Isolating Isletin

On this day in history, two men discovered a cure for a condition that was previously considered fatal: diabetes. This innovation in medical science happened less than a century ago, in the summer of 1921.

Banting and Best discover insulin

Dogs used in insulin discovery

Many researchers had previously connected the pancreas to diabetes, but Dr. Banting and his medical student assistant, Charles Best, were the first to successfully isolate and use insulin to improve diabetic dogs. In 1922, one year after the initial extraction was achieved, a diabetic teenager was given an injection of what was then called “isletin” and showed dramatic improvement. Suddenly, a disease that once inevitably led to death had become treatable.

Find more articles like these on insulin and other significant advances in medicine with a search on

The Conch Republic

Now that summer’s in full swing, it’s time for vacation! Perhaps you seek out beaches, sunshine and nice ocean views? Look no further than the United States’ very own Key West, Florida. This hot spot for tourists boasts attractions such as gardens, boat excursions, Ernest Hemingway’s former home, and the Conch Republic—a satirical micronation that mock-seceded from the U.S. in 1982.

Conch Republic

Yes, it’s true—what started as a legitimate protest against the inconvenience of U.S. Border Patrol roadblock checkpoints quickly became a unique (and ultimately effective) attention-grabber.

The Rebels of the Conch Republic

Basically, U.S. Border Patrol officials put an inspection checkpoint on the only roads out of Key West to search for narcotics and illegal immigrants, leading to wait times that would put the DMV to shame. This would be an irritation under any circumstance, but to an island city that runs on tourism the roadblock was an actual detriment to their economy. When the usual avenues of protest against this annoyance got citizens nowhere, the “Conchs”—people of Key West—faux seceded. Mayor Dennis Wardlow was proclaimed Prime Minister of the new republic, which proceeded to declare war on the United States, surrender, and apply for foreign aid all in less time than it took to wait in line at the checkpoint that started it all.

Blowing the conch and raising the flag of the Conch Republic

The secession may not have been real, but the publicity it brought did the trick—the checkpoint was removed soon after the Conch Republic declared their independence. Unfortunately you’ll have to wait until next year to join in the still-observed Independence Day celebration—festivities take place the week of April 23rd. It would seem that, in the end, the roadblock didn’t hurt the Key West tourism economy one bit.

PM of Conch Republic, 1988

Learn more about the Conch Republic or any other topic of your choice with a search on

The Poughkeepsie Journal

Content Update

Sample Poughkeepsie Journal front page
Come explore the Poughkeepsie Journal on! The Poughkeepsie Journal is the oldest paper in New York State and one of the oldest in the country. With a Basic subscription, you can see issues from 1785 through 1922; or, with a Publisher Extra subscription, access the years previously listed and additional issues from 1922 to May 2016.

You may notice on the browse menu for the Poughkeepsie Journal that it seems like is missing years between 1860 and 1941; however, these issues of the Poughkeepsie Journal can actually be found under the title the Poughkeepsie Eagle-News (which is also on, as the paper was going by variations of that title during those years.

The Poughkeepsie Journal was founded in 1785 was a weekly paper until 1860. It would undergo many name changes over the years, including the Country Journal, the Poughkeepsie Journal & Eagle, the Poughkeepsie Eagle, the Poughkeepsie Eagle-News, and Poughkeepsie New Yorker. The name was changed to the Poughkeepsie Journal in 1960, a return to the name it had held for a few decades in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

108-year-old woman dies, 1785

From its inception, the Poughkeepsie Journal coved state, national, and international news, and since its issues go back 230 years, that’s a lot of history you can explore! The paper also covered news specific to Dutchess County and the Mid-Hudson River Valley. So if you have ancestors from this area, the Poughkeepsie Journal is a particularly valuable resource.

You never know what you might find in the Poughkeepsie Journal. It might be a marriage or death notice for an ancestor you’ve been looking for, or photographs you’ve never seen of family members. You might even find anecdotes about your ancestors, such as this piece from 1785 about a woman who died at age 108 and maintained her good health until the end, knitting, mending clothes, and walking the 2 miles to her daughter’s house right up until her death.

