HP019: Nuclear Disasters

HP019: Nuclear Disasters

Nuclear Disasters. Thanks for all your feedback on the show thus far please keep it coming. Some great information in the links below.


Hello and welcome back to HistoryPodcast. Before we begin I just want to thank everyone who has been emailing their feedback in. Thank you all very much. Please continue to send in your feedback, suggestions and shows to historypodcast@gmail.com and find the website at historypodcast.blogspot.com.

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On Saturday April 26, 1986 one of the worst nuclear disasters in history occurred in the old Soviet Union at Chernobyl. The official death toll was 31. Scientists would later estimate that thousands more would die in the next 10 to 20 years. At it’s height the Chernobyl nuclear power plant generated 4,000 watts of electricity. It’s 4 RBMK 1,000 reactors were built on either side of a giant smokestack, which released gas and steam into the atmosphere.

A 12-foot thick concrete disc, the upper biological shield, separated the core of the reactor from the refueling machine above. The main part of the core is a large graphite block this so called moderator controls the nuclear reaction.

The nuclear reaction is caused by the uranium fuel rods lowered into the graphite. The reaction heats them up and they heat water in pipes along the side of the reactor. This water turns to steam, which turns turbines, and the turbines create electricity.

The Chernobyl disaster was devastating but it wasn’t with out warning. Twice before the world had been on the brink. The first of these incidents had occurred in a far more sinister context than Chernobyl. The windscale plant in Cubmbrea provided the fuel for Britain’s nuclear bomb. On October 10, 1957, it fueled near disaster. It was built to manufacture nuclear weapons. The reactor design was primitive. At the end of World War 2 American’s denied Britain access to their most sophisticated nuclear techniques. Windscale did have a graphite moderator, but the design did not take into account the dangerous build up of latent energy in the graphite. They also had not allowed for the fallibility of human operators. The core overheated, the fuel caught fire, and the instrumentation that would have showed something wrong jammed.

The core eventually caught fire. Everything was then on fire. The operator in charge on the morning of the accident did not have an operating manual. So he had no way to cross check his work to make sure everything he was doing was correct. He was also assuming that the instrumentation he was looking at was correct. In fact there was no instrumentation sensors in the area where things started to go wrong that morning. There were two more problems for the managers of the Windscale plant. They didn’t reveal how bad the fire was and it was an air-cooled reactor, but pumping air into the reactor only fed the fire. Eventually, they figured out that the only way to put out the fire was with water. They sent the entire staff home and on Friday morning, the 11th of October at 8am they turned on the hoses and held their breath, in case the reactor blew up, but it didn’t and the fire gradually began to subside and eventually went out. Fortunately, the release of radioactivity took place from a 394 foot tall chimney.

This did not reduce the concentrations that people would breathe on the ground. The whole cloud from the windscale accident was blowing down over Britain from the North to the South. Low-level radiation fell over the majority of the British population. The people feared that radiation would get into their food chain. There was a milk ban over 200 sq. miles. What the authorities didn’t dump, housewives did. Milk was identified as the main radiation hazard. A 3-month restriction on milk was enough to allow the risk to die away. At Windscale, the main damage was to milk farmer businesses.

21 years later at 3 mile island in Pennsylvania. The clean up bill topped a billion dollars. Initially presented as a minor mishap it was the worst nuclear accident in American history.

3 mile island was a US built pressurized water reactor operated by the Metropolitan Edison Company. The plant was evacuated when a pump driving water around the system failed during maintenance. An emergency pump then also failed. The ensuing chaos was compounded when a valve got stuck open. This meant that much of the emergency cooling water being pumped in burst out again. Which no water entering the reactor there was nothing to maintain the temperature and the water that was inside began to steam off. The fuel became uncovered and got very hot and melted down. Fear of the consequences was again matched with a fear of revealing the truth. Chaos bread more chaos. The red light notifying the managers of the pumps malfunction was hidden behind a cardboard tag on the control panel. The authorities with no information tried to assure a frightened population and at the same time tried to make evacuation plans for more than 6,000 people.

What worried the managers and staff at the plant was the possibility of a massive build up of a gas bubble that could blow up and blast the top of the reactor off, releasing a huge amount of radioactive material. What worried plant owners was being responsible for the evacuation of all Pennsylvania. A 5-mile evacuation was suggested for pregnant women and small children. Schools in the area also closed. The estimate of the plant was that 12,000 people would need to evacuate. In actuallity, over 400,000 people decided to evacuate. After 3 mile the public did not trust nuclear power. The general idea that you get from reading the reports of the incident was that of complete chaos. The staff was either contradicting each other or did not know what to do. After the accident American scientist were much more open. More wide spread knowledge meant more safety.

Windscale had about 2-3 days before it was too late. 3 Mile Island had 120 seconds. And on April 26, 1986 there was another accident at a soviet power plant 80 miles from Kiev in the Ukraine. Chernobyl had less than 40 seconds before there was no going back. 8 seconds after that the entire nuclear system was destroyed. It happened in the Unit 4 reactor. It was the result of an experiment that went very wrong. It was planned for a Friday afternoon, but postponed at the orders of the electricity boards controller. They were trying to find a way to get a little bit more electricity out of the turbine generator after the reactor had shut down before the emergency diesels came on. Because diesel engines in the old Soviet Union tended to be both unreliable and sluggish they might not start up fast enough when the reactor stopped. They thought that they would be able to take advantage of the fact that these big turbines were still spinning turning the generator even after the steam supply into the turbine had been cut off. They wanted to use those last moments of turbine spinning to get any extra electricity out of that they could.

