This Month in History: May

I have heard what the talkers were talking, the talk of the beginning and the end, 
But I do not talk of the beginning or the end. 
There was never any more inception than there is now, 
Nor any more youth or age than there is now, 
And will never be any more perfection than there is now, 
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now. 
Urge and urge and urge, 
Always the procreant urge of the world.

Song of Myself,” by Walt Whitman, on a nation that had only recently ruptured from a political tradition and cultural lineage, Whitman found a new American identity in the timeless will itself, that which cannot and will not define itself by its past • Painting by Thomas Sautelle Roberts, (1748-1778) creative commons


  • May 1

    What famous wagon featured the phrase: “Oregon Or The Grave”?

    oregontrailMay 1, 1839 — Eighteen men set out to make their way to Oregon today. Using the route known as the Oregon Trail, their goal was to colonize the northwestern state on behalf of the United States.

    Known as the Peoria Party, they carried a flag emblazoned with the phrase: “Oregon Or The Grave.”

    Although half of the members gave up on the trek in Colorado, the remaining nine made it to their destination.

    Sources:, wikipedia/Oregon_Trail,

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  • May 2

    Who created the city plan for Washington, DC?

    L'EnfantMay 2, 1783 — Today, architect and civil engineer Pierre Charles L’Enfant was promoted to major of engineers in recognition of his work in service to Colonial America. The most famous was his city plan for Washington, DC.

    L’Enfant was chosen by President George Washington in 1791 to survey and design the new federal city of Washington. He fashioned streets in a grid pattern, and he placed major government buildings and parks into the plan. He also composed a “grand avenue” stretching from the Capitol to the Potomac River, which is now called the National Mall. Disagreements with the city’s commissioners led to L’Enfant’s dismissal in February 1792. Never fully implemented, his vision continues to influence planners and designers. (more…)


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  • May 3

    What is the Residence Act, and which US city did it help incorporate today?

    capitolandpartofwashingtoncity_22796vMay 3, 1802 — Washington, DC is incorporated as a city today.

    It was a long time coming, as the signing of the Residence Act on July 16, 1790 approved the creation of a capital district located along the Potomac River on the country’s East Coast. The U.S. Constitution provided for a federal district under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Congress and the District is therefore not a part of any U.S. state.

    The states of Maryland and Virginia each donated land to form the federal district, which included the pre-existing settlements of Georgetown and Alexandria. Named in honor of George Washington, the City of Washington was founded in 1791 to serve as the new national capital.

    In 1846, Congress returned the land originally ceded by Virginia; in 1871, it created a single municipal government for the remaining portion of the District.

    In July 2015, Washington had an estimated population of 672,228.

    Sources: wikipedia: Washington, DC,,

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  • May 4

    Which American institution was founded today by John Adams?

    MinervaMay 4, 1780 — The American Academy of Arts and Science was established today by our second president John Adams (in office from 1797–1801) — and James Bowdoin, a wealthy merchant and American political and intellectual leader from Boston, Massachusetts, during the American Revolution and the following decade.

    Together, they were anticipating the young republic’s needs for knowledge and new, practical ideas.

    As stated in the Academy’s Charter, the “end and design of the institution is to cultivate every art and science which may tend to advance the interest, honor, dignity, and happiness of a free, independent, and virtuous people.”

    The original 62 members included Robert Treat Paine and John Hancock. Today, the Academy has 4,600 Fellows and 600 Foreign Honorary Members, including many of the most accomplished scholars and practitioners worldwide.

    Sources:, Wikipedia: American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Wikipedia: James Bowdoin, Wikipedia: John Adams,

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  • May 5

    Which New York cultural center was transformed today into an immigrant receiving center?

    Battery.orgMay 5, 1855 — New York’s Castle Clinton gained a new purpose today. Built as a fort in anticipation of the War of 1812, it was transformed into the City’s premier cultural center when successive landfills enlarged the park.

    This helped it welcome 8.5 million immigrants.

    Then, in 1896, the Castle was transformed into the New York Aquarium, making it one of the nation’s first public aquariums.

    By 1941, it faced near–total demolition. But during a major preservation battle in 1946, the fort walls were declared a National Monument by an Act of Congress.

    It was later restored to its original appearance by the National Park Service in 1975. The Castle currently currently houses a small interpretive display and the ticket office for the Statue of Liberty – Ellis Island ferry.

    The historical records used by are held by and available for research at the US National Archives and Records Administration, New York City.


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  • May 6

    Where was the first US railroad disaster?

    Norwalk_rail_disaster-250x166May 6, 1853 — A train traveling at 50 mph plunged through an open drawbridge into the Norwalk Harbor in Norwalk, Conn. today.

    The accident, in which 48 of the 200 passengers died, occurred on the New York and New Haven Route where the train crossed a small inlet of Long Island Sound over a drawbridge.

