Fascinating Facts

  • Jonas Salk Dies Today in 1995

    Jonas Edward Salk (October 28, 1914 – June 23, 1995) was an American medical researcher and virologist. He discovered and developed one of the first successful polio vaccines. Born in New York City, he attended New York University School of Medicine, later choosing to do medical research instead of becoming a practicing physician. In 1939, after earning his medical degree, Salk began an internship as a scientist physician at Mount Sinai Hospital.

    Two years later he was granted a fellowship at the University of Michigan, where he would study flu viruses with his mentor Thomas Francis, Jr.

    Until 1955, when the Salk vaccine was introduced, polio was considered one of the most frightening public health problems in the world. In the postwar United States, annual epidemics were increasingly devastating. The 1952 U.S. epidemic was the worst outbreak in the nation’s history. Of nearly 58,000 cases reported that year, 3,145 people died and 21,269 were left with mild to disabling paralysis, with most of its victims being children. The “public reaction was to a plague”, said historian Bill O’Neal.

    “Citizens of urban areas were to be terrified every summer when this frightful visitor returned.” According to a 2009 PBS documentary, “Apart from the atomic bomb, America’s greatest fear was polio.” As a result, scientists were in a frantic race to find a way to prevent or cure the disease. In 1938, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the world’s most recognized victim of the disease, had founded the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (known as March of Dimes Foundationsince 2007), an organization that would fund the development of a vaccine.

    In 1947, Salk accepted an appointment to the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. In 1948, he undertook a project funded by the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis to determine the number of different types of polio virus. Salk saw an opportunity to extend this project towards developing a vaccine against polio, and, together with the skilled research team he assembled, devoted himself to this work for the next seven years. The field trial set up to test the Salk vaccine was, according to O’Neill, “the most elaborate program of its kind in history, involving 20,000 physicians and public health officers, 64,000 school personnel, and 220,000 volunteers.” Over 1,800,000 school children took part in the trial.

    When news of the vaccine’s success was made public on April 12, 1955, Salk was hailed as a “miracle worker” and the day almost became a national holiday. Around the world, an immediate rush to vaccinate began, with countries including Canada, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, West Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Belgium planning to begin polio immunization campaigns using Salk’s vaccine.

    Salk campaigned for mandatory vaccination, claiming that public health should be considered a “moral commitment.”

    His sole focus had been to develop a safe and effective vaccine as rapidly as possible, with no interest in personal profit. When asked who owned the patent to it, Salk said, “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”

    In 1960, he founded the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, which is today a center for medical and scientific research. He continued to conduct research and publish books, including Man Unfolding (1972), The Survival of the Wisest (1973), World Population and Human Values: A New Reality (1981), and Anatomy of Reality: Merging of Intuition and Reason (1983). Salk’s last years were spent searching for a vaccine against HIV. His personal papers are stored at the University of California, San DiegoLibrary.

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  • Happy Birthday to Geronimo, a prominent leader and medicine man from the Bedonkohe band of the Chiricahua Apache tribe

    June 16, 1829 — Geronimo “the one who yawns” (died February 17, 1909) was a prominent leader and medicine man from the Bedonkohe band of the Chiricahua Apache tribe. From 1850 to 1886 Geronimo joined with members of three other Chiricahua Apache bands—the Tchihende, the Tsokanende and the Nednhi—to carry out numerous raids as well as resistance to US and Mexican military campaigns in the northern Mexico states of Chihuahua and Sonora, and in the southwestern American territories of New Mexico and Arizona. (more…)

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  • Happy Birthday to American football coach Vince Lombardi

    Vincent Thomas “Vince” Lombardi (June 11, 1913 – September 3, 1970) was an American football player, coach, and executive in the National Football League (NFL). He is best known as the head coach of the Green Bay Packers during the 1960s, where he led the team to three straight and five total NFL Championships in seven years, in addition to winning the first two Super Bowls following the 1966 and 1967 NFL seasons. The NFL’s Super Bowl trophy is named in his honor.  (more…)

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  • Charles Dickens Dies Today in 1870

    Charles John Huffam Dickens (Feb. 7, 1812 – June 9, 1870) was an English writer and social critic. He created some of the world’s best-known fictional characters and is regarded by many as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. His works enjoyed unprecedented popularity during his lifetime, and by the 20th century, critics and scholars had recognized his literary genius. His novels and short stories remain popular.

