When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

When Grandpa Was a Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

A Popular History of the 20th Century

Population Boom

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

Cutting Air Pollution

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.

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Blindfolded Monkeys

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.

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Weapon Of Choice

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

Furniture Removals

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

Fact And Fiction

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

Killer Robot

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

Foreign Bodies

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

High Altitude

Rüppell’s griffon, photographed by Rodney Campbell

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

Efficacious

Greater galangal, photographed at a Bangkok market by Susan Slater

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

Birth Of Email

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”.

Source: http://openmap.bbn.com/
~tomlinso/
ray/firstemailframe.html

Lethal Cocktails

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

Record Smashed

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.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_
jump_world_record_progression

Natural Causes

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.

Prince Felix Yusupov, photographed in 1914

Source: Andrew Cook, To Kill Rasputin: The Life and Death of Grigori Rasputin (2005), p. 226

Sniper On Campus

Charles Whitman, university student and sniper in the tower

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.

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Cold War Nadir

1961: From an American perspective, the middle of April was one of the lowest points of the Cold War. Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel into space on 12 April, and this Soviet technological and propaganda triumph was followed, five days later, by the military fiasco of the American-backed invasion at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba.

Source: Jamie Doran and Piers Bizony, Starman: The Truth Behind the Legend of Yuri Gagarin (1998), p. 142