Get started searching or browsing the Poughkeepsie Journal here.

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Getting on Board with Board Games

Board games are a well-loved staple of group entertainment. They have been so for centuries in the world at large, but in younger countries—like the United States—they came around much more recently. So when did board games cross the ocean and become the popular pastimes they are today? What game has the distinction of being the first in America?

First American Board Game

First U.S. published board games

The Traveller’s Tour through the United States is considered to be the first U.S. board game. In an era of Puritan values dice were considered a vice associated with gambling, so players traveled across a map of the states with the help of a spinning, multi-sided top called a tetotum. The object: guess the names of cities and significant places—and in later versions, name their populations. That’s quite the social studies test, even for a time when Louisiana was the country’s western border.

The Mansion of Happiness was exactly what it sounds like: a game all about using good, virtuous values to reach your just reward. It was created in Europe, but appeared in the United States in the 1840s. It was one of the first commercially produced board games in the U.S. and had the added benefit of being morally robust—very important for children and adults alike.

Description of the Mansion of Happiness

Of course, what would board games be today without the quintessential (and frequently ire-inspiring) Monopoly? The first version of this American claim-to-board-game-fame was created in the nascent years of the 20th century by Elizabeth Magie, who was quite an interesting woman even outside of her game-making. She patented a design that looks very similar to the version of Monopoly we play today. It too was educational in nature, but not in regards to cities or morality. Instead it focused on the evils of land owned by private monopolies. It was called The Landlord’s Game.

The Landlord

The Landlord’s Game went through several more creators and variations over the next 30 years, until the Parker Brothers released their version of the game in 1935 and called it Monopoly. Now it boasts hundreds of variations and themes and is perhaps the best-known board game in the world.

Find more about the history of United States’ board games, known and unknown, on Try a search on your old family favorite or browse through specific papers for other articles of interest to you.

Le Quatorze Juillet

On this day in 1789, members of the Third Estate of France’s États-généraux—representing the common people—stormed the prison-fortress known as the Bastille.

First Fete de la Federation

Bastille Day

Over 100 people were killed, almost exclusively on the attacking side, but the fortress was taken. Bernard-René de Launey, governor of the Bastille, was beaten to death by the enraged crowd after the fight had ended.

The day has since taken on a special significance as a major tipping point in the French Revolution. First celebrated in 1790 as the Fête de la Fédération, it is now simply known as Bastille Day, a day of French Independence celebrated nationwide to honor peace and unity.

Commemoration of the Destruction of the Bastille

French Independence Day

The article below shows a suggested inscription for a monument built on the site of the Bastille, published in the year following the conflict.

Proposed inscription for the fall of the Bastille

Find more on the storming of the Bastille and the French Revolution on

Paul Wittgenstein—One-armed Virtuoso

Paul Wittgenstein is a fine example of pushing past limitations to pursue your passion, no matter how much seems to stand in your way.

Paul Wittgenstein

Wittgenstein grew up in a musical household with aspirations of becoming a concert pianist. But when he lost his right arm in what was then called “the World War,” his friends and family lamented the talent he would lose with it.

But Wittgenstein would have none of that. He was a pianist, one-armed or not. While imprisoned in a Siberian war camp after the hospital was captured by enemy forces, he practiced constantly on an upright piano provided to him by a surprisingly generous guard. When he made it home, his talent only continued to grow.

Eventually he was commissioning one-handed pieces for the piano and performing them with expert acuity. His abilities impressed audiences and composers, the latter of whom began to see one-handed piano playing in a new light. He even got Maurice Ravel, internationally-renowned French composer of the time, to write him a left-handed concerto.


Because of Wittgenstein’s persistence, there now exist hundreds of left-handed piano pieces that are a worthy challenge for any piano player, one-handed or otherwise.

One-Armed Pianist


Find more on Paul Wittgenstein with a search on

Weehawken. Dawn. Guns. Drawn.

On this day in history, Alexander Hamilton was fatally wounded by in a duel with Aaron Burr.

