5 February 1971

The Astronauts land on the moon in the Apollo 14 mission.

HOUSTON, Saturday, Feb. 6 — Apollo 14 astronauts Alan Shepard Jr. and Ed Mitchell, sleeping only briefly after an incredible four hours and 44 minutes spent wandering on the moon yesterday, left their lunar ship Antares at 3:23 a.m. today to begin a second recording-breaking moonwalk.

The astronauts were up and on the surface nearly two hour early, their spectacular walk beamed to earth via a color television camera set up on the surface yesterday.

A major task was to return 600 feet to a scientific package they had laid out yesterday to reposition an antenna designed to send seismic and other information to earth for months after America’s third successful lunar landing mission has ended.

The astronauts first set out on a long 4,600-foot hike to collect moon rocks which geologists believe will date back 4.6 million years to the beginning of the universe.

Like most of the gremlin-riddled Apollo 14 flight, the first moon walk was not without trouble. Communications problems stalled its start for 50 minutes. Unforeseen difficulties in some of their tasks caused its extension for an extra 30 minutes. And one of their experiments failed completely.

But the flaws were minor. The first of two long moon walks for the crew of the little lunar landers Antares accomplished its goal admirably. The astronauts were so pleased that they talked Mission Control into letting them begin today’s four to five-hour walk before its planned 5:38 a.m. start.

Only one small problem arose. A minor heat leak in Mitchell’s pressure suit was expected to limit the second walk to no longer than the one yesterday. The leak was not expected to interfere with any of the day’s goals.

4 February 1974

The Symbionese Liberation Army kidnaps Patty Hearst in Berkeley, California.

On February 4, 1974, Patty Hearst, the 19-year-old daughter of newspaper publisher Randolph Hearst, is kidnapped from her apartment in Berkeley, California, by two black men and a white woman, all three of whom are armed. Her fiance, Stephen Weed, was beaten and tied up along with a neighbor who tried to help. Witnesses reported seeing a struggling Hearst being carried away blindfolded, and she was put in the trunk of a car. Neighbors who came out into the street were forced to take cover after the kidnappers fired their guns to cover their escape.

Three days later, the Symbionese Liberation Army, a small U.S. leftist group, announced in a letter to a Berkeley radio station that it was holding Hearst as a “prisoner of war.” Four days later, the SLA demanded that the Hearst family give $70 in foodstuffs to every needy person from Santa Rosa to Los Angeles. This done, said the SLA, negotiation would begin for the return of Patricia Hearst. Randolph Hearst hesitantly gave away some $2 million worth of food. The SLA then called this inadequate and asked for $6 million more. The Hearst Corporation said it would donate the additional sum if the girl was released unharmed.

In April, however, the situation changed dramatically when a surveillance camera took a photo of Hearst participating in an armed robbery of a San Francisco bank, and she was also spotted during a robbery of a Los Angeles store. She later declared, in a tape sent to the authorities, that she had joined the SLA of her own free will.

On May 17, Los Angeles police raided the SLA’s secret headquarters, killing six of the group’s nine known members. Among the dead was the SLA’s leader, Donald DeFreeze, an African American ex-convict who called himself General Field Marshal Cinque. Patty Hearst and two other SLA members wanted for the April bank robbery were not on the premises.

Finally, on September 18, 1975, after crisscrossing the country with her captors–or conspirators–for more than a year, Hearst, or “Tania” as she called herself, was captured in a San Francisco apartment and arrested for armed robbery. Despite her claim that she had been brainwashed by the SLA, she was convicted on March 20, 1976, and sentenced to seven years in prison. She served 21 months before her sentence was commuted by President Carter. After leaving prison, she returned to a more routine existence and later married her bodyguard. She was pardoned by President Clinton in January 2001.

3 February 1931

New Zealand’s worst natural disaster, The Hawke’s Bay earthquake, kills 258 people.

In 1931, New Zealand’s deadliest earthquake devastated the cities of Napier and Hastings. At least 256 people died in the magnitude 7.8 earthquake – 161 in Napier, 93 in Hastings, and 2 in Wairoa. Many thousands more required medical treatment.

256 or 258?
The official death toll of the Hawke’s Bay earthquake is 256. But there are 258 names on the memorial, and this unofficial number is likely to be correct.

