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John’s Believe It Or Not… May 31st

In 1997 – Opening of the Confederation Bridge. In 1910 Union of South Africa declares its independence from the UK. In 1859 Big Ben goes into operation in London. In 1929 Ford signs agreement with the Soviet Union. In 1977 The BBC bans the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen”.

John Fioravanti stands at the front of his history classroom 2006

It’s Hump Day Wednesday! Did you know…

* 1997 – Opening of the Confederation Bridge linking PEI & New Brunswick. (The Confederation Bridge joins the eastern Canadian provinces of Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, making travel throughout the Maritimes easy and convenient. The curved, 12.9 kilometers (8 miles) long bridge is the longest in the world crossing ice-covered water and continues to endure as one of Canada’s top engineering achievements of the 20th century. After four years of construction using crews of more than five thousand local workers, the Confederation Bridge opened to traffic on May 31, 1997. Building the bridge was similar to putting together a giant concrete puzzle. Workers fabricated and connected 175 major structural pieces — from the pier bases and shafts that sit on the ocean floor to support the bridge to the main girders that are the backbone of the structure. Special ice-shields were designed and installed to protect the support piers from the pack ice that flows through the Strait every winter. Each of the pieces, some weighing more than 7,500 tons, were transported from the fabrication yard by a 102 m high floating crane. Newly developed GPS systems allowed engineers to place the components on the ocean floor with an accuracy of 2 cm. The project cost $840-million.)

The Confederation Bridge on the Northumberland Strait is the world's longest bridge connecting Prince Edward Island (PEI) and New Brunswick
The Confederation Bridge on the Northumberland Strait is the world’s longest bridge connecting Prince Edward Island (PEI) and New Brunswick (Attractions Canada)

* 1910 Union of South Africa declares its independence from the UK. (The Union of South Africa is the historic predecessor to the present-day Republic of South Africa. It came into being on 31 May 1910 with the unification of four previously separate British colonies: Cape Colony, Natal Colony, Transvaal Colony and Orange River Colony. It included the territories formerly part of the Boer republics annexed in 1902, South African Republic and Orange Free State. Following the First World War, the Union of South Africa was granted the administration of the German South West Africa colony as a League of Nations mandate and it became treated in most respects as if it were another province of the Union, but never was formally annexed. The Union of South Africa was a dominion of the British Empire and became sovereign on 11 December 1931. It was governed under a form of constitutional monarchy, with the Crown represented by a governor-general. The Union came to an end when the 1961 constitution was enacted. On 31 May 1961, the country became a republic and left the Commonwealth, under the new name Republic of South Africa.)

1910 Postcard Commemorating the Union.
1910 Postcard Commemorating the Union. (

1859 Big Ben goes into operation in London. (The famous tower clock is known as Big Ben, located at the top of the 320-foot-high St. Stephen’s Tower, rings out over the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London, for the first time on this day in 1859. After a fire destroyed much of the Palace of Westminster–the headquarters of the British Parliament–in October 1834, a standout feature of the design for the new Palace was a large clock atop a tower. The royal astronomer, Sir George Airy, wanted the clock to have pinpoint accuracy, including twice-a-day checks with the Royal Greenwich Observatory. While many clockmakers dismissed this goal as impossible, Airy counted on the help of Edmund Beckett Denison, a formidable barrister known for his expertise in horology, or the science of measuring time. Today, it is accurate within one second. Denison’s design, built by the company E.J. Dent& Co., was completed in 1854; five years later, St. Stephen’s Tower itself was finished. Weighing in at more than 13 tons, its massive bell was dragged to the tower through the streets of London by a team of 16 horses, to the cheers of onlookers. Once it was installed, Big Ben struck its first chimes on May 31, 1859. Just two months later, however, the heavy striker designed by Denison cracked the bell. Three more years passed before a lighter hammer was added and the clock went into service again. The bell was rotated so that the hammer would strike another surface, but the crack was never repaired. The name “Big Ben” originally just applied to the bell but later came to refer to the clock itself. Two main stories exist about how Big Ben got its name. Many claim it was named after the famously long-winded Sir Benjamin Hall, the London commissioner of works at the time it was built. Another famous story argues that the bell was named for the popular heavyweight boxer Benjamin Caunt because it was the largest of its kind.)

