Today in History
March 13, 1781 – Uranus was discovered by William Herschel.
On this day in history in 1781, composer, astronomer, and general man-about-town William Herschel discovered the 7th planet in our solar system, Uranus. Now, we’re all adults here and far too mature to laugh over the word “Uranus,” right? Oh, no, wait. I mean the exact opposite of that.
So in honor of 6th grade humor everywhere, here are 13 things you didn’t know about Uranus (which isn’t surprising, really, since it’s pretty dark up there and you’d need special equipment to get a close look, amirite?)
- The interior of Uranus is mostly made of ice and rocks.
- Uranus has a blue-green color due to the presence of methane.
- With careful observation, Uranus is visible to the naked eye.
- Uranus has several small rings around it made up of dark particles and ranging in color from red to blue-grey.
- In 2006, a dark spot was observed on Uranus.
- Uranus is sideways, with a slight bulge in the center.
- If someone were to spend a year on Uranus, it would last 84 times longer than a year on Earth.
- Uranus is surrounded by numerous moons.
- It is very cold on Uranus, with temperatures as low as -371.2°F.
- Uranus is 14.5 times more massive than the Earth.
- French astronomer Pierre Lemonnier observed Uranus multiple times in the mid-18th century.
- Uranus is known as a gas giant.
- In 1986, Uranus was explored by NASA’s Voyager 2 interplanetary probe.
March 6, 1912: The first Oreo Cookie is sold.
On this day in history in 1912, the first Oreo cookie (then known as the Oreo Biscuit) was sold to S.C. Thuesen, a Hoboken grocer. In the 101 years since, Oreos have become one of the most popular cookies in the world with over half a trillion sold. Not that we’re here at Superficial Gallery to shill for Nabisco – Acadia has already made everyone think twice about eating Oreos, and I’m really more of a Peppermint Joe Joe’s gal myself. However, you can’t deny that the Oreo has become one iconic cookie. So in honor of more than a century of twisting and licking, here are 13 facts you didn’t know about the Oreo.
- The Oreo was launched as an imitator of the Hydrox cookie, which had been introduced in 1908. Hydrox were discontinued in 2003. Oreos remain the best selling cookie in the United States.
- Oreo C. Collins is a tuxedo cat who received a diploma from Jefferson High School Online in 2009 in a sting designed to bust online diploma mills.
- Oreos were originally available in vanilla and lemon-filled flavors, and were sold in bulk for 25 cents per pound.
- 20.5 million Oreo cookies are eaten in the U.S. each day.
- Wafer cookies are commonly “docked” or stamped with a pattern to ensure even texture. Cookie conspiracy theorists link the Oreo’s design to secret societies from the German military to Freemasons and the Knights Templar.
- Ninth Avenue between 15th and 16th street in Chelsea is known as “Oreo Way” in honor of Nabisco’s one-time New York City factory at that location, which produced the first Oreo cookies.
- More than 500 billion Oreos have been sold since their 1912 introduction.
- To promote sales in the Asian market, 300 Chinese “brand ambassadors” were hired to hand out free cookies and spread the Oreo gospel on cookie-themed bicycles. The Oreo is now the best selling cookie in China.
- Besides the original vanilla cream filling, other filling flavors have included green tea, dulce de leche, blueberry ice cream, banana, creamsicle, rainbow sherbert, orange-mango, gingerbread, and coconut.
- Annual Oreo revenue topped $1 billion world-wide in 2007.
- William Turnier, unconfirmed designer of the Oreo cookie pattern, also contributed to the design of Nutter Butters, Ritz crackers, and Milk-Bones.
- Oreo is in the top 20 most popular names for cats. It is #90 for dogs.
- The lard in the original Oreo recipe was replaced with oil in the 1990′s. With pork fat no longer an ingredient, Oreos were certified kosher in 1998.
February 26, 1920: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari Premiers
Kids, you might not know this, but I run a little Halloween horror site when I’m not filling in here at the glamorous basement offices of Superficial Gallery. So when I started
throwing something together arduously researching for today’s post and saw that The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, known as the first horror film in history, premiered on this day in 1920, I knew I would have to make you all suffer through it write about it for this week’s column.
