13 October 2023

13 October

NEW - Eugenio Barsanti - engineer

Created world’s first working internal combustion engine

The engineer Eugenio Barsanti, whose internal combustion engine was the first working example of the technology to be produced anywhere in the world, was born on this day in 1821 in Pietrasanta, a town in northern Tuscany.   The Belgian-French engineer Étienne Lenoir and the German Nicolaus Otto are credited with the first commercially successful internal combustion engines, but Barsanti’s machine, which he developed with partner Felice Matteucci, was unveiled in 1853 - six years before Lenoir’s and eight years ahead of Otto’s.  Barsanti might have achieved commercial success himself but shortly after reaching an agreement with a company in Belgium to produce his machine on a commercial scale he contracted typhoid fever, from which he never recovered.  A rather sickly child, known by his parents as Nicolò, Barsanti took the name Father Eugenio after entering the novitiate of the Piarists, the oldest Catholic religious order dedicated to education.  He took a teaching position at Collegio San Michele in Volterra. It was there, while lecturing on the explosive energy created by mixing hydrogen and air that he realised the potential of using combustible gases to lift the pistons in a motor.   Read more…


Mario Buda - anarchist

Prime suspect in Wall Street Bombing 

Mario Buda, the anarchist suspected but never convicted of the 1920 Wall Street bombing, was born on this day in 1884 in Savignano sul Rubicone, a town in the Emilia-Romagna region, about 90km (56 miles) southeast of Bologna.  Some 38 people were killed, with hundreds more injured, when a horse-drawn cart packed with explosives exploded close to the New York Stock Exchange building on the famous thoroughfare. Buda was identified by a blacksmith who had rented him the horse and Federal agents began an investigation.  The Italian, who had emigrated to the United States in 1907, was known to the police after being arrested previously in connection with a double-murder in the town of Braintree, Massachusetts. He had escaped from custody on that occasion and evaded detection again, boarding a ship to return to Italy before he could be questioned over the bombing. Born into a family of modest means, Buda led an unsettled youth. He was arrested for robbery at the age of 15 and later served a jail term after being indicted on a charge of noise pollution at night. On his release, he was apprenticed to a shoemaker but remained restless.  Read more... 


Giorgio Massari - architect

Work in 18th century Venice had echoes of Palladio

The architect Giorgio Massari, who designed a number of significant churches and palaces in Venice in the 18th century, was born on this day in 1687.  Massari’s legacy in Venice includes the imposing Palazzo Grassi on the Grand Canal and the church of Santa Maria del Rosario, commonly known as the Gesuati, on the Giudecca Canal, which is acknowledged as his masterpiece.  He redesigned Santa Maria della Visitazione - known as the Pietà - the church on the Riva degli Schiavoni famous for its association with the great Baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi, who wrote some of his most famous music while working as a violin teacher at the adjoining orphanage.  Outside Venice, Massari designed villas and churches around Brescia, Treviso and Udine.  His designs, especially his churches and villas, were often influenced by the work of the 16th century Classical architect Andrea Palladio and by Massari’s fellow Venetian, the Baroque sculptor and architect Baldassare Longhena.   Massari was born in the San Luca parish of the San Marco sestiere. His father, Stefano, was a carpenter from a village near Brescia in Lombardy.  Read more…


Execution of former King of Naples

Joachim Murat, key aide of Napoleon, shot by firing squad

Joachim Murat, the French cavalry leader who was a key military strategist in Napoleon's rise to power in France and his subsequent creation of an empire in continental Europe, was executed on this day in 1815 in Pizzo in Calabria.  The charismatic Marshal was captured by Bourbon forces in the coastal town in Italy's deep south as he tried to gather support for an attempt to regain control of Naples, where he had been King until the fall of Napoleon saw the throne returned to the Bourbon king Ferdinand IV in May 1815.  Murat was held prisoner in the Castello di Pizzo before a tribunal found him guilty of insurrection and sentenced him to death by firing squad. The 48-year-old soldier from Lot in south-west France had been an important figure in the French Revolutionary Wars and gained recognition from Napoleon as one of his best generals, his influence vital in the success of Napoleon's campaigns in Egypt and Italy and in victories against the numerically superior Prussians and Russians.  He was a flamboyant dresser, going into battle with his uniform bedecked in medals, gold tassels, feathers and shiny buttons.  Yet for all his peacock tendencies, he was renowned as a bold, brave and decisive leader. Read more…


