Lady Godiva and “Peeping Tom.”

20 April 2015

Lady Godiva was a 13th Century Anglo-Saxon noblewoman who according to legend had appealed to her husband several times, who had imposed heavy taxes on the people to reduce them. She felt the tax too high for the masses. Well after a while hubby couldn’t take her pleading any longer and said to her that he’d do it only if she rode naked on a horse through the streets of Conventry. He never thought she’d call his bluff!


Lady Godiva

Lady Godiva


Lady Godiva took him at his word, she first made sure that a proclamation was issued to the people; it demanded that all people stay indoors and shut their windows when she embarked on this ride all around town. Oh sure everyone would listen alright :D.


So Lady Godiva gets on her horse completely naked, the only covering she had was her long hair, and rides her horse all around town. But there was a tailor in town named Tom who peeped through a hole in one of his shutters. Tom completely disobeyed the proclamation, and is now known as one of the most famous cases of voyeurism. And that’s how we got the phrase “peeping Tom.”


Oh and yes, hubby abolished the high taxes after that ride. Never dare a woman with a cause!


History of the Word “Mug”

17 March 2015

We’ve all seen “mug” shots, hopefully not one of yourself 😀 . But why do we use the word “mug” to mean our face? In the eighteenth  century in England people used a small jug for drinking called a “mug.” These “mugs” were commonly made to represent a human face. Thus this is why today and most likely forever, we still use the word “mug” to mean a face.


Oh gosh, what did I get myself into now?

Oh gosh, what did I get myself into now?


Origin of words always amuses me, and this one sure did.

How an Apron Changed Fighting in the Battlefield

8 January 2015


Don’t know about some of you gals out there, but I much rather have my husband, as much as I love him, stay out of my kitchen. My reasons are many, one of which Mrs. Schonbein, the wife of chemist Christian Schonbein, may have shared with me. But in Mrs. S’s case her husband did something in the kitchen quite by accident that changed the world. How many hubbies can say that? Well probably many with what they come up with for dinner…Just kidding guys! I know there are a lot of you guys out there that can work wonders in the kitchen! 


Ah no husband, no tinkering in my kitchen!

Ah no husband, no tinkering in my kitchen!


Christian Schonbein was a German chemist in the 19th century, and from 1828 he taught at the Univ. of Basel (as professor from 1835). He discovered ozone (1840) and, through his work on nitrocellulose, developed guncotton and collodion.


Christian Friedrich Schonbein



My little known history fact on Mr. Schonbein begins on a sunny afternoon in 1845. The story goes that Mrs. S did not want her husband tinkering in her kitchen with his chemicals and gadgets. But Mr. S, like some hubbies today :D, “yes dear” her to death and did so anyway on this sunny afternoon.



On this day Mr. S accidentally spilled a mixture of nitric acid and sulfuric acid all over Mrs. S’s clean kitchen floor! You can imagine the panic that set in, which almost made Mr. S’s heart stop! I’m sure he felt like one of his test tubes in his lab about to be put over the flames to burn, baby burn. This spill on that clean floor was going to bring upon him the “wrath of God.” 😀



Long Victorian apron…one such as this is what Mr. S used 😀



So in his haste and panic, he grabbed his wife’s cotton apron to clean up the mess. It worked, well at least the clean-up did; he wiped off the sweat off his forehead and brow, and hung up the apron to dry over the stove. But when he hung the apron it went up in flames spontaneously! Oh my gosh poor guy! Talk about a bad day in the kitchen… Yikes!




What occurred was that he unintentionally converted the cellulose in the cotton apron into nitrocellulose. As the apron heated and dried, it oxidized. Of course it would be several decades later before a way was developed to manufacture the stuff safely. Manufacturing what they now called “guncotton,” (more on that later) proved very dangerous and failed as factories that produced it early on began to explode! However, by 1890 guncotton replaced gunpowder as the standard base for modern military ammunition.




This was an amazing finding by this chemist, and it all happened in a kitchen! At the time black gunpowder was what was used in the battlefield for 500 years, and that had its share of problems. When gunpowder exploded it became thick smoke, blackening, fogging up the sight of the gunners. It really was bad for the cannons and small arms alike. It was like fighting in total darkness! Nitrocellulose was thought of as a “smokeless powder,” and a propellant for artillery shells thus they called it “guncotton.”