On Tuesday morning, 3 February 1931, at 10.47 a.m., the ground in the Hawke’s Bay region heaved sharply upward and swayed. A deceptive half-minute pause was followed by a downward motion and violent shaking and rocking. In all, the quake spanned two and a half minutes.

Fatalities
As buildings began to disintegrate, many people fled outdoors into a lethal rain of chunks from ornate facades, parapets and cornices. Buildings swayed violently, and their walls bulged and collapsed into the streets in avalanches of brick and masonry that crushed vehicles and people. Roofs caved in on buildings that had large open internal areas, such as churches, libraries and theatres. In some buildings the internal floors pulled free of the swaying walls, collapsing inward in a jumble of girders, wood and plaster.

In Napier, the recently built Nurses’ Home collapsed, killing clerical staff and off-duty nurses who were sleeping. In Hastings at least 50 people were in Roach’s department store when it collapsed; 17 died and many were seriously injured. The entire front of the five-storey Grand Hotel in Hastings crumbled into Heretaunga Street, claiming eight lives. Fifteen died at the Park Island Old Men’s Home near Taradale, but a 91-year-old man was pulled alive from the rubble three days later.

The earthquake struck on the first day of school after the summer holidays. Most pupils managed to escape to the outdoors in time, but nine students died in the wreckage of the brick Napier Technical College. Several of those students had gone back into the school to rescue trapped classmates. Seven students also died at the Marist Fathers’ Seminary in Greenmeadows.

Everybody out
This account is from Jock Stevens, who was at Napier Boys’ High School when the earthquake struck:

‘A boy said “Earthquake, Sir!” We were immediately struck with the full force of the quake. The master in charge, Matt Alexander, said “Everybody out!” … The shakes sent me flying onto the floor of the doorway and I can still feel the feet of the class trampling over me. I got to my feet and from there I saw the Assembly Hall collapse like a pack of cards – each wall fell in then the tiled roof came down. Then dust clouds blotted it out.’

The fires begin
Within minutes of the earthquake, fire began in three Napier chemist shops in the business district. Firefighters were almost helpless – water pressure faded to a trickle as the reservoir emptied. Attempts to pump sea water from the beach were short-lived, as hoses quickly became blocked by shingle. By mid-afternoon Napier’s business area was ablaze. Some 36 hours later, after a remarkable attempt by firemen, volunteers and sailors working through the night, the fires were extinguished. Almost 11 blocks of central Napier were gutted. Fires also sprang up in Hastings, but water supplies were available there shortly after the earthquake and fire damage was less extensive.

Ahead of the spreading fires and amidst continuing aftershocks, desperate rescuers, using crowbars, shovels, picks, and their hands, worked to reach people trapped in wrecked buildings. Some could not be rescued in time; a doctor administered a lethal overdose of morphine to an injured woman trapped in the ruins of St John’s Cathedral before fire reached her. A number of rescuers were killed as aftershocks caused further collapses.

2 February 1901

The funeral of Queen Victoria.

In 1897, Victoria had written instructions for her funeral, which was to be military as befitting a soldier’s daughter and the head of the army, and white instead of black. On 25 January, Edward VII, the Kaiser and Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, helped lift her body into the coffin. She was dressed in a white dress and her wedding veil. An array of mementos commemorating her extended family, friends and servants were laid in the coffin with her, at her request, by her doctor and dressers. One of Albert’s dressing gowns was placed by her side, with a plaster cast of his hand, while a lock of John Brown’s hair, along with a picture of him, was placed in her left hand concealed from the view of the family by a carefully positioned bunch of flowers. Items of jewellery placed on Victoria included the wedding ring of John Brown’s mother, given to her by Brown in 1883. Her funeral was held on Saturday, 2 February, in St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, and after two days of lying-in-state, she was interred beside Prince Albert in Frogmore Mausoleum at Windsor Great Park.

