Sunday, January 5, 2014

John Newton (#54)


John Henry Newton was born on July 24, 1725 in Wapping, London, the son of a shipmaster. Newton's mother, Elizabeth Seatcliffe Newton was the daughter of an instrument maker from London, but she died of tuberculosis when John was only seven years old. Two years later, Newton went to live with his father's new wife, during which he attended school. 

When he was eleven, Newton worked at sea with his father. When his father retired, Newton was expected to go work on a sugar plantation in Jamaica, but Newton decided to sign on with a merchant ship in the Mediterranean instead.

Life at Sea

In 1743, Newton was captured and pressed into the naval service by the Royal Navy. He became a midshipman on the HMS Hardwich. Newton attempted to desert, but was captured and was given eight dozen lashes and was reduced to the rank of common seaman. After this event, Newton contemplated murdering the captain and committing suicide himself. Newton eventually recovered, both physically and mentally, and was transfered to the Pegasus, a slave ship bound for West Africa. 

Newton was deemed a problem by the crew of the Pegasus and was handed over to a slave dealer named Amos Clowe. Clowe took Newton to the coast and gave him to Clowe's wife, an African duchess, as a slave. Newton was abused and mistreated while there, but was rescued in 1748 by a sea captain who had been hired by Newton's father to search for him.

The sea captain returned Newton to Liverpool, where Newton acquired a slave ship Brownlow. During a voyage to the West Indies, Newton became sick with fever. While sick, Newton recognized the inadequacy of his spiritual life. He then professed his full belief in Christ. After this, in 1750, Newton married his childhood sweetheart. Newton did, however, continued working in the slave trade until 1754. 


Newton settled down in 1755 to become a tax collector, and in his spare time, he studied Greek, Hebrew, and Syriac and soon became a well known evangelical lay minister. In 1757, he applied to be ordained as a priest of the Church of England. He was refused multiple times by the Church of England, the Methodist Church, and the Presbyterian Church. It wasn't until 1764, that Newton was accepted as the priest of Olney on the recommendation of Lord Dartmouth.

In 1767, a poet named William Cowper moved to Olney. He attended Newton's church, and the two worked together to create a volume of hymns, published in 1779 as the Olney Hymns. Among these hymns was the most famous ever written, titled "Amazing Grace". 

In 1788, Newton published a pamphlet entitled "Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade", in which he described the horrible conditions of slave ships he had experienced 34 years prior. In the pamphlet, Newton denounced slavery and expressed shame and humiliation for ever being part of the slave trade. Newton became an ally with William Wilberforce, who led the Parliamentary campaign to abolish the slave trade. 

The End

Newton lived with his wife, Mary Catlett until her death in 1790. After her death, Newton published Letters to a Wife, in which he expressed his sorrow at her passing. Newton died on December 21, 1807, but before his death, he was able to see the passage of the Slave Trade Act of 1807, which abolished slavery in the British Empire. Newton is on our list because despite entering the world of slavery and cruelty, he was able to turn his life around, write one of the most famous hymns in the world, and fight against the slavery that he once practiced.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Nancy Wake (#55)


Nancy Grace Augusta Wake was born on August 30th, 1912 in Roseneath, Wellington, New Zealand. She was the youngest of six children in her family. Her family moved to North Sydney, Australia soon after her birth, but her father returned to New Zealand soon after that, leaving Nancy's mother to raise the six children.

While in Sydney, Wake attended the North Sydney Household Arts School, but at the age of 16, Wake ran away from and went to work as a nurse. Using 200 she inherited from her aunt, Wake travelled to New York and then to London, where she trained herself to be a journalist. Wake moved to Paris where she worked as a European correspondent for Heart newspapers. She experienced and reported on the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party. In 1937, Wake met Henri Edmond Fiocca, whom she married in 1939.

World War Two

When Germany invaded France, Wake was living with her husband in Marseilles, and when France fell in 1940, Wake became a courier for the French Resistance and later joined the escape network of Captain Ian Garrow. Wake became so good at avoiding capture that the Gestapo referred to her as the White Mouse. The Resistance had to be careful when giving Wake missions because she was constantly in danger. The Gestapo had begun to tap her phone and intercept her male, and by 1943, Wake had become the Gestapo's most wanted person with a price of 5 million francs on her head. 

The escape network was betrayed by a spy in 1943 and Wake had to flee Marseille. Her husband remained behind and was captured, tortured, and executed. Wake was able to escape into Spain and return to Britain. Wake joined the Special Operations Executive in Britain and in 1944, she parachuted into the Auvergne, becominga liaison between London and a group of guerrilla fighters led by Henri Tardivat. She became instrumental in recruiting members to the guerrilla groups, and soon, Tardivat's army was 7,500 strong. Tardivat and Wake led missions throughout the war, taking on 22,000 soldiers with their 7,500. In the process, they caused 1,400 casualties while losing only 100 of their own men.