Safety standards in the old Soviet Union were appalling. There just wasn’t a safety culture at all. Six different safely mechanisms were closed down. They did an extraordinary number of dangerous things. They shut off the emergency cooling system, they closed the valves so the water could not get into the reactor through the emergency system. They effectively shut off the system that would have normally shut down the reactor safely. By the time of the test 1 am on Saturday the control room shifts had changed no one knew who had shut what off. The reactor design didn’t help. RBMK reactors could develop a “positive voyca effect.” Which is a when the water in the tubes surrounding the reactor begin to boil. This can make the reactor generate more power, which in turn generates more steam, which equals more electricity.

They may not have been a safety culture, but there was certainly a secrecy culture. Despite wide spread reports from the west, especially Sweden, of sharply increased radiation levels. The first pictures of Chernobyl only appeared on television on May 4th. For the experiment, operators reduced the power, but below a certain power level the reactor gets unstable, so they tried to compensate by increasing the steam pressure. Steam and heat both increased. There are control rods, which deal with this, but the operators couldn’t get them in quick enough. So at 1:23 in the morning Chernobyl exploded like a pressure cooker. The radiation spread varied with wind direction and force. On the day of the explosion the radiation was obviously localized. By the 28th (day 3) it had blown over large parts of the northern Soviet Union and was spreading into Scandinavia. By the following day more of Scandinavia plus much of Eastern Europe and Germany were affected.

By May 5th, 10 days after the accident, the radiation cloud had affected much of Europe. The evacuation of Parpete the nearest town was agreed at 9 in the evening on Saturday. Buses were commandeered from all over the Ukraine and the population was moved out on Sunday afternoon and evening. Prapete, home for 45,000 people became a ghost town. Now the empty town was cut off by roadblocks and even those trucks allowed in on official business were forbidden form being used anywhere else in the Soviet Union. Amid all the despair the story of Chernobyl is also one of tremendous courage by the fireman and troops brought in to control the deadly blaze. The emergency measures they took were heroic by any standards and involved personal bravery of quite an incredible degree on the part of the thousands of people, firefighters, plant personnel, and helicopter pilots.

The top of the reactor was a gaping hole which in subsequent television images allowed you to see the glowing graphite fire inside the center of the reactor. They had to try to stop the radioactivity being spread into the air from the chimney. So they decided to start dumping materials into the top of the reactor, first to put out the fire, then to stop the escape of radioactivity. They brought in a lot of military helicopters with volunteer pilots and tied slings carrying sand and lead to the bottom of the helicopters. They hovered over the reactor and dropped their loads for about 10 days. The pilots received high amounts of gamma radiation and contamination from the radionuclides they were flying through. Miners from the Ukraine region of Dondas teamed up with under ground or metro train builders from Kiev. Their task was to put a 900 ft. sq. base under the reactor in case the molten core burned right through the bottom. Firemen and workers from other power stations were drafted to try to clear what was left of Unit 4 as well as the adjoining Unit 3 reactors. Soviet television showed pictures of them with a clock timing them; they had just one minute and ten seconds to work before they would become overwhelmed with radiation. All this was bravery of the highest order but from what we now know it was almost certainly a tragic and unnecessary waste of life. In particular the attempts to stop or cover up the molten core were useless. The tunneling was also appears to be useless given latest American research which paints an entirely different picture of what happened. When Chernobyl exploded the roof was blown right out. The huge circular concrete lid of the upper biological shield was blown up and pivoted and came crashing down in the reactor core where it was wedged. By now the reactor core was just a molten mash of deeply dangerous radioactive debris.

This burned through the concrete of the lower biological shield before settling on the concrete below. Here, it stabilized itself and nature itself averted the ultimate nightmare of the China syndrome. Towards the 7th, 8th, and 9th day of the disaster the fuel fused and burned its way through the concrete rooms under the reactor like lava. It finally, dissipated its heating power, came to rest and solidified and that was the end of the accident. But it wasn’t the end for those brave power station workers and firemen. Official figures say that only six firemen died but it is difficult to believe there weren’t many more as radiation related illness took their toll. The trial of those declared responsible appeared the following year. The defendant included the former station director who was sentenced to 10 years. What is left behind is almost a desert. They are monitoring and still there is a safety zone, which is about 19 miles around the plant and still a lot of contamination on the lands around the nuclear power plant.

These areas which are the size of about 100,000 sq. miles. It is empty and you can’t do any agriculture what so ever. A museum at Chernobyl tells the story for generations to come. Where the heroism of those who helped is remembered. The doomed Unit 4 reactor is buried inside a giant concrete tomb which has to be renewed every 40 years. Chernobyl will be unsafe for hundreds of years. The most radioactive elements such as Season 137 have half-life of 30 years. After several hundred years then one might be able to send in machines to encapsulate the debris and make it safe but it will be a very long-term project.

HP018: Opium War

HP018: Opium War

Today we have another episode from Tom Barker. This one is on the Opium War. Please send your feedback on this podcast to historypodcast@gmail.com and I will forward it to Tom. Thanks!


HP017: AH Reginald Buller

HP017: AH Reginald Buller

A request from Valerie from Berkley, CA. The famous fungus man from Birmingham. An accomplished mycologist who lead the life of a bachelor professor.

A request from Valerie from Berkley, CA. The famous fungus man from Birmingham. An accomplished mycologist who lead the life of a bachelor professor.

Welcome and thanks for listening to another historypodcast. Today we will be learning more about A.H. Reginald Buller a famous mycologist, which is an expert on fungus. Todays show is a request from Valire in Berkley, California. Thanks Valire!

My primary source for information regarding Buller is the article entitled “Reginald Buller: The Poet-Scientist of Mushroom City”, by L. Gordon Goldsborough. Goldsborough is from the Department of Botany at the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada. The article was published in Manitoba History, Spring/Summer 2004 Issue 47.

