August 13, 1941 Henry Ford’s Soybean Car

Henry Ford had a “thing”, for soybeans.  At the 1934 World’s Fair in Chicago, Ford invited reporters to a feast where he served soybean cheese, soybean crackers, soy bread and butter, soy milk, soy ice cream… The man was a veritable Bubba Gump, of soybeans. 

The largest museum in the United States is located in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. The sprawling, 12-acre indoor-outdoor complex in the old Greenfield Village is home to JFK’s Presidential limo, the Rosa Parks bus and the Wright Brothers’ bicycle shop. There you will find Abraham Lincoln’s chair from Ford’s Theater, along with Thomas Edison’s laboratory and an Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. George Washington’s camp bed is there, with Igor Sikorski’s helicopter and an enormous collection of antique automobiles, locomotives and aircraft.

Sadly, one object you will not find there, is Henry Ford’s plastic car, made from soybeans.

92MI_0003Ford left the family farm outside of modern-day Detroit as a young man, never to return. His father William thought the boy would one day own the place but young Henry couldn’t stand farm work. He later wrote, “I never had any particular love for the farm—it was the mother on the farm I loved”.

Henry Ford went on to other things, but part of him never left the farm. In 1941, the now-wealthy business magnate wanted to combine industry, with agriculture.  At least, that’s what the museum says.

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George Washington Carver, at work in his library

Ford first gave the plastic car project to yacht designer Eugene Turenne Gregorie, but later turned to the Greenfield Village soybean laboratory. To the guy in charge over there, actually, a guy with some experience in tool & die making.  His name was Lowell Overly.

The car was made in Dearborn with help from the scientist and botanist George Washington Carver, (yeah, That George Washington Carver), a man born to slavery who rose to such prodigious levels accomplishment, that Time magazine labeled him the “Black Leonardo”.

The soybean car, introduced to the public this day in 1941, was made from fourteen ¼-inch thick plastic panels and plexiglass windows, attached to a tubular steel frame and weighing in at 1,900 pounds, about a third lighter than comparable automobiles of the era. The finished prototype was exhibited later that year at the Dearborn Days festival, and the Michigan State Fair Grounds.

The thing was built to run on fuel derived from industrial hemp, a related strain of the Cannibis Sativa plant beloved of stoners the world over and known simply, as “weed”.

soybean-car-chassis-skeleton-right-rearFord claimed he’d be able to “grow automobiles from the soil”, a hedge against the metal rationing of world War Two. He dedicated 120,000 acres of soybeans to experimentation, but to no end.  The total acreage devoted to “fuel” production, is unrecorded.

Another reason for a car made from soybeans, was to help American farmers.  Plus, Henry Ford seems to have had a “thing”, for soybeans.  At the 1934 World’s Fair in Chicago, Ford invited reporters to a feast where he served soybean cheese, soybean crackers, soy bread and butter, soy milk, soy ice cream… The man was a veritable Bubba Gump, of soybeans.  Ford was probably one of the first in this country, to regularly drink soy milk.

Henry Ford’s own car was fitted with a soybean trunk and struck with an axe to show the material’s durability, though the axe was later revealed to have a rubber boot.

Henry-Ford-Soybean-CarHenry Ford’s experiment in making cars from soybeans never got past that first prototype, and came to a halt during WW2.  The project was never revived, though several states adopted license plates stamped out of soybeans, a solution farm animals found to be quite delicious.

The car itself was destroyed long ago, the ingredients for its manufacture unrecorded, but the thing lives on in the hearts of hemp enthusiasts, everywhere.

The New York Times claimed the car body and fenders were made from soy beans, wheat and corn.  Some sources opine that the car was made from Bakelite or some variant of Duroplast, a plant-based auto body substance produced in the millions, for the East German Trabant.

One newspaper claimed that nothing ever came from Henry Ford’s soybean experiments, except whipped cream.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.
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August 3, 1908 The Old Man of La Chappelle

Research suggests that we all carry Neanderthal genes and that these may have changed our immune systems, leaving us vulnerable to diseases such diabetes and cancer.

