It’s Hump Day Wednesday! Did You Know…
* 1672 – Hudson’s Bay Company holds first fur auction at Garraway’s Coffee House in London.
Three hundred and forty-five years ago this month, on May 2, 1670, King Charles II signed an official charter for a commercial enterprise calling itself The Governor and Company of Adventurers of England Trading into Hudson’s Bay. The King granted the Company, whose first investors included the chemist Robert Boyle and the architect Sir Christopher Wren, exclusive rights to trade in the area draining into Hudson Bay, effectively granting them ownership of the land; for the next 200 years, this would make the Hudson’s Bay Company, as it came to be called, the single largest private landowner on the planet.
The Hudson’s Bay Company still exists today, though it has changed from trading furs to operating high-end retail chains in Canada and the US. The head of the company, instead of being called President or CEO, still retains the old title of Governor. It alone has survived among its contemporary trading rivals – the Muscovy Company, the Royal African Company, the East India Company; indeed, the HBC is the oldest corporate entity of its size in the world.
After the English Restoration, Prince Rupert returned to England, serving as an admiral in the Second and Third Anglo-Dutch Wars. He also became involved in politics, serving in the House of Lords as the Duke of Cumberland and as a Privy Councillor, serving on a number of its committees. The official records of these committees show Rupert as an active participant, but the famous diaries of Samuel Pepys, who admittedly did not get along well with the prince, record him as doing little but laughing and swearing. Prince Rupert also became very involved in scientific innovation at this time: he built a laboratory and worked on improving gunpowder and grapeshot. He made significant contributions to metallurgy, finding a vastly improved way to strengthen the metal in fishhooks and creating a new alloy of brass for cannons, now known as Prince’s Metal. He was a founding member of the Royal Society and was an active member, demonstrating the glassblowing curiosity known as the Prince Rupert’s Drop and positing the geometrical puzzle known as Prince Rupert’s Cube.
It was at this same time that Prince Rupert entered a number of historically important business ventures. He was a shareholder in the Royal African Company when it was founded in 1662 and was a founding councilor of the Royal Exchange in 1670. But his biggest investment was in fur trading in Canada. Prince Rupert put up most of the money behind the first ship sent to Hudson Bay, the Nonsuch, in 1669, and the HBC’s first public fur auction in London was held on January 24, 1672, at Garraway’s Coffee House on Change Alley. (Change Alley was a shortcut between the Royal Exchange at Cornhill and the post office on Lombard Street, and so was host to dozens of coffee houses and trading offices. Garraway’s was destroyed along with most of the rest of the alley in a fire in 1748.)
[Coffee houses were such a great success, not least because the Puritan government at the time frowned upon taverns and alehouses as licentious and wicked places where public order was disturbed and people were led into ruin and destruction. Ironically, the coffee houses themselves were soon seen as hothouses of dissent where anyone could voice an opinion and spread rumors. In 1672, Charles II issued A Proclamation to restrain the spreading of false news and licentious talking of matters of State and Government. Coffee houses were particularly mentioned as the places were such anti-government talk was rife and the public was urged to report such discussions. Not that the proclamation had any effect, and in 1674 a similar proclamation had to be published and at the end of 1675 an even more severe one: A proclamation for the suppression of coffee-houses. The coffee house owners obviously feared for their livelihood and used their influence with their patrons, some of whom had great influence at Court, to have the proclamation rescinded.]
Prince Rupert became the first Governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company when it was granted its charter in 1670, a post he held until his death. The Company then named the territory it had been granted “Rupert’s Land”, in his honor.
* 1984 Apple Computer Inc unveils its revolutionary Macintosh personal computer.
Apple has its share of critics, some more legitimate than others. But none can deny its impact on consumer computing long before it brought us the i-Products. Steve Jobs always envisioned a truly “personal” computer, accessible to the average user, and that required an interface built around not textual commands, but a visual desktop where users could interact with aspects of the machine represented by icons. In other words, the world’s first graphical user interface.
On this day, January 24, 1984, Apple debuted its revolutionary Macintosh, the first computer ever to feature a GUI [graphical user interface]. Complete with Adobe systems’ newest acquisition Aldus Pagemaker, it enabled users to create and print documents on their machine for the first time.
True to their visionary form, Apple introduced the Mac in a now-iconic Superbowl television commercial directed by Ridley Scott. In it, a lithe, athletic blond woman hurls a mallet at a screen in front of a mesmerized crowd, a reference to George Orwell’s novel 1984. The stern face on the screen, evoking Orwell’s Big Brother character, talks about a “unification of thoughts,” variously interpreted to represent conventional thinking about computers, or Apple’s then-rival IBM.
* 1908 Boy Scouts movement begins.
On January 24, 1908, the Boy Scouts movement begins in England with the publication of the first installment of Robert Baden-Powell’s Scouting for Boys. The name Baden-Powell was already well known to many English boys, and thousands of them eagerly bought up the handbook. By the end of April, the serialization of Scouting for Boys was completed, and scores of impromptu Boy Scout troops had sprung up across Britain.
In 1900, Baden-Powell became a national hero in Britain for his 217-day defense of Mafeking in the South African War. Soon after, Aids to Scouting, a military field manual he had written for British soldiers in 1899, caught on with a younger audience. Boys loved the lessons on tracking and observation and organized elaborate games using the book. Hearing this, Baden-Powell decided to write a nonmilitary field manual for adolescents that would also emphasize the importance of morality and good deeds.
