This Week in History: Baseball Star Pitcher Cy Young Was Born


Library Of Congress

Baseball star pitcher Cy Young was born on March 29, 1867. Young holds the one major American sports record that is likely never to be broken or even challenged. In a career that straddled two centuries, Young won 511 games in the major leagues. Only one other pitcher, Walter Johnson, has won as many as 400 games.

Young pitched in the major leagues for 22 seasons, from 1890 to 1911. He pitched in the first modern World Series in 1903, winning two games. Young pitched three no-hitters, one of them a perfect game. Throughout his career, Young demonstrated remarkable endurance. He pitched an astounding 7,356 innings. He won more than 20 games in 15 of his 22 seasons. Young won 30 or more games five times, from 1892 to 1902. He also lost 316 games, a major league career record that also is never likely to be approached.

Denton True Young was born outside Gilmore, Ohio. Young grew up on the family farm, where through hard work he developed strong arms, broad shoulders, a thick chest, and muscular legs. Young’s father wanted his son to become a farmer, but the young man started playing baseball in 1890 at the age of 23. Young picked up his nickname while trying out for the Canton, Ohio, minor league team. A catcher called him “as fast as a cyclone.” A sportswriter shortened it to “Cy” and the name lasted a lifetime and beyond.

After only half a season of minor league baseball, Young was pitching in the major leagues for the Cleveland Spiders of the National League. Young pitched for Cleveland for 9 years, winning 239 games. He played for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1899 and 1900 before moving to the newly established American League. He pitched for the Boston Pilgrims (later the Boston Red Sox) until 1909, when he joined the Cleveland Indians. His pitching career ended in 1911.

Young was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1937. In 1956, major league baseball established the Cy Young Award, at first given annually to the single best pitcher in the major leagues. In 1967, the award was split to honor the best two pitchers in the National League and the American League. Young died at the age of 88 on Nov. 4, 1955.

This Week in History: Wilhelm Roentgen, discoverer of X rays, was born March 27, 1845


© Everett Historical/Shutterstock

In 1895, the German physicist Wilhelm Roentgen discovered an invisible form of energy that he called X rays. Roentgen did not quite understand what these mysterious rays were—hence the mysterious-sounding “X” in their name—but scientists soon learned that they are a form of electromagnetic radiation. Such radiation includes the light we see with our eyes, as well as invisible radio waves. Roentgen’s discovery earned him a Nobel Prize in physics in 1901 and revolutionized the practice of medicine. Today, scientists use X rays to “see” the hidden forms of the universe, ranging from the structure of microscopic atoms to the energy streaming out from the centers of distant galaxies.

Roentgen was born on March 27, 1845, in Lennep (now Remscheid), Germany. He discovered X rays while working as a professor at the University of Wurzburg. Roentgen was experimenting with a Crookes tube, an early electric device that passes a current through an airless glass tube. Roentgen covered the tube with black paper. When he turned on the current, an image formed on a nearby photographic plate. He concluded that some kind of energy—X rays—must have come from the tube, passed straight through the black paper, and formed the photograph. X rays pass easily through flesh and clothing, but are blocked by bone and metal. Roentgen later used this property of X rays to photograph the bones in his wife’s hand.

Electromagnetic radiation takes the form of waves. Like water waves, electromagnetic waves have a wavelength—the distance between two wave “crests.” The longer the wavelength, the less energy the waves carry. Radio waves have the longest wavelength, followed by infrared waves, visible light, and ultraviolet waves. X rays have shorter wavelengths—and thus more energy—than ultraviolet waves. In fact, X rays have so much energy that they are dangerous. They can ionize atoms, stripping away their electrons. Ionization can cause a great deal of damage to structures inside the living cells. For this reason, X rays are used sparingly, and people exposed to X rays usually shield themselves with lead covering, which absorbs most of the rays’ energy.

Today, doctors use X rays in much the same way that Roentgen did—to take pictures of structures inside human bodies. Airport security professionals also use X rays to look inside luggage for dangerous objects. But X rays also shed light—albeit invisible—on structures far too small to see, such as the arrangement of atoms in crystals and the shape of molecules inside living cells. For example, the twisting-ladder shape of DNA—a complex molecule that encodes hereditary information—was first shown via X rays in 1951 by the British chemist Rosalind Franklin. On a much larger scale, astronomers study the X rays given off by stars and black holes give during violent cosmic events. The Chandra X ray observatory, a telescope launched into space in 1999, has provided some of the clearest pictures of the otherwise invisible X rays that flow throughout the universe.

