1993: Deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases in the United States: diphtheria, 156 in 1953 and none in 1993; whooping cough, 270 in 1953 and one in 1993; tetanus, 337 in 1953 and 11 in 1993; paralytic polio, 1,450 in 1953 and none in 1993.
1992: The Times of India report on 29 April 1966 that Balasaheb Patloji Thorat, from Maharashtra, had won a lawsuit that had dragged on for centuries was incorrect. The dispute had a long history, but a civil suit had only been filed on 8 April 1964. The lawsuit had lasted just over two years, not 761 years.
Source: The Times of India, 18 February 1992
1991: In the space of 70 years, Azerbaijanis had to cope with three major changes to their alphabet, plus a handful of minor alterations. From 1923, the centuries-old Arabic script was replaced by a Latin script; in 1939, Stalin imposed a Cyrillic script; and in 1991, the newly independent state reverted to a Latin script. Azerbaijanis barely had time to become literate in one before they had to learn another.
Source: Azerbaijan International, Spring 2000
1990: Between the end of the Second World War and 1990 the world’s population soared by almost 3 billion. The medical journal The Lancet illustrated the scale of this increase with an analogy: if an atomic bomb with the killing capacity of the one that obliterated Hiroshima had been dropped every day since 6 August 1945, it would have failed to keep pace with the runaway growth in human numbers.
Source: The Lancet, 15 September 1990
1989: Mexico City introduced the Hoy No Circula environmental programme to reduce air pollution. Hoy No Circula prohibited most motor vehicles from the city’s streets on one day a week, based on the last digit of their number plates. Vehicles whose number plates ended in 5 or 6, for example, were banned on Mondays.
This restriction, which was vigorously enforced, applied to 2.3 million vehicles, or 460,000 vehicles on each weekday. Obviously, removing this number of vehicles from circulation cut pollution at a stroke.
1988: In his 1973 book A Random Walk down Wall Street, the American economist Burton Malkiel suggested: “A blindfolded monkey throwing darts at a newspaper’s financial pages could select a portfolio that would do just as well as one carefully selected by experts.”
In 1988, The Wall Street Journal decided to put Malkiel’s theory to the test. A list of stocks was fixed to the office wall and journalists – the next best thing to blindfolded monkeys – picked stocks by flinging darts at the list. Investment professionals, representing the experts, selected their portfolio by more conventional means.
1987: “And he took his staff in his hand, and chose him five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in a shepherd’s bag . . . and his sling was in his hand: and he drew near to the Philistine.”
Three thousand years separated the young shepherd from Arab youths flinging stones at the Israeli Army, but modern Davids were just as particular in their choice of weapon. A German geologist explained: “The young Palestinians have told me that chert is their favourite throwing stone, that it makes the best missile. It’s sharp, hard, and heavy in the hand.”
Sources: I Samuel 17:40; Robert Macfarlane, The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot (2012), p. 229
1986: The explosion of the Chernobyl reactor released 400 times as much radioactive material into the atmosphere as the Hiroshima atomic bomb.
Source: International Atomic Energy Agency, Ten Years after Chernobyl: What Do We Really Know? (1997), p. 8
Q: Which country, in response to a referendum of its citizens, withdrew from the European Community in 1985?
1984: Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean won the ice dancing competition at the Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. Millions of British television viewers cheered them on. I didn’t watch them; I was on board a long-distance bus from Athens to London that was delayed in Yugoslavia by heavy snow. I didn’t know about Torvill and Dean’s victory until the bus reached London. In fact, because I had lived abroad for the previous few years, it was perhaps the first time I had heard their names. They didn’t sound like a pair of ice dancers, I thought, more like a furniture removal firm.
Source: The Times, 15 February 1984
1983: Straying from the usual sentiments of obituary notices in The Times:
JOHN LE MESURIER Wishes it to be
known that he conked out on
November 15th. He sadly misses
family and friends.
Source: The Times, 16 November 1983
1982: In 1530, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V granted the Knights of St John the use of the islands of Malta and Gozo in return for a nominal annual rent of a single live Maltese falcon, a subspecies of peregrine falcon renowned for its hunting skills.
Four centuries later, in The Maltese Falcon, the novelist Dashiell Hammett turned this yearly tribute into a jewel-encrusted statuette, which was pursued by a slippery mix of crooks and private eyes.
The real world was every bit as unsavoury as the fictional world. In 1982, or very soon after, hunters shot the last pair of breeding Maltese falcons on the cliffs of Gozo.
