Next Week in History: The Great American Eclipse – August 21, 2017


On Monday, August 21, 2017, all of North America will be treated to an eclipse of the sun. Anyone within the path of totality can see one of nature’s most awe inspiring sights – a total solar eclipse. This path, where the moon will completely cover the sun and the sun’s tenuous atmosphere – the corona – can be seen, will stretch from Salem, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina. Observers outside this path will still see a partial solar eclipse where the moon covers part of the sun’s disk.

The last total eclipse in the United States from coast to coast occurred almost 100 years ago on June 8, 1918. The path of totality stretched from the south west corner of Washington State, through Denver, the Tulsa, Oklahoma area, Jackson, Mississippi and the panhandle of Florida. The last total eclipse visible in South Carolina occurred on March 7, 1970. From central Florida, the path hugged the eastern coast of the United States up through Virginia’s Eastern Shore. The Coastal Plain of South Carolina had front row seat.

An annular solar eclipse was visible in Upstate on May 30, 1984. An annular eclipses means the moon is just distant enough from the earth so as not to cover the disk of the sun completely. The optical effect is a circle of sunlight around the black disk of the moon.

This week, most of South Carolina is in for a treat as the path of totality passes through Greenville, Lexington and Charleston. Happy and especially safe viewing!



This Week in History – August 5, 1912


August 5, 1912: The Swedish businessman-diplomat Raoul Wallenberg became one of the civilian heroes ofWorld War II. He used his position as a neutral Swedish citizen to help about 100,000 Hungarian Jews escape deportation to Nazi death camps. For his selfless work he was granted honorary United States citizenship—only the second foreigner, after Winston Churchill, to be so honored.
Wallenberg was born to a wealthy family of bankers and diplomats in Stockholm, Sweden, on Aug. 5, 1912. In 1935 he became the foreign representative of a European trading firm whose president was a Hungarian Jew. With the help of American and Swedish Jewish and refugee organizations, Wallenberg obtained a diplomatic mission in German-occupied Budapest in 1944. When the Nazis sent mobile death squads into Hungary later that year, Wallenberg used false passports and documents to accomplish daring rescues of Jewish prisoners scheduled for deportation to Nazi concentration camps. Thousands of Jews were then sheltered in safe houses where they were protected under neutral flags.
On Jan. 17, 1945, after Soviet troops entered Budapest, Wallenberg was arrested on trumped-up charges of espionage and sent to a Soviet prison camp. He was never heard from again. The Soviets later admitted that the arrest had been a mistake but insisted Wallenberg had died of a heart attack in a Moscow prison cell in 1947. No proof was ever offered. As late as 1990 reports that he was still alive persisted. But in 2000, Russian investigators admitted that Wallenberg had probably been murdered.
Raoul Wallenberg. (2017). InEncyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from


Levi Strauss & Jacob Davis Patent Copper Riveted Pants

Acting at the behest of a Reno, Nevada, tailor who had invented the idea, Levi Strauss secures the necessary patents for canvas pants with copper rivets to reinforce the stress points.

Born in Buttenheim, Bavaria, in 1829, the young Levi Strauss emigrated to the United States in 1847. Strauss initially went into business selling dry goods along the East Coast, but in 1852, his brother-in-law encouraged him to relocate to the booming city of San Francisco. He arrived in San Francisco in 1853 with a load of merchandise that he hoped to sell in the California mining camps. Unable to sell a large supply of canvas, Strauss hit on the idea of using the durable material to make work pants for miners. Strauss’ canvas pants were an immediate success among hardworking miners who had long complained that conventional pants wore out too quickly.

In 1872, Strauss received a letter from Jacob Davis, a customer and tailor who worked in the mining town of Reno, Nevada. Davis reported that he had discovered canvas pants could be improved if the pocket seams and other weak points that tended to tear were strengthened by copper rivets. Davis’ riveted pants had proven popular in Reno, but he needed a patent to protect his invention. Intrigued by the copper-riveted pants, Strauss and his partners agreed to undertake the necessary legal work for the patent and begin large-scale production of the pants. Davis’ invention was patented on this day in 1873. In exchange for his idea, Strauss made the Reno tailor his production manager. Eventually, Strauss switched from using canvas to heavyweight blue denim, and the modern “blue jeans” were born.

Since then, Levi Strauss & Company has sold more than 200 million pairs of copper-riveted jeans. By the turn of the century, people outside of the mining and ranching communities had discovered that “Levi’s” were both comfortable and durable. Eventually, the jeans lost most of their association with the West and came to be simply a standard element of the casual American wardrobe.

