This Day in History (2-Feb-1852) – 1st British public men’s toilet opens

Of all the technological feats and wondrous designs to come out of The Great Exhibition of 1851, there is one invention that we still use regularly today without even thinking about its ingenuity, to many, this will, at some stage or other, have been a life-saver. At the Exhibition, a man named George Jennings, a Brighton plumber, installed his so-called ‘Monkey Closets’ in the Retiring Rooms of The Crystal Palace. These ‘Monkey Closets’ caused great excitement as they were the first public toilets anyone had ever seen, and during the exhibition 827,280 visitors paid one penny each to use them. For ‘spending a penny’, they received a clean seat, a towel, a comb and a shoe shine. When the exhibition finished and the Crystal Palace was moved to Sydenham, the toilets were set to be closed down. Jennings, however, persuaded the organisers to keep them open. They agreed, and the penny toilets went on to generate revenue of over £1000 a year.

After the success of Jennings’s Crystal Palace lavatories, public toilets started to appear in the streets, the first of these being at 95, Fleet Street, London, next to the Society of Art on 2nd February 1852, with one for women opening a little later, on the 11th February at 51 Bedford Street, Strand, London. These ‘Public Waiting Rooms’ contained water closets in wooden surrounds. The charge was 2 pence entrance fee and extra for washing or clothes brushes. These new facilities were advertised in The Times and on handbills, distributed around the city.

Public toilets only really became popular after Mr. Thomas Crapper developed some improvements to Jennings’ initial flushing mechanism, which promised “a certain flush with every pull”, these improvements did a lot to increase the popularity of the public toilet. Crapper also developed some other important toilet – related inventions, such as the ballcock. The designers, architects and engineers of the Victorian age built public conveniences to a very high standard. When conveniences were to be above ground, they were built to be aesthetically pleasing, and built with high quality materials such as marble and copper, and furnished with fine ceramics and tiles.



This Day in History (8-Jun-1936) – All India Radio was established

In June 1923 the Radio Club of Bombay made the first ever broadcast in the country. This was followed by the setting up of the Calcutta Radio Club five months later. The Indian Broadcasting Company (IBC) came into being on July 23, 1927, only to face liquidation in less than three years. In April 1930, the Indian Broadcasting Service, under the Department of Industries and Labour, commenced its operations on an experimental basis. On June 8, 1936, the Indian State Broadcasting Service became All India Radio.

When India attained independence, there were six radio stations in India, at Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, Tiruchirapalli and Lucknow. AIR then had a coverage of just 2.5 % of the area and 11% of the population. In 1956 the name AKASHVANI was adopted for the National Broadcaster. The Vividh Bharati Service was launched in 1957 with popular film music as its main component.

The phenomenal growth achieved by All India Radio has made it one of the largest media organisations in the world. With a network of 262 radio stations, AIR today is accessible to almost the entire population of the country and nearly 92% of the total area. A broadcasting giant, AIR today broadcasts in 23 languages and 146 dialects catering to a vast spectrum of socio-economically and culturally diverse populace. Programmes of the External Services Division are broadcast in 11 Indian and 16 foreign languages reaching out to more than 100 countries. These external broadcasts aim to keep the overseas listeners informed about developments in the country and provide a rich fare of entertainment as well.

The News Services Division, of All India Radio broadcasts 647 bulletins daily. AIR operates at present 18 FM stereo channels, called AIR FM Rainbow, targeting the urban audience in a refreshing style of presentation. Four more FM channels called, AIR FM Gold, broadcast composite news and entertainment programmes from Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Mumbai.



This Day in History (31-May-1859) – The Big Ben Is Inaugurated

The Big Ben is the name by which the clock bell of the famous tower clock of London is known. On May 31, 1859, the Big Ben rang out over the Houses of Parliament in Westminster for the first time. Located at the top of the St. Stephen’s Tower, towering at a height of about 320 feet, the Big Ben is perhaps London’s most iconic structure and a symbolic representation of the city across the world. The idea of the Big Ben came about as a prominent feature of the new design for the Palace of Westminster. Sir George Airy, the British royal astronomer, envisioned a tower with a clock which would be used for reference across the city of London. To fashion out exceptionally accurate time mechanism (“correct to within one second per day”).  Most of the city clock-makers found this too much of a challenge.

The clock bell was required to be cast twice. The first bell weighed 16 tons and was cast by John Warner and Sons in 1856. The bell was then hung in the Palace Yard to await completion of the tower. The bell began to crack. In 1858, the bell was recast in the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. George Mears, the master bell-founder and owner of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry undertook the casting himself. This new bell weighed about 13.5 ton but in July 1859 this bell started to crack as well. This time, however, the crack was repaired and a lighter hammer was added. Transportation of this massive bell posed the next big problem. The bell was dragged through by 16 horses, with onlookers crowding around for a closer look. The bell was soon installed and Big Ben first struck its chimes on May 31, 1859. The Big Ben was probably named after Sir Benjamin Hall, First Commissioner for Works.

