This Week in History: May 2, 1519


Leonardo da Vinci Dies in France

Leonardo da Vinci has been called one of the world’s few universal geniuses because of his knowledge and abilities in so many different areas of intellectual and artistic pursuit. While perhaps best known as the artist who created the paintings, the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, he also was an accomplished sculptor, engineer, mechanic, inventor and architect. His detailed drawings of the human body linked art with science to provide a means for investigation into the human form and anatomy.

Leonardo was born in 1452 in Vinci, Italy, near the larger city of Florence. He began his formal artistic studies when he was 15, as an apprentice for a local artist named Andrea del Verrocchio. He studied painting, mechanical arts and sculpture, all of which served him well when he started his first job in 1482 as artist and engineer in residence for the duke of Milan, Italy. During his 17 years there, he became well-known for his painting abilities, as well as his designs for artillery, fortresses, canal locks and other mechanical needs. During this time he completed six paintings, including The Last Supper, painted on a wall in a Milan monastery. When the duke was forced out of Milan by the French in 1499, Leonardo returned to Florence.

While in Florence, Leonardo continued his artistic and engineering work. He painted one wall of the new city hall while Michelangelo worked on another; however, because he tried to use a new technique that didn’t work, his portion was never completed. While working on that project he painted the Mona Lisa, probably the most famous painting in the world. At the same time his interest in scientific areas greatly expanded, and he dissected human and animal corpses to identify the form and function of each body part. His detailed drawings of the human body are considered the first accurate portrayals of the human anatomy.

Leonardo painted more than 17 paintings over his lifetime, and started several sculptures. His best legacy, however, are the prolific workbooks he wrote and sketched in constantly from his earliest years. He focused on four primary themes–the science of painting, architecture, mechanics, and human anatomy–as well as adding notes about botany, geology and hydrology. The greatness of his artistic and intellectual abilities are evident throughout the 31 volumes. For example, he created plans for a helicopter, airplane, parachute, war tank and machine gun, all of which were not invented until hundreds of years later. The drawing of human proportions called Vitruvian man is almost as famous as his paintings. Unlike most texts, the illustrations provide the primary information and the words further explain the drawings. He also wrote the text backwards, so that the page can only be read by another person when held up to a mirror. The best explanation for this is that Leonardo was left-handed, as it was not his intention to keep the notebooks private.

Leonardo spent the last part of his life living as a guest of Pope Leo X at the Vatican Palace, from 1513 to 1515, as did several of the prominent artists of the time. While there, he completed a series of drawings entitled The Deluge, which portrayed the world’s destruction by a flood. These drawings combine the two elements that were the focus of Leonardo’s life: the forces of life and nature. In 1515 he accepted an invitation to live and work at the palace of the French king, Francis I, where he virtually stopped all painting to focus on scientific topics. He lived in France until his death on May 2, 1519.

Leonardo da Vinci. (2006). In World of Biology. Detroit: Gale. Retrieved from

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This Week in History: April 26, 1986


Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor Disaster

On this day in 1986, the world’s worst nuclear accident to date occurs at the Chernobyl nuclear plant near Kiev in Ukraine. The full toll from this disaster is still being tallied, but experts believe that thousands of people died and as many as 70,000 suffered severe poisoning. In addition, a large area of land may not be livable for as much as 150 years. The 18-mile radius around Chernobyl was home to almost 150,000 people who had to be permanently relocated.

he Soviet Union built the Chernobyl plant, which had four 1,000-megawatt reactors, in the town of Pripyat. At the time of the explosion, it was one of the largest and oldest nuclear power plants in the world. The explosion and subsequent meltdown of one reactor was a catastrophic event that directly affected hundreds of thousands of people. Still, the Soviet government kept its own people and the rest of the world in the dark about the accident until days later.

At first, the Soviet government only asked for advice on how to fight graphite fires and acknowledged the death of two people. It soon became apparent, however, that the Soviets were covering up a major accident and had ignored their responsibility to warn both their own people and surrounding nations. Two days after the explosion, Swedish authorities began measuring dangerously high levels of radioactivity in their atmosphere.

Years later, the full story was finally released. Workers at the plant were performing tests on the system. They shut off the emergency safety systems and the cooling system, against established regulations, in preparation for the tests. Even when warning signs of dangerous overheating began to appear, the workers failed to stop the test. Xenon gases built up and at 1:23 a.m. the first explosion rocked the reactor. A total of three explosions eventually blew the 1,000-ton steel top right off of the reactor.

