This week in 1768, Colin Macfarquhar and Andrew Bell of Scotland published the first edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica. It had just 3 volumes—quite a contrast to the thirty-two volumes of the fifteenth and final edition, published in 2010. Despite small beginnings, Britannica quickly gained a reputation for excellence and was soon considered the most authoritative English language encyclopedia.
This week in 1852, Charles-Louis Napoléon Bonaparte became Emperor of France. His father was the younger brother of the original Napoleon. And his mother was the daughter of the famous Josephine – the long-term mistress and eventually wife of the first Napoleon — by her other (first) husband. To capitalize on his famous uncle’s reputation,
This week in 534 BCE, Thespis of Icaria became the first person we know of to portray a character on stage in ancient Greece. He sang about myths to an audience in Athens. But rather than just narrating by song, he played the various characters in the story, using masks to differentiate them. Thespis also
This week in 1558, Elizabeth Tudor was declared queen of England and Ireland, following the untimely death of her half-sister, Queen Mary. Elizabeth was the daughter of King Henry VIII by his second wife, Anne Boleyn. Her first and most important job as queen was to marry and produce an heir. Her sister Mary had
This week in 1620, passengers and crew aboard The Mayflower got their first glimpse of the New World, sighting modern-day Cape Cod in Massachusetts. The travelers spent a couple of days trying to sail further south to Virginia, their intended destination, but strong winds pushed them back to the natural harbor at Cape Cod. After
This week in 1512, the Vatican revealed the newly-painted ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, for the first time. Renaissance master Michelangelo had begun the work in 1508, under commission from Pope Julius II (often called the warrior pope). The master had actually resisted the project at first. The scale of the job intimidated him (with good reason).
On October 24th 1901, Annie Edson Taylor became the first person to “raft” over Niagara Falls in a barrel and survive. She accomplished this feat on her 63rd birthday with the intent of securing her finances, through speaking engagements and other publicity. Unfortunately, she never made much money from the venture – mostly because her
On this day in 1610, Louis XIII was crowned King of France, following the assassination of his father, Henry IV. The new king was only nine, so his mother, Marie de’ Medici, ruled as regent. Her mismanagement, however, along with widespread hostility toward her Italian favorites, led the teenage Louis XIII to take over in
This week in 1910, former President Theodore Roosevelt became the first U.S. chief executive to fly in an airplane. More than 10,000 people attended the event at Kinloch Field in St. Louis. The pilot, Archibald Hoxsey, flew Roosevelt around the field twice, for a distance of about three miles, in a flight lasting three minutes
On this day in 1957, Sputnik I became the first artificial satellite to orbit the Earth. The beachball-sized Soviet machine circled the planet in a low elliptical orbit for three weeks before its batteries finally died. Then it continued for two more months before finally falling back into the atmosphere. The unexpected success of Sputnik
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