On 15th April 1755, Samuel Johnson published “A Dictionary of the English Language” in London. Johnson was not the first to write a dictionary, but his was the most comprehensive and detailed to date. The finished book contained 42,773 words, each of which featured notes on each word’s usage. Perhaps most astounding is the fact that Johnson wrote the entire dictionary himself, taking 9 years to do so, and earning the modern
equivalent of £210,000 British pounds for his efforts.
Johnson’s book was by no means the first dictionary to be produced – as far as we’re aware that accolade goes to Sir Thomas Elyot, who was the first to publish a book called a Dictionary in 1538 while working for Henry VIII. However, it’s generally accepted that Johnson’s dictionary was the ‘go to’ reference for the English language until the publication of the first Oxford English Dictionary in 1888 – 173 years after Johnson published his.
Despite the impact of Johnson’s dictionary, it would be fair to say that it created a number of problems that the modern English language has inherited. His spellings have become standard, despite them having a number of inconsistencies. However, as Johnson himself wrote in a letter to an Italian lexicographer in 1784, “Dictionaries are like watches: the worst is better than none, and the best cannot be expected to go quite true.”
Times Square in New York was given its name shortly after the offices of The New York Times moved to the area.
Having once belonged to the prominent real estate investor John Jacob Astor, the second half of the 19th century saw the area around the modern Times Square become the centre of the New York carriage business. The establishment of the American Horse Exchange by the prominent businessman William Henry Vanderbilt fuelled this development which led to the area being named Longacre Square after London’s carriage district which centred on Long Acre.
While the late 1800s saw the area develop a reputation as a red light district, the arrival of electricity attracted the impresario Oscar Hammerstein I who opened a huge theatre complex called the Olympia in 1895. Although the nearby Empire Theatre had opened two years earlier, the imposing Olympia contributed to a change in the economic makeup of Longacre that coincided with the arrival of New York’s first rapid transit system.
Easy access to middle- and upper-class restaurant and theatre goers, alongside the fast distribution network provided by the new Interborough Rapid Transit line, persuaded Adolph S. Ochs of The New York Times to move his newspaper’s headquarters to the area at the start of the 20th century. Having chosen a prime piece of land he built the Times Tower, the second tallest building in the city at the time, with its basement containing the printing presses right next door to the new subway line.
To coincide with the arrival of the newspaper, Mayor George B. McClellan Jr. approved a resolution to change the name from Longacre Square to Times Square. Even after the newspaper moved offices the name stayed, as did the neon lights and millions of visitors.
Put on for an audience of 200 invited attendees at the “Society for the Development of the National Industry”, the reaction to the moving black-and-white pictures caught the brothers by surprise. They had attended the conference to share Louis’ recent work on colour photography and only showed the 45-second film La Sortie des Usines Lumière (Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory), as a novelty after Louis’ lecture.
The machine used to project the film had been patented by the brothers the previous month. Their father owned a photographic materials factory in Lyon and told his sons about the Edison kinetoscope that he had seen in Paris in 1894. Inspired by their father’s enthusiasm they invented the Cinématographe which combined a camera, developer and projector into a single unit. Its drive mechanism was based on the “presser foot” used in sewing machines, and used a clawed gear to engage with perforations in the side of a roll of film. As the gear rotated, individual frames moved in front of the lens to capture the moving image at a rate of 12 frames every second. The same mechanism could later be used to project the captured images.
The positive reception to the first film screening led the brothers to refine their invention and, on 28 December 1895, they staged their first public show at the Grand Café in Paris. Within less than a decade, however, the brothers withdrew from the motion picture industry and instead turned their attention to the development of colour photography, a technology that they went on to dominate for a number of years with their Autochrome process.
On the 19th March 1962, American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan released his eponymous debut album.
Dylan had arrived in New York from Minnesota the previous year, but had quickly worked his way into the coffee houses and folk clubs of Greenwich Village. It was here that he became known to established folk singer Carolyn Hester who invited him to join her as a harmonica player. While rehearsing in her apartment in September, Dylan met Columbia Records’ talent scout John H. Hammond who stated he decided to sign Dylan “on the spot” although in reality the contract wasn’t finalised until the end of October.
