This Month in History

October anniversaries— momentous or merely memorable

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40 YEARS AGO: OVERARCHING THEME

As 10,000 viewers stare skyward, ironworkers 630 feet up maneuver a 10-ton keystone to complete St. Louis’ Gateway Arch, on October 28, 1965. Fire hoses spray water on the sun-warmed steel to limit expansion as the last of 142 triangular segments is put in place. Designed by Eero Saarinen to be a “triumphal arch for our age,” the gleaming curve crowns the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, celebrating the spirit of the Western pioneers.


150 YEARS AGO: DARN TOOTIN'

Massachusetts beekeeper J. C. Stoddard patents the calliope, October 9, 1855. Fond of the sound of locomotive whistles, Stoddard affixes 15 of them of varying sizes on a steam chest, with a music box cylinder to open the valves. Though his hometown quickly bans it, the calliope becomes the signature sound of riverboats and circus parades. Stoddard patents a hay rake in 1879 and a fire escape in 1884, and dies in 1902.


100 YEARS AGO: WILD THINGS

Scandal fills room seven of the 1905 Salon d’Automne art show in Paris as viewers reel before the vivid, unnatural hues, unbridled brushstrokes and almost abstract landscapes hung there. The artists, among them Henri Matisse, André Derain (left, his Mountains at Collioure, also from 1905) and Maurice de Vlaminck, quickly become known by a reviewer’s epithet: Les Fauves (The Wild Beasts). Using color for color’s sake, the Fauves catch the modern eye until 1908, when Cubism offers a new point of view.


200 YEARS AGO: SEA WORTHY

Admiral Horatio Nelson, 47, leads an outnumbered British fleet in a two-pronged fight against Napoleon’s force of French and Spanish ships off the coast of Spain’s Cape Trafalgar on October 21, 1805. The British triumph in the five-hour battle thwarts Napoleon’s plans to invade England and asserts the Royal Navy’s supremacy on the high seas, but it is not without cost: some 6,000 French and Spanish and 1,700 British seamen are wounded or killed, including Nelson, who dies thanking God “I have done my duty.”


25 YEARS AGO: A REALLY BIG SHOW

Astronomers gather in the New Mexico desert to dedicate the Very Large Array telescope on October 10, 1980. The radio telescope’s 27 antennas work as a single instrument to allow detailed imaging of objects as near as our solar system or as far as the most distant quasar, 12.8 billion light-years away. Today the VLA produces more discoveries annually than any other ground observatory.


180 YEARS AGO: WATER WEDDING

New York governor DeWitt Clinton takes the inaugural voyage on the Erie Canal, leaving Buffalo for New York City aboard the packet boat Seneca Chief, October 26, 1825. The 363-mile canal, eight years and $7 million in the making, links Lake Erie to the Hudson River. At the end of his nine-day trip along “Clinton’s Folly”—he had predicted the canal would create “the greatest inland trade ever witnessed”—Clinton pours a barrel filled in Lake Erie into the Atlantic in a “wedding of the waters.” His prediction is on the mark: shipping costs drop by 90 percent, settlers flood west and the canal pays for itself in nine years.

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