On the 27th March 1963, Chairman of the British Transport Commission Dr Richard Beeching published his report entitled The Reshaping of British Railways. The first of two documents that outlined his plans for the reduction and restructuring of the British railway network, the subsequent Beeching Cuts resulted in the closure of 2,128 stations, thousands of miles of track, and the loss of up to 70,000 jobs.
By the end of the Second World War, road transport had grown exponentially and many of the nation’s railway lines were in a poor state of repair. In 1948 the railways were nationalised and became British Rail. However, economic recovery and the end of petrol rationing spurred a 10% annual increase in road vehicle mileage through to the 1960s, while railway income slowly fell below operating costs. By 1961 British Rail was operating at a loss of £300,000 per day.
Beeching was drafted in by Prime Minister Harold Macmillan to make the railways profitable. His detailed analysis of rail traffic highlighted stations and lines that ran at a constant loss by raising very little income while their fixed operating costs remained high. He pointed out that stations and railway lines had broadly the same fixed costs whether they saw 1000 passengers a week or 6000.
Beeching’s report therefore recommended that 6,000 out of the existing 18,000 miles of railway line should be closed entirely, while others should only serve freight. Meanwhile 2,363 stations were to close. Not all the recommendations were implemented, but by the early 1970s thousands of miles of line, thousands of stations, and thousands of jobs had been cut.
On the 25th March 1957 the Treaty of Rome, which laid the foundations for the European Economic Community, was signed by Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany. The EEC, sometimes referred to as the Common Market, was formally established on the 1st January 1958 and survived, with some changes under the Maastricht Treaty, until 2009 when it was absorbed into the European Union.
The aim of the EEC was to establish economic integration between its members, such as a common market and customs union. However in reality the EEC operated beyond purely economic issues since it included organisations such as the European Atomic Energy Community that sought to generate and distribute nuclear energy to its member states.
The EEC was preceded by the European Coal and Steel Community, which came into force in 1952. The ECSC sought to amalgamate European coal and steel production in order to reconstruct Europe after the devastation of the Second World War and reduce the threat of a future conflict by establishing mutual economic reliance. Within just three years the idea of a customs union was being discussed, with the 1956 Intergovernmental Conference on the Common Market and Euratom establishing the parameters for the Treaty of Rome.
Over time the EEC expanded its membership with Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom joining in 1973; the 1980s saw the addition of Greece, Spain and Portugal. With the creation of the European Union in 1993 and its absorption of the EEC in 2009 the union currently contains 28 states, the most recent member being Croatia in July 2013.
By the start of the 17th century merchants from the Dutch Republic had begun to undertake voyages to the ‘Spice Islands’ of the Indian Ocean. This put them in direct competition with established traders from other European nations including Portugal and Britain, both of whom had previously dominated the market.
Due to the high risks for individual investors who mounted these individual voyages, the Dutch government supported the creation of a new umbrella company two years after the establishment of the competing English East India Company. The United East India Company combined the various individual business interests into a single entity that was granted a 21-year monopoly on the Dutch spice trade. Consequently the risk to investors was reduced as their individual funds were invested in the entire company’s voyages, meaning that if some ships failed to return they were not completely wiped out. In return investors received an annual dividend of 18%.
Known in the Netherlands as the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, or VOC, the company grew to become arguably the first transnational corporation. Yet by the middle of the 17th century it had begun to function as a state within a state that possessed its own army and political authority. Having usurped both the British and Portuguese competitors in the East Indies, the VOC dominated trade in the Indian and South Pacific Oceans for almost two centuries. During this time it sent almost a million European people to work in the region in almost 5,000 ships, more than the rest of the continent combined.
The economic bubble that is also referred to as the ‘dot-com boom’ was the result of investors speculatively pouring money into the numerous internet companies that were founded in the mid- to late-1990s. The exponential growth witnessed by the stock market was primarily based on overconfidence in new online businesses, many of which had a ‘.com’ suffix.
A large number of these companies raised enormous funds by selling shares in initial public offerings, despite the fact that some of them had not even begun to generate income, let alone make a profit.
Driven by a mixture of private investors and venture capitalists, both of whom hoped to make massive gains from the rapid growth of the internet, the stock value of many of the new dot-com companies increased exponentially. However the party couldn’t last and the market quickly declined after the NASDAQ Composite index, which includes many technology companies, peaked at 5,132.52 during trading on 10 March 2000.
Around this time some of the companies began to report huge losses. This bad news, combined with large sell orders of stocks by some of the larger tech companies, led to panic selling that made the stock market lose 10% of its value within just a few weeks. Without access to previously abundant capital other companies folded, bursting the dot-com bubble.