The album was recorded over six hours of sessions on the 20th to the 22nd of November. Legend has it that the album cost $402 to produce, but this figure was only stated as a joke by John Hammond – the true cost is unknown. Although there were a couple of false starts, five of the final recordings were the first take as Dylan refused requests to do a second.
Only two tracks on Dylan’s debut album were his own compositions and it failed to hit the Billboard 100, selling less than 5,000 copies in its first year and earning Dylan the nickname “Hammond’s Folly” from record executives. Despite this set-back, however, he returned to the studio shortly after the release of his first album to begin work on his second, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, which consisted almost entirely of original songs. Opening with the now-classic Blowin’ in the Wind, it was this album that established Dylan as one of the greatest songwriters of his generation.
On the 17th March 1766, the first recorded St Patrick’s Day parade took place…in New York. Irish soldiers serving in the British Army led the parade which, due to the high number of Irish immigrants in the city, quickly became an annual tradition. The first parade in Ireland didn’t take place until 1903 in Waterford.
St Patrick was a Romano-British Christian missionary who converted thousands of Irish Pagans before his death in 461. Although he didn’t really rid Ireland of snakes, since Ireland never contained any snakes, he was responsible for driving out Paganism from almost the entire country. The 17th March, the reputed date of St Patrick’s death, was being marked with feasting by the end of the 10th Century. However, it was not officially recognised by the Catholic Church until the early 17th Century.
Within a century, however, Irish immigrants to America had begun to mark the date in their own ways. Significantly, the early settlers were predominantly Protestant and this helps to explain why many St Patrick’s Day celebrations are largely secular in nature as they are associated more with celebrating Irish culture than the Catholic Saint. This also became an official approach of the Irish Government in the mid-1990s, who established the St Patrick’s Festival to showcase Irish culture.
However, the secularisation of St Patrick’s Day has drawn criticism from some Church leaders who have criticised its “mindless alcohol-fuelled revelry”. In the past, pubs and bars in Ireland had actually been required to close on the 17th March due to concerns over excessive drinking. However, that law was repealed in the 1970s.
Gold records were originally presented to artists by their own label, primarily as a form of self-congratulatory publicity. The very first framed gold record of this type was presented to the American bandleader Glenn Miller by RCA Victor in February 1942. This was in recognition of the sale of 1.2 million copies of his single “Chattanooga Choo Choo”. In 1956 Elvis Presley later received a gold record after selling 1 million copies of “Don’t Be Cruel”, but this was again a company award.
The Recording Industry Association of America was formed in 1952 to develop the burgeoning recording industry, and introduced its own industry-wide award program six years later. Issued to recognise any single that sold over a million copies (or an album that achieved one million dollars in sales), the first gold record was awarded to Perry Como for “Catch A Falling Star” that later won him the Grammy Award for Best Male Vocal.
Como had previously awarded the McGuire Sisters with a company gold record on the Gisele MacKenzie Show for their million-selling song Sugartime. He was in turn presented with his RIAA gold record on live television by announcer Frank Gallop who erroneously referred to “Chase a Falling Star” before Como performed a comedy arrangement of the song.
Increasing record sales in the 1970s led to the introduction of the platinum award to recognise singles that sold more than two million units, but the number of required sales was halved in 1989 to its current level of 500,000 for gold and one million for platinum.
Andrew Watson’s father, Peter Miller Watson, was the manager of a sugar plantation in British Guiana while his mother was a local woman called Anna (or Hannah) Rose. Having been born illegitimately, accurate details of Watson’s early life are virtually non-existent. It was only after his father moved the young Andrew and his sister Annetta to Scotland in the early 1860s that any reliable evidence began to appear.
Peter Watson died in 1869 while his son was enrolled at a boarding school in Halifax in West Yorkshire. He and his sister inherited a significant amount of money that secured their financial futures and, after attending King’s College School in Wimbledon, Watson took up a place to study mathematics, engineering and natural philosophy at the University of Glasgow. With his existing interest in football flourishing and, having left university after just one year to take up an engineering apprenticeship, Watson’s talents as a full back saw him join a succession of increasingly bigger clubs.