Oh dear should I let this man in my kitchen????

Oh dear should I let this man in my kitchen????


So ladies the next time your hubby wants to tinker in the kitchen, give him a break huh…who knows what he’ll come up with.


Sources and further research:

Schönbein, Christian Friedrich. The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. 2014. 8 Jan. 2015 <>.





The First Fax Machine & Jimmy Stewart

1 September 2014

I remember watching a classic movie with Jimmy Stewart; it was a movie from the late forties. Sadly I can’t remember the name. But in the movie he needed a document faxed to him,or the man he was defending, was going to fry in the electric chair. Well, they did not use the term “fax” but it was the same function. And I remember thinking how was that possible? Wasn’t the Fax Machine widely used in the 70’s and invented shortly before that?


Jimmy Stewart

Jimmy Stewart



I never really researched it any further until now. But still that movie just left me perplexed for a while. Why do we always think history begins when we are born? 😀


The story goes that a priest in Florence, who was too radical for the church, and because of his radical views was forced to live in exile is responsible for the invention of the fax machine in the year 1857!
Giovanni Caselli appeared to be strange fellow to his neighbors, always tinkering with things, and his home was full of junk. The neighbors thought, they had a loony living amongst them for sure. :p


Giovanni Caselli

Giovanni Caselli


Not only was Caselli a priest, but he was also a scientist and the telegraph was the hot technology of the day. Caselli wondered if it were possible to send pictures over the telegraph wires. The world thought he truly had lost his mind, but that did not stop Caselli from trying to do what he thought was possible.


The "Pantelegraph."

The “Pantelegraph.”


In 1857 and over the course of six years Casselli perfected what he called the “Pantelegraph.” It was the very first fax machine for the world! It stood six feet tall and made up of swinging pendulums, batteries and wires.


The way the Pantelegraph worked was by passing an electrical current through an image, the signal was sent to a receiver that translated it onto a piece of treated paper.


The Emperor of France, Napoleon III was so awe-struck with this invention that he authorized its use on French telegraph lines. By 1868 the Pantelegraph was transmitting 110 faxes per hour! But the world was not quite ready for such an invention. It was seen as a novelty, not really practical, or a necessity.


Then came the invasion of France by the Prussians in 1870 and the service was interrupted, and never to resume again. It would be another hundred years before the modern fax machine became ubiquitous.



So back to my movie with Jimmy Stewart, although the fax machine was not widely used until the 70’s, there were other fax machines that followed Caselli’s. It turns out that RCA came up with “Radio Facsimile,” in the 1924; this one is actually the forerunner of the modern day fax machines we use today. So, now I understand how Jimmy was able to get that fax in that movie in the 40’s.

So when your fax machine rings and you see that image faxed from a remote part of the world to your desk, thank Giovanni Caselli who in 1857 never stopped trying until he got it to work. We can learn a lot from a person like that.

Itty-Bitty Morsel: History of the Traffic Light

11 March 2014

Written by Bacall

Today we launch a new category called “Itty-Bitty” morsel of little known History 🙂 Here you will find a bite size little known history fact. We hope you enjoy this!


First Traffic Light

The world’s first traffic light was invented way before the automobile by almost 20 years. 

Electric Traffic Lights

Electric Traffic Lights


It wasn’t electric, it was a complex gas lamp, which was manually operated. It was first used in London in 1868 to control carriage traffic.


Sadly, just a month after being installed it exploded, as a result of a leak in one of the gas lines underneath the ground, seriously wounding the police officer who was operating it. The safety of these lamps was questionable and so the concept was abandoned until the invention of the electric signal in 1912 by an American named Lester Wire.

How Fat, Big Boobs, and Propriety gave us The Stethoscope

24 February 2014

Before Cat Scans

Before there were Xrays, MRI’s, Sonograms
and Cat Scans,First stethoscope
doctors had no way of knowing what was happening
inside a human body.

All they had to go on was the external signs such as skin pigmentation, urine, feces and all that fun stuff. Gross, I know.

Another method doctors used to learn what was happening inside a patient’s body was placing their ear directly in contact with the body.

With their ear they were able to listen to the Heart, lungs and abdominal areas.

Doctors desperately needed a better way of diagnosing diseases.

A very young French doctor named Rene Laennec was one of the first doctors to perform autopsies. This is one way to see what’s happened in the body, but a bit late to be of any help.