“Levi Strauss patents copper-riveted pants” History Channel

Learn more about the evolution of blue jeans »


Birth of Fredrick Law Olmsted

Frederick Law Olmsted was America’s foremost landscape architect in the late nineteenth century. Olmsted was famous for co-designing many well-known urban parks including Central Park in New York City, Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and Elm Park in Worcester, Massachusetts, considered by many to be the first municipal park in America.

More than any other American of his generation Olmsted represented a belief in the power of landscape to provide a refuge to urban residents and succeeded in planting the romantic ideal in the heart of some of the nation’s largest cities. At a time when most urban land was in the hands of private speculators, he symbolized a belief in the civic good and the necessity of urban planning.

Olmsted was born in Hartford, Connecticut, on April 26, 1822. When he was fourteen years old a severe case of sumac poisoning partially blinded him, and for several years thereafter he had poor eyesight. Doctors recommended that he do little reading, so he postponed entering college and traveled in the northeastern United States and Canada with his father, a wealthy merchant. He then worked for a New York importer (1840) and traveled to China (1843). Upon his return to the United States he briefly studied scientific farming at Yale University and did some publishing and editorial work. Between 1852 and 1854 he traveled through the South and wrote extensively on the region, submitting stories to the New York Daily Tribune. The stories were compiled and published as The Cotton Kingdom in 1861. Olmsted received an appointment as general secretary of the U.S. Sanitary Commission during part of the Civil War (1861–1863), then went to California as administrator of the forty-four-thousand-acre Mariposa Estate (1863–1865).

Olmsted was an early American observer of British and of continental parks; he admired the eighteenth-century English garden and skillfully used open areas and natural watersheds in his designs. He developed his style of landscape design in response to urban needs; he was the first to call himself a landscape architect rather than a landscape gardener. With his partner, Calvert Vaux, he designed New York’s 840-acre Central Park (1858–1861) and landscaped New York City north of 155th Street. Olmsted’s style in turn inspired many city and national parks that followed. He also planned the Emerald Necklace (Boston), Prospect Park (Brooklyn), South Park (Chicago), Belle Isle Park (Detroit), Mount Royal Park (Montreal), the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, and the Boston and Buffalo park systems. His other projects included the Stanford University campus (1886) and the Biltmore Estate outside Asheville, North Carolina (1888). One of his last major projects was as chief landscape planner for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Olmsted died on August 28, 1903.

Olmsted, Frederick Law (1822–1903). (1997). In American Eras (Vol. 8, p. 417). Detroit: Gale.

Learn more about Frederick Olmsted »


Doolittle Leads Air Raid on Tokyo

In early 1942 the United States, still tormented by the shock of Pearl Harbor and the continuing succession of Japanese victories, needed some type of victory to raise morale. To effect this, a scheme was concocted to have army B-25 bombers take off from the navy aircraft carrier Hornet and attack the Japanese mainland. Arnold, now commanding general of the Army Air Forces, chose Doolittle to lead the air strike. Colonel Doolittle set about to supervise the training of his volunteer crews and the modification of their B-25s to obtain maximum range. His crews, who had never taken off from a carrier deck, knew nothing about the mission until they were far out to sea. On the morning of April 18, 1942, the Japanese observed the carriers Hornet and Enterprise, compelling Doolittle to schedule the raid a day earlier and at a greater range from their targets. All 16 B-25s dropped their bombs, but as a consequence of the 150-mile extended flight path all but one aircraft, which landed in the Soviet Union, ran out of fuel and went down in Japanese-occupied China. Of the 80 crewmen, 71 survived, one died and eight were captured. The Japanese executed four of the captured American airmen as war criminals; the others survived cruel treatment and were freed at the war’s end. Most of the pilots, including Doolittle, maneuvered their way to friendly lines. Unfortunately, the Japanese subsequently executed many of the Chinese peasants who had assisted Doolittle’s raiders. While the actual damage of the Doolittle raid was slight, the psychological effect on the Japanese was significant: their army and navy had failed to protect their homeland. In June, Japanese strategists decided to attack Midway Island, where they lost four large carriers and one cruiser. One of the decisive battles in human history had taken place because of Doolittle’s action. Doolittle was made a brigadier general following the raid and received the Congressional Medal of Honor. Promotion to major general soon followed.

Doolittle, James Harold. (2001). In K. T. Jackson, K. Markoe, & A. Markoe (Eds.), The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives (Vol. 3, pp. 148-151). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Learn more about the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo »


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.

Learn more about the purchase of Alaska »


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.

Learn more about lasers »