After the war, Wake recieved the George Medal, the United States Medal of Freedom, the Medaille de la Resistance, and the Croix de Guerre. It wasn't until after the war that she learned about her husbands capture and death. She worked at the British Air Ministry for several years before moving back to Australia to run for the 1949 federal election. She lost and moved back to London and resumed work for the Air Ministry. In 1957, she resigned and married RAF officer John Forward and the two moved to Australia.

The End

In 1997, Forward died and in 2001, Wake moved back to London. She stayed at several hotels where, although she did pay for her stay, much of her living costs were absorbed by the hotel. Wake died on August 7, 2011 of a chest infection at the age of 98. Nancy Wake is on our list because of her efforts in World War II and for making it to the top of the Gestapo's most wanted list.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Fahrenheit & Celsius (#57/#56)


Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit was born on May 24, 1686 in Danzig in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Fahrenheit came from a family of merchants, but in 1701, both of Fahrenheit's parents died from eating poisonous mushrooms. After this, Fahrenheit moved to Amsterdam to begin training to become a merchant himself.

While in Amsterdam, Fahrenheit became interested in natural science and began studying and experimenting in the field. Fahrenheit also began to travel throughout Northern and Central Europe. While travelling, Fahrenheit met many notable members of the scientific and Enlightenment communities, including Gottfried Leibniz, co-developer of infinitesimal calculus, and Ole Romer, who made the first quantitative measurements of the speed of light.

In 1717, Fahrenheit settled in The Hague as a glassblower who specialized in making barometers, altimeters, and thermometers. Fahrenheit also lectured in chemistry in Amsterdam. In 1724, Fahrenheit created a scale to record temperature based on three points. These three points were the lowest point on the thermometer, or 0 Fahrenheit (F), the freezing point of water, or 32 F, and body temperature, which he calculated to be 96 F. The system was later changed so that the difference between the freezing and boiling points of water was exactly 180 F. 


Anders Celsius was born on November 27, 1701 in Uppsala, Sweden. Unlike Fahrenheit, Celsius came from a family of scientists. Celsius's father and maternal grandfather were astronomers, and Celsius's paternal grandfather was a mathematician. Celsius studied at the Uppsala University and in 1730, Celsius became a professor there.

Celsius published many works in several fields of study. In one study conducted, he was the first to suggest that there was a connection between the appearance of the aurora borealis and changes in the magnetic field of the Earth, which was later proved to be correct. He also was part of the 1736 expedition to Lapland to measure the length of a degree along the meridian. This expedition, when compared to similar measurements from Peru, proved Isaac Newton's theory that the Earth was ellipsoid, rather than completely round, and flattened at the poles. Celsius was also one of the first people to measure the magnitude, or brightness, of certain stars, and, even with the equipment he used, Celsius was quite accurate.

Celsius is most famous for his creation of the temperature system that was named after him. Celsius understood that the boiling point of liquids was not simply dependent on heat but on pressure as well, so using a standard pressure (the pressure at sea-level), Celsius created a thermometer. At the standard pressure, the thermometer would read 100 Celsius (C) at water's melting point and 0 C at its boiling point. A year after his death, the system was reversed so the 0 C would be freezing and 100 C would be boiling.

The End

Fahrenheit died in The Hague on September 16, 1736 and is buried there at Cloister Church. Celsius died on April 25, 1744 of tuberculosis soon after co-founding the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Fahrenheit's system of temperature measurement was widely accepted throughout the world and is still used by the general population of the United States, Belize, and in parts of the United Kingdom and Canada. Celsius's system, when published, replaced Fahrenheit's system in all but the above stated regions. The Celsius system has also become the standard measurement system for the majority of scientific studies, and the Kelvin System is based off of that of Celsius. Fahrenheit and Celsius are on our list because they create the first systems to measure temperature without just say "It's cold." or "It's hot."

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Ching Shih (#58)


Much of Ching Shih's early life is unknown, including her birth date and her birth name. What we do know is that she was a Cantonese prostitute who was working in the city of Canton until she was captured by pirates. In 1801, she married Zheng Yi, a notorious Cantonese pirate from a successful pirate family. Zheng Yi used military assertion and his reputation to create an alliance of pirates. By 1804, the fleet Zheng Yi created had become one of the most powerful fleets in all of China and was known as the Red Flag Fleet.