    The train’s approach to the inlet from New York is around a sharp curve, obscuring the drawbridge, and on May 6, the substitute driver of the train neglected to check the signal before the curve — a red ball mounted on a tall pole indicating that the bridge is passable by trains. Among those killed in the resulting accident were seven doctors returning from the sixth meeting of the American Medical Association in New York.


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  • May 7

    Where was the first US Presidential Inaugural Ball held?

    Lady-Washington-s-Reception-3May 7, 1792— The first Presidential Inaugural Ball was hosted by sponsors today in New York City, one week after the swearing in of George Washington.

    Such an event did not become tradition until 1809, when Dolley Madison hosted a gala at Long’s Hotel in Washington DC, after the first inauguration of her husband, James Madison, the 4th US president. A total of 400 tickets were sold for $4 each.

    By 1833, two balls were held for the second inauguration of Andrew Jackson and in 1841, a third ball was added for the inauguration of William Henry Harrison. For the inaugurations of Zachary Taylor in 1849, James Buchanan in 1857, and the second inauguration of Ulysses S. Grant in 1873, temporary buildings were constructed at Judiciary Square.

    In 1865, a ball was held for Abraham Lincoln’s second inauguration in the Model Room at the United States Patent Office, the first ball held in a government building, while in 1869, Grant during his first inauguration, was honored with an inaugural ball held at the Treasury Building. Between 1885 and 1909, inaugural balls were held at the National Museum Building (now the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building) and the Pension Building (now the National Building Museum).

    Image: This 1861 painting by Daniel Huntington is a romanticized depiction of the receptions that Martha Washington hosted when her husband served as president. Although less stately, the event on May 7, 1789 honoring the first president may have looked similar.  (Brooklyn Museum)

    Sources: inaugural.senatewikipedianps

  • May 7

    When did the tradition of fabulous inaugural balls begin?

    GWMay 7, 1789 — The first US inaugural ball was held tonight for President George Washington in New York City. The event came one week after the inauguration. It was a modest affair, for it was not until 1809, however, after the Inauguration of James Madison at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., that the tradition of the inaugural ball began.

    That night, First Lady Dolley Madison hosted the gala at Long’s Hotel. Four hundred tickets sold for $4 each.

    In 1833 two balls were staged for President Andrew Jackson, one at Carusi’s Assembly Rooms and the other at Central Masonic Hall. William Henry Harrison attended all three of the 1841 inaugural balls held in his honor.


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  • May 8

    Why were the Militia Acts of 1792 created?

    MilitiaMay 8, 1792 — The second part of the Militia Act was passed today, enabling the president to take command of the state militias in times of imminent invasion or insurrection.

    The two Acts were passed in response to the overwhelming US losses at St. Clair’s Defeat. It provided for the organization of the state militias, and conscripted every “free able-bodied white male citizen” between the ages of 18 and 45 into a local militia company.

    This was later expanded to all males, regardless of race, between the ages 18-54. The first Act, which passed six days earlier — on May 2, 1792 — provided for the authority of the president to call out the militias of the several states, “whenever the United States shall be invaded, or be in imminent danger of invasion from any foreign nation or Indian tribe.”

    That law also authorized the president to call the militias into federal service “whenever the laws of the United States shall be opposed or the execution thereof obstructed, in any state, by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, or by the powers vested in the marshals by this act.”

  • May 8

    Where is “Victory in Europe Day” celebrated today?

    UnknownMay 8, 1945 — Great Britain and the United States celebrated “Victory in Europe Day” today, as citizens of both countries put out flags and banners to mark the occasion as German troops throughout Europe finally laid down their arms.

    On 30 April, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler committed suicide during the Battle of Berlin. Germany’s surrender, therefore, was authorised by his successor, Reichspräsident Karl Dönitz. The administration headed by Dönitz was known as the Flensburg Government. The act of military surrender was signed on May 7 in Reims, France and on 8 May in Berlin, Germany.

    Upon the defeat of Germany, celebrations erupted throughout the world. From Moscow to Los Angeles, people celebrated. In the United Kingdom, more than one million people celebrated in the streets to mark the end of the European part of the war.

    In London, crowds amassed in Trafalgar Square and up the Mall to Buckingham Palace, where King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, accompanied by Prime Minister Winston Churchill, appeared on the balcony of the palace before the cheering crowds. Princess Elizabeth (the future Queen Elizabeth II) and her sister Princess Margaret were allowed to wander incognito among the crowds and take part in the celebrations.

    In the United States, the victory happened on President Harry Truman’s 61st birthday. He dedicated the victory to the memory of his predecessor, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had died of a cerebral hemorrhage less than a month earlier, on April 12. Massive celebrations also took place in Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and especially in New York’s Times Square.