Dissecting his former patients taught Laennec a great deal about diagnosis and causes of diseases, known as pathology.

From crime tv shows and movies we’re familiar with the term“pathologist report”.

In the 1800’s Dr Laennec studied dead bodies inside and out. Desperately seeking answers. He specialized with the lungs, liver, skin and a bit of the heart.

He himself had breathing problems, and eventually died at age 45 of tuberculosis, as did his mom. He did not know tuberculosis is highly contagious, and many of his patients had tuberculosis.


Music and Medicine

He was very passionate about pathology. His dedication paid off with one of the greatest medical discoveries ever, up to that time.

Rene was a multi-talented man. He played music (the flute), he was skilled with woodwork, and on the side, he did some doctoring. A lot of doctoring.

His musical skill helped discover his invention (His knowledge of acoustics:the science of sound). His woodworking helped him create it, as you’ll see in a minute.

He once observed some kids playing with a long stick which they put up against their ears and then tapped with a pin to hear the sound vibrate through the stick. Acoustics.

He took note.


A Heavy Discovery

Once upon time a chunky young female patient went to see Dr Laennec, apparently with heart issues. The good doctor felt a bit awkward putting his ear against the girl’s well endowed chest. Well, I’ll let the doctor tell you in his own words:


“In 1816, I was consulted by a young woman laboring under general symptoms of diseased heart, and in whose case percussion and the application of the hand were of little avail on account of the great degree of fatness. The other method just mentioned [the application of the ear to the chest] being rendered inadmissible by the age and sex of the patient, I happened to recollect a simple and well-known fact in acoustics, and fancied, at the same time, that it might be turned to some use on the present occasion.”


The ear-to-body method was ineffective with obese people.

The doctor found an ingenious solution.

Laennec examing a crumb cruncher by  with his stethoscope. The picture is taken fromm a painting by Robert A. Thom, copyrighted in 1960.

Laennec examing a crumb cruncher with his stethoscope. The picture is taken from a painting by Robert A. Thom, copyrighted in 1960.

He rolled up several pieces of paper to form a tube-like device.

It was kind of like the cardboard roll that paper towels are wrapped around and remains when the paper towels are finished.

He placed one end to the girl’s chest and the other to his ear and thus the Stethoscope was born. The year… 1816.

Dr Rene experimented with different materials before deciding to use wood.

With his woodworking skills he managed to create the first stethoscope, himself.

By 1819 the stethoscope was made available to all doctors.

The stethoscope became the most crucial instrument in the diagnosis of diseases. It was all the rage by 1850’s.

Technology moved slowly in those days, it wasn’t until the 1890’s when new materials like rubber was used.

Ironically, the thing that doctors rail against (obesity), is the very thing that lead to a great medical discovery.

I feel like pizza.

Post written by: H. L. Ortiz, Guest Blogger

History of Valentine’s Day

14 February 2014

Here birdie, birdie..

Here birdie, birdie..

Valentine’s Day & Chocolate

Many will give the one they love a beautifully decorated heart-shaped box full of yummy chocolates.

Or perhaps a lovely bouquet of flowers. How about Jewelry? Bling!

Maybe dinner and a play, or some other expression of love.

In fact, it is estimated that this Valentine’s day, Americans will spend 17.6 billion dollars.

That is second to Christmas.


Be my Valentine...

Be my Valentine…


So how did this holiday originate? 

There were three saints involved with this Holiday.

All three were martyred, and all three are listed in the accounts of martyrs or in early martyrologies under the date of February 14th. Very little is known about these three “saints.”

  • One is said to have died in Africa.
  • Another killed during the persecution of Emperor Aurelian in the late second century.
  • And the third Saint Valentine was a Christian priest in Rome who was martyred in A.D. 269 for opposing the wishes of Emperor Claudius II.

Emperor Claudius was having a hard time recruiting new soldiers for one of his many military campaigns. Claudius blamed this on the men who prefer to stay home with their lovers rather than join the military.

As result of these lovers, Claudius declares that all engagements and marriages be cancelled throughout the land. Saint Valentine, however, continues to marry young lovers in secret.

When Claudius hears of this insubordination he has Valentine beaten to death with clubs and decapitated. Geez, Claudius, rough day in Rome huh?