Although tame by today’s standards, this turn of the century German Expressionist silent film tells the bizarre tale of Dr. Caligari, a creepy carnival performer with a near-mute sidekick, the prescient sleepwaker Cesare. Add in a string of brutal murders, a sinister asylum, dark, distorted visuals, and an eerie twist at the end, and you have all the elements of the modern horror story. Got an hour to spare? Make some popcorn, turn the lights low and watch the full film right below.
After a bitter fight with the Catholic Church and conservative factions of the legislature, on February 20, 1985, Ireland approved the sale of non-medical contraceptives such as condoms. With this landmark reversal of Ireland’s previous strict ban on all forms of birth control (except leaving the lights on), anyone over the age of 18 could suddenly walk into a pharmacy and buy a pack of condoms for “a friend.” In salute to the increased availability of this small but mighty device on this day in history, here are 19 facts you didn’t know about the condom.
- Condom use was recorded before the 15th century in Asia. Materials such as oiled silk paper, lamb intestines, tortoise shell, and animal horn were used.
- A standard condom has a diameter of 2 inches and length of 7.4 inches.
- The first rubber condom was produced in 1855 and resembled a bicycle tube in thickness.
- In the 1930′s, the FDA began regulating condom quality in the US.
- In 2004, nearly 2,000,000,000 condoms were purchased by the Indian government for distribution.
- Legendary 18th century lothario Giacomo Casanova used condoms to avoid impregnating his many mistresses.
- In the early 20th century, condoms were typically made by dipping or wrapping penis-shaped molds in rubber.
- Condom advertisements were banned from US national television from the late 1950′s to 1979.
- Latex condoms can be stretched to over 800% of their normal size before breaking.
- Worldwide condom sales doubled in the 1920s.
- Early condom factories were tremendous fire hazards due to the high use of gasoline and benzene to manufacture rubber condoms.
- In the decade before the introduction of the pill, 42% of Americans used condoms for birth control.
- The tensile strength of a condom is over 30 MPa. Human skin has an ultimate tensile strength of 20 MPa.
- In 16th century Italy, linen condoms soaked in chemicals and tied on with a ribbon were recommended for protection from syphilis.
- Sigmund Freud was vocal on his opposition to birth control in general and condoms in particular, siting both high failure rate and reduction of sexual pleasure.
- Japan has the highest rate of condom use in the world.
- Condoms were heavily promoted to soldiers during WWII using outlandish propaganda posters and films.
- Durex brand condoms were first manufactured in 1932 by the London Rubber Company.
- During WWII, the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS) used condoms as inconspicuous espionage tools, relying on their ubiquitousness and water-tight character to store items such as acid for self-destructing film canisters, explosive compounds, and corrosive fuel additives.
Kids, it’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow and I’m sure some of you are running around in a Lifetime Movie Network frenzy of trying to plan the evening. Personally, I’d rather tongue-clean a pigeon coop than get dragged out to dinner tomorrow night, but hey – whatever floats your particular boat. In the spirit of giving, I’m going to break with Today in History protocol and skip ahead to February 14th to give you some date night conversational fodder with these 9 things you didn’t know about Valentine’s Day.
- Pope Gelasius declared February 14 to be Saint Valentine’s Day in 498 A.D. There are at least three different historical martyrs named Valentine, including one beaten with clubs and stoned, then finally beheaded when all else failed to kill him. St. Valentine’s Day was stricken from the church’s official calendar in 1969.
- Hallmark produced its first valentine card in 1913.
- The 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre permanently shifted the balance of power to Al Capone in Prohibition-era gangland Chicago.
- Some identify the genesis of Valentine’s Day with the ancient Lupercalia, a fertility festival with pre-Roman roots that included a celebration of Lupa, the she-wolf who suckled the infant Romulus and Remus, legendary twins who went on to found Rome.
- Although Hamlet is the only Shakespearean play in which Valentine’s Day is mentioned, the city of Verona, literary home of Romeo and Juliet, is inundated with letters to Juliet every Valentine’s Day.
