History of the Week: Nov. 12-16

November 12

Andrew Ellicott Douglass, an American astronomer from Vermont, witnessed the first meteor shower on record on this day in 1799.

He was sailing on a ship in the Florida Keys.  The meteor shower was identified as the Leonids meteor shower.

Douglass wrote in a journal he kept about the meteor shower: ‘[the] whole heaven appeared as if illuminated with sky rockets, flying in an infinity of directions, and I was in constant expectation of some of them falling on the vessel.  They continued until put out by the light of the sun after day break.’ This entry is the first known of a meteor shower in North America.

The Leonids meteor shower is a yearly event that is significantly enriched every 33 years or so by the advent of the comet Tempel-Tuttle.  When the comet returns, the Leonids can create amounts of up to a few thousand meteors per hour that can illuminate the sky on a clear night.

November 13

On this day in 1789, President George Washington returned to Washington, ending his first presidential tour.

For four weeks, President Washington journeyed by stagecoach throughout New England, visiting all the states of the North that had endorsed the Constitution of the United States.

President Washington, the prodigious Revolutionary War hero and the first leader of the New Republic, was received by eager crowds wherever he went.

Major William Jackson, Washington’s aide during the Revolutionary War, escorted the president, along with nine servants and a private secretary, as well as some slaves.

The assembly trekked as far north as Kittery, Maine, which at the time was still a part of Massachusetts.

In 1791, the president embarked on his first presidential visit to the southern states, making the 1,887-mile journey from his estate at Mount Vernon, Virginia round-trip.

November 14

Apollo 12, which was the second manned mission to the surface of the moon, was launched on this day in 1969 from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

Astronauts Alan L. Bean, Richard F. Gordon, Jr. and Charles Conrad, Jr. were on board. President Richard Nixon observed the liftoff from Launch Pad A at Cape Canaveral.

Thirty-six seconds following takeoff, lightning struck the rising Saturn 5 launch rocket.  This tripped the circuit breakers in the command module and triggered a power failure. Luckily, the launching rocket continued upward routinely, and within a few minutes power was returned to the spaceship.

Astronauts Bean and Conrad became the third and fourth humans to walk on the surface of the moon. During the subsequent 32 hours, the two astronauts completed two lunar walks, where they gathered lunar samples and inspected the Surveyor 3 spacecraft, an unmanned U.S. probe that soft-landed on the moon in 1967.

November 15

On this day in 1867, the first stock ticker was revealed in New York City.  The arrival of the ticker ultimately transformed the stock market by marking up-to-the-minute prices accessible to investors around the nation.  Before this development, data went by messenger or mail.

The ticker was the creation of Edward Calahan, who constructed a telegraph machine to print stock quotes on rolls of paper tape.

In 1869, Thomas Edison, a prior telegraph operator, patented a better-quality, easier-to-use form of Calahan’s ticker.  Edison’s ticker was his original profitable creation and, through the sale and manufacture of stock tickers and other telegraphic devices, he made adequate money to open his own laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey, where he established the light bulb and phonograph.

November 16

On this day in 1849, a Russian court condemned Fyodor Dostoevsky to death for his supposed revolutionary undertakings connected to a radical intellectual group. Dostoevsky began partaking in a radical intellectual discussion group called the Petrashevsky Circle.  The group was suspected of seditious doings; this led to Dostoevsky’s arrest in 1849, and his eventual sentencing to death.

On December 22, 1849, Dostoevsky was put before the firing squad but received a last-minute exoneration and instead was taken to a Siberian labor camp; he worked there for four years.

He was later released in 1854 and worked as a soldier on the Mongolian frontier afterwards.  He married a widow and returned to Russia at long last in 1859.  The next year, he created a magazine and, in 1862, journeyed to Europe for the first time.

November 17

The Suez Canal, which connected the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea, was instated in an extravagant formality on this day in 1869.

In 1854, the former French consul to Cairo, Ferdinand de Lesseps, fortified a contract with the Ottoman governor of Egypt to construct a canal 100 miles across the Isthmus of Suez.

A worldwide crew of engineers created a structure blueprint, and in 1856 the Suez Canal Company was created and given the right to control the canal for 99 years after its completion.

Building began in April of 1859. At first the digging was done by hand using shovels and picks used by enforced laborers, but later workers from Europe with steam shovels and dredgers came to the rescue.

Disputes over labor and an epidemic of cholera decelerated production.  The Suez Canal was not finished until 1869, which was four years behind schedule.

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