I could see how they called this dude, “Claudius the Cruel.” Obviously this was a very serious offense in the Great Empire. This St Valentine is buried in Via Flaminia, an ancient road in Rome.

Saint Valentine is gone, but not forgotten…


Saint Valentine

Saint Valentine

Pagan Holiday

At the time Saint Valentine was killed, Christianity had yet to completely displaced paganism in Rome.

As the story goes, in the third century AD, a pack of wild wolves was causing mayhem for the shepherds and their flock outside the city.

In those days people believed that the Roman god Luperacus would oversee the flocks and keep them safe. So on every February 15, for several centuries, the Romans observed a feast in honor of Luperucs, called “Lupercalia.”

During these celebrations the names of young women were put into a box and young men would randomly pick a name from the box. The couples were then paired off for the year.


Christian Holiday

In A.D. 496 as part of the Catholic Church’s efforts to Christianize pagan practices, Pope Gelasius

changed the date of Lupercalia to February 14, and renamed it in honor of St. Valentine.

The drawing of names was changed: girls names were replaced by Saints names and the men who picked the names from the box were expected to emulate the life of their chosen saint.

By the fourteenth century, lovers’ names were again being used, but the church attempted (without success) to bring back the saintly names in the sixteenth century.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day!


Valentine’s Day Today  


Although Valentine’s Day is still very popular today, the confusion over its origins led the Catholic Church, in 1969, to drop the St Valentine’s Day from the Roman calendar of official worldwide Catholic feasts.

The holiday is historically interesting because as with many Christian festivals, this holiday has Pagan origins, de-paganized by church, abandoned by church, and then it becomes a secular celebration.


Woof.... share the love

Woof…. share the love

Pagan Holiday?

Most people are unaware of Valentine’s Day pagan and Christian roots going back over two thousand years.

Yup, St Valentine may have crossed through the pearly gates a long time ago, but he was forever

immortalized and is celebrated each year with a heart full of chocolate.  Happy Love day!



Titanic Little Known History

14 January 2014
David Blair Second Officer

David Blair Second Officer


We all know the terrible story of The Titanic which sank into the icy ocean in April of 1912 killing 1522 people. What if I told you that disaster could have been avoided?

A second officer by the name of David Blair was removed from the ship’s roster right before the ship’s departure from Southhampton. In all the haste to replace him, Blair forgot to pass the key to the crow’s nest locker which contained the binoculars vital for the lookouts.

Fred Fleet

Fred Fleet

After the disaster a US inquiry was held and Fred Fleet, a surviving lookout testified that they did not have binoculars on the voyage. Had they done so, he said, they could have seen the iceberg earlier. When asked by the chairman of the inquiry “How much earlier?” Fleet replied, “Well, enough to get out of the way.” Someone asked me, why didn’t anyone on the ship bother to breakdown the locker door and get the darn binoculars? I have not an answer for that, and I myself wondered why myself. More importantly, was that question asked of someone in the inquiry?

The ill-fated Titanic

The ill-fated Titanic

Blair’s descendants kept the key that could’ve prevented this awful disaster as a memento for a long time. They finally put it up for auction in 2007 and it sold for $148,000.

History of the Electric Chair and The Battle of the Currents

22 November 2013


By Bacall

The year is 1890 and the light bulb has been invented and everybody and their mother wanted electricity in their homes. Who wouldn’t?  Two men were in a fierce battle to control the very lucrative market. One man was Thomas Edison who favored using direct current also known as DC. The other man was George Westingtonhouse, an investor in Nikola Tesla’s Alternating Current also known as AC . This conflict came to be known as the “War of the Currents.”  Curiously Tesla used to work for Edison and had told Edison of his theory, to only be rebuffed; Tesla decides to call it quits and goes out on his own. Little did Edison know that his former employee would become his nemesis.

Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison

Because Thomas Edison had a reputation DC took the lead. AC started to catch-up because it was easier and cheaper to transmit across long distances. By 1887 one hundred cities were wired with AC and Edison was losing business and employees.  Edison got pissed off and thought of a plan to discredit AC. He  sets out to prove that AC was dangerous to use, he not only issues ominous warnings to the public, he collects reports of deaths by AC, and hires lobbyist in several states in an attempt to limit the voltages that power lines could legally carry.


