On the 12th August 1865 Joseph Lister carried out the world’s first antiseptic surgery using the chemical phenol, otherwise known as carbolic acid. Lister is remembered among the greats of medical science for being the first person to identify the link between clean hospital conditions and infection rates.
To understand the importance of Lister’s achievement, it’s important to remember that in the 19th Century up to 50% of all hospital patients died of infection. This often occurred after surgery, during which time patients developed ‘ward fever’ – a non-specific range of secondary infections caused through poor hospital hygiene where surgeons weren’t required to wash their hands or even their stained operating gowns.
Having read the work of the Frenchman Louis Pasteur regarding the spread and growth of bacteria, Lister became interested in finding a way to remove infection-causing micro-organisms from hospitals. Germ theory of disease was only just becoming more widely accepted, but after discovering that carbolic acid, now referred to as phenol, had successfully been used to reduce the smell of raw sewage Lister began experiments using it as what became termed an ‘antiseptic’.
On the 12th August Lister used a piece of lint covered in carbolic acid to cover the compound fracture wound of a seven-year-old boy, and found that over a period of six weeks the wound healed without developing gangrene. Developments in surgical hygiene followed. As well as surgeons wearing gloves, they began to wash their hands in carbolic acid, as well as washing their instruments in Lister’s 5% solution and spraying it liberally around the operating theatre.
RAF Flight Officer T. D. Dean became the first Allied jet pilot to achieve a combat victory when he ‘tipped’ a Nazi German V-1 ‘doodlebug’ flying bomb with his Gloster Meteor jet fighter.
The V-1 was specifically designed for terror bombing civilians, and had first been used on 13 June 1944. The RAF began to investigate ways to intercept and destroy the Nazis’ new weapon, and soon found that they could be tipped over by positioning an aircraft’s wing to within 6 inches of the V-1’s wing. This manoeuvre used the changing airflow of the interceptor’s wing to force the V-1 upwards, confusing the flying bomb’s gyroscope and resulting in it diving into the ground before reaching its target. The first aerodynamic flip manoeuvre was performed by Major R. E. Turner on 18 June, using a North American P-51 Mustang.
The following month, No. 616 Squadron of the RAF received the first ever Gloster Meteor jet planes. This new aircraft, equipped with Sir Frank Whittle’s revolutionary turbojet engines, could reach speeds in excess of 400 miles per hour and placed it well within reach of the average speed of a V-1. The hope was that the new Meteors would be able to shoot the flying bombs down using their 20mm cannons, but the guns had a habit of jamming.
On 4 August Flight Officer T. D. Dean experienced a problem with his Meteor’s cannons as he approached a V-1. He consequently resorted to the tipping manoeuvre and successfully sent the bomb off course. It is believed to have crashed on farmland near Headcorn in Kent, where shrapnel said to be from the explosion can be detected deep inside the trunk of a nearby oak tree. The destruction of this V-1 marked the first ever ‘kill’ for an RAF jet plane.
Napoleon granted a patent for the Pyréolophore to Nicéphore Niépce and his brother Claude.
Nicéphore Niépce had fled France during the Revolution as he was the son of a wealthy lawyer who was suspected of having royalist sympathies. He later returned to France where he served in Napoleon’s army before resigning on health grounds and becoming the Administrator of the district of Nice.
By 1801 Niépce and his older brother Claude had returned to manage the family’s estate while conducting scientific research. It was here that they developed their internal combustion engine, which harnessed the power of hot air expanding during an explosion. Their first fuel was lycopodium powder, made of dried plant spores, which was ignited inside the airtight copper machine.
The brothers presented their internal combustion engine in a paper to the French National Commission of the Academy of Science in 1806. However, the engine’s major test came in 1807 when it was installed on a boat on the river Saône. Small amounts of fuel were released into a jet of air provided by mechanical bellows inside the machine. The pressure of the explosion forced water out of an exhaust pipe protruding from the boat’s rear. This in turn propelled the boat forward in short bursts, and successfully moved it upstream against the flow of the river.
Following the successful boat test, Napoleon granted a patent to the brothers. However, despite experiments with other fuel sources, they struggled to find a commercial use for their invention. Nicéphore instead turned his attention to photography, and became the first person to produce a permanent photographic image.
The Islamic calendar was dated to start with the first new moon after the Prophet Muhammad and his followers migrated to Medina.
The calendar begins with the Prophet’s Flight as this is a key event in Islamic history for which all early followers could agree on the specific date. There was disagreement over the exact date of other events, such as the birth of the Prophet or when he first received the Divine message.
