This Day in History (4-Jan-1847) – Arms Manufacturer Samuel Colt Sells Revolvers to the Texas Rangers

When he was just 15 years old, Samuel Colt decided he needed more adventure than his father’s textile mill offered him. So he signed on a ship as a sailor and went to sea. According to legend, it was while at sea that Samuel Colt developed his idea for a pistol with a revolving cylinder, while watching the ship’s wheel and ship’s capstan. After obtaining revolver patents in Europe and US, he established a factory to manufacture firearms in Paterson, New Jersey, in 1836. But his revolving cartridge firearm was slow to gain acceptance, and the business, Patent Arms Manufacturing, closed down in 1842.

In 1847 Colt rekindled his firearms business when the U.S. Army contacted him to purchase a sizable quantity of his revolvers. His patented revolvers, capable of firing multiple shots in quick succession without reloading, provided a crucial firepower advantage to settlers and soldiers who were expanding the United States westward in the 19th century.  Colt was able to fulfill the government’s request and it was the boost he needed to focus on firearms again.

He opened a facility in England. In 1855, he completed construction of his new Hartford manufacturing plant along the Connecticut River, which was the largest private arms manufacturing facility in the world. Here he implemented new ideas in manufacturing, including the use of interchangeable parts, production lines, and advanced precision machinery. Colt was a masterful marketer and self-promoter who relied on more than just advertisements. He personally commissioned artist George Catlin, famous for his depictions of Native Americans and life in the West, to incorporate Colt revolvers into a dozen paintings, six of which were reproduced as mass-market lithographic prints.  Colt also hired authors to pen stories about his revolvers for magazine features and traveled the world to present heads of state with lavishly engraved, gilded pistols. After Colt presented an Ottoman sultan with a gold revolver, the Turks ordered 5,000 of his pistols.  Colt firearms were known for their high quality and dependability. They were widely used in the Civil War, and the Colt .45 calibre Peacemaker model became synonymous with America’s West.


This Day in History (31-Oct-1517) – Martin Luther Inadvertently Launches the Protestant Reformation with The Ninety-Five Theses

Fifteen centuries after the death of Christ, the Catholic Church had grown to become the most influential organization in Western Europe. A theology professor and Augustinian monk at the University of Wittenberg, Martin Luther, was disillusionised with the abuses of the 16th century Roman Catholic Church. In Luther’s era, indulgences were being sold by the Church to raise money for refurbishing the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome. However Luther firmly believed that salvation is by faith alone. He shifted the course of Christianity with a letter, “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” in Latin, to Archbishop Albert of Mainz on October 31, 1517. The accompanying questions would go on to be known as The Ninety-Five Theses, the seminal document in the Protestant Reformation that fractured the continent along religious lines. Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses brought to light serious issues regarding the nature of belief in Christ. Much of his writing amounts to theological questions about specific practices that seemed to ignore or even counteract the Bible. Fueled by the printing press and a translation into common German by his friends early in 1518, Luther’s ideas had soon made it to towns all over Europe. At the same time, Ulrich Zwingli began attacking the rituals associated with mass from his pulpit in Switzerland.

In early January 1521, Luther was officially excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church. Condemned as a heretic and declared a criminal on May 25th, the court decided to ban Luther’s writings and officially absolved anyone who might kill him of any guilt. Frederick III of Saxony, a friendly leader of the province near the center of the Holy Roman Empire provided protection to Luther. Hiding the monk away in Wartburg Castle, Frederick allowed Luther to continue writing — and the wanted man produced a series of forceful attacks on the practices of the Catholic Church and translated the Bible’s New Testament from its original Greek into German. When he returned to Wittenberg in March 1522, Luther was at the head of a rebellion — alongside John Calvin and Zwingli — that would take centuries to solve and cost countless lives in civil wars and persecution throughout the continent.



This Day in History (19-Oct-1812) – Napoleon Retreats from Russia

Throughout Napoleon’s career as a General, he built a reputation for conceiving ambitious battle plans and somehow managing to pull them off. By 1812, the French Empire had far outgrown the borders that existed when Napoleon took the reins of the army in 1796. On hearing news of revolt in Russia, Napolean built an army of as many as 500,000 men, the largest army in Europe,  and launched forward for a 600-mile march from Poland to Moscow, with supply wagons carrying 30 days of food. Entering Russia Napolean realized that road network was very bad, unlike Europe, causing discomfort on all the fronts.

