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Historical Anecdotes: V
Posted on Jun 09, 2002 - 11:06 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

Sir Almroth Edward Wright (1861-1947) was an English bacteriologist and immunologist who developed autogenous vaccines. These are vaccines which are prepared from the bacteria harboured by the patient. In 1892, while professor of pathology at the Army Medical School, he developed an anti-typhoid immunization with typhoid bacilli which had been killed by heat. It was tested on more than 3,000 soldiers in India and used successfully during the Boer War in 1899-1900. At the beginning of the First World War, British soldiers were the only troops immunized against typhoid fever and the armies loss through death by infection was much lower than any of the other combatant forces. Wright also developed vaccines against enteric tuberculosis and pneumonia and contributed greatly to the study of certain enzymes in blood (opsonins) that make bacteria more susceptible to destruction (phagocytosis) by the white blood cells.

Valence Theory
In 1852, the theory of valence was announced by English chemist Sir Edward Frankland (1825-1899). The theory describes the combining power of an atom. The point of reference is the hydrogen atom which has a valency of 1. The ability of any atom to combine with other atoms is therefore expressed as the number of hydrogen atoms that the atom could combine with or displace in a chemical compound. In ionic compounds this is equal to the charge on the ion. In covalent compounds, it is equal to the number of bonds which are formed in the compound. The theory remains fundamental to the understanding of chemical structure.

In 1958, during the International Geophysical Year, the U.S. made its late entry into the Space Race when it launched its first object into space. This was the Vanguard I satellite and was launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida. The three-pound satellite carried a radio transmitter and orbited the earth every 107.9 minutes. Following the Soviet successes with their satellites Sputnik I (184 pounds) and Sputnik II (7000 pounds) the Americans, in 2 and a half years, had developed from scratch a complete high-performance three-stage launching vehicle, a highly accurate worldwide satellite tracking system, an adequate launching facility and range instrumentation. It was so successful that Vanguard is the oldest satellite still in orbit.

In 1872, a process for making vaseline was patented by Robert Chesebrough of New York City. He was an English chemist who emigrated to the U.S. and had worked in the oil-fields of Pennsylvania. The gel is a product from petroleum, and is derived from the residue left in the still after petroleum distillation. Chesebrough found that distillation under vacuum required less heating than without the vacuum, and yielded a better quality gel. Further refinement involved filtration through bone-black. The patents claimed that its potential uses included currying, stuffing and oiling all kinds of leather. The finest grade could also be adapted to use as a pomade for the hair and it was also an excellent source of glycerine cream for chapped hands. Chesebrough established the Chesebrough-Ponds company to market the product and he himself travelled widely demonstrating it applications. In particular, he deliberately cut or scaled his hands to demonstrate its medicinal applications. He personally swallowed a spoonful of the substance every day and lived to an active 96 years.

Ignatz Venetz
He was Swiss geologist who was one of the first to propose that vast glaciers once covered a substantial portion of the earth's surface. He arrived at this conclusion by observing that typical striations left in rock by glaciers extended for many miles beyond the limits of existing glaciers. He published them in 1821, but they were generally ignored. Jean de Chapentier supported Venetz in these ideas, but was also ignored. However, they influenced the Swiss-American Louis Agassiz who developed them and produced his theory of the Ice Age.

Asteroid Vesta
Vesta 4 is the only asteroid visible to the naked eye and is, therefore, the brightest on record. It was first observed by the amateur German astronomer Heinrich Wilhelm Olbers on March 29th 1804. Asteroids, also known as minor planets or planetoids, are small bodies that revolve around the Sun between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. There is a considerable variation in size with the largest, Ceres having a diameter of 933 km and the smallest being less than 1 km in diameter. Amongst the largest, about 10 have diameters greater than 250 km and 120 have diameters greater than 130 km.

In 1981, RCA first put on sale the SelectaVision VideoDisc, exactly 10 years after RCA applied for the first patents. Based on electronic capacitance (charge storage) technology, the VideoDiscs contained a groove of varying depth which was played with a stylus sensitive to the depth of the groove immediately underneath it. The system emerged as a marvel of mass-production research and development, able to play a two-hour movie on a twelve-inch disk. However, the product failed in the marketplace. During its development phase, the cost of video recorders had dropped dramatically, and the VideoDisc arrived on the market too late to be able to compete. Manufacturing was abandoned in April 1984.

Vienna Circle
Philipp Frank studied physics at the University of Vienna. He described his student days as follows:

"the domain of my most intensive interest was the philosophy of science. I used to associate with a group of students who assembled every Thursday night in one of the old Viennese coffee houses ... We returned again and again to the central problem: How can we avoid the traditional ambiguity and obscurity of philosophy? How can we bring about the closest possible rapprochement between philosophy and science?"

The group of students that Frank described was the group who would eventually become known as the Vienna Circle. They developed the philosophy of logical positivism which set out to investigate scientific language and scientific methodology. Frank became part of the somewhat larger group active during the 1920s in the Vienna Circle of Logical Positivists. Important influences on their thinking came from several other Mathematicians and scientists interested in philosophy. Frank was based at the German University in Prague until 1938. The Munich Agreement in that year saw large parts of the Czechoslovak republic surrendered to Germany and German troops, along with Hitler himself, entered Austria on 12 March 1938 setting up a Nazi government there. Political pressure was put on Frank and other members of the Vienna Circle, and it was forced to disband with many of its members, including Frank, fleeing to the United States.

Charles Fredrick Cross (1855-1935) was an English chemist who, with Edward Bevan and Clayton Beadle, discovered in 1891 that cellulose could be produced by the dissolution of cellulose xanthate in dilute sodium hydroxide. Although cellulose had previously been made by others, this type of cellulose is the most popular type in use today. It was a syrupy yellow liquid. In 1892, Cross worked out a method for dissolving cellulose in carbon disulphide to give a solution which he called viscose. This could be squirted through a mesh with fine holes. As the solvent evaporated, a thin fibre was formed which became known as viscose rayon (or simply viscose). By 1908, the viscose was also being extruded through a narrow slit to produce thin, transparent sheets of what Cross called cellophane.

In 1859, one Lescarbault, a French medical doctor and amateur astronomer reported sighting a new planet in an orbit inside that of Mercury. He named his new planet Vulcan. The discovery was based on his observation of a round black spot on the Sun which had a transit time across the solar disk of 4 hours 30 minutes. He sent this information and his calculations on the planet's movements to Jean Le Verrier, France's most famous astronomer. Le Verrier had already noticed that Mercury had deviated from its orbit and the gravitational effect of another planet would explain his observations very well. However, it was not consistently seen again and it is now believed to have been a "rogue asteroid" which made a single unique pass close to the sun.

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