Sunday, January 13, 2013

Tsar Šćepan Mali (#73)

Tsar Šćepan Mali


In 1762, the Russian Tsarina, Catherine II, had her husband, Tsar Peter III, murdered. There were many witnesses to this crime and there was no doubt that the murder actually occurred.

Rise to Power

Despite the obvious reality behind the murder, a Serbian farmer, known as Šćepan Mali, or Steven the Little, walked into the Balkan state of Montenegro and claimed to be Tsar Peter III. Steven claimed that he had escaped the assassins of Catherine II and had run away from Russia to Montenegro. No one really knows if the Montenegrin people really believed Steven or just went with his plan, but they kicked out the current ruler of Montenegro, and put Steven into his position. Steven became the ruler of the Council of Nobles of Montenegro. Surprisingly, Steven the Little was one of the best rulers that Montenegro had ever seen. Steven brought internal stability to Montenegro, uniting the warring factions within the nation. He also organized Montenegro's first national census, improved the Montenegrin road network, and created a central police force. Steven was also able to bring the Balkan nations into a state of peace, which is pretty amazing, considering that the Balkans are never at peace.

Dealing with the Russians

Steven, of course, had to deal with the reality that some people, namely the Russians, knew for a fact that Tsar Peter III was dead. Tsarina Catherine II sent a group of nobles to Montenegro to declare that Steven the Little was not Peter III. Steven, instead of arguing with these nobles, welcomed them with open arms and gave them drinks and women. When the Russian nobles left, they had not punished Steven in any way and did not declare anything about Steven not being Tsar Peter III. 

Dealing with the Ottomans

Now, if you look at Ottoman-Turkish history, you can clearly see that they do not like Russians. There have been so many battles between the two nations that historians have simply stopped naming them, so if you're the Sultan of the Ottoman Turkish Empire, and you hear that the Tsar you thought was dead is actually sitting  in a nation that's right on your doorstep, you'd probably not be to happy, so the Ottomans went to war with Montenegro. The Ottomans marched on Montenegro with 60,000 soldiers armed with muskets and canons. When Steven heard about this army, he formed a volunteer army of about 10,000 citizen-soldiers armed with pitchforks and any makeshift weapons they could find. After a day of fighting, the Montenegrin army was in pretty bad shape, but somehow, the Montenegrins were able to force the Ottomans back. Steven became the hero of Eastern Europe and the Christendom, saving both from the terror that was the Ottoman Empire. This heroism solidified Steven's position as the ruler of Montenegro.

 The End

Steven the Little died on September 22nd, 1773 when he was strangled in his sleep by his personal barber. It turned out that the barber had been payed off by the Turks. Steven the Little is on our list of people because he pulled off what is arguably the biggest con in history.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Gerardus Mercator (#74)

Gerardus Mercator


Gerard de Gremor, or Gerardus Mercator was born on March 5th, 1512 in Rupelmonde in Belgium, which was part of the Holy Roman Empire at the time. After studying at the University of Leuven, Mercator took the job as a craftsman of mathematical instruments.


Mercator's first job as a cartographer came in 1535, when he worked with Gemma Frisius and Gaspar Myrica to create a terrestrial globe. In this job, Mercator was not primarily a cartographer, but an engraver of brass plates used to print the maps. In 1537, Mercator began making his own maps, starting with a map of Palestine. In the following three years, Mercator published two more maps: one of the world and the other of Flanders. While learning the cartography trade, Mercator discovered the Italic script, which was useful when creating maps. After mastering the script, Mercator published the first instruction book on the Italic script in Northern Europe. In 1544, Mercator was arrested on the charges of heresy because of his sympathy for Protestant beliefs. After remaining in prison for seven months, the charges were dropped, most likely due to intervention by the university that he worked at. In 1552, Mercator moved to Duisburg, where he taught mathematics at the local university. Mercator also opened up a cartographic workshop. Mercator's first map created at this shop wasa six-panel map of Europe. Because of his skill with maps, Mercator was appointed to the position of Court Cosmographer for the Duke of Juilich-Cleves-Berg in 1564. In this position, Mercator began to construct maps that included lines of longitude and latitude so that they could be used by boats at sea.


Mercator is responsible for coining the word atlas as a collection of maps while encouraging Abraham Ortelius to compile the first modern one in 1570. Mercator made his own atlas in 1578 which contained maps made by Mercator along with those of other cartographers, including Ptoloemy. After publishing his atlas, Mercator continued to add on to it, publishing more editions until his death in 1594.

The End

Mercator lived in Duisburg until his death on December 2nd, 1594. At the time of his death, Mercator was a wealthy and respected citizen due to his map work. Mercator made it onto our list for several reasons. First, he invented the word 'atlas'. Secondly, Mercator is also one of the first people to use the word America to describe the New World and he is definitely the first person to popularize the word America in the Old World. Being that Mercator create two commonly used words that are used in multiple languages, I'd say that Mercator was pretty important.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Leland Stanford (#75)

Leland Stanford


Leland Stanford was born in March 9th 1824. His parents, Josiah and Elizabeth Stanford, were New York farmers. Stanford attended school until 1836 and was home schooled in 1839. He then attended Clinton Liberal Institute and studied at Cazenovia Seminary from 1841 to 1845. 

Early Adulthood

After being admitted to the bar in 1848, Stanford moved to Port Washington in Wisconsin, where he began practicing law. In 1850, Stanford married Jane Elizabeth Lathrop. The two did not have a child until 1868, when Leland Stanford, Jr. was born. Two years later, the majority of Stanford's possessions were destroyed in a fire. Stanford sent his wife back to New York to live with her family while he went to California to find work. For a while, he worked as the keeper of a general store in Placer County, but he later worked as a justice of the peace and a organizer of the Sacramento Library Association.


In 1855, Stanford got his wife and the two of them moved to California, where he got involved in large scale  business, and he became one of the major investors of the Central Pacific Railroad along with Charles Crocker, Mark Hopkins, and Collis P. Huntington. Stanford soon was elected as president of the company. In 1856, he helped to organize the California Republican Party. His involvement with the Republican party earned the nomination for the state treasurer in 1857 and for the governor of California in 1859, though he lost both elections. In 1961, Stanford ran for governor again and won, holding the seat for one 2-year term. In May of 1868, Stanford and several of his colleagues formed the Pacific Union Express Company, which merged with Wells Fargo and Company, which Stanford was the director of from 1870 to to 1893 with a month-long break in 1884. Stanford also gained control of the Southern Pacific Railroad, directing it in the same way he directed the Central Pacific Railroad. Stanford, as head of the Central Pacific, was responsible for building the western half of the Transcontinental Railroad. Stanford was present at the driving of the "Last Spike" in Promontory, Utah. Stanford was president of the Central Pacific and Southern Pacific railroad companies until 1890, though he continued to be on the executive committee of the Southern Pacific Railroad until his death.

Horse Research

Stanford was interested in ranches and horse racing. In 1872, Stanford commissioned Eadweard Muybridge, a photographer, to settle a bet on whether all four feet of a horse leave the ground at the same time when running. Stanford won the bet.


Leland Stanford helped to found the first California State University, San Jose State, in 1857. Also, in 1884, Stanford and his wife found Leland Stanford Junior University as a memorial to their son, who had died of typhoid fever while on a trip to Europe. The Stanfords donated $40 million dollars (over $1 billion dollars in today's money) to develop the Stanford, which opened in October of 1891.

The End

Stanford died of heart failure on June 21st, 1893. Stanford is on our list of people because he helped develop the economic, political, and educational systems that can be found in California and the United States that we have today.