This article was written for the Manitoba University Faculty of Science centennial in 2004. Reginald Buller is not well known but those who have heard of him know him as a mycologist who lived in a cheap hotel his entire life and wrote a famous limerick.

There is infact so much information in the article I had little time to prepare this podcast. Many times I will quote directly from the article in order to get this podcast out on time.

The Bullers were tenant farmers, having resided in Oxfordshire, England since at least the 1600s. Alban Gardner Buller was the first member of the family to have an advanced education in the legal profession. He ultimately settled down in Mosely, a suburb of Birmingham to work as a barrister, magistrate, and county councilor. He married Mary Jane Huggins in the late 1860s and had a family of seven children. His blue-eyed, brown haired fifth child, Reginald was born in August 1874.

Buller occasionally suffered from dizzy spells – treated by his mother with liberal doses of brandy – and asthma made worse by pollen and spores during frequent outdoor forays.

Buller began his education in a boarding school. He also attended Queen’s College, Taunton and at age 18 to Mason College at Birmingham for further studies in Botany. Mason College is an affiliate of the confederations of colleges known collectively as the University of London. Buller received his Bachelors from there in November 1896. After his graduation he won the Heslop Gold Medal and the “1851 Exhibition Scholarship.” These awards enabled him to attend Leipzig in Germany where he arrived in October 1897. He received his PhD there in 1899 under the supervision of Wilhem Pfeffer. In 1900, he moved to Munich to study for a year at the Forstbotanishes Institute under Professor Robert Hartig. (end page 1) Buller would later acknowledge how Hartig and Germany had impacted him greatly. Hartig always insisted that plants were best studied in their natural setting, as opposed to dried or preserved specimens as was generally done at the time.

In March and April of 1900 and 1901 Buller spent his time at the International Marine Biological Station at Naples, studying the fertilization of sea urchin eggs. In 1901 Buller accepted an assistant lectureship in Botany from his alma mater Mason College, now called University of Birmingham. While there he published an article on frog anatomy. Buller was offered a position in special lectureship in plant pathology, but turned it down to take a professorship in Manitoba.

He was offered an annual salary of $2,500, which was several times more than what he was receiving at the University of Birmingham. This was also high even by standards of the time in Winnipeg. The city of Winnipeg was at the time being described as a mushroom city, referring to the transformation of the city from a trading post to bustling metropolis. However, a fungus professor would find himself comfortable in a mushroom city. Also, the job offered a long summer holiday, five months. This meant he could return to England every summer. He is said to have crossed the Atlantic 65 times. Lastly, Winnipeg had clean winter air, which could help him with his asthma.

Besides his interest in fungus Buller also sketched, played the piano, sang, committed Shakespeare to memory, and wrote poetry and plays.

Buller arrived in Winnipeg in September 1904. He stayed at the Vendome Hotel for seven years. In 1910, the McLaren brothers completed a grand new, 165-room hotel at the corner of Main Street and Rupert Avenue. Buller moved there in 1913. He would remain loyal to the McLaren for the remainder of this life, staying there 28 years. Even after the neighborhood had decayed and the McLaren had lost it’s luster. The reason for this may have been the apparent comfortability that Buller had relaxed into during his last years.

Buller grew to love Winnipeg and Canada in general. He stated, “the climate of Central Canada during the winter must be one of the best in any civilized country in the world.”

While at Manitoba, Buller was known to get into heated arguments with the Clergymen about science and religion. The condition of the university was horrible. Buller and many of the other professors had no assistants. They had to prepare for classes as well as grade papers themselves. Despite these obstacles Buller did very well. His lectures were said to be spellbinding and attendance to his classes grew to exceed the room’s capacity. On of his students described him thus, “a bland simple-appearing man …sometimes effervescent.”

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1929. The students held him in such honor that they all signed a congratulation letter.

In 1905 Buller along with other professors founded the Scientific Club of Winnipeg, where he gave several talks on fungi. He also lectured in large audiences at Winnipeg’s People’s Forum. Buller was unafraid of taking public stances that were unpopular or bound to draw controversy. In October 1912, Buller concluded his address to the University with the view that:

“In my opinion, telepathy by means of overwhelming evidence has been established as a fact … I regard the establishment of the fact of telepathy as enormously important, for here we have a phenomenon in the connection with human beings which, it seems to me, cannot be explained by either the chemist of the physicist, Telepathy teaches us how little we yet know of our own minds and how much there is yet to be discovered of human personality…”

Buller had a life long interest in the paranormal.

In 1908 he met Ruth Cohen a local writer and poet and according to some she was telepathic. In February 1912, Buller escorted her to a formal dinner commemorating Charles Dickens. Ruth had a nickname of PD, Phd dropping the h, for him. In November 1912, they carried out an experiment in which Buller arranged with a friend in Birmingham to wear, on a mutually agreed date, a certain color dress that Cohen would attempt to identify telepathically. The results of which were open to question. It seemed that Buller had taken an interest in Cohen unfortunately she was married to a lawyer.

Cohen wrote a poem to Buller under her pen name Miss Sheila Rand in 1913, which outlined her affections for him. Needless to say she was interested. Read the article to see the whole poem. Even though they both had feelings for each other the relationship never went any further.

By far the most controversial of Buller’s views were those on eugenics, the practice of intentionally directed breeding among humans for “race betterment.” In 1913 Buller claimed that eugenics provided a means by which mankind could “direct his destiny upon this earth.” He goes on to say, “no animal or plant breeder would breed from his worst stock. Why should humanity be so foolish as to allow feebleminded and other congenitally defective people to be set free from an institution un-sterilized and free to burden the next generation with defectives like themselves?”

