Milestones: Wednesday, October 18, 2023
A MARRIAGE THAT EMPOWERED SPAIN — Ferdinand of Aragon married Isabella of Castile in Valladolid, on Oct. 18, 1469, uniting two families into a cooperative reign that would unite and raise Spain into a dominant world power, at least for about 120 years. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella brought several independent Spanish dominions under their power; and they also became ruthless. They instigated the Spanish Inquisition in 1478, thus essentially destroying the medieval period of “Al-Andalus” in which Spain’s Jews, Muslims and Christians had symbiotically contributed to their civilization, In 1492, the same year they sponsored Columbus’ voyages, Ferdinand and Isabella issued an edict to force the conversion of Jews to Christianity or expel them; they did the same to Spain’s Muslims four years later.
Spain dominated Europe and exploration until 1588, when an armada that Queen Elizabeth I ordered from England routed the Spanish ships. England then became the dominant force.
A SHREWD FOLLY — THE PURCHASE THAT WAS MOCKED AS “STEWARD’S FOLLY” BECAME FORMAL and official on Oct. 18, 1867, when the U.S. took possession of Alaska after purchasing the territory from Russia. The price tag of $7.2 million was a bargain at less than two cents an acre. The territory was about 586,412 square miles, about twice the size of the next largest state – Texas. Finding the territory a challenge to defend, Russia preferred to sell the land to the United States rather than risk losing it to a rival in military conflict. At the time, William Henry Seward, secretary of state under President Andrew Johnson, had expansionist ambitions and eagerly pursued the negotiations. The American public, not nearly as enamored with the idea of purchasing what it considered untamed wasteland, called the purchase “Seward’s Folly.” That is, of course, until gold was discovered in 1899 in Nome. The rush westward that followed changed the tide of public opinion. Alaska became the 49th state on Jan. 3, 1959.
Now known for its natural resources, Alaska is both the westernmost and northernmost U.S. state, and at one point had four time zones: Pacific, Yukon, Alaska Standard and Bering. Now there are just two time zones, Aleutian-Hawaiian being one of these, and two hours behind Pacific time.
THE NORTH-SOUTH DIVIDE — THE MASON-DIXON LINE had its origins before the Revolutionary War, when on Oct. 18, 1767, surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon completed their survey of the boundary between the colonies of Pennsylvania and Maryland. The Penn and Calvert landowner family had hired the surveyors to settle a dispute over the boundary of land that comprised the colonies of Pennsylvania and Maryland. The survey was actually a mandate of an agreement between these families, as both claimed the territory between the 39th and 40th Parallels. The Mason-Dixon line was finally set at a northern latitude of 39 degrees and 43 minutes, and was marked with stones bearing Pennsylvania’s crest on one side and Maryland’s on the other. Complicating the matter was the colonists’ protesting the Proclamation of 1763, which had been enacted to prevent them from settling beyond the Appalachian Mountains and causing more strife with the Native Americans.
The Mason-Dixon line would become the symbol of the North-South divide, with the states south of it pushing to enshrine the “peculiar institution” of slavery, particularly after the invention of the cotton gin in 1793.
OVERRODE VETO ABOUT CLEANER WATER — CONGRESS ON OCT. 18, 1972 PASSED THE $25 billion Water Pollution Control Act, responding quickly against the veto of a president who was otherwise known as an ally of environmentalists. The landmark Clean Water Act created strict regulations on water quality, pollution and bacterial growth that was harming people’s health and the fishing industry. The 1960s were filled with investigative reports about water pollution. One 1969 study had found that pollution from a local food processing site had killed 26 million fish in Florida alone. And the infamous 1969 fire on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland — resulting from an oil slick — catapulted Cleveland, Ohio Mayor Carl B. Stokes into an environmental leader. President Richard M. Nixon had established the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 and had prioritized getting water pollution fixed. So his veto of the bill, on grounds that it was too costly, shocked the nation.
Congress, which had overwhelmingly voted for the Clean Water Act, quickly overrode Nixon’s veto; and the law took effect on Oct. 18, 1972.
FIRST ALL-WOMAN SPACE WALK — NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch performed the first all-woman spacewalk on Oct. 18, 2019. The purpose of the walk, which lasted seven hours and 17 minutes, was to repair a faulty battery and discharge unit that was supporting a bank of lithium batteries on the International Space Station. Meir and Koch were flight engineers on NASA Expedition 61, which was the name of the first-mission assignment for newly-graduated astronauts. The two, who had graduated in 2013 as part of NASA Astronaut Group 21, helped perform other space walks.
Koch and Meir’s expedition comprised a record four women in its cohort of eight astronauts.
See previous milestones, here.
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