This Week in History: American businessman Éleuthère Irénée du Pont was born in 1771

Portrait of E.I. du Pont. © Shutterstock

Portrait of E.I. du Pont. © Shutterstock

Most Americans, and many people around the world, are familiar with the huge American company commonly known as DuPont. But few know that the company was begun by a young Frenchman who liked things that exploded.

Éleuthère Irénée du Pont was born in Paris on June 24, 1771, the younger of two sons in the family. His father, Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours, had been a watchmaker. He had also studied medicine, but in time he had become involved in economics and politics. Pierre du Pont was an aristocrat who held moderate views on the French monarchy. Such views were not popular with those supporting the French Revolution (1789-1799).

While he was a boy in France, Éleuthère Irénée du Pont (often known as E.I., or Irénée) was far more interested in explosives than in the subjects his tutors attempted to teach him at his father’s estate. In his early teens, he wrote a report for his father about gunpowder. At age 14, he began study in the College Royal in Paris. Two years later, E.I. became a student of the famous French chemist Antoine Lavoisier, a friend of his father’s, at the French government agency that manufactured gunpowder. E.I. left the agency in 1791 to work in the publishing house his father had opened in Paris.

In the dangerous atmosphere of revolutionary Paris, Pierre and E.I. du Pont aided in the escape of King Louis XVI from a mob invading his palace in 1792. They barely escaped themselves as others in their group were killed. Not long after his printing presses were attacked by a Parisian mob in 1797, Pierre decided it was time to leave France for the United States. In 1799 the family sailed across the Atlantic, arriving in their new country on the first day of the new century. They set up a business office in New York City, though they were uncertain what type of business it would be.

While hunting with a friend, E.I. was amazed at the poor-quality but expensive gunpowder that was available in the United States. The family decided to use French techniques of gunpowder manufacture to start a business selling a better product in America. E.I. and his brother Victor traveled to France in 1801 to gather machinery and investment. The French government aided them, hoping to undercut the British supply of gunpowder to the United States. Helped by influential friends in America, including Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, E.I. du Pont broke ground for the firm that would bear his name on July 19, 1802. It was called E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, the formal name it retains today. Du Pont erected his gunpowder mill on Brandywine Creek, near Wilmington, Delaware. This mill formed the basis of Delaware’s great chemical industry, and the du Pont company eventually became the biggest supplier of explosives to the U.S. government.

Du Pont became a U.S. citizen in 1804, about the same time he was granted his first patent. His firm’s sales increased steadily from 1804 to 1811. In 1810, du Pont’s firm purchased land and expanded its facilities, just in time to take advantage of the demand for gunpowder in the War of 1812. After spending a number of years in France, E.I.’s father returned to America in 1815. Pierre was astonished at his son’s success and proclaimed him “a great man.” Along with gunpowder, E.I. became involved with the production of wool and cotton. In addition to his manufacturing work, E.I. served as a director of the Second Bank of the United States during the 1820’s, under his friend Nicholas Biddle, the bank’s president.

Du Pont suffered an apparent heart attack while in Philadelphia on business in 1834. He died the next day, on October 31. After his death, his company went on to produce explosives, lacquers, adhesives, plastics, synthetic fibers such as nylon, and many other products. Today DuPont is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of chemicals and chemical products.

This week in history: John Wesley, a founder of Methodism, was born in 1703

Portrait of John Wesley. © Shutterstock

Portrait of John Wesley. © Shutterstock

John Wesley, a clergyman of the Church of England, originally did not intend to create a new Protestant denomination. However, circumstances resulted in a new Protestant tradition known as Methodism in the late 1700’s. Wesley and his brother Charles began a reforming movement within the Church of England, the church into which they were born, in the 1720’s. Eventually, with the aid of John’s impressive organizational skills, the movement spread throughout the United Kingdom and to America. The movement became an independent denomination with strong roots in Anglicanism, the tradition that includes the Church of England.

