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10 Facts For John Hancock's Birthday

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You won’t find his likeness anywhere on American currency. Instead, we’ve given this founding father a linguistic tribute—thanks to one revolutionary document, his very name is now a synonym for signature. Join us as we celebrate this great New England statesman on his birthday.

1. HE WAS ADOPTED BY HIS UNCLE WHEN HE WAS 7.

Born in Braintree, Massachusetts on January 23, 1737 (according to the Gregorian calendar), Hancock was named after his father, the Reverend John Hancock. A Puritan minister, the elder John lived in a manse provided by the congregation he served with his wife, Mary Hawke Thaxter, and their three children; little John was the second. When the Reverend died in 1744, the family found itself homeless, their house promised to his replacement. Mary was moving the family to live with the children’s paternal grandfather, but John wound up under the care of his childless paternal uncle, Thomas Hancock. A powerful Boston merchant, Thomas and his wife, Lydia, handled Mary’s financial needs from afar while raising John as their own son and eventual heir.

2. HE ATTENDED THE CORONATION OF KING GEORGE III.

In 1760, Thomas sent his young protégé to England on a sensitive business trip, where Hancock became a witness to history (though certainly not for the last time). King George II was buried on November 13; among those present at his funeral was 23-year-old Hancock. In a letter to Thomas, the traveler expressed a deep desire to attend another royal event—King George III’s coronation. “I can’t yet determine whether I shall stay to see it,” he wrote, “but rather think I shall, as it is the grandest thing I shall ever meet with.”

Hancock is said to have not only watched the ceremony, but to have been briefly introduced, afterward, to his new monarch—who would one day put a 500-pound bounty on the New Englander.

3. REPORTEDLY, HE WAS A BOSTON TEA PARTY CHEERLEADER.

Hancock himself didn’t take part in the protest, in which Boston natives snuck aboard three British ships on December 16, 1773 and threw 342 chests of East India Company tea overboard—but he was one of the most vocal supporters of the party. George Robert Twelves Hewes, one of the tea-snatchers who illegally boarded the vessels, said that the last thing he recalled of the meeting that preceeded the tea party was Hancock’s shout of “Let every man do what is right in his own eyes.” But some historians think that Hancock’s motives weren’t exactly virtuous; Hancock supposedly made part of his fortune smuggling in Dutch tea, and the Tea Act meant that East India Company tea would be cheaper than the stuff he smuggled in.

4. HANCOCK DESPERATELY WANTED TO FIGHT IN THE BATTLE OF LEXINGTON.

On April 18, 1775, Hancock and fellow revolutionary Samuel Adams were lodging in Lexington, Massachusetts at the former home of Hancock’s grandfather. Little did they know that the shot heard ‘round the world would go off in just a few short hours. On the orders of the British government, General Thomas Gage led 700 red-coated troops to seize a nearby colonial militia’s weapon stockpile—and some believed that he also planned on arresting Adams and Hancock in the process.

Famously, a silversmith named Paul Revere rode out to Lexington that night, warning locals as he went. Revere arrived late at night and was able to give Hancock and Adams the warning, after which he continued to Concord. But on the way he was temporarily detained by the Brits, and after being released, he went back to make sure that Hancock and Adams had indeed escaped.

But to Revere's surprise, Hancock hadn't left. Instead, he loudly insisted on staying put and fighting alongside the militiamen. “If I had my musket,” he said, “I would never turn my back on these troops.” Eventually, Revere and Adams convinced him to flee, arguing that the British would score a huge moral victory by jailing such an influential patriot. This wasn’t an easy sell. As eyewitness Dorothy Quincy—Hancock’s fiancée—noted, “it was not until break of day that Mr. H. could be persuaded.”

5. HIS IS, BY FAR, THE BIGGEST SIGNATURE ON THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE.

At the time, Hancock was acting President of the Second Continental Congress. As such, he was first to sign Thomas Jefferson’s monumental declaration in July 1776. The first printed copies bear only Hancock’s signature and that of Secretary Charles Thompson. These typeset documents were mailed out to the colonies before an identical, handwritten version was created. Eventually, this copy—now on display at the National Archive—acquired 56 signatures, most of which were jotted down on August 2.