Alexander Hamilton killed in duel

The duel came as a result of fierce election politics. Hamilton, who found Burr to be an untrustworthy opportunist, maligned Burr’s character while the latter was running for the office of President of the United States. After losing the election, Burr settled into the role of a barely-successful Vice President with little support from Thomas Jefferson, who had won the presidential race. Determined to defend his reputation, Burr challenged the man who ruined his career to a duel.

Your Obedient Servant

Turns out that nothing ruins your career quite like killing a man as nationally respected as Alexander Hamilton. Burr shot him in the stomach and he died the following day.

We have received the following melancholy information:

Burr’s reputation never recovered after that fateful day in Weehawken, New Jersey, and he continues to be primarily remembered as Hamilton’s killer.

Read more about Hamilton, Burr, the duel, and other related subjects on Try a search or browse through newspapers from the early years of the United States.

Find: Learn about the Civil War Home Front via Newspaper Ads News, Finds and Tips

Ad for House for sale for $1200, Massachusetts 1863
When we think of the Civil War, our minds often turn first to the battlefield; yet despite the millions of men who fought in the war, the majority of America’s 31 million people lived out the war in their own homes, whether that was on a farm, in a small town, or in a big city. When discussing such a large number or people, it’s impossible to say there was any one type of “typical” home front Civil War experience, since so many variables were at play, including where a person lived, their race, their gender, their economic circumstances, and numerous other factors.

But one way we can get an idea of what life was like for everyday individuals living on the home front during the Civil War is through newspapers. Not only can articles and anecdotes help flesh out our understanding, but newspaper ads and notices are a particularly valuable way to fill in the blanks about the lives of “ordinary folks” at the time.

Some ads—like those for patent medicines and grocery stores—seemed to be prevalent across the country, while others—like offers of rewards for runaway slaves—were more typical of specific regions. And while some ads reflected the realities of wartime, others show that in some ways, life—and the goods and services needed—remained the same even when the country was at war.

Below is a selection of ads and notices from newspapers across the country during the Civil War. Take a look and learn a little more about what life may have been like for your ancestors:

These clippings are just the beginning! Find countless more by browsing You can find out about other eras your ancestors lived in by looking for ads from those time periods as well. You could also focus on ads from a specific state or town.

Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle

In 1911 a book was published about a young man named Tom Swift. He had a weapon called an electric rifle that shot invisible bullets like bolts of lightning. With his trusty electric rifle at his side, Tom was able to save the lives of himself and his friends time and time again.

Half a century after the book was published, aerospace scientist Jack Cover dreamed of a non-lethal weapon that could be used by law enforcement. So what did he invent? Thomas A. Swift’s electric rifle, or the TASER. Development began in 1969, and by 1974 the Taser was a real-life electrical weapon.

Taser Stun Gun

Taser Name

Find more on Thomas Swift, Jack Cover, and the Taser with a search on

Today We Celebrate Our Independence


It’s the Fourth of July, which means parades, barbecues and fireworks will be the order of the day. But what’s the deal with fireworks anyway? How did independence lead to the use of explosives as a celebration?

Fireworks as entertainment had been around long before the U.S. became their own country. The grandeur and spectacle of things exploding in the sky naturally attracted crowds to the displays. Founding father John Adams seems to have been a fan: he imagined the loud sky-blossoms as part of the festivities before the first Independence Day had even happened.

Fireworks always a part of John Adams plans

John Adams and Fireworks

As there weren’t too many regulations on fireworks back then the general public began to get their hands on big explosives. This did not turn out too well, and soon Independence Day was known as much for its hospitalizations and death toll as it was for its history. Eventually the big-time fireworks were banned from public use, limited to those with the license to set them off—though most anyone can still purchase and enjoy common home fireworks.


Fireworks were not always the colorful affair we’re used to seeing now. In their early years, they were exciting but colorless explosions, and it was not until the 17th century that ways were found to add a little something to the displays. One comical writer has some great advice for showing off your firework knowledge this Fourth of July:

Handy advice

Fireworks have long since become a staple in the United States’ Independence Day celebrations, despite the many injuries and innovations that have happened since they first decorated our skies. If you’ve been wondering how that came to be, now you know—it’s all John Adams’ fault.

Now you have a chance

Find more on the United States’ Independence Day celebrations on Have a happy and safe Fourth of July!