In the 17th century, the German Reformed Church teacher and hymn writer Joachim Neander liked to hike a valley outside of Düsseldorf. The beauty of nature was inspirational, clearing his mind and inspiring verses like “See how God this rolling globe/swathes with beauty as a robe…Forests, fields, and living things/each its Master’s glory sings.”  The theologian contracted tuberculosis and died at the age of thirty but lived on in a way, in the valley which came to bear his name.

Nearly 200 years later, three years before Charles Darwin published the Origin of Species, workers quarrying limestone in the Neander Valley discovered an unusual skull.  This was no ordinary head, elongated and nearly chinless as it was, with heavy ridges over the eyes.  Heavy bones were found alongside,  which fitted together, oddly.

From top, clockwise:  a) Neander Valley by Friedrich Wilhelm Schreiner, oil on cardboard, 1855, b) original bones discovered the following year, and c)Artist’s conception of what he looked like, H/T Artist: Kennis & Kennis Reconstructions

The state of archaeological science had much to learn in 1856.  Who knows, 22nd century historians and scientists may look back at our time, and say we had a long way to go.  At the time, even to discern fossils from ordinary rock was beyond the ability of many scientists. One common method involved licking the fossil. If the thing had animal material, it would stick to your tongue.

Despite such misconceptions, scholars of the day had no shortage of theories. This was a lost Cossack, a bowlegged rider suffering from rickets, a painful condition resulting in weak and misshapen bones. To some, the life of pain resulting from such a condition made perfect sense, the bony eye ridges resulting from perpetually furrowed brow.

British geologist William King suspected something different. Something more radical. This was no aberrant human being nor even a lost ancestor. This was a member of a long lost alternate humanity.   An extinct but parallel species to our own.  King published a paper in 1864 hypothesizing his idea of an evolutionary dead end, naming the long lost species after the poet who had once wandered the valley in which it was discovered. He called it Homo Neanderthalensis: Neanderthal Man.

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“Neanderthal sculptures, named Nana and Flint, at the Gibraltar Museum”. H/T Jaap Scheeren, New York Times

Having no context from which to draw conclusions, King fell back on the pseudo science of phrenology to describe Neanderthal man, along with preconceptions of “primitive” and “savage” races. The image of a stupid and grunting brute emerged from this analysis. King opined that “The thoughts and desires which once dwelt within it never soared beyond those of a brute.” Today we may look at such thinking as itself savage and primitive, but applying modern ideas to earlier times is a dangerous undertaking. Ideas of Eugenics survived well after King’s time, and into the modern era.

On this day in 1908, the brothers Amadee and Jean Bouyssonie found the most complete Neanderthal skeleton to date in a small cave near La Chapelle-aux-Saints, in France.  This skeleton includes the skull, jaw, most of the vertebrae and several ribs, along with most of the long bones of his arms and legs, plus a number of smaller bones from the hands and feet.

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The Old Man of La Chapelle-Aux-Saints reconstructed burial in the Musée de l’Homme de Néandertal, France

French palaeontologist Marcellin Boule studied the remains and envisioned a brutish, hairy and gorilla-like beast with opposable toes and bent spine, walking on bowed legs with bent knees.  Boule’s reconstruction was influential. Decades later, scientists and popular culture viewed Neanderthal as bent and stupid brutes. Boule got it wrong that time but, to his credit, was one of the first to recognize Piltdown Man, as a paleoanthropological hoax.

Subsequent analysis of the “Old Man of La Chappelle” revealed not the bent-over beast of Boule’s imagination, but a fully erect biped, bent with advanced osteoarthritis.

What’s more, massive tooth loss and lack of mobility revealed that this specimen could neither hunt nor scavenge with ease, and would have had great difficulty in chewing his food. This and the unmolested state of the skeleton compared with animal bones found nearby suggest a man greatly cared for by his contemporaries, as well as deliberate burial of the body.