Rise to Power

On November 16, 1807, Zheng Yi died. Ching Shih, who had taken part in all of her husband's business as a pirate, began to maneuver herself into her late husbands leadership position. She began to refer to herself as Ching Shih, which means Zheng's widow, and she began to create personal relationships to get rivals to recognize her authority. 

Ching Shih further strengthened her position by gaining the support of Cheng Pao-yang and Cheng Ch'i, the nephew and cousin of her late husband. Ching Shih used Chang Pao and Cheng Ch'i to manage the fleets daily operations while she commanded the fleet as a whole. Eventually, Chang Pao and Ching Shih became lovers and later on, the two married. 

Chang Pao and Ching Shih united the Red Flag Fleet under a common code of laws which was strictly enforced. The code included rules on the division of riches taken from captured ships along with punishments for insubordination, and codes on taking captives and raiding villages.

The End

By 1806, Ching Shih's fleet was the strongest in all of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The Chinese attempted to stop the fleet, but failed to do so and lost 63 ships in the process. Portugal and Britain also tried to defeat Ching Shih, but both failed. The navies of the three nations realized that it was hopeless and in 1810, all pirates were offered amnesty. Ching Shih took the opportunity to retire. She took her loot and opened a gambling house. She died in 1844, when it is believed that she was 69. Ching Shih is on our list for creating what was probably the greatest pirate fleet that the world has ever seen.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Dimitri Mendeleev (#59)


Dimitri Ivanovich Mendeleev was born on February 8, 1834 near Tobolsk in Siberia. There is no consensus on how many siblings Mendeleev had, but all sources agree that the number was at least eleven. Dimitri's father supported the family by teaching fine arts, politics, and philosophy, but after some time, Mendeleev's father became blind and lost his teaching position. Mendeleev's mother was forced to restart her family's abandoned glass factory, but when he was thirteen, Mendeleev's father died and the glass factory was destroyed in a fire, so Mendeleev was sent to study at the Gymnasium in Tobolsk.

In 1850, Mendeleev's family moved to St. Petersburg and Mendeleev began to attend the Main Pedagogical Institute. After graduation in 1855, Mendeleev contracted tuberculosis and moved to the Crimean Peninsula to recover his health. While away, Mendeleev became the science master of the Simferopol gymnasium No. 1, but returned to St. Petersburg in 1857.

On April 27, 1862, Mendeleev married Feozva Nikitichna Lescheva with whom he was married to until 1882, when he became obsessed with Anna Ivanova Popova. Mendeleev divorced Lescheva and married Popova.

Career in Science

Mendeleev studied several areas in science including the capillarity of liquids and the science behind spectroscopes. In 1864, Mendeleev became a professor at Saint Petersburg Technological Institute and at Saint Petersburg State University. In 1865, Mendeleev became a Doctor of Science and achieved tenure two years later. Mendeleev is widely credited as being the man who helped Saint Petersburg become an internationally recognized center of chemistry. He is also said to have been the man who brought the metric system to Russia.

In 1869, Mendeleev was writing a book on chemistry and, while doing so, organized a table of  the 56 known elements based on atomic mass, weight, and chemical properties. This was the first periodic table ever created. Mendeleev also predicted the existence of three chemicals that would make his table make more sense. These predicted elements did exist as gallium, germanium, and scandium. The periodic table was widely expanded upon as more knowledge came in concerning the elements and their properties.

Mendeleev went on to formulate new state standards for the production of vodka in 1893 while working as the Director of the Bureau of Weights and Measures. He also helped to investigate the properties of petroleum and found the first oil refinery in Russia. He was also nominated several times for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, but was not chosen for the award due to Svante Arrhenius, who discouraged his selection due to Mendeleev's critiques on Arrhenius's work.

The End

Before he died, Mendeleev received the Copley Medal from the Royal Society of London. He also was elected as a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Science. Mendeleev died in 1907 at the age of 72 in Saint Petersburg due to influenza. Mendeleev has been honored by having both a crater on the moon and an element named after him. Mendeleev is on our list because he developed a table that is known world wide and can be found in almost every university and high school science classroom. Also, anyone with a moon crater named after them is pretty awesome.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Annie Oakley (#60)


Phoebe Ann Moses was born on August 13, 1860 near Woodland, Ohio. She was the daughter of Susan Wise and Jacob Moses, the sixth child in a family of Quaker farmers. In 1866, Jacob Moses died of pneumonia and overexposure to freezing weather, leaving his family in a state of poverty.

