Well before Russian literary writer Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote the books that contributed most to his name’s canonization, he was sentenced to death for allegedly antigovernment activities.
On Nov. 16, 1849, a Russian court ruled that Dostoevsky’s participation in a radical intellectual group called the Petrashevsky Circle warranted his death. In December of that year, he was led before a firing squad, only to be saved at the last minute and sent to work at a Siberian labor camp for four years.
Dostoevsky went on to write a couple classic novels, namely “Crime and Punishment” (1866) and “The Brothers Karamazov” (1880), which was published just a year before his death.
Some 72 years before Dostoevsky’s sentencing, the Second Continental Congress of the United States submitted the Articles of Confederation to the original 13 states. This document gave some form to the fledgling U.S. government and was a precursor to the country’s current constitution.
Although the Articles were submitted on Nov. 17, 1777, it wasn’t until March 1, 1781, that all states approved them.
That last state to sign off? Maryland.
It’s perhaps little known that North American time zones were established not by any government, but by railroad companies. On Nov. 18, 1883, American and Canadian railroads started using four continental zones that were very similar to the ones used today.
The institution of these zones was necessitated by highly divergent local times across the country. Because many towns would keep to their own time based on when the sun reached high noon, train stations’ timetables would sometimes require dozens of listed arrival and departure times for the same train, to accommodate the differing zones. It’s a testament to the railroad companies’ power at this point that they could establish these zones without help from the government.
Americans and Canadians widely accepted the new time zones, because the rail system was the lifeblood for many. Congress, however, did not officially adopt them until 1918.
These days, the United States is divided by much more than time zones. It’s helpful to remember, however, that once the country was so divided it fought a war that ended only after the death of more than 600,000 of its citizens.
On Nov. 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous Gettysburg Address at the dedication for the military cemetery in Gettysburg, Pa., shortly after the Civil War battle that took place there. In less than 300 words, he encapsulated the war and the young United States in a manner few, if any, of his contemporaries accomplished.
It began with the wellknow “Four score and seven years ago,” and detailed the Founding Fathers’ vision that the nation sought to operate under a concept that all humans were created equal. The words of that address are carved into a wall at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.
Our 19th-century-heavy list this week ends with one of the premier American inventors and his first great creation.
Thomas Edison stumbled onto the phonograph while trying to record telephone communication, and he announced it on Nov. 21, 1877. An experiment with a stylus on a tinfoil cylinder led to the playing back of a short song he had recorded — “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Public demonstrations of this invention made Edison famous, eventually sparking the nickname, “Wizard of Menlo Park” (his laboratory was located in Menlo Park, N.J.).
He set aside work on this invention shortly afterward to focus on the incandescent light bulb, for which he developed significant improvements and helped to commercialize. Today he is credited with developing the first longlasting, practical light bulb.