United States Department of Defense (Public Domain)
United States Department of Defense (Public Domain)

This Weekend in History

United States Department of Defense (Public Domain)
United States Department of Defense (Public Domain)

Happy Saturday! Here are five notable things that happened this weekend (July 25 and 26), from the establishment of the Post Office to the birth of Louise Brown.

1. 1775 - (Soon-to-Be U.S.) Post Office Established

During the first Continental Congress in 1774, a frustrated newspaper printer made the case for a new, reliable postal system within the Thirteen Colonies. It wasn't until the Second Continental Congress that anyone acted on the idea, naming Benjamin Franklin postmaster general on July 26, 1775.

Franklin was a solid choice as he was the postmaster of Philadelphia, and had served as joint postmaster general for the colonies from 1753 to 1774 (he was fired in '74 for some naughty-but-politically-expedient behavior related to Massachusetts Royal Governor Thomas Hutchinson’s mail).

Franklin only served in his new post for a year, handing it to his son-in-law in November of 1776. But during his brief tenure, Franklin established reliable overnight service between Philadelphia and New York, created a standard rate table based on weight and distance, and surveyed routes stretching from Maine to Florida. He also happened to be in office when the colonies declared independence, making Franklin the first Postmaster General of the United States.

2. 1946 - First Nuclear Bomb Test at Bikini Atoll

The United States conducted the first underwater nuclear bomb test on July 25, 1946. Called "Operation Crossroads," the bomb blew at sea near Bikini atoll. Various obsolete U.S. battleships (plus remnants of the Japanese Navy) were placed nearby to test what happened to them as a "boiling, foaming wall of paper" overtook them, and the whole thing was filmed.

The experiments continued for nearly a decade, with disastrous results for the former residents of the islands, who were evacuated and left without a homeland.

3. 1956 - The SS Andrea Doria Sinks

The Italian luxury liner Andrea Doria collided with the Stockholm in heavy fog on the night of July 25, 1956. The huge Andrea Doria listed to starboard, causing many of her lifeboats to become unreachable.

Fortunately the ship remained afloat for more than 11 hours, long enough to receive aid from the Stockholm and many other ships in the area, most notably the Ile de France. It is the largest civilian rescue at sea in history, with more than 1,600 passengers and crew rescued, and casualties over 40.

4. 1965 - Dylan Goes Electric

On July 25, 1965, Bob Dylan performed a simple three-song set at the Newport Folk Festival. What differentiated this set from his earlier performances at the festival was the band backing him—and that everybody was playing electric guitars through a crappy sound system. This wasn't folk anymore.

When Dylan "went electric" with the tune "Maggie's Farm," he alienated his folk fans and entered uncharted territory. Although he did proceed to play some acoustic numbers, Dylan didn't perform at Newport for 37 years after that day. (For comparison, watch his acoustic magic at Newport the year prior.)

5. 1978 - First "Test Tube Baby" Born

Today, in vitro fertilization (IVF) is a relatively common medical procedure. In 1978 it was headline news, when Louise Brown was born in the United Kingdom. Technically speaking, Brown was conceived in a petri dish (not a test tube), and thirty years later, gave birth to her own first child. Happy birthday, Louise!

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Museum of the City of New York
New York City Exhibition Celebrates the Rebellious Victorian-Era Women Who Made History
Museum of the City of New York
Museum of the City of New York

At a time when women wore corsets and hooped skirts, the American Jewish actress Adah Isaacs Menken caused quite a stir when she appeared onstage in men’s clothing. It was the early 1860s, and her portrayal of a man in the play Mazeppa saw her ride into the theater on a horse while wearing a flesh-colored body stocking. Critics were shocked, but Menken paid no mind. Both on stage and in her daily life, she continued to disregard the norms of that era by cutting her hair short and smoking cigarettes in public.

Menken is just one of the daring women featured in a new exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York. Rebel Women: Defying Victorianism celebrates the New York women who challenged the rigid expectations of the Victorian era, and includes a collection of photographs, clothes, and prints from the period.

A caricatures of the "Grecian bend"
Museum of the City of New York

The 19th century was a period of constraints for women. "During this era, a woman could be considered a rebel simply by speaking in public, working outside the home, or disregarding middle‐class morality or decorum," according to a museum statement. “Yet 19th‐century New York City was full of women who defied those expectations in both overt and subtle ways.”

The exhibit highlights the accomplishments of historic figures who contributed to the advancement of women’s rights, like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, but it also casts a light on lesser-known figures—many of whom history was unkind to.

A photo of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony
Museum of the City of New York

An illustration of women voting
Museum of the City of New York

There’s Ann Trow Lohman, also known as “Madame Restell,” who was dubbed “The Wickedest Woman in New York” for providing birth control to women. Similarly, Hetty Green earned the moniker “The Witch of Wall Street” for her successful career as a stock broker.

Visitors will also learn about a predecessor to Rosa Parks: Elizabeth Jennings Graham, a black New Yorker who refused to get off of a segregated street car in 1854.

Not all of the women had such noble goals, though, and the exhibition shows that men didn’t have a monopoly on crime. Notorious pickpocket and con-woman Sophie Lyons used her smarts and beauty to steal from wealthy men and earned a reputation as "the most notorious confidence woman America has ever produced."

The exhibition will be on view until January 6, 2019, and tickets can be purchased online.

Marshall McLuhan, the Man Who Predicted the Internet in 1962

Futurists of the 20th century were prone to some highly optimistic predictions. Theorists thought we might be extending our life spans to 150, working fewer hours, and operating private aircrafts from our homes. No one seemed to imagine we’d be communicating with smiley faces and poop emojis in place of words.

Marshall McLuhan didn’t call that either, but he did come closer than most to imagining our current technology-led environment. In 1962, the author and media theorist, predicted we’d have an internet.

That was the year McLuhan, a professor of English born in Edmonton, Canada on this day in 1911, wrote a book called The Gutenberg Galaxy. In it, he observed that human history could be partitioned into four distinct chapters: The acoustic age, the literary age, the print age, and the then-emerging electronic age. McLuhan believed this new frontier would be home to what he dubbed a “global village”—a space where technology spread information to anyone and everyone.

Computers, McLuhan said, “could enhance retrieval, obsolesce mass library organization,” and offer “speedily tailored data.”

McLuhan elaborated on the idea in his 1962 book, Understanding Media, writing:

"Since the inception of the telegraph and radio, the globe has contracted, spatially, into a single large village. Tribalism is our only resource since the electro-magnetic discovery. Moving from print to electronic media we have given up an eye for an ear."

But McLuhan didn’t concern himself solely with the advantages of a network. He cautioned that a surrender to “private manipulation” would limit the scope of our information based on what advertisers and others choose for users to see.

Marshall McLuhan died on December 31, 1980, several years before he was able to witness first-hand how his predictions were coming to fruition.

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