First, however, he decided to try out some of his ideas on an actual group of boys. On July 25, 1907, he took a diverse group of 21 adolescents to Brownsea Island in Dorsetshire where they set up camp for a fortnight. With the aid of other instructors, he taught the boys about camping, observation, deduction, woodcraft, boating, lifesaving, patriotism, and chivalry. Many of these lessons were learned through inventive games that were very popular with the boys. The first Boy Scouts meeting was a great success.
With the success of Scouting for Boys, Baden-Powell set up a central Boy Scouts office, which registered new Scouts and designed a uniform. By the end of 1908, there were 60,000 Boy Scouts, and troops began springing up in British Commonwealth countries across the globe. In September 1909, the first national Boy Scout meeting was held at the Crystal Palace in London. Ten thousand Scouts showed up, including a group of uniformed girls who called themselves the Girl Scouts. In 1910, Baden-Powell organized the Girl Guides as a separate organization.
The American version of the Boy Scouts has its origins in an event that occurred in London in 1909. Chicago publisher William Boyce was lost in the fog when a Boy Scout came to his aid. After guiding Boyce to his destination, the boy refused a tip, explaining that as a Boy Scout he would not accept payment for doing a good deed. This anonymous gesture inspired Boyce to organize several regional U.S. youth organizations, specifically the Woodcraft Indians and the Sons of Daniel Boone, into the Boy Scouts of America. Incorporated on February 8, 1910, the movement soon spread throughout the country. In 1912, Juliette Gordon Low founded the Girl Scouts of America in Savannah, Georgia.
In 1916, Baden-Powell organized the Wolf Cubs, which caught on as the Cub Scouts in the United States, for boys under the age of 11. Four years later, the first international Boy Scout Jamboree was held in London, and Baden-Powell was acclaimed Chief Scout of the world. He died in 1941.
* 1862 Edith Wharton is born.
On this day in 1862, Edith Wharton is born to an old and wealthy New York family. She grew up in an opulent world where pre-Civil War society tried to keep the nouveau riche at bay. Wharton, expected to become a typical wife, mother, and hostess, instead showed intellectual talent and began to write at an early age. She had begun to fear spinsterhood but then, at age 23, married prominent socialite Edward Wharton-who had neither a profession nor fortune. The match was unhappy and troubled, but the couple did not divorce until 1913. Wharton returned to writing, often dealing with themes of divorce, unhappy marriages, and free-spirited individuals trapped by societal pressures.
Wharton’s 1905 novel, The House of Mirth, told the story of a New York socialite with a strong sense of individuality who cannot adapt to the roles expected of her. The book became a bestseller.
Wharton traveled abroad frequently and after her divorce began writing for women’s magazines. Her novella, Ethan Frome, detailing a New England farmer trapped by the demands of the women in his life, is still one of her best-known works. Her 1920 novel, Age of Innocence, won the Pulitzer. Wharton published numerous other books, but some of her later work suffered from the deadlines and pressures imposed by writing for money. She remained in France during World War I, assisting refugees, and was made a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor in 1916. She published another bestseller, Twilight Sleep, in 1927 and her autobiography, A Backward Glance, in 1934. She died in France in 1937.
* 1967 Aretha Franklin’s career is reborn.
“Respect,” “Chain of Fools,” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” are the passionate, gospel-charged classics with which Aretha Franklin is most closely associated. They were enormous, career-defining hits that earned her universal and eternal acclaim as the Queen of Soul, among other, more formal honors. What some fans may not realize, however, is that when Aretha recorded those hits, she was already 10 years into a professional career that would have been defined very differently had it ended before January 24, 1967. That was the date on which Aretha Franklin’s career was effectively reborn in a historic recording session at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Sheffield, Alabama.
The road to Muscle Shoals led through Columbia Records, where Aretha Franklin languished for six years without a breakthrough hit. Worse than that, Aretha’s recordings from 1960-66 showed almost no hint of her roots in gospel music. Columbia Records was as mainstream as mainstream could get in the 1950s and 60s, and their goal was to cast Aretha as an all-around pop entertainer in the mold of Johnny Mathis. The head of Columbia, Mitch Miller, was the man who nurtured the recording career of Doris Day, who passed on signing Buddy Holly and who led millions of Americans through songs like “Be Kind To Our Web-Footed Friends” on his proto-karaoke television show Sing Along With Mitch. Under Miller’s guidance, the closest Aretha came to pop success was with the song “Rock-A-Bye Your Baby (With A Dixie Melody)” in 1961.
When her contract with Columbia expired, Aretha Franklin made the pivotal decision to sign with Atlantic Records, the label that introduced the world to Ray Charles, Ruth Brown, Big Joe Turner, LaVern Baker and the Drifters. Atlantic’s Jerry Wexler knew the direction he wanted Aretha to go, and he sent her to Sheffield, Alabama, as a first step. It was there that she recorded the blues ballad “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)” backed by the now-legendary Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. With the lush production Columbia had forced upon her stripped away, Aretha Franklin finally began sounding like Aretha Franklin. “They made me sit down at the piano, and the hits came,” Aretha would say years later of the career transformation that began at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios on this day in 1967.
* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology http://canadachannel.ca/todayincanadianhistory/index.php
* 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/