Known as the Hijra the Prophet Muhammad led his followers from Mecca to Medina, which at the time was called Yathrib, due to rumours of an assassination plot against him. Despite the migration taking place in 622, this year was only set as the start of the Islamic calendar by the Caliph Umar in 638 due to the pressing need to have a formalised dating system to improve administration. Until then the Muslim community had identified years according to a key event that took place within it – such as ‘the year of permission’.
While the Islamic calendar is linked to the Hijra, the actual start date is based on the beginning of the month of Muharram in the year of the Prophet’s arrival in Medina. This lunar month was already important to pre-Islamic Arabs and so served as a sensible demarcation, especially as it had been named by Allah in the Quran as one of the four sacred months.
16 July 622 was only identified on the Western Julian calendar during the medieval period. Muslim astronomers created a tabular Islamic calendar that they then projected backwards to identify the equivalent date on the Julian calendar. A tabular Islamic calendar relies on arithmetical rules to determine the length of the months, rather than astronomical calculations. Lunar observations are still used to specify the correct date of Islamic holidays and rituals.
Walter Haut, the public information officer of the Roswell Army Air Field, issued a press release saying that the military had recovered the remains of a ‘flying disc.’
On 14 June, J.B. Foster ranch foreman William Brazel found a ‘large area of bright wreckage made up of rubber strips, tinfoil, a rather tough paper and sticks’. Thinking little of it, he didn’t collect the debris until 4 July and only informed the local Sheriff on 7 July after hearing reports of ‘flying discs’.
Sheriff Wilcox immediately contacted Major Jesse Marcel at the Roswell Army Air Field. An officer from the base soon visited the site from where the debris had been recovered and retrieved some other small pieces. Marcel took the fragments back to Roswell Army Air Field from where it was soon sent to Fort Worth Army Air Field.
In the meantime, the RAAF issued the press release detailing the recovery of the ‘flying disc’. The local newspaper, the Roswell Daily Record, featured the story on their front page in what is believed to be the first use of the term ‘flying saucer’. On the same day an FBI telex from Fort Worth stated that the object resembled ‘a high altitude weather balloon with a radar reflector’. This led to less sensationalist newspaper reports the next day.
Interest in the Roswell discovery subsided until UFO researchers in the late 1970s began interviewing people who claimed to have connections with the 1947 events. Numerous books followed, to which the Air Force responded by releasing two reports beginning with The Roswell Report: Fact vs. Fiction in the New Mexico Desert in 1994. These concluded that the debris was from Project Mogul, a top secret project by the US Army Air Force, which was designed to detect Soviet atomic bomb tests.
The world speed record for locomotives – steam trains – was set on the 3rd July 1938 by Number 4468 Mallard. Built at the Doncaster railway works of the London and North Eastern Railway in England just four months before its record-setting journey, Mallard was retired in 1963. Despite being restored to working order in the 1980s, it’s now a static exhibit at the National Railway Museum in York.
Mallard set the record of 125.88mph on a stretch of slightly downhill railway track at Stoke Band, south of the town of Grantham. The A4 Pacific Class locomotives, of which Mallard was one of thirty-five, were specifically designed to haul the high-speed Silver Jubilee train from London King’s Cross to Newcastle. The designer, famed steam locomotive engineer Sir Nigel Gresley, streamlined the body of the locomotive to improve its aerodynamic performance through testing and refinement in a wind tunnel.
Mallard was pulling a dynamometer car fitted with various measurement instruments, along with six regular coaches, when it momentarily hit its maximum speed. However shortly after doing so the “stink bomb” fitted in the big end bearing of the middle cylinder was released, indicating that the bearing had overheated. Consequently the remainder of Mallard’s record-setting journey was completed in a damaged state at very low speed.
Mallard continues to be an iconic locomotive for steam enthusiasts, but also gained enormous exposure during the Britpop era in the 1990s when a painting of it by the artist Paul Gribble was chosen to be the cover image for Blur’s 1993 album Modern Life is Rubbish.
The 29th June 2008 shaped the technological landscape we live in today, when Apple released the very first iPhone. Regular listeners may wonder why I’m dedicating an episode of HistoryPod to an event that only took place 8 years ago, but the impact of the iPhone on society was enormous.
Although smartphones had existed before the arrival of the iPhone, they were targeted at business users. This changed when the iPhone came along with its large capacitive touchscreen instead of a bulky keyboard or stylus. Furthermore, users could install software onto their device from the App Store, which went live just a few months later.