    Sources:, wikipedia/Victory_in_Europe_Day,

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  • May 9

    Who designed the first American flag?

    hopkinsonMay 9, 1791 — Today marks the death of Francis Hopkinson, an American author, attorney, and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence — whom scholars believe designed the first American flag. He died suddenly of a massive epileptic seizure in his hometown of Philadelphia, PA. He was 53.

    Born on September 21, 1737 to an elite family in Philadelphia, Hopkinson was an attorney who spent two years studying under his mother’s relative, the bishop of Worcester, in London. He returned to the colonies in 1763 with a lucrative royal appointment as the collector of customs for Salem, New Jersey.

    He added New Castle, Delaware, to his responsibilities in 1772. In 1774, Hopkinson’s revolutionary sentiments caused him to resign his post and return to private legal practice in Bordentown, New Jersey. He was elected as one of New Jersey’s delegates to the Continental Congress in 1776 and soon after signed his name to the Declaration of Independence.


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  • May 10

    What famous silversmith and hero of the Revolutionary War died today?

    PaulRevereByGilbertStuartMay 10, 1818 — Paul Revere died today.

    Born January 1, 1735 to Apollos Rivoire, a French Huguenot (Protestant) immigrant, and Deborah Hichborn, daughter of a local artisan family — he changed his name to Paul Revere after immigrating, was a goldsmith and eventually the head of a large household. He was the second of at least 9, possibly as many as 12 children and the eldest surviving son.

    Revere was educated at the North Writing School and learned the art of gold and silversmithing from his father. When Paul was nineteen (and nearly finished with his apprenticeship) his father died, leaving Paul as the family’s main source of income. Two years later, in 1756, Revere volunteered to fight the French at Lake George, New York, where he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the colonial artillery.

    In August, 1757, Revere married Sarah Orne. Together, they had eight children. Soon after Sarah’s death in 1773, Revere married Rachel Walker with whom he had eight children.

    Revere’s primary vocation was that of goldsmith/silversmith, meaning he worked in both gold and silver. He learned the trade from his father, and his silvershop was the cornerstone of his professional life for more than 40 years. As the master of his silversmith shop, Revere was responsible for both the workmanship and the quality of the metal alloy used. He employed numerous apprentices and journeymen to produce pieces ranging from simple spoons to magnificent full tea sets. His work, highly praised during his lifetime, is regarded as one of the outstanding achievements in American decorative arts.

    Revere also supplemented his income with other work. During the economic depression before the Revolution, Revere began his work as a copper plate engraver. He produced illustrations for books and magazines, business cards, political cartoons, bookplates, a song book and bills of fare for taverns. He also advertised as a dentist from 1768 to 1775. He not only cleaned teeth, but also wired in false teeth carved from walrus ivory or animal teeth. Contrary to popular myth, he did not make George Washington’s false teeth. Fabricating a full set of dentures was beyond his ability.

    Sources: wikipedia/Paul_Revere,,,

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  • May 11

    Where was the first US hospital located?

    PAhospitalMay 11, 1751 — A charter is granted today by the Pennsylvania legislature to establish a hospital “to care for the sick, poor, and insane who wandered the streets of Philadelphia,” according to the history of Pennsylvania Hospital, the nation’s first public hospital.

    Founded by Benjamin Franklin and Dr. Thomas Bond, Pennsylvania Hospital has provided the setting for many “firsts” of the nation, as well as many other noteworthy medical, historical, and cultural milestones.

    In fact, the story of the Good Samaritan was chosen by Franklin and Bond as the official seal, and “Take Care of Him and I will repay Thee” ushers in a new attitude of social responsibility.

    In 1752: A temporary hospital is opened in a house on High (Market) Street and Elizabeth Gardner, a Quaker widow, is appointed matron.

    In 1755: The cornerstone, written by Franklin, is laid for the East Wing of the building at the hospital’s current location of 8th and Pine, on land that is purchased by the hospital, and patients are admitted in 1756.

    Sources:, timeline 1751,

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  • May 12

    Which city is considered the ice cream capital of America?

    world first ice creamMay 12, 1777 — If you love ice cream, you might be wondering when and where that first luscious scoop was dropped into a bowl.

    Boston claims that honor, based on their founding of Steve Herrell’s eponymous ice cream shop in Somerville, Mass.

    But New Yorkers counter that theirs was the home of the first ice cream shop in the United States when on this day confectioner Phillip Lenzi placed an advertisement promoting his Manhattan ice cream store in the New York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.

    Lenzi had recently arrived from London with recipes for jams and jellies, pastries, and sugar plums — and of course the culinary luxury of the day, ice cream.

    Made long before the advent of refrigeration the ice creams were made with fine mixtures of cream, salt and sugar, which required no small amount of effort to create. Lenzi offered his catering services “for reasonable rates” and his products at “modest profit.” He stated in his ad, “May be had almost every day, Ice Cream.”