This wasn’t even an “old man” by our standards.  The skeleton is currently estimated to have been that of a man between 25 and 40 years, demonstrating the Hobbesian adage that life was once indeed, “Nasty, Brutish and Short”.

Today, to call someone a “Neanderthal” is to insult him as a stupid savage.  It appears that our cousin was nothing of the sort.

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The hyoid bone situated at the floor of the mouth serves as a connecting-point for the tongue and other musculature, giving humans the ability to speak. A delicate structure likely to be lost in most fossilized remains, the first Neanderthal hyoid was only discovered in 1989.

An international team of researchers analysed this fossil Neanderthal bone using 3D x-ray imaging and mechanical modelling and, yes.  Neanderthal could not only speak, but was capable of highly complex speech not unlike ourselves, though his voice was likely high and grating.  Certainly not the base grunting commonly associated with “cave-men”.

img_1054neanderthalsmShorter in stature and considerably more powerful than Cro-Magnon, our direct ancestor and all but indistinguishable from ourselves, Neanderthal bodies were suited to the ice age of the early and middle Paleolithic era.

Neanderthal emerged on the Eurasian landmass between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago.  Possessed of a brain only slightly smaller than Cro-Magnon, Neanderthals walked upright, formed and used simple tools and controlled fire.  They even buried their own dead, at least sometimes, and some researchers theorize that they built boats and sailed the Mediterranean.  Imperfectly formed tools and weapons found alongside more sophisticated specimens even suggest that he educated his children.

He might even fit in if you brought him back today, provided you dressed him right.

Despite all that, Neanderthal man is an evolutionary dead end and not our ancestor, though he did “coexist” for a time, with our Cro-Magnon forebears.  It’s even possible if not probable that the two bred together and produced children, though this was likely your random hookup rather than any long-term cross-breeding.

Modern DNA analysis suggests that the two species even shared some genetic disorders, such as psoriasis, Crohn’s disease and a variety of auto-immune conditions such as Lupus.

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Research even suggests that we  carry Neanderthal genes, every one of us, and that these may have changed our immune systems leaving us vulnerable to diseases such diabetes and cancer.

The idea is not as strange as it sounds. Last year, Sir Richard Branson was in the news, claiming that he had looked into his family ancestry. Forty generations back, it turns out that Branson is related to Charlemagne.  That’s no big deal, according to Genetecist Adam Rutherford. Speaking at the Chalke Valley History Festival, Rutherford explained that “Literally every person in Europe is directly descended from Charlemagne. Literally, not metaphorically. You have a direct lineage which leads to Charlemagne,” adding “Looking around this room, every single one of you … is directly descended between 21 and 24 generations from Edward III.”  The only difference between celebrities and the rest of us it turns out, is the means to prove it.

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So, maybe calling someone ‘Neanderthal’ isn’t such an insult, after all.  Perhaps there’s one in there somewhere, peering back at us from our bathroom mirror.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

July 20, 1969 The Man On The Moon

These guys were sending human beings 240,000 miles into space, to land on the moon and come back again, on computing “horsepower” equivalent to modern pocket calculators.

On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy delivered a message before a joint session of Congress, articulating a goal of “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth” by the end of the decade.

Though he wouldn’t live to see it, Kennedy’s pledge would be realized forty-nine years ago on this day: July 20, 1969.

42194_space-shuttleToday, the accomplishments of the Apollo series of spacecraft seem foreordained, the massive complexities of the undertaking, forgotten.

In the modern era, the most powerful supercomputers on earth put the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit, with “vision” literally requiring correction. With “glasses”.

These guys were sending human beings 240,000 miles into space, to land on the moon and come back again, on computing “horsepower” equivalent to modern pocket calculators.

Any one of countless calculations could have misfired, slinging three astronauts into the black void of space, there to spend eternity, in a flying tomb.