John Wesley was born on June 17, 1703, in Epworth, Lincolnshire, England. His father, Samuel, was an Anglican clergyman. Samuel and his wife, Susanna, were committed to the Church of England. However, both came from Nonconformist families that had left that church. Thus, John appreciated both the importance of the organized church, and of a Puritan tradition of inward religion and a direct relationship with God. In the 1720’s, John attended Oxford University, where he eventually became a fellow (governing member) of Lincoln College. In 1728, Wesley was ordained a priest in the Church of England. At Oxford, Wesley and his brother Charles organized small groups of students to help one another to be disciplined and methodical in their study, spiritual devotion, and practical good works. They drew ridicule from other students, who called them “The Holy Club.” They also gained the nickname “Methodists,” which stuck. Their practice of accountability in small groups became the basic model of later Methodism.

In the 1730’s, John and Charles spent several years as missionaries in Savannah, Georgia. There, they were influenced by some Moravian Brethren, German Protestant missionaries who stressed personal faith and disciplined Christian living. After returning to England in 1738, John experienced a kind of conversion during a religious society meeting in London. He wrote about this experience in his journal: “…I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

Not long after this experience, Wesley began “field preaching,” or preaching in the open air. This method of preaching became characteristic of Methodism. Wesley’s preaching stressed the need for life-changing religious experience and living a holy life. His message invited all to respond to God’s gracious reconciliation through Jesus Christ. Wesley’s ministry drew many people. He organized his followers into Methodist societies, which expanded and developed as a well-structured movement. As the movement grew, Wesley enlisted lay (unordained) preachers as assistants. In 1744, he started an annual conference to deal with matters of doctrine and practice. Wesley’s unconventional ministry drew criticism from Anglican clergy, as well as from other evangelical reform movements. It sometimes met with public hostility, and even violence.

Wesley wanted Methodism to remain a reforming movement within the Church of England. But the need to provide pastoral supervision for his followers in America led to a separation from the church. In 1784, Wesley made Thomas Coke the first superintendent of the Methodist church in America. That same year, the Methodist Episcopal Church was formed in the United States, with Coke and Francis Asbury as its first bishops. By the time of Wesley’s death on March 2, 1791, Methodism had expanded to include 294 preachers and 71,668 members in Britain; 19 missionaries and 5,300 members in mission stations; and 198 preachers and 43,265 members in America. It is no wonder the movement grew as it did. A tireless preacher, Wesley is estimated to have traveled some 250,000 miles and preached over 40,000 sermons in his lifetime. Throughout his career, he also worked to help the poor and was concerned with such social issues as education, prison reform, and slavery. Wesley is buried in London.

This week in history: Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, was born

Tim Berners-Lee speaking at 2012 conference. © Shutterstock

Tim Berners-Lee speaking at 2012 conference. © Shutterstock

The Internet is a bewildering place, filled with bizarre cat videos, obscure Twitter hashtags, and other cultural artifacts our ancestors could not have dreamed up. But before the 1990’s, the Internet was bewildering in a very different way: almost nobody knew how to use it. Even if you had access to an Internet-connected computer, you practically needed to be a computer scientist to make use of the Internet. That changed in 1991, when a British computer scientist named Tim Berners-Lee introduced the World Wide Web.

The Web is not the same as the Internet. The Internet consists of a network of computers linked together with wires and radio waves. Electronic files, e-mails, and other data move from computer to computer according to a system of rules called protocols. But before 1991, there was no such thing as a “website.” To find information on the Internet, you needed to hunt for files on another Internet-connected computer and download them, or you needed to know someone who could e-mail them to you.

Berners-Lee came up with the idea of hypertext—a word or an image that acts like a magic portal to computer files on the Internet. Instead of hunting for files one by one, Internet users could link files to one another and just click their way from file to file. This “web” of interlinked files is the World Wide Web. The files are web pages, organized into larger structures called websites.

Berners-Lee created a system of rules called hypertext markup language, or HTML for short. HTML determines how web pages appear when viewed on a computer. A program called a web browser acts like a gateway into the World Wide Web, enabling users to find and interact with HTML-based web pages. With web browser and a meaningfully connected structure of web pages, one did not need to be a computer scientist to explore the Internet. During the 1990’s, ordinary people began “surfing the Web,” and Internet use exploded.