    Sources:,,, whatscookingamerica, wikipedia: Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton,

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  • May 13

    How old was Mozart when his opera “Apollo et Hyacinthus” premiered today in Salzburg?

    mozartMay 13, 1767 — Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera “Apollo et Hyacinthus” premiered today at the Great Hall of Salzburg University.

    He was 11 years old at the time. The three act performance is based upon Greek mythology as told by Roman poet Ovid in his masterwork Metamorphoses. Interpreting this work, Rufinus Widl wrote the libretto in Latin. The story follows that Hyacinth died accidentally from being struck on the head by a discus thrown by Apollo.

    However, another myth tells that it was the wind god Zephyrus who was actually responsible for Hyacinth’s death because Zephyrus, out of jealousy, blew the discus off course in order to injure and kill Hyacinth. When he died, Apollo made the hyacinth flower spring out from his spilled blood.

    The librettist and priest, Rufinus Widl, modified Ovid’s story (in which Apollo, Zephyrus, and Hyacinthus clearly constituted a homosexual love triangle) to make it conform to the ethic, by changing the sexually desired character from Ovid’s Hyacinth to Melia, his sister.

    Sources: wikipedia: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart,, wikipedia: Apollo et Hyacinthus,,

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  • May 14

    Who administered the first inoculation against smallpox today?

    JennerMay 14, 1796 — English country doctor Edward Jenner administered the first inoculation against smallpox today in Berkeley, Gloucestershire. The patient was an 8-year-old boy, who was the son of Jenner’s gardener.

    Jenner successfully tested his hypothesis on 23 additional subjects.

    Jenner’s continuing work on vaccination prevented him from continuing his ordinary medical practice. He was supported by his colleagues and the King in petitioning Parliament, and was granted £10,000 in 1802 for his work on vaccination.

    In 1807, he was granted another £20,000 after the Royal College of Physicians had confirmed the widespread efficacy of vaccination.

    The origin of smallpox as a natural disease is lost in prehistory, according to the US National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health.

    It is believed to have appeared around 10,000 bc, at the time of the first agricultural settlements in northeastern Africa. It seems plausible that it spread from there to India by means of ancient Egyptian merchants. The earliest evidence of skin lesions resembling those of smallpox is found on faces of mummies from the time of the 18th and 20th Egyptian Dynasties (1570–1085 bc). The mummified head of the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses V (died 1156 bc) bears evidence of the disease. At the same time, smallpox has been reported in ancient Asian cultures: smallpox was described as early as 1122 bc in China and is mentioned in ancient Sanskrit texts of India.

    Smallpox was introduced to Europe sometime between the 5th and 7th centuries, and was frequently epidemic during the Middle Ages. The disease greatly affected the development of Western civilization. The first stages of the decline of the Roman Empire (ad 108) coincided with a large-scale epidemic: the plague of Antonine, which accounted for the deaths of almost 7 million people. The Arab expansion, the Crusades, and the discovery of the West Indies all contributed to the spread of the disease.

    Sources:,, wikipedia: Edward Jenner,,

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  • May 15

    Where was the first private mental health hospital located?

    friendsMay 15, 1817 – The Quakers opened the Asylum for the Relief of Persons Deprived of the Use of Their Reason today in Philadelphia. Its mission was to provide moral mental health treatment, and it set the stage for the big shift to modern psychiatric attitudes.

    Prior to its opening, mental health facilities kept patients in chains and subject to punishment as a form of therapy. The new Asylum functioned in a climate of kindness and respect for patients, who were each given private rooms with windows, as well as opportunities to walk around the campus gardens.

    Today, this Asylum is known as the Friends Hospital and continues to provide compassionate care to the mentally ill.


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  • May 16

    What pre-War battle for Independence took place today?

    Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 6.22.19 PMMay 16, 1771 – A North Carolina governor’s militia quelled a rebellion called the Battle of Alamance today. Waged by a patriotic group known as “The Regulators,” they were fighting against abuse by royal government officials.

    Largely composed of low-income men from the Western part of the state, they wanted to regulate their own taxes and affairs. After attempts at peaceful negotiations proved useless, 2,000 Regulators battled the government’s troops.

    However, the group had not anticipated being attacked; they were disorganized and had no officer ranked higher than Captain. Their plan had been to intimidate Gov. William Tryon’s militia with a show of force from their superior numbers. Instead, after one day of fighting, the Regulators suffered heavy losses and subsequently disbanded.

    Named for nearby Great Alamance Creek, the battle took place in the central Piedmont, about six miles south of present-day Burlington, North Carolina.

    While in this case the patriotic armed resistance did not succeed, in just a few years, larger numbers of Americans dissatisfied with governmental mistreatment would join forces to fight — and win — the War of Independence.

    Sources:,, wikipedia: Battle of Alamance,,,

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  • May 16

    What was the first sovereign state to abolish the slave trade?

