Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Rockets and Bombs

The rocket's red glare, mentioned in "The Star Spangled Banner", resulted from the  explosion of 600 to 700 thirty-two pound Congreve incendiary rockets, fired at Fort McHenry by HMS Erebus. Due to withering American fire, the ship was forced to stay beyond the range of the fort's cannon. At that range, not many of the rockets reached their mark.

The bombs bursting in air were 13 inch and 10 inch explosive hollow iron balls, packed with gunpowder, weighing up to 200 pounds, fired by mortars. One bomb scored a direct hit on the powder magazine of Fort McHenry but failed to explode, saving the fort. During the 25 hour bombardment, between 1,200 and 1,800 rounds were fired on Fort McHenry by a British fleet of 19 ships.

Fort McHenry is a star fort, designed to withstand bombardment. Constructed with low walls, shielded by ditches to prevent direct fire reaching the walls, and walls topped by earthen fill to absorb the shock of descending missiles. Projections, called bastions, better position cannon to protect fort walls with crossfire, giving a star fort its star-like shape.
By a Mile

Have you ever wondered why a mile has such an odd number of feet--5,280 feet? The answer is it didn't start that way but gained some length in translation. 

To the Romans, a mile was 1,000 paces by a soldier or 5,000 feet. Now that is a nice round number that is easy to remember. The word mile comes from the Latin word for thousand.

The English mile ended up longer because of changes made to the length of rods, used to measure distances by surveyors, by Henry VIII in order to increase taxes. Lots of surveying took place in England after Henry VIII seized the lands of the Catholic church and sold them off. The English mile became equivalent to 8 furlongs, a rather English measure of distance equal to the length of furrow a horse could plow before needing to rest, with 40 rods per furlong, and 16.5 feet per rod, making the mile equal to the unlikely less than round number of 5,280 feet.
The Truth is Stranger than Fiction

Many technological innovations happened far sooner than you might think. Did you know that the first submarine attack in history took place during the Revolutionary War when the Turtle unsuccessfully attempted to sink British ships in New York harbor? Did you know that the first aircraft carrier served during the Civil War when a converted coal barge was a support and transportation vessel for aerial reconnaissance hot-air balloons used by the North? 
Top Secret in Your Kitchen

Did you know that one of your kitchen appliances is based on a technical development that was one of the greatest secrets of WWII? Your microwave is based on the same invention that is the heart of Radar. After the original breakthrough by British scientists, the invention was carried, in absolute secrecy, by destroyer across the Atlantic . The Americans took over further development of radar at Loomis Labs in Tuxedo Park, NY. Radar was instrumental in winning WWII.
Dollar for Dollar 

The word dollar was devised by the first secretary of the treasury Alexander Hamilton. He wanted the currency of our new nation to have a name that conveyed a sense of being sound. He pondered the two most trusted currencies--the thaler, a coin minted from silver dug in Bohemian mines, and Spanish doubloons, struck in silver from the massive mine at Potosi, Bolivia--coining the new word dollar.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Yes, We Have No Bananas

The sweet yellow banana found in our super markets is the descendant of a mutant plant that was found growing in a Jamaican plantain field, in 1836. The new banana could be eaten without cooking. Jean Francois Poujot, the owner of the field, quickly began propagating the new banana.

The new banana strain grew in popularity. It was a favorite at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, selling for a hefty ten cents each.

Romans ate bananas, but they were lost to Europe when trade with Africa collapsed with the fall of the Roman Empire. Bananas were one of the things that 15th Century Portuguese explores brought back to Europe, reestablishing the African trade in bananas. Soon they were being cultivated in the New World.

All the banana's in the supermarket are of one strain--the Cavendish. The 1923 song, "Yes, We have No Bananas" was written when the Gos Michel (Big Mike) banana was being lost to a fungus that spread through the worldwide mono-culture fields of the Gros Michel. The same fungus, the Panama Disease, is now destroying the Cavendish fields. The fate of the banana is yet to be known. Will science win this round or will it once again be "Yes, We Have No Bananas."

Friday, September 14, 2012

GI Joe & The Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich

Did you know that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches served on machine sliced bread was a staple of WWII military meals? It provided a fast and nutritious meal, with a sugar boost, in cold camps. Many of the soldiers liked the sandwiches so much that they continued eating them when they returned to the states after the war.

Next time you have a PB&J sandwich, take a bite as a salute to the men who served as WWII soldiers.