Odd this day

2 May 1888 (and 2004 — oh, and 1974. And 1964)

3 min readMay 2, 2024

Science is a big theme today, because, to begin with, it’s the 136th anniversary of James Blyth going public with his wind turbine...

Blyth was a professor of ‘natural philosophy’ in Glasgow, and started experimenting with building windmills in 1885. By 1887, according to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, he’d got one supplying electric light to his holiday cottage.

A “cloth-sailed, horizontal wind turbine … of tripod design, with a 33 foot windshaft, four arms of 13 feet with canvas sails, and a Burgin dynamo driven from the flywheel using a rope”. Description from Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame website

It was on this day in 1888 that he read his paper, On the application of wind power to the generation and storage of electricity, to the Philosophical Society of Glasgow.

(That photo, by the way, came from this splendid website — the kind of resource without which this account would find it rather more difficult to operate.)

According to Wind Engineering, vol.29, issue 3:

Blyth used the electricity to charge batteries for his household lighting, but also offered surplus electricity to the people of Marykirk for lighting the main street. However the villagers turned down the offer, as they thought electricity to be the work of the devil.

Well, that fits with our view of dour Presbyterians in the late Victorian era, certainly, but the authority they cite is a letter to New Scientist in 1993, rather than a contemporary source — so we must hope it’s true, because it is rather entertaining. Either way, Blyth wasn’t put off. The journal continues:

Unperturbed, Blyth instead installed a wind machine to supply emergency power to the local Lunatic Asylum, Infirmary & Dispensary of Montrose, which is now called the Sunnyside Royal Hospital.

Important Sciencey Facts part deux

Also making important discoveries on this day — in their case 20 years ago, and in the fields of weight distribution and buoyancy — were the people who gave rise to this NBC News story in 2004:

To be specific, this happened in Hippie Hollow Park, one section of the shore of Lake Travis in northwest Austin…

the only clothing optional public park in Texas

(…although while “nudity is acceptable, lewd behavior is not”).

It surprises me that there are any such places in Texas, not least because if you’re in the nip, where do you keep your gun? Anyway, here are the crucial paragraphs of the NBC report

The accident occurred during Splash Day, a semi-annual event hosted at the clothing-optional area by the Austin Tavern Guild, a gay and lesbian bar association. Witnesses said that all of the people aboard the barge moved to one side as it neared Hippie Hollow, creating uneven distribution and making it tilt. It sank in 50-foot-deep water.

Unprecedented three-anniversaries-in-a-day news

It’s also 50 years to the day since Richard Nixon’s Vice President Spiro Agnew was found by the Maryland Court of Appeals to be a man of such “moral turpitude” (following a tax evasion conviction) that he was disbarred, with the judge saying:

It is difficult to feel compassion for an attorney who is so morally obtuse that he consciously cheats for his own pecuniary gain that Government he has sworn to serve, completely disregards the words of the oath he uttered when first admitted to the bar; and absolutely fails to perceive his professional duty to act honestly in all matters.


I digress. At the time, it was the opinion of Tom Lehrer that Mr Agnew was also not noted for his intellectual prowess. Or as the satirist/mathematician and all-but-universally acknowledged Good Man put it:

There was a tragic fire at the vice president’s mansion and the library was destroyed. Both books were burned. But the real tragedy was that he hadn’t finished colouring in one of them.

Actually, this getting out of hand now

And finally (I promise), it’s 60 years to the day since Nancy Astor stirred for a moment, noticed her family gathered around her bed, and said:

Jakie, is it my birthday, or am I dying?

Her youngest, John Jacob (‘Jakie’) Astor, replied

A bit of both, Mum.




Purveyor of niche drivel; marker of odd anniversaries