    May 16, 1792 – Today, Denmark (under Crown Prince Fredrik VI’s ruling) declared the slave trade to SlaveShip2015May16be illegal for humanitarian and economic reasons. This made Denmark the first country to prohibit slave trade under the law — but not slavery. Vermont abolished slavery in 1777.

    Despite the ban, the slave trade didn’t come to an end until 1803. In the 10-year interim the number of slaves in Denmark grew from 28,000 to 36,000.

    From the 1650s on, Denmark participated in the transatlantic slave trade. Nearly 120,000 enslaved Africans were transported from Africa to the West Indies on ships flying the flag of Denmark. The slave trade was part of the country’s 250 years as a colonial power in the West Indies.

    In 1916, Denmark sold the Danish West Indies to the United States for US $25 million in gold, and that land is now called the United States Virgin Islands.

    Image: The image above is the cargo plan for the slave ship Brookes. By using space to the utmost on this not particularly large ship, 452 slaves could be taken on board. Each adult man was only allotted 71 inches by 16 inches to lie on and only 31.5 inches up to the next layer of people. The slaves lay here for months on the journey to the West Indies, according to Thomas Clarkson, in his book, “The History of the African Slave-Trade,” vol. 2, 1808.

    Sources: anti-slaverysociety,, wikipedia/West_Indies,

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  • May 17

    On what day was “taxation without representation” explicitly protested?

    boston-tea-partyMay 17, 1769 – George Washington brought written resolutions before the Virginia House of Burgesses today that protested the taxation of American colonists despite the lack of American representatives in British Parliament.

    Virginia’s royal governor, John Murray, retaliated by disbanding the Virginia House of Burgesses. But the Virginia delegates remained undeterred, and Maryland and South Carolina soon passed comparable measures.

    As a result, Southern colonists proved that they were willing to defend Massachusetts. The true target of the British crackdown, which had placed new taxes on the colonists’ imports of paper, paint, lead, glass, and tea — products colonists were allowed to buy only from Great Britain.

    Despite continued royal pressure on the colonies, colonists were not scared into silence, and in fact the pressure spurred a growing American identity that would play a crucial role in the fight for independence.


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  • May 17

    What annual horse race began its tradition today in 1875?

    kingMay 17, 1875 — The first Kentucky Derby ran today, where 15 horses competed in a 1.5 mile race before a crowd of 10,000 on a new track in Louisville.

    The winning horse was Aristides, a small chestnut thoroughbred, who received extra alfalfa for dinner as a reward for the victory.

    Ridden by African-American jockey Oliver Lewis, the horse was expected to make a quick start and force a fast pace to allow Chesapeake, another horse in the race with the same owner, to eventually win. But Aristides went so fast that no other horse was able to keep up.

    Racing in Louisville dates back to 1783 when men raced their horses in the middle of downtown. Eventually the races were moved to racetracks, ending up eventually at today’s Churchill Downs.

    The Louisville Courier-Journal wrote: “It is the gallant Aristides, heir to a mighty name, that strides with sweeping gallop toward victory … and the air trembles and vibrates again with the ringing cheers that followed.”

    Sources:,, wikipedia/KentuckyDerby,,

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  • May 17

    What was the precursor to the New York Stock Exchange?

    1889, Manhattan, New York, New York, USA --- 1889-Trading on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Photograph, 1889. --- Image by ¬© Bettmann/CORBISMay 17, 1792 — Under a buttonwood tree near Wall Street, 24 stockbrokers gathered to sign an agreement that would serve as a precursor to the New York Stock Exchange Board, the predecessor of the New York Stock Exchange.

    The brokers would perform their transactions in a second-floor room of the Tontine Coffee House. At the time, financial and political wrangling often took place in taverns and coffeehouses. At the Tontine, self-made men — both black and white — traded gossip and conducted business.

    Ship captains came to share commercial news and to register cargo — including the human cargo of enslaved men, women, and children. The mercantile city was also crowded and unsanitary, and frequent outbreaks of infectious disease not only hastened the growth of the city northward, away from the crowded downtown, but also propelled strides forward in medical research and treatment.

    Sources:,, stock-exchange, /, wikipedia/Gordon_Gekko,

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  • May 18

    Who was nominated for the presidency by the Republican Party today in 1860?

    GA Chapter-9-Inauguration-1861-LOCMay 18, 1860 — The Republican National Convention in Chicago was held today to choose the presidential candidate for the upcoming November election.

    A bright young senator from Illinois named Abraham Lincoln received the nomination in a tight race — partially thanks to an Ohio chairman who was bribed at the last-minute to swing his vote for Lincoln.

    Soon after, courthouse bells rang out and a cannon was fired from the rooftop, prompting boats in the Chicago River to sound their horns in reply.

    Lincoln had gained attention from the Republican Party for his well-known Senate campaign debates against Stephen Douglas in 1858. In the debates, Lincoln argued against the spread of slavery, and although he lost the Senate race, his campaign brought him a growing national awareness.