    Born in Portsmouth, Dickens left school to work in a factory when his father was incarcerated in a debtors’ prison. Despite his lack of formal education, he edited a weekly journal for 20 years; wrote 15 novels, five novellas, and hundreds of short stories and nonfiction articles; lectured and performed extensively; was an indefatigable letter writer; and campaigned vigorously for children’s rights, education, and social reforms.

    Dickens’s literary success began with the 1836 serial publication of “The Pickwick Papers.” Within a few years he had become an international celebrity, famous for his humor, satire, and keen observation of character and society. His novels, mostly published in monthly or weekly installments, pioneered the series genre — the dominant mode for the publication of novels in the Victorian era.

    The installment format allowed Dickens to evaluate his audience’s reaction, and he often modified his plot and character development based on such feedback. For example, when his wife’s chiropodist expressed distress at the way Miss Mowcher in “David Copperfield” seemed to reflect her disabilities, Dickens improved the character with positive features. His plots were carefully constructed, and he often wove elements from topical events into his narratives.

    Masses of the illiterate poor chipped in ha’pennies to have each new monthly episode read to them, opening up and inspiring a new class of readers.

    Dickens was regarded as the literary colossus of his age.

    His 1843 novella, “A Christmas Carol,” remains popular and continues to inspire adaptations in every artistic genre. “Oliver Twist” and “Great Expectations” are also frequently adapted, and, like many of his novels, evoke images of early Victorian London. His 1859 novel, “A Tale of Two Cities,” set in London and Paris, is his best-known work of historical fiction.

    Dickens’s creative genius has been praised by fellow writers — from Leo Tolstoy to George Orwell and G. K. Chesterton — for its realism, comedy, prose style, unique characterizations, and social criticism. On the other hand, Oscar Wilde, Henry James, and Virginia Woolf complained of a lack of psychological depth, loose writing, and a vein of saccharine sentimentalism.

    The term “Dickensian” is used to describe something reminiscent of Dickens and his writings, such as poor social conditions or comically repulsive characters.

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  • President Ronald Reagan Died Today in 2004

    June 5, 2004 — Ronald Wilson Reagan (February 6, 1911 to June 5, 2004) was an American politician and actor who served as the 40th President of the United States from 1981 to 1989. Before his presidency, he was the 33rd Governor of California, from 1967 to 1975, after a career as a Hollywood actor and union leader. (more…)

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  • Happy Birthday JFK

    John Fitzgerald “Jack” Kennedy (May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963), commonly referred to by his initials JFK, was an American politician who served as the 35th President of the United States from January 1961 until his assassination in November 1963.

    The Cuban Missile Crisis, the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the establishment of the Peace Corps, developments in the Space Race, the building of the Berlin Wall, the Trade Expansion Act to lower tariffs, and the Civil Rights Movement all took place during his presidency. A member of the Democratic Party, his New Frontier domestic program was largely enacted as a memorial to him after his death. Kennedy also established the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963.

    Kennedy’s time in office was marked by high tensions with Communist states. He increased the number of American military advisers in South Vietnam by a factor of 18 over Eisenhower. In Cuba, a failed attempt was made at the Bay of Pigs to overthrow the government of Fidel Castro in April 1961.

    He subsequently rejected plans by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to orchestrate false-flag attacks on American soil in order to gain public approval for a war against Cuba. In October 1962, it was discovered Soviet ballistic missiles had been deployed in Cuba; the resulting period of unease, termed the Cuban Missile Crisis, is seen by many historians as the closest the human race has ever come to nuclear war between nuclear armed belligerents.

    After military service in the United States Naval Reserve in World War II, Kennedy represented Massachusetts’s 11th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1947 to 1953. He was elected subsequently to the U.S. Senate and served as the junior Senator from Massachusetts from 1953 until 1960.

