Today in History: Mona Lisa shown at Castle Clos Lucé in 1517

Today in History: Mona Lisa shown at Castle Clos Lucé in 1517

501 years ago today, Leonardo da Vinci allegedly presented his Mona Lisa to King Francis I of France. Da Vinci was invited to work at King’s castle in 1516 and it is believed that he took the Mona Lisa (and several other works) with him where he continued to make refinements to his masterpiece before presenting it to the King. The Mona Lisa was acquired by King Francis at the time and is now property of the French Republic. It is likely the most visited, most written and talked about, and possibly even the most valuable painting in the world. It has been on permanent display at the Louvre in Paris since 1797.

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Today in History: Max Schmeling born in 1905

113 years ago today, German boxing legend Maximillian Schmeling was born. As the European heavyweight boxing champion, Schmeling came to the USA in 1928 and quickly became a sensation when he won the world title after defeating Johnny Risko and Jack Sharkey in 1930. In 1936, Schmeling scored a major upset by defeating the invincible Joe Louis. Louis won the rematch in 1938. Both fights became worldwide cultural events in light of the fighters’ national associations. Schmeling and Louis became good friends after the war until Louis passed away in 1981. Schmeling died at age 99 in 2005. Long after World War II, it was revealed that Schmeling had risked his own life in November of 1938 during the Reichskristallnacht when he saved the lives of two young Jewish brothers. It is said that Schmeling never talked about his heroic act.

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Today in History: U.S. postal system established

Post Museum, 1960s

Today in History: U.S. postal system established

On this day in 1775, the U.S. postal system is established by the Second Continental Congress, with Benjamin Franklin as its first postmaster general. Franklin (1706-1790) put in place the foundation for many aspects of today’s mail system. During early colonial times in the 1600s, few American colonists needed to send mail to each other; it was more likely that their correspondence was with letter writers in Britain. Mail deliveries from across the Atlantic were sporadic and could take many months to arrive. There were no post offices in the colonies, so mail was typically left at inns and taverns. In 1753, Benjamin Franklin, who had been postmaster of Philadelphia, became one of two joint postmasters general for the colonies. He made numerous improvements to the mail system, including setting up new, more efficient colonial routes and cutting delivery time in half between Philadelphia and New York by having the weekly mail wagon travel both day and night via relay teams. Franklin also debuted the first rate chart, which standardized delivery costs based on distance and weight. In 1774, the British fired Franklin from his postmaster job because of his revolutionary activities. However, the following year, he was appointed postmaster general of the United Colonies by the Continental Congress. Franklin held the job until late in 1776, when he was sent to France as a diplomat. He left a vastly improved mail system, with routes from Florida to Maine and regular service between the colonies and Britain. President George Washington appointed Samuel Osgood, a former Massachusetts congressman, as the first postmaster general of the American nation under the new U.S. constitution in 1789. At the time, there were approximately 75 post offices in the country.

Today, the United States has over 40,000 post offices and the postal service delivers 212 billion pieces of mail each year to over 144 million homes and businesses in the United States, Puerto Rico, Guam, the American Virgin Islands and American Samoa. The postal service is the nation’s largest civilian employer, with over 700,000 career workers, who handle more than 44 percent of the world’s cards and letters. The postal service is a not-for-profit, self-supporting agency that covers its expenses through postage (stamp use in the United States started in 1847) and related products. The postal service gets the mail delivered, rain or shine, using everything from planes to mules. However, it’s not cheap: The U.S. Postal Service says that when fuel costs go up by just one penny, its own costs rise by $8 million.

http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/u-s-postal-system-established

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Today in History: Alphonse Maria Mucha is born in 1860

Today in History: Alphonse Maria Mucha is born in 1860

158 years ago today, the talented Czech Art Nouveau poster artist, illustrator and designer was born. Mucha initially worked as a theatrical scene painter in Vienna before a benefactor discovered his talents and financed his art studies in Munich and Paris. Mucha stayed in Paris where he designed his first posters. His breakthrough came in 1894 when he created the famous Gismonda poster starring Sarah Bernhardt. The actress was so impressed with Mucha’s work that she offered him a 6-year contract which paved the road for the artist’s subsequent success. Over the next 15 years, Mucha became the model Art Nouveau artist, creating posters, advertisements, calendars, postcards, and magazine and book illustrations. His work typically featured beautiful women surrounded by elaborate flowers. Mucha returned to live in Czechoslovakia around 1910 where he produced his masterpiece, a set of 20 mural paintings, the Slav Epic, depicting the history of his nation. He died in 1939, several months after being arrested and interrogated by the Nazis, following Germany’s occupation of Czechoslovakia.

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Today in History: “Degenerate Art” exhibition opens in 1937

Today in History: “Degenerate Art” exhibitions opens in 1937

Today marks the 81st anniversary of the opening of the infamous Degenerate Art (Entartete Kunst) exhibition in Munich, Germany. Organized by Adolf Ziegler and the Nazi Party, the exhibition presented some 650 paintings, sculptures and prints by over 100 (primarily) German artists, incl.  works by famous artists such as Otto Dix, Max Ernst, Paul Klee, Emil Nolde and Kurt Schwitters. The “degenerate” works were defined as art that was insulting to any artistic skill and feeling. Even the presentation of the artworks by the Nazi regime was intentionally chaotic: the chosen venue was dark, rooms were very narrow. Paintings were displayed without frames; many were accompanied (or partially covered) by derogatory slogans. The “unhealthy” modern art presented an image of chaos that stood in stark contrast to the Nazi ideal of male heroism or the glorification of the womanhood. Over one million people attended the exhibition in the first six weeks alone. The display lasted until November 30, 1937.

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Today in History: First Picasso Exhibit in 1901

Today in History: First Picasso Exhibit in 1901

117 years ago today, Galerie Vollard in Paris opened the first exhibition of the 18-year-old Spanish painter, Pablo Picasso. The initial response was far from enthusiastic. Two art critics suggested that the artist’s style was overly influenced by French painters. Picasso’s early work was inspired by artists such as Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and Honore Daumier. In 1904, Picasso decided to set up his studio in Paris. Picasso’s fame is largely due to his artistic diversity and autonomy. In addition to numerous paintings, he worked as a sculptor, ceramist and printmaker

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Today in History: Marilyn Monroe born in 1926

Today in History: Marilyn Monroe born in 1926
Today is the birthday of American actress, model and sex-symbol, Marilyn Monroe (born Norma Jeane Mortenson). A supporting role in the film “The Asphalt Jungle” (1950) marked Monroe’s breakthrough in Hollywood. Films like “Niagara” (1953), “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (1953), and “Some Like It Hot” (1959) made her to one of the most successful movie stars of the 1950s.Monroe was found dead from a drug overdose on August 5, 1962 in her home in Brentwood, California. She was 36 years old.

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