Knowing his soldiers would be unable to overcome the invaders in direct confrontation, Russian General Mikhail Kutuzov managed to avoid a frontal assault altogether. Acting in a hit-and-run manner while pulling off an organized retreat, his troops burned everything in sight as they slowly pulled within the city of Moscow in early September. Following the Russians through burned out forests, the French would find the land bereft of resources, leaving them hungry and fatigued by the time they made camp. The situation was just as bad for the horses. Grazing along the road or in a meadow was not adequate to maintain a healthy horse. On September 7th, the Russians stepped forward to face the French at the Battle of Borodino, near a village on the outskirts of Moscow. The two armies clashed in a fierce, day-long engagement that left almost 80,000 dead, possibly the bloodiest day Europe has ever seen. Napoleon marched his army in assuming he would find ample supplies and downtrodden citizens. He saw neither as Russians had burned everything and left. After spending four weeks in the city, Napoleon realized he would not be welcoming a Russian party suing for peace. It was also a bone-chilling below zero cold that few had experienced before. The weak soldiers died of winter. Naplean opted to march home. Lumbering to the southwest, the French suddenly found the Russians eager for a fight. Starving and weary, Napoleon’s soldiers were easy targets for relentless attacks. After leading most of his soldiers across the Morava River in modern Slovakia, an impatient Napoleon burned the bridges with some 10,000 waiting to cross. Two months after leaving Moscow, the French army made it to safety on December 14th, with just 100,000 survivors, only 1 in 5 of the men who had left returned.



This Day in History (8-May-1945) – World War II Officially Ends in Europe, Leading to Massive “V-E Day” Celebrations

Following the invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, it seemed as if the Nazi war machine would be nearly unstoppable for almost four years. In battle after battle, Hitler’s soldiers vanquished every foe in front of them in every direction. Early in 1943, the Soviets began to roll the Germans back along the Eastern Front after the Battle of Stalingrad, benefitting from superior manpower and shorter supply lines, not to mention the foolishness of Hitler’s battle plans. By mid-April 1945, the situation was bleak for the Nazis: the Soviets had pushed to within a few dozen miles of Berlin and the Allies were moving rapidly through western Germany.

On April 30th, as the Red Army pelted the German capital, Hitler committed suicide in his personal bunker, leaving Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz to make the decision of when to begin negotiating peace. Seven days later, soldiers of the Third Reich were ordered to put down their weapons and surrender to Allied forces at Reims. On Monday May 7th at 02.41, German General Jodl signed the unconditional surrender document at Reims, France; that formally ended war in Europe. At 19.40 the UK Ministry of Information made a short announcement: “In accordance with arrangements between the three great powers, tomorrow, Tuesday, will be treated as Victory in Europe Day and will be regarded as a holiday.”

After nearly six years at war, Europe was finally able to breathe a collective sigh of relief. Millions of people gathered in cities all over the world to celebrate the defeat of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich. With more than 16 million soldiers and at least 23 million citizens killed in Europe alone — approximately 1 of every 10 people — World War II had taken a tremendous toll. While Europe was awash with street parties and bonfires to celebrate VE Day, thousands of miles away, British and Commonwealth Armed Forces were still fighting in Burma, Singapore and Thailand. Japan finally surrendered on 15 August 1945 – VJ (Victory over Japan) Day.



This Day in History (26-Apr-1986) – Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant (Russia) Experiences a Meltdown

The Chernobyl Power Complex, lying about 130 km north of Kiev, Ukraine, consisted of four nuclear reactors of the RBMK-1000 design. On 25 April, prior to a routine shutdown, the reactor crew at Chernobyl 4 began preparing for a test to determine how long turbines would spin and supply power to the main circulating pumps following a loss of main electrical power supply.  A series of operator actions, including the disabling of automatic shutdown mechanisms, preceded the attempted test early on 26 April. By the time that the operator moved to shut down the reactor, the reactor was in an extremely unstable condition. The crew initiated an emergency shutdown in response. However the amount of power generated actually rocketed up and blew the seals on the reactor vessel.

Firefighters were on the scene within minutes to contain the blaze, with additional ground teams and helicopters arriving from as far away as Kiev in two hours. By 6:35am, the external fires were extinguished and only the inferno inside Unit 4 continued to burn, as it would for another two weeks. From the second to tenth day after the accident, some 5000 tonnes of boron, dolomite, sand, clay and lead were dropped on to the burning core by helicopter in an effort to extinguish the blaze and limit the release of radioactive particles. Many citizens reported feeling ill by morning, coughing and vomiting involuntarily. It would not be until 2:00pm the following day — nearly 37 hours after the explosion — that officials began moving citizens out of the area. In a matter of hours, the town was empty.

The morning of April 28th, workers nearly 700 miles away at the Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant in Sweden were stopped when trace amounts of radioactive material were found on their clothes. Swedish administrators discovered by midday that the isotopes were from another location. In time, the fallout would reach as far away as the mountainous regions of Scotland, exposing Europeans to harmful radiation largely without their knowledge — and, until the Swedes brought their information onto the national stage, without a Soviet admission of guilt.