We’re guessing you probably know about the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere and the infamous Red Sox. Yeah, we thought so; but did you know that in 1876 Alexander Graham Bell’s first phone call was made in the city from his machine shop? We put together a list of some wicked facts about Beantown. As the wise NBC network once said, “The more you know…”
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Your Clothes are Thankful
Up until 1846 people only wore clothes held together by chicken wire. It’s true, Wikipedia wouldn’t lie to you. While that may not be entirely true, one thing is, that clothes weren’t commercially and mechanically sewn together in the U.S. until the nation’s first rigid-arm sewing machine was built in Boston.
The earliest idea for the device was conceived in 1790 by British inventor Thomas Saint. Saint’s machine, however, never made it past the patent model stage. Later, French tailor Barthelemy Thimonnier patented his design and created 80 machines for the French army to use in 1830. Of course, as happens with all weapons of mass destruction, they were destroyed by a mob of tailors who saw them as a threat. Then came Walter Hunt of New York in 1834 (who also invented the safety pin), his work most closely resembled today’s sewing machine. Yet after a battle with his conscience, decided that the device would most likely leave people without jobs and thus ditched the idea altogether.
Onto the reason for this history lesson, Boston’s own Elias Howe took matters into his own hands in 1846 and created and patented his own sewing machine with a grooved, eye-pointed needle and shuttle. It wasn’t until 1851 though when, while working in Boston, Isaac Singer patented the first commercially successful machine. His design featured an overhanging arm which held the needle bar over a horizontal table, therefore being able to sew any part of the item. After a series of patent wars between the two, Howe won a patent-infringement suit but it did not prevent Singer from continuing his work. By 1860 Singer’s company became the largest producer of sewing machines in the world. So those clothes you’re wearing, you have Boston to thank for the nicely stitched lines that hold them together.
Photo Courtesy of Boston Latin School
Boston Thought We Could Use Some Educating
Established in 1635, the Boston Latin School is the first public school in the country and the oldest school still existing today. The school’s curriculum was centered in the humanities and taught its students dissent with responsibility. It was created to be a place for educating the sons of the Boston elite, because of this, many prominent Bostonians are alumni.
Over the years, a number of head masters governed the school, including John Lovell. Under Lovell’s regime, scholars were made to read Bible verses daily, study Latin and Greek and learn elementary subjects. Students of different classes were separated by benches. Morning classes began at 7 a.m. in the summer and 8 a.m. in the winter, both ending at 11 a.m. The school day then resumed from 1-5 p.m. Ten-hour days, that’s pretty impressive.
In 1755 when the British evacuated Boston, the school closed for a time and was wearily resumed by Samuel Hunt along with a few others after him. Finally, Epes Sargent Dixwell came along and built the school’s first school library and founded Boston Latin School Association. Following Dixwell, Francis Gardner was appointed his successor and edited a series of Latin School textbooks. New faces and changing curriculum have traveled through the school and as of 2012, it is listed under the gold medal list as 62 out of the top 100 high schools in the States. Of further note, five of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence had been pupils of this school.
First Subway System
Before Bostonians were parking cars in Harvard yards, they were most likely meandering through the streets on foot. In The Walking City, it’s no wonder they wanted a faster option for traveling. On September 1, 1897, the nation’s first subway system began transporting passengers. The line stretched over 1.5 miles and at first utilized trolley streetcars as its primary mode of transpiration. Over 100,000 people took the first trip that day. After looking at London’s system, Boston officials eventually decided to create an underground system using conventional subway trains. Within a year, the construction was completed and offered riders stops at Scollay Square, Boylston Street, Adams Square, Park Street and Haymarket.
In 1901, the Boston Elevated Railway Company, the operators of the subway, integrated the trains and its elevated lines; the public transit system was created. Today it is affectionately called the “T.” It wasn’t long before other cities began to take notice. New York and Philadelphia both built their own lines between 1904-1908. The "T" remains one of Boston's greatest assets, transporting an average of over a million people a weekday.
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Bright Lights, Big Sign
If you’re in the Boston area, or a baseball fan, you’re probably familiar with the Citgo sign. What’s not easily known is that standing at 60 feet by 60 feet, it is home to five miles of neon tubing — nearly 6,000 bulbs. Let me repeat that, SIX thousand.
Situated in Kenmore Square, the icon sign colored the Boston skyline in 1940 as a Cities Services logo until it was replaced in 1965 by the CITGO trimark sign of today. With a true Bostonian spirit, the sign has withstood a lot since its birth, including five hurricanes boasting over 80 mph winds. As a Venezuelan subsidiary, attempts to take down the sign occurred in 2006 after President Hugo Chávez referred to President George W. Bush as the devil. Proposed legislation demanded the trimark logo be replaced with the American flag. Met with protests, the legislation never passed and the Citgo sign continued to shine bright.
At 45, the old sign needed a little facelift and in late July 2010, all of its LED lights were replaced with environmentally friendly and more technologically advanced bulbs. During this time the sign went dark. Locals felt the absence of its brilliance illuminating over them and were thrilled on September 17 when it relit during the 7th inning of a Red Sox home game. Beloved by many, the sign has been featured in a number of publications like Life magazine, the New York Times and deemed “Object d’ Heart” by Time magazine.
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A St. Patrick's Day Affair
Ah, the Irish, with their vibrant personalities and wonderfully put blessings. Without them, March would look gloomy and the 17th would be just another day in our lives. Luckily, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations made their way over to America, allowing us to dress in all green, pinch those lacking the color and imbibe in green beers and whiskey during the day. So which city first brought the festivities to America? Thanks to the introduction of newspapers in colonial America in the 1700s, stories of the first St. Patrick’s Day celebrations were reportedly found in Boston.
On March 17, 1737, the Charitable Irish Society gathered to observe the day with the purpose of honoring their homeland. It wasn’t until the 1800s though that the festivities really took off in other cities. Today, Boston still boasts one of country’s largest St. Patty’s Day parades offering a plethora of Irish pubs to enjoy. It still exists today as it would have in the 1800s with drinks, food and a mass of bagpipes, brass bands and kilts making their way onto the scene.
Perhaps one of the more well-known cities in America, Boston’s storied journey from its roots to its more modern self is a story filled with rich history and great personality. Our list is only some of the interesting facts about the city, but we’re sure there’s much more to discover.