Safety First

If you die in a fiery air crash, don’t blame Samuel Young. His combination pillow and crash helmet, patented in 1970, provides both comfort and safety.

“Upon being informed of the imminence of a crash landing, the passenger puts this pouch-like device over his head and ties the free ends of the strings together under his chin so that the crash helmet remains in position during the crash landing, despite the violent forces which are likely to be encountered on impact.”

The War Ahead

H.G. Wells’ 1914 novel The World Set Free is not his best known, but it’s certainly his most prescient — he predicted nuclear weapons:

She felt torn out of the world. There was nothing else in the world but a crimson-purple glare and sound, deafening, all-embracing, continuing sound. Every other light had gone out about her, and against this glare hung slanting walls, pirouetting pillars, projecting fragments of cornices, and a disorderly flight of huge angular sheets of glass.

The novel imagines an invention that accelerates radioactive decay, producing unthinkably powerful bombs. (Wells even dedicated the novel “to Frederick Soddy’s interpretation of radium.”)

This application was far ahead of the science of the time — physicist Leó Szilárd later said it helped inspire his own conception of a nuclear chain reaction.

If that’s not impressive enough: In Wells’ novel, allies drop an atomic bomb on Germany during a world war in the 1940s!

Great Soul

Photos of Chang Woo Gow are deceiving because of his regular proportions: The Chinese giant was already 7 foot 9 when he came to England at age 19 — he wrote his name on a wall at a height of 10 feet at the request of the Prince of Wales.

Fourteen years later, when he appeared in Paris for the 1878 World’s Fair, Chang had grown to 8 feet and weighed 364 pounds. But he met the public clamor with consistent kindness, grace, good humor, and a quiet intelligence — he spoke six languages and, on one occasion, greeted by name several visitors whom he had encountered once 16 years earlier.

After a tour of European capitals, he retired to Bournemouth, where it is said that on evening walks he would light his cigar at gas streetlamps. When he died in 1893 at age 48 (and was buried in a coffin eight and a half feet long), his friend William Day remembered him as “a giant of giants, great of stature, but with the kindest nature and a heart as true and tender as ever beat.”

French Twist

If we take from the words Revolution Francaise the word veto, known as the first prerogative of Louis XIV, the remaining letters will form ‘Un Corse la finira’–A Corsican shall end it, and this may be regarded as an extraordinary coincidence, if nothing more.

— William T. Dobson, Poetical Ingenuities and Eccentricities, 1882

See Able Was I.

Over and Out

Technically, it’s illegal to resign from the British House of Commons. Since 1623 the rules have stated that a member of Parliament cannot renounce the trust of his constituents.

So members use a loophole: An MP who accepts an office of profit under the Crown must leave his post to avoid a conflict of interest. So today when an MP wishes to resign, the chancellor of the exchequer appoints him crown steward of the Chiltern Hundreds or of the Manor of Northstead, and he can legally resign.

But even this workaround gets awkward. Because there are only two available offices, sometimes MPs must wait in line. When 15 Ulster unionists resigned en masse on Dec. 17, 1985, they had to be appointed one after another in quick succession through the day. What will future historians make of this?