The birth of quantum theory


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Year
1900
Month Day
December 14

German physicist Max Planck publishes his groundbreaking study of the effect of radiation on a “blackbody” substance, and the quantum theory of modern physics is born.

Through physical experiments, Planck demonstrated that energy, in certain situations, can exhibit characteristics of physical matter. According to theories of classical physics, energy is solely a continuous wave-like phenomenon, independent of the characteristics of physical matter. Planck’s theory held that radiant energy is made up of particle-like components, known as “quanta.” The theory helped to resolve previously unexplained natural phenomena such as the behavior of heat in solids and the nature of light absorption on an atomic level. In 1918, Planck was rewarded the Nobel Prize in physics for his work on blackbody radiation.

Other scientists, such as Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Louis de Broglie, Erwin Schrodinger and Paul M. Dirac, advanced Planck’s theory and made possible the development of quantum mechanics–a mathematical application of the quantum theory that maintains that energy is both matter and a wave, depending on certain variables. Quantum mechanics thus takes a probabilistic view of nature, sharply contrasting with classical mechanics, in which all precise properties of objects are, in principle, calculable. Today, the combination of quantum mechanics with Einstein’s theory of relativity is the basis of modern physics.

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Italian American assassinates Italian king

Year
1900
Month Day
July 29

In Monza, Italy, King Umberto I is shot to death by Gaetano Bresci, an Italian-born anarchist who resided in America before returning to his homeland to murder the king.

Crowned in 1878, King Umberto became increasingly authoritarian in the late 19th century. He enacted a program of suppression against the radical elements in Italian society, particularly members of the popular anarchist movements.

Gaetano Bresci, who was born into poverty in Tuscany, immigrated to America in the 1890s seeking a better life. Bresci settled with his family in Paterson, New Jersey, and was employed in a weaving mill. The city was a hotbed of Italian American radicalism at the time, and Bresci became a cofounder of an anarchist newspaper, La Questione Sociale. Sacrificing his free time and scarce extra money to the paper, Bresci was regarded by his political allies as a devoted anarchist. He never forgot his countrymen back in Italy, and he read with horror of the events that unfolded in 1898.

The crops were poor that year, and much of the peasantry was starving. Seeking a respite from their government, peasants and workers marched to Milan to petition the king for relief. King Umberto ordered the demonstrators to disperse, and when they did not, he ordered the Italian army under General Bava Beccaris to force them out of Milan. Beccaris’ soldiers fired cannons and numerous rounds into the crowd, and hundreds were killed. When Umberto then decorated Beccaris for the military action, Bresci resolved that the king should die.

Taking money from the newspaper without explaining to his compatriots why, Bresci traveled to Italy and in July 1900 finally got close to the king, who was making a royal visit to Milan. Umberto had already survived two attempts on his life, but on July 29, 1900, Bresci hit his mark, felling the king with three bullets. Bresci was arrested, found guilty, and sentenced to a life of hard labor at Santo Stefano Prison on Ventotene Island. On May 22, 1901, he was found dead in his cell, allegedly a victim of suicide.

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Boxer Rebellion begins in China

Year
1900
Month Day
June 20

In response to widespread foreign encroachment upon China’s national affairs, Chinese nationalists launch the so-called Boxer Rebellion in Peking. Calling themselves I Ho Ch’uan, or “the Righteous and Harmonious Fists,” the nationalists occupied Peking, killed several Westerners, including German ambassador Baron von Ketteler, and besieged the foreign legations in the diplomatic quarter of the city.

By the end of the 19th century, the Western powers and Japan had forced China’s ruling Qing dynasty to accept wide foreign control over the country’s economic affairs. In the Opium Wars, popular rebellions, and the Sino-Japanese War, China had fought to resist the foreigners, but it lacked a modernized military and suffered millions of casualties. In 1898, Tzu’u Hzi, the dowager empress and an anti-imperialist, began supporting the I Ho Ch’uan, who were known as the “Boxers” by the British because of their martial arts fighting style. The Boxers soon grew powerful, and in late 1899 regular attacks on foreigners and Chinese Christians began.

