The Thing About Today – May 10

May 10, 2020
Day 131 of 366


May 10th is the 131st day of the year. This year, it is Mother’s Day, which typically falls on the second Sunday in May. In 1908, it was observed for the first time in the United States, in Grafton, West Virginia.

In the United States, today is “celebrated” as National Clean Up Your Room Day, National Lipid Day, National Shrimp Day, and National Washington Day.


Historical items of note:

  • In 28 BC, a sunspot was observed by Han dynasty astronomers during the reign of Emperor Cheng of Han, one of the earliest dated sunspot observations in China.
  • In 1773, the Parliament of Great Britain passed the Tea Act, designed to save the British East India Company by reducing taxes on its tea and granting it the right to sell tea directly to North America. The legislation led to the Boston Tea Party.
  • In 1872, Victoria Woodhull became the first woman nominated for President of the United States.
  • In 1888, Austrian-American composer and conductor Max Steiner was born.
  • In 1899, actor, singer, and dancer Fred Astaire was born.
  • In 1902, director and producer David O. Selznick was born.
  • In 1954, Bill Haley & His Comets released “Rock Around the Clock”, the first rock and roll record to reach number one on the Billboard charts.
  • In 1960, the nuclear submarine USS Triton (SSRN-586) completed Operation Sandblast, the first underwater circumnavigation of the earth.
  • In 1962, Marvel Comics publishes the first issue of The Incredible Hulk.
  • In 1969, author John Scalzi was born.


In 1869, the First Transcontinental Railroad, linking the eastern and western United States, was completed at Promontory Summit, Utah with the golden spike.

The golden spike (also known as The Last Spike) is the ceremonial 17.6-karat gold final spike driven by Leland Stanford to connect the Central Pacific Railroad from Sacramento, California and the Union Pacific Railroad from Omaha, Nebraska on May 10, 1869.  The First Transcontinental Railroad was a 1,912 mile (3,077 km) continuous railroad line, and construction was started in 1863. The spike was placed in a ceremony where Union Pacific No. 119 and Central Pacific No. 60 (better known as the Jupiter) were driven cowcatcher to cowcatcher. After the ceremony, the golden spike was taken away and the real final spike was driven.

The resulting coast-to-coast railroad connection revolutionized the settlement and economy of the American West. It brought the western states and territories into alignment with the northern Union states and made transporting passengers and goods coast-to-coast considerably quicker, safer, and less expensive.

In 1904, a new railroad route called the Lucin Cutoff was built bypassing the Promontory location to the south. By going west across the Great Salt Lake from Ogden, Utah, to Lucin, Utah, the new railroad line shortened the distance by 43 miles and avoided curves and grades, but that also meant that main-line trains no longer passed over Promontory Summit.

In 1942, the old rails over Promontory Summit were salvaged for the war effort, an event that was marked by a ceremonial “undriving” of the last iron spike. The original event had been all but forgotten except by local residents who erected a commemorative marker in 1943. The 75th anniversary was marked with a commemorative postage stamp, but it wasn’t until 1948 that the first re-enactment was staged.

In 1957, Congress established the Golden Spike National Historic Site to preserve the area around Promontory Summit as closely as possible to its appearance in 1869. Working replicas of the locomotives were built, and those replica engines are drawn up face-to-face each Saturday during the summer for a re-enactment of the event.

The golden spike is now displayed in the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University.


The Thing About Today is an effort to look at each day of 2020 with respect to its historical context.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.




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