    Lincoln went on to win the November election, once again against Stephen Douglas, making him the first elected Republican president in America. One month after his inauguration, in March 1861, the Civil War begins.

    Sources: lincoln-nominated-for-presidency, republicanconvention-story,,

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  • May 19

    What was “the dark day of New England?”

    GA Dark Day Full ImageMay 19, 1780 – Around 10 a.m. today, an unexplained darkness crept in from the west and descended over New England as though it were nighttime.

    The darkness subsisted until the next day, and at the time had no explainable cause behind it. It is known as “the dark day of New England.”

    Though the darkness was prevalent all over New England, it was not uniform in all areas, and different places experienced different degrees of darkness. In the worst regions, people were afraid and left their work to be with their families. One Massachusetts man claims that “It was so terrible dark …that we could not see our hand before us.”

    Speculation in later years rules out a lunar or solar eclipse; experts believe attribute the phenomenon to heavy smoke and vapor from large forest fires in Lake Champlain, which darkened the daytime sky.


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  • May 20

    What popular article of clothing was patented today?

    GA-bluejeansMay 20, 1873 – Businessman Levi Strauss and tailor Jacob Davis are granted a patent on this date for their pants reinforced with metal rivets, marking the official birthday of what we know today as blue jeans.

    Originally, Strauss made money selling work pants (which he called “waist overalls”) to miners living out West who were seeking their fortunes in the gold rush. Davis, one of Strauss’ regular customers, proposed the addition of metal to the corners of the pockets and the base of the button fly to make the pants stronger and more durable.

    The two worked together and thus, the blue jean was born. The pants took off, and by the 1920s, Strauss’ denim waist overalls were the top-selling men’s work pants in the United States.

    Sources:, Levi Strauss, patent for blue jeans,,

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  • May 21

    Which famous duo began their exploration of the west today in 1804?

    GA-May21-Lewis&ClarkMay 21, 1804 – Famed explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set out by boat from St. Charles, Missouri, on their journey to the Pacific Ocean today.

    They left port to the sound of “three cheers” from the audience that lined the riverbank. St. Charles was their final embarkation point for the Corps of Discovery Expedition to the newly purchased Western territory of the United States.

    Clark had arrived early at St. Charles, on May 14, to meet with the men who would accompany him. There was much merriment about the journey. In fact, in the days leading up to Lewis’ arrival there was so much anticipation that several crewmembers were court-martialed and punished for the party they threw. One crewmember even received 50 lashes for “using disrespectful language” towards Clark.

    The crew would not return to St. Charles again until September 1806.


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  • May 22

    Which famous American was tried for treason today?

    GA-TIH-AaronBurrMay 22, 1807 – Aaron Burr, the 3rd vice president of the United States, was tried today for treason.

    The former New York State senator is perhaps best known for killing fellow founding father Alexander Hamilton in a duel three years earlier. He was never tried.

    The treason trial opened in Richmond, VA, and was marked by President Thomas Jefferson’s urging the jury to reach a guilty verdict.

    Four months later, despite Jefferson’s strong opinion of the case, the jury ruled: “Aaron Burr is not proved to be guilty under this indictment by any evidence submitted to us.  We therefore find him not guilty.”

    Although Burr was acquitted, he lost his footing in American politics and never again played a notable role in the development of the country.

    Sources:, wikipedia: Aaron Burr,

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  • May 23

    Which state ratified the US Constitution today in 1788?

    UnknownMay 23, 1788 — Today, South Carolina became the 8th state to ratify the US Constitution. The assembly was held in Charleston; delegates Pierce Butler, John Rutledge, Charles Pinckney, and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney represented the state.

    Because the state’s wealth depended on slavery, ratification included “the 3/5ths compromise,” which allowed Southern states to include slaves in their population tallies — even though they had no rights as citizens.

    Nonetheless, this enabled South Carolina, along with other states in the south, the ability to have a larger representation in Congress.

    Also noteworthy: South Carolina was the first state to ratify the Articles of Confederation — and on Dec. 20, 1860, it became the first state to vote to secede from the Union.


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  • May 24

    Who was elected president of the Continental Congress today in 1775?

    GA john_hancock_signature_civicsMay 24, 1775 – John Hancock was unanimously elected president of the second Continental Congress today.

    Known for his large signature on the Declaration of Independence, Hancock was given the honor of signing first on July 4, 1776 because of his position as president. His signature is now synonymous with signing an official document.

    A merchant, smuggler, statesman, prominent patriot, and a protégé of Samuel Adams — Hancock was the first and third governor of Massachusetts. It was a position he held until his death on Oct. 8, 1793. He used his influence to ensure that Massachusetts ratified the Constitution in 1788.

    Did you know: Before the American Revolution, Hancock was one of the wealthiest men in the 13 Colonies. He inherited a profitable mercantile business from his uncle, who was also a prominent smuggler. Hancock became very popular — especially after British officials seized his sloop Liberty,  in 1768 and charged him with smuggling; the charges were eventually dropped.

