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Showing posts with the label France

The Guillotine: A Humane Way to Kill?

Since the early thirteenth century, engineers have worked to streamline the process of beheading.  The earliest known beheading machine was the Halifax Gibbet, found in the town of Halifax, Yorkshire, England.  The first record of its existence dates from the year 1210, though the first public record of the Gibbet executing anyone comes from 1280.  It was a simple device: two long upright poles fitted with grooves would allow a heavy wooden block to be raised on a rope and dropped by the operator.  Attached to the block was an axe which would chop off the head of the criminal below.  The Gibbet was used for the execution of petty criminals, which was defined as anyone who stole (or who confessed to having stolen) money or goods worth 13½ pence or more.  The Gibbet was used to kill over 150 thieves between 1280 and 1650, when Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell abolished capital punishment for theft.  Certainly others were executed throughout England for theft, but there was only one Gib

Santos-Dumont's Earlier Flight

Quick: who invented the airplane?   If you’re an American, you no doubt thought of the Wright Brothers.   If you’re from New Zealand, you probably thought of Richard Pearse.   If you’re from Brazil, you no doubt thought of Alberto Santos-Dumont.   All three are widely held to be responsible for the invention of the flying machine. A few of the best-known pioneers of flight.  Left to right: Orville Wright, Wilbur Wright, Alberto Santos-Dumont, Richard Pearse National pride might cloud people’s judgement.   And since people had been trying to invent the airplane for years, it’s fair to say that whoever deserves credit for finally inventing it owes a lot to those who worked on the problem before.   The Wright Brothers’ flight took place on December 17, 1903, and lasted all of 59 seconds.   Richard Pearse’s flight beat them by about nine months, taking place on March 31, 1903.   Witnesses claim that Pearse flew his plane roughly three meters off the ground and crashed it into a hed

Croissants: An Austrian Gift to France

When you think of croissants, what country comes to mind? If you’re like most people, you probably thought of France, and indeed, the French do make great croissants. They even gave us the word for them. But as famous as the French are for them, the croissant is not a French invention. The origin of the croissant is actually a ways to the east, in Austria. Specifically they were invented in Vienna, in 1683. That year, the city of Vienna was under siege by a massive Ottoman army composed of approximately 140,000 soldiers. To put this in perspective, the population of the Ottoman Empire at the time was somewhere around 11 million, which meant that more than one out of every hundred Ottoman citizens were in Austria for the siege of one city. Less than 300 years later, the United States would deploy roughly one out of every 100 citizens to fight World War II, across Europe and the Pacific, over a four-year span. The Ottoman Empire was investing the equivalent in blood and money t