    Kennedy defeated Vice President, and Republican candidate, Richard Nixon in the 1960 U.S. Presidential Election. At age 43, he became the youngest elected president and the second-youngest president (after Theodore Roosevelt, who was 42 when he became president after the assassination of William McKinley). Kennedy was also the first person born in the 20th century to serve as president. To date, Kennedy has been the only Roman Catholic president and the only president to have won a Pulitzer Prize (for his biography Profiles in Courage).

    Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963. Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested that afternoon and determined to have fired shots that hit the President from a sixth floor window of the Texas School Book Depository. Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby fatally shot Oswald two days later in a jail corridor.

    The FBI and the Warren Commission officially concluded that Oswald was the lone assassin, but its report was sharply criticized. The United States House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) agreed that Oswald fired the shots that killed the president, but also concluded that Kennedy was likely assassinated as the result of a conspiracy.

    The majority of Americans alive at the time of the assassination (52% to 29%), and continuing through 2013 (61% to 30%), believed that there was a conspiracy and that Oswald was not the only shooter.

    Since the 1960s, information concerning Kennedy’s private life has come to light, including his health problems and allegations of infidelity. Kennedy continues to rank highly in historians’ polls of U.S. presidents and with the general public. His average approval rating of 70% is the highest of any president in Gallup’s history of systematically measuring job approval.

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  • Barry Goldwater Dies Today in 1998

    Barry Morris Goldwater (January 2, 1909 – May 29, 1998) was an American politician and businessman who was a five-term United States Senator from Arizona (1953–65, 1969–87) and the Republican Party’s nominee for President of the United States in the 1964 election. Despite losing the election by a landslide, Goldwater is the politician most often credited for sparking the resurgence of the American conservative political movement in the 1960s. He also had a substantial impact on the libertarian movement.

    Goldwater rejected the legacy of the New Deal and fought through the conservative coalition against the New Deal coalition. He mobilized a large conservative constituency to win the hard-fought Republican primaries.

    Though raised an Episcopalian, he was the first candidate with ethnically Jewish heritage to be nominated for President by a major American party (his father was Jewish).

    Goldwater’s conservative campaign platform ultimately failed to gain the support of the electorate and he lost the 1964 presidential election to incumbent Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson, bringing down many conservative Republican office-holders as well. Jeff Fishel says, “The conservative faction of the party was on the defensive as a result of the magnitude of the election losses.”

    Goldwater returned to the Senate in 1969, and specialized in defense policy, bringing to the table his experience as a senior officer in the Air Force Reserve. In 1974, as an elder statesman of the party, Goldwater successfully urged President Richard Nixon to resign when evidence of a cover-up in the Watergate scandal became overwhelming and impeachment was imminent.

    By the 1980s, the increasing influence of the Christian right on the Republican Party so conflicted with Goldwater’s views that he became a vocal opponent of the religious right on issues such as abortion, gay rights, and the role of religion in public life. After narrowly winning re-election to the Senate in 1980, he chose not to run for a sixth term in 1986, and was succeeded by fellow Republican John McCain.

    A significant accomplishment in his career was the passage of the Goldwater–Nichols Act of 1986, which restructured the higher levels of the Pentagon by placing the chain of command from the President to the Secretary of Defense directly to the commanders of the Unified Combatant Commands.

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  • Maya Angelou Dies Today in 2014

    Maya Angelou (Marguerite Annie Johnson; April 4, 1928 – May 28, 2014) was an American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist. She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, several books of poetry, and was credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning over 50 years. She received dozens of awards and more than 50 honorary degrees.

    Angelou is best known for her series of seven autobiographies, which focus on her childhood and early adult experiences. The first, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), tells of her life up to the age of 17 and brought her international recognition and acclaim.

    She became a poet and writer after a series of occupations as a young adult, including fry cook, sex worker, nightclub dancer and performer, cast member of the opera Porgy and Bess, coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and journalist in Egypt and Ghana during the decolonization of Africa.

    She was an actor, writer, director, and producer of plays, movies, and public television programs. In 1982, she earned the first lifetime Reynolds Professorship of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She was active in the Civil Rights Movement and worked with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Beginning in the 1990s, she made around 80 appearances a year on the lecture circuit, something she continued into her eighties.

