Questions asked in TV commercials aired in 1993: “Have you ever borrowed a book thousands of miles away? Or sent someone a fax from the beach? Have you ever paid a toll without slowing down? Have you ever watched a movie you wanted to, the minute you wanted to?” The answer: “You will. And the company that will bring it to you? AT&T.”
In 1872, railroad magnate and racehorse owner Leland Stanford hired Eadweard Muybridge, then famous for his photographs of Yosemite Valley, to capture evidence on film that at a certain point in a horse’s trot, all four of its legs were simultaneously off the ground. Five years later, Muybridge developed a camera with a shutter speed of 2/1000 of a second, fast enough to prove Stanford correct. Muybridge went on a lecture tour with a device of his own design, the zoopraxiscope, which, through the rapid projection of photographic images, created the illusion of continuous movement.
After Panama declared independence from Colombia in 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt attempted to quell suspicions that the U.S. had helped foment revolt in order to build the Panama Canal. Roosevelt asked Secretary of War Elihu Root if he had properly defended himself against accusations of wrongdoing. Root reportedly replied, “You certainly have, Mr. President. You have shown that you were accused of seduction, and you have conclusively proved that you were guilty of rape.”
The second of the 282 laws in the Code of Hammurabi, dating from the eighteenth century bc, states, “If a man charge a man with sorcery, and cannot prove it, he who is charged with sorcery shall go to the river; into the river he shall throw himself, and if the river overcome him, his accuser shall take to himself his house. If the river show that man to be innocent, and he come forth unharmed, he who charged him with sorcery shall be put to death.”
In his eponymous saga, Icelandic outlaw Grettir swims through icy waters to a friend’s farm. That night, while he sleeps on a bench inside the longhouse, his clothes fall off. He wakes the next morning to a servant woman laughing at him. “He’s out of proportion,” she says. “He’s big but small between the legs.” This episode, according to a scholar of saga-era Icelandic life, “illustrates the openness of the life in the hall.”
In January 1592, playwright Christopher Marlowe was arrested for counterfeiting in the Netherlands. For making coins of pewter, Marlowe was charged with the crime of petty treason, punishable by death. He was eventually sent back to London, where, a little more than a year later, he was stabbed to death in Deptford.
A lawsuit was filed in spring of 2019 in which owners of Ark Encounter, a creationist theme park in Williamstown, Kentucky, claimed breach of contract against insurers who denied liability in a landslide—caused by heavy rains—that undermined a park roadway. The defendants say the water damage that disrupted the 510-foot replica ark was a matter of “design deficiencies or faulty workmanship,” and thus not covered.
In his Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, Diogenes Laërtius tells of Socrates’ disciple Aristippus, who “derived pleasure from what was present, and did not toil to procure the enjoyment of something not present.” Such opportunism was not widely admired; Aristippus was sometimes called “the king’s poodle.”
After he was captured by pirates, Diogenes of Sinope was sold as a slave to Xeniades, who had the Cynic philosopher educate his sons. “At home he taught them to attend to their own needs,” writes Diogenes Laërtius in his Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, “to live on plain food and water, to wear their hair short and unadorned, to go barefoot and without a tunic, and to be silent and keep their eyes lowered when walking in the streets.”
William Petty’s device for “double writing” made it possible, he claimed, that “any man, even at the first sight and handling, may write two resembling copies of the same thing at once.” Petty wrote one of the first-known English claims for patent rights, in his 1648 “Brief Declaration Concerning Double Writing.” “Should I have given it away for nothing?” he asked. “The thing...would have been condemned as of no use, because of no price.”
In the so-called Screw Plot—a supposed conspiracy to assassinate Queen Anne during a Thanksgiving service in 1710—iron bolts were removed from the roof timbers of St. Paul’s Cathedral in order for the roof to collapse during the service. “The new cathedral was not then quite finished,” wrote John Noorthouck in 1773, “and it appeared upon inquiry that the missing of these iron pins was owing to the neglect of the workmen, who supposed the timbers were sufficiently fastened without them.”