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.