Apollo_11_insigniaThe 363′, 6,698,700-pound Saturn V launch vehicle lifted off from the John F. Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, Florida on July 16, carrying mission commander Neil Armstrong, Lunar module pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, and Command Module Michael Collins.

The Apollo spacecraft consisted of three components: a Command Module (CM) with a cabin for the three astronauts, a Service Module (SM) supporting the CM with propulsion, electrical power, oxygen, and water; and a Lunar Module (LM) for landing on the Moon. The vehicle was launched toward the moon by a Saturn V rocket, designed to break apart as each of a series of rocket stages were exhausted, and separated from the main craft.

The Command/Service Module passed behind the moon at 12:21 Eastern Standard Time on July 19, firing its service propulsion engine and inserting the craft into lunar orbit.

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The moon as seen from the International Space Station on July 9, 2018 H/T Alexander Gerst, NASA

Aldrin and Armstrong next moved into the LM, the only component to actually land on the lunar surface, with Collins remaining to orbit the moon in the CM.

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The pair landed on a flat plain called the “Sea of Tranquility” on this day in 1969 at 4:18pm EST.  Half the world heard the words “Tranquility base, the eagle has landed”. Neil Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface six hours later, with the words “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind”.

charter-jet-gene-cernan-moonThese first two humans to set foot on the moon spent about 2½ hours on the surface. The pair collected nearly 50-lbs of material for transport back to earth, planting the American flag where it most likely remains, to this day.

Two days earlier, White House speechwriter William Safire had written an address, a speech to be delivered by President Richard Nixon, in case of failure. Twenty-five years earlier on the eve of the D-Day invasion, General Dwight D. Eisenhower penned a letter, taking personal responsibility for the mission’s failure. Like Eisenhower’s letter, President Nixon’s speech was never delivered.  The speech was entitled, “IN EVENT OF MOON DISASTER”

“Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.
These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.
These two men are laying down their lives in mankind’s most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding”…

The course of events envisioned by Richard Nixon’s speech writer, never came to be.  The upper part of the Lunar Module lifted off 21½ hours later, returning Armstrong and Aldrin to the Command Module.  Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins returned to earth and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on July 24.  Three astronauts had made history.  The United States had had the last word in the space race, with the Soviet Union.

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The Apollo 17 Saturn V rocket was the last human flight to the moon
If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

July 16, 1945 Destroyer of Worlds

“Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds”. – Bhagavad Gita

Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds“.

The words come down to us from the Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu epic Mohandas Gandhi would describe as his “spiritual dictionary”. On this day in 1945, these were the words of “Manhattan Project” director J. Robert Oppenheimer as he witnessed “Trinity”, the world’s first nuclear detonation.

The project had begun with an August 2, 1939 letter, written by the prominent physicists Leo Szilárd and Albert Einstein to President Franklin Roosevelt, warning that Nazi Germany may be working to develop a secret “Super Weapon”. It ended with that single explosion in the Jornada del Muerto (loosely, “Journey of the Dead Man”) desert, equal to the explosive force of 15,000 – 20,000 tons of TNT.

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Einstein–Szilárd letter

The Manhattan project, the program to develop the Atomic Bomb, was so secret that Vice President Harry Truman was unaware of its existence. President Roosevelt passed away on April 14, when Harry Truman was sworn in as President. He was fully briefed on the Manhattan project 10 days later, writing in his diary that night that the United States was perfecting an explosive great enough to destroy the whole world.

Nazi Germany surrendered on May 7, but the war with Japan ground on. By August, Truman faced the most difficult decision ever faced by an American President.  Whether to drop an atomic bomb on a population of human beings.

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The morality of the decision has been argued ever since, and will continue to be, I’m sure. In the end, it was decided that to drop the bomb would end the war faster with fewer lives lost (on both sides), compared with an invasion of the Japanese home islands.

