Around 270 A.D., the
emperor Claudius banned marriage in the Roman empire. His reasoning
was that married men were weak soldiers. A Catholic priest named
Valentine secretly married the couples that came to him. When
Claudius found out, Valentine tried to convert him, but failed, and
the emperor had him imprisoned before executing him. While he was in
prison, he fell in love with the jailer's blind daughter and cured
her. Upon Valentine's departure, he gave her a farewell message that
read, "From your Valentine."
Legend has it that the middle of February may have been chosen as
Valentine's Day because it was the mating season of birds during the
Middle Ages in Europe. I guess that clears up the misconception that
Hallmark created the holiday. Actually, Valentine's Day was created
in the fifth century A.D. to replace a pagan festival. As for Cupid,
he was the son of Venus, the Roman god of love.
Now back to our story.
Two of the most notable Valentine's Day inventions came from
Christopher Sholes and George Ferris. Since you know what Ferris
invented, we'll start with Sholes.
As you type away on your computer keyboard, have you ever
wondered why the letters are arranged that way? Why didn't they just
put them in alphabetical order?
Christopher Sholes was born on Valentine's Day in 1819 in
Danville, Pa. A two-time Wisconsin state senator who helped found
the Republican Party in Wisconsin, Sholes was asked by President
Lincoln to become customs collector for the port of Milwaukee before
he invented the first practical typewriter in 1872.
In the early days, people used the two-finger "hunt and peck"
method that's still popular today. The letters on Sholes' typewriter
were originally arranged in alphabetical order, and a typewriter
tended to jam when the user typed too fast. To solve this problem,
Sholes redesigned the keyboard so that the most common letters were
farther away from each other, hoping to slow down the rate of typing
and reduce the jamming. The result is the QWERTY design.
A year later, Sholes sold the rights of his typewriter to Remington, which
is the same company that makes Remington rifles. He later added the
shift key so that people could type lowercase letters as well as
Mark Twain, who would sometimes invest in new inventions, was the
first author to submit a typewritten manuscript to his publisher.
[to top of second column]
As for George Ferris and his wheel, George Washington Gale Ferris
was born on Valentine's Day in 1859 in Galesburg and moved with his
family to Carson City, Nev., at age 5. There was a second person
named George Ferris who was born just two weeks after the first one.
He also moved to Carson City, but it was much later than when the
first George Ferris lived there.
Like Sholes, Ferris was also an engineer. George built the Ferris
wheel for sightseeing purposes, and it made its debut at the Chicago
Fair in 1893. It was 264 feet tall and had 36 cars, each one seating
40 people. It carried more than a million paying customers during
the 19 weeks of the fair, grossing a little more than $725,000.
A duplicate of the wheel was constructed for the 1900 Paris
Exposition, while the original wheel was taken down and
reconstructed in St. Louis for the 1904 Exposition. Two years later,
it was torn down.
Ferris' wife stopped the wheel when it reached the top for the
very first time and toasted him. What a great way to celebrate
Valentine's Day! What a great way to end this story!
Actually, that didn't happen on Valentine's Day. It happened in
June. And this story is not over yet.
A few other interesting events surround Valentine's Day. Two
states, Oregon and Arizona, were added to the union on Valentine's
Day. Oregon became the 33rd state in 1859, and Arizona became the
48th state in 1912. Two other well-known people were born on
Valentine's Day -- Jimmy Hoffa in 1913 and Mrs. Brady herself,
Florence Henderson, in 1934.
Now the story is officially over.
Paul Niemann may be reached at
Copyright Paul Niemann 2007
(Text copied from file received
from Paul Niemann)