THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: MARCH 30, 1868

United States Purchases Alaska

In 1866, the Russian government offered to sell the territory of Alaska to the United States. Secretary of State William H. Seward, enthusiastic about the prospect of American expansion, negotiated the deal for the Americans. Edouard de Stoeckl, Russian minister to the United States, negotiated for the Russians. On March 30, 1867, the two parties agreed that the United States would pay Russia $7.2 million for the territory of Alaska.

For less than 2 cents an acre, the United States acquired nearly 600,000 square miles. Opponents of the Alaska Purchase persisted in calling it “Seward’s Folly” or “Seward’s Icebox” until 1896, when the great Klondike Gold Strike convinced even the harshest critics that Alaska was a valuable addition to American territory.

In 1993, when Russian nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky announce that Russia should take Alaska back, he inspired Jim Borgman of The Cincinnati Enquirer to produce an editorial cartoon with then President Clinton calling the National Archives saying, “Hello, National Archives? We’ve got to find that receipt.”

The Archives not only has the receipt, they have the cancelled check.

Bredhoff, Stacey. (2001.). American originals. Washington, D.C. : National Archives Trust Fund Board in association with The University of Washington Press.


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THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: MARCH 22, 1960

Laser Patented

Lasers are an important family of light sources, best known for emitting a highly directional beam of a single color. Since the first laser was demonstrated in 1960, many different types have been developed, ranging from tiny semiconductor chips to machine tools the size of a car. Lasers emit light in the visible, infrared, and ultraviolet parts of the spectrum, with the wavelength depending on the material emitting the light. Lasers are important in scientific research and measurement, and have played important roles in over a dozen Nobel Prizes. Important laser applications include long-distance communication through optical fibers, eye surgery, optical disks for data storage and entertainment, holography, machining, fabrication of electronic chips, reading bar codes in stores, laser radar for measurement of distances and velocities, and studying nuclear fusion.

The American physicists Charles H. Townes (1915–) and James Gordon (1928–2013) demonstrated the first amplification of stimulated emission in 1954 in a microwave device they called the maser, for Microwave Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation. They separated excited molecules of ammonia from molecules with lower energy to create a population inversion. When some excited ammonia molecules emitted microwaves at 24 gigahertz, the radio waves stimulated other excited ammonia to emit identical microwave photons. To increase the amplification, they put the ammonia molecules in a cavity resonant at 24 gigahertz, so the microwaves bounced back and forth and were amplified by stimulated emission from more molecules.

In 1957 Townes sought to extend the maser principle to light waves, which have a frequency tens of thousands of times higher than microwaves. This was not a straightforward problem because it required finding suitable light-emitting materials, producing population inversions for light-emitting states, and devising a resonator in which to amplify the light. The following year, Townes and American physicist Arthur Schawlow (1921–1999), proposed producing stimulated emission in a long, thin cylinder with mirrors on both ends, one of which would transmit part of the stimulated emission. Another American physicist, Gordon Gould (1920–2005), whom Townes had asked about suitable materials, independently came up with the same design and coined the word laser to describe it.

The first to make a laser was the American physicist Theodore Maiman (1927–2007) at Hughes Research Laboratories in California, who used a photographic flashlamp to excite chromium atoms in a ruby rod to emit pulses of red light lasting about a millisecond. Announced July 7, 1960, at a press conference, the world’s first laser was small enough to hold in the palm of your hand, although it required a larger pulsed driver to power the flashlamp.

Hecht, J. (2015). Lasers. In J. Trefil (Ed.), Discoveries in Modern Science: Exploration, Invention, Technology (Vol. 2, pp. 587-592). Farmington Hills, MI: Macmillan Reference USA.


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THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: MARCH 13, 1942

K-9 Corps Established

In 1942, the Quartermaster Corps (QMC) of the United States Army begins training dogs for the newly established War Dog Program, or “K-9 Corps.”

Well over a million dogs served on both sides during World War I, carrying messages along the complex network of trenches and providing some measure of psychological comfort to the soldiers. The most famous dog to emerge from the war was Rin Tin Tin, an abandoned puppy of German war dogs found in France in 1918 and taken to the United States, where he made his film debut in the 1922 silent film The Man from Hell’s River. As the first bona fide animal movie star, Rin Tin Tin made the little-known German Shepherd breed famous across the country.

In the United States, the practice of training dogs for military purposes was largely abandoned after World War I. When the country entered World War II in December 1941, the American Kennel Association and a group called Dogs for Defense began a movement to mobilize dog owners to donate healthy and capable animals to the Quartermaster Corps of the U.S. Army. Training began in March 1942, and that fall the QMC was given the task of training dogs for the U.S. Navy, Marines and Coast Guard as well.

The K-9 Corps initially accepted over 30 breeds of dogs, but the list was soon narrowed to seven: German Shepherds, Belgian sheep dogs, Doberman Pinschers, collies, Siberian Huskies, Malumutes and Eskimo dogs. Members of the K-9 Corps were trained for a total of 8 to 12 weeks. After basic obedience training, they were sent through one of four specialized programs to prepare them for work as sentry dogs, scout or patrol dogs, messenger dogs or mine-detection dogs. In active combat duty, scout dogs proved especially essential by alerting patrols to the approach of the enemy and preventing surprise attacks.