Westminster Abbey. Special Service To be held on the occasion of the Funeral of Her Late Majesty Queen Victoria, Saturday, February 2nd, 1901, At Two o’clock. Order of Service. The state funeral of Queen Victoria took place in February 1901; it had been 64 years since the last burial of a monarch. Victoria left strict instructions regarding the service and associated ceremonies and instituted a number of changes, several of which set a precedent for state funerals that have taken place since. First, she disliked the preponderance of funereal black; henceforward, there would be no black cloaks, drapes or canopy, and Victoria requested a white pall for her coffin. Second, she expressed a desire to be buried as “a soldier’s daughter”. The procession, therefore, became much more a military procession, with the peers, privy counsellors and judiciary no longer taking part en masse. Her pallbearers were equerries rather than dukes, and for the first time, a gun carriage was employed to convey the monarch’s coffin. Third, Victoria requested that there should be no public lying in state. This meant that the only event in London on this occasion was a gun carriage procession from one railway station to another: Victoria having died at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, her body was conveyed by boat and train to Waterloo Station, then by gun carriage to Paddington Station and then by train to Windsor for the funeral service itself.

The funeral procession
The rare sight of a state funeral cortège travelling by ship provided a striking spectacle: Victoria’s body was carried on board HMY Alberta from Cowes to Gosport, with a suite of yachts following conveying the new king, Edward VII, and other mourners. Minute guns were fired by the assembled fleet as the yacht passed by. Victoria’s body remained on board ship overnight before being conveyed by gun carriage to the railway station the following day for the train journey to London. Victoria broke convention by having a white draped coffin.

Victoria’s children had married into the great royal families of Europe and a number of foreign monarchs were in attendance including Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany as well as the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

1 February 2003

The Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated during the reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven astronauts aboard.

On Feb. 1, 2003, space shuttle Columbia broke up as it returned to Earth, killing the seven astronauts on board. NASA suspended space shuttle flights for more than two years as it investigated the disaster.

An investigation board determined that a large piece of foam fell from the shuttle’s external tank and breached the spacecraft wing. This problem with foam had been known for years, and NASA came under intense scrutiny in Congress and in the media for allowing the situation to continue.

The Columbia mission was the second space shuttle disaster after Challenger, which saw a catastrophic failure during launch in 1986. The Columbia disaster directly led to the retirement of the space shuttle fleet in 2011; NASA is developing a successor commercial crew program that will bring astronauts to the space station no earlier than 2018.

Columbia was the first space shuttle to fly in space; its first flight took place in April 1981, and it successfully completed 27 missions before the disaster. On its 28th flight, Columbia, on mission STS-107, left Earth for the last time on Jan. 16, 2003. At the time, the shuttle program was focused on building the International Space Station. However, STS-107 stood apart as it emphasized pure research.

The seven-member crew — Rick Husband, commander; Michael Anderson, payload commander; David Brown, mission specialist; Kalpana Chawla, mission specialist; Laurel Clark, mission specialist; William McCool, pilot; and Ilan Ramon, payload specialist from the Israeli Space Agency — spent 24 hours a day doing science experiments in two shifts. They performed around 80 experiments in life sciences, material sciences, fluid physics and other matters.

During the crew’s 16 days in space, however, NASA investigated a foam strike that took place during launch. About 82 seconds after Columbia left the ground, a piece of foam fell from a “bipod ramp” that was part of a structure that attached the external tank to the shuttle. Video from the launch appeared to show the foam striking Columbia’s left wing.

Several people within NASA pushed to get pictures of the breached wing in orbit. The Department of Defense was reportedly prepared to use its orbital spy cameras to get a closer look. However, NASA officials in charge declined the offer, according to the Columbia Accident Investigation Board and “Comm Check,” a 2008 book by space journalists Michael Cabbage and William Harwood, about the disaster.

This image is a view of the underside of Columbia during its entry from mission STS-107 on Feb. 1, 2003, as it passed by the Starfire Optical Range, Directed Energy Directorate, Air Force Research Laboratory, Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. The image was taken at approximately 7:57 a.m. CST. This image was received by NASA as part of the Columbia accident investigation and is being analyzed.
This image is a view of the underside of Columbia during its entry from mission STS-107 on Feb. 1, 2003, as it passed by the Starfire Optical Range, Directed Energy Directorate, Air Force Research Laboratory, Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. The image was taken at approximately 7:57 a.m. CST. This image was received by NASA as part of the Columbia accident investigation and is being analyzed.
Credit: NASA

On Feb. 1, 2003, the shuttle made its usual landing approach to the Kennedy Space Center. Just before 9 a.m. EST, however, abnormal readings showed up at Mission Control. Temperature readings from sensors located on the left wing were lost. Then, tire pressure readings from the left side of the shuttle also vanished.