You’ll notice immediately that Hancock’s signature dwarfs the competition. The vast majority take up somewhere between one and 2.5 square inches. At a whopping 6.1 square inches, however, Hancock’s signature is the biggest by far. Why did he upstage everyone else? Historians aren’t sure.

Nevertheless, we can at least dispel one common myth about the subject. Popular rumor holds that when Hancock left his extra-large signature, he defiantly shouted “There, I guess King George will be able to read that!” But there’s no confirmed record of him ever actually saying this.

6. HE WAS THE FIRST ELECTED GOVERNOR OF MASSACHUSETTS.

Hancock won the Bay State’s highest office in 1780, claiming more than 90 percent of the vote. He went on to earn five one-year terms before unexpectedly resigning in 1785. Following Shay’s Rebellion, Hancock re-entered the ring, winning yet another gubernatorial race. This time, he held the job he until died in 1793 at age 56.

7. IN 1789, HANCOCK WAS A PRESIDENTIAL “ALSO RAN.”

American politics will probably never see another landslide of this magnitude. In the nation’s first presidential election, beloved war hero George Washington prevailed with a showing for the ages. By constitutional law, each elector was granted two votes. Every single participant cast at least one of these for the General. At day’s end, Washington secured 69 total votes. By comparison, second-place-finisher John Adams nabbed a meager 34. Nobody else even broke single digits—John Jay took home nine, Robert Harrison and John Rutledge each received six, Hancock claimed four, George Clinton netted three, and two apiece went to Samuel Huntington and John Milton. As for the remaining three votes, they were divvied up between as many candidates.

8. HE AND SAMUEL ADAMS HAD A HUGE FALLING OUT.

Early on, Adams, a politician and brewer, saw Hancock as an impressive protégé. Here was a powerful, ambitious fellow upon whom several hundred families were dependent for their livelihoods. In 1766, Adams used his influence to help win the businessman a seat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. There, Hancock quickly established himself as one of Britain’s most vocal detractors in the colony.

When the hated Stamp Act was repealed on March 20, 1766, Hancock received much of the credit. In short order, Adams and his supporters—whom he called the “Sons of Liberty”—rushed en masse to their hero’s home. Elated, Hancock surprised the crowd with 125 gallons of free Madeira wine.

Sadly, the once warm Adams-Hancock partnership soon chilled. After George Washington was appointed commander-in-chief of the continental army in 1775, Hancock—who had longed for the job—suspected that Adams had helped tip the scales against him. At the time, Hancock was acting as President of the Second Continental Congress. Upon stepping down from that post, Adams and the rest of the Massachusetts delegation infuriated him by voting against a resolution that would thank Hancock for his service. Things soured still further once Hancock became governor of his home state—and Adams routinely backed his opponents.

Nevertheless, the estranged pair did come together to endorse the new U.S. Constitution in 1787. Furthermore, when Hancock died, it was Lieutenant Governor Adams who took over the gubernatorial position. By order of his friend-turned-foe, the day of Hancock’s burial was solemnly observed as a state holiday.

9. HE WAGED A DECADES-LONG WAR WITH GOUT.

Hancock developed the illness when he was 36. As years went by, his limbs were severely handicapped by the condition—when President Washington visited the Bay State in 1789, the 53-year-old governor had to be carried out to greet him.

10. BOSTON’S TALLEST TOWER WAS NAMED IN HIS HONOR.

This 60-story, glass-sided structure also happens to be the tallest building in all of New England. The establishment was created by John Hancock Financial Services—a company named after the legendary patriot. Built in 1976, the establishment had been officially called “John Hancock Tower” until the company's lease ran out last July. Since then, it’s been re-branded as 200 Clarendon, though many Bostonians persist in using the older name. 

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15 Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Julie Andrews Quotes
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With her saccharine movies and sugary voice, it would be easy for Julie Andrews to cross the line from sweet to cloying. Yet for more than 60 years, the Oscar-winning actress/singer/author has managed to enchant audiences of all ages with her iconic roles in everything from Mary Poppins to The Sound of Music to The Princess Diaries.

Yet just because she sings about raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens doesn’t mean that Andrews doesn’t have an edge. “I hate the word wholesome,” she once declared. In celebration of the beloved movie star’s 82nd birthday, we’ve assembled some of Andrews’s most memorable quotes on everything from being typecast to Mary Poppins's personal habits.

