This Week in History – Polio Vaccine Trials

It was this week in 1954 that the first trials of Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine began throughout the U.S., Canada, and Finland.

Anti-Polio Experiment StartsAnti-Polio Experiment Starts · Mon, Apr 26, 1954 – Page 1 · The Times Herald (Port Huron, Michigan) ·

Polio Shot Didn't Hurt a BitPolio Shot Didn’t Hurt a Bit · Mon, Apr 26, 1954 – 1 · Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio) ·

The trials were successful—the vaccine was declared to be safe and effective! At last, the huge, epidemic numbers of polio cases began to decrease, and within a few decades the ancient disease was nearly eliminated worldwide.

Brilliant Victory over Child PlagueBrilliant Victory over Child Plague · Tue, Apr 12, 1955 – Page 1 · The Terre Haute Tribune (Terre Haute, Indiana) ·

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The Solar Storm of 1859

In September 1859, a crazy thing happened. A solar flare occurred, bright enough to be observed with the naked eye (as it was by an English astronomer named Richard Carrington, after whom the event was later named). The flare was large enough to affect Earth in the form of a solar storm.

Carrington Event of 1859Carrington Event of 1859 · Thu, Jan 28, 2010 – 6 · The Signal (Santa Clarita, California) ·

As described above, the storm affected communications and existing technologies across the globe.

Auroral displayAuroral display · Sat, Sep 3, 1859 – Page 3 · The Louisville Daily Courier (Louisville, Kentucky) ·

The sky lit up, bright as dawn despite the late night hour, and brilliant red auroras shimmered in silvery swaths overhead. There’s a rather nice description of the event in this clipping below:

1859 Solar Storm1859 Solar Storm · Fri, Sep 9, 1859 – Page 3 · Newbern Daily Progress (New Bern, North Carolina) ·

Aside from the telegraph issues, which were resolved as the storm abated, and some fear that the world might be ending, the world was able to move on as normal after a few days. But the event was certainly a bizarre and magnificent display, something to be remembered for a lifetime.

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This Week in History – The American Revolutionary War Begins

On April 19, 1775, the “shot heard round the world” is fired at Lexington, and the uneasy, growing tensions between American colonists and British soldiers shatter into conflict.

Americans! Forever bear in mindAmericans! Forever bear in mind · Mon, May 8, 1775 – Page 2 · Hartford Courant (Hartford, Connecticut) ·

British troops arrived in Lexington to capture patriot leaders and found armed minutemen waiting for them. The brief battle ended in eight deaths on the American side and none on the British, and word spread like wildfire. War had begun!

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The Scam of Poyais

His name sounds fake, but his kingdom sounded real. Gregor MacGregor scammed hundreds with a dream of a new, bountiful Central American paradise called Poyais.

MacGregor’s success in his scheme no doubt came in part because people had heard tales of his service in distant battles. He returned to England a hero and as the “Cazique of Poyais,”and his stories of the new kingdom of Poyais were compelling indeed. MacGregor backed them up with maps and drawings and details, bringing to life an exquisite fantasy. The lure was irresistible. Hopeful dreamers like James Hastie, whose account is related below, put their fortunes—and lives—in MacGregor’s hands.

When their arrival revealed no kingdom, no other citizens, no supplies and left them without funds or means to return home, the new settlers did what they could to survive. Most didn’t succeed.

The Lord Mayor in the clipping below speaks for us all (with the benefit of hindsight, of course).

MacGregor had successfully bamboozled shipfuls of people in London and Edinburgh, and was going for another round in Paris when his deceit was discovered. He died around 20 years later having never truly received justice for the lives he ruined.

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This Week in History – Surrender and Assassination

On April 9, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrenders to Union General Ulysses S. Grant and the American Civil War is officially brought to an end.


Only five days later, President Abraham Lincoln is shot by Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth, making this quite a week for high-emotion headlines.