The dot-com crisis was exacerbated by a stock market downturn following the September 11 attacks in 2001. Yet, despite the broader collapse in the tech sector, a number of companies including Amazon, eBay, and Google, managed to survive and later flourish.
On the 15th February 1971, the United Kingdom and Ireland abandoned their old currency of pounds, shillings and pence and introduced a decimalised system. Thanks to a long transitional period that had been established prior to decimalisation, Decimal Day itself went relatively smoothly while shops continued to accept ‘old money’ for a few weeks afterwards in order to remove old coins from circulation.
Decimalisation wasn’t seriously considered by the British Parliament until the Halsbury Committee presented its report on decimal currency in 1963. The majority of the Commonwealth had either already adopted, or were in the process of adopting, decimal currency and so the time seemed right to reconsider Britain’s own stance. On the 1st March 1966 the Chancellor of the Exchequer, James Callaghan, announced the government’s acceptance of the report’s recommendations and established the Decimal Currency Board.
Although the government didn’t pass the Decimal Currency Act until May 1969, production of the new coins had already begun at the new Royal Mint site in South Wales, which had opened the previous year. The gradual introduction of the new coins began in 1968, with 5p and 10p coins the first to enter circulation. They were exactly the same size and value as the existing one- and two-shilling coins, so ran alongside the old currency as their ‘decimal twins’. The following year the world’s first seven-sided coin was introduced, when the 50p piece replaced the 10-shilling note.
This prior introduction of three of the six new coins, together with an extensive publicity campaign, contributed greatly to the smoothness of Decimal Day when it finally came about in 1971.
France and the United States signed the first two treaties ever negotiated by the American government, and which formally recognised the independence of the United States.
Keen to exact revenge on Britain for the Seven Years’ War, France had begun to send secret military aid to the American Continental Army even before the Continental Congress declared independence. With French finance and equipment coming in through the fictitious Roderigue Hortalez and Company, founding Father John Adams began to draft a possible future treaty with France. Confident of securing a formal alliance with King Louis XVI, the Continental Congress sent a delegation to France under Benjamin Franklin in late 1776.
Franklin first met with the French Foreign Minister, Comte de Vergennes, on 28 December where he sought to obtain further French support for the fledgling American government. However, he struggled to secure a formal alliance due to French concerns over recent British victories in the New York and New Jersey campaign.
The British defeat at the Battle of Saratoga in October the following year caused the French government to reconsider their position and reopen talks with the United States. These negotiations led to the Treaty of Amity and Commerce and the Treaty of Alliance.
Signed in Paris on 6 February 1778, the first of these documents formally recognised the independence of the United States and established a trading relationship that defied the Navigation Acts which had restricted colonial trade to England. The Treaty of Alliance was consequently signed to provide mutual military support in case the Treaty of Amity and Commerce caused Britain to break its existing peace agreement with France and go to war.
The DeLorean DMC-12 sports car was later used as the time machine in Back to the Future.
The DeLorean Motor Company was founded by engineer and automobile executive John DeLorean in 1975. The prototype DeLorean Safety Vehicle was completed in October 1976 with initial investment from celebrities including Johnny Carson and Sammy Davies Jr. Meanwhile DeLorean secured significant financial incentives from the Northern Ireland Development Agency to build the manufacturing plant in Dunmurry, a suburb of Belfast, in an attempt to cut unemployment and curb sectarian violence.
The factory was built in 1978 with production of the car scheduled to begin the following year. Subsequent engineering delays and budget overruns meant that work on the first units didn’t actually begin until 1981. Built by an enthusiastic but largely inexperienced workforce, the first of the distinctively shaped DeLorean DMC-12s was completed on 21 January. Fitted with gull-wing doors and finished with stainless-steel body panels, the car’s appearance was expected to be a unique selling point.
However, by the time the first cars were available a recession had hit the United States that had a devastating effect on new car sales. Combined with mediocre reviews and customer complaints about the quality of the finished vehicles, it’s reported that at least half of the 7,000 cars produced by February 1982 had not been sold.
Although the company limped on for a few more months, the DeLorean Motor Company went bankrupt shortly after its owner was charged by the U.S. government with trafficking cocaine. Although he was later acquitted, DeLorean’s reputation was irreparably damaged.
The first traveller’s cheques, in the form of a ‘circular note’ issued by a bank, went on sale in London.
