Happy New Year! We thought a good way to kick off the new year would be to look back 100 and 150 years ago, to see what was happening then. Knowing history is always a good thing, whether you use it to inform your reading, to inspire new creations, or just look at the news today with a bit more perspective.

1865

1865 brought lots of significant events on the political front in the US. The Civil War was still going for the first half of 1865. President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on April 14th and on July 5th, the United States Secret Service was founded. On December 18th, the abolition of slavery in the US was complete with the adoption of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Six days later, Jonathan Shank and Barry Ownby founded the Ku Klux Klan.

In literature, Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was published and William Butler Yeats and Rudyard Kipling were born.

As far as science and technology go, it was a mixed year (as most are). Gregor Mendel developed his theory of genetics, although it wouldn’t gain attention for years. On the downside, Francis Galton, who had invented the dog whistle and the weather map, introduced the world to the horror that is eugenics. In February, John Deere patented the steel plow, a huge improvement over iron. And Edward Whymper led the first successful expedition to the summit of the Matterhorn.

Transportation had its setbacks. On April 27, the steamship SS Sultana exploded on the Mississippi river, killing 1700. May 5 brought the US it’s first train robbery, near Cincinnati. Yes, the one in Ohio; the west wasn’t that far west. On July 5, England created the world’s first speed limits. And on July 30, 225 died when the steamer Brother Jonathan sank off the California coast.

1915

In 1915, conflict was much more global than in 1865; the first world war was under way. On January 19th, German Zeppelins bombed English towns for the first time. January 31st introduced the world to the first large-scale poison gas attack, when the Germany forces used 18,000 shells filled with tear gas on the Russian Army during the Battle of Bolimov. They repeated this type of attack on the western front in April during the Second Battle of Ypres. British forces would follow suit during the Battle of Loos in September and October. On May 7, the British liner RMS Lusitania was sunk by a German U-boat, killing almost 1200 civilians. The building at No. 61 Farringdon Road, London was destroyed by German Zeppelins on September 8; it would be rebuilt two years later as the Zeppelin Building. One positive note: On Christmas, the British and German forces held an unofficial truce, left the trenches, and even had a football games against each other, rather than trying to kill each other.

On a less violent, but sill devastating note, Palestine had to deal with a locus plague that lasted from March until October.

On January 1st, Harry Houdini performed his straitjacket escape for the first time. Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas A. Watson placed the first coast-to-coast telephone call on January 25, made possible by the vacuum tube amplifier. In February, “Typhoid Mary” Mallon infected 25 people at New York’s Sloane Hospital for Women, while working as a cook under an assumed name. As a result, she was quarantined for life. The Charlie Chaplin movie The Tramp was released on April 11. On November 25, Einstein first presented his theory of general relativity at the Prussian Academy of Science.