Source: Emma Hartley, Did David Hasselhoff End the Cold War?: 50 Facts You Need to Know: Europe (2007), pp. 105–6
1979: “A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.” Isaac Asimov’s laws of robotics notwithstanding, this year saw the first known killing of a human by a robot. On 25 January, workers at a Ford Motor Company plant in Flat Rock, Michigan, noticed that a robot appeared to be giving incorrect information about the number of parts stored on shelves. When Robert Williams climbed on to a shelf to investigate, he was fatally struck on the head by the robot’s arm.
Source: The New York Times, 11 August 1983
1977: A setback for West German misogynists: husbands lost the legal right to prevent their wives taking paid employment.
Source: John MacInnes, The End of Masculinity: The Confusion of Sexual Genesis and Sexual Difference in Modern Society (1998), p. 51
1976: Additions to the English language in 1976: brain-dead, hit list, pooper-scooper and easy peasy.
Source: John Ayto, Twentieth Century Words (1999), p. 463ff
1975: The third Alternative Miss World contest in London was won by Miss Crêpe Suzette, alias the film-maker Derek Jarman, who wowed the judges with a silver diamanté dress, swimming flippers and a headdress made from a green rubber frog.
Source: Newsweek, 28 April 1975
1974: Over a five-year period, St. Vincent’s Hospital and Medical Center of New York treated 28 patients with foreign bodies lodged in the rectum or with perforations of the colon resulting from “self-administered instrumentation”. Plastic battery-powered vibrators were the instrument of choice; other items used included bottles, bananas, a broom handle and an onion.
Source: Annals of Surgery, November 1976
1973: On 29 November, a commercial aircraft collided with a vulture over Abidjan, the capital of Ivory Coast, at an altitude of more than 11,000 metres. The impact damaged one of the plane’s engines and made a nasty mess of the vulture, a Rüppell’s griffon, but bolstered its reputation as the world’s highest-flying bird.
Source: The Wilson Bulletin, December 1974
1972: “The rhizome [of greater galangal] dyes wool yellow,” remarked G.A.C. Herklots in Vegetables in South-East Asia, “and it is efficacious for all ailments of elephants.”
Source: G.A.C. Herklots, Vegetables in South-East Asia (1972), pp. 485–6
1971: It was the year of the first email address and the first network email message. Computer programmer Ray Tomlinson created the first address, tomlinson@bbn-tenexa, which he then used to send the first message: “QWERTYUIOP” or “TESTING 1 2 3 4” or something similar, Tomlinson vaguely recalled – “the content was insignificant and forgettable”.
1970: “Drink more, eat less,” advised the Russian writer Venedikt Yerofeev. Moscow Stations, his account of a drunken rail trip across the Soviet Union, included recipes for his favourite and most lethal cocktails. Spirit of Geneva: a mixture of Zhiguli beer, spirit varnish, White Lilac toilet water and sock deodorizer. The Tear of a Komsomol Girl: lemonade and mouthwash with smaller quantities of Forest Water eau de Cologne, lavender water, verbena and nail varnish, stirred for 20 minutes with a sprig of honeysuckle. And, “last and best”, Dog’s Giblets: Zhiguli beer and anti-dandruff solution combined with Sadko the Wealthy Guest shampoo, brake fluid, insecticide and superglue.
Source: Venedikt Yerofeev, Moscow Stations (1997), pp. 46–51
1968: The men’s world long jump record was broken on 13 occasions between 1901 and 1967. During that time, athletes extended the record from 7.61 metres to 8.35 metres, an average increment of about 6 centimetres. On 18 October, at the Olympic Games in Mexico City, the American athlete Bob Beamon jumped 8.90 metres, smashing the previous record by 55 centimetres.
1967: Grigori Rasputin was murdered in Petrograd on the night of 29 December 1916. Prince Felix Yusupov and his fellow conspirators poisoned Rasputin with cyanide, shot him four times, clubbed him, kicked him, tied him up and finally pushed him through a hole in the ice on the River Neva.
After the Russian Revolution, Yusupov fled abroad and lived most of the rest of his life in Paris. He died on 27 September 1967 at the age of 80 – unlike Rasputin, from natural causes.
Source: Andrew Cook, To Kill Rasputin: The Life and Death of Grigori Rasputin (2005), p. 226
1966: Charles Whitman, a student at the University of Texas at Austin and a former Marine, confided to the university psychiatrist that he often thought of shooting people from a tower that dominated the campus. Whitman “seemed to be oozing with hostility”, but other students came to the psychiatrist with fantasies about the tower, so he wasn’t unduly concerned.
“I don’t think there is anything particularly wrong about hitting a woman . . . . If a woman is a bitch, or hysterical, or bloody-minded continually, then I’d do it.”SEAN CONNERY REVEALS HIS LOVEY-DOVEY SIDE IN A 1965 PLAYBOY INTERVIEW