A huge fireball erupted into the sky. Flames shot 1,000 feet into the air for two days, as the entire reactor began to melt down. Radioactive material was thrown into the air like fireworks. Although firefighting was futile, Pripyat’s 40,000 people were not evacuated until 36 hours after the explosion. Potentially lethal rain fell as the fires continued for eight days. Dikes were built at the Pripyat River to contain damage from contaminated water run-off and the people of Kiev were warned to stay indoors as a radioactive cloud headed their way.

On May 9, workers began encasing the reactor in concrete. Later, Hans Blix of the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that approximately 200 people were directly exposed and that 31 had died immediately at Chernobyl. The clean-up effort and the general radioactive exposure in the region, however, would prove to be even more deadly. Some reports estimate that as many as 4,000 clean-up workers died from radiation poisoning. Birth defects among people living in the area have increased dramatically. Thyroid cancer has increased tenfold in Ukraine since the accident., “Nuclear Explosion at Chernobyl”,

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This Week in History: April 18-19, 1775

Lexington and Concord

Battles at Lexington and Concord begin the American Revolution

At about 5 a.m., 700 British troops, on a mission to capture Patriot leaders and seize a Patriot arsenal, march into Lexington to find 77 armed minutemen under Captain John Parker waiting for them on the town’s common green. British Major John Pitcairn ordered the outnumbered Patriots to disperse, and after a moment’s hesitation the Americans began to drift off the green. Suddenly, the “shot heard around the world” was fired from an undetermined gun, and a cloud of musket smoke soon covered the green. When the brief Battle of Lexington ended, eight Americans lay dead or dying and 10 others were wounded. Only one British soldier was injured, but the American Revolution had begun.

By 1775, tensions between the American colonies and the British government approached the breaking point, especially in Massachusetts, where Patriot leaders formed a shadow revolutionary government and trained militias to prepare for armed conflict with the British troops occupying Boston. In the spring of 1775, General Thomas Gage, the British governor of Massachusetts, received instructions from England to seize all stores of weapons and gunpowder accessible to the American insurgents. On April 18, he ordered British troops to march against the Patriot arsenal at Concord and capture Patriot leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock, known to be hiding at Lexington.

The Boston Patriots had been preparing for such a military action by the British for some time, and upon learning of the British plan, Patriots Paul Revere and William Dawes were ordered to set out to rouse the militiamen and warn Adams and Hancock. When the British troops arrived at Lexington, Adams, Hancock, and Revere had already fled to Philadelphia, and a group of militiamen were waiting. The Patriots were routed within minutes, but warfare had begun, leading to calls to arms across the Massachusetts countryside.

When the British troops reached Concord at about 7 a.m., they found themselves encircled by hundreds of armed Patriots. They managed to destroy the military supplies the Americans had collected but were soon advanced against by a gang of minutemen, who inflicted numerous casualties. Lieutenant Colonel Frances Smith, the overall commander of the British force, ordered his men to return to Boston without directly engaging the Americans. As the British retraced their 16-mile journey, their lines were constantly beset by Patriot marksmen firing at them Indian-style from behind trees, rocks, and stone walls. At Lexington, Captain Parker’s militia had its revenge, killing several British soldiers as the Red Coats hastily marched through his town. By the time the British finally reached the safety of Boston, nearly 300 British soldiers had been killed, wounded, or were missing in action. The Patriots suffered fewer than 100 casualties.

The battles of Lexington and Concord were the first battles of the American Revolution, a conflict that would escalate from a colonial uprising into a world war that, seven years later, would give birth to the independent United States of America., “The American Revolution Begins”,

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This Week in History: April 14, 1828


American Dictionary of the English Language is Printed

Webster was born Oct. 16, 1758, in West Hartford, Conn., and educated at Yale University. He served in the American Revolution, studied law, and taught school. In 1783 he published a spelling book, known later as Webster’s Elementary Spelling Book or The Blue-Backed Speller, the first part of his A Grammatical Institute of the English Language. The second part of the Institute, a grammar, was published in 1784, and the third part, a reader, in 1785. One purpose served by the Institute was to differentiate American English from British in terms of spelling, grammar, and pronunciation. A century later it was estimated that more than 60 million copies of the speller had been sold; in revised form it is still in print.

A dedicated member of the Federalist party, Webster issued a pamphlet, Sketches of American Policy (1785), in which he recommended adoption of the proposed U.S. Constitution. Settling briefly in New York City in 1793, he founded a daily newspaper, The Minerva (later The Commercial Advertiser), and a semiweekly, The Herald (later The Spectator), both in support of the Federalist party. By 1803 he had settled in New Haven, Conn., and left journalism. During this period he wrote A Brief History of Epidemic and Pestilential Diseases (2 vol., 1799); several works on politics, economics, and physical science; and his first small lexicographical work, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language (1806).