Francesca Bertini - silent movie actress

Diva described as Italy’s first film star

The actress Francesca Bertini, one of the three so-called divas of Italy’s silent movie era, died on this day in 1985 in Rome at the age of 93. Between her screen debut in 1907 and her effective retirement in 1935, Bertini appeared in 139 titles. Her last appearance came in 1976, at the age of 84, when the director Bernardo Bertolucci persuaded her to accept a cameo in his epic historical drama, Novecento (1900).  Bertini, Lyda Borelli and Pina Menichelli were regarded as Italy’s three biggest female stars of the silent movie years and though Borelli came to be seen as the most talented of the three, there is no doubt that Bertini was a woman of outstanding ability. She has been described as Italy's first film star.  Her most famous film, Assunta Spina, a 1915 production, not only saw her take the title role but write scripts and direct many of the scenes, introducing a level of realism into the performances that was ahead of its time.  Bertini’s birth was registered in 1892 at an orphanage in Florence as Elena Taddei, although it is unclear whether Taddei was the name of her father. Her mother was said to be Adelina di Venanzio Fratiglioni, an unmarried woman who was thought to have been an actress herself.  Read more…


Claudius - Roman emperor

Suspicious death of leader who conquered Britain

The Roman emperor Claudius, whose reign was notable among other things for turning Britain into a province of the Empire, died on this day in 54 AD.  It is a widely held view that he was murdered, by poisoning, on the orders of his scheming fourth wife, Julia Agrippina, the mother of his successor, Nero, in one of the power struggles that at the time were ever present.  It is thought he ingested some poisonous mushrooms that his taster, the eunuch Halotus, had assured him were safe to eat, either at an official banquet on the evening of October 12 or at his first meal of the following day.  When Claudius began to show signs of distress, one version of the story is that his physician, Xenophon, pushed a feather into his throat, ostensibly to make him vomit, but actually to ensure that he did not recover by administering more poison, with which he had coated the feather.  There have been arguments that the poisoning story was nonsense and that, at 63, Claudius died from natural causes related to ageing. Yet Agrippina - sometimes referred to as Agrippina the Younger - seemed to have had a clear motive.  Read more…


Piero Dusio - sportsman and entrepreneur

His Cisitalia company revolutionised automobile design

The footballer, racing driver and businessman Piero Dusio was born on this day in 1899 in Scurzolengo, a village in the hills above Asti, in Piedmont.  Dusio made his fortune in textiles but it is for his postwar venture into car production that he is most remembered. Dusio’s Cisitalia firm survived for less than 20 years before going bankrupt in the mid-1960s but in its short life produced a revolutionary car - the Cisitalia 202 - that was a gamechanger for the whole automobile industry.  Dusio played football for the Turin club Juventus, joining the club at 17 years old, and was there for seven years before a knee injury forced him to retire at the age of only 24, having made 15 appearances for the senior team, four of them in Serie A matches.  He kept his connection with the club and from 1942 to 1948 was Juventus president. In the short term, though, he was forced to find a new career. He took a job with a Swiss-backed textile firm in Turin as a salesman. He took to the job immediately and made an instant impression on his new employers, selling more fabric in his first week than his predecessor had in a year.  Within a short time he had been placed in charge of sales for the whole of Italy.  Read more…


Book of the Day: Dreams to Automobiles, by Len Larson

Mankind, it seems, always dreamed of a way to travel without the need for a beast. The power of steam was discovered in 120BC by Hero of Alexandria and it was the first source of power for the motor carriage, but it took many centuries to develop into the automobile. Over time, the inventors had to fight suspicion, religion, indifference, mistrust, controversy, scepticism, law enforcement officials, unfounded beliefs that the machines would cause bad things to happen and even commitment to insane asylums. Thanks to those determined inventors who ignored the difficulties, we now have the automobile.  Dreams to Automobiles tells the story of how that came to be.

Len Larson loved cars from being a small boy, learned to drive as soon as he was old enough and most of his jobs as an adult have involved driving, from taxi cabs to 18-wheel trucks. As a firefighter, he drove fire apparatus. This is is his first book.

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