World History 1851

About the history of the world in 1851, Singer develops the sewing machine, first New York Times published, Melville publishes Moby Dick.



* Portland mayor Neal Dow's prohibition law was passed in Maine, replacing the weaker statute of 1846. It served as the model for all future American prohibition laws.

Feb. 12 Edward Hargraves, having just returned home from the California goldfields, discovered gold at Summerhill Creek in Australia. Actually, gold had been discovered as early as 1823, but the news had been suppressed by the government. When shown specimens in 1841, Governor Gipps had said, "Put it away...or we shall all have our throats cut." Hargraves's find, which was widely publicized, started a gold rush.

Aug. 12 In Massachusetts, Isaac M. Singer manufactured the first continuous-stitch sewing machine for domestic use. But Singer's greatest invention was installment buying: "Buy now, pay later." Launching a massive advertising campaign and applying assembly-line production methods, he sold 110,000 machines in the next decade.

Sept. 18 The first edition of The New York Times was printed, with this opening statement by its founder, Henry Jarvis Raymond: "We do not mean to write as if we were in a passion, unless that shall really be the case; and we shall make it a point to get in a passion as rarely as possible. There are very few things in this world which it is worthwhile to get angry about; and they are just the things that anger will not improve."

The first issue featured European news, mostly from the London press; American news, such as a fugitive slave riot in Lancaster, Pa.; and the following bit of local news: "At a late hour Tuesday night, Policeman Coalter of the Fourth Patrol District, found an unknown female, aged 35 years, lying in Madison-st.... A dray was procured, and the poor woman was conveyed to the station-house...and was accordingly placed in a cell in the female department, where she was found a corpse about two hours after."

In 20 days The New York Times, which sold for a penny, had a circulation of 10,000.

Fall Herman Melville published Moby Dick. Background material for this book came from Melville's own experiences. At the age of 22, Melville sailed from New York on the whaling ship Acushnet. Upon reaching the South Seas, he jumped ship in the Marquesas Islands, where he was captured and held prisoner by the natives. Eventually he escaped aboard an Australian trader headed for Tahiti. There he worked as a field hand. Next, as a sailor on another whaler, he made his way to Honolulu. At that point, he joined the U.S. Navy, singing on the frigate United States as an ordinary seaman. He was discharged when the ship arrived in Boston in October, 1844. His experiences at sea led to a number of novels, but it was not until he moved to Massachusetts and came under the influence of his neighbor, Nathaniel Hawthorne, that he was motivated to write the symbolic Moby Dick.

Moby Dick was not a creature of Melville's imagination. As early as 1820, Owen Chase's Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whaleship Essex described how a ship was sunk by a huge white whale just south of the equator in the Pacific Ocean. Melville had interviewed Chase's son and probably had read J.W. Reynolds's article in the May, 1839, issue of The Knickerbocker Magazine. This described a white whale named Mocha Dick, which had 19 harpoons in its back and was responsible for the death of 30 sailors.

Combining his own experiences with the stories of Mocha Dick, Melville produced Moby Dick, and dedicated it to Hawthorne. Melville's first two novels, Typee and Omoo, had been well received. Moby Dick, however, was a commercial failure, and it marked the beginning of Melville's downfall as a popular writer.

Dec. 3-4 A Parisian workers' uprising was put down by Gen. Armand Jacques de Saint-Arnaud. Because workers and pedestrians were shot in the streets, it was called the "Massacre of the Boulevards."

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