Palace of Westminster with Big Ben.
Palace of Westminster with Big Ben. (Visit London)

* 1929 Ford signs agreement with the Soviet Union. (After two years of exploratory visits and friendly negotiations, Ford Motor Company signs a landmark agreement to produce cars in the Soviet Union on this day in 1929. The Soviet Union, which in 1928 had only 20,000 cars and a single truck factory, was eager to join the ranks of automotive production, and Ford, with its focus on engineering and manufacturing methods, was a natural choice to help. The always independent-minded Henry Ford was strongly in favor of his free-market company doing business with Communist countries. An article published in May 1929 in The New York Times quoted Ford as saying that “No matter where industry prospers, whether in India or China or Russia, all the world is bound to catch some good from it.” Signed in Dearborn, Michigan, on May 31, 1929, the contract stipulated that Ford would oversee construction of a production plant at Nizhni Novgorod, located on the banks of the Volga River, to manufacture Model A cars. An assembly plant would also start operating immediately within Moscow city limits. In return, the USSR agreed to buy 72,000 unassembled Ford cars and trucks and all spare parts to be required over the following nine years, a total of some $30 million worth of Ford products. Valery U. Meshlauk, vice chairman of the Supreme Council of National Economy, signed the Dearborn agreement on behalf of the Soviets. To comply with its side of the deal, Ford sent engineers and executives to the Soviet Union. At the time the U.S. government did not formally recognize the USSR in diplomatic negotiations, so the Ford agreement was groundbreaking. (A week after the deal was announced the Soviet Union would announce deals with 15 other foreign companies, including E.I. Du Pont de Nemours and RCA.) As Douglas Brinkley writes in “Wheels for the World,” his book on Henry Ford and Ford Motor, the automaker was firm in his belief that introducing capitalism was the best way to undermine communism. In any case, Ford’s assistance in establishing motor vehicle production facilities in the USSR would greatly impact the course of world events, as the ability to produce these vehicles helped the Soviets defeat Germany on the Eastern Front during World War II. In 1944, according to Brinkley, Stalin wrote to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, calling Henry Ford “one of the world’s greatest industrialists” and expressing the hope that “may God preserve him.”)

1929: The Soviet Union signs an agreement with Ford Motor Company. Photo: nvrg (History Things)

* 1977 The BBC bans the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen” (Thirty years after its release, John Lydon—better known as Johnny Rotten—offered this assessment of the song that made the Sex Pistols the most reviled and revered figures in England in the spring of 1977: “There are not many songs written over baked beans at the breakfast table that went on to divide a nation and force a change in popular culture.” Timed with typical Sex Pistols flair to coincide with Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee, the release of “God Save The Queen” was greeted by precisely the torrent of negative press that Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren had hoped. On May 31, 1977, the song earned a total ban on radio airplay from the BBC—a kiss of death for a normal pop single, but a powerful endorsement for an anti-establishment rant like “God Save The Queen.” While some in the tabloid press accused the Sex Pistols of treason and called for their public hanging, the BBC was more moderate in its condemnation. In response to lyrics like “God Save The Queen/She ain’t no human being,” the BBC labeled the record an example of “gross bad taste”—a difficult charge to argue, and one the Sex Pistols wouldn’t have wanted to dispute. Even with the radio ban in place, however, and with major retailers like Woolworth refusing to sell the controversial single, “God Save The Queen” flew off the shelves of the stores that did carry it, selling up to 150,000 copies a day in late May and early June. With sales figures like that, it seems implausible that “God Save The Queen” really stalled at #2 on the official UK pop charts, yet that is where it appeared, as a blank entry below “I Don’t Want to Talk About It” by Rod Stewart, the ultimate anti-punk. Like every other effort to suppress the song, refusing even to print its name in the official pop charts played right into the Sex Pistols’ hands. Like naughty schoolboys concerned only with the approval of their peers, the Sex Pistols baited the British establishment throughout their brief career, but never more so than during the Silver Jubilee. When they took to the waters of the Thames and attempted to blast “God Save The Queen” from giant speakers loaded onto a boat chartered by Virgin Records chief Richard Branson, the police dutifully responded by chasing the boat down and arresting its passengers when they reached the dock. When members of Parliament threatened to ban all sales of the single, a Virgin spokesman replied: “It is remarkable that MPs should have nothing better to do than get agitated about records which were never intended for their Ming vase sensibilities.” Like the BBC ban announced on this day in 1977, these incidents only fed the controversy the Sex Pistols had set out to create.)



Sex Pistols - 'God Save the Queen' Belt Buckle
Sex Pistols – ‘God Save the Queen’ Belt Buckle (

The Sex Pistols – God Save The Queen – Lyric Video

Acknowledged Sources:

* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology

* On This Day – History, Film, Music and Sport  

* This Day In History – What Happened Today

* Confederation Bridge – Take The High Road

Author: John Fioravanti

I'm a retired History teacher (35 years), husband, father of three, grandfather of three. My wife, Anne, and I became business partners in December 2013 and launched our own publishing company, Fiora Books (, to publish my books. We have been married since 1973 and hope our joint business venture will be as successful as our marriage.

8 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… May 31st”

  1. Big Ben is such a well-known landmark but can you believe I had never wondered how it got its name until I read your post here? I now am wondering which of the two theories about its name origin is true 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks, John. I enjoyed reading about Ford, The Bridge, Big Ben, and the Sex Pistols. I was amazed that they were banned by the BBC. I wondered why they came to America where we liked them even less.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, John, I’m glad you enjoyed today’s edition. I could have done without the Sex Pistols and their ilk as well. Happy they were banned by the BBC, but I’m sure it helped their careers. Thanks for your comment, good sir!

      Liked by 1 person

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