On June 20, 1900, the Boxers, now more than 100,000 strong and led by the court of Tzu’u Hzi, besieged the foreigners in Peking’s diplomatic quarter, burned Christian churches in the city, and destroyed the Peking-Tientsin railway line. As the Western powers and Japan organized a multinational force to crush the rebellion, the siege of the Peking legations stretched into weeks, and the diplomats, their families, and guards suffered through hunger and degrading conditions as they fought to keep the Boxers at bay. On August 14, the international force, featuring British, Russian, American, Japanese, French, and German troops, relieved Peking after fighting its way through much of northern China.

Due to mutual jealousies between the powers, it was agreed that China would not be partitioned further, and in September 1901, the Peking Protocol was signed, formally ending the Boxer Rebellion. By the terms of agreement, the foreign nations received extremely favorable commercial treaties with China, foreign troops were permanently stationed in Peking, and China was forced to pay $333 million dollars as penalty for its rebellion. China was effectively a subject nation.

READ MORE: Boxer Rebellion: Definition, Effects & Causes

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Future President Hoover caught in Boxer Rebellion

Year
1900
Month Day
June 01

On June 1, 1900, future President Herbert Hoover and his wife Lou are caught in the middle of the Boxer Rebellion in China.

After marrying in Monterey, California, on February 10, 1899, Herbert and Lou Hoover left on a honeymoon cruise to China, where Hoover was to start a new job as a mining consultant to the Chinese emperor with the consulting group Bewick, Moreing and Co. The couple had been married less than a year when Chinese nationalists rebelled against colonial control of their nation, besieging 800 westerners in the city of Tientsin. Hoover led an enclave of westerners in building barricades around their residential section of the city, while Lou volunteered in the hospital. Legend holds that, during the ensuing month-long siege, Hoover rescued some Chinese children caught in the crossfire of urban combat.

After an international coalition of troops rescued the Hoovers and spirited them and other westerners out of China, Herbert Hoover was made a partner at Bewick, Moreing and Co. He and Lou split their time between residences in California and London and traveled the world between 1901 and 1909. They then returned to the U.S. and, after serving as secretary of commerce under Presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge from 1921 to 1924, Hoover headed the American Child Health Association and served as chairman of the Federal Street and Highway Safety Commission. During World War I, Lou chaired the American Women’s War Relief Fund and worked on behalf of other war-related charitable organizations. Both Hoovers, inspired by their experience in China, were active in helping refugees and tourists stranded in hostile countries.

In 1928, Hoover ran for president and won. Unfortunately, the couple’s charitable reputation was soon tarnished by Hoover’s ineffective leadership in staving off the Great Depression, and Lou’s ostentatious White House social functions, which appeared heartless, frivolous and irresponsible at a time when many Americans could hardly make ends meet. As the Depression deepened, a growing number of shanty towns full of destitute unemployed workers sprang up in city centers; they became known as Hoovervilles.

READ MORE: Largest US Hooverville Had Its Own Mayor and a Church Made of Orange Crates

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Warren Earp killed in Arizona

Year
1900
Month Day
July 07

Warren Earp, the youngest of the famous clan of gun fighting brothers, is murdered in an Arizona saloon.

Nicholas and Virginia Earp raised a family of five sons and four daughters on a series of farms in Illinois and Iowa. Three of the Earps’ sons grew up to win lasting infamy. On October 26, 1881, Wyatt, Virgil, and Morgan Earp fought a brief shoot-out with the Clantons and McLaurys in Tombstone, Arizona. The Earp brothers, along with their friend Doc Holliday, managed to kill all three of their opponents. The gun battle—which was named after a nearby livery stable called the O.K. Corral—later became a favorite topic of sensationalistic dime novel writers and moviemakers. Ever since, Wyatt, Virgil, and Morgan have been icons of the Old West.

The youngest Earp brother, however, did not share in the fame of his older brothers. Warren Earp was probably in Tombstone on the day of the famous gunfight, but for reasons that remain unclear, Warren did not join in the gunfight (the eldest Earp brother, James, did not participate either). Warren, however, was involved in the bloody series of revenge killings that followed the shoot-out.

Within six months of the first gunfight, Morgan Earp was assassinated and Virgil Earp was badly wounded. Wyatt presumed the Clantons and McLaurys were behind the attacks. Determined to strike back, Wyatt turned for help to his little brother, Warren. Together with Doc Holliday, the two brothers took their vengeance, killing two men suspected of having been behind Morgan’s murderer. In danger now of being arrested for murder, the three men fled to Colorado.

