The U.S. has invaded Britain just once. It didn’t go well.

After midnight, the 30 men began paddling the two miles to shore. Then the wind died, and just before sunup, Capt. John Paul Jones set foot once more on Whitehaven, the first and only time American forces ever attacked the British Isles.

Jones — the Revolutionary War hero most famous for the vow “I have not yet begun to fight!” — had grown up there, on the west coast of England. He was an apprentice at sea by age 13, and captain of a merchant vessel at 21. By 23, he’d escaped British authorities who wanted him for murder. By 30, he commanded The Ranger and her crew of 140 American sailors. Continue reading

Hitler refused to use sarin during WWII. The mystery is why

Adolf Hitler gassed and killed 6 million Jews during World War II — a genocide that makes his reluctance to use sarin against his military adversaries an enduring mystery.

It wasn’t because he was less evil than Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, despite White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s tone-deaf statement Tuesday that “someone as despicable as Hitler” didn’t use chemical weapons the way Assad did. Continue reading

The invention of sarin was an accident. A German scientist was trying to kill bug

The enemy wasn’t Syrian rebels. It was the weevil, a voracious beetle found in fields and orchards.

Ask a gardener about weevils. Or Orkin, the pest control experts, which says “they can be very destructive, and their damage is often very expensive.”

In the mid-1930s, they were a problem on German farms. The government, forced to buy expensive pesticides from overseas, turned to a scientist at Bayer — yes, that Bayer, the aspirin one — to develop a cheaper alternative. Continue reading

“Great God, he is alive!” The first man executed by electric chair died slower than Thomas Edison expected.

To understand the gruesome history of the death penalty, it is essential to comprehend how badly inventor Thomas Edison wanted to zap his nemesis George Westinghouse.

Their rivalry was literally electric.

Westinghouse was a purveyor of alternating-current voltage — AC. Edison developed direct-current voltage — DC. A very loud, very long-haired Australian band would a century later insert a lightning bolt in the middle of those letters, calling itself AC/DC.

Continue reading

1969, a Year of Bombings

By Bobby Allyn

One night, 40 years ago this month, about 50 typists were on the eighth floor of the Marine Midland Building, keying records on automatic booking machines, when a bomb exploded.

Placed next to a bank of elevators, the bomb — which detonated around 10:50 p.m. on Aug. 20, 1969, with a force equal to about 24 sticks of dynamite — ripped off the elevator doors, blew out windows on three sides of the building and overturned filing cabinets. The blast collapsed the eighth floor into the seventh floor below. The explosion ripped a hole eight feet wide through a 10-foot-thick floor. About 150 late-shift employees were on duty at Marine Midland, at 140 Broadway in the financial district, but only two people had injuries serious enough to require extended medical treatment. Continue reading