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Historical Anecdotes: N
Posted on Jun 09, 2002 - 01:09 PM by Anthony Waldstock

This is a series of articles that has grown out of the daily listings of what happened "On This Day". Many of the events, particularly those related to science, seemed to us to need some more information than is possible in the daily listing format. Still others had amusing or informative anecdotes associated with them that we felt were worth sharing with our Visitors. The series is designed for browsing and dipping into and we have therefore set up a comprehensive system of links to make this as easy and as enjoyable as possible.

This series of articles will present occasional anecdotal, amusing and factual notes behind the people and events in history digests. People are indexed according to their family or surnames whereas kings, popes, emperors etc. are listed according to their regnal names- e.g. Charles Boycott would be found under B, Pope Gregory under G and Queen Mary Tudor under M. Other items are indexed by the most significant word in the title, for example Artificial Ice will be found under I but Sad Iron will be found under S.
Within the series there are two sets of links. At the top of each page there will be a table of links to the other indexing letters to allow browsing by individual pages. That also appears on this page. At the bottom of each page you will also find a set of links which will allow you to scroll backward (Previous) and forward (next) through the pages. The pages are looped so the "Previous" link from A will be to Z and the "Next" link from Z will be to A. There will also be a central link back to the introduction page whose main content is an alphabetic list of the complete set of entries. From here, you will be able to browse the titles of the individual entries and jump directly to those that interest you.

Links to Entries by Index Letter

National Gallery
In early 1823, the art connoisseur Sir George Beaumont offered to donate his collection of 16 valuable paintings to the nation, on condition that a suitable building be found for them. The reaction of the nation was muted. John Constable voiced the opinion that it would be the end of art in poor old England. However, he had the backing of George IV and the King began to put pressure on Parliament to accept the offer. He also pointed out that in 1824 another collection, that of the Russian-born merchant and philanthropist Sir Julius Angerstein, was about to come on the market. The Government finally agreed, on March 22nd 1824, to accept the Beaumont collection and raise the 57,000 needed to purchase the Angerstein collection. The 54 paintings in the combined collections included works by Raphael, Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Claude, Reubens, Wilkie and Richard Wilson. They were housed in Angerstain's house in Pall Mall until a suitable gallery could be built and went on public display for the first time on May 10 1824.
The site chosen for the new building was on the north side of the new development that would become Trafalgar Square. It was designed by William Wilkins and constructed between 1832 and 38. Originally a long narrow building it has since been much enlarged, with the latest addition, the controversial Sainsbury wing, being opened in July 1991. For more information about the Gallery and Trafalgar Square see The National Gallery and Trafalgar Square

Isaac Newton
Newton is justly famous for his remarkable insight and contribution to the basis of modern science. His name has been given to our modern unit of force and at least eight other major physical terms. The most famous laws of physics which bear his name are those of gravitation and motion. The latter are the fundamental laws of Newtonian Mechanics which govern the macroscopic physical world. There are only three:

  • An object will stay where it is or, if it is already moving, in a state of uniform motion in a straight line, unless it is acted upon by external forces.
  • The rate of change of momentum in a moving object is proportional to and in the same direction as the force acting on it. (This defines acceleration.)
  • If one object exerts a force on another object the second object exerts an equal and opposite force (the reaction)on the first. (This establishes the equilibrium that keeps the planets from falling out of their orbits, for example.)

The system of Newtonian Mechanics breaks down at the sub-atomic level where there are powerful forces at work but it perfectly describes the everyday intuitive experience at the human level and remains one of the greatest contributions of a single man to the advancement of science.

Ascanio Sobrero (1812-1888) was the Italian chemist who discovered the explosive compound nitroglycerin in 1847 by slowly adding lycerine to mixture of nitric and sulphuric acids. When he discovered the explosive power of even a single drop in a test tube, he named the new compound pyroglycerin. Sobrero was horrified by the destructive potential of his discovery, and made no effort to develop it himself. Others did, however and it became known as nitroglycerin, or blasting oil. Two decades later, Nobel combined nitroglycerine with diatomaceous earth to make dynamite. This was safer to handle, but just as useful for blasting rock for construction and mining. Nobel made a fortune as the inventor and manufacturer of dynamite and used this to establish the Nobel Foundation.

Wallace Hume Carothers (1896-1937) was the American chemist who, in 1935, developed nylon, the first synthetic polymer fibre to be spun from a melt. He produced this polyamide, by condensation of adipic acid and hexamethylenediamine. He was employed by the DuPont chemical company as head of organic chemistry research from 1928. Through his study of long-chain molecules, which are now called polymers, he also developed the first successful synthetic rubber, neoprene in 1931. He suffered from depression, and died by suicide at the age of 41 before nylon had been commercially exploited. DuPont produced nylon commercially from 1938 and thereby laid the foundation of the synthetic-fibre industry. Nylon proved outstanding in its properties as a synthetic analog of silk and was, of course, a huge commercial success.
The first commercially produced nylon product was toothbrush bristles, manufactured at du Pont's Arlington, N J plant on 24 February 1938. Nylon yarn was produced commercially for the first time at du Pont's factory in Seaford, Delaware on 15 December 1939, and made up into stockings by various hosiery-manufacturers. By mutual agreement among traders, the competing brands of nylon stockings were launched throughout the USA simultaneously on 15 May 1940. The first sale was in Wilmington, Delaware and four million pairs were sold on the first day.
Nylon was first produced in Britain in the form of yarn by British Nylon Spinners in a converted weaving-shed in Lockhurst Lane, Coventry on 23 January 1941. Wartime output at Coventry and a second BNS plant at Stowmarket was confined to Government and Services supply needs, particularly parachute fabric. The first British-made nylon products to go on public sale were nylon stockings in December 1946.

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