1. ON MAKING THE TRANSITION FROM STAGE TO SCREEN

Mary Poppins was the first movie I made and The Sound of Music was the third. I was as raw as I could be. God knows I did not have the right or the ability in those days to say anything like a mentor. The only thing I did feel was that I could contribute to helping the kids feel natural, making them laugh off the set so that they were easy with me on the set. We had some good times." — From a 2015 interview with HitFix

2. ON THE FRIGHTFUL NATURE OF SUCCESS

“Success is terrifying. Like happiness, it is often appreciated in retrospect. It’s only later that you place it in perspective. Years from now, I’ll look back and say, ‘God, wasn’t it wonderful?” — From a 1966 interview with This Week

3. ON SMILING THROUGH CHALLENGING TIMES

“I was raised never to carp about things and never to moan, because in vaudeville, which is my background, you just got on with it through all kinds of adversities.” — From a 2010 interview with The Telegraph

4. ON AVOIDING TYPECASTING

“I think the hardest thing in a career even as lovely as I’ve had is not to go on being typecast, to keep trying new things. As much as possible, I do try to do that.” — From a 2015 interview with HitFix

5. ON BEING A BADASS

“I’ve got a good right hook.” — From Julie Andrews: An Intimate Biography, by Richard Stirling

6. ON BEING GRATEFUL

“A lot of my life happened in great, wonderful bursts of good fortune, and then I would race to be worthy of it.” — From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

7. ON THE CHANGING DEFINITION OF “SUCCESS”

“You never set out to make a bad movie. You always hope that you’re making a good one. We’re sad about them, inasmuch as they damage the career. In those days it was important, but not as important as it is today, to keep making success after success after success. It’s terrifying today. You can maybe have one so-so movie but you’ve got to come back with another that’s huge, if possible, and that must be very, very difficult for young talent.” — From a 2004 interview with the Academy of Achievement

8. ON THE COLLABORATIVE NATURE OF FILMMAKING

“It is a collaborative medium. If you’re lucky, everyone wants to do just that. You never set out to make a failure; you want a success. In the case of The Sound of Music, everyone was willing to bond and make it work. That is the best kind of working conditions. You don’t want to go in feeling that something’s wrong or that you’re not connecting. Thus far I’ve been really blessed.” — From a 2015 interview with HitFix

9. ON HOW THE PROS DO IT

“Remember: the amateur works until he can get it right. The professional works until he cannot go wrong.” — From Julie Andrews’s autobiography, Home: A Memoir of My Early Years

10. ON BELIEVING IN MIRACLES

“I do think that’s true [that miracles are happening every day]. If you can take the time to look. It took me a while to learn that, though some children know it instinctively and they do have wonder when they are kids. But the trouble is, as we grow older, we lose it.” — Interview with American Libraries Magazine

11. ON LOSING CONTROL

“I can’t drink too much without getting absolutely silly. And drugs have, mercifully, never worked, so I think I’m far more frightened of being out of control.” — From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

12. ON FINDING INSPIRATION

"It comes from anyplace. Truthfully, once the antennae are kind of up I’m always thinking or looking or feeling." — From an interview with American Libraries Magazine

13. ON THE REALITY OF “HAPPILY EVERY AFTER”

"As you become older, you become less judgmental and take offense less. But marriage is hard work; the illusion that you get married and live happily ever after is absolute rubbish." — From a 1982 interview with The New York Times

14. ON LUCK AND LONGEVITY

“When careers last as long as mine—and it’s been a lot of years now—I’m very fortunate that I’m still around. All careers go up and down like friendships, like marriages, like anything else, and you can’t bat a thousand all the time. So I think I’ve been very, very lucky.” — From a 2010 interview with The Telegraph

15. ON HOW MARY POPPINS IS JUST LIKE US

“Does Mary Poppins have an orgasm? Does she go to the bathroom? I assure you, she does." — From a 1982 interview with The New York Times

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6 Memorable Letters From Neil Armstrong
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Neil Armstrong, who would have turned 87 years old today, is remembered as both a "reluctant American hero" and "the spiritual repository of spacefaring dreams and ambitions." He was a man of few words, but those he chose to share were significant and, occasionally, tongue-in-cheek. Here are some notable letters and notes written by the first man on the moon.

