It’s Therapeutic Thursday! Did you know…
* 1675 Royal Greenwich Observatory established in England by Charles II. (As Europeans took to the seas to explore the world and trade with other countries, astronomical information of sufficient quantity and accuracy to aid navigation, cartography, and timekeeping were needed, including working out how to measure longitude.
It was against this background that King Charles II appointed a Royal Commission to look into investing in astronomy.
Among those sitting on the Royal Commission was Sir Christopher Wren – most famous now for his architecture, but also a former professor of astronomy at Oxford. On March 4, 1675, the Commission reported back to Charles II, recommending the foundation of an observatory – Britain’s first state-funded scientific institution – and the appointment of an astronomer. Charles reportedly called for immediate action and on the same day John Flamsteed was named ‘astronomical observator’. A new era for Greenwich and for astronomy, time and navigation, had begun.
It was Wren who suggested using the ruined Greenwich Castle as the site for the new observatory. This location had the advantages of having solid foundations in place from the old castle, as well as being located on high ground in a royal park. Wren also oversaw the design of the building.
Flamsteed House was the first part of the Observatory to be built. It was intended as a home for the Astronomer Royal and for entertaining guests.
The project was notable for the speed in which it happened, and for the small budget with which it was achieved. Flamsteed was installed by 10 July 1676, less than a year after the foundation stone was laid, and a total of £520.45 ($104,068.67 USD today) was spent on construction, with costs being kept down by using recycled materials.)
* 1944 FDR signs G.I. Bill. (On this day in 1944, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the G.I. Bill, an unprecedented act of legislation designed to compensate returning members of the armed services–known as G.I.s–for their efforts in World War II.
As the last of its sweeping New Deal reforms, Roosevelt’s administration created the G.I. Bill–officially the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944–hoping to avoid a relapse into the Great Depression after the war ended. FDR particularly wanted to prevent a repeat of the Bonus March of 1932, when 20,000 unemployed veterans and their families flocked in protest to Washington. The American Legion, a veteran’s organization, successfully fought for many of the provisions included in the Bill, which gave returning servicemen access to unemployment compensation, low-interest home and business loans, and–most importantly–funding for education.
By giving veterans money for tuition, living expenses, books, supplies and equipment, the G.I. Bill effectively transformed higher education in America. Before the war, college had been an option for only 10-15 percent of young Americans, and university campuses had become known as a haven for the most privileged classes. By 1947, in contrast, vets made up half of the nation’s college enrollment; three years later, nearly 500,000 Americans graduated from college, compared with 160,000 in 1939.
As educational institutions opened their doors to this diverse new group of students, overcrowded classrooms and residences prompted widespread improvement and expansion of university facilities and teaching staffs. An array of new vocational courses was developed across the country, including advanced training in education, agriculture, commerce, mining, and fishing–skills that had previously been taught only informally.
The G.I. Bill became one of the major forces that drove an economic expansion in America that lasted 30 years after World War II. Only 20 percent of the money set aside for unemployment compensation under the bill was given out, as most veterans found jobs or pursued higher education. Low-interest home loans enabled millions of American families to move out of urban centers and buy or build homes outside the city, changing the face of the suburbs. Over 50 years, the impact of the G.I. Bill was enormous, with 20 million veterans and dependents using the education benefits and 14 million home loans guaranteed, for a total federal investment of $67 billion. Among the millions of Americans who have taken advantage of the bill are former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford, former Vice President Al Gore and entertainers Johnny Cash, Ed McMahon, Paul Newman and Clint Eastwood.)
* 1775 Congress issues Continental currency. (On this day in 1775, Congress issues $2 million in bills of credit.
By the spring of 1775, colonial leaders, concerned by British martial law in Boston and increasing constraints on trade, had led their forces in battle against the crown. But, the American revolutionaries encountered a small problem on their way to the front: they lacked the funds necessary to wage a prolonged war.
Though hardly the colonies’ first dalliance with paper notes–the Massachusetts Bay colony had issued its own bills in 1690–the large-scale distribution of the revolutionary currency was fairly new ground for America. Moreover, the bills, known at the time as “Continentals,” notably lacked the then de rigueur rendering of the British king. Instead, some of the notes featured likenesses of Revolutionary soldiers and the inscription “The United Colonies.” But, whatever their novelty, the Continentals proved to be a poor economic instrument: backed by nothing more than the promise of “future tax revenues” and prone to rampant inflation, the notes ultimately had little fiscal value. As George Washington noted at the time, “A wagonload of currency will hardly purchase a wagonload of provisions.” Thus, the Continental failed and left the young nation saddled with a hefty war debt.