Buller admitted privately to having carried out experiments on the sub-lethal effects of poisonous mushrooms on humans. Although, they killed when consumed in small amounts, smaller dosages had various temporary effects. He also seemed to have been in the habit of dispensing stimulants to friends. In a litter to a “Miss Williams” who lived with his sister Buller wrote:

“I am sending you three pills from my celebrated pill-box and trust that they will do you good. They are pleasant to take and are warranted to leave no ill effects behind. I quite enjoy the business of dispensing them and am only disturbed when, as occasionally happens, the stock gets low…”

Although Buller loved the German people and Germany as a whole, he did not agree with the army. Shortly after the sinking of the Lusituanaia in May 1915 Buller stated, “Our civilization is largely made of veneer, and if you scratch a German apparently beneath his skin you will find an ancient barbarian.” Which may seems strange given his stance on eugenics.

Buller supported the war effort. He joined the officer’s training program with the rank of Lieutant, attended training sessions whenever possible and was a member of the local Citizens Recruiting League, and actively supported conscription. He did not however enlist himself in the army. Although some of his colleagues did.

By the 1920s Buller had become focused on only the fungus.

It is ironic that, despite his long and distinguished career marked by accolades from organizations around the world, he is remembered in the 21st Century mostly for a limerick that he wrote on a whim, on a subject having nothing at all to do with biology.

In the Fall of 1923 when during a meeting of the Scientific Club of Winnipeg, a heated discussion arose because someone questioned the theory of relativity and its assumption that nothing could exceed the speed of light. To smooth things over, Buller said this limerick:

There was a young lady named Bright,

Whose speed was faster than light.

She set out one day,

In a relative way,

And returned home the previous night,

In 1943 the theory of relativity was expanded to describe the relations ship between energy, mass, and velocity, Buller would add a second stanza:

To her fiends said the Bright one in chatter,

“I have learned something new about the matter:

As my speed was so great,

Much increased was my weight,

Yet I failed to become any fatter.”

Buller’s prodigious research output, in his Researches on Fungi and miscellaneous other papers began to gain him and international reputation, which the University acknowledged in April 1924 by presenting him with and honorary degree.

In May 1928 to he would receive an honorary degree from the University of Saskatchewan.

Buller enjoyed reading on a wide range of subjects, including art history, poetry, history, biography, architecture, political science, drama, English and German grammar, religion, and literature.

As an unmarried university professor and public figure Buller would have been considered a prime catch by the society debutantes of Winnipeg. So his life-long bachelor hood has led to speculation about the basis for his apparent lack of interest in the opposite sex. His views on the subject are impossible to ascertain from his correspondence. Modern speculations of his hatred toward women and homosexuality persist.

Prior to his departure for Canada in 1904, he was married to a young lady named Katie Matthison, a relationship that seems to have been ended unilaterally by Buller.

In 1909 Buller met Elise M. Wakefield. He invited her out to social outings, which left Wakefield with the mistaken impression that Buller was interested in more than a casual relationship. Wakefield realized that he was not interested in more and while crushed the two still remained friends throughout their lives.

While visiting Washington, DC, he marveled at seeing Dr. Mary E. Walker in the lobbyof his hotel. Walker, a surgeon, had shocked polite society during and after the American Civil War by wearing men’s clothing in public. Buller railed in the Winnipeg newspapers against what he considered the “criminal or anti-social acts of militant suffragettes”.

Much has been made of a photograph of participants to the first meeting of the Mycological Society of America, in December 1932, where Buller is seen wearing two differently colored socks.

The University came into some financial trouble when it was discovered that their long time treasury officer was skimming from the top. So much so that in the spring of 1933 they asked the senior professors to take a voluntarily one-year leave-of-absence under which they would receive a payment of $1,000 and their pensions would remained intact. When he returned a new site for an addition to the University was decided that would cause Buller to travel between the two sites. This frequent travel frustrated Buller and led to his retirement in September 1936.

In 1939 Buller was attending a scientific conference in the US when WWII broke out. Fearing to travel across the Atlantic during the war he returned to the McLearn hotel.

In 1940 he suffered a heavy blow, the unsold copies of his major research accomplishment, the six volumes of his Researches on Fungi, were destroyed in the London Blitz, symbolically wiping clean the record of his long career.

He began to suffer severe headaches in 1943, which he ascribed to too much reading. The headaches grew worse and in January 1944 they culminated in a series of attacks that left him with a giddy feeling, dizziness, and a general weakness on the left side. Test a a local hospital confirmed his worse fears he had a brain tumor.

His health continued to deteriorate, as the progressively became blind, confused to the point where he no longer recognized visitors, and finally lapsed into a comma and died on July 3, 1944, at the age of 69.

In May 1958 the Buller Memorial Library was established. As requested Buller was cremated and with no other place to be stored, adorned a mantel in Bill Hanna’s office at the Rust Laboratory for several years. Finally, when the Buller Memorial Library was opened, he was placed in a cavity in one of its walls, concealed behind a brass commemorative plaque.

That will do it for this edition of historypodcast. Please stay tuned for a word from a good friend of mine about Griddlecakes Radio one of my favorite podcast. Also, I hope that you all noticed an increase in the show quality. I am recording on a new podcasting rig. Which includes an MXL 990 microphone and Eurorack UB802 mixer. Mad props to Ron for helping me set up my new rig!

If you are considering starting a podcast don’t think about it anymore just do it. I have been having a blast with it and I hope all you listeners are enjoying the show. I would like to announce that I will be attending the Portable Media Expo at Ontario, CA in November. I hope to see you all there! Once again please email your feedback, show suggestions, and guest podcast to historypodcast@gmail.com. You can find the show notes at historypodcast.blogspot.com. Thanks for listening and stay tuned!

HP014: Henry Knox

HP014: Henry Knox

Post intro: Welcome and thank you all for listening. I would like to thank everyone who sent in email after the last show. All the feedback was wonderful. Please keep it coming. The email address is historypodcast@gmail.com and the website address is historypodcast.blogspot.com.