- The Captain and Tennille were married on Valentine’s Day. So were Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee.
- Valentine’s Day has been associated with romantic love since the Middle Ages, with lovers commonly offering gifts of flowers and sweets by the 15th century.
- In classical mythology, Cupid (Eros) is the son of Aphrodite and god of desire, erotic love, and affection. Aphrodite had another, lesser-known son with her husband Hermes, who was transformed into half man and half woman in Greek legend. This son, Hermaphroditus, is the basis for the modern term “hermaphrodite.”
- On February 14, 1876, Elisha Gray and Alexander Graham Bell both filed patents on the telephone, enabling over a century of long-distance relationships and arguments over who should be the first one to hang up (hint: it’s you).
January 23, 1989 – Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí dies.
On this day in history, legendary Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí died, leaving behind a legacy of painting, sculptures, photography, and general wackiness, setting the bar for weirdos around the world. Best known for his dreamy paintings that decorate dorm rooms everywhere, Dalí also made headlines in his day for all manner of attention-grabbing public antics and eccentricities. George Orwell wrote, ”One ought to be able to hold in one’s head simultaneously the two facts that Dalí is a good draughtsman and a disgusting human being.” In honor of the death of the 20th century’s leading oddball, here’s 12 things you didn’t know about Salvador Dalí.
1. Appeared on The Tonight Show with a leather rhinoceros and refused to sit on anything else.
2. Born nine months after the death of his brother (also named Salvador) and was told from childhood that he was his brother’s reincarnation.
3. Frequently traveled with his pet ocelot Babou.
4. Accused of starting an unrest at his art academy and was expelled in 1926.
5. Attended a masquerade party with his wife dressed as the Lindbergh baby and his kidnapper.
6. Received an exorcism in 1947.
7. Upon getting kicked out of his Surrealist group, remarked ”I myself am surrealism.”
8. Rumored to have a phobia of female genitalia as a young man.
9. Delivered a lecture wearing a deep-sea diving suit and helmet, carrying a billiard cue, and leading a pair of Russian wolfhounds.
10. Designed the logo for Chupa Chups lollipops in 1969.
11. Used a glass floor to study foreshortening, creating dreamlike perspectives in his paintings.
12. Avoided paying tabs by drawing on his checks, assuming proprietors would find more value in keeping the checks as art than cashing them.
January 9, 1768: Philip Astley stages the first modern circus.
On this day in history in 1768, legendary horse rider Philip Astley and his troupe of trick riders staged the first modern circus in London, England. He is credited with the introduction of the circus ring and later with the addition of clowns, acrobats, tightrope-walkers, jugglers, and performing animals. In honor of this acrobatic equestrian, here are 13 things you didn’t know about the greatest show on Earth.
- The ideal diameter of a circus ring is 42 feet long.
- The Circus Maximus in Rome existed as early as 500 BC. By 30 BC, it could seat more than 150,000 people.
- The average pair of clown shoes is size 28EEEEE.
- Elephant hairs are considered a good luck charm by circus performers.
- The knee-hang, hocks-off, swing, plange, whip, splits, pullover, birds nest, passing leap, and straddle whip are all types of trapeze maneuvers.
- Cotton candy was first sold at a circus in 1900.
- Early writers claimed the first circus games were staged by goddess Circe in honor of her father Helios, the Sun.
- Circus aerialists call their safety harness a “mechanic.”
- The color green is traditionally considered bad luck by circus performers, as is whistling under the big top.
- Coulrophobia is the fear of clowns.
- “The World’s Strangest Married Couple” was sideshow act Al Tomaini, an 8’4 giant, and his legless wife Jeannie.
- A funambulist is a tightrope walker, from the Latin funis (rope) and ambulare (to walk).
- The first flying trapeze act was introduced in Paris in 1859. Perhaps alarmingly, a catcher was not added to the act until 1870.
January 2, 1920: Science fiction legend Isaac Asimov is born.