Even after the infamous bombing of the chamber of the House of Commons during World War II, St. Stephen’s Tower, which housed the Big Ben, remained untouched. Known for its accurate timekeeping, the clock grew in repute. Though the name Big Ben is often used to describe the tower, the clock and the bell but the name was first given to the Great Bell.



This Day in History (7-May-1907) – The First Electric Tramway service commenced in Bombay (Mumbai)

A contract for construction of Tramways was given to Stearns and Kitteredge in 1873. They were to run the lines for 21 years after which electric trams were introduced. The first trams, between Parel and Colaba were drawn by teams of six to eight horses. When the tramways started in 1874, Stearnes and Kitteredge had a stable of 900 horses.

In 1905, a newly formed concern, “The Bombay Electric Supply & Tramways Company Limited” bought the Bombay Tramway Company. The order for the first electric tram-car had been placed with the Brush Electrical Company of London. The vehicle arrived in Mumbai in January 1906 and the first electrically operated tram-car appeared on Mumbai’s roads in 1907. There used to be an Upper Class in the tram-cars; it was removed by September 1909. The passing years aggravated the problem of rush-hour traffic and to ease the situation, double decker trams were introduced in September, 1920.

The night of March 31, 1964 was highly sentimental for lakhs of Mumbaikars as they bid adieu to the trams which had ferried them for 90 years.


This Day in History (6-May-1840) – 1st postage stamps (Penny Black) issued (Great Britain)

Before the use of adhesive paper stamps, letters were hand stamped or postmarked with ink. Postmarks were the invention of Henry Bishop and were at first called ‘Bishop mark’ after the inventor. Bishop marks were first used in 1661 at the London General Post Office. They marked the day and month the letter was mailed. A schoolmaster from England, Rowland Hill invented the adhesive postage stamp in 1837, an act for which he was knighted. Through his efforts the first stamp in the world was issued in England in 1840. Roland Hill also created the first uniform postage rates that were based on weight rather than size.

Earlier the charge was for each sheet of paper that a letter comprised, and for the distance covered. The receiver had to pay and not the sender! So a letter of two pages travelling one hundred miles would cost 18 pence or one shilling and six pence. From 1840 the same letter if it weighed under half an ounce cost the sender just one penny. The  introduction of uniform penny postage resulted in increased trade and prosperity, with more people sending letters, postcards and Christmas cards than ever before.Though uniform rates began in January, the introduction of prepaid stamps and stationery took nearly four more months, becoming valid for postage on May 6, 1840.

Hill chose a printer, the leading security printing firm of Perkins, Bacon & Petch. He also selected a simple design that showed Queen Victoria’s profile. Perkins, Bacon commissioned the artist Henry Corbould to draw her image, basing his work on a medal by William Wyon. Hill chose black ink for the penny stamp, which became known as the Penny Black. For letters just over half an ounce, a two pence value was needed. Hill changed only the stamp color and lettering, creating the Twopenny Blue. The profile of Queen Victoria’s head, remained on all British stamps for the next sixty years. Hill’s stamps made the prepayment of mail postage possible and practical.



This Day in History (9-Mar-1858) – Albert Potts of Philadelphia patents the street mailbox

Before 1847, everyone had to take his or her letters to the post office, pay the postage, and have the postmaster mark each item “paid.” After the introduction of stamps, people wanted a more convenient place to drop-off their mail than the post office. In the 1850s, the Post Office Department began installing collection mailboxes outside of post offices and on street corners in large cities. People can drop their letters in these mailboxes throughout the day, and the postal service collects the accumulated mail at specific times, usually marked on the box. As an alternative to the official Post Office Department, private mail carriers offered courier services and had drop boxes in large cities.

On this day in 1858, Philadelphia iron products manufacturer Albert Potts patented his design for a lamppost mounted collection mailbox. His box was designed to be mounted to a lamppost so people could drop their letters into the box instead of making a special trip to the post office to mail their letters. Potts called his invention a “new and Improved combination of Letter-Box and Lamp-Post for Municipalities.” The bulk of Potts’ brief patent description details how the mailbox should be attached to the lamppost. His hope was not only that the US Post Office Department use these new collection boxes (which they did), but that cities would purchase his company’s lampposts to match (that part of his plan was less successful).

Potts noted that this new type of collection unit would “afford greater facilities to the inhabitants of large cities for the depositing of letters, and … enable the carriers to collect, or the citizens to deposit therein, at any period of time.” The Potts mailbox was the first of the postal system’s street collection mailboxes, but was, even in 1858, too small for the job. Over the next few decades dozens of inventors and designers patented a variety of “new and improved” collection mailboxes, from overwrought, baroque-inspired ornate structures to boxes fitted with complex machinery for customer’s or carrier’s “ease of use.” Few designs made postal officials’ final cut, but they tended to have one thing in common – simpler in design and use.