Since the last show I was lucky enough to watch The Great Raid a film by John Dahl. I would recommend it for anyone interested in the Japanese occupation of the Philippines and American POW camps. It was based on two books:

  • The Great Raid on Cabanatuan: Rescuing the Doomed Ghosts of Bataan and Corregidor by William Breuer ISBN 0471037427
  • Ghost Soldiers: The Forgotten Epic Story of World War II’s Most Dramatic Mission by Hampton Sides ISBN 0385495641

I am happy to announce that I recently purchased a microphone online. It should arrive before the next show is recorded. The best part of this is it comes with a pop filter, which I am sure all of you will appreciate. Also, I must admit I am getting a little bored with the old intro which you just heard.

Before we get started I would like to ask everyone to help those in the South in any way you can. You can find out how to help at www.redcross.org.

Today’s show is a request from Ryan. He would like to know more about Heny Knox the US’s first Secretary of War.

Summary: Henry Knox, an American bookseller from Boston became the chief Artillery officer of the Continental Army and most notably the nation’s first United States Secretary of War. He was born to Scott-Irish immigrants William and Mary Campbell Knox in Boston on July 25, 1750. His father was a ship’s captain, engaged in the West Indies trade until his death in 1762. That same year Henry left school at the age of 12 and worked as a bookstore clerk to support his mother. Later he opened his own bookshop, the London Book Store, in Boston. Largely self-educated as an avid reader, he began to concentrate on military subjects, particularly Artillery.

Knox supported the American rebels, the Sons of Liberty, and was present at the Boston Massacre. He volunteered as a member of the Boston Grenadier Corps in 1772 and served under General Ward at the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775. Being a member of the Army of Observation, Henry met and impressed General Washington when he took command. The two quickly became lifelong friends. Knox also became his advisor.

As the Siege of Boston continued, he suggested that the cannon then at Fort Ticonderoga could have a decisive impact. Washington commissioned him as Colonel of Artillery, and gave him charge of the expedition to retrieve them. His force brought them by ox-drawn sled through the Green Mountains and across the frozen Connecticut River. When they returned and placed the cannons overlooking the harbor, the British were forced to withdraw to Halifax on March 17, 1776. After the siege was lifted, Henry undertook the construction and improvement of defenses in Connecticut and Rhode Island to prepare for the British return. He rejoined the main army later during their withdrawal from New York and across New Jersey.

On December 25, 1776 Colonel Knox was in charge of the Delaware River crossing. Though hampered by ice and cold, with Glover’s Marbleheaders manning the boats he got the attack force of men, horses, and artillery across the river without loss. Following the Battle of Trenton, he got the same force along with hundreds of prisoners, captured supplies, and all the boats back across river by the afternoon of December 26. This accomplishment got him promoted to Brigadier General.

Knox stayed with the Main Army throughout most of the active war. In 1777, while the Army was in winter quarters at Morristown, New Jersey, he returned to Massachusetts to improve the Army’s artillery capability. He raised an additional battalion and established the Springfield Armory before his return in the spring. The arsenal remained a valuable source of weapons and ammunition for the rest of the war. Knox made several other trips to the Northern states as Washington’s representative to increase the flow of men and supplies to the army.

After Yorktown, Knox was promoted to Major General. In 1782 he was given command of the post at West Point. In 1783 he was one of the founders of the Society of the Cincinnati, and led the American forces into New York City as the British withdrew.

The society of Cincinnati is a very interesting topic. Here is a little about them. Originally to become a member you had to fight in the American Reveolution. The French soldiers who fought were also admitted as members. From that point on member ship was given to the oldest son of a former member. The rules for membership have not changed much. You can find more about this select group on wikipedia.

After Washington retired, he was the senior officer of the Continental Army from December 1783 until he left it in June 1784.

The Continental Congress made him secretary of war under the Articles of Confederation on March 8, 1785. He held that position until September 12, 1789 when he assumed the same duties as the United States Secretary of War in Washington’s first cabinet.

As secretary, Knox was successful in the creation of a regular Navy, which was responsible for Indian policy, a plan for a national militia, and created a series of coastal fortifications. He oversaw the inclusion of the Springfield Armory as one of two national facilities. In 1791, Congress, acting on a detailed proposal from Knox, created the short-lived Legion of the United States. In 1797 the legion was disbanded and the army returned to a more regimental system.

On December 31, 1794 Knox left the government to devote himself to caring for his growing family. He was succeeded as Secretary of War by Timothy Pickering.

Knox settled his family at Monpelier, an estate near Thomaston, Maine. He spent the rest of his life engaged in cattle farming, ship building and brick making. Although he had left national service, he represented his new community in the Massachusetts General Assembly. In 1806 he swallowed a chicken bone, which punctured his intestine. He died of infection (peritonitis) 3 days later on October 21, 1806 and is buried in Thomaston.

When Knox was forced to leave Boston in 1775, his home was used to house British officers who looted his bookstore. In spite of personal financial hardships, he managed to make the last payment of 1,000 pounds to Longman Printers in London to cover the price of a shipment of books that he never received.

Two separate American forts, Fort Knox (Kentucky), and Fort Knox (Maine) were named after him. A Knox County has been named from him in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas. Knoxville, Tennessee is also named for him.

Fort Knox:

A military installation 30 miles southwest of Louisville, Kentucky, Fort Knox was established as a training base during the First World War, and is named for Henry Knox. The majority of United States gold reserves have been carefully guarded at Fort Knox since the Department of the Treasury built the two-story Fort Knox Bullion Depository in 1936 at a cost of almost $600,000. The first shipments of gold arrived a year after completion.