On this day in history in 1920, science fiction luminary, educator, and humorist Isaac Asimov was born. Considered one of the three great masters of science fiction and author of the foundational Three Laws of Robotics, Asimov was also one of the world’s most prolific writers, credited with publishing more than 500 books and as many as 90,000 letters, postcards, and pamphlets in his lifetime. In honor of the 93rd anniversary of his birth, here’s 13 facts you didn’t know about Isaac Asimov.
- Worked at the Philadelphia Navy Yard’s Experimental Air Station during World War II alongside fellow sci fi legends L. Sprague de Camp and Robert A. Heinlein.
- Met his first wife on a blind date on Valentine’s Day, 1942. They were married five and a half months later.
- Credited with introducing the words positronic and robotics into the English language.
- Was afraid of flying, needles and the sight of blood, but enjoyed small, enclosed spaces.
- The archive of his personal papers at Boston University takes up 464 boxes on 232 feet of shelf space.
- A life-long Gilbert and Sullivan fan, Asimov was known to show off his own signing voice at public events.
- His father owned several candy stores in Brooklyn. The stores were open from 6 AM to 1 AM, seven days a week.
- In addition to his work in science fiction, Asimov wrote volumes of non-fiction on topics ranging from Shakespeare, Milton, astronomy, mathematics, the Bible, chemistry, and history. He is published in nine of the ten major categories of the Dewey Decimal System.
- Taught himself to read at age 5, wrote his first story at 11, finished high school at 16, and was published at 19.
- Died in 1992 from complications of AIDS after contracting HIV from an infected blood transfusion during heart bypass surgery nine years earlier.
- After all five of Asimov’s applications for medical school were rejected, he was initially rejected from the graduate program in chemistry at Columbia as well. He went on to complete an MA in chemistry in 1941 and a PhD in biochemistry in 1948.
- His daily routine included sitting down at the typewriter by 7:30 AM and working until 10:00 PM each night. He completed over 100 books from 1978 – 1984 alone.
- Wrote several compilations of dirty limericks, beginning with Lecherous Limericks in 1975.
And because I love you, you know I wouldn’t leave you without at least one naughty limerick, this one written by Mr. Asimov himself. Enjoy!
There was a sweet girl of Decatur
Who went to sea on a freighter.
She was screwed by the master
– An utter disaster -
But the crew all made up for it later.
December 19, 1972: TV star Alyssa Milano is born
For kids born in the late 1970′s and early 80′s, Alyssa dominated television and teen media as Samantha Micelli on Who’s the Boss from 1984-1992. When the show canceled its 8-year run, Alyssa struggled to shed her child star image, appearing nude in such Blockbuster shelf-filler as Casualties of Love: The Long Island Lolita Story, Deadly Sins, and Poison Ivy II: Lily, and posing topless in Bikini Magazine (which thanks for an excuse to google those). By the late 1990′s, Alyssa was firmly back in the mainstream of pop culture, landing major roles in 90′s staples Melrose Place, Spin City and Charmed. Since then, she has bounced around various television and film roles, promoted several charitable institutions, and written a book about her love of baseball. In honor of Alyssa’s 40th (yep, 40. 4-0.) birthday on this day in history (and in apology for making you feel ancient), here is a whole gallery of the lovely Ms. Milano. Enjoy, and don’t forget there’s another 280 pictures of Alyssa in the Gallery mine, if you should find yourself with a little time on your hands.
At twelve minutes and twelve seconds past twelve PM today, the time will be 12:12:12 on 12/12/12, the 12th second of the 12th minute of the 12th hour of the 12th day of the 12th month of the 12th year of this century. Today marks Soundcheck Day (1-2-1-2-1-2) and Anti-Doomsday Day, The Astronomical Society of the Pacific’s way of asserting that the world is not ending on 12/21/2012. Assuming they are right, the next repetitive date will not occur until January 1, 2101. In honor of the plethora of twelves on this day in history, here are twelve facts about the number 12.
- 12 men have walked on the moon, ending with Eugene Cernan on Dec. 12, 1972.
- The human body has 12 cranial nerves and 12 pairs of ribs.
- A group of twelve things is called a “duodecad” from Greek dodeka (also the root of the term “dozen”).
- There are 12 months in a year and 12 signs in the western and Chinese zodiacs.
