September 07, 2023

#ThrowbackThursday – 7 September

Ever wondered why the USA is often referred to as “Uncle Sam”? Maybe you’re wondering who was the first American baby to ever be placed inside an incubator? Or perhaps you’re one of the millions of people still trying to decipher the reasons behind the death of Tupac Shakur?

To paraphrase the Notorious B.I.G. à la “Who Shot Ya?”, we will proceed to give you the answers that you need – take a look at these three events that went down in history on 7 September:

1813 – The Legend of Uncle Sam

The United States of America goes by many names: USA, the Land of the Free, Eagleland … and, of course, Uncle Sam. That particular nickname conjures up images of a white-bearded man dressed in star-spangled-and-striped attire, a personification of the patriotic nation’s federal government.

You may be asking yourself, “How exactly did ‘Uncle Sam’ come to be?” Well, that answer can be traced back to a moment that (allegedly) took place on this day 210 years ago:

Samuel Wilson was a meat-packer hailing from Troy, New York. Wilson supplied barrels of beef to the United States Army, and he would stamp his barrels with the letters “E.A.-U.S.” – short for “Elbert Anderson, United States” – to designate it from other barrels. These would be known as “Uncle Sam’s”, called as such by the soldiers in the area who were acquainted with Wilson.

“The Troy Post”, a local newspaper, apparently saw a potential story in this situation and ran with it on 7 September 1813. From there, “Uncle Sam” became a widely used figure of speech to describe America and and personify its government, popularised by cartoonist Thomas Nast’s caricatures created over the course of the 19th century.

Of course, the validity of this legend has been called into question over the years by historians: while there was indeed a real meat-packer named Samuel Wilson, and he supposedly did mark his barrels as “E.A-U.S.”, the actual “Uncle Sam” phrase is argued to have either existed well before then, or only printed 30 years after “The Troy Post” is said to have published their story.

Whatever the case maybe, Uncle Sam has remained – and continues to remain – one of the most popular nicknames for the USA.

1888 – Incubation Period

The birth of a child is a glorious occasion. However, before the advent of modern medicine, giving birth was more precarious than it was glorious, with the process – often taking place at home – carrying safety risks for both the child and the mother. Infants who were born prematurely or were sick also faced the strong possibility of not surviving for long periods of time.

That’s where incubators come in: conceived of in 1857 and brought to life in 1880, these tall, rectangular and glass-walled machines acted as warming devices. They regulated the temperature, humidity and oxygen of a closed-off environment that was suitable for newborns. 

On 7 September 1888, an incubator was used for the first time ever in New York, USA to treat a premature baby: little Edith Eleanor McClean was born several days’ earlier at the State Emigrant Hospital on Ward’s Island. Weighing only 1.1kg, the little girl’s chances of survival were slim.

So, she was placed inside the incubator, which was warmed by 57 litres of water. In the process, Edith became the first baby in America to be placed in this device – and she grew up to have 13 children of her own!

Nowadays, incubators are common pieces of equipment used at neonatal intensive care units and maternity wards in hospitals around the world.

1996 – Who Shot Ya?

At the age of 25, Tupac “2Pac” Shakur was one of the most popular hip-hop stars in the world. It was also the same age at which his life came to a violent end.

Known for hit songs such as “All Eyez on Me” and “California Love”, Shakur was at the top of his game and living his best life. On the night of 7 September 1996, he was travelling in a BMW with his friend, record executive Suge Knight, to a nightclub in Las Vegas, Nevada, where he was scheduled to perform a charity concert.

While waiting at a busy intersection on Las Vegas Boulevard, two vehicles pulled up alongside the BMW: a car with two women on the left side and, unbeknownst to Shakur, a white Cadillac on the right.

“Shakur flirted with a carful of women, unaware that a white Cadillac had quietly pulled up beside him,” journalist Chuck Phillips wrote in a 2002 article.

“A hand emerged from the Cadillac. It was a semi-automatic pistol, aimed straight at Shakur … Bullets flew, shattering the windows of the BMW. Shakur tried to duck into the rear of the car for cover, but four rounds hit him, shredding his chest. Blood was everywhere.”

While Shakur was being taken to a local hospital, the Cadillac had long since disappeared.

After being kept in a medically-induced coma, Shakur died six days later in hospital from respiratory failure.

To this day, Shakur’s murder has never been solved. Conspiracy theories are abound about why he was killed (many agree it was due to his involvement in the East Coast-West Coast Feud, which would also claim the life of his former friend-turned rival, the Notorious B.I.G., six months later); who was the one holding the pistol that killed him (was it the fault of gang members?); and whether or not Shakur actually died that night.

Although the world lost a legend all those years ago, Shakur’s legacy – and the hopes and conspiracies attached to it – remains very much alive.