The Hero on the Stamp

Sometimes ordinary days become days that change history. And often, it’s the ordinary people who do the changing.
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On the morning of November 7, 1907, a railroad brakeman named Jesús Garcia Corona went to work, as usual. He worked on the train line that ran between Nacozari, Sonora, Mexico, and Douglas, Arizona; he had started working for the Moctezuma Copper Company as a waterboy at age 17, and worked his way up to switchman and then to brakeman.
When he reported for work that morning, the train’s operator, who would ordinarily oversee safety, had called out sick. In the operator’s absence, two cars of dynamite had been hooked up behind the engine, rather than at the back of the train. The train was departing from Nacozari when sparks from the engine began blowing out of the smokestack and onto the cars of dynamite.
Locomotora_conmemorativa_del_Héroe_de_Nacozari_Sonora.jpgThinking quickly, Jesús slowed the car while another crewman tried to dump the smoldering dynamite boxes off the train, but the heavy boxes were too hard to move and had already caught fire. Jesús began driving the train out of town in reverse, at full throttle. He didn’t dare leave the train to run itself along the tracks; Nacozari was downhill and the train might slip back into town. Nacozari also had large gas reserves and dynamite in storage; an explosion could trigger a deadly chain reaction. Jesús warned the rest of the crew of the train to jump clear, insisting on driving alone.
The daring brakeman managed to drive the train well away from the town before the cars of dynamite exploded. Jesús Garcia Corona was credited with saving the town from disaster, and though his body was destroyed in the blast, a monument was erected in his honor. He was 25 years old. The American Red Cross declared him a Hero of Humanity, and many landmarks in Mexico bear his name. November 7th was declared Railroader’s Day for Mexican railroad workers. The town he saved changed its name to Nacozari de García.
983_001Jesús Garcia Corona has been commemorated on two stamps: one from 1957 and, more recently, in 2007. An ordinary railroad worker became the hero on the stamp by placing the lives of others above his own.

The Incredible Story of Nellie Bly, Pt. II

 

To make a name for herself as a journalist, Nellie Bly never passed down an opportunity for a story.

(Check out Part I of Nellie’s story here!)

Bly was not done making news. In 1888, she persuaded her editor at New York World that she would take a trip around the world, a la Around the World in Eighty Days. A year later she boarded a steamer called the Augusta Victoria to begin her record-breaking journey.

The fictional Phileas Fogg as written by Jules Verne traversed the world in 80 days. Even though his record only existed in stories, it stood as a record worth beating.

But Bly had competition. The newspaper Cosmopolitan sponsored its own reporter, Elizabeth Bisland, to race around the world in the opposite direction. The World sponsored a “Nellie Bly Guessing Match” for the exact second that Bly would return from her trip.

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Bly used a number of transportation methods in her travels, including steamships, railroads, horses, rickshaws and more. In China Bly visited a leper colony and also bought a monkey in Singapore. She met Jules Verne himself in France. As she traveled she sent short reports of her positions.

Bly traveled mostly unchaperoned, a bold move for a woman of her time.

Bly had to take a slower ship than intended on the last leg of the trip, but the owner of the World hired a private train to rush her back.

After a journey of 72 days, six hours, eleven minutes and fourteen seconds, Bly returned to New York. She set the world record for the fastest trip around the world.

Bisland, the reporter sent to race her, arrived in New York four and a half days later; she had missed a connection and had to finish her journey on a slower ship.

A few months later, a man named George Francis Train beat her record with a trip in 67 days.

Nellie Bly had established herself as an all-star reporter, and her name was later recognized in various pop culture and other references. The New York Press Club, for instance, gives an annual “Nellie Bly Club Reporter” journalism award to the best new journalists in the field.

When Bly passed away in 1922, she had an unmarked grave in New York’s Woodlawn Cemetery until the New York Press Club funded a gravestone with her name in 1978.

 

All Aboard for Standard Railroad Time

In the mid 19th century, a new invention swept the nation that would forever change how transportation and communication worked. The First Transcontinental Railroad was built, spanning the U.S. from San Francisco Bay to Council Bluffs, Iowa.

It was the start of a wonderful thing.

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But realization dawned upon the railroad companies. At the time, towns depended on their own local clocks to keep the time – thus leading to discrepancies between the times. When the ceremonial golden spike was to be driven into the ground to celebrate the opening of the Pacific Railroad in 1869, telegraphers declared the exact moment it happened. But the reported time varied from city to city. Even just in San Francisco, the reported time was both 11:44 and 11:46.

A number of time-keeping methods were used at the time. Many people still judged the time based on the placement of the sun in the sky. Local city times used town clocks based on the meridian of a certain location. Meanwhile, before the reform, railroads ran on time based on the town they had left from. The railroad timetables were very complicated.

Railroad officials knew they had to fix this. The time imbalance could only spell trouble for railroad workers and passengers.

So one man stepped up to make a more reasonable time synchronization. Charles Ferdinand Dowd, a teacher in New York, started designing a standard Railway Time. He made the plan that we’re familiar with today, where standard time is based on time zones. He moved the meridian time to the neutral Greenwich Mean time.

In 1873, railroad managers collectively took a look at Dowd’s plan and gave it praise. However, no action was made to establish the time zone plan.

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Then Sanford Fleming came along. He recommended a worldwide Standard Time and four time zones across the U.S. based on the Greenwich Mean Time. The secretary of the General Time Convention at the time, William F. Allen, liked Fleming’s plan and worked hard to establish the system.

Finally, in 1883, railroad heads all agreed to establish five time zones based on Fleming and Allen’s collective plans. It took some time for people to adjust but soon the plan proved itself to be incredibly useful, all thanks to the railroad system.

In 1999, the North America Railway Hall of Fame inducted Standard Time into its category of technical innovations.