On this day:
1556 – The deadliest earthquake in history, the Shaanxi earthquake, hits Shaanxi province, China. The death toll may have been as high as 830,000.
The 1556 Shaanxi earthquake (Chinese: 华县大地震; pinyin: Huáxiàn Dàdìzhèn) or Jiajing earthquake (Chinese: 嘉靖大地震; pinyin: Jiājìng Dàdìzhèn) was a catastrophic earthquake and is also the deadliest earthquake on record, killing approximately 830,000 people. It occurred on the morning of 23 January 1556 in Shaanxi, during the Ming Dynasty. More than 97 counties in the provinces of Shaanxi, Shanxi, Henan, Gansu, Hebei, Shandong, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangsu and Anhui were affected. Buildings were damaged slightly in the cities of Beijing, Chengdu and Shanghai. An 840-kilometre-wide (520 mi) area was destroyed, and in some counties as much as 60% of the population was killed. Most of the population in the area at the time lived in yaodongs, artificial caves in loess cliffs, many of which collapsed with catastrophic loss of life.
1571 – The Royal Exchange opens in London.
The Royal Exchange in London was founded in the 16th century by the merchant Thomas Gresham on the suggestion of his factor Richard Clough to act as a centre of commerce for the City of London. The site was provided by the City of London Corporation and the Worshipful Company of Mercers, who still jointly own the freehold. It is trapezoidal in shape and is flanked by Cornhill and Threadneedle Street, which converge at Bank junction in the heart of the City. The design was inspired by a bourse Gresham had seen in Antwerp, and was Britain’s first specialist commercial building.
It has twice been destroyed by fire and subsequently rebuilt. The present building was designed by William Tite in the 1840s. The site was notably occupied by the Lloyd’s insurance market for nearly 150 years. Today the Royal Exchange contains offices, luxury shops and restaurants.
Traditionally, the steps of the Royal Exchange is the place where Royal Proclamations (such as the dissolution of Parliament) are read out by either a herald or a crier.
1849 – Elizabeth Blackwell is awarded her M.D. by the Geneva Medical College of Geneva, New York, becoming the United States’ first female doctor.
Elizabeth Blackwell (3 February 1821 – 31 May 1910) was a British-born physician, notable as the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States, as well as the first woman on the UK Medical Register. She was the first woman to graduate from medical school, a pioneer in promoting the education of women in medicine in the United States, and a social and moral reformer in both the United States and in the United Kingdom. Her sister Emily was the third woman in the US to get a medical degree.
In October, 1847, Blackwell was accepted as a medical student by Hobart College, then called Geneva Medical College, located in upstate New York. Her acceptance was a near-accident. The dean and faculty, usually responsible for evaluating an applicant for matriculation, were not able to make a decision due to the special nature of Blackwell’s case. They put the issue up to a vote by the 150 male students of the class with the stipulation that if one student objected, Blackwell would be turned away. The young men voted unanimously to accept her.
When Blackwell arrived at the college, she was rather nervous. Nothing was familiar – the surroundings, the students and the faculty. She did not even know where to get her books. However, she soon found herself at home in medical school. While she was at school, she was looked upon as an oddity by the townspeople of Geneva. She also rejected suitors and friends alike, preferring to isolate herself. In the summer between her two terms at Geneva, she returned to Philadelphia, stayed with Dr. Elder, and applied for medical positions in the area to gain clinical experience. The Guardians of the Poor, the city commission that ran Blockley Almshouse, granted her permission to work there, albeit not without some struggle. Blackwell slowly gained acceptance at Blockley, although some young resident physicians still would walk out and refuse to assist her in diagnosing and treating her patients. During her time there, Blackwell gained valuable clinical experience, but was appalled by the syphilitic ward and those afflicted with typhus. Her graduating thesis at Geneva Medical College ended up being on the topic of typhus. The conclusion of this thesis linked physical health with socio-moral stability – a link that foreshadows her later reform work.
On January 23, 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to achieve a medical degree in the United States. The local press reported her graduation favourably, and when the dean, Dr. Charles Lee, conferred her degree, he stood up and bowed to her.
1957 – American inventor Walter Frederick Morrison sells the rights to his flying disc to the Wham-O toy company, which later renames it the “Frisbee”.
Walter Frederick “Fred” Morrison (January 16 1920 in Richfield, Utah – February 9, 2010 in Monroe, Utah) was an American inventor and entrepreneur, best known as the inventor of the Frisbee.
Morrison claimed that the original idea for a flying disc toy came to him in 1937, while throwing a popcorn can lid with his girlfriend, Lu, whom he later married. The popcorn can lid soon dented which led to the discovery that cake pans flew better and were more common. Morrison and Lu developed a little business selling “Flyin’ Cake Pans” on the beaches of Santa Monica, California.
During World War II he learned something of aerodynamics flying his P-47 Thunderbolt in Italy. He was shot down and was a prisoner of war for 48 days.