After he parted ways with Wyatt in Colorado, the record of Warren’s life becomes obscure. He apparently traveled around the West for several years before finally returning to Arizona. On this day in 1900, Warren reportedly had too much to drink at the Headquarters Saloon in Willcox, Arizona. He began to abuse some of the customers, and a man named John Boyett killed him in a gunfight. Later, Boyett was tried for murder and found innocent on the grounds that he had acted in self-defense.

REA MORE: 6 Things You Should Know About Wyatt Earp

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Margaret Mitchell, author of “Gone with the Wind,” is born

Year
1900
Month Day
November 08

On November 8, 1900, Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone with the Wind (1936), is born in Atlanta, Georgia.

Mitchell worked as a journalist for the Atlanta Journal for six years. She quit after an ankle injury limited her mobility, and she devoted herself to her novel about the South during and after the Civil War. Her tale of Scarlett O’Hara, the shallow Southern belle transformed into ruthless survivor during the war, became the biggest American publishing sensation of its day. The book sold 1 million copies in its first six months in print, 8 million by the time Mitchell died in 1949, and at least 25 million more to date.

The book was made into an Oscar-winning movie in 1939. In 1988, Warner Books purchased the rights to a Gone with the Wind sequel. The book, titled Scarlett, was written by Alexandra Ripley and published in 1991. Though not a critical success, the book became a bestseller and was made into a TV miniseries. The movie was criticized for its portrayals of enslaved characters, and for whitewashing the horrors of slavery. 

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Deadly hurricane batters Texas

Year
1900
Month Day
September 08

One of the deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history hits Galveston, Texas, on September 8, 1900, killing more than 6,000 people. The storm caused so much destruction on the Texas coast that reliable estimates of the number of victims are difficult to make. Some believe that as many as 12,000 people perished, which would make it the most deadly day in American history.

READ MORE: How the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 Became the Deadliest U.S. Natural Disaster

Galveston Island lies just off the Texas coast. It is long and narrow, about 28 miles long by 2 miles wide, and is barely above sea level. The harbor on the bay side of Galveston was a prime port with numerous rail connections. As a major hub for trade, thousands of people settled on the island at the end of the 19th century.

It was a Friday afternoon when the residents of Galveston first got an indication that a storm was imminent. For a few days the storm had been bearing down on the Texas coast, coming across the Gulf of Mexico from the Florida Keys. At the time, there was no reliable warning system in place for hurricanes; it was not until 1908 that ships began radioing the mainland about approaching storms.

The storm hit Galveston on Saturday, September 8, with sustained winds of at least 115 miles per hour; the town’s wind gauge blew away so the wind speed may have been even higher. A Category 4 hurricane, the storm brought with it an enormous storm surge and, by 3 p.m., water had covered nearly the entire island. It came in waves that were 15 feet higher than the mean tide. At the Bolivar Point lighthouse, there was a report that salt water spray from the ocean reached a height of 115 feet. Buildings crumbled and fell from the force of the water and high winds ripped the roofs off of nearly every building in town. Many Galveston businesses and families had installed slate roofs after a serious 1885 fire and these roofs became flying weapons of destruction as the hurricane tossed them through the air.

The St. Mary’s Orphanage collapsed and killed all the inhabitants. At the Ursuline Convent, 1,000 people gathered seeking shelter, but when a 10-foot retaining wall fell, the entire front part of the convent collapsed. Ships in the harbor were tossed into each other and some were later found 30 miles away. Survivors reported seeing corpses floating all over and around the island. Thousands died in Galveston and at least another 2,000 on the mainland coast also perished. Precise numbers will never be known, in part because thousands of bodies were disposed of in the Gulf of Mexico without being counted or identified. When Clara Barton of the Red Cross came to Galveston soon after the disaster she said, “It would be difficult to exaggerate the awful scene here.”

Galveston began to rebuild almost immediately. On October 2, 1902, construction began on a massive protective sea wall. Two years later, the wall, 16 feet thick by 17 feet high and constructed of cement, stone and steel bars, was complete. By 1910, the population of Galveston had grown to 36,000. Thanks to the city’s preparations, when a comparable storm hit in 1915, only eight people died.