Devised by the Scottish banker Robert Herries, circular notes were an immediate hit with young British aristocrats who needed to obtain foreign currency while exploring Europe on the Grand Tour. They needed an easy way to access to their British-based wealth, and Herries’ creation provided it.
Having secured the cooperation of a number of continental banks, Herries was able to ensure that his customers could withdraw local currency in more than 80 European cities. The notes were issued against the payment of cash to the bank in London, meaning that the customer was freed from the burden of travelling with gold. Since the notes had to be countersigned by the recipient they also provided much greater security. Any unused notes could be returned to the issuing bank in London and the cash refunded.
A century later, and just two years after the first round-the-world tour, the British company Thomas Cook began issuing their own circular notes to help customers manage the constant change of currencies. This idea was developed further by American Express, who launched the first branded Travelers Cheque in 1891. It is said that the system was developed by American Express employee Marcellus Flemming Berry after the company’s founder, J. C. Fargo, experienced problems obtaining funds on a European trip.
The popularity of traveller’s cheques has declined in recent years due to the creation of pre-paid currency cards alongside debit and credit cards. Yet their fundamental aim remains that same as the circular notes introduced by Robert Herries in 1772. They all allow travellers to access funds while away from home.
The British government had passed the Tea Act seven months earlier on 10 May, partly in an attempt to support the struggling East India Company. The act allowed the company to import tea directly to the colonies, bypassing the middlemen who previously handled overseas tea sales and avoiding the issue of duty and refunds for importing tea into Britain. Tea imported into the colonies would consequently be much cheaper, and allow the East India Company to undercut the price of smuggled Dutch tea.
The problem for settlers in America was that tax was still imposed on tea in a continuation of the three pence duty that came in under the Townshead Acts of 1767. Although tea imported under the new Tea Act would still be cheaper than before, a number of colonists opposed the idea that the British government had the right to impose any tax at all on the colonies. Since they did not elect the British parliament they argued that the new Act violated their right to “no taxation without representation”.
The first shipment of tea to arrive in Boston under the new Act was brought by the Dartmouth in November. Colonialists gathered together by Samuel Adams urged the captain of the ship to sail back to Britain without paying the import duty, but Governor Hutchison refused to allow the ship to leave.
In the meantime two more ships arrived. Unable to resolve the standoff, on the evening of 16 December a group of up to 130 men, some disguised as Mohawk warriors, boarded the three vessels and threw all 342 chests of tea into the water. This act of defiance served as a catalyst for the American Revolution that broke out less than 18 months later.
Every year on the day after the American holiday of Thanksgiving, millions of shoppers head to the stores to take advantage of cut-price deals offered by retailers. The day has become known as Black Friday, but the origin of the name has recently become the focus of viral social media images.
I first noticed an image referring to the origins of the Black Friday name in 2013, as it began to circulate on social media. This image showed an image of a slave market, accompanied by text that claimed the name came from the practice of slave traders selling slaves at a ‘discount’ on this particular day to help plantation owners get all their tasks done before Christmas.
This is false.
Let’s begin by looking at the historical context. Slaves on both sides of the Atlantic were hardly ever referred to as ‘black’ at the time. It’s generally agreed that ‘Negro’ was the generic term applied to Africans by slavers and plantation owners but, despite this generalisation, their records almost always identified a specific ethnicity or tribal group. As uncomfortable as it is to acknowledge it, traders and owners often wanted a particular ‘type’ of slave, so genetics and ancestry were massively important details to record. It therefore made no sense to use the broader term ‘black’ to describe slaves.
So if the term ‘Black Friday’ did not originate in the slave markets, where did it come from? Some claim that the term came from retailers themselves. A widely-accepted explanation is that it is in reference to accounting, marking the day on which retailers begin to show profit for the year – in which their accounts move from being ‘in the red’ to ‘in the black’. However, this explanation doesn’t really begin to appear until the 1980s, by which time the term ‘Black Friday’ had already become associated with the day after Thanksgiving.
Research by the excellent myth-busting website Snopes.com has identified that the earliest known use of the term. According to Snopes, a 1951 article referred to ‘Black Friday’ as the day when loads of employees would phone in sick to nab a cheeky 4-day weekend after the holiday Thanksgiving on the Thursday. However, the term really took off after Philadelphia police began to use it to describe the awful traffic as a result of people heading out to go shopping the day after Thanksgiving, much like Boxing Day sales in the UK. The traffic jams, and the enforced 12-hour shifts for policemen and women are therefore largely held responsible for the nickname.
So…Black Friday is a 20th Century term that was originally used to describe terrible traffic (albeit connected with shopping!)