Tag Archives: William Tell

Fun Facts for November 18th…

It’s another slow day, so I’ve dipped into the Today in History site for your amusement:

1. “Just Hold Still, Son!”  It was on this day in 1307 that renowned crossbow marksman, William Tell, is said to have shot an apple off his son Walter’s head in what is now Switzerland.  Bill didn’t just get up one morning with a bizarre idea…he was forced to perform the stunt because he refused to acknowledge the superiority of the new “big cheese” who’d rolled into town, Austrian Albrecht Gessler.  If Tell failed, both he and his son would be executed.  Luckily for Walter, his dad didn’t choke under pressure.  Gessler noticed that William had removed two arrows from his pouch before shooting, and inquired as to the reason.  Tell informed Gessler that if his son had perished, the second arrow was for Gessler himself.  The dictator took that rather badly, and tied Tell up, ordering his men to put Tell on the ship bound for Gessler’s castle at Kussnacht.  Long story short: Tell escaped, and shot Gessler on his return home.  Karma’s a bitch!

Statue depicting William and Walter Tell...

2. Caxton Makes History.  In 1477, Dictes and Sayengis of the Phylosophers became the first dated book to be printed in England.  Produced by English publisher, William Caxton, the incunabulum (an early book that every bookseller wants a copy of) was the “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations” of the 15th century, and was translated from the French Dits Moraulx des Philosophes’.  There was no Spellcheck on Caxton’s equipment at the time…

Colophon of William Caxton, 1477...this would have been at the beginning of the book...pretty, isn't it?

3. “Agitate-Educate-Legislate”.  These were the early watchwords of the National Woman’s Christian Temperance Union when it was formed on this day in Cleveland in 1874.  Annie Turner Wittenmyer was the group’s first president, serving from 1874-1879.  Originally, the WCTU’s purpose was to stamp out use of the “demon rum”, but it soon began advocating for women’s suffrage and other non-temperance issues like prison reform, vocational schools, and free kindergarten.  Still in existence today, the WCTU claims to be “the oldest, voluntary, non-sectarian woman’s organization in continuous existence in the world.”  Without them, we would still be working 12-hour days, and women might still be wearing skirts with petticoats!

WCTU Logo...

4. “What time is it?”  It was due to a proposal by Scottish-born Canadian engineer, Sandford Fleming, that Canada adopted Standard Time on this date in 1883.  After missing a train in Ireland in 1876 due to a misprint in the schedule which listed “p.m.” instead of “a.m.”, Fleming suggested a 24-hour clock for the entire world, linked to the anti-meridian of Greenwich…standard time zones could be used locally, but his “Cosmic Time” would be supreme.  By 1929, most of the major countries in the world had accepted time zones.  In his spare time, Fleming designed Canada’s first postage stamp, the Threepenny Beaver; engineered much of the Intercolonial Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway; founded the Royal Canadian Institute, a science organization in Toronto; advocated for the construction of a submarine telegraph cable connecting the entire British Empire; and was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1897.

Globe used by Fleming to illustrate the principle of Standard Time...letters indicate the meridians...

5. Not your average bear.  In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt was being raked over the coals by the media for his inability to bag a bear on a hunting trip.  On the last day of the hunt, one of his companions caught a bear cub, and tied it to a tree so that the President could shoot it and redeem his reputation as a great hunter.  Roosevelt refused to kill the bear, saying that he took no pleasure in harming a creature which clearly had no sporting chance of defending itself.  Cartoonist Clifford Berryman published a cartoon showing Roosevelt turning his back on the tied bear, and walking away.  A couple named Rose and Morris Michtom, who ran a small store selling notions, candy, and stuffed toys in Brooklyn, New York, saw the cartoon in the paper.  Impressed with the President’s restraint, Morris suggested that Rose sew a bear like the one in the cartoon.  The finished bear was made of velvet, and had shoe buttons for eyes.  Morris displayed it in the shop window with a label: “Teddy’s bear.”  More than a dozen people wanted to buy it, so the Michtoms mailed the original bear to the White House for Roosevelt’s children, and asked for permission to use the President’s name.  He agreed, and soon the Michtoms couldn’t keep up with the demand for Teddy Bears!  Roosevelt and the Republican Party adopted it as their symbol in the election of 1904, and Michtom bears were on display at every public White House function.  The Michtoms went on to found Ideal Toys, and the humble Jewish-Russian immigrants realized the American Dream!

The original "Teddy Bear" which is now on display at the Smithsonian...

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