100 Years Ago
On March 8, 1910, French actress, balloonist and artist Raymonde de Laroche becomes the world’s first licensed woman pilot. Determined to fly after taking a single airplane ride, de Laroche—born Elise Deroche in 1886—is taught by aviator and plane-maker Charles Voisin. “Flying does not rely so much on strength as on physical and mental coordination,” she tells reporters. De Laroche wins the 1913 Femina Cup and sets two women’s altitude records before being killed in a 1919 plane crash while trying to become a test pilot.
160 Years Ago
Red Letter Day
Nathaniel Hawthorne publishes The Scarlet Letter March 16, 1850. Written in six months, the tale of Hester Prynne, Arthur Dimmesdale, Roger Chillingworth and adultery, guilt, revenge and morality in Puritan New England is “positively a hell- fired story,” the author tells a friend. A critical and popular success— “nearly perfect,” one review calls it—the first edition of 2,500 copies sells out in two weeks and makes Hawthorne’s reputation. One of the early mass-produced books in America, it has never been out of print.
200 Years Ago
Poet Of The Piano
Frédéric Chopin is born near Warsaw, Poland, on March 1, 1810, according to his family (although a church record says February 22). A piano prodigy, he begins composing by age 7. Although Chopin will spend most of his adult life in France, childhood travels to country estates in Poland with his father, a teacher of French, expose him to the folk music that will infuse his classical works. Praised as a genius by Robert Schumann in an 1831 review, the composer becomes known for his emotion-filled, technically innovative piano pieces. He dies of tuberculosis in 1849 in Paris, at age 39.
210 Years Ago
In a report to London’s Royal Society in March 1800, Italian physicist Alessandro Volta describes his voltaic pile, now better known as the first electric battery. Using layers of copper, zinc and wet cardboard in a closed circuit, Volta produces current and electrifies science. The volt is named after him in 1881.
240 Years Ago
Massacre In Boston
Tensions between Massachusetts colonists and British soldiers sent to enforce duties on paper, lead, glass and tea ignite March 5, 1770, when a sentry at Boston’s Customs House, having struck a colonist, is pelted with snowballs and debris by a mob. Soldiers who come to the sentry’s aid, led by Capt. Thomas Preston, are surrounded. When one is hit by a stick, they fire into the crowd, fatally wounding five colonists—including Crispus Attucks, a black sailor. Samuel Adams uses the “bloody massacre” to rally support for independence. Preston, defended by John Adams, is acquitted of murder.