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In the Good Old Days Antiques Corner This Week in History
This Week in History

A Bridge, a "King" and a Theorist

... On Jan. 5, 1933: Construction on the Golden Gate Bridge began.

Following the California gold rush that began in 1849, the land just north of San Francisco Bay began to increase in value because of its accessibility to the city. The idea for a suspension bridge of some sort that would connect the two land masses that border the mouth of the bay dates back as far as 1869, but there were many obstacles to overcome, not the least of which was financial support.

In 1916, James Wilkins, a structural engineer by education who was working as an editor for the San Francisco Call-Bulletin, wrote an article that called for a suspension bridge across the strait with a center span of 3,000 feet, which was nearly twice the length of any in existence at the time. The idea was to build a bridge that would span the Golden Gate, which is a narrow, 400-foot deep strait that serves as the mouth of San Francisco Bay. Wilkins' idea was estimated to cost around $100 million, so city engineers started looking for someone who could do it for less money.

Engineer and poet Joseph Strauss stepped in and estimated he could get it done for $25-$30 million with a main span of at least 4,000 feet. By the time litigation and other obstacles started to dissipate, the Great Depression of 1929 hit, setting the project back again. Finally, in 1932, the San Francisco-based Bank of America agreed to back the entire project to help the local economy.

The bridge officially opened on May 27, 1937, and became the longest bridge span in the world, an honor that lasted for 27 years. In total, over 2 billion vehicles have crossed the Golden Gate Bridge since opening day.

... On Jan. 8, 1935: Elvis Presley, the "king of rock 'n' roll," was born.

Elvis Aaron Presley was born to Vernon and Gladys Presley in a two-room house in Tupelo, Miss. His twin brother, Jessi Garon, was stillborn, leaving Elvis an only child. When he was 13, his family moved to Memphis, Tenn., where his music career began.

In 1954, he began to work with Sam Phillips, the owner of Sun Records, but in 1955 his contract was sold to RCA Victor. His first RCA single, Heartbreak Hotel, released in January 1956, became an instant No. 1 hit in the U.S. His energized interpretations of songs and provocative performance style made him an international icon, as well as the object of adoration for many young women and ire for their parents.

In November 1956, he made his first film debut in Love Me Tender which led to 30 other successful films, including Jailhouse Rock and Viva Las Vegas. He became a staple on late-night television shows, and his concerts broke attendance records. Globally, he sold over 1 billion records, more than any other artist in history. He earned 14 Grammy nominations, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award at the age of 36 and was named one of the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Nation in 1970. In 1958 he was inducted into the U.S. Army as a private and was honorably discharged in 1960.

Elvis married Priscilla Ann Wagner Beaulieu in 1967, and their daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, was born in 1968. The Presleys would eventually divorce in 1973. Before his accidental overdose and death in 1977, Elvis became the most well-known and loved musician to ever live. He is buried at his Memphis home, Graceland, where thousands visit his grave every year.

... On Jan. 8, 1942: English theoretical physicist, cosmologist and author Stephen Hawking was born.

The future physicist was born to Frank and Isobel Hawking, who studied medicine and philosophy, and politics and economics, respectively. From the time he was born, his parents placed a high value on education, although Hawking was initially academically unsuccessful. After some time, he began to show an aptitude for scientific subjects. Hawking decided to study physics and chemistry, and went to Oxford University in 1959 at the age of 17.

He was initially bored in school, finding all his subjects "ridiculously easy." After some ups and downs, he received a first-class honors degree and began his work at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, in 1962. Around this time, he began to become increasingly clumsy and started slurring some of his words. When he was 21, he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease, a form of ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease), and his doctors gave him a life expectancy of 2 years. Even though he fell into a depression because of his diagnosis, he and his sister's friend Jane Wilde became engaged in 1964 and married in 1965. In 1966, he obtained a PhD in philosophy.

Hawking is now director of research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology. His work centers on the basic laws that govern the universe. Along with Roger Penrose, he has been able to show that Einstein's General Theory of Relativity implied space and time would have a beginning in the Big Bang and an end in black holes. The unification of General Relativity with Quantum Theory has become one of the greatest and most important efforts in modern science.

He has published three best-selling books as well as a number of popular papers. He has been awarded 12 honorary degrees and many other awards, medals and prizes, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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