The first iPhone required a data subscription, meaning that the device also changed the way that people interacted with both information and other people. 24/7 access to data sped up the reporting of news as people were able to share large videos and still images directly from their phone. Camera phones had existed previously, but direct access to the internet meant that files were much easier to share. Furthermore, the ability to install social media apps – and use them anywhere at any time – had a dramatic effect on the way people began to communicate.
This may all sound rather exaggerated, but a number of studies have shown that a number of cultural and social changes can be directly traced back to the launch of the iPhone. I’ll leave you with just one example. Consider that without smartphones the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, which was organised and then shared through mobile social media, might never have happened.
Sharon Buchanan, a cashier at the Marsh supermarket in Troy, Ohio, scanned the world’s first Universal Product Code (better known as a barcode) on a 10-pack of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit gum.
Bernard Silver and Norman Joseph Woodland had patented a bullseye shaped machine-readable code in 1949, but the UPC that was adopted by the Ad Hoc Committee of the Universal Product Identification Code was developed by a team of IBM engineers under George Laurer. The standard rectangular design measures approximately 1.5” x 0.9” and is made up of black bars and white spaces that represent a sequence of numbers unique to the item it is printed on.
The code was to be read by a scanner using a laser beam as a source of light. The black bars would absorb light, while the white space reflected it back to the scanner. The intensity of the reflected light would then be read, and the unique pattern would be deciphered by a computer that would provide pricing information and adjust the stock database to reflect the sale. Such equipment was costly, however, and this meant that the UPC was not widely used by retailers until the 1980s.
The checkout equipment used for the first reading of a UPC was built and installed by National Cash Register, a company that was based in Ohio. The selection of a packet of Wrigley’s gum by the first customer, Clyde Dawson from the research and development department of Marsh Supermarket, was not a coincidence. Despite having many other items in his basket he picked the chewing gum to demonstrate that it was possible to print a barcode on small items. One of the Juicy Fruit packets from the supermarket is now held by the Smithsonian Museum.
Alexis St. Martin, who had been shot in the stomach, was first treated by US Army surgeon William Beaumont who became known as the ‘Father of Gastric Physiology’.
St. Martin was a French-Canadian voyageur who was employed by the American Fur Company to transport furs in large cargo canoes. While visiting the company’s store on Mackinac Island in Michigan, he was accidentally shot at close range with a shotgun that had been loaded with lead pellets for hunting ducks.
The surgeon from the local US Army fort was called to treat the injured man, whom it was assumed would die of the horrific effects of the gunshot. A large cavity had been opened in his side, his ribs were fractured, and there was a hole in his stomach. However, despite the dire diagnosis St. Martin slowly recovered. The one key reminder of the accident was that the hole in his stomach had attached itself to the hole in his body, leaving a direct route into his stomach from the outside.
Known as a permanent gastric fistula, the direct access to St. Martin’s stomach led Dr Beaumont to contract the illiterate voyageur as his servant and medical test subject. Beaumont’s experiments, which often involved the observation of pieces of food that had been tied to string and inserted directly into his subject’s stomach, led to enormous advances in the scientific understanding of digestion.
Beaumont’s decision to keep the hole open, rather than perform surgery to close it, raised very few ethical questions at the time. The doctor actually gained enormous prestige from his research, which he published in his book Experiments and Observations on the Gastric Juice and the Physiology of Digestion. His subject, St. Martin, later returned to Canada where he died naturally in 1880.
On the 14th May 1796, English physician and scientist Edward Jenner purposefully infected 8-year James Phipps with cowpox. Rather than committing an act of gross medical negligence, Jenner was actually scientifically testing – and proving – that infection with the mild disease of cowpox gave immunity to smallpox.
By modern estimates, smallpox was killing up to 400,000 people a year across Europe by the end of the 18th Century. It is also known to have devastated the leaders of the royal families of Austria, Spain, Russia, Sweden and France. Attempts to reduce the impact of the disease were already well established. The process of smallpox inoculation, also known as variolation, involved purposely infecting a person with the smallpox disease using fluid from pustules on an already-affected patient. Although this was less risky than contracting the disease naturally, it was still a dangerous process. Therefore the ability to prevent smallpox using a safer alternative was highly desirable.
Jenner’s process was a medical revolution, although contrary to popular belief he was not the first person to link infection with cowpox to immunity to smallpox. For example Dr John Fewsty presented a paper called “Cowpox and its ability to prevent smallpox” to the Medical Society of London in 1765, 31 years before Jenner’s experiment. However, Fewsty never published his paper, and did not carry out any experiments to prove the connection. Therefore Jenner who conducted, recorded, and published a methodical scientific process is credited with the discovery of vaccination.