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History's Happenings for October 21

Edison Invents Incandescent Lamp

After thousands of hours of experimentation, Thomas Alva Edison watched an evacuated glass bulb containing a charred-cotton filament burn brightly for 40 hours ending on October 21, 1879. It was the first potentially commercially viable incandescent lamp to be demonstrated.

In truth, the design Edison had come up with was almost simultaneously invented by Thomas Swan in England. However, if there was one thing at which Edison excelled besides spewing out dazzling inventions, it was in commercializing those developments.

Three years later, in September, 1882, Edison had convinced the city of New York to allow him to install a demonstration street lighting project, which not only proved successful, but was the foundation of the Edison Electric Company, which designed and built the dynamos needed to power street lighting.

Although the carbon filament -- for several years made from charred bamboo -- was replaced by longer-lasting tungsten wire in 1907, and the vacuum began to be superceded by inert gas filling in 1913, the bulb that Edison developed in 1879 remains remarkably familiar today.

"Old Ironsides" Launched

(Stay tuned for a write-up on this event.
On the other hand, if you'd like to try writing
one  ... send it in! )

Nelson Whips French at Trafalgar

(Stay tuned for a write-up on this event.
On the other hand, if you'd like to try writing
one  ... send it in! )

Birth of Alfred Nobel

Scientist Alfred Nobel was born on October 21, 1833 in Stockholm, son of the owner of an explosives factory.

After studying chemistry and engineering in Russia and the United States, he returned to Sweden to assist in the family business, developing and producing explosives.

When his younger brother, along with several others, were killed in a factory explosion involving nitroglycerin, Nobel set out to find a way to make this volatile explosive safer to handle. His solution was to blend it with an organic filler, which yielded a safe but powerful explosive and, in 1867, he named it dynamite. It changed the world.

Highly successful producing his new explosive and other inventions -- including an early smokeless powder -- Nobel left an estate of some $9 million at his death in 1896.

In his will he specified that the bulk of it be set aside in a trust to provide prizes in five disciplines each year, in recognition of the greatest achievement in that discipline. The original categories specified by Nobel were chemistry, physics, physiology or medicine, literature and world peace, each to receive an equal share of the accumulated interest on the trust. (A prize in economics was added by the Swedish Riksbank in 1969).

The first Nobel Prizes were awarded in 1901, five years after the inventor's death.

R.O.T.C. Program Founded

The Reserve Officer Training Corps, or R.O.T.C. system, was formally initiated by the National Defense Act of 1916, which took effect on October 21.

The concept of college- and university-based officer training had originated in the Morrill Act of 1862, which provided for military instruction in the land-grant colleges which existed (and still do) in most agricultural states. In post-war legislation passed in 1866, the president was authorized to detail as many as twenty federal military officers to assist in this training, a number increased to 100 in 1893.

In practice, the military training required of land grant colleges during this period was carried out sporadically, disinterestedly and without any uniformity in equipment or drill. One of the few success stories was then-Lieutenant John J. Pershing's short stint at the University of Nebraska in the early 1890's, during which time he forged an apathetic band of student-soldiers into an award-winning battalion of cadets. They later styled themselves the Pershing Rifles, and chapters dedicated to precision marching sprung up across the country. General Colin Powell was a Pershing Rifle at City College of New York.

The 1916 Act, passed over the protests of pacifists and Utopians, reorganized this training into a nationally coordinated R.O.T.C. program, and also increased the strength of the U.S. Army and National Guard, bolstered the General Staff, and provided the President with broad powers over strategic industrial production in time of war.

The provisions of the Act were used to good effect when, six months later, America went to war in Europe.

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