Just as the Internet laid the foundation for the World Wide Web, the Web laid the foundation for many other innovations—such as Amazon’s online store, Google’s Web-based search engine, and social networking websites such as Facebook, to name a few.

Berners-Lee was born on June 8, 1955, in London. He earned a degree in physics from Oxford University in 1976. In 1980, he worked at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) near Geneva, Switzerland. Berners-Lee originally conceived the Web as a means for physicists around the world to link their own computer files with those at CERN. In 2004, he became Sir Tim Berners-Lee when Queen Elizabeth II knighted him.

7 little-known facts about dinosaurs!

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Learn all about dinosaurs with World Book! Here are some interesting facts about our mighty beast friends that you might not have known:

  1. The NameThe name dinosaurcomes from the term Dinosauria, which means terribly great lizards. But dinosaurs were not lizards, only distantly related to them, and most were not very terrible.
  1. Dino IntelligenceOne of the most intelligent dinosaurs was a small, bipedal theropod called Troodon. Troodon‘s brain was as large, compared with its body weight, as that of many modern birds and small mammals. It had excellent vision and probably hunted for mammals and other prey at night.
  2. Millions of YearsDinosaurs lived throughout most of the Mesozoic Era, which is divided into three periods—Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous. The Triassic Period lasted from about 250 million to 200 million years ago. The Jurassic Period lasted from about 200 million to 145 million years ago, and the Cretaceous Period from about 145 million to 65 million years ago.
  1. From Birth To DeathScientists do not know how all dinosaurs reproduced and can only guess how long dinosaurs lived. Fossil dinosaur eggs show that at least some dinosaurs laid hard-shelled eggs, as do modern alligators. They can estimate the time it took for dinosaurs to grow to adult size; studies of the microscopic structure of dinosaur bones suggest that dinosaurs grew rapidly.
  1. Very First FindingsBefore the 1800’s, no one knew that dinosaurs had ever existed. People who found a dinosaur tooth or bone did not know what it was. However, around 1818, an English scholar, William Buckland, obtained a large lower jaw that contained a number of sharp teeth. After studying this jaw, Buckland came to the conclusion that it was unlike any fossil previously discovered. So he gave it a new name, Megalosaurus(great lizard), in 1824.
  1. The Mysterious T-RexEarly scientists first thought this giant meat-eater was primarily a scavenger, feeding only on the decaying bodies of dead dinosaurs. They also thought it lived a sluggish life, sleeping or basking in the sun between meals. However, scientists gradually came to believe that Tyrannosaurushad a much more dynamic lifestyle and argue that it was an active predator as well as a scavenger.

    Scientists are still trying to discover more about  For example, they do not know exactly how the predator used its extremely small arms. Some regard the arms as strong limbs that helped the animal grab prey. Others believe the limbs were weak and virtually useless. New research and fossil discoveries will help solve such mysteries!

  1. The DisappearanceThere are many developed theories that explain dinosaur extinction. Two of the major theories involve 1) the collision of an asteroid with Earth and 2) large volcanic eruptions in what is now India.

These fun facts­—and much more—can be found in World Book Online, your answer for fast, reliable information. Visit store.worldbook.com to SAVE extra on our highly recommended Dinosaur products!