The Capcom, or spacecraft communicator, called up to Columbia to discuss the tire pressure readings. At 8:59:32 a.m., Husband called back from Columbia: “Roger,” followed by a word that was cut off in mid-sentence.

At that point, Columbia was near Dallas, travelling 18 times the speed of sound and still 200,700 feet above the ground. Mission Control made several attempts to get in touch with the astronauts, with no success.

It was later found that a hole on the left wing allowed atmospheric gases to bleed into the shuttle as it went through its fiery re-entry, leading to the loss of the sensors and eventually, Columbia itself.

14 December 1836

The Toledo War come to an end.

The Toledo War (1835–36), also known as the Michigan–Ohio War, was an almost bloodless boundary dispute between the U.S. state of Ohio and the adjoining territory of Michigan.

Poor geographical understanding of the Great Lakes helped produce conflicting state and federal legislation between 1787 and 1805, and varying interpretations of the laws led the governments of Ohio and Michigan to both claim jurisdiction over a 468-square-mile region along the border, now known as the Toledo Strip. The situation came to a head when Michigan petitioned for statehood in 1835 and sought to include the disputed territory within its boundaries. Both sides passed legislation attempting to force the other side’s capitulation, while Ohio’s Governor Robert Lucas and Michigan’s 24-year-old “Boy Governor” Stevens T. Mason helped institute criminal penalties for citizens submitting to the other’s authority. Both states deployed militias on opposite sides of the Maumee River near Toledo, but besides mutual taunting, there was little interaction between the two forces. The single military confrontation of the “war” ended with a report of shots being fired into the air, incurring no casualties.

During the summer of 1836, Congress proposed a compromise whereby Michigan gave up its claim to the strip in exchange for its statehood and about three-quarters of the Upper Peninsula. The compromise was considered a poor outcome for Michigan. Voters in a state convention in September soundly rejected the proposal. But in December, the Michigan government, facing a dire financial crisis and pressure from Congress and President Andrew Jackson, called another convention which accepted the compromise that resolved the Toledo War.

The later discovery of copper and iron deposits and the plentiful timber in the Upper Peninsula more than offset Michigan’s economic loss in surrendering Toledo.

13 December 1642

Abel Tasman reaches New Zealand.

Abel Janszoon Tasman 1603 – 10 October 1659) was a Dutch seafarer, explorer, and merchant, best known for his voyages of 1642 and 1644 in the service of the Dutch East India Company. He was the first known European explorer to reach the islands of Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) and New Zealand, and to sight the Fiji islands.

Portrait of Abel Tasman, his wife and daughter. Attributed to Jacob Gerritsz Cuyp, 1637.
Abel Jans Tasman was born in 1603 in Lutjegast, a small village in the province of Groningen, in the north of the Netherlands. The oldest available source mentioning him dates 27 December 1631 when, as a seafarer living in Amsterdam, the 28-year-old became engaged to marry 21-year-old Jannetje Tjaers from the Jordaan district of the city. In 1633 he sailed from Texel to Batavia in the service of the Dutch East India Company, taking the southern Brouwer Route. Tasman took part in a voyage to Seram Island; the locals had sold spices to other European nationalities than the Dutch. He had a narrow escape from death, when in an incautious landing several of his companions were killed by people of Seram. In August 1637 he was back in Amsterdam, and the following year he signed on for another ten years and took his wife with him to Batavia. On 25 March 1638 he tried to sell his property in the Jordaan, but the purchase was cancelled. In 1639 he was second-in-command of an exploration expedition in the north Pacific under Matthijs Quast. The fleet included the ships Engel and Gracht and reached Fort Zeelandia and Deshima.

In August 1642, the Council of the Indies, consisting of Antonie van Diemen, Cornelis van der Lijn, Joan Maetsuycker, Justus Schouten, Salomon Sweers, Cornelis Witsen, and Pieter Boreel in Batavia despatched Tasman and Franchoijs Visscher on a voyage of which one of the objectives was to obtain knowledge of “all the totally unknown provinces of Beach”. This expedition used two small ships, the Heemskerck and the Zeehaen.

12 December 1911

Delhi replaces Calcutta as the capital of India.