The second nuclear detonation in history took place on August 6 over Hiroshima, Japan. “Little Boy”, as the bomb was called, was delivered by the B29 Superfortress “Enola Gay”, named after the mother of United States Army Air Forces pilot Lieutenant Colonel Paul Tibbets. 66,000 Japanese citizens were vaporized in an instant, or died within the following days from the effects of the bomb.  Another 100,000 later died from injuries and the delayed effects of radiation.

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Even then, the Imperial Japanese Government refused to surrender.  ‘Fat Man’, a plutonium bomb carried by the B29 “Bockscar”, was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9.

The intended target was Kokura, but local weather reduced visibility.  393d Bombardment Squadron Commander Major Charles Sweeney bypassed Kokura and chose the secondary target, Nagasaki. Half of Nagasaki was destroyed in the blast, and another 70,000 people killed.

Japan surrendered unconditionally on the 14th of August, ending the most destructive war in history.

During the 1920s, the University of Göttingen was one of the world’s leading centers for theoretical physics. American-born J. Robert Oppenheimer was himself educated there, along with the likes of Enrico Fermi, Edward Teller, and the English-born Paul Dirac, regarded as “one of the most significant physicists of the 20th century”.

The academic landscape of 1920s Germany was such that the Nazi regime may very well have been first to the nuclear finish line, but for the politicization of the universities themselves, brought on by National Socialist policy.

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On April 7, just 67 days after Adolf Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor, the ‘Civil Service Law’ of 1933 established the framework for the removal of ‘undesirables’ in civil service, medicine, education and the legal profession. A series of increasingly draconian anti-Jewish laws left tens of thousands of Jews including that pillar of modern theoretical physics Albert Einstein himself, no choice but to flee.

More than 133,000 German Jewish émigrés moved to the United States between 1933 and 1944, many of them highly educated and some holding Nobel prizes. In a research paper for the University of Stanford, assistant Professor of Economics Petra Moser reported a 31% increase in the number of US patents in the physical sciences, after 1933.

The Nazi nuclear weapons project began on December 17, 1938 when German physicist Otto Hahn and assistant Fritz Strassmann discovered the atomic fission of heavy elements. The first real push to develop a nuclear weapon began the following April but fizzled months later, when a number of notable physicists were drafted into the Wehrmacht.

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A second such effort began on September 1, 1939, the day that Hitler invaded Poland. While the Nazi nuclear program received funding throughout the war, it never received the concentrated effort of a Manhattan project. Instead, the program was carved into three separate pieces, and personnel were always subject to the recruiting needs of the military, irrespective of education, training or skills.

This series of decisions, no doubt taken in some conference room somewhere, put Nazi Germany behind in the nuclear arms race. How different the world would be, if Little Boy and Fat Man displayed swastikas, painted on their sides.

 

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July 13, 1908 The Event at Tunguska

The “Tunguska Event” was the largest such impact event in recorded history, but far from the first. Or the last. 

The first atomic bomb in the history of human conflict exploded in the skies over Japan on August 6, 1945. The bomb, code named “Little Boy”, reached an altitude of 1,900-ft. over the city of Hiroshima at 8:15am, Japanese Standard Time.

A “gun-triggered” fission bomb, barometric-pressure sensors initiated the explosion of four cordite charges, propelling a small “bullet” of enriched uranium the length of a fixed barrel and into a sphere of the same material. Within picoseconds (1/.000000000001 of a second), the collision of the two bodies initiated a fission reaction, releasing an energy yield roughly equivalent to 15,000 tons of TNT.

66,000 were killed by the effects of the blast, the shock wave spreading outward at a velocity greater than the speed of sound and flattening virtually everything in its path, for a distance of a mile in all directions.

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Thirty-seven years earlier, the boreal forests of Siberia lit up with an explosion 1,000 times greater than the atomic bomb dropped over Hiroshima. At the time, no one had the foggiest notion that it was coming.