Phoebe Ann, or Annie, began to hunt at the age of eight to support her mother and her sibling and became known for her hunting skills, but in 1870, Annie was sent to the Darke County Infirmary where she was taught to sew and decorate. She was then sent to a local family to help care for their infant son. Instead of this, Annie was forced to do many of the chores around the house and was put through both mental and physical abuse. This family, known by Annie referred to as "the wolves", didn't even give any the money she was due for her services.

In 1872, Annie returned to her family and continued to hunt for money and by the age of 15, she had paid off the mortgage on her mother's farm.

Shooting Career

On Thanksgiving Day 1875, the Baughman and Butler shooting act was being performed in Cincinnati. Marksman Francis E. Butler placed a $100 bet with hotel owner Jack Frost that he, Butler, could beat any local shooter in a competition. Frost arranged for Butler to compete with the then 15-year-old Annie. On the 25th shot of the match, Butler missed his shot, losing the match and the bet. He began courting Annie soon afterwards and married her on August 23, 1876.

Annie and Butler began to perform together, and Annie took the name "Oakley" after the neighborhood that they lived in. In 1885, Annie and Butler joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Because she was an excellent shooter but only stood 5 feet tall, Sitting Bull referred to her as "Watanya Cicilla", or Little Sure Shot, which would become her name in public advertisements. When the show went to Europe, Annie performed for Queen Victoria, King Umberto I of Italy, PResident Marie Francois Sadi Carnot of France. She had such good aim that, at his request, Annie was able to shoot the ashes off a cigarette held by Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. Some say that if Annie had missed and hit Wilhelm instead, she might have stopped WWI from happening.

During her time as a sharpshooter, Annie fought for women's rights, saying that women should be allowed in the military and should be taught how to use a gun. It is estimated that in her lifetime, Annie taught 15,000 women how to use a gun.

The End

In 1901, Annie was hurt in a train accident which left her in temporary paralysis that was fixed after five spinal operations. In 1902, Annie left the Wild West Show and began a career in acting, though she continued to set records in shooting until 1922. On November 3,1926, Annie died of pernicious anemia. Annie is on our list for overcoming both height and gender barriers and becoming one of the greatest sharpshooters the world has ever scene.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Johann Strauss II (#61)


Johann Baptist Strauss II was born on October 25, 1825 outside the city of Vienna. His father, Johann Strauss I, was a famous musician, but Johann Strauss Sr. did not want his son to be a musician, but a banker. Against his father's wishes, Strauss Jr. learned how to play violin from the first violinist of his father's orchestra. When his father found out, Strauss Jr. was beaten. It was not until his father abandoned his family for a mistress that Strauss Jr. was able to concentrate on his career as a composer. 

Musical Career

Strauss studied music theory under Joachim Hoffmann and continued to learn violin under Anton Kollmann. With this education, Strauss was able to gain a Viennese license to perform. Strauss's debut was made at Dommayer's Casino in October of 1844, where critics unanimously praised Strauss's original pieces. When Strauss began accepting commissions, he earned much fame and was given the musical position of Kapellmeister of the 2nd Vienna Citizen's Regiment.

As Strauss's career grew, the competition between himself and his father grew larger as well. When bourgeois revolution broke out in 1848, Strauss Jr. sided with the revolutionaries. Because of this, the musical title of KK Hofballmusikdirektor was given to Strauss Sr. rather than Strauss Jr. Johann Strauss the Younger was also arrested during he revolution for playing revolutionary music, but he was later acquited.

When his father died of scarlet fever in 1849, Strauss merged their orchestras and engaged in further touring. To regain the trust of the royalty in Vienna after his siding with revolutionaries, Strauss wrote many patriotic songs dedicated to the new Habsburg Emperor Franz Josef I. 

After recovering from a nervous breakdown in 1853, Strauss's career grew once more. Strauss began to perform in St. Petersburg in Russia in 1855 and performed their each year for ten years. Also, the KK Hofballmusikdirektor position, the musical position he had had applied for several times, was finally given to Strauss in 1863. In the 1870s, Strauss traveled to the United States, where his shows were widely popular.

The End

Strauss died in 1899 from pleural pneumonia in 1899 at the age of 73. Today, Strauss has become most famous for his piece, the "Blue Danube" waltz. Strauss is on our list for writing such a memorable piece, but also for being such a centerpiece in the music scene. Strauss inspired many composers, including Richard Wagner. Strauss was also good friends with the composer Johannes Brahms. During Strauss's lifetime, it was customary for composers to sign women's fans with their name and a section of a piece of music they wrote. When Brahms signed the fan of Strauss's wife, he inscribe a few measures from Strauss's music and wrote "Unfortunately, not by Johannes Brahms."