New Delhi is the capital of India and one of Delhi city’s 11 districts. Although colloquially Delhi and New Delhi are used interchangeably to refer to the National Capital Territory of Delhi, these are two distinct entities, with New Delhi forming a small part of Delhi. The National Capital Region is a much larger entity comprising the entire National Capital Territory of Delhi along with adjoining districts. It is surrounded by Haryana on three sides and Uttar Pradesh on the east.

The foundation stone of the city was laid by George V, Emperor of India during the Delhi Durbar of 1911. It was designed by British architects, Sir Edwin Lutyens and Sir Herbert Baker. The new capital was inaugurated on 13 February 1931, by Viceroy and Governor-General of India Lord Irwin.

New Delhi has been selected as one of the hundred Indian cities to be developed as a smart city under Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi’s flagship Smart Cities Mission.

Lord Curzon and Lady Curzon arriving at the Delhi Durbar, 1903.

The Delhi Durbar of 1911, with King George V and Queen Mary seated upon the dais.
Calcutta (now Kolkata) was the capital of India during the British Raj until December 1911.

Delhi had served as the political and financial centre of several empires of ancient India and the Delhi Sultanate, most notably of the Mughal Empire from 1649 to 1857. During the early 1900s, a proposal was made to the British administration to shift the capital of the British Indian Empire, as India was officially named, from Calcutta on the east coast, to Delhi. The Government of British India felt that it would be logistically easier to administer India from Delhi in the centre of northern India.

The land for building the new city of Delhi was acquired under the Land Acquisition Act 1894.

On 12 December 1911, during the Delhi Durbar, George V, then Emperor of India, along with Queen Mary, his Consort, made the announcement that the capital of the Raj was to be shifted from Calcutta to Delhi, while laying the foundation stone for the Viceroy’s residence in the Coronation Park, Kingsway Camp. The foundation stone of New Delhi was laid by King George V and Queen Mary at the site of Delhi Durbar of 1911 at Kingsway Camp on 15 December 1911, during their imperial visit. Large parts of New Delhi were planned by Edwin Lutyens, who first visited Delhi in 1912, and Herbert Baker, both leading 20th-century British architects. The contract was given to Sobha Singh. The original plan called for its construction in Tughlaqabad, inside the Tughlaqabad fort, but this was given up because of the Delhi-Calcutta trunk line that passed through the fort. Construction really began after World War I and was completed by 1931. The city that was later dubbed “Lutyens’ Delhi” was inaugurated in ceremonies beginning on 10 February 1931 by Lord Irwin, the Viceroy. Lutyens designed the central administrative area of the city as a testament to Britain’s imperial aspirations.

The 1931 series celebrated the inauguration of New Delhi as the seat of government. The one rupee stamp shows George V with the “Secretariat Building” and Dominion Columns. Soon Lutyens started considering other places. Indeed, the Delhi Town Planning Committee, set up to plan the new imperial capital, with George Swinton as chairman and John A. Brodie and Lutyens as members, submitted reports for both North and South sites. However, it was rejected by the Viceroy when the cost of acquiring the necessary properties was found to be too high. The central axis of New Delhi, which today faces east at India Gate, was previously meant to be a north-south axis linking the Viceroy’s House at one end with Paharganj at the other. During the project’s early years, many tourists believed it was a gate from Earth to Heaven itself. Eventually, owing to space constraints and the presence of a large number of heritage sites in the North side, the committee settled on the South site. A site atop the Raisina Hill, formerly Raisina Village, a Meo village, was chosen for the Rashtrapati Bhawan, then known as the Viceroy’s House. The reason for this choice was that the hill lay directly opposite the Dinapanah citadel, which was also considered the site of Indraprastha, the ancient region of Delhi. Subsequently, the foundation stone was shifted from the site of Delhi Durbar of 1911–1912, where the Coronation Pillar stood, and embedded in the walls of the forecourt of the Secretariat. The Rajpath, also known as King’s Way, stretched from the India Gate to the Rashtrapati Bhawan. The Secretariat building, the two blocks of which flank the Rashtrapati Bhawan and houses ministries of the Government of India, and the Parliament House, both designed by Baker, are located at the Sansad Marg and run parallel to the Rajpath.