The Taiga occupies the high latitudes of the world’s northern regions, a vast international belt line of coniferous forests consisting mostly of pines, spruces and larches between the high tundra, and the temperate forest.  An enormous community of plants and animals, this trans-continental ecosystem comprises a vast biome, second only to the world’s oceans.

The Eastern Taiga is a region in the east of Siberia, an area 1.6 times the size of the continental United States.  The Stony Tunguska River wends its way along an 1,160-mile length of the region, its entire course flowing under great pebble fields with no open water.

TunguskaOn the morning of June 30, 1908, the Tunguska River lit up with a bluish-white light.  At 7:17a local time, a column of light far too bright to look at moved across the skies above the Tunguska. Minutes later, a vast explosion knocked people off their feet, flattening buildings, crops and as many as 80 million trees over an area of 830-square miles. A vast “thump” was heard, the shock wave equivalent to an earthquake measuring 5.0 on the Richter scale. Within minutes came a second and then a third shock wave and finally a fourth, more distant this time and described by eyewitnesses as the “sun going to sleep”.

On July 13, 1908, the Krasnoyaretz newspaper reported “At 7:43 the noise akin to a strong wind was heard. Immediately afterward a horrific thump sounded, followed by an earthquake that literally shook the buildings as if they were hit by a large log or a heavy rock”.

Fluctuations in atmospheric pressure were detectable as far away as Great Britain.  Night skies were set aglow from Asia to Europe for days on end, theorized to have been caused by light, passing through high-altitude ice particles.

In the United States, lookout posts from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to the Mount Wilson Observatory in Los Angeles recorded a several months-long decrease in atmospheric transparency, attributed to an increase in dust, suspended in the atmosphere.

The “Tunguska Event” was the largest such impact event in recorded history, but far from the first, or the last.  Mistastin Lake in northern Labrador was formed during the Eocene era of 36-million years ago, cubic Zirconium deposits suggesting an impact-zone temperature of some 4,300° Fahrenheit.  Halfway to the temperature of the sun.

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“A bolide – a very bright meteor of an apparent magnitude of &−14 or brighter” H/T Wikimedia

Some sixty-six million years ago, the “Chicxulub impactor” struck the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, unleashing a mega-tsunami of 330-ft in height from Texas to Florida. Superheated steam, ash and vapor towered over the impact zone, as colossal shock waves triggered global earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.   Vast clouds of dust blotted out the sun for months on end, leading to mass extinction events the world over.

The official history of the Ming Dynasty records the Ch’ing-yang event of 1490, a meteor shower in China, in which “stones fell like rain”, killing some 10,000 people.

In 2013, a twenty-meter (66-ft) space rock estimated at 13,000-14,000 tons flashed across the skies of Chelyabinsk, Russia, breaking apart with a kinetic impact estimated at 26-times the nuclear blast over Hiroshima.  The Superbolide (a bolide is “an extremely bright meteor, especially one that explodes in the atmosphere”) entered the earth’s atmosphere on February 15, burning exposed skin and damaging retinas for miles around.  No fatalities were reported, though 1,500 were injured seriously enough to require medical attention.

The 450-ton Chicora Meteor collided with western Pennsylvania on June 24, 1938, in a cataclysm comparable to the Halifax Explosion of 1917.  The good luck held, that time, the object making impact in a sparsely populated region.  The only reported casualty, was a cow.  Investigators F.W. Preston, E.P. Henderson and James R. Randolph remarked that “If it had landed on Pittsburgh there would have been few survivors”.

In 2018, the non-profit B612 Foundation dedicated to the study of near-Earth object impacts, reported that “It’s a 100 per cent certain we’ll be hit [by a devastating asteroid]”. Comfortingly, the organization’s statement concluded “we’re [just] not 100 per cent sure when.”

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If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

June 28, 1953 American Muscle Car

Workers at the Flint Michigan plant assembled the first Corvette on this day in 1953.  The first production car rolled off the assembly line two days later.  300 hand-built Corvettes came off the line that model year, all white.