This Week In History: Matthew Flinders, Explorer of Australia, Was Born in 1774


State Library of South Australia (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Matthew Flinders was a British navigator who explored and charted large areas of the Australian coastline. With fellow explorer George Bass, Flinders sailed around what is now Tasmania, proving that it was an island. Flinders was also one of the first people to circumnavigate (sail entirely around) the continent of Australia, surveying much of the uncharted coastline.

Flinders was born on March 16, 1774, in Donington, Lincolnshire, England. He began his seafaring career when he joined the navy in 1789. In 1791, he sailed with Captain William Bligh on a voyage to Tahiti. In 1795, he sailed from England to New South Wales, the first British colony in Australia. During this voyage, he met Bass. After arriving in Sydney, the pair set out to explore in a small sailboat named the Tom Thumb. They sailed down the coast and explored Botany Bay and the George’s River. In 1796, Bass and Flinders set out in a larger boat, also called the Tom Thumb. On this voyage, they entered Port Hacking and sailed past the present site of Wollongong until they reached Lake Illawara.

In 1798, Bass and Flinders set out to test their theory that Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) was an island. They passed through the strait between Van Diemen’s Land and the mainland. This strait was later named Bass Strait in Bass’s honor. They sailed completely around Van Diemen’s Land, completing their voyage in 1799. They proved that Van Diemen’s Land was an island, and the discovery of Bass Strait helped shorten the voyage to and from England.

Flinders returned to Britain in 1800. There he met Lord Spencer, the First Lord of the Admiralty. Lord Spencer gave Flinders command of the brig Investigator to find out if a large strait separated eastern and western Australia. Flinders returned to Australia, beginning his exploration at Cape Leeuwin, at the southwestern tip of what is now Western Australia. He sailed along Australia’s southern coast, exploring Spencer Gulf, Gulf St. Vincent, and Kangaroo Island. Flinders landed in Sydney in May 1802. There, he restocked his supplies and refitted his ship. Flinders then sailed north to Cape York and through the Torres Strait. While he was surveying the Gulf of Carpentaria, he discovered that his ship was in a dangerously rotten condition. He decided to complete the journey around Australia’s coast as quickly as possible. He reached Sydney again in July 1803.

Flinders then set out to return to the United Kingdom. During the voyage, he landed at Ile de France, a French colony that is now the independent nation of Mauritius. At the time, France and the United Kingdom were at war. The governor of Ile de France suspected Flinders was a spy and had him imprisoned. Flinders was released from prison in 1810, but the years in confinement had left him in poor health. He spent the last years of his life writing his book, A Voyage to Terra Australis. Flinders died on July 19, 1814, the day the book was published.

This Week in History: Australian Artist and Writer Norman Lindsay was born in 1879


© State Library of New South Wales

Norman Lindsay was a member of a family of artists and writers who played a central role in Australian artistic life during the early and mid-1900’s. The family included four brothers—Percy, Lionel, Norman, and Daryl—and their sister, Ruby. All the Lindsays were artists, and Norman and Lionel were also writers. Lionel and Daryl received knighthoods for their achievements.

The five Lindsays were all born in the small town of Creswick, Victoria, near Ballarat. Each of the five served an apprenticeship as a graphic artist, either working for Melbourne newspapers or illustrating books and short stories. However, each of them developed an individual style as their art matured.

Percy Lindsay (1870-1952) was the eldest of the five. He became best known for his small landscape paintings, including many scenes in and around Creswick. Percy was a skillful colorist, and many critics consider him the best of the Lindsay painters.

Lionel Lindsay (1874-1961) won an international reputation as an etcher, wood engraver, and watercolor painter. He began his career in Melbourne as a newspaper illustrator. Later, he was a journalist and art critic. Lionel helped establish the reputation of the Heidelberg School of painters. The school’s emphasis on Australian life and landscape dominated the country’s painting in the early 1900’s and greatly influenced other Australian artists throughout much of the 1900’s. Lionel was knighted in 1941.

Norman Lindsay (1879-1969) became known for his pencil drawings, watercolors, and oil paintings. He also gained a reputation as a cartoonist, illustrator, novelist, and critic. Lindsay wrote The Magic Pudding (1918), a classic of Australian children’s literature. A complete list of the books he wrote or illustrated would run to about 100 titles. They included 11 novels, 5 books of criticism and philosophy, and 2 autobiographical books. His most famous adult novel is Redheap (1930), the autobiographical story of a boy growing up in the 1890’s in an Australian town resembling Creswick.