By 1880 Andrew Watson was playing for Queen’s Park – Britain’s leading team – and the next year he was called up to captain the Scottish national side in a match against England on 12 March 1881. Played at the Oval in London, which currently serves as an international cricket venue, the Scots defeated England by an incredible 6 goals to 1 in a match that is still the heaviest defeat ever suffered by England on home soil. He later moved to London where he became the first black player in the English FA Cup when he joined Swifts in 1882.
On the 23rd February 1455, tradition dictates that Johannes Gutenberg published his printed Bible – the first book to be produced with moveable type in the West. Although there is no definitive evidence for this publication date, numerous secondary sources state it and therefore it is accepted by most people.
Gutenberg was not the first person in the world to use moveable type, and nor was the Bible his first foray into printing with it. He didn’t even produce that many copies, with estimates ranging from 160 to 185 Bibles of which only twenty-three complete copies survive. However, the process with which Gutenberg printed his Bible revolutionised the production of books and is viewed by many as crucial to the developments that followed in the Renaissance and the Reformation.
The earliest examples of moveable type – the use of individual components that can be ordered to produce a printed document – date back to China’s Northern Song Dynasty at the turn of the last millennium, but the enormous number of characters in scripts based on the Chinese writing system made the system unwieldly. Gutenberg therefore benefited from the much smaller number of characters in the Latin alphabet, but also invented a reliable way to cast large numbers of individual metal letters using a device called the hand mould. Furthermore, he developed an oil-based ink that was optimised for metal-type printing onto paper.
With 1,286 pages a complete copy of the Gutenberg Bible is now estimated to be worth up to $35 million dollars, but the value of the printing press itself is immeasurable. Gutenberg’s creation was responsible for an intellectual revolution.
On the 19th February 1985, the BBC’s flagship soap opera EastEnders was broadcast for the first time. Now airing four episodes a week, the series has been broadcast continuously ever since and remains one of the most popular television shows in the United Kingdom.
EastEnders was created by Julia Smith and Tony Holland, a producer and script editing partnership who had previously worked together on long-running police drama Z-Cars. In March 1983 they were asked to come up with a bi-weekly evening television drama by David Reid, the BBC’s Head of Series & Serials, who wanted a new show to run 52 weeks a year.
Smith and Holland were both from London, and opted to set the soap in the East End. They based the original twenty-four characters on their own families and people they had met in London’s ‘real’ East End, and contacted casting agencies in search of actors to fill the roles. Their repeated phone calls asking for ‘real East Enders’ provided Smith with the idea for the show’s name.
The show required a huge set to be built at Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire. Meanwhile, composer Simon May created the now-iconic theme tune. This was to play over an aerial view of London pieced together from 800 separate photographs taken from an aeroplane flying 1000 feet over London.
The show was first broadcast on the 19th February 1985 as part of new BBC One controller Michael Grade’s ‘relaunch’ of the channel. The first episode secured an audience of 17 million, which increased to 23 million by the end of the year.
Samuel Langhorne Clemens, under his pen-name Mark Twain, had previously published the novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in which the character of Huckleberry “Huck” Finn is introduced for the first time. Eight years after its release, the sequel was published in the United Kingdom in December 1884 and was followed by the American version two months later.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which was originally published without the definite article at the start of its title, is set in the antebellum South when the economy was fuelled by plantations using slave labour. The novel follows Huck’s journey down the river Mississippi with Jim, a slave who ran away from his owner Miss Watson.
Notable as one of the first American novels to be written in vernacular English, it is told in the first person by Huck himself. This is said to have revolutionised American literature, with Ernest Hemingway later claiming that “All modern American literature comes from…Huckleberry Finn.”
Despite such later acclaim, the book was greeted with mixed reviews on its release and within just a month it had been banned by the library in Concord, Massachusetts for being “trash…suitable only for the slums.” Other libraries in the late 19th and early 20th century followed suit, and the novel continues to divide opinion due to its frequent use of the n-word and its portrayal of black characters. However, defenders of the book instead interpret Twain’s creation as a masterpiece of American literature that uses satire to present a powerful attack on racism.