    Sources:,,, wikipedia: John Hancock,

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  • May 25

    Who presided over the opening of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia?

    GA-Signing_of_US_ConstitutionMay 25, 1787 – Four years after the United States won the War of Independence, the Constitutional Convention opened in Philadelphia under George Washington, then a delegate from Virginia.

    With 55 delegates present, the plan was to amend the Articles of Confederation. Instead, the delegates used that document as a rough blueprint for drafting the new Constitution, a task that took three months.

    On Sept. 17, 1787, the Constitution was signed by 38 of the 41 delegates present, effectively creating our new government. The first 12 amendments to the Constitution — the Bill of Rights — were not adopted by Congress until 1789.


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  • May 25

    Which scientist presented his famous theory about sound today?

    GA-Christian_DopplerMay 25, 1842 – Mathematician and physicist Christian Doppler presents his idea of frequency in relation to velocity, now known as the Doppler Effect. His breakthrough idea explained why continuous noises, such as police sirens, sound different when they are coming toward you versus going away.

    Doppler explained that changes in the frequency of sound waves cause noises to sound different in relation to the observer’s position. He refined his theory by conducting an experiment that involved two sets of trumpeters. One set was stationed at the railway station, and the other was in a train car that was pulled past the station. Though both sets of trumpeters where playing the same music at the same time, the notes heard to the audience were different.

    A year later, Doppler was elected to the Royal Bohemian Society. While admired in his field, his students complained that he was too strict and harsh in his examining. Listen to what the Doppler Effect sounds like here.

    Sources: The Famous People, University of St. Andrews – Scotland • Image: Wikipedia

    Sources:,, wikipedia/ChristianDoppler,

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  • May 26

    Who helped incorporate the first bank in Philadelphia?

    GA morris_rMay 26, 1781 — The Bank of North America incorporated in Philadelphia today, thanks to the help of a wealthy delegate to the Continental Congress named Robert Morris.

    The Philadelphian was not a military strategist, but he recognized that the Continental Army did not have the funds to procure enough clothing and supplies for the soldiers fighting the Revolutionary War.

    He watched as the number of soldiers willing to volunteer dropped, and those who stayed on become increasingly dissatisfied. This led to widespread fear that the campaign for independence might fail — and Morris knew something needed to be done to save the day.

    He not only loaned the government $10,000 of his own money to help finance the war, but Morris came up with a plan to create a national bank and proposed it to Congress. Congress approved the plan nine days later, and the Bank of North America became the first bank in the United States. It opened for business in January 1782, and brought stability to the colonial economy. It also helped finance the war, and established the credit of the United States with the nations of Europe.

    Morris was immediately appointed Financial Agent of the United States (today known as the Secretary of Treasury), and put in charge of the fledgling country’s new bank.

    Sources:,, wikipedia: Robert Morris,,

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  • May 26

    What did the Union do to prevent the South from exporting cotton and smuggling weapons?

    GA anacondaMay 26, 1861 — To prevent the South from exporting cotton and smuggling weapons and war material into the Confederacy, the Union blockaded two ports in the Confederacy today.

    The USS Powhatan began blockading Mobile, Alabama, and the USS Brooklyn blocked the most essential port for the Confederacy — New Orleans.

    This strategy initially met with skepticism because the Union faced a formidable task: to create and maintain an effective barrier along the Confederacy’s 3,000 miles of coastline when the Navy Department initially had only three steam-vessels in home ports.

    Though somewhat porous, the blockade was an important economic policy that successfully prevented Confederate states from access to weapons that the industrialized North could produce for itself. The government convinced several foreign governments to view the blockade as a legitimate tool of war, even though the South was able to continue smuggling needed supplies from Confederate ports to transfer points in Mexico, the Bahamas, and Cuba.


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  • May 27

    Which Canadian fort did the US capture today during the War of 1812?

    1812May 27, 1813 — Americans captured Fort George in Canada today. Situated on the west side of the Niagara River in the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, it proved to be a highly strategic move in War of 1812.

    Led by Colonel Winfield Scott, the fort’s defenders were a force of about 1000, all ranks of the 8th and 49th Regiments of Foot, the Royal Newfoundland Fencibles and the Glengarry Light Infantry, along with about 300 militia.

    The British then abandoned the Fort, which the US used as a base as soldiers invaded Upper Canada. The win was short lived, however, for the fort was recaptured by the British in seven months later in December, 1813.

    After the war, the fort was partially rebuilt, and by the 1820s it was falling into ruins. It was finally abandoned in favour of a more strategic installation.


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  • May 28

    What was the first steamboat to travel the Great Lakes?

    GA steamboat EXT00214May 28, 1818 — The steamer Walk-in-the Water is believed to be the first steamer to sail the Great Lakes, though two previous steamers — one Canadian and one American — plied Lake Ontario in 1616.

