This week in Illinois history: Nov. 26-Dec. 2
Nov. 26, 1867 - Urbana-Champaign. The library that eventually became the University of Illinois is launched. What better way to start a university than to have a well-equipped library? According to the University of Illinois website, the school library began 151 years ago and started before the university itself. With $1,000 seed money to buy books and other learning materials, the library secured “indispensable books” as resources available on Day One of receiving the first student or professor. By 1935, it had a million books and today, more than 14 million.
Nov. 27, 1889 - Chicago. The city’s renowned maker of bells, Heinrich "Henry" Wilhelm (H.W.) Rincker, passes away. Rincker crossed the Atlantic and reached America in 1846 with less than a dollar to his name, as the Digital Research Library of the Illinois History Journal reports. From those humble beginnings, Rincker worked his way up as a foundry laborer, making bells for railroads. Just two years after he immigrated, one of his bells found its way into the city’s biggest church, St. Peter’s. His later career saw him ordained a Lutheran minister.
Nov. 28, 1928 - Elgin. An airmail service prompts the first plane to be built in Elgin. The Ta Ho Ma Aircraft and Motor Co. made only one plane before declaring bankruptcy, according to the Illinois History Journal’s Digital Research Library. But the firm's one creation, a maroon-and-cream-colored craft built in a silver plate factory, ferried mail between Chicago, Madison, Rockford and Janesville.
Nov. 29, 1928 - Eugene, Oregon. Illinois Democratic politician Paul Martin Simon is born. Simon was a journalist before joining the U.S. Army and later a teacher before launching a lengthy career in politics, according to his congressional biography. He was a state senator and representative in Illinois, his adopted home state, from 1955 to 1968 and then went on to hold seats in the U.S. House and Senate. He retired from politics in 1997 after running unsuccessfully for his party’s presidential nomination a decade earlier. He founded what later became his namesake Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale.
Nov. 30, 1947 - Chicago. Author and playwright David Alan Mamet is born. The writer of scripts and director of films took inspiration from his father, a lawyer who instilled the love of debate in his children, according to a biographical essay. Mamet was the talent behind such films as Glengarry Glen Ross, The Postman Always Rings Twice and the Oscar-nominated film adaptation of Barry Reed’s novel The Verdict.
Dec. 1, 1958 - Chicago. A tragic blaze claims 95 lives at the Our Lady of the Angels school. Six years after this fire gutted the 1894 building, archdiocese officials replaced it with a modern steel structure, according to the Illinois History Journal’s Digital Library. The article states other European immigrants had replaced the once Irish congregation over the years, and many families moved away after the tragedy. Before that, it had been a thriving parish of 4,500 people. The rebuilt school closed at the end of the 20th century, and later became a charter school.
Dec. 2, 1942- Chicago. Physicist Enrico Fermi detonates the world’s first controlled nuclear reaction at the University of Chicago. “Their experiment was a key step in the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb,” according to an article on the University of Chicago’s website. But it was a far cry from the explosions just three years later used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This pioneering reaction was a tiny ripple barely able to make a light bulb glow. Nevertheless, the witnesses “knew that with the advent of the chain reaction, the world would never be the same again,” the article quotes Samuel K. Allison, a physicist who saw the experiment.