Gold Reserves

The United States gold reserves were established following the Great Depression, as a result of the monetary policy tying the value of currency to the market price of gold. Although the value of U.S. currency is no longer related to the price of gold, the U.S. Mint continues to maintain gold reserves at Fort Knox as well as at the Denver Mint, the Philadelphia Mint, the West Point Bullion Depository, and the San Francisco Assay Office.

The granite, steel, and concrete depository at Fort Knox encases a much smaller vault than might be expected. The actual vault is 105 feet by 121 feet, and stands 42 feet above the ground. It is constructed of steel plates and beams encased in concrete, while the building’s outer wall is made of granite and concrete. The door to the vault weighs more than 20 tons, and no one person knows its entire combination. The depository has its own emergency power plant and water system, and guard boxes protect its four outside corners.

No visitors are permitted in the depository, and only two U.S. presidents, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, have been inside the vault. In 1974, a small group of congressmen visited the vault to ensure that President Nixon had not sold off quantities of U.S. gold after the Watergate scandal.

The gold bars in the depository weigh about 27 pounds each, and approximately the same size as a brick. They are stored unwrapped, and must be handled with care to prevent abrasion or scratching. Their value fluctuates with the open market price of gold. Valuable documents have also been placed in the vault from time to time for safekeeping, including the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the original copy of the Gettysburg Address, and a copy of the Magna Carta, which was held for Great Britain during World War II.

Museum and Schools

Fort Knox also houses the Patton Museum of Cavalry and Armor, one of the largest in the U.S. Army’s museum system. Open to the public, the museum exhibits materials related to mechanized cavalry and armor dating from the American Civil War to the present.

A number of local colleges and universities, including the University of Kentucky, the University of Louisville, Eastern Kentucky University, and Western Kentucky University, operate satellite campuses at the Fort Knox Military Reservation.

Source: Our States: Geographic Treasures, 2003, p1, 3p

George Washington’s Cabinet

Henry Knox supported the creation of a national militia but this idea was not accepted by Congress. Knox had served with Washington in the Revolutionary War, during which he became Washington’s advisor. He supervised Washington’s troops as they crossed the Delaware River on Christmas night in 1776, to defeat the Hessian soldiers at Trenton.

Source: Monkeyshines on America, Nov2002 U.S. Events 1776-1812, p6, 1p

HP013: Lady Godiva

HP013: Lady Godiva

Lady Godiva was an Anglo-Saxon lady, who, according to legend, rode naked through the streets of Coventry in England, in order to gain from her husband a remission of the oppressive toll imposed on his tenants.


Hello everyone and thanks for joining me once again for another episode of hisotrypodcast, where you can learn about indivuduals and events from our past. The music you just heard is called Pale Fire. I will put a link on the website for it.

I received a great email from Don and I wanted to take this time to respond to it since I have not been able to write him back. The do it yourself pop filter site was great. I can’t wait to try that. Right now I am using a headset with an attached microphone so I don’t think I will be adding a pop filter to that. But if any one is thinking about selling a MXL 990 I am in the market. I would very much like to increase the quality of sound in the podcast. Also, Ron gave a more probable history of the work fuck. I will post a link on the website. He also mentioned that I was asking for votes. I think you he may have misunderstoond. I was asking for people to vote on what they would like to hear next on the podcast, not to vote on odeo, podcastalley or any of those. I will eventually get to doing a podcast on the Ottman Empire as it seems that was the general coneseous.

I encourage all of you to email me about anything. You can just say hi. I am also considering something I heard on podcast brothers today. The talked about recuriting a co-host for those podcast who don’t already have one. Recently, it has become hard for me to find the time to put together these podcast. With each one I feel I could do so much more if I had the time. If anyone is interested in doing a short bit on history please send it to me and I will play it on the show. It also give me more time to develop my own podcast subjects. Also, I am going to post a new poll on the website asking how often you would like new historypodcast to come out. So please visit the website and take our poll. Thanks.

The website is historypodcast.blogspot.com and the email address is historyPodcast@gmail.com.

Lady Godiva or Godifu which means God’s gift is a mysterous legend. Most of us know Godiva to be a chocolate manufacturer and they do use her name for their product. The first recorded document about Lady Godiva is in Flores Historium by Roger of Wendover around the year of 1220. The account is written about 200 years after the actual events are said to occur. Robert Lacey quotes Flores Historium in his book Great Tales from English History,

Longing to free the town of Coventry from the oppression of a heavy tax, Lady Godiva begged her husband with urgent prayers, for the sake of Jesus and his mother Mary, that he would free the town from the toll, and from all other heavy burdens. The earl rebuked her sharply. She was asking for something that would cost him much money, and he forbade her to raise the subject to him again. But, with a woman’s persistence, she would not stop pestering her husband, until he finally gave her this reply. ‘Mount your horse, and ride naked before all the people, through the market of the town, from one end to the toher, and on your return you shall have your request.’ To which Godiva replied, ‘But will you give me permission if I am ready to do it?’ ‘I will,’ her husband replied. Whereupon the countess, beloved of God, loosed her hair and let down tresses, which covered the whole of her body like a veil. And then, mounting her horse, and attended by two knights, she rode through the market place, without being seen, excpet for her fair legs. And having completed the journey, she returned with gladness to her astonished hhusband, and obtained of him what she had asked. Earl Leofric freed the town of Conventry and its inhabitants from the taxes.

That is the readers digest version of the Lady Godiva tale. But there are a lot of questions to be answered. Was Lady Godiva a real person? Were is the proof of this?

Well, there is the Doomsday book, which is a subject that could really be its own podcast subject. The Doomsday book was a medevil equivzlant of our census. Basically, in around 1085 William the Conquer wanted to know what everyone had. When he did then he would be able to tax everyone accordingley. The two books, liitle doomsday and Great doomsday. Little doomsday covered Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex. Great doomsday covered the rest of England, except for those areas not yet conqured by William. Also left out were London and Winchester as well as some other smaller towns. There is no reason for these places being left out. London and Winchester would have been very difficult to catalog, that is one conculsion, but this does not account for the other smaller towns being left out. There is no definitive answer.

