Good News in History, August 21

On this day 268 years ago, William Murdoch the Scottish inventor who invented gas lighting and the steam-powered locomotive, was born in Ayrshire. For most of his professional life, Murdoch was the diligent set of cerebrals behind the success of the engineering firm Boulton and Watt, under which his name and credit was largely buried. Now though he is recognized among the pantheon of the great Scottish inventors. READ his remarkable entrepreneurial story… (1754)

William Murdoch (1754-1839)

Early on in Murdoch’s career at Boulton and Watt, he was sent to erect and maintain steam engines for the purpose of pumping water out of Cornish tin mines, which he did with such diligence and savvy that Mr. Boulton wrote “We want more Murdocks, for of all others he is the most active man and best engine erector I ever saw…When I look at the work done it astonishes me & is entirely owing to the spirit and activity of Murdoch who hath not gone to bed 3 of the nights.”

Substantial evidence exists that, despite the patent being filed by his boss Watt, Murdoch invented the Sun and Planet gear for the steam engine, whereby a small gear at the end of a vertical arm rotates around a large gear owing to the up and down motion of the arm, to the end of turning a large wheel such as a mill or the wheels of a train—on which this design is still used today.

This wasn’t the last innovation in steam power which Murdoch dreamed up—he nearly patented a three-wheeled steam locomotive—the first in the world, but was dissuaded by his employers.

“It is no less than drawing carriages upon the road with steam engines…he says that what he proposes, is different from anything you ever thought of, and that he is positively certain of its answering and that there is a great deal of money to be made by it,” a colleague of Murdoch wrote to Mr. Watt.

The man who eventually did patent the first steam locomotive, A. Trevithick, lived next to Murdoch for some years, and would have certainly seen his work. Murdoch’s son wrote in a letter that his father had made a demonstration of it to the town.

However Murdoch’s most substantial invention was that of gas lighting, developed between 1792 and 1794. The first industrial factory to be illuminated by gas was the Philips and Lee cotton mill in Manchester which was fully lit by Murdoch in 1805. Initially this mill contained 50 gas lights, although this soon grew to 904. The length of time taken to complete this project was partly due to experimentations and improvements in the process developed by Murdoch to make the lighting of a large factory by gas practicable and cost effective – such as purifying the gas with lime.

Once again he was undone by his employers. Mr. Watt’s son dissuaded Murdoch from seeking a patent based on his own failures in area. This loss of time allowed other commercial interests to develop forms of gas lighting and apply for patents. Even still, by May of 1809 Boulton and Watt faced little competition in any gas market due to their success in lobbying Parliament to block the granting of a charter for the National Heat and Light Company, their only real competitor in this field. However, despite blocking the charter until 1812 this advantage was squandered as Boulton and Watt did not develop the gas market, or technology, and in 1814 abandoned the gas business altogether. A few decades later most towns in Britain were lit by gas and most had their own gasworks.

Murdoch’s is a fascinating story of entrepreneurialism’s dos and don’ts, but it’s safe to say that his mind was one of the sharpest in all of Scotland at that time, and he probably deserved a better set of bosses.

MORE Good News on this Day:

Vienna’s Stadtpark opened its gates as the first public park in Vienna (1862)
Count Basie, the American pianist, composer, and bandleader, was born (1904)
Walt Disney released its beloved animated movie Bambi (1942)
Hawaii’s vote for statehood was signed by the US President into law making it the 50th state (1959)
Motown released what would be its first #1 hit, “Please Mr. Postman” by The Marvelettes (1961)
Latvia declared its full independence from the Soviet Union (1991)
NATO decided to send a peace-keeping force to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (2001)

61 years ago today, Patsy Cline recorded the classic song, Crazy.

Shanecollinswiki, CC license

Although still on crutches after a head-on collision two months earlier and having difficulty reaching the high notes at first due to her broken ribs, Crazy became her signature tune, and it spent 21 weeks on the chart.

Written by Willie Nelson, the song’s success and complex melody helped launch him as a performer as well as a songwriter. Cline’s version is ranked No. 85 on Rolling Stone magazine‘s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Tragically, Cline died 19 months later, at age 30 in a plane crash. WATCH her perform it… (1961)

And, on this day 84 years ago, singer-songwriter, actor, and entrepreneur Kenny Rogers was born.

2004 photo by Alan C Teeple, CC license

In a career spanning six decades, Rogers has scored more than 120 hit singles, like The Gambler (a Don Schlitz song), and Islands in the Stream (with Dolly Parton), in both the country and pop genres, with sales of over 100 million records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling music artists of all time. He has retired from touring but says he may record one more album. In the last decade, the Houston, Texas native, who also co-founded the restaurant chain Kenny Rogers Roasters, released a memoir, Luck or Something Like it, and has co-written a novel, What Are the Chances. FUN FACT: Do you know who wrote the famous duet, Islands in the Stream? Surprise. It was The Bee Gees. (1938-2020)

And, on this day in 1944, in the wake of World War II, leaders from Russia, the U.K. and U.S. gathered at the Dumbarton Oaks mansion in Washington DC, for deliberations known as the Washington Conversations on International Peace and Security. With a delegation from China arriving soon after, the resulting charter of principles became the founding document of the United Nations, and shaped the future workings of the UN.

The Dumbarton Oaks estate, with its 16 acres of gardens in the neighborhood of Georgetown, is now a public garden and museum, and has continued since 1933 to be a research library dedicated to the fields of Byzantine and Pre-Columbian studies, garden design, and landscape architecture, thanks to its founding couple, the diplomat Robert Woods Bliss and his wife Mildred.

And, Happy 36th birthday to the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt. The Jamaican superstar sprinter who retired in 2017 is a world record holder in the 100-meters, 200m and 4 × 100m relay.

Photo by Jmex60, CC license

When he won his ninth Olympic gold medal in Rio, pulling away from the pack in the men’s 4x100m relay, he secured his historic ‘triple triple’ victory winning the 100m, 200m, and men’s relay in three straight Olympics (2008, 2012 and 2016)—the only track star ever to do it.

He gained worldwide fame for his double sprint victory in world record times at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, which made him the first person to hold both records since fully automatic time became mandatory. RE-LIVE Bolt’s Olympic shattered world records and memorable celebrations in an NBC video… (1986)

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