For two years, General Motors designer Harley Earl labored to build an affordable American sports car, to compete with the MGs, Jaguars and Ferraris coming out of Europe.  The first convertible concept model appeared in early 1953, part of the GM Motorama display at the New York Auto Show held at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

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Chevrolet wanted to give the new model a “non-animal” name, starting with ‘C’.  Newspaper photographer Myron Scott suggested the name of a small class of warship, the “trim, fleet naval vessel that performed heroic escort and patrol duties during World War II.”  They called this new model a Corvette.

Workers at the Flint Michigan plant assembled the first Corvette on this day in 1953.  The first production car rolled off the assembly line two days later.  300 hand-built Corvettes came off the line that model year, all white.

073012_7To keep costs down, off-the-shelf components were used whenever possible. The body was made of fiberglass to keep tooling expenses low.  The chassis and suspension came from the 1952 Chevy sedan.  The car featured an increased compression-ration version of the same in-line six “Blue Flame” block used in other models, coupled with a two-speed Power glide automatic transmission.  No manual transmission of the time could reliably handle an output of 150 HP and a 0-60 time of 11½ seconds.

GM moved production to St. Louis, Missouri the following year.  Since 1974, the car has been manufactured in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where the Corvette has become the official sports car of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

Corvette evolution

Sales were disappointing in the first couple years, compared with those of European competitors.  GM refined the early design and added a V-8 in 1955, greatly improving the car’s performance.  By 1961, the Corvette had established itself as a classic American muscle car.

The second generation (C2) introduced the “Stingray” name in 1963. Still sporting fiberglass body panels, the car was smaller and lighter than previous models with a maximum output of 360 HP.  The sleek, tapered design was said to be patterned after the Mako shark caught by lead designer Bill Mitchell, on a deep sea fishing trip.

The third generation (1968–1982) featured a radically new body and interior design, and Chevy’s first use of T-top removable roof panels. The “Stingray” name was dispensed with in 1976, in 1978, the C3 became the first of 12 Corvettes to be used as Pace Cars for the Indy 500.

The radical redesign of the fourth generation Corvette was intended for the 1983 model year but, quality issues and delays from parts suppliers resulted in only 43 prototypes being built.  None of them were ever sold. Only one of the 1983 prototypes survives; it’s on display at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

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When it came to quality and styling, many felt that the C4 compared poorly with Japanese competitors like the Nissan 300ZX and Mazda RX-7. The 5th generation introduced in 1997 addressed many of these issues. The production C5 had a top speed of 181 mph, while the lower drag coefficient and new, aerodynamic styling resulted in 28 mpg on the highway.

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Twenty-first century updates exposed headlights for the first time since 1962, the 7th generation becoming the first to bear the Stingray name since the 1976 model year.  Air intake grills were exposed for the first time in four generations, as the all-important 0-60 times approached the four-seconds mark.

Corvette enthusiasts criticized the aggressive, angular lines of the C7, claiming the rear end looks more like a C5 Camaro.  Others complained about the front end; with an air intake grill exposed for the first time in four generations.

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The supercharged 6.2L V8 power plant of the 2019 Z06 develops 650 horsepower, capable of accelerating from 0-60 mph in 2.95 seconds with a top end of 207.4 mph. Ain’t nobody fussing about that.

 

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

June 21, 1633 And Yet, it Moves

There is a story about Galileo, which may or may not be true. After his conviction, the astronomer is said to have muttered “Eppur si muove” — “And yet it moves”.

Planet Earth exists at the center of the solar system, the sun and other celestial bodies revolving around it. That was the “geocentric” model of the solar system, from the time of antiquity.

The perspective was by no means unanimous.  The Greek astronomer and mathematician Aristarchus of Samos put the Sun in the center of the universe, in the third century BC.  Later Greek astronomers Hipparchus and Ptolemy agreed, refining Aristarchus’ methods to arrive at a fairly accurate estimate for the distance to the moon, but theirs remained the minority view.