A deep economic depression followed the Treaty of Paris in 1783. Unstable currency and unstable debts caused a Continental Army veteran, Daniel Shays, to lead a rebellion in western Massachusetts during the winter of 1787. Fear of economic chaos played a significant role in the decision to abandon the Articles of Confederation for the more powerful, centralized government created by the Federal Constitution. During George Washington’s presidency, Alexander Hamilton struggled to create financial institutions capable of stabilizing the new nation’s economy.
Duly frustrated by the experience with Continental currency, America resisted the urge to again issue new paper notes until the dawn of the Civil War.)
* 1989 Cease-fire established in Angolan civil war. (After nearly 15 years of civil war, opposing factions in Angola agree to a cease-fire to end a conflict that had claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. The cease-fire also helped to defuse U.S.-Soviet tensions concerning Angola.
Angola was a former Portuguese colony that had attained independence in 1975. Even before that date, however, various factions had been jockeying for power. The two most important were the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), which was favored by the United States, and the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), which was supported by the Soviets. Once independence became a reality in November 1975, the two groups began a brutal contest for control, with the Soviet-supported MPLA eventually seizing control of the nation’s capital. UNITA found support from Zaire and South Africa in the form of funds, weapons, and, in the case of South Africa, troops. The United States provided covert financial and arms support to both Zaire and South Africa to assist those nations’ efforts in Angola. The Soviets responded with increasingly heavy support to the MPLA, and Cuba began to airlift troops in to help fight against UNITA. The African nation quickly became a Cold War hotspot. President Ronald Reagan began direct U.S. support of UNITA during his term in office in the 1980s. Angola suffered through a debilitating civil war, with thousands of people killed. Hundreds of thousands more became refugees from the increasingly savage conflict.
In 1988, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev set into motion a series of events that would lead to a cease-fire the following year. Gorbachev was desperately seeking to better Soviet relations with the United States and he was facing a Soviet economy that could no longer sustain the expenses of supporting far-flung “wars of national liberation” like in Angola. He, therefore, announced that the Soviet Union was cutting its aid to both the MPLA and Cuba. Cuba, which depended on the Soviet subsidy to maintain its troops in Angola, made the decision to withdraw, and its forces began to depart in early 1989. South Africa thereupon suspended its aid to UNITA. The United States continued its aid to UNITA, but at a much smaller level. UNITA and the MPLA, exhausted from nearly 15 years of conflict, agreed to talks in 1989. These resulted in a cease-fire in June of that year. It was a short-lived respite. In 1992, national elections resulted in an overwhelming victory for the MPLA, and UNITA went back on the warpath.
In 1994, a peace accord was signed between the MPLA government and UNITA and in 1997, a government with representatives from both sides was established. Still, in 1998 fighting again broke out and democracy was suspended. In 2002, the leader of UNITA, Jonas Savimbi, was murdered; afterward, a cease-fire was reached, in which UNITA agreed to give up its arms and participate in the government. Observers are still waiting, however, for democracy to be reinstated.)
* 1611 Hudson set adrift by mutineers. (After spending a winter trapped by ice in present-day Hudson Bay, the starving crew of the Discovery mutinies against its captain, English navigator Henry Hudson, and sets him, his teenage son, and seven supporters adrift in a small, open boat. Hudson and the eight others were never seen again.
Two years earlier, in 1609, Hudson sailed to the Americas to find a northwest passage to Asia after repeatedly failing in his efforts to find a northeast ocean passage. Exploring the North American coast, he entered the present-day Chesapeake, Delaware, and New York bays, and then became the first European to ascend what is now called the Hudson River. His voyage, which was financed by the Dutch, was the basis of Holland’s later claims to the region.
His fourth expedition, financed by adventurers from England, set out from London on April 17, 1610. Sailing back across the Atlantic, Hudson resumed his efforts to find the northwest passage. Between Greenland and Labrador, he entered the present-day Hudson Strait and by it reached Hudson Bay. After three months of exploration, the Discovery was caught too far from open sea when winter set in, and in November Hudson’s men were forced to haul it ashore and set up a winter camp. Lacking food or supplies, the expedition greatly suffered in the extreme cold. Many of the crew held Hudson responsible for their misfortune, and on June 22, 1611, with the coming of summer, they mutinied against him. The Discovery later returned to England, and its crew was arrested for the mutiny. Although Henry Hudson was never seen again, his discoveries gave England its claim to the rich Hudson Bay region.)
* On This Day – History, Film, Music and Sport http://www.onthisday.com/
* This Day In History – What Happened Today http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/
* Royal Museums Greenwich http://www.rmg.co.uk/royal-observatory/history