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The Year 1879 in History

Crop failure in Europe caused a great demand for American wheat exports, bringing prosperity to farms in the Midwest. In Brooklyn, New York the Echo Farms Dairy tried an innovation: the milk bottle. Heretofore, milk had been ladled into customers' pitchers. The idea caught on, and milk bottles were used until largely replaced by waxed cardboard cartons in the 1950s and 1960s. At The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, the artificial sweetening compound saccharine was discovered by accident.

The silver mining industry was booming in Colorado, and such towns as Central City (with its new Opera House), Black Hawk, Georgetown, and, further to the west, Leadville, were enjoying prosperity. Silverites (politicians and others who loved silver or who had a connection with it) were temporarily happy, as under the Bland-Allison Act the government continued to buy millions of ounces of unwanted metal. However, during the next two decades silver would become the burning political question of the age. By 1879, it was already a standard political issue, but the most heated arguments were yet to come, and the presidential election of 1896 would center on the question.

George B. Selden filed a patent (which would not be granted until 1895) for a road machine powered by an internal combustion engine. At turn of the century he would hobble the infant automobile industry in the United States by demanding royalties from manufacturers. On October 21,1879, Edison claimed success in his search for a suitable material from which to make a filament for an incandescent lamp. His idea of lighting was not new, and others had demonstrated such lamps earlier, but none had lasted for an appreciable length of time. By this time, outdoor night illumination by arc lights had been in use for many years. William K. Vanderbilt acquired Gilmore's Garden and renamed it Madison Square Garden. It became a showcase for public events and in 1890 was replaced by a magnificent structure of the same name, designed by Stanford K. White (in 1906,White would be shot and killed in the rooftop garden of the building, by Pittsburgh millionaire Harry Thaw, who could not live with the idea that Thaw's wife, Evelyn Nesbit, had been the mistress of White when she was a teenager). In the mean time, in 1879 White was a partner in the newly formed architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White, which would have close ties with sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens.

Frank Winfield Woolworth laid the foundation for his fortune made in five-and-dime stores when he set up a counter at which all merchandise cost five cents. "Twenty nickels make a dollar, you know." He then borrowed $400 to open a store in Utica, New York, which failed in three months. Undaunted, he opened a similar store in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. What happened changed the face of retailing in America.

In Russia, Ivan Pavlov, a physiologist, demonstrated by studies on dogs that the sight of food could cause the production of gastric juices, even if food was not eaten forming the basis for the theory of conditioned reflexes.

Horatio C. Burchard became director of the Mint in February 1879, replacing the infamous Dr. Henry Richard Linderman, and continued in office through June 1885. Shenanigans at the Mint continued under the Burchard administration (and the superintendency of the Philadelphia Mint by Col. Archibald Loudon Snowden), and many fancy patterns were made for private profit to those connected with the institution. Included were metric issues, such as goloid $1, gold $4, and gold $20 patterns. Although contemporary numismatists such as S.K. Harzfeld and W. ElliotWoodward protested Mint practices, it fell to scholars of the twentieth century to discover the vast extent of Mint improprieties and indiscretions of the period from about 1858 to 1885.

The pattern stella or $4 gold coin was produced as a proposal for international coinage, and 15 Proofs were made of Charles E. Barber's Flowing Hair design, followed by a supplemental coinage of 400 to 600 more of the same date in 1880. George T. Morgan's Coiled Hair $4 design was also made, but in small numbers, probably fewer than 30 or 40.

The New Orleans Mint produced coins for the first time since it was closed during the Civil War in 1861.