Assassination of President Lincoln

Find more on Lincoln’s assassination here, or you can search on for either of these major headlines and other topics of interest.

Olympics Make a Comeback

On this day in 1896, after a 1,500-year lull, the Olympics are reintroduced to the world.

Revival of the Olympic GamesThe Olympic Games. Are About to be Revived

The original Olympic games were banned by the Christian Roman Emperor Theodosius I in an attempt to crack down on paganism. It was a young French baron, Pierre de Coubertin, who in 1892 first proposed that the games be brought back. Thanks to his persistence, they were, and he guided them as president of the International Olympic Committee through the initial, less popular years when no one thought they would last.

The Olympic Games

Questionable whether Olympic revival will be a success

The first games saw only 280 participants (in contrast to the 2016 summer Olympics, in which over 10,000 athletes competed), but by 1924 the games had regained their popularity of yore. Today, of course, the Olympics are the bees knees when it comes to international sports competition. Thanks, Pierre!

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Major Earthquake Strikes San Francisco: April 18, 1906

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<p>On April 18, 1906, at 5:12 a.m., <a href=San Francisco and the surrounding area was struck by a destructive 7.8-magnitude earthquake,
whose epicenter lay just 2 miles west of the city. The earthquake was quickly followed by massive fires that, over the course of three days, burned a large
portion of the city. Three thousand people would be killed, and half of San Francisco’s population would become refugees.

Images of San Francisco before the 1906 earthquake and firesWhen
the earthquake struck not long after 5 a.m. on Wednesday, April 18, most people were still in bed. A brief initial shock was followed by the main quake,
which lasted 45 to 60 seconds. In that minute, buildings throughout the city crumbled or sank into the ground, roads cracked, water and gas mains broke,
and thousands of people were killed, trapped, or injured.

It wasn’t just San Francisco that was affected; nearby cities such as Santa Rosa and San Jose were equally decimated by the earthquake, and tremors were felt as far north as Oregon and as far south as Los Angeles. A strong aftershock around 8 a.m. sent further buildings toppling.

The destruction caused by the earthquake was devastating enough, but within half an hour more than 50 fires had been reported in San Francisco. Despite the response of local firemen, some of the fires grew into massive conflagrations that burned through well-known neighborhoods, including the city’s downtown,
Chinatown, and Nob Hill. By the time the fires were finally put out on Saturday, 4.7 square miles, 500 city blocks, and 28,000 buildings had burned.

As a result of the earthquake and fires, more than 200,000 San Franciscans (out of a population of 400,000) became homeless. Initially, many camped in
parks or other open spaces, but soon many fled the city altogether—some
temporarily, others permanently. Organized relief efforts distributed food, water, and shelter to the refugees, and millions of dollars in aid and donations were given to the city.

The clean-up from the disaster would take two years, and rebuilding the city would take even longer. By 1915 San Francisco had recovered enough to host
the Panama—Pacific International Exposition. In some respects, however, the city never fully recovered from the earthquake: before the disaster, San
Francisco had been the leading city on the West Coast, but following it, Los Angeles took its place.

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The Boxer and the Bear

Here’s a bizarre news story for you today: in 1897 a man named Bob Fitzsimmons found himself in an unexpected boxing match against his (not so docile) pet bear.

Boxing the Bear

Fortunately for the sake of not being mauled alive by a bear, “Fitz” had some experience in the realm of boxing. Just months earlier he had risen to fame with a well-publicized win against Gentleman Jim Corbett. He’d also go on make history as boxing’s first world champion in three weight divisions, and would later be added to The Guinness Book of World Records as the lightest heavyweight champion.

But before all of that came his ill-advised bare-knuckle boxing match (pun intended). The article below gives the details.

The Bear Boxing Match
Exhausting fight
Fitzsimmons after the fight

In the end there were no fatalities, not even for the animals involved. Still, it seems there’s a concrete lesson to be learned through this crazy story: it’s probably best not to keep bears as pets, no matter how much you like ’em.

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