Ruby Lindsay (1885-1919) was a talented illustrator in watercolor and pen and ink. After marrying in 1909, she moved to London with her husband, Will Dyson, and her brother Norman. In London, she established herself as a book illustrator, especially of children’s books. While visiting Ireland, she caught the influenza virus sweeping through Europe and died at the age of 33.

Daryl Lindsay (1890-1976) was successful both as an artist and as an arts administrator. As an artist he became known for his watercolor and oil painting studies of ballet dancers and horse subjects. In 1941, Daryl was appointed director of the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. Under his leadership, the gallery broadened its appeal to the general public and abandoned its hostility toward modern art. He made important purchases of both old master and modern work. Daryl retired as gallery director in 1956 and was knighted in 1957.

This week in history: William Tecumseh Sherman, Union Army general in the American Civil War, born in 1820


William T. Sherman, Union Army general in the American Civil War, born 1820. Library of Congress.

William Tecumseh Sherman was a Union general of the American Civil War (1861-1865). He became most famous for his “march to the sea,” across Georgia, in 1864, and for his march through the Carolinas in 1865. On these controversial marches, Sherman’s troops destroyed much of the South’s military and economic resources.

William Tecumseh Sherman was born on Feb. 8, 1820, in Lancaster, Ohio. His father, an Ohio Supreme Court justice, died when William was 9 years old. After his father’s death, William went to live with the family of Thomas Ewing, an Ohio politician. In 1840, Sherman graduated 6th out of a class of 42 from the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Sherman fought in Florida in the Second Seminole War (1835-1842). He was stationed in California during the Mexican War (1846-1848). In 1853, he left the army to become a businessman. Six years later, he became the superintendent of the Seminary of Learning of the State of Louisiana (precursor to Louisiana State University). Sherman resigned this position when Louisiana seceded from the Union in 1861.

In 1861, Sherman served as a colonel in the First Battle of Bull Run, also called the First Battle of Manassas. After the battle, he was promoted to brigadier general. In 1862, Sherman fought under General Ulysses S. Grant in the Battle of Shiloh. In July 1863, he helped Grant capture Vicksburg, Mississippi, a major Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River. In November, he helped drive Confederate forces from Chattanooga, Tennessee.

In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln gave Grant command of all Union armies. Sherman was promoted to overall commander of the Western theater. In May 1864, Sherman and an army of about 100,000 men advanced from Chattanooga, Tennessee, toward Atlanta, Georgia. Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston opposed him with about 60,000 troops. Sherman forced Johnston south to the outskirts of Atlanta. On July 17, Confederate President Jefferson Davis replaced Johnston with General John Bell Hood. Hood made several failed attacks that depleted his army, and on September 1, he evacuated Atlanta. Union troops occupied the city the next day.

On November 15, Sherman left Atlanta and headed for Savannah, Georgia, with 62,000 troops. (Sherman sent some of his remaining troops to fight Hood’s army.) The Union army burned much of Atlanta before leaving. Relatively few Confederate troops were stationed between Atlanta and Savannah, so Sherman spread out his troops by dividing his army into two wings that marched on a 50-mile (80-kilometer) front across Georgia. During the march, Sherman had no communication with the North. Not even Lincoln or Grant knew where he was. On the march, his troops stripped barns, fields, and some houses. Sherman hoped that the terrible destruction would break the South’s will to continue fighting.

Sherman occupied Savannah on December 21 and sent a message to Lincoln: “I beg to present to you as a Christmas gift the city of Savannah with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition and also about 25,000 bales of cotton.” From Savannah, Sherman swung north into South Carolina. His troops continued to seize or destroy property in their path. Most of Columbia, the state capital, was burned. The Confederates blamed Sherman for the fire, but Sherman denied that his troops had set it.

After leaving Columbia, Sherman continued north into North Carolina. There, he clashed again with Confederate troops led by General Johnston. Johnston, who had only about a third as many troops as Sherman did, failed to stop Sherman, who continued his march. On April 18, 1865, Johnston surrendered to Sherman. However, President Andrew Johnson—who had recently taken over the presidency after Lincoln’s assassination—thought the terms granted by Sherman were too generous. President Johnson rejected the terms and instructed Sherman to renegotiate with Johnston. On April 26, Johnston formally surrendered his army to Sherman.

From 1869 to 1883, Sherman served as commanding general of the United States Army. Both the Democratic and Republican parties repeatedly asked him to run for president, but he refused. In 1884, he told the Republicans, “I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected.” He died in New York City on Feb. 14, 1891.