In the south, land up to Safdarjung’s Tomb was acquired to create what is today known as Lutyens’ Bungalow Zone. Before construction could begin on the rocky ridge of Raisina Hill, a circular railway line around the Council House, called the Imperial Delhi Railway, was built to transport construction material and workers for the next twenty years. The last stumbling block was the Agra-Delhi railway line that cut right through the site earmarked for the hexagonal All-India War Memorial and Kingsway, which was a problem because the Old Delhi Railway Station served the entire city at that time. The line was shifted to run along the Yamuna river, and it began operating in 1924. The New Delhi Railway Station opened in 1926 with a single platform at Ajmeri Gate near Paharganj and was completed in time for the city’s inauguration in 1931. As construction of the Viceroy’s House, Central Secretariat, Parliament House, and All-India War Memorial was winding down, the building of a shopping district and a new plaza, Connaught Place, began in 1929, and was completed by 1933. Named after Prince Arthur, 1st Duke of Connaught, it was designed by Robert Tor Russell, chief architect to the Public Works Department.

After the capital of India moved to Delhi, a temporary secretariat building was constructed in a few months in 1912 in North Delhi. Most of the government offices of the new capital moved here from the ‘Old secretariat’ in Old Delhi, a decade before the new capital was inaugurated in 1931. Many employees were brought into the new capital from distant parts of India, including the Bengal Presidency and Madras Presidency. Subsequently, housing for them was developed around Gole Market area in the 1920s. Built in the 1940s, to house government employees, with bungalows for senior officials in the nearby Lodhi Estate area, Lodhi colony near historic Lodhi Gardens, was the last residential areas built by the British Raj.

11 December 1997

The Kyoto Protocol is ready for signature.

The Kyoto Protocol is an international treaty which extends the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that commits State Parties to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, based on the scientific consensus that global warming is occurring and it is extremely likely that human-made CO2 emissions have predominantly caused it. The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, on December 11, 1997 and entered into force on February 16, 2005. There are currently 192 parties to the Protocol.

The Kyoto Protocol implemented the objective of the UNFCCC to fight global warming by reducing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere to “a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”. The Protocol is based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities: it puts the obligation to reduce current emissions on developed countries on the basis that they are historically responsible for the current levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

The Protocol’s first commitment period started in 2008 and ended in 2012. A second commitment period was agreed on in 2012, known as the Doha Amendment to the protocol, in which 37 countries have binding targets: Australia, the European Union, Belarus, Iceland, Kazakhstan, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland, and Ukraine. Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine have stated that they may withdraw from the Protocol or not put into legal force the Amendment with second round targets. Japan, New Zealand and Russia have participated in Kyoto’s first-round but have not taken on new targets in the second commitment period. Other developed countries without second-round targets are Canada and the United States. As of July 2016, 66 states have accepted the Doha Amendment, while entry into force requires the acceptances of 144 states. Of the 37 countries with binding commitments, 7 have ratified.

Negotiations were held in the framework of the yearly UNFCCC Climate Change Conferences on measures to be taken after the second commitment period ends in 2020. This resulted in the 2015 adoption of the Paris Agreement, which is a separate instrument under the UNFCCC rather than an amendment of the Kyoto protocol.

10 December 1901

The first Nobel Prizes are awarded.

On 10 December 1975 the 75th Nobel banquet was held. On that day, Folke Henschen told radio listeners his personal memories of the very first Nobel Prize awards, which he experienced as a student marshal. What follows here is a more detailed version.

After long protracted negotiations, partly with the French government and partly with the Nobel family, the first awarding of five Nobel Prizes could finally take place on 10 December 1901 – four of them given out in Stockholm and one, the Peace Prize, in Christiania, as Oslo was then called. Five years had passed since Alfred Nobel had died in San Remo, on 10 December 1896.

In the days leading up to the awarding of prizes, there was certain tension in the air. The Nobel Laureates’ names had been kept secret – they were not, as now, revealed months in advance. When three distinguished German – speaking gentlemen arrived by train from the south and were taken to the Grand Hotel, it was clear that they must be the Nobel Laureates. International traffic was not as commonplace then as now.

