50 Years Ago
Swiss engineer Jacques Piccard and U.S. Navy Lt. Don Walsh make the world’s deepest manned dive, January 23, 1960, in the bathyscaph Trieste—a deep- sea research sub designed by Piccard’s father. Their seven-mile descent to the floor of Challenger Deep in the Pacific’s Mariana Trench—the deepest point in the oceans—takes nearly five hours. On the bottom they see fish—proof of life and oxygen at extreme depths. In June 2009 a robot sub retrieves samples from the trench that may reveal new information about tectonic plate collisions.
60 Years Ago
Raytheon engineer Percy Spencer patents the microwave oven, January 24, 1950. The idea came to him when working with magnetron tubes for use in radar; he discovered they melted the chocolate in his pocket, then popped some nearby corn. Initially sold for commercial use for $2,000, today microwave ovens cook in over 90% of American kitchens.
120 Years Ago
Greeted at the train station by a horde of cheering readers, New York World journalist Nellie Bly, 25, arrives in New Jersey on January 25, 1890, a record 72 days 6 hours 11 minutes after leaving, to beat Cosmopolitan’s Elizabeth Bisland in a race around the world. Bly’s 21,740-mile journey includes a meeting with Jules Verne, creator of Phileas Fogg, whose 80-day record she believes can be bested—and by a woman, to boot. On her return Bly—born Elizabeth Cochran, she takes her pen name from a Stephen Foster song—publishes an account of her trip, Around the World in 72 Days, to robust sales.
150 Years Ago
A Dramatic Life
Anton Pavlovich Chekhov is born, the son of a grocer, in Taganrog, Russia, January 29, 1860. A doctor by profession, Chekhov as a young man is known for his comedic stories. His writing takes a more serious turn with the publication of a novella, Steppe, in 1888. More than 50 short stories and plays—including The Seagull (1896), Uncle Vanya (1897), Three Sisters (1901), The Cherry Orchard (1904)—follow. The works masterfullly chronicle the mundane lives and pent-up emotions of his three- dimensional characters. Chekhov dies of tuberculosis in 1904, age 44.
350 Years Ago
Words To Live By
“Blessed be God, at the end of the last year I was in very good health.” On January 1, 1660, English naval administrator Samuel Pepys begins one of literature’s most famous diaries. For a decade he chronicles London affairs—of state and the heart—the war with the Dutch, a plague outbreak and the Great Fire of 1666. His colorful details—a murderer, on being drawn and quartered, looks “as cheerfully as any man could in that condition”—make the diary good history and, after its publication in 1825, good