The top canine hero of World War II was Chips, a German Shepherd who served with the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division. Trained as a sentry dog, Chips broke away from his handlers and attacked an enemy machine gun nest in Italy, forcing the entire crew to surrender. The wounded Chips was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star and the Purple Heart–all of which were later revoked due to an Army policy preventing official commendation of animals.

http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/u-s-army-launches-k-9-corps


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THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: MARCH 7, 1899

Bayer Patents Aspirin

Aspirin is the commercial name of a drug developed by Bayer in the nineteenth century, using an extract of the bark of the willow tree. Its active ingredient is acetylsalicylic acid. There is evidence in the archaeological record showing that willow tree bark has been used for medicinal purposes as far back as 2000 BC. Typically the drug is used to treat pain, inflammation, and swelling. In the latter half of the twentieth century, not long after its biochemical mechanisms were at last understood, researchers observed that aspirin also inhibits the clotting of blood. This knowledge led to additional research into whether or not aspirin should be used to prevent heart attacks by thinning the blood and reducing the frequency of arterial blockages. While the exact scope of its benefits in this regard is still subject to debate, there is general agreement that aspirin does help reduce the risk of heart attacks.

Medical texts that date back to the ancient civilization of Sumer contain the oldest references to the beneficial effects of tea made from willow bark. The Egyptians were also aware of its beneficial properties, and the Greek and Roman civilizations were likewise familiar with it. During Europe’s Middle Ages, physicians and folk healers remained aware of willow bark’s uses. Finally, in the eighteenth century, scientific research was begun to determine the substance and the mechanism responsible for willow bark’s effects. Several researchers were able to isolate the active ingredient and identify it as salicin by the early nineteenth century, and Charles Frederic Gerhardt synthesized a more stomach friendly “buffered” compound, acetylsalicylic acid, in 1853.

In 1899, drug manufacturer Bayer began selling its product, named Aspirin, for the treatment of fever and for pain relief. The drug quickly grew in popularity around the world, helped in part by the Spanish flu epidemic after World War I, which provided a venue for the drug to showcase its potency. Aspirin generated huge profits for drug companies all over the world, most of them producing the drug independently, without the authorization of Bayer. The trademarked name Aspirin soon came into the lexicon as the generic “aspirin,” which is commonly listed as an ingredient in non-Bayer products.

Zimmer, S. M. (2015). Aspirin. Salem Press Encyclopedia Of Health


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THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: MARCH 3, 1879

U.S. Geological Survey Created

geological-survey-week-in-historyBy providing scientific information on water, biological, energy, and mineral resources to the public, legislators, and policy makers, the U.S. Geological Survey carries out its mission of enhancing and protecting Americans’ quality of life.

In 1879 President Rutherford B. Hayes signed the congressional bill providing funding for the establishment of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) within the Department of the Interior. Industrial growth in the years immediately following the Civil War had produced a significant strain on the nation’s natural resources. In an 1866 report Joseph Wilson, commissioner of the General Land Office, indicated that proper management of mineral resources in the West was vital to further development of the United States. Following up on Wilson’s recommendations, Congress authorized a geological survey of the West, largely following the path of the newly finished transcontinental railroad. Clarence King and Ferdinand Hayden were placed in charge of the project and by 1870 had presented a plan to Congress for the survey. Additional surveys were privately sponsored as well.

Downturns in the American economy resulted in Congress looking for more efficient alternatives for mapping the West. In 1878 Congress requested that the National Academy of Sciences, which had been established in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln, develop a plan for surveying and mapping western territories. The academy’s recommendations included the establishment of the USGS, the purpose of which would be to oversee the study of geological and mineral resources in the public domain.

King was appointed first director of the USGS, and in 1879 a comprehensive study of mining districts in Nevada and Colorado was begun, as well as similar studies of iron and copper resources in other parts of the country. The study was completed prior to King’s resignation from the position of director in 1881.

The duties assigned to the USGS underwent significant expansion during subsequent decades. In 1882 Congress authorized the creation of a comprehensive geological map of the United States, with the result that topographic mapping became the largest program within the USGS. The agency’s geological studies also benefited with the inclusion of scientific research into the origins of ore deposits as well as newly introduced fields such as glacial ecology and studies of rock classes. Western droughts during the 1880’s resulted in the addition of research concerning irrigation and water utilization within the USGS before the beginning of the new century. By 1904 the USGS had completed topographic maps covering more than 25 percent of the United States and Alaska. That year Congress also authorized mapping of areas of potential fossil fuels, including both coal and oil deposits.

Although the divisions within the USGS have undergone changes over the years, the agency has remained largely unchanged in its focus. Its areas of responsibility have grown over time to include the monitoring of seismic and magnetic activity throughout the world and the examination of the geological features of worldwide earthquake zones and volcanoes.

Adler, R. (2016). U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Salem Press Encyclopedia 


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