But the craziest thing he does is suggest to the state of New York to use AC to distribute electricity through the criminal’s body on the newly approved method of execution, the electric chair. Around this time death by hanging had been eliminated for death row criminals, and death by electric chair becomes the preferred way to deal with these inmates. But they had not decided whether to distribute the electric via AC or DC and so this is how Edison has become a part of the history of the electric chair. He said that if they’d use AC to transmit the electricity through the criminal’s body, the criminal would die instantly thus making it “humane.”

Nichola Tesla

Nikola Tesla

A Mr Harold Brown who was rumored to have been a former employee of Edison in the 1870’s becomes Edison’s great defender of  DC. He conducts horrible experiments on dogs, cats, all kinds of animals to prove how dangerous and deadly AC was. Brown was fervent and convincing and many paid close attention to his ominous warnings. One agency being The Department of Prisons, and based on the findings they decided on AC being used in the death chair. And the first New Yorker to be executed on the death chair was William Kemmler in 1889, a man accused of killing his wife with a hatchet. Curiously Harold Brown’s findings were so trusted that they had him design the death chair and was appointed New York’s official electric chair technician.


Westinghouse tried all he could to stop the use of his generators to distribute the AC for the execution to no avail. He went as far as using a high priced lawyer who got a temporary stay of execution for Kemmler under the pretense of “interest of humanity,” when in fact, Westinghouse had hired him to simply try to stop AC from being used. By hiring the high price lawyer to step in on Kemmlers behalf, Westinghouse was trying to keep his name and business from a potentially ruinous association with death.


All this drama and nobody on either side ever thought of the poor slob who was going to fry. Just saying.  In the end, the execution took place and it went horribly wrong. One paper said, “strong men fainted and fell on the floor.”  Despite evidence to the contrary, Brown and Edison claimed that Kemmler was killed painlessly within the first second the current flowed. Edison however, suggested another current be used in the future with more powerful generators and a different method of applying the current…yea like his. 😀




So for the time being Edison had won the battle, but not the war. The advantages of AC were too hard to ignore and it became the household standard.



 For further research:

History of the Electric Chair

The Greatest Stories Never Told




Heroin: The Wonder Drug of the 1800’s

14 October 2013

Today we know all too well the terrible effects on someone when they are addicted to some type of drug. We especially know the effects of a horrible street drug: Heroin.


Heroin: The wonder Drug

Wonder Drug….

What if I told you that this drug was once called a “wonder drug,” by its inventor, and doctors? Well it was.  In 1897, Heinrich Dreser of the German pharmaceutical company, Bayer, who had just that same year invented aspirin, came up with what we know as today, the drug Heroin. Dreser thought that aspirin was counterproductive to a body trying to recover from an ailment as it had an “enfeebling,” effect on the heart.  It is Funny how this very effect on the heart is the reason why many cardiologists recommend an Aspirin a day to their heart patients today.


After Dreser conducted tests on himself and fellow workers, he found that his latest discovery Heroin, a derivative of Morphine, had a “heroic” effect, hence the drug’s name. With very little further testing, the drug was released to the public in 1898 under the brand name Heroin. The ads for the drug claimed that it was so much better on colds, and safer than codeine; it also claimed that the drug was better on pain than Morphine. In essence it was marketed as the era’s “wonder drug.”



Heinrich Dreser

Within a year, Heroin was being used in all types of meds like, pills, lozenges, and more. It became very popular in the United States. A Boston medical journal in 1900 stated: “It possesses many advantages over morphine. It’s not hypnotic, and there’s no danger of acquiring a habit.” How very wrong they were!  In another 6 years clinical studies on the drug were published and all of them agreed, the drug was wonderful.

Popular Cough Syrup which contained Morphine

Popular Cough Syrup which contained Morphine

It did not take too long for the dodo-birds at Bayer to realize how very wrong they were. Reports came in of consumers becoming “immune” to the new drug, and how many needed their doses to be increased. Even after these reports Bayer did not stop making the drug until 1913. By then, the hospitals were loaded with mass amounts of drug addicts.



I don’t know about you, but this really makes me leery about taking any new drug. I don’t think we can know a drug’s long term effects until many are on it for a long time. But then again, how else can we learn? How else will medical science advance if not for the first few guinea pigs? Dreser had good intentions and sadly many suffered before we understood the detrimental effects of a drug he thought was a “wonder drug.”



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