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Earth is at the center of this model of the universe created by Bartolomeu Velho, a Portuguese cartographer, in 1568. H/T: NASA/Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris

In the 15th century, Polish mathematician and astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus parted ways with the orthodoxy of his time, describing a “heliocentric” model of the universe placing the sun at the center.  The Earth and other bodies, according to this model, revolved around the sun.

Copernicus resisted publishing his ideas until the end of his life, fearing to offend the religious sensibilities of the time. Legend has it that he was presented with an advance copy of his “De revolutionibus orbium coelestium” (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres) as he awakened on his death bed from a stroke-induced coma. He took one look at his book, closed his eyes, and never opened them again.

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Copernicus’ ‘heliocentric’ view of the universe.

The Italian physicist, mathematician, and astronomer Galileo Galilei came along, about a hundred years later. Galileo has been called the “Father of Modern Observational Astronomy”, his improvements to the telescope and resulting astronomical observations supporting the Copernican heliocentric view.

They also brought him to the attention of the Roman Inquisition.

Biblical references such as, “The Lord set the Earth on its Foundations; it can Never be Moved.” (Psalm 104:5) and “And the Sun Rises and Sets and Returns to its Place.” (Ecclesiastes 1:5) were taken at the time as literal and immutable fact, becoming the basis for religious objection to the heliocentric model.

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Galileo faces the Roman Inquisition

Galileo was brought before inquisitor Vincenzo Maculani for trial in 1633. The astronomer backpedaled before the Inquisition, but only to a point, testifying in his fourth deposition on this day in 1633, that “I do not hold this opinion of Copernicus, and I have not held it after being ordered by injunction to abandon it. For the rest, here I am in your hands; do as you please”.

There is a story about Galileo, which may or may not be true. After his conviction, the astronomer is said to have muttered “Eppur si muove” — “And yet it moves”.

The Inquisition condemned the astronomer to “abjure, curse, & detest” his Copernican heliocentric views, returning him to house arrest at his villa in 1634, there to spend the rest of his life. Galileo Galilei, the Italian polymath who all but orchestrated the transition from late middle ages to  scientific Renaissance, died on January 8, 1642, desiring to be buried in the main body of the Basilica of Santa Croce, next to the tombs of his father and ancestors.  His final wishes were ignored at the time, though they would be honored some ninety-five years later, when Galileo was re-interred in the basilica, in 1737.

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Basilica of Santa Croce, in Florence

Often, atmospheric conditions in these burial vaults lead to a natural mummification of the corpse. Sometimes, they look almost lifelike. When it came to the saints, believers took this to be proof of the incorruptibility of these individuals, and small body parts were taken as holy relics.

Such a custom seems ghoulish to us today, but the practice was was quite old by the 18th century.  Galileo is not now and never was a Saint of the Catholic church, quite the opposite.  The Inquisition had judged the man an enemy of the church, a heretic.

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“A bust of Galileo at the Galileo Museum in Florence, Italy. The museum is displaying recovered parts of his body”. H/T New York Times

Possibly, the condition of Galileo’s body made him appear thus “incorruptible”.  Be that as it may, Anton Francesco Gori removed the thumb, index and middle fingers on March 12, 1737, the digits with which Galileo wrote down his theories of the cosmos. The digits with which he adjusted his telescope.

The other two fingers and a tooth disappeared in 1905, leaving the middle finger from Galileo’s right hand on exhibit at the Museo Galileo in Florence, Italy.  Locked in a glass case, the finger points upward, toward the sky.

23galileo2-cnd-popupSome 100 years later, two fingers and a tooth were purchased at auction, and have since rejoined their fellow digit at the Museo Galileo. To this day, these remain the only human body parts, in a museum otherwise devoted to scientific instrumentation.

Nearly four-hundred years after his death, Galileo’s extremity points upward, toward the glory of the cosmos.  Either that, or the finger rises in eternal defiance, flipping the bird to the church which had condemned him.

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