Milestones: Tuesday, November 21, 2023
FRENCH PAPERMAKERS’ SUCCESS — THE FIRST UNTETHERED HOT-AIR BALLOON FLIGHT TOOK PLACE on Nov. 21, 1783, when French physician Jean-François Pilatre de Rozier and François Laurent, the Marquis d’ Arlandes, rose above an expectant crowd and then flew more than five miles over Paris within a 25-minute period. Their balloon craft was the product of Joseph and Étienne Montgolfier’s successful paper business, so profitable that it financed the brothers’ passion for scientific exploration. The previous year, Les Frères Montgolfier had discovered that a lightweight paper or fabric bag could rise into the air with combustible materials underneath it; however, they attributed the elevation to smoke rather than to its real cause: hot air. They gave previous public demonstrations with an unmanned hot air balloon on June 4 of that year and another one in September with a sheep, a rooster and a duck, all of which glided for about eight minutes before landing safely two miles away.
The French Acadámie des Sciences honored the Montgolfier Brothers for their accomplishments.
‘THE WIZARD OF MENLO PARK’ — THOMAS EDISON ANNOUNCED HIS INVENTION OF THE PHONOGRAPH, A WAY TO RECORD AND PLAY BACK SOUND ON NOV. 21, 1877. He had chanced on this innovation while actually working on another project: recording telephone conversations in his Menlo Park, New Jersey laboratory. He then built an experiment with a stylus on a tinfoil cylinder with a recording he had made of the childhood song “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Edison was astonished when the stylus played back the song in recognizable form. He then did public demonstrations of this phonograph, became famous and received the moniker “The Wizard of Menlo Park.”
After a hiatus from this project to work on the incandescent light bulb, Edison returned in 1887 to improve the phonograph, using a wax-cylinder technique that Charles Tainter had developed in the meantime. Although Edison’s goal was to create a dictation machine, the phonograph proved more popular for entertainment.
TITANIC’S SISTER SHIP —The Britannic, sister ship to the Titanic, which had sunk in 1912, also met an untimely fate on Nov. 21, 1916. However, in the aftermath of the Titanic disaster, modifications made to the vessel’s design helped save more lives. Plans were already underway for the sister ship, originally to be named the Gigantic before the more suitable “Britannic” was chosen. The White Star Line that developed the Britannic had made several construction changes, with the hull designed to help it better withstand icebergs, and more lifeboats were added. The Britannic, then considered the world’s largest luxury vessel, was launched in 1914. However, the British government requisitioned her to serve as a hospital ship during World War I. Under the helm of Captain Charlie Bartlett, The Britannic completed five successful trips transporting wounded British servicemen back from other parts of the world. The Britannic was in the Aegean Sea when a sudden explosion rocked the ship, and several errors were made, including a premature, unauthorized launch of the lifeboats, in trying to rescue crew and patients.
Although Captain Bartlett had to order ship abandonment, only 30 people perished. More than 1,000 were rescued.
INCRIMINATING SHRED — NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL STAFF MEMBER OLIVER NORTH AND HIS SECRETARY, FAWN HALL, on Nov. 21, 1986, began shredding documents that would have incriminated their participation in illegal actions involving the sale of weapons to Iran and the disbursement of these funds to a rebel Nicaraguan guerilla group. This was the beginning of the Iran-Contra scandal that would prove to be both a legal snare and a public embarrassment for the Reagan Administration. The hostage crisis of 1979-81 had made Iran an enemy of the United States, and President Reagan asserted that he refused to negotiate with terrorists. However, when it became known that his own top officers at the National Security Council were doing just that, public relations for the commander in chief went from bad to worse. The money from the arms sale had been sent to the Contras in violation of the US Congress’ Boland Amendment expressly prohibiting any support to the rebel group.
The Sandinistas had been legitimately elected in Nicaragua, but as they were communists, Reagan wanted them out. North perjured himself by stating at trial that the Reagan Administration was in on the illegal plan.
‘WHO SHOT J.R.?’ — This question became a household slogan after the March 1980 cliffhanger on the TV melodrama series “Dallas,” about the doings of a corrupt and cruel Texas oil man and two feuding families. A gunshot ended the earlier season, and viewers had to wait until Nov. 21, 1980, for the answer, which is not revealed here in case younger generations have not seen the reruns. CBS was broadcasting “Dallas,” which debuted in 1978; the cliffhanger spiked viewership, with 83 million watching that night. Dallas, which ran for 12 full-length seasons, was the first of its kind “primetime soap opera.”
Interestingly, it was another Screen Writers Guild strike, plus an earlier union contract dispute with star Larry Hagman, which delayed the opening of the season that would resolve the cliffhanger.
See previous milestones, here.
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