    Walk-in-the-Water weighed 328 tons and was launched on this date from Scajaquada Creek, and its first journey was trough Cleveland, Sandusky, and Detroit.

    The owners of the steamboat thought one of the men who had experience managing boats a smaller body of water would be capable of handling her, so they brought a master from the North River. However, he promptly resigned after encountering one of Lake Erie’s vicious storms.

    A sailor with experience sailing on Lake Erie then took command. But in 1821, a powerful gale drove Walk-in-the-Water ashore. Her engines were saved, and used on the steamer Superior in 1822. At it’s top speed, Walk-in-the-Water was able to go from from eight to 10 miles per hour. This was considered by experts and boating enthusiasts to be “something wonderful.”— John Fitch (January 21, 1743 – July 2, 1798) was an American inventor, clockmaker, entrepreneur and engineer. He was most famous for operating the first steamboat service in the United States. This letter was written to Benjamin Franklin on Oct. 12, 1785, before the first steamboat carried a man on Aug. 27, 1787.

    Sources:,, Image: Stantons American Steam Vessels,

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  • May 29

    Who is the author of the Virginia Plan?

    220px-James_MadisonMay 29, 1787 — Drafted by James Madison, the Virginia Plan was presented it to the delegates of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia by Virginia Governor Edmund Randolph.

    The 15 resolutions outlined a new form of government with three brances of government — legislative, executive, and judicial — as well as built-in checks and balances to prevent the abuse of power.

    Under the plan, the people would be governed by both the state and national governments. Another  feature of the proposal that was popular with many of the larger states was a bicameral legislature, in which the number of representatives would be based on a state’s population.

    After much debate, expansion, development, and compromise by the framers, this Plan became the foundation of the Constitution of the United States.


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  • May 30

    Which two treaties ended the Napoleonic Wars?

    GA-Emperor_Napoleon_in_His_StudyMay 30, 1814 — There were two versions of the Treaty of Paris, and both were necessary to end the Napoleonic Wars.

    The first was signed today between France and the Allies — which included Austria, Great Britain, Prussia, Russia, Sweden, and Portugal. It was made in a spirit of generosity from the Allies, and restored French borders to what they had been in 1792 — plus 3,280 square miles more than those of 1790.

    The treaty also allowed France to keep most of its foreign colonies, as well as some of the priceless artwork that Napoleon’s armies had stolen during the war.

    The second Treaty of Paris was signed in 1815, after Napoleon had been defeated again. US relations with Great Britain had become more rocky during this period because, despite the fact that the US had attempted to remain neutral during the Napoleonic period. It eventually became embroiled in the European conflicts, leading to the War of 1812 against Great Britain.

    Sources:,,, wikipedia: Napoleon,

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  • May 31

    What was the penalty in Pennsylvania for putting on a play?

    GA -aughingaudience-269x300May 31, 1759 — Based on religious and moral grounds, many Colonists in early America were bitterly opposed to acting, and to the concept of the theater in general. But some states took it further when their legislatures passed laws outlawing theater performances:

    + In 1750 the General Court of Massachusetts passed an act prohibiting stage plays and theatrical entertainments of any kind.

    + Today in 1759, the House of Representatives in the Colony of Pennsylvania passed a law forbidding the showing and acting of plays under a penalty of £500.


  • May 31

    Which president signed the first US copyright into law?

    GA-centinelMay 31, 1790 — President George Washington signed the first federal copyright legislation in the United States into law on this date. The purpose of the Copyright Act was the “encouragement of learning,” which it did by protecting books, maps, and other original materials. Only US citizens were protected under the law until 1891, 101 years after the Act first went into effect.

    The Copyright Act provided that “the author and authors of any map, chart, book, or books already printed within these United States, being a citizen or citizens thereof. … shall have the sole right and liberty of printing, reprinting, publishing and vending such map, chart, book or books.” (more…)

  • May 31

    When did the game of modern baseball begin?

    nmntw3vihkmm3tx3May 31, 1859 — What is now considered the national pastime began as a bat-and-ball game commonly known as “town ball” in several states, but played with many local variations.

    The Athletic Base Ball Club was founded in Philadelphia on this date with the express purpose of playing what was then often referred to as “the New York game.” Early on, Athletic competed against stiff local competition — amateur clubs that were organized by trade, neighborhood, or clubs devoted to other hobbies.

    As Athletic grew to be a force nationally, many of these clubs became de facto farm teams for the Athletics, who had the best record in the country in 1867 and 1868. Part of Athletic’s mission was to facilitate the growth of the sport in towns around the region, and Athletic even sponsored the first African-American club to apply for membership in the National Association of Base Ball Players.

    When the game took a professional turn after the Civil War, the Athletics became the first champions of the new National Association of Professional Base Ball Players.


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