This Week in History: British King George V was born in 1865

King George V Portrait. Credit: Library of Congress

King George V Portrait. Credit: Library of Congress

King George V ruled the United Kingdom from 1910 to 1936, a difficult time in British history. World War I (1914-1918) dominated the early years of his reign, as did the often-violent question of Irish home rule. Monarchies and empires around the world—including those of his cousins in Germany and Russia—fell to revolutions and reforms as George balanced his own royal position against the liberal movements of the day. Labor strife and the Great Depression darkened his later period on the throne, as did years of personal serious illness. Through it all, however, George maintained a steady image of devotion and duty. He strived to represent the British people, and worked to improve the lives of ordinary citizens. George was fair-minded and devoted much time to strengthening the United Kingdom’s links with its vast empire. George Frederick Ernest Albert Saxe-Coburg Gotha was born in London on June 3, 1865. He was of German descent, and his family name was sometimes referred to as Brunswick or Hanover, the family’s areas of origin in Germany. George was the second son of King Edward VII and Alexandra of Denmark. He became heir to the throne when his older brother, the Duke of Clarence, died of pneumonia in 1892. He married his late brother’s fiancé, Princess Victoria Mary of Teck—also of royal German blood—in 1893. The couple had six children: Edward, Albert, Mary, Henry, George, and John. Edward VII died in May 1910, and George became king at age 44. He and his queen gained lasting popularity by their courage and devotion during World War I. George made many trips to visit troops at the front, and many more to visit wounded soldiers in hospitals. He also pushed for better treatment for German prisoners of war as well as for British conscientious objectors (people whose beliefs prevent them from fighting in a war). In 1917, anti-German sentiment led George to change his family name to Windsor, and he dropped his German titles and family connections. He was first cousin to both Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II and Russia’s Tsar Nicholas II. Wilhelm was deposed (removed from the throne) at the end of World War I, and Nicholas was murdered. Ireland—part of the United Kingdom since 1801—revolted against British rule in 1918. British troops suppressed the revolt, but its violence shocked many British leaders, including King George V, who appealed for peace. A truce ended the fighting in 1921, and the 26 counties of southern Ireland became a dominion (self-governing country) of the British Commonwealth. Soon after, Australia, Canada, Newfoundland, New Zealand, and South Africa also gained independence within the Commonwealth. George became seriously ill in 1928, and he never fully recovered. His last years were spent largely out of the public eye, and his oldest son, Edward, performed many of the king’s official duties. George died on Jan. 20, 1936, and Edward became King Edward VIII. He ruled for less than one year, however, abdicating (giving up the throne) to marry an American divorcee. His brother Albert then became King George VI.

This week in history: Mother’s Day became a public holiday in the United States in 1914

Mothers Day

May 4, 2015.

The path to the establishment of Mother’s Day as an official public holiday was an oddly long one in the United States. The American writer Julia Ward Howe made the first known suggestion for a Mother’s Day in the United States in 1872. She suggested that people observe a Mother’s Day on June 2 as a day dedicated to peace. She held an annual Mother’s Day meeting in Boston.

Mary Towles Sasseen, a Kentucky schoolteacher, also started conducting Mother’s Day celebrations in 1887. She often spoke of having Mother’s Day celebrated as a national observance. In 1904, Frank E. Hering, a football coach at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, proposed setting aside a day in honor of motherhood in a speech to the Fraternal Order of Eagles in Indianapolis. Hering was inspired after observing how dutifully students wrote home to their mothers.

Scattered observances continued until Anna Jarvis of Grafton, West Virginia, began a campaign for a nationwide observance of Mother’s Day in 1907. She recommended the second Sunday in May in memory of her own mother, who had died on May 8, 1905. Her effort was supported by the Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton. At a General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1912, a delegate from Andrews Church introduced a resolution recognizing Anna Jarvis as the founder of Mother’s Day. It suggested that the second Sunday in May be observed as Mother’s Day.

Mother’s Day finally received national recognition on May 4, 1914. On that day, a joint resolution of Congress was passed recommending that the federal government observe Mother’s Day on the second Sunday in May. President Woodrow Wilson signed the resolution into law five days later. The next year, President Wilson proclaimed Mother’s Day an annual national observance.

In the United Kingdom, Mothering Sunday is the fourth Sunday in Lent. On this day, people who live away from home often visit their mothers. The customs of Mothering Sunday go back at least as far as the 1600’s. Australia observes Mother’s Day on the same date as does the United States. Many other countries celebrate a version of Mother’s Day, usually in the spring.

World War I Quiz

Test your knowledge! How well do you know the history behind World War I?

Boats carrying troops to shore on the morning of the Anzac Cove landing. Credit: Australian War Memorial

Boats carrying troops to shore on the morning of the Anzac Cove landing. Credit: Australian War Memorial