Folke Henschen
Photo of Folke Henschen kindly provided by his son, Anders Henschen.
The Nobel Prizes were presented in the large hall of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music1 at Nybroviken. The unpretentious, rather boring hall had been richly decorated under the supervision of the much sought-after royal architect, Agi Lindegren. As one of the so-called student marshals, decked out in student cap and a broad silk blue-and-gold band over my left shoulder, I had an excellent view of everything from my seat in the gallery to the right of the podium. The large bandstand where the royal orchestra was to play was completely decorated with plants and pine boughs. Centered at the back of the stage, beneath a giant laurel wreath tied with blue-and-gold ribbon, was a large broad obelisk with a white bust of Alfred Nobel. At the front there was a lectern and four more obelisks with the inscriptions PHYSICS, CHEMISTRY, MEDICINE, LITERATURE. Just in front of the stage were three armchairs for royalty, and behind these was a semicircle of chairs for the prize winners, the presenters, and attendants. Back of the semicircle there were places for all the intellectuals, distinguished officials, and military officers from Stockholm and around the country.

The hall filled gradually with people dressed in festive attire. Then, the three current prize winners entered and sat down, without music or fanfare as now is customary. First came the stately German, Wilhelm Conrad von Röntgen, with his large dark professor’s beard, then the smiling, blond, clean-shaven Dutchman, Jakobus Hendricus van t’Hoff, followed by the elegant German Nobel Laureate in Medicine, Emil Adolf von Behring. Last came the French minister, who was to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature for his countryman, the poet, Sully Prudhomme, who was ill. Finally, the royal family entered: in the middle, Crown Prince Gustaf–later to become King Gustaf V–standing in for King Oscar who had been forced to travel to Christiania because of the threatening break-up of the Swedish Norwegian union. With him, came the 19-year old Prince Gustaf Adolf together with Prince Eugen. The seating arrangement meant that the royalty sat more or less with their backs to the Nobel Laureates and presenters.

Musical Academy in Stockholm
The first Nobel Prize Award Ceremony at the Musical Academy in Stockholm.
When the royal family was seated, the royal orchestra burst forth with a pompous festival overture by Ludwig Norman. Thereupon, the Nobel Foundation chairman, the former Prime Minister E G Boström, rose to the lectern and described in a speech of some length Alfred Nobel’s life, character, discoveries, and his warm wish to benefit mankind with annual awards from his fortune.

Thereafter, the Swedish Academy’s powerful permanent secretary, C.D. af Wirsén, came forward and read a “poem” – or so it states in the program I still have. I still remember his deep grandiloquent voice: “No desire became duty, no striving that bore down on Swedish shoulders” – and the end: “Two things induce us to bear the heavy responsibility: the will of Death and our Mother’s honor.” Then followed an augmented men’s quartet that sang the old mighty student song, “Open thy gates, thou radiant temple garden of memory”.

At last, the actual presentation of prizes began. In regard to the scientific prizes, the presentations were made by representatives of the two institutes that selected the recipients, rather than by experts in the pertinent fields, as later became usual. Thus, the old Director General of the National Archives, C.T. Odhner, Chairman of the Academy of Sciences, gave an account of how the Nobel Laureate in Physics, Röntgen, discovered the radiation that is named after him and recited the bases for the Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, van t’Hoff’s discoveries pertaining to osmotic pressure and chemical dynamics, both of which subjects were certainly foreign to him. After each statement, he stepped down from the podium and led the appropriate Nobel Laureate forward to receive his diploma and medal from the hand of the Crown Prince.

Thereafter, the President of Karolinska Institutet, Professor Karl Mörner, came to the lectern and described Behring’s discovery of anti-diptheria serum, whereupon Behring received his award in the same way. Finally, Wirsén spoke about Sully Prudhomme and read part of his famous symbolic poem, ‘Le vase brisé’ (The Broken Vase). The vase has a crack “tout bas, invisible au monde” which the poor vessel feels spreading, so that its contents leak out. “Il est brisé, n’y touchez pas” – touch it not! Yes, certainly it was beautiful, but …

And so the awarding of the prizes came to an end. The Royal Orchestra played a march by August Söderman, the royal family rose, and the hall emptied. It was not far to the Grand Hotel2 where a festival banquet stood ready and to which even we marshals were invited. There were many toasts and a splendid ambience. And in the small hours, two marshals carried the little van t’Hoff in a gold chair around the room.

And so it was, then, that the first – and one could say historic – Nobel Prize ceremony ended.