- The 12th moon of Jupiter is Lysithea.
- The Republic of Nauru’s flag has a 12-pointed star, one point for each of the 12 original tribes of Nauru.
- There are 12 basic hues in the color wheel.
- There were 12 principle Olympic gods, 12 tribes of Israel, 12 apostles of Jesus, and 12 sons of Odin.
- 12 can be evenly divided into halves, thirds, fourths, sixths, and twelfths.
- The Seattle Seahawks retired the number 12 for their fans (“the 12th man”).
- The use of 12 as a division factor (duodecimal system) in measures likely originated in Mesopotamia.
- In 2011, the Christmas Price Index estimated the total cost for all goods and services in The Twelve Days of Christmas at $24,263.18. This is almost double the original price calculation of $12,623.10 in 1984.
December 5, 1933: Prohibition is repealed with the passage of the Twenty-first Amendment
On this day in history in 1933, the Twenty-first Amendment to the US Constitution was passed, effectively ending a nation-wide 14 year ban on the manufacture, sale and transportation of alcohol. In the 1910′s, national Prohibition had been touted as a social cure-all, saving tax dollars spent on social issues by dramatically reducing crime, poverty, and alcohol-related violence. This concept was so whole-heartedly embraced that some towns sold their jails as Prohibition went into effect in 1920. In reality, of course, Prohibition was a spectacular failure on every level, as the country took to illegal production and consumption of hooch with gusto. Al Capone alone is estimated to have made $60,000,000 in 1927 on alcohol sales, with 30,000 speakeasies operating just in New York City during the period. Lost tax revenue from the sale of liquor (as high as $12 billion dollars) and enforcement costs (estimated at $12 billion dollars), coupled with the fear or national moral corruption (again!) spelled the end of national Prohibition in 1933. However, it took another three decades before all state-wide Prohibition laws were repealed ending with Mississippi in 1966. Today, cocktail snobs and hipsters throw Repeal Day parties on December 5th, serving alcoholic beverages beginning at 9:00pm (the 21st hour). So put on your best fedora and suspenders and go get blind drunk on whiskey tonight. It’s not socially irresponsible. It’s history.
November 21, 1871: Patent #121,049 issued to M. F. Gale for the cigar lighter
Nearly a millennium after the Mayans were smoking rolled tobacco, and three centuries after the invention of the first lighters (notoriously made of flint and gunpowder), Moses Gale patented a unique device for the lighting of cigars. A cigar lighter burns hot and steady, better for lighting the slow-igniting, oily cigar wrapper.
At the time of Gale’s patent, cigars were not only widely smoked in the United States, they were actually manufactured right here, beginning with the enterprising Mrs. Prout of South Windsor, Connecticut, who began hiring neighborhood women to roll locally-grown tobacco into cigars known as “Long Nines” in 1801. Later, Latin manufacturers capitalized on the link between ladies and cigars, notoriously claiming to roll cigars on the thighs of female workers. The Cohiba brand, launched in 1963, was the first to staff exclusively women cigar rollers.
While women rolled cigars in the 18th century, society frowned at ladies smoking them (with notable exceptions for artists and prostitutes), and not until the Roaring 20′s did women reclaim the habit. In honor of today’s day in history (and the doughty Mrs. Prout), here’s a whole gallery of cigar-loving ladies. Enjoy!
November 14, 1832: The first streetcar went into operation in New York City
180 years before Hurricane Sandy flooded the subways with 45 million gallons of water, the first streetcar went into operation in New York City. Think about that for a second: a 30-seat horse-drawn car with steel wheels, riding along steel rails, clip-clopping down the streets of New York. Passengers would pull on a leather strap attached to the driver’s ankle when they wanted to get off (I shan’t speculate what the driver pulled on when he wanted to get off).
Other forms of transportation gradually replaced horse-drawn public transit, including New York City’s first elevated train in 1870 and the official subway system in 1904. By the end of the Roaring 20′s, horsecars were a thing of the past on the streets of Gotham. In honor of today’s day in history, take a peek below at 100 years of the Big Apple, 1830-1930.