1. ITS TRUE BEAUTY, HOWEVER, WAS THAT IT WORKED.

There was little certainty about what to expect once Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left the relative safety of the Apollo 11 spacecraft. This was not lost on Armstrong, who sent a letter of thanks to the crew who designed his spacesuit.

2. AMERICA MUST DECIDE IF IT WISHES TO REMAIN A LEADER IN SPACE.

It's no secret that NASA's budget has all but disappeared in recent years. Neil, along with James Lovell and Eugene Cernan, had a few things to say about that. The three wrote an open letter to President Obama, urging him not to forfeit the United States' progress in space exploration and technology. It ends with a sobering prediction, and some advice:

For The United States, the leading space faring nation for nearly half a century, to be without carriage to low Earth orbit and with no human exploration capability to go beyond Earth orbit for an indeterminate time into the future, destines our nation to become one of second or even third rate stature. While the President’s plan envisages humans traveling away from Earth and perhaps toward Mars at some time in the future, the lack of developed rockets and spacecraft will assure that ability will not be available for many years.

Without the skill and experience that actual spacecraft operation provides, the USA is far too likely to be on a long downhill slide to mediocrity. America must decide if it wishes to remain a leader in space. If it does, we should institute a program which will give us the very best chance of achieving that goal.

(Here's the letter in full.)

3. ALL OF THIS KNOWLEDGE IS YOURS FOR THE TAKING.

In 1971, the children's librarian of Troy, Michigan's new public library wrote dozens of letters to notable figures across the globe, asking them to address the children of Troy and speak about the importance of libraries, books, and reading. Among the replies was this note from Armstrong:

Through books you will meet poets and novelists whose creations will fire your imagination. You will meet the great thinkers who will share with you their philosophies, their concepts of the world, of humanity and of creation. You will learn about events that have shaped our history, of deeds both noble and ignoble. All of this knowledge is yours for the taking… Your library is a storehouse for mind and spirit. Use it well.

4. I FIND THAT MYSTIFYING.

After NPR's Robert Krulwich wondered aloud on-air why the astronauts stayed so close to the landing site (less than 100 yards from their lander), a helpful Armstrong sent over a lengthy letter of explanation, which ended with a little insight about the importance of space exploration (emphasis added):

Later Apollo flights were able to do more and move further in order to cover larger areas, particularly when the Lunar Rover vehicle became available in 1971. But in KRULWICH WONDERS, you make an important point, which I emphasized to the House Science and Technology Committee. During my testimony in May I said, "Some question why Americans should return to the Moon. "After all," they say "we have already been there." I find that mystifying. It would be as if 16th century monarchs proclaimed that "we need not go to the New World, we have already been there." Or as if President Thomas Jefferson announced in 1803 that Americans "need not go west of the Mississippi, the Lewis and Clark Expedition has already been there." Americans have visited and examined 6 locations on Luna, varying in size from a suburban lot to a small township. That leaves more than 14 million square miles yet to explore.

I have tried to give a small insight into your question “Who knew?”

I hope it is helpful.

(Read the full transcript here.)

5. IT CERTAINLY WAS EXCITING FOR ME.

On the 40th anniversary of the Apollo landing, Armstrong wrote a personal letter of tribute to the Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex, which provided the communications between Apollo 11 and mission control. In part, it reads:

We were involved in doing what many thought to be impossible, putting humans on Earth’s moon.

Science fiction writers thought it would be possible. H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, and other authors found ways to get people to the moon. But none of those writers foresaw any possibility of the lunar explorers being able to communicate with Earth, transmit data, position information, or transmit moving pictures of what they saw back to Earth. The authors foresaw my part of the adventure, but your part was beyond their comprehension.

All the Apollo people were working hard, working long hours, and were dedicated to making certain everything they did, they were doing to the very best of their ability. And I am confident that those of you who were working with us forty years ago, were working at least that hard. It would be impossible to overstate the appreciation that we on the crew feel for your dedication and the quality of your work.

The full text is available on the Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station website.

6. NEXT TIME, BUTT OUT OF OUR BUSINESS!

After a surprise appearance in "Mystery On the Moon," issue #98 of The Fantastic Four, wherein our intrepid explorers are saved by four mutants in space, this brief note arrived in Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's mailbox. Was it real? Who knows. But the sentiment remains: We don't need your superheroes to get to the moon—we have science

This post originally appeared in 2012.

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