This week in history: Greensboro Four Began Lunch Counter Sit-in


The Greensboro Four began their sit-in at a Woolsworth’s lunch counter, 1960.© Jack Moebes, Corbis.

Fifty-six years ago this week, four African American students from the Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina (now North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University) took a stand against segregation when they sat down in protest at a whites-only lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. At that time, many facilities in the United States, especially in the South, were racially segregated, and blacks were prohibited from using them. The Greensboro protest, called a sit-in, sparked a wave of similar demonstrations throughout the South.

On Feb. 1, 1960, Ezell Blair, Jr. (now known as Jibreel Khazan), Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, and David Richmond sat at a lunch counter reserved for whites at an F. W. Woolworth Company store in Greensboro. They ordered coffee. Because the students were black, they were refused service. But they stayed and studied until the store closed.

The next day, the students returned to the lunch counter. At that time, they were joined by Billy Smith, Clarence Henderson, and a number of other students. Reporters and local television news crews gathered at the store. In the following days, more African American protesters, as well as white supporters, joined the campaign. More than 1,000 people participated in the sit-ins. The protests then spread to segregated lunch counters at other stores and restaurants in Greensboro.

The Greensboro protests gained national attention. College students throughout the South began similar sit-ins. By the end of February, sit-in campaigns were taking place in more than 30 cities across 9 Southern states. On July 25, Woolworth integrated its Greensboro lunch counter. Four years later, in 1964, passage of the Civil Rights Act banned the segregation of public facilities.

On Feb. 1, 2010, on the 50th anniversary of the first day of the Greensboro sit-in, the International Civil Rights Center and Museum (ICRCM) opened in the building that was the site of the Woolworth’s store where the sit-in took place. The three surviving members of the Greensboro Four (McCain, McNeil, and Khazan) were guests of honor at a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The museum contains the original lunch counter and stools where the four students sat during the sit-in, as well as educational exhibits, an archival center, a children’s activity center, and a gallery featuring traveling exhibits. The ICRCM seeks to “ensure that the world never forgets the courage displayed by four young North Carolina A&T State College students, on Feb. 1, 1960, and the hundreds and thousands of college and community youth in Greensboro, in the South and around the country who joined them in the days and weeks that followed which led to the desegregation of the Woolworth lunch counter and ultimately to the smashing of the despicable segregation system in the southern United States.”


This week in history: Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz, a large concentration camp, during World War II

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In January 1945, late in World War II, the Soviet Red Army was driving back the forces of Nazi Germany in eastern Europe. As the Soviets freed eastern Poland from Nazi control, they discovered the remains of prisoner camps in Bełżec, Chełmno, Majdanek, Sobibór, Treblinka, and other towns and villages. The Nazis had used the camps for slave labor and to murder Jews and other people. Most of the camps had been abandoned, and the Nazis had made an effort to hide what had taken place in them. In some cases, it was several years before people learned the full extent of Nazi crimes in those camps.

But on Jan. 27, 1945, Soviet troops of the 60th Army’s 100th and 322nd rifle divisions entered the gates of a sprawling prison camp complex surrounding the southern Poland city of Auschwitz (called Oświęcim in Polish). The Nazis had tried to clear the large Auschwitz camps, too, evacuating the complex and taking some 60,000 prisoners with them. Those too weak to walk, however, were left behind. And there was no time to dispose of the dead. On that cold January day, the Soviets found about 7,000 starving prisoners behind barbed wire at Auschwitz. They also found hundreds of corpses in piles about the camp complex.

The Soviets had unwittingly stumbled upon the largest and most sinister of all the Nazi concentration camps. Auschwitz had opened much like other Nazi prison camps early in World War II, as detention and work centers for political prisoners, Jews, Poles, Roma (sometimes called Gypsies), and Soviet prisoners of war. As the war progressed, so did the Nazis’ fanatical drive to exterminate people they found troublesome or undesirable. Several camps were modified to include mass-killing processes. For the Auschwitz camp, the Nazis constructed a killing-only camp at nearby Birkenau (called Auschwitz II). For maximum efficiency, the Nazis built gas chambers and crematoriums (buildings with furnaces for burning dead bodies) at Birkenau. The Nazis destroyed these buildings before abandoning Auschwitz, but vast amounts of evidence and testimony brought the extent of the tragedy to light after the war. About 1 1/4 million people were murdered at the Auschwitz camp complex, most of them at Birkenau.