    In 1993, Angelou recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” (1993) at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration, making her the first poet to make an inaugural recitation since Robert Frost at President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961.

    With the publication of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou publicly discussed aspects of her personal life. She was respected as a spokesperson for black people and women, and her works have been considered a defense of black culture. Attempts have been made to ban her books from some U.S. libraries, but her works are widely used in schools and universities worldwide.

    Angelou’s most celebrated works have been labeled as autobiographical fiction, but many critics consider them to be autobiographies. She made a deliberate attempt to challenge the common structure of the autobiography by critiquing, changing, and expanding the genre. Her books center on themes such as racism, identity, family, and travel.

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  • Happy Birthday to American diplomat Henry Kissinger

    Henry Alfred Kissinger (born Heinz Alfred Kissinger on May 27, 1923) is an American diplomat and political scientist. He served as National Security Advisor and later concurrently as United States Secretary of State in the administrations of presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. For his actions negotiating an unsuccessful ceasefire in Vietnam, Kissinger received the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize under controversial circumstances, with two members of the committee resigning in protest. (more…)

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  • Happy Birthday to American essayist, lecturer, and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, born today in 1803

    Ralph Waldo Emerson (May 25, 1803 – April 27, 1882) was an American essayist, lecturer, and poet who led the transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century. He was seen as a champion of individualism and a prescient critic of the countervailing pressures of society, and he disseminated his thoughts through dozens of published essays and more than 1,500 public lectures across the United States.

    Emerson gradually moved away from the religious and social beliefs of his contemporaries, formulating and expressing the philosophy of transcendentalism in his 1836 essay “Nature.” Following this work, he gave a speech entitled “The American Scholar” in 1837, which Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. considered to be America’s “intellectual Declaration of Independence.”

    Emerson wrote most of his important essays as lectures first and then revised them for print. His first two collections of essays, Essays: First Series (1841) and Essays: Second Series (1844), represent the core of his thinking. They include the well-known essays “Self-Reliance”, “The Over-Soul”, “Circles”, “The Poet” and “Experience”. Together with “Nature”, these essays made the decade from the mid-1830s to the mid-1840s Emerson’s most fertile period.

    Emerson wrote on a number of subjects, never espousing fixed philosophical tenets, but developing certain ideas such as individuality, freedom, the ability for humankind to realize almost anything, and the relationship between the soul and the surrounding world. Emerson’s “nature” was more philosophical than naturalistic: “Philosophically considered, the universe is composed of Nature and the Soul”. Emerson is one of several figures who “took a more pantheist or pandeist approach by rejecting views of God as separate from the world.”

    He remains among the linchpins of the American romantic movement, and his work has greatly influenced the thinkers, writers and poets that followed him. When asked to sum up his work, he said his central doctrine was “the infinitude of the private man.”

    Emerson is also well known as a mentor and friend of Henry David Thoreau, a fellow transcendentalist.

    Source: Click here to learn more about Ralph Waldo Emerson.

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  • May 6, 1862 — American essayist, poet, and philosopher Henry David Thoreau dies today

    Henry David Thoreau (July 12, 1817 – May 6, 1862) was an American essayist, poet, philosopher, abolitionist, naturalist, tax resister, development critic, surveyor, and historian.

    A leading transcendentalist, Thoreau is best known for his book “Walden,” a reflection on simple living in natural surroundings, and his essay “Civil Disobedience” (originally published as “Resistance to Civil Government”), an argument for disobedience to an unjust state. (more…)

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  • Happy Birthday Golda Meir, the world’s fourth and only woman to be Prime Minister of Israel

    Golda Meir (May 3, 1898 – December 8, 1978) was an Israeli teacher, kibbutznik, stateswoman and politician and the fourth elected Prime Minister of Israel. Meir was elected Prime Minister of Israel on March 17, 1969, after serving as Minister of Labour and Foreign Minister. The world’s fourth and Israel’s first and only woman to hold such an office, she has been described as the “Iron Lady” of Israeli politics, though her tenure ended before that term was applied to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.  (more…)

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