In 1946, he sketched out a design (called the Whirlo-Way) for the world’s first flying disc. In 1948 an investor, Warren Franscioni, paid for molding the design in plastic. They named it the Flyin-Saucer. After disappointing sales, Fred & Warren parted ways in early 1950. In 1954, Fred bought more of the Saucers from the original molders to sell at local fairs, but soon found he could produce his own disc more cheaply. In 1955, he and Lu designed the Pluto Platter, the archetype of all modern flying discs. On January 23, 1957, they sold the rights for the Pluto Platter to the Wham-O toy company. Initially Wham-O continued to market the toy solely as the “Pluto Platter”, but by June 1957 they also began using the name Frisbee after learning that college students in the Northeast were calling the Pluto Platter by that name. Morrison also invented several other products for Wham-O, but none were as successful as the Pluto Platter.
Morrison and his wife, Lu Nay Morrison had three children. Lu died in 1987.
There is a disc golf course in Holladay, Utah named in his honor.
Morrison died in his home at the age of 90 on February 9, 2010.
Born on this day:
1745 – William Jessop, English engineer, built the Cromford Canal (d. 1814)
William Jessop (23 January 1745 – 18 November 1814) was an English civil engineer, best known for his work on canals, harbours and early railways in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
The Cromford Canal ran 14.5 miles (23.3 kilometres) from Cromford to the Erewash Canal in Derbyshire, England with a branch to Pinxton. Built by William Jessop with the assistance of Benjamin Outram, its alignment included four tunnels and 14 locks.
From Cromford it ran south following the 275-foot (84 m) contour line along the east side of the valley of the Derwent to Ambergate, where it turned eastwards along the Amber valley. It turned sharply to cross the valley, crossing the river and the Ambergate to Nottingham road, by means of an aqueduct at Bullbridge, before turning towards Ripley. From there the Butterley Tunnel took it through to the Erewash Valley.
From the tunnel it continued to Pye Hill, near Ironville, the junction for the branch to Pinxton, and then descended through fourteen locks to meet the Erewash Canal at Langley Mill. The Pinxton Branch became important as a route for Nottinghamshire coal, via the Erewash, to the River Trent and Leicester and was a terminus of the Mansfield and Pinxton Railway.
A 6-mile (9.7 km) long section of the Cromford canal between Cromford and Ambergate is listed as a Biological Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Local Nature Reserve.
In addition to purely canal traffic, there was a lively freight interchange with the Cromford and High Peak Railway, which traversed the plateau of the Peak District from Whaley Bridge in the north west, and which descended to the canal at High Peak Junction by means of an inclined plane.
1897 – William Stephenson, Canadian captain and spy (d. 1989)
Sir William Samuel Stephenson, CC, MC, DFC (23 January 1897 – 31 January 1989) was a Canadian soldier, airman, businessman, inventor, spymaster, and the senior representative of British intelligence for the entire western hemisphere during World War II. He is best known by his wartime intelligence codename Intrepid. Many people consider him to be one of the real-life inspirations for James Bond. Ian Fleming himself once wrote, “James Bond is a highly romanticized version of a true spy. The real thing is … William Stephenson.”
As head of the British Security Coordination, Stephenson handed over British scientific secrets to Franklin D. Roosevelt and relayed American secrets to Winston Churchill. In addition, Stephenson has been credited with changing American public opinion from an isolationist stance to a supportive tendency regarding America’s entry into World War II.
1918 – Gertrude B. Elion, American biochemist and pharmacologist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1999)
Gertrude Belle Elion (January 23, 1918 – February 21, 1999) was an American biochemist and pharmacologist, who shared the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with George H. Hitchings and Sir James Black. Working alone as well as with Hitchings and Black, Elion developed a multitude of new drugs, using innovative research methods that would later lead to the development of the AIDS drug AZT. She developed the first immunosuppressive drug, azathioprine, used for organ transplants.
Elion had also worked for the National Cancer Institute, American Association for Cancer Research and World Health Organization, among other organizations. From 1967 to 1983, she was the Head of the Department of Experimental Therapy for Burroughs Wellcome.
She was affiliated with Duke University as Adjunct Professor of Pharmacology and of Experimental Medicine from 1971 to 1983 and Research Professor from 1983 to 1999.
Rather than relying on trial-and-error, Elion and Hitchings used the differences in biochemistry between normal human cells and pathogens (disease-causing agents such as cancer cells, protozoa, bacteria, and viruses) to design drugs that could kill or inhibit the reproduction of particular pathogens without harming the host cells. The drugs they developed are used to treat a variety of maladies, such as leukemia, malaria, organ transplant rejection (azathioprine), as well as herpes (acyclovir, which was the first selective and effective drug of its kind). Most of Elion’s early work came from the use and development of purines. Elion’s inventions include:
6-mercaptopurine (Purinethol), the first treatment for leukemia and used in organ transplantation.
Azathioprine (Imuran), the first immuno-suppressive agent, used for organ transplants.
Allopurinol (Zyloprim), for gout.
Pyrimethamine (Daraprim), for malaria.
Trimethoprim (Proloprim, Monoprim, others), for meningitis, septicemia, and bacterial infections of the urinary and respiratory tracts.
Acyclovir (Zovirax), for viral herpes.
Nelarabine for cancer treatment.
During 1967 she occupied the position of the head of the company’s Department of Experimental Therapy and officially retired in 1983. Despite her retirement, Elion continued working almost full-time at the lab, and oversaw the adaptation of azidothymidine (AZT), which became the first drug used for treatment of AIDS.