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Prohibitionist Carry Nation smashes bar


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Year
1900
Month Day
December 27

Prohibitionist Carry Nation smashes up the bar at the Carey Hotel in Wichita, Kansas, causing several thousand dollars in damage and landing in jail. Nation, who was released shortly after the incident, became famous for carrying a hatchet and wrecking saloons as part of her anti-alcohol crusade.

READ MORE: Activist Carry Nation Used a Hatchet to Smash Booze Bottles Before Prohibition

Carry Amelia Moore was born in Kentucky in 1846. As a young woman, she married Charles Gloyd, whose hard-drinking soon killed him and left Nation alone to support their young child. The experience instilled in Nation a lifelong distaste for alcohol. She later married David Nation, who worked as a preacher and lawyer, and they eventually settled in Kansas. There, she was involved with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). The WCTU was founded in 1874 by women “concerned about the problems alcohol was causing their families and society.” At the time, women lacked many of the same rights as men and their lives could be ruined if their husbands drank too much. In addition to alcohol prohibition, over the years the WCTU lobbied for a long list of social reforms, including women’s suffrage and the fight against tobacco and other drugs.

In 1880, Kansas became the first state to adopt a constitutional provision banning the manufacture and sale of alcohol. However, prohibition was enforced unevenly and with many saloon owners ignoring the ban completely, Nation came to believe she needed to abandon the nonviolent methods of the WCTU in order to make an impact. After the incident at the Carey Hotel, her fame increased as she continued her saloon-smashing campaign in other locations and traveled extensively to speak out in favor of temperance. She sold souvenir hatchets to help fund her activities and used the name Carry A. Nation. Some people viewed her as crusader, while others saw her as a crank.

Nation died in 1911, never living to see nationwide prohibition in America, which was established with the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and went into effect on January 16, 1920. Prohibition, considered a failure, was repealed on December 5, 1933, by the 21st Amendment.

READ MORE: The Night Prohibition Ended

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First Mercedes goes for a test drive

Year
1900
Month Day
November 22

On November 22, 1900, the first car to be produced under the Mercedes name is taken for its inaugural drive in Cannstatt, Germany. The car was specially built for its buyer, Emil Jellinek, an entrepreneur with a passion for fast, flashy cars. Jellinek had commissioned the Mercedes car from the German company Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft: it was lighter and sleeker than any car the company had made before, and Jellinek was confident that it would win races so handily that besotted buyers would snap it up. (He was so confident that he bought 36 of them.) In exchange for this extraordinary patronage, the company agreed to name its new machine after Jellinek’s 11-year-old daughter, Mercedes.

In 1886, the German engineers Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach had built one of the world’s first “horseless carriages,” a four-wheeled carriage with an engine bolted to it. In 1889, the two men built the world’s first four-wheeled automobile to be powered by a four-stroke engine. They formed Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft the next year.

In 1896, Emil Jellinek saw an ad for the D-M-G auto in a German magazine. Then, as the story goes, he traveled to D-M-G’s Cannstatt factory, charged onto the factory floor wearing a pith helmet, pince-nez and mutton-chop sideburns and demanded that the company sell him the most spectacular car it had.

That car was sturdy, but it could only go 15 miles per hour–not even close to fast enough for Jellinek. In 1898, he ordered two more cars, stipulating that they be able to go at least 10 miles per hour faster than the first one could. Daimler complied; the result was the 8-horsepower Phoenix. Jellinek was impressed enough with the Phoenix that he began to sell them to his friends: 10 in 1899, 29 in 1900.

At the same time, he needed a racing car that could go even faster. Jellinek went back to D-M-G with a business proposition: if it would build him the world’s best speedster (and name it the Mercedes), he would buy 36 of them.

The new Mercedes car was fast. It also introduced the aluminum crankcase, magnalium bearings, the pressed-steel frame, a new kind of coil-spring clutch and the honeycomb radiator (essentially the same one that today’s Mercedes use). It was longer, wider, and lower than the Phoenix and had better brakes. Also, a mechanic could convert the new Mercedes from a two-seat racer to a four-seat family car in just a few minutes.

In 1902, the company legally registered the Mercedes brand name.

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