead presented a bill to “prohibit the giving or accepting within the District of Columbia, of a challenge to fight a duel, and for the punishment thereof.”

    The law did little to deter dueling, which was an ancient practice that was originally a legal means to settle disputes in barbarian Germanic tribes. Duels of honor, fought primarily between noblemen, were an extralegal means to defend one’s honor against personal insults. These duels were governed by codes, the most famous of which is the Code Duello, a list of 26 rules drafted in 1777 by Irish duelers.

    An American version of the code was drafted in 1838 by South Carolina Gov. John Lyde Wilson. A duel was negotiated through companions of the two duelers, known as “seconds.” The offended party would issue a challenge; the challenger could either apologize or accept a duel using the weapon of his choice (usually pistols, but swords were also allowed).

    In America, duels were most prevalent in the South, particularly among upper-class gentlemen. Men who were challenged to a duel were expected to accept; those who refused faced public embarrassment. One South Carolina general, recalling a duel in his youth, remarked, “Well I never did clearly understand what it was about, but you know it was a time when all gentlemen fought.”

    Sources: findingdulcinea.com, history.house.gov, legal-dictionary,

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  • February 21

    Who was the first female telegraph operator?

    Woman_operator_Harpers_1870sFebruary 21, 1846 — Sarah Bagley (April 19, 1805 – June 23, 1883) today became America’s first woman telegraph operator.

    An advocate for women’s rights, and one of the most important labor leaders in New England during the 1840s, she campaigned to make 10 hours of labor per day the maximum in Massachusetts.

    Her activities in support of the mill workers in Lowell, Massachusetts put her in contact with a broader network of reformers in areas of women’s rights, communitarianism, abolition, peace, prison reform, and health reform.

    Bagley and her coworkers became familiar with middle-class reform activities, demonstrating the ways in which working people embraced this reform impulse as they transformed and critiqued some of its key elements.

    Sarah’s activities within the labor movement reveal many of the tensions that underlay relations between male and female working people as well as the constraints of gender that female activists had to overcome.

    Sources: wikipedia/WomenInTelegraphy, wikipedia/SarahBagley, nps.gov, telegraph.co.uk,

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  • February 22

    Which was the first American ship to sail from the US to China in 1784?

    Empress_of_China_1891February 22, 1784 — The first US ship to conduct trade with China, “Empress of China,” sailed from New York today.

    Also known as Chinese Queen, this three-masted, square-rigged sailing ship of 360 tons was initially built in 1783 for service as a privateer.

    After the Treaty of Paris brought a formal end to the American Revolutionary War, the vessel was refitted for commercial purposes. She became the first American ship to sail from the newly independent United States to China, opening what is known today as the Old China Trade and transporting the first official representative of the American government to Canton.

    The first American merchant vessel to enter Chinese waters left New York harbor on Washington’s birthday, February 22, 1784. The Empress returned to New York on May 11, 1785 after a round voyage of 14 months and 24 days. The success of the voyage encouraged others to invest in further trading with China.

    The ship’s captain John Green (1736–1796) was a former U.S. naval officer, its two business agents (supercargos), Samuel Shaw (1754–1794) and Thomas Randall (1723–1797), were former officers in the U.S. Continental Army, and its syndicate of owners, including Robert Morris (1734–1806) were some of the richest men in the new nation.

    Sources: chinabusinessreview.com, 200 Years of U.S. Trade with China, wikipedia/ChineseQueen, Imperial China, Empress of China, Ron Wyden,

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  • February 23

    Which was the first US college to train pharmacists?

    1-2-18A0-25-ExplorePAHistory-a0l9k3-a_349February 23, 1821 — The College of Apothecaries is organized today when 68 pharmacists met in Carpenters’ Hall to establish scientific standards and train apprentices.

    Less than a year later, they organized and incorporated the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy (PCP), the first college of pharmacy in the nation.

    The college initially emphasized the biological and chemical sciences as mainstays of the curriculum in pharmacy but later instituted separate curricula in three other areas: bacteriology, biology, and chemistry. As enrollment grew, so did the school’s stature.

    The college became coeducational in 1876, and soon after the institution’s name was changed to Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science. The school also began offering master’s and doctorate degrees in all four disciplines.

