This Week in History: Spanish explorers arrive off the east coast of Florida in 1565

Portrait of Pedro Menendez de Aviles. Credit: Library of Congress

Portrait of Pedro Menendez de Aviles. Credit: Library of Congress

On Aug. 28, 1565, the feast day of Saint Augustine, the Spanish explorer Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés—with about 800 soldiers, sailors, and settlers—sighted land on the east coast of what is now Florida. A little over a week later, he sent some of his soldiers ashore. Historians think the men were greeted by Timucuan Indians and began fortifying a small Indian village at the site. On September 8, Menéndez came ashore with the rest of his expedition and formally founded the settlement as St. Augustine. The settlers soon built a mission, Nombre de Dios, meaning Name of God in Spanish. This was the first Christian mission in North America. Some historians believe the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León had previously visited the St. Augustine area in 1513.

Spain ruled St. Augustine for more than 200 years. During the late 1500’s, St. Augustine served as Spain’s military headquarters in North America. The English naval commander Sir Francis Drake looted and burned the settlement in 1586. Spain ruled St. Augustine until 1763, when the British gained control. Spain again ruled the settlement from 1783 until 1821, when Florida became a territory of the United States. St. Augustine is the oldest permanent settlement established in the United States by Europeans.

Color, Curiosity, and JAZZ

J is for Jazz book cover

J is for Jazz book cover

Pantone, the self-proclaimed “global color authority,” announced Radiant Orchid as the Color of the Year for 2014. As much as it bemuses me that a company has the right to grant such an accolade, I have to admit it’s a gorgeous color. But the interpretation of color is very much in the eye of the beholder and is exceedingly subjective. A color that evokes a certain reaction in one person may evoke a very different response in another. Our varying feeling for color most likely emanates from an emotional space within us – it could stem from our past, our personality, or our environment – and is triggered by the context and arrangement in which it’s used. My favorite color is fuchsia. You may hate fuchsia.

Pantone’s Color of the Year 2014: Radiant Orchid

Pantone’s Color of the Year 2014: Radiant Orchid

Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, claims Radiant Orchid “intrigues the eye and sparks the imagination,” and that may be true. But I would argue that any color can spark the imagination. It can spark our curiosity, too; it can draw us into new experiences of the world and shape our sense of who we are. Color can express the deepest but also the most basic symbols in human culture. Consider what color can tell us about history and culture throughout the 20th century: the psychedelic ‘60s, the earthy ‘70s, the vibrant ‘80s.


Where would we be without curiosity? Without curiosity, human culture would remain static. In all of its books, Bright Connections Media uses color to foster curiosity in child and adult alike, and that curiosity leads to discovery. Bright Connections Media aims to help readers discover the colorful world in which they live, and there is no world more colorful than that revealed in our upcoming title J is for Jazz.

J is for Jazz uses bold and evocative imagery that begs for curiosity. It gives us a whimsical look into an age infused with energy and vibrancy. It reveals the infinite kaleidoscope of color that is the world of jazz.

And in case you’re wondering, no, that’s not Pantone’s Radiant Orchid on the cover of J is for Jazz. But I think it helps spark the imagination, too.  

- Tom Evans
Art Director
World Book, Inc.

This week in history: Marshall Field I, American merchant, was born in 1834


Portrait of Marshall Field. Credit: Library of Congress

When someone mentions “Marshall Field,” what springs to mind—at least for most Chicagoans—is an image of the city’s world-famous Beax-Arts department store with its landmark twin clocks jutting out a block apart above State Street.

But few people know the story of the man who founded the company that bore his name. Marshall Field I was born on a farm in Conway Township, Massachusetts, probably on Sept. 18, 1834. He came to Chicago in 1856 and obtained a job with a dry goods firm. In 1865, Field bought an interest in merchant Potter Palmer’s rival business. By 1881, Field gained control of the firm, and it became known as Marshall Field and Company.

Field introduced many new merchandising strategies. For instance, he marked prices on the merchandise and let customers exchange goods if they were dissatisfied. The company developed new advertising methods and window displays to attract customers. It was the first store to sell bargain goods in its basement.

Field’s slogan was “Give the Lady What She Wants,” and he made an effort to attract women to his store. He hired young women as salesclerks, opened a restaurant in the store, and offered lounges, restrooms, a library, a nursery, and telephones to customers. Customers could also check their coats, write letters on complimentary Marshall Field stationery, and hold meetings at the store.

