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The Year 1878 In History
Business remained in a slump, continuing the after-effects of the Panic of 1873. During 1878 over 10,000 businesses failed. Thomas Edison developed methods for the cheap production and transmission of electricity, portending widespread use to light cities and homes. This had an adverse effect on gas company stock shares on Wall Street. Edison continued his experiments to develop a practical filament for an incandescent light bulb, but success would not come until the carbon filament of the following year, 1879. In the meantime, the inventor tried over 500 different substances. White Soap, renamed Ivory Soap in 1882, was introduced by Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati.
In Deadwood, in Dakota Territory, a smallpox epidemic swept the inhabitants. Among those rendering assistance was Martha Jane Canary, who became known as Calamity Jane. In the Gulf Coast area a yellow fever epidemic raged, killing an estimated 4,500 in New Orleans plus about 10,000 elsewhere.
Newspaperman Joseph Pulitzer purchased the St. Louis Dispatch, later to merge it with the St. Louis Post to create the Post-Dispatch, which would become the cornerstone in a publishing empire including the New York World.
In Petoskey, Michigan, the last known mass sighting of passenger pigeons occurred. In 1914 the species would become extinct when the last of the species died in the Cincinnati zoo.
On December 17, 1878, greenback legal tender notes achieved par with gold and silver (which would have happened soon thereafter anyway, as mandated by law to take place on January 1, 1879). For the first time in American history, paper dollars, gold dollars, and silver dollars all had the same value.
At the Philadelphia Mint, production of nickel three-cent pieces, Shield nickels, 20-cent pieces, and trade dollars was limited to Proofs for collectors; no business strikes were made for circulation. Goloid, a "dream metal" patented by Dr. William Wheeler Hubbell on May 22, 1877, was employed to strike numerous pattern dollars beginning in 1878 and continuing through 1880. This alloy contained silver and gold metal in the value ratio of 16 to 1, alloyed with 10% copper by weight (to add strength). Goloid coins were to be struck with weights and proportions on the metric system, hence the term goloid metric dollar. Hopefully, goloid would please both silverites and gold bugs and would be a prayer answered at the Mint. Reality intervened, and Dr. Richard H. Linderman pointed out that the goloid alloy looked just like silver, was indistinguishable from the standard silver, and that if one grain of gold were replaced by one of silver the intrinsic value would drop to just 81-1/4 cents, and if the gold were omitted entirely, the value would be reduced to 60 cents with no one except a metallurgist being able to tell the difference. After considerable experimentation, the idea of goloid and a metric coinage was dropped.