27 September: On this day in history

What events happened on 27 September in history? Dominic Sandbrook rounds up the events, births and deaths…

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27 September 1529

In an expansion bid, the Ottoman army of Suleiman the Magnificent begins to lay siege to Vienna, Austria.

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27 September 1672

The Company of Royal Adventurers of England Trading with Africa was reconstituted by a new charter as the Royal African Company of England. The company was predominantly concerned with trading gold and slaves.


27 September 1825: World’s first steam railway opens

Thousands cheer successful first journey of Locomotion No 1

When they awoke on 27 September 1825, investors in the new Stockton and Darlington Railway could have been forgiven for feeling nervous. Four years after parliament had voted to permit a railway line from the inland collieries of County Durham, the shareholders, most of them Quakers, had spent more money than planned. With their company £60,000 in the red, everything depended on a successful start.

Not long after dawn, workers began attaching the first coal wagons to the groundbreaking locomotive, which rejoiced in the name ‘Locomotion No 1’. It had been built by Robert Stephenson and Company, a local firm set up just two years earlier, specifically to construct steam trains. Since this was the first time a locomotive had been used in a public railway, interest was intense. With the local papers having heavily advertised the launch, hundreds of people crowded around the wagons at Shildon Lane End. By the time the train left, some observers thought it was carrying as many as 600 people, most packed into seats inside a string of coal wagons, but some perched precariously on top of great piles of coal.

By modern standards the speed – around 12 miles an hour – was extremely slow, but a horseman carrying a flag rode in front to warn passers-by, while many well-wishers, who had hoped to follow the route on horseback, fell behind in exhaustion. At least twice, the train stopped for minor repairs. But at last, after a journey of about two hours, the locomotive pulled in to Darlington, to great cheers from thousands of spectators.

The great experiment had been a success. That night, flushed with triumph, the investors held a banquet at Stockton Town Hall to toast the brave new world of the railway. | Read more about the history of railways in Britain


27 September 1940

A year after the opening of the Second World War, Germany, Italy and Japan sign the Tripartite Pact, promising to co-operate in building a new order in Europe and Asia, and to help one another if they are attacked by an outside power – widely seen as a warning to the United States.


27 September 1941

US president Franklin D Roosevelt launched the ss Patrick Henry at Baltimore, Maryland. The Patrick Henry was the first of more than 2,700 standard-design ‘Liberty Ships’ to be built during the Second World War.


27 September 1962: A stark ecological warning riles chemical industry

The publication of Silent Spring causes uproar

By the time Silent Spring came out on 27 September 1962, the American biologist and conservationist Rachel Carson had been thinking about it for almost two decades. She had become alarmed by the effects of chemical pesticides on the earth, wildlife and human beings, and by 1960 she had amassed piles of notes, including hundreds of potential cases suggesting a link between some pesticides and cancer.

But then tragedy struck: no sooner had Carson started writing than she herself was diagnosed with breast cancer. She kept going, however, and by early 1962 the book was largely finished. Its title came from her agent: a metaphor for the destruction of nature, as birdsong disappeared.

That summer the New Yorker began running extracts, and immediately the firestorm started. Chemical companies deluged the publishers with libel threats. One scientist claimed: “If man were to follow the teachings of Miss Carson, we would return to the Dark Ages, and the insects and diseases and vermin would once again inherit the Earth.”

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Yet Carson stuck to her guns. The Book of the Month Club chose Silent Spring as a main selection, and CBS television gave her the chance to rout her critics. The following May, she gave evidence to a White House science committee. By the time she died in April 1964, Silent Spring’s place in history was assured as a foundational text of the worldwide ecological movement.

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