Field was also quoted as saying, “I was determined not to remain poor.” By the 1880’s, he was the richest man in Chicago. Although not known for his generosity, Field made important philanthropic contributions later in his life. These included a gift of land as a site for a new University of Chicago. He also contributed about $9 million to establish the Field Museum in Chicago, one of the world’s largest natural history museums. Field died on Jan. 16, 1906. Successive generations of Fields continued the retail merchandising enterprise and expanded into publishing. (In fact, the Fields owned World Book, Inc., the publisher of The World Book Encyclopedia, from 1945 to 1978.)

A year after Field’s death, architect Daniel Burnham completed construction on the southwest corner of the State Street store. Also in 1907, the store’s famous stained glass dome, designed by Louis C. Tiffany, was built. Although the store appears to be one building, it is actually made up of five different structures, which have been seamlessly integrated into a single entity. The original State Street store, which opened in 1868, was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871; a second building at that location was also destroyed by fire in 1877. The building that stands today was built in parts between 1893 and 1914, designed by Burnham and Company. The 12-story building is the second-largest store in the world. It was declared a National Historic Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. It was designated a Chicago Landmark in 2005.

Marshall Field and Company grew to become a major chain store before being acquired by Federated Department Stores of Cincinnati in 2005. In 2006, the nameplate of Macy’s went up on more than 400 stores across the United States, including the former Marshall Field’s stores.

As the new Macy’s sign went up on the former Marshall Field’s flagship store on State Street, loyal Field’s customers protested, holding signs that read “Field’s is Chicago” and buttons bearing the message “I Want My Marshall Field’s.” To this day, a local group works through its website,, to “bring back Marshall Field’s in quality, service, and name” by holding rallies and distributing leaflets and flyers.


This Week in History: Construction begins on the Berlin Wall in 1961

East German Workers Near The Brandenburg Gate Reinforce The Wall Dividing The City, 10/1961. Credit: NARA

East German Workers Near The Brandenburg Gate Reinforce The Wall Dividing The City, 10/1961. Credit: NARA

On the morning of Aug. 13, 1961, Berliners awoke to the sounds of a massive construction project. All along the border separating East and West Berlin, streets were ripped up, and temporary barricades and barbed wire fences were emplaced. A few days later, construction of the Berlin Wall began in earnest. The completed wall eventually contained concrete slabs stacked 12 to 15 feet (3.7 to 4.6 meters) high. Pipes, barbed wire, and other obstacles were installed atop much of the wall. Armed guards were ordered to stop anyone trying to cross from east to west. They began patrolling the wall, aided by guard dogs, barbed wire, electric alarms, mines, and trenches. On August 22, the first of more than 170 people died trying to cross over the Berlin Wall.

At that time, East Berlin was the capital of the Communist-controlled German Democratic Republic (East Germany). West Berlin was an isolated state of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). During the 1950’s, travel between the two parts of Berlin had been largely unrestricted. As a result, West Berlin offered an opportunity for many thousands of East Germans to escape Communism. In 1961, East Germany, backed by the Soviet Union, built the Berlin Wall to stop the massive emigration.

For the next few decades, the Berlin Wall—and its major crossing point, Checkpoint Charlie—symbolized the intense nature of the rivalry between Communist and non-Communist nations during the Cold War. In 1989, East Germany became the site of widespread demands for more freedom. In response, the East German government finally ended its restrictions on emigration and travel to the West by its citizens. The East Germans opened the wall in November and soon began to tear it down. In October 1990, East and West Germany were united into the non-Communist country of Germany. Berlin was reunited into a single city. By 1992, nearly all the Berlin Wall had been removed. Several sections remain standing as memorials, but most of the wall was broken up for use in roadbeds and other construction projects. Parts of the wall were sold to museums and private individuals.

This week in history: American statesman, educator, civil rights advocate, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Ralph Bunche was born in 1904

Portrait of Bunche. Credit: Library of Congress

Portrait of Bunche. Credit: Library of Congress

Ralph Bunche (pronounced “bunch”) became internationally famous as the first person of color to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Bunche helped with the formation of the United Nations (UN) and served as a UN diplomat for more than 20 years. His negotiating skills were legendary. As undersecretary for political affairs, he directed peacekeeping operations in Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East. He served as undersecretary-general of the organization from 1955 to 1971, the highest-ranking American official in the world body.