From 1812 to 1822 Webster lived in Amherst, Mass., where he helped to found Amherst College. In 1825, having devoted more than 40 years to the study of the English language and having traveled in both England and France, Webster returned to New Haven to complete his monumental American Dictionary of the English Language (1828). It contained 12,000 more words and about 40,000 more definitions than any earlier dictionary of the English language. Webster died May 28, 1843, in New Haven.

Webster’s importance does not rest only on the size of his work. He was the first authority to emphasize American rather than British usage and the first to list senses in the chronological order in which they made their appearance in the language. His etymologies were not entirely accurate by modern standards, but his precise definitions are models of lexical style. Also, by the inclusion of thousands of technical and scientific terms, Webster laid the groundwork for the modern comprehensive, rather than purely literary, dictionary.

An enlarged edition of Webster’s dictionary was issued in 1840; it has appeared in several later revisions. Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (1961; rev. 1981) and an abridgement, Webster’s Tenth New Collegiate Dictionary, are the latest of these revisions.

Webster, Noah. (2017). Funk & Wagnall’s New World Encyclopedia, 1p. 1.

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April is Child Abuse Awareness Month

Lexington Couth pinwheel garden

In support of Child Abuse Awareness month, the Clerk of Court’s office, Solicitor’s office, Lexington County Sheriff’s Department, along with several other agencies, have partnered with the Dickerson Center to increase awareness in Lexington County. On April 6th, we will be having our “Wear Blue” day and participating with the Pinwheel Garden. We are requesting that all employees wear blue in recognition of Child Abuse Awareness.  We would appreciate your participation in making this a successful year for “Lexington County United Against Child Abuse.”

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This Week in History: April 5, 1827


Birth of Joseph Lister, Father of Antiseptic Surgery

Born in Upton, Essex, on April 5, 1827, Joseph Lister was the son of a wealthy wine merchant who developed an achromatic lens for the microscope. As a student Lister did microscopic research, and his acceptance of Louis Pasteur’s work later may be related to his familiarity with the process of fermentation since childhood. After graduating from the University of London in 1852, Lister began a surgical career in Edinburgh; in 1860 he became professor of surgery at the Royal Infirmary in Glasgow.

With the introduction of anesthesia in the 1840s operations had become more frequent, but many patients died from infection following surgery. Inflammation and suppuration (pus formation) occurred in almost all accidental wounds and after surgery, and more so when patients were treated at the hospital rather than at home by a visiting surgeon. The reason was unknown, but it was believed to be something in the air. As a result, wounds were heavily dressed or irrigated with water to keep the air out; operations were a last resort. The body’s cavities (head, chest, or abdomen) were practically never opened; injured limbs were usually amputated.

Lister’s research centered on the microscopic changes in tissue that result in inflammation. When he read Pasteur’s work on germs in 1864, Lister immediately applied Pasteur’s thinking to the problem he was investigating. He concluded that inflammation was the result of germs entering and developing in the wound. Since Pasteur’s sterilization by heat could not be applied to the living organism, Lister sought a chemical to destroy the germs.

That same year Lister read in the newspaper that the treatment of sewage with crude carbolic acid had led to a reduction of diseases among the people of Carlisle and among the cattle grazing on sewage-treated fields. In 1865 he developed a successful method of applying purified carbolic acid to wounds. The technique of spraying the air in the operating room with carbolic acid was only briefly used, as it was recognized that airborne germs were not of primary importance. Lister perfected the technical details of antisepsis and continued his research. He developed the surgical use of sterile catgut and silk and introduced gauze dressings. Antisepsis became a basic principle for the development of surgery; amputations became infrequent, as did death from infections; and new surgical procedures could be planned and safely executed.

n 1869 Lister returned to Edinburgh, and in 1877 he was appointed professor of surgery at King’s College in London. He won worldwide acclaim and honors, including honorary doctorates, a baronetcy in 1882, and a peerage in 1897. After he retired in 1893 he became foreign secretary of the Royal Society and then its president from 1895 to 1900. He died at Walmer, Kent, on Feb. 10, 1912. Although Lister’s antiseptic method was soon replaced by the use of asepsis, his work represented the first successful application of Pasteur’s theory to surgery and marked the beginning of a new era.

Joseph Lister. (2004). In Encyclopedia of World Biography (2nd ed., Vol. 9, pp. 444-445). Detroit: Gale. Retrieved from


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