The books were not originally called the doomsday books, but rather, ‘The Kings Roll’ or ‘The Winchester Book’, because of when it was made. The affectionate term of Doomsday was given to the books from the villagers who were included in the book. And everyone was included in the book. The book contained 900 pages of hand-written Latin, over two million words. When a question of ownership came up the book was the final say. Whatever was written in it was the law, there was no questioning it. The first known dispute was in the 1090’s. It is now stored in the National Archives building in Kew in southwest London.

Back to Lady Godiva. She is listed in the book. She owned at least one estate in Worcestershire at the beginning of 1066. She inhertited these estates after her husband died in 1057. Her husband was the Earl Leofric.

There are various versions of the story. Some say the famous ride took place in the evening, morning or afternoon. Sometimes she is accompanied by other riders. The riders are sometimes male knights and other times clothed women riders. The good news is she does do the ride in every version and gets the taxes lowered. As late as the 18th Century the town of Conventry was still boasting about its tax exempt status. However, they were few of them, according to the doomsday book only 69 families lived in Conventry around the time of Lady Godiva.

Aside from her famous ride Lady Godiva is also known as a very religious individual who gave ample financial support to monestaries (churches) in and around her places of residence.

Lady Godiva died in 1070. In August of 2001 Archoligist discovered a portion of stain glass in the ruins of a church near Lady Godiva’s home. They believe the image on the glass is on of Lady Godiva herself. Check out the link to the BBC news article on the website.

HP011: John Hanson First President?

HP011: John Hanson First President?

John Hanson was a delegate to the Continental Congress from Maryland. He has been called the First President of the United States because he was the first man to serve a full term as President of the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation in 1781 and 1782.

The following men served as the President of the Continental Congress:

  • Peyton Randolph (September 5, 1774 – October 21, 1774) and
  • Henry Middleton (October 22, 1774 – October 26, 1774)
  • Peyton Randolph (again) (May 10, 1775 – May 23, 1775)
  • John Hancock (May 24, 1775 – October 31, 1777)
  • Henry Laurens (November 1, 1777 – December 9, 1778)
  • John Jay (December 10, 1778 – September 27, 1779)
  • Samuel Huntington (September 28, 1779 – March 1, 1781)

The following men served as President of the United States in Congress Assembled:

  • Samuel Huntington (March 1, 1781 – July 9, 1781)
  • Thomas McKean (July 10, 1781 – November 4, 1781)
  • John Hanson (November 5, 1781 – November 3, 1782)
  • Elias Boudinot (November 4, 1782 – November 2, 1783)
  • Thomas Mifflin (November 3, 1783 – October 31, 1784)
  • Richard Henry Lee (November 30, 1784 – November 6, 1785)
  • John Hancock (November 23, 1785 – May 29, 1786)
  • Nathaniel Gorham (June 6, 1786 – November 5, 1786)
  • Arthur St. Clair (February 2, 1787 – November 4, 1787)
  • Cyrus Griffin (January 22, 1788 – November 2, 1788)


This is a request from David in Chicago. Thanks David!

John Hanson was the first man to hold the title “President of the United States in Congress Assembled”, eight years before Washington’s election.

Born April 13, 1721 at Mulberry Grove, Charles County, Maryland. His father Samuel served as a member of the General Assembly of Maryland. Hanson was to hold this seat almost continuously from 1757 – 1773. He also served on the Assembly in Fredrick, Maryland until 1779.

In 1765 with the passage of the Stamp Act Hanson worked diligently to organize and manage opposition. In opposition of the Townsend Acts Hanson signed the Maryland non-importation agreement and let a group of men to Tobacco Creek to force the captain of a vessel to return to England.

Parliament closed the port of Boston in response to the Teac Act. Hanson chaired a meeting, which passed a resolution to stop all trade with Great Britain and the West Indies until Parliament repealed the Boston Port Act. He also sent 200 pounds of his own money to those in Boston affected by the closure.

When the fighting began in Lexington and Concord in 1775. Hanson signed the Association of the Freeman of Maryland, which approved firing on the British troops to repel them. He also helped to organized to companies of men to join Washington’s men in Massachusetts. As a member of the convention Hanson helped draw up the state Constitution and Bill of Right’s. Also during this time he foiled a British plan to muster Indians and Loyalist against the colonist. His messages of warning to the Continental Congress lead to the discovery of the Loyalist conspirators.

In 1779 he was sent to represent Maryland in congress at Philadelphia. There he served on committees dealing with finances. He was also involved in the ratification of the Articles of Confederation. Though evidence is scarce it is said that Hanson was a major influencer of those who wanted to hold out waiting for Virginia and the other states to agree to the Articles.

On November 5, 1781, Hanson was elected to a one-year term as the new government’s first president. He was chosen over many other well-qualified leaders, probably because of his work in getting Maryland to agree to the Articles of the Confederation.

While president Hanson formed the first cabinet, consisting of secretaries of war, finance, foreign affairs, and state. Surprisingly enough, Hanson’s first use of the “Great Seal of the United States” was on a 1782 commission authorizing George Washington to exchange ware prisoners. Just days before his left office he proclaimed American’s first national Thanksgiving day to be celebrated the last Thursday of every November.

Hanson had suffered from bad health the whole year he was president and died just a year after his presidency on November 15, 1783 in Oxon Hill, Prince George’s County Maryland, while visiting relatives.