Bunche is perhaps best known for negotiating a difficult armistice in 1949 in the bitter conflict between the newly formed nation of Israel and its neighboring Arab countries, which refused to recognize Israel’s existence. It was the most important assignment of Bunche’s career. Bunche was principal secretary of the UN Palestine Commission that carried out the partition of Palestine to create Israel in 1948. The day after Israel’s formation, Arab armies from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Transjordan (today called Jordan) attacked the new Jewish nation to destroy it. Following months of virtually ceaseless negotiations, Bunche obtained a temporary peace in what is dubbed the First Arab-Israeli War. It marked the UN’s first actual success in halting a war. Bunche’s heroic efforts brought him worldwide acclaim, and he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950.

Bunche was the first African American to receive the prestigious Peace Prize. For his achievement, Dr. Bunche, as he was called, was widely hailed throughout the United States. He was honored with a ticker tape parade in New York City and a “Ralph Bunche Day” in Los Angeles. He appeared on the cover of most of the leading magazines, and he was overwhelmed with constant requests to speak or lecture. Numerous schools nationwide were named after Dr. Bunche. He also received dozens of honorary doctorate degrees (69 in all) and other awards, including the Spingarn Medal in 1949 from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1963.

Ralph Johnson Bunche was born in Detroit, Michigan, on Aug. 7, 1904. Bunche was orphaned when he was about 12 and was raised by his maternal grandmother in Los Angeles. Because of his race, Bunche was enrolled in only “practical” courses in intermediate school in preparation for a vocational job, until his strong-willed grandmother demanded that he be given academic courses to prepare him for college. In high school, Bunche was an intelligent, all-around athlete, excelling in football, basketball, baseball, and track, while also excelling in academics. He was the valedictorian of his graduating class. Bunche graduated summa cum laude from the University of California at Los Angeles. He earned a master’s degree and a doctorate from Harvard University. While working on his doctorate, Bunche began teaching at Howard University in 1928 and chaired the school’s political science department for more than 20 years. He also taught at Harvard and was a board member or trustee of several colleges and universities. In 1938, Bunche reportedly barely escaped from a lynch mob in Alabama while gathering material for the book An American Dilemma, about U.S. race relations, with the Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal.

Although Bunche was generally considered to be a moderate, some people saw him as a radical intellectual during his time at Howard University. He spoke out against racial prejudice and segregation in speeches and publications. He also criticized the social system in the United States. Although he was critical of established black organizations, at the same time, he supported the Urban League and the NAACP and was very active in the civil rights movement. His international fame did not stop him from participating in the 1963 March on Washington or marching in the front line with Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1965 in Montgomery, Alabama. As a member of the “Black Cabinet,” Bunche consulted with President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration on minority issues. When he was asked by President Harry Truman to join Truman’s cabinet as assistant secretary of state, Bunche turned the president down, saying Washington, D.C., was a “Jim Crow” town in which he had no desire to live again or subject his children to its racist and segregationist policies. Jim Crow refers to practices, institutions, or laws that discriminated against African Americans. Bunche dealt with racial prejudice throughout his life, despite his high-level position. The experience helped shape the man, educator, and statesman that he became. Bunche retired from the United Nations due to ill health shortly before his death in New York City on Dec. 9, 1971.

The American Astronomer Maria Mitchell was born this week in 1818

Courtesy of Nantucket Historical Association

Courtesy of Nantucket Historical Association

The pioneering female astronomer and educator Maria Mitchell was born on Aug. 1, 1818, in Nantucket, Massachusetts. Her work included the study of sunspots and of moons around other planets in the solar system. In 1847, she discovered a comet, later called “Miss Mitchell’s Comet,” earning her a prize from the King of Denmark.

Mitchell lived at a time when educational opportunities for women were extremely limited. She was largely self-educated. Mitchell attended primary school, but did not earn a college degree. Her education was furthered while working as a librarian for 20 years. In 1848, she became the first woman member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She later became a fellow of the society. In 1865, she became the first astronomy professor at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. She remained at Vassar until one year before her death in 1889.

The 1800’s saw great changes in thinking on human rights. Among these changes were a number of gains for women’s rights. Maria Mitchell helped to bring this movement into the scientific world. When she learned her male colleagues at Vassar made more money, she demanded equal pay and got it.