March 17th Holidays and Observances

edward the black prince

The Rubber Band Patented, 1845

It seems a simple enough item — how hard could it have been to invent it? Harder than you might think.

The first step is discovering rubber. Rubber trees grow in equatorial regions, and we can credit Christopher Columbus with first noticing the sticky stuff the Mayans were using to waterproof their shoes and bottles. He, and a number of other 15th century explorers, brought it back to Europe where it was examined by natural scientists and inventors.

Rubber was really too unstable for commercial use. It got hard and brittle during the winter, and soft and gooey in the summer. All that changed in 1839, when Charles Goodyear accidentally left some rubber that he had been experimenting with (along with a little sulfur and lead) on a hot stove. He found that the process changed natural rubber into a product with a stable shelf life, and called the process “vulcanization,” after the Roman god of war.

An Englishman named Thomas Hancock produced some rubber bands in 1843 by slicing up a rubber bottle into strips. He was using unvulcanized rubber and they were not a really satisfactory product. Hancock never bothered patenting them.

In 1845, the British inventor Stephen Perry received the patent for the rubber band, which he used for holding papers and envelopes together.

Rudolf Nureyev’s Birthday, 1938

Rudolf Nureyev was one of the world’s most famous ballet dancers. He began learning ballet late in life — for a ballet dancer. Because of the post-World War II instability in the Soviet Union, he wasn’t able to enroll in a major ballet school until he was 17. He was not yet 30 when he became known as “the greatest living male dancer.”

Nureyev attracted international attention when he defected from the Soviet Union during a tour with the Kirov Ballet. While performing in Paris in 1961, he defected to France, and within a week was a member of the Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas.

Besides his ballet performances, Nureyev also performed for film and television. One of his performances had a long-range influence on a well-loved television program: before Nureyev’s appearance on The Muppet Show, producers had experienced great difficulty in lining up guest stars for the show. Once Nureyev had appeared on the show, celebrities couldn’t wait for their turn.

The Black Prince is Made Duke of Cornwall, 1337

His full name and title was Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall, Prince of Aquitaine. He was the eldest son of Edward III, but since he died before his father, he was never King of England.

Edward achieved great military successes, and was made the Duke of Cornwall by his father — the first dukedom in England. He was also a member of the first Order of the Garter, established by his father and dedicated to the ideals of chivalry. The Black Prince seems to have honored many of the chivalric ideals: he made significant contributions to the Church, and he behaved honorably toward his peers on the battlefield, and when taking captives. On the other hand, he could display a great deal of callous pragmatism when it came to dealing with the lower classes, looting and burning farms and villages, and taxing them whenever he could.

First St. Patrick’s Day Celebration in US, 1737

This is the first known community celebration of St. Patrick’s Day in (what is now) the United States, and it was held by the Charitable Irish Society of Boston. The group met every year after that, but they did not gather again on March 17th until 1794.

The first St. Patrick’s Day parade in the United States took place in 1766, by Irish soldiers in the British Army.

Today the largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the world takes place in New York City. The parade usually has around 150,000 participants and two million spectators. The parade is led by the 69th Infantry Regiment of the New York Army National Guard, a unit which once was made up entirely of Irish-Americans. The parade begins with the Parade Commissioner asking the regiment if it is ready. The response: “The 69th is always ready.”