Gay, James Thomas, American History; Jun99, Vol. 34 Issue 2, p12, 2p
ISSN: 1076-8866

The debate about who was the first president still rages on to this day in historian circles. Take this passage below:

“There has been a good deal of brouhaha about who was the first president of the United States. Most vocal have been the supporters of the claim of John Hanson, of Mulberry Grove, Maryland, who held tenure during the year beginning in November 1781. It has been claimed that Hanson was the first president of the United States in Congress Assembled. But the claim is tenuous. Hanson was the first of the presidents of Congress to begin his presidential service at the start of the federal year provided by the Articles of Confederation, but he was not even the first president to serve under the newly adopted Articles of Confederation, since both Samuel Huntington of Connecticut and Thomas McKean of Delaware preceded him as presidents under the new government. Were the functioning of Congress under the new Articles to be the criterion, then a strong case could be made out for Huntington. But even stronger cases could be made out for Peyton Randolph of Virginia, the first president of both the First and Second Continental Congresses, or for John Hancock, the president of Congress when that body declared its independence. Considering the character of the office, its limitations in explicit powers and tenure, and the fact that most executive functions were assumed by the departmental secretaries created under the Confederation, it is clear that one is describing an incumbent who was but first among equals in the Congress, a far different position from the chief executive whose powers were enumerated by the Framers of the federal Constitution. If you ask any schoolchild who was the first President of the United States, he or she will answer, hopefully, George Washington. And it would be correct.”

From pages 107-108 in Richard B. Morris, The Forging of the Union 1781-1789 (Harper & Row, pbk, 1987)

HP010: Mata Hari

HP010: Mata Hari

Introduction: “I am not French, I have the right to have friends in other countries, even among those at war with France. I have remained neutral. I count upon the goodness of heart of you French officers.” – Court Martial in Paris, June 24, 1917.

Adam Zelle, a tradesman in the Dutch town of Leeuwarden, was to have a daughter of great charms. On August 7, 1876 Margaretha Geertruida was born. At 14 she began attending a convent school where she was taught domestic arts to prepare her for marriage.

On month before her 19th birthday she married Campbell MacLeod a Dutch army man of Scottish decent. He was 21 years older than Margaretha. Quickly Mrs. MacLeod gave birth to a son and a daughter. In 1897 she followed her husband to the Dutch East Indies where he had been given command of a battalion on the island of Java.

MacLeod was a drunk. He had numerous affairs and abused his wife. Once pointing a loaded gun at her. According to some a servant who had been mistreated by MacLoed poisoned him.

In 1902 Margaretha left her husband. Four years later the divorce would be made final. She left her daughter with some relatives and ventured to Paris.

In Paris she assumed the stolen identify of an East Indies Temple Dancer who had died at childbirth. By 1905 the charade was in full swing. Margaretha was tall, shapely with dark eyes and hair. Her complexion was slightly brown. With these characteristics she easily passed as Indian. The name she gave herself was Mata Hari, which means eye of the dawn.

Her career boomed, she was doing shows at theaters in Monte Carlo, Berlin, Vienna, Milan and Madrid.

Her mostly male audiences said they attended her shows to learn more about Eastern religions. However, in truth they came to see young women who danced for them virtually nude.

By the start of WWI in August 1914, Mata Hari was said to be the highest paid in her profession. Among the men she was seeing was Germany’s crown prince, the foreign minister, and the Duke of Brunswick. On the day the war started she was seen riding through the streets of the German capital with the chief of police.

In 1915 she was back in Paris. The French police thought she was there for espionage. She was detained by the French for that reasons. She denied all charges and offered to spy of the French. Surprisingly, the French agreed. They sent her to Germany with a list of six French spy contacts. Shortly after she arrived , one of the contacts on her list was captured and shot by the German’s. After the agents death the French moved Mata Hari to neutral Spain via a ship from the Netherlands.

The British forced the ship ashore at Falmouth on England’s Southern Coast on the belief that she was a German spy named Clara Bendix. She was released from the British when she convinced them that she was working for the French. Although, advised by the British to give up the spy business she continued to Madrid.

Once in Madrid she had no trouble forming liaisons with German military attachés. She was paid well for her services. What those services were remains the core mystery of the Mata Hari.

In late 1916 the Germans sent a message to Madrid that “Agent H-21” was being paid too much for her “service” and was to be given 5,000 ($159 US dollars today) francs and returned to Paris. The French secret police intercepted this message.

On February 12, 1917 Mata Hari checked into the Ritzy Hotel-Plazaénée and was immediately arrested as a German double agent. The evidence was the un-cashed check for 5,000 francs and a container of invisible ink, both found in her room.

During her interrogation Mata Hari claimed that the “invisible ink” was in fact a common disinfectant that she used as a contraceptive. As for the check for 5,000 francs, she claimed it was in exchange for sexual pleasures that she had performed for the German attachés in Madrid and not for any espionage activities.

After the interrogation she was taken to Saint-Lazare prison and assigned to cell 12. Past residents of cell 12 included the female assassin of a former French president and Margueritte Francillard, who had been executed as a spy.

Months of interrogations had proved fruitless. Her trial was on July 24, 1917. She was sentenced to death by firing squad. On October 15 she was awakened to find out this would be the day of her death. She was taken to Château Vincennes on the outskirts of the city. The firing squad was already there and set up by the time she arrived. They lined three sides of a square facing a tree that had been stripped of branches.

She accepted the traditional shot of Rum allowed to a condemned person. However, she refused to be tied to the tree or to wear a blindfold. Twelve shots rang out and her body fell to the ground.

Two stories abound about her death sentence. The first involves an admirer Pierre de Morrsac who was said to have bribed the firing squad to use blanks. Obviously, this plan either failed or never happened. The second story is that right before the firing squad pulled their 12 collective triggers Mata Hari opened her coat to show her murders her nude body. No proof of either story exists to my knowledge.