THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: OCTOBER 31, 1517

Martin Luther Nails his 95 Theses to the Door of Wittenberg Church

martin-luther-thesisIn October 1517, Luther wrote, in Latin, ninety-five points of theology that he wanted the Wittenberg faculty to debate. According to tradition, he posted them on the door of the university church on October 31. While many of the Ninety-five Theses dealt with indulgences, others touched broadly on salvation and forgiveness. A century earlier the matter would have resulted in a debate at Wittenberg and some other universities; in 1517 the presence of the printing press led to a far different outcome. Luther’s text was translated into German and printed in thousands of copies that rapidly spread across Germany, reducing greatly the income from the indulgence and making Luther a household name throughout Germany. Although Pope Leo X first dismissed the dispute as a “drunken monks’ quarrel,” he changed his mind when the income from the indulgence dropped and Luther’s popularity became known. Pressure was applied to silence Luther, but it only succeeded in angering a man who had a strong stubborn streak.

“Martin Luther and the Reformation.” World Eras. Ed. Norman J. Wilson. Vol. 1: European Renaissance and Reformation, 1350-1600. Detroit: Gale, 2001. 400-405. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web.


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THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: OCTOBER 20,1803

The Louisiana Purchase

thomas-jefferson-louisiana-purchaseIn 1803, the U.S. Senate approves a treaty with France providing for the purchase of the territory of Louisiana, which would double the size of the United States.

At the end of 18th century, the Spanish technically owned Louisiana, the huge region west of the Mississippi that had once been claimed by France and named for its monarch, King Louis XIV. Despite Spanish ownership, American settlers in search of new land were already threatening to overrun the territory by the early 19th century. Recognizing it could not effectively maintain control of the region, Spain ceded Louisiana back to France in 1801, sparking intense anxieties in Washington, D.C. Under the leadership of Napoleon Bonaparte, France had become the most powerful nation in Europe, and unlike Spain, it had the military power and the ambition to establish a strong colony in Louisiana and keep out the Americans.

Realizing that it was essential that the U.S. at least maintain control of the mouth of the all-important Mississippi River, early in 1803 President Thomas Jefferson sent James Monroe to join the French foreign minister, Robert Livingston, in France to see if Napoleon might be persuaded to sell New Orleans and West Florida to the U.S. By that spring, the European situation had changed radically. Napoleon, who had previously envisioned creating a mighty new French empire in America, was now facing war with Great Britain. Rather than risk the strong possibility that Great Britain would quickly capture Louisiana and leave France with nothing, Napoleon decided to raise money for his war and simultaneously deny his enemy plum territory by offering to sell the entire territory to the U.S. for a mere $15 million. Flabbergasted, Monroe and Livingston decided that they couldn’t pass up such a golden opportunity, and they wisely overstepped the powers delegated to them and accepted Napoleon’s offer.

Despite his misgivings about the constitutionality of the purchase (the Constitution made no provision for the addition of territory by treaty), Jefferson finally agreed to send the treaty to the U.S. Senate for ratification, noting privately, “The less we say about constitutional difficulties the better.” Despite his concerns, the treaty was ratified and the Louisiana Purchase now ranks as the greatest achievement of Jefferson’s presidency.


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THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: OCTOBER 13, 2010

Chilean Miners Rescued After 69 Days Underground

chilean-miners-rescuedIn 2010, the last of 33 miners trapped nearly half a mile underground for more than two months at a caved-in mine in northern Chile, are rescued. The miners survived longer than anyone else trapped underground in recorded history.

The miners’ ordeal began on August 5, 2010, when the San Jose gold and copper mine where they were working, some 500 miles north of the Chilean capital city of Santiago, collapsed. The 33 men moved to an underground emergency shelter area, where they discovered just several days’ worth of food rations. As their situation grew more desperate over the next 17 days, the miners, uncertain if anyone would find them, considered suicide and cannibalism. Then, on August 22, a drill sent by rescuers broke through to the area where the miners were located, and the men sent back up a note saying, “We are fine in the refuge, the 33.” Food, water, letters, medicine and other supplies were soon delivered to the miners via a narrow bore hole. Video cameras were also sent down, making it possible for rescuers to see the men and the hot, humid space in which they were entombed. As engineering and mining experts from around the world collaborated on the long, complex process of devising a way to bring the 33 men up to the surface, the miners maintained a system of jobs and routines in order to keep up morale.

Rescuers eventually drilled and reinforced an escape shaft wide enough to extract the men, one by one. (Employees of a Pennsylvania-based drilling-tool company played a role in drilling the rescue shaft.) On October 12, the first of the miners was raised to the surface in a narrow, 13-foot-tall capsule painted white, blue and red, the colors of the Chilean flag. The approximately 2,000-foot ascent to the surface in the capsule took around 15 minutes for each man.


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THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: OCTOBER 1, 1908

Henry Ford Rolls Out the Model T

henry-ford-model-tAs the Model T was unveiled to the public in October 1908, Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company, remarked of his “Tin Lizzie” that it came “in any color you choose, so long as it’s black.” He also called the automobile “a motor car for the great multitude.” The latter statement was an appropriate tribute to the Model T, for mass production lowered its price and made it the first automobile average Americans could afford. The Model T car was not revolutionary, but the process of mass production revolutionized the automobile industry. As a result American life and culture would be transformed as the car became an everyday necessity in a mobile society.

The Model T advertising flyers sent to dealers in March 1908 captured the attention of the public with the slogan “No car under $2,000 offers more, and no car over $2,000 offers more except in trimmings.” The Model T had a stout, utilitarian look despite its high roofline. It sported a four-cylinder twenty-horsepower engine, magneto ignition, refined planetary transmission, and tank capacities often gallons for the touring sedan and sixteen gallons for the run-about. The Model T was also lighter than other models, had well-placed headlights, good suspension, and a completely enclosed power plant and transmission. By 1909, after using red, gray, and black as colors, the Model T was painted green with black trimming and red striping.

“The Model T.” American Decades. Ed. Judith S. Baughman, et al. Vol. 1: 1900-1909. Detroit: Gale, 2001. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web.


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