    Fast forward: In February 1997, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania approved the institution’s application for university status. And on July 1, 1998, Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science officially unveiled its new identity as University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.

    Sources: University of the Sciences, bpilot.homestead.com, explorepahistory.com,

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  • February 24

    Who was Jonathan Cilley?

    cilley-johnathan-displayFebruary 24, 1838 — Today, Jonathan Cilley of Maine (pictured right) was killed by Representative William Graves of Kentucky in a duel on the outskirts of D.C., in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

    Here’s the back story: Graves approached Cilley with a letter at the behest of a newspaper editor, James Webb, who was incensed about a bribery accusation Cilley had made on the House Floor. Cilley refused to accept the letter; which Graves interpreted the refusal as a direct insult to his character. So he challenged Cilley to a duel.

    Of course, neither man had any known grievance with the other prior to the incident. With two other Members of the House present, Henry Wise of Virginia and Delegate George Jones of Wisconsin (the dueling seconds for both men), the duel went beyond the customary two rounds, resulting in Cilley’s death in the third round.

    After the ensuing House investigation, Graves, along with Wise and Jones, were recommended for censure after Cilley’s death. Although the House refused to impose the censure recommendation it offered a bill to “prohibit the giving or accepting within the District of Columbia, of a challenge to fight a duel, and for the punishment thereof.”

    On February 27, 1838 — The House Chamber hosted a funeral, attended by the President Martin Van Buren and other statesmen, to honor Cilley.

    Sources: history.house.gov, findingdulcinea.com,

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  • February 25

    Why did Congress pass the federal quarantine legislation?

    justice13n-3-webFebruary 25, 1799 — Congress passed the first federal quarantine legislation today. Under Section 361 of the Public Health Service Act, it regulated the entry and spread of communicable diseases into and among the US. It also shifted the power to protect against external threats of communicable diseases from state and local authorities to federal authorities.

    The Quarantine was a city’s first line of defense against immigrant-borne infectious diseases like smallpox, cholera, typhus and yellow fever.

    While the connection between seafaring and the spread of illness has been recognized since the Venetians imposed the first known quarantine in the early 14th century, towns of the original American colonies began to impose quarantines as early as 1647, when the Massachusetts Bay Colony enacted the first quarantine restriction in colonial America. By 1662, the first land-based quarantine in the future United States was instituted in the town of East Hampton, Long Island.

    Colonial governments gradually instituted their own measures for preventing the introduction of disease from without. At the turn of the 18th century, the predominant concern was about diseases (primarily smallpox and yellow fever) coming in by sea from foreign ports, rather than domestic sources.

    A law enacted by Pennsylvania in 1700 is typical of the quarantine provisions of this time, prohibiting “sickly vessels coming into the government.” Though most colonies enacted quarantine laws, there was no clear consensus as to which level of government would have authority over this task; cities and other localities enacted quarantine statutes as well.

    Sources: americanbar.org, harvard.edu,

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  • February 26

    What is the theory behind the “Communist Manifesto,” which was published today in 1848?

    communist_manifesto_-_cover_pictureFebruary 26, 1848 — Today, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published their “Communist Manifesto” — a political pamphlet recognised as one of the world’s most influential political manuscripts.

    The German philosophers took an analytical approach to the class struggle (historical and then-present) by summarizing the problems of capitalism and the capitalist mode of production. Their theories about the nature of society and politics also features their ideas for how the capitalist society of the time would eventually be replaced by socialism, and then communism.

    At first, it had little or no impact on the widespread and varied revolutionary movements of the mid-19th century Europe, or the US. But in time, their Communist Manifesto became one of the most widely read and discussed documents of the 20th century.

    Following are the 10 planks of the theory:

    1. Abolition of private property and the application of all rent to public purpose.

    2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.

    3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance.

    4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.

    5. Centralization of credit in the hands of the State, by means of a national bank with state capital and an exclusive monopoly.

    6. Centralization of the means of communication and transportation in the hands of the State.

    7. Extention of factories and instruments of production owned by the State, the bringing into cultivation of waste lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.

    8. Equal liablity of all to labor. Establishment of Industrial armies, especially for agriculture.

    9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the population over the country.

    10. Free education for all children in government schools. Abolition of children’s factory labor in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production.

    Sources: Communist Manifesto, public.wsu.edu,

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  • February 27

    Who created the first US kindergarten class?

    d0ce2ac358b0a6ca4288351164c78ec9@2xFebruary 27, 1818 — Pioneering educator, Emma Marwedel (February 27, 1818–November 17, 1893) is born today.

    The founder of the kindergarten movement in the US became a feminist, and an early proponent of prenatal care.

    Born in Germany to Captain Heinrich Ludwig Marwedel and Jacobina Carolina Christiana, her father was a military officer who is known to have given her “an exceptional education,” but died before she was 11 years old, leaving her in charge of the family.

    An ardent feminist, in 1865 she helped found the first women’s rights organization in Germany, and in 1867 the first industrial art school for women.

    Marwedel was brought to New York by American feminist Elizabeth Palmer Peabody to start kindergartens and vocational schools to prepare women to become skilled industrial workers. 

    In 1872, she founded kindergartens in Washington, DC for the children of various senators. She then went to Los Angeles where she founded the Pacific Normal Training School and the California Model Kindergarten.

    After moving to Oakland in 1878, Marwedel founded a model kindergarten at 511 Seventeenth Street. In 1879 she founded another kindergarten in Berkeley, and then moved to San Francisco in 1880. 4 She helped found the San Francisco Kindergarten Society, which established the first free kindergarten on the West Coast.

    She never married or had children of her own.

    Sources: localwiki.org, "Conscious Motherhood: The Earliest Unfolding of the Child in the Cradle ", Kindergarten Games,

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  • February 28

    What was the impact of the “Peacemaker” in 1844?

    600px-Explosion_aboard_USS_PrincetonFebruary 28, 1844 — The “Peacemaker,” a 12-inch gun aboard USS Princeton, explodes during a display of the ship today. It killed six people, including Secretary of State Abel P. Upshur, Secretary of the Navy Thomas Gilmer, US Senator David Gardiner, and other high-ranking U.S. federal officials.

    Twenty people were injured, as well, including President John Tyler, who survived the disaster for he was below deck having been stopped to have a drink with another dignitary.

    About the “Peacemaker:” The gun was the world’s longest in the navy at the time. And on its last firing, it exploded instantly, sending hot metal around the ship. Though deadly, the disaster allowed for a reexamination of the process used to make cannons. This led to the development of new techniques that allowed for stronger cannons which were more structurally sound, such as the system pioneered by Thomas Rodman.

    Unintended consequences: Upon hearing of the death of her father, Julia Gardiner is supposed to have fainted into President Tyler’s arms. They were married four months later, on June 26, 1844. Had President Tyler been above deck at the moment of the explosion, he likely would have been killed, and President pro tempore of the Senate Willie Person Mangum would have become president.

    Sources: wikipedia/Peacemaker, colt.com, sweetheartsofthewest,

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  • February 29

    What is the history of the leap year?

    Inter-gravFebruary 29, 1800 — Known as the leap day of the Gregorian calendar, February 29 is a date that occurs in most years that are divisible by 4 — such as 2008, 2012, 2016, 2020 and 2024. Introduced as part of the Julian reform, leap years began occurring on the 60th day of the Gregorian calendar; it repeats itself every 400 years, totaling exactly 20,871 weeks with 97 leap days.

    Over this period, February 29 falls on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday 13 times each; 14 times each on Friday and Saturday; and 15 times each on Monday and Wednesday. The order of the leap days is: Thursday, Tuesday, Sunday, Friday, Wednesday, Monday and Saturday.

    Did you know: Adding a leap day (after 23 February) shifts the commemorations in the 1962 Roman Missal.  The day following the Terminalia (February 23) was doubled, forming the “bis sextum”—literally ‘double sixth’, since February 24 was ‘the sixth day before the Kalends of March’ using Roman inclusive counting (March 1 was the ‘first day’).

    Exceptions exist. The first day of the bis sextum (February 24) was usually regarded as the intercalated or “bissextile” day since the third century.[2] February 29 came to be regarded as the leap day when the Roman system of